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The Purple Crayon Blog November 2006

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What's Hot and What's Not: Current Trends in Children's Book Publishing: an Author's Guild Panel, November 13, 2006

The Children's Book Group of the Author's Guild sponsored a panel discussion on current trends at the Society of Illustrators in Manhattan recently. I attended, and have written up my notes; you can read these notes as an update to my piece from last year, How's the Weather?.

The panel was moderated by author Rachel Vail.

Jodi Reamer, a Writer's House agent specializing in commercial fiction, spoke first. She noted growing sophistication in both YA and middle grade, and genuine interest by editors in books that may "cross over" from the YA to the adult market. She has encountered more interest in single titles than in series. In her experience, it is more difficult to find strong MG novels than YA, perhaps because it is harder for adult writers to find that voice. Picture books are indeed picking up again (my note: as people have been saying for over a year), and in spite of all the buzz about them, graphic novels remain a small niche.

Josalyn Moran, B&N children's book VP, commented that she always looks at demographics. There has been much talk about the bulge in the population of teens, but she pointed out that there had been an increase in the number of 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds, with involved parents and baby-boomer grandparents. Tastes are more diverse with these groups, and so they can sell a wider range of titles successfully.

B&N does do well with teen fiction, and it has helped to move it out of the children's section to its own area.

Susan Katz, president of HarperCollins' children's division, noted that middle grade and YA (or teen) continue to be strong. Particularly big: fantasy, SF, horror, paranormal, chick lit. But books for teens are strong across the board, with the exception of historical fiction, and that may just be a temporary dip.

She commented that as a category, teen has become very healthy indeed over the past ten years, though at the beginning of that time YA was stagnant. Part of what has changed is indeed demographics, but the way books are marketed to teens has also changed.

Teens are very involved in looking for connections and community.They will look online for these, and may talk about books. See Harper's latest response to this: the Harper Teen Fan Lit site, set up as the American Idol of writing (for teens). Harper is using it to try to encourage interest in writing and reading, not just to promote specific books.

She also noted that at present, reviews are not as important as they were, especially with books that children or teens are buying for themselves. Awards continue to be important, particularly in keeping the backlist alive.

Gail Carson Levine. author of Ella Enchanted and of Dave at Night spoke about the impact of a movie on sales of a book. It's substantial. In her case, in the months around the movie's release, the book sold one third of the total number of copies that it had sold in the previous several years. Susan Katz confirmed that HC expects a jump in sales for books made into movies. Of course, even though Hollywood is more interested in children's books than may have been true ten years ago, the number of books made into movies remains small. [More about the book at Amazon / More about the movie at Amazon]

After the opening remarks came a number of questions, mostly revolving around whether someone's kind of writing might be of interest to publishers in the market conditions described by the panel.


Children's Books Blogs

I wish I had more time to read other blogs. Here are a few of the ones that I like:

Nancy Werlin's mini-blog on going to the NBA ceremony (she was one of the finalists, as I reported in my October entry.)

Alice Pope's blog: In case you don't know, she is the editor of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market.

Pacyforest: Grace Lin's blog. Grace is the author/illustrator of The Ugly Vegetables.

Cynsations: The blog of Cynthia Leitich Smith. Make sure you check out her web site too.

There are many other blogs I like, so please do not feel slighted if I have not mentioned yours. I hope to mention more in the coming months.


Agent and Publisher Interested?

I am one of your fans, and I read all your posts on the CW list. Your Web site is also extremely helpful. I am a book editor, and one of my clients has asked me an important question. I am not sure of the right answer, and I hope you will be able to guide me.

An agent at [a well-known agency] is interested in my client's manuscript. An editor from Publisher A has also expressed an interest in the manuscript; he told my client that he works with that agency and that most large publishing houses only consider agented submissions. My client has finished her revisions, and I am finishing the final edit.

