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The Purple Crayon Blog for March 2005 (#2)

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Picture Books and Color Print-on-Demand (POD)

I hope this will be a quick question for you... I should've asked it when I saw you at the SCBWI conference, but you were always surrounded by folks!

Anyway, I'm thinking about publishing [my small press's] next picture book as a print-on-demand title, and wondered if you have any recommendations about where I should start? I don't really need the marketing/distribution modules of XLibris or IUniverse, as we already have distribution in place. What I'd like to do is just find access to the technology. If you have any ideas about who can do full-color picture books and could pass them on, I'd be grateful.

This is not an area I know much about. My impression is color POD is still expensive and not as high quality as traditional printing, but that's just my impression. Aaron Shepard might know more. He recently did two picture books in POD, I believe, one of them being an OP book that had originally been in color. He printed it in black and white, I believe for both cost and quality reasons.

Visit his web site. You'll probably find some info. on it, and I don't think he'll mind being emailed if you don't find an answer to your question there.

More Children's and YA Fantasy Links

I received another set of useful links for writers of children's and YA fantasy, and am posting them here. See the previous installment for more on this. I've inserted a few comments.

I'm on your mailing list and enjoy your site a great deal. I thought I'd chime in with some more links for fantasy writers. You can use them or not, as you think best.

Thanks for all your work -- Laura McCaffrey

Holly Black has a great list of resources in a Q&A format.

Diana Wynne Jones article about why she writes what she does. It explains a lot about her creative process.

Also, an article about heroes

And an article about overused fantasy tropes and the influence of the Middle

(Her book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is also helpful and funny in this regard.)

HU comment: I am a fan of Diana Wynne Jones so I am excited to hear about these articles and this book.

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by Patricia Wrede

Here's an article I wrote for SCBWI. It's more about the business of genre publishing and adult genre culture, but still might be helpful.

I hesitate to add this one since it seems too self-serving, but I'm not going to cut and paste URLs when I have them compiled in one place. I have links on my site to various fantasy writers' sites, as well as some historical fiction and fairy tale/folktale sites.

HU comment: Why not mention such a useful links page? Thanks, Laura!

Links to MFA Children's Writing Programs

I was sent this link to a new low-residency MFA in Children's Writing. I'm posting it here because it seems like an option worth considering in addition to the better-known one at Vermont College.

And here is a link to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs website, where you can research writing programs.

Sample Cover Letter for an Illustrator

Your site is terrific -very informative, thanks for all the articles, tips and advice.

One thing I cannot seem to find anywhere - on anyone's site, actually - is an example cover letter that an illustrator would send along with samples of artwork to a publisher/art director.

What would the illustrator's equivalent of a query letter that a writer would send with a manuscript?

Thanks, I'm glad you've found my site useful.

The basic reason why you've been unable to find a sample of a cover letter for an illustrator to send with samples is that the cover letter in such situations is not important. Many illustrators, in fact, send just the samples.

I did include a sample letter for illustrators to use when contacting an art rep in the Appendix of the second edition of my Complete Idiot's Guide, with an explanation of why that seemed to me to be the only situation for which I needed to craft such a sample. It's on page 342.

Good luck!

Submissions by an Author/Illustrator

I Have written a children's book and I would like to have it published. I am also an artist (self taught) and would like to illustrate the book myself. I have made many false starts with the illustrations and put the book aside for long periods of time because I'm just not sure how to submit a book with illustrations. I have seen many books on children's writing but have yet to find a useful book that explains how to submit a manuscript with illustrations. I do not want to spend many months illustrating a book that will be rejected simply because it was illustrated on the wrong kind of paper or the size of the illustrations are incorrect. Could you recommend a book or books that will explain how to write and illustrate a children's picture book. Most importantly I need to know how the final manuscript should be submitted?

Also, my book just happens to rhyme. I have read that rhyming books are rarely accepted for publication. This just happens to be the style that comes naturally to me. I think and write lyrically. It would be rather difficult for me to write a book that does not rhyme. What do you think is the best strategy for publishing a rhyming book? Thank you in advance for your reply.

For general guidance of the kind you need, I think the best place to start is the 2nd edition of my Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books. It includes information on formatting manuscripts and on including illustrations with a submission.

Another book that may prove useful is Uri Shulevitz's Writing with Pictures.

One point put your mind at ease--Publishers are pretty flexible about submissions. They don't usually specify the type of paper to use for illustrations, for example, accept to require that it be pliable enough to be mounted on a drum scanner....

As for rhyming, well, "rules" can always be broken. One of Margot Finke's Musings columns addressed the issue of rhyming picture books.

Added: I've written an article covering questions from this area, Picture Book Manuscripts and Illustrations.

Two Questions about "Idea Theft"

How do I know if after submitting a manuscript, my idea won't be taken by someone reading it?

Just curious.

You don't. But ideas are, essentially, worthless. Many children's books are built around similar ideas. Copyright law protects "original expression," so if you are concerned about idea theft, protect your idea by expressing it in an original form. It is then protected, even if you do not register it with the copyright office.

Dear Mr. Underdown,

I just finished reading your book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books and it was a real pleasure. I am sorry to bother you, but I still have a question. Recently, I began teaching a children's literature writing class and received the following email question from one of my students:

At our next class, could you give us some information about copyrights? Is it a recommended practice to copyright our stuff before exchanging it with other members of the workshop, or is that notion so pretentious that "real" writers would never consider it? How do you go about copyrighting your stuff? I have heard that you can copyright a work, but not an idea, so any idea you give out can be used by anyone. I would hate to see a damper put on the free exchange of ideas and inspiration in class, but by the same token, nobody wants something they've worked hard on to be "borrowed" by someone else, intentionally or unintentionally. 

I reread Chapter 22 of your book and checked through your website and I think I can formulate an okay answer to her; that ideas are pretty much no man's land, but a finished and yet unpublished piece of work can be protected by writing your name, the date and the word copyright. But what about something that is more than an idea and less than a "finished" piece?  What if it is the first half a chapter novel that she is hoping to workshop in my class, but is afraid to?   Can you give me any advice on how to answer her? And how legally binding is it to copyright your work in this way? Couldn't anyone write their name, the date, and the word copyright on something and then claim it was stolen from them "after the fact?"

Thank you for whatever help you can give on this matter.

Unfortunately there's no argument that will convince those who are anxious about idea theft--I've heard this question from writers, too! Underneath this concern, frankly, is anxiety about sharing one's work, which one HAS to do to get published. If you send a manuscript to a publisher, you are setting off on a journey that could lead to thousands of people reading your work. And judging it. And I believe that anxiety gets turned into the less frightening anxiety about idea theft. I say this as background for you...

But I would say that for someone in a critique group, or in a classroom setting, there is a powerful protection against anyone else "taking" someone else's original expression of an idea. There are witnesses! If she can look at her classmates as potential witnesses rather than as potential thieves, then she's going to be able to move forward. If someone in the group "took" her work and published it in anything like the form in which she expressed it, others would remember it, not just the writer.

And for that reason, though more because people are basically ethical, this kind of theft is very rare (certainly less common than people consciously or unconsciously plagiarizing from published works.).

As a writer, she's also going to have to learn to let go of her ideas. They aren't what matters. It's the writing that counts. Writers in critique groups DO cross-pollinate each other. Writers reading each other's books do too. And that's OK! That's called living in a culture. Copyright law specifically allows for artists to be influenced by other artists, and it should.

Two items in my FAQ also address this issue.

This installment is based on emails I sent out in late January and February in response to questions received at The Purple Crayon.

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Copyright 2005 by Harold Underdown. All rights reserved.

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