My client has asked me whether she should send her book to theagent as well as to the Publisher A editor or only to the agent. I am not sure what her best course of action would be since she met both of them at a conference, so I am writing to ask you what you would advise based on this information.

My client has enormous potential. This is her first finished book, but there is much more to come. I am concerned about what her best move would be to advance her writing and publishing career.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I look forward to hearing from you.

I apologize for losing track of this message. When it came in I set it aside as I wanted to think about it, and then it got buried.

Have you resolved this situation?

If I had received this today I would say this: the statement by the editor that most large publishing houses only consider agented submissions doesn't seem to me to be relevant. After all, this editor has asked to see it.

I think the best course of action would be to send it to both editor and agent, and tell them both that you are doing so, and why. I would NOT send it to the agent only. If the agent takes on your client as a client, and then sends it to the editor, the editor might feel somewhat slighted.....

But I hope you were able to sort this out. Please let me know what happened, and if you have any new questions, I will respond promptly!

Thank you so much for your invaluable reply, even if it is a while since I wrote. I appreciate it immensely.

Actually, I ended up sending to the agent and not the publisher, so I guess I made a mistake. The agent loved it and sent it to the publisher. The publisher liked it but asked that I make considerable revisions. So now I am rewriting according to that.

In the future, if the situation arises, I will do as you advised. I really appreciate your responding as this information will help me next time.

Sounds like there was no harm done. I'm somewhat old school as an editor--I like to read my own submissions, and I'm not focused on agents and their submissions--so my advice came from that. I can see that other editors may be quite happy to hear from an agent in a situation like that.

I hope things work out for your client.


Outline or Synopsis

I have written a young adult novel and read in the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market that I need to submit an outline and sample chapters. I cannot find any examples of fiction outlines on the web.

What is the standard format for the fiction outline? I found the following information on one publishers site:

A chapter-by-chapter outline that indicates what happens in each chapter of the novel. Don't go into exhaustive detail. That's what your story is for! Just tell us in 3-5 sentences what happens in each chapter.

Is this the norm for fiction submissions?

The example you quote sounds like what I would call a synopsis, which is often an acceptable format for a submission, and can even be what a publisher means when they say "outline"!

To me, an outline is a highly structured format with numbered topics broken down into subtopics and sub-subtopics. Probably not the best format for fiction, so I'd personally prefer to see a synopsis.


Plagiarism: What Is and What Isn't

Hello, I was wondering if you had a section on your site that would cover this topic in great depth. Example if you were in a critique group (Online) and someone gave suggestions on what to do with a sentence. Or if you were attempting to Rhyme and had problems with it and another person in your group rewrote some lines and they fit perfectly with what you were attemping to do. Is it plagiarism to use what they rewrote on your work? Is it their work? If you don't have a section on this subject, can you let me know who would?

I don't have a section on plagiarism and don't know who does. Plagiarism, of course, is different from copyright violation, though you can commit both at once. A simple definition of plagiarism is "the unacknowledged use of someone else's work." Copyright violation is more complicated, and I won't get into it here.

To understand what is plagiarism and what isn't one has to accumulate experience with writing and publishing, from which you will learn what is considered to be acceptable and what isn't.

To my mind, neither of the examples you cite would be considered plagiarism, because in a critique group there is an implicit understanding that you are working together to improve one another's writing. That may include offering snippets of rewritten text to another writer. It seems to me that in that situation, the "author" of the new text surrenders ownership to it unless they explicitly say "Here's how I would write that but I don't grant you permission to use it." And who would say that? You may, of course, want to acknowledge the help of your critique group in your book's front matter, and many do, but even that doesn't seem to me to be required.

What WOULD be plagiarism would be lifting a paragraph from someone else's writing and using it in your own. An instance like that might not rise to the level of being a copyright violation but definitely counts as plagiarism.

Hope that helps. If you find a good resource online, please let me know!

This installment is based on selected emails I sent in July and August in response to questions received at The Purple Crayon.

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Copyright 2006 by Harold Underdown. All rights reserved.

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