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The Purple Crayon Blog for March 2006

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Book Club Editions, and Agents

Several picture books that I've written and/or illustrated (for [a large publisher]) were Junior Library Guild selections, or have been picked up for Scholastic editions. In each case the royalties were miniscule, a tiny fraction of the standard royalty. It's very frustrating to see thousands of copies flooding the market while failing to earn back my advance. It's great that the books are appreciated, but I'm also trying to make a living here. Why are book clubs and Scholastic editions considered a good thing?

So far I've been working without an agent. Is this something that an agent can negotiate a better deal on?

Thanks for any insights you can share.

You ask a good question. There are two reasons you should be pleased to see your books being licensed to JLG and to Scholastic, even though you are making much less per copy than on trade editions.

First, sales made through those channels are (in theory, at least) not hurting your sales in trade channels. They are extra sales you would not have got otherwise. So if, for example, you make 50 cents per copy in trade royalties, but only 5 cents on a JLG edition, the question to ask is, do you want that 5 cents, or do you want nothing?

Second, the mere fact of making a sale to JLG or Scholastic is a feather in your cap. Your publisher probably mentions it in their catalog or in sales materials, and so it probably helps trade sales too. And it probably makes you more valuable to your publisher.

What would an agent do for you? Well, they might get you a better sub-rights split. If you are getting 50% of such deals, and your publisher is keeping 50%, they might be able to increase your percentage (though that it is something you could ask for yourself, especially with your track record). They probably would not be able to push for a better deal from JLG or Scholastic.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to follow up if you have more questions.

What Is a Synopsis?

I've looked through your site -- which looks good, I might add -- but I didn't find a specific enough answer to my question, which is this: What exactly is meant by a summary (or synopsis) of a book? My problem seems to be that when I write one, it has too much information in it. Should I be trying to include the major players in the books, as well as the major conflicts, or should I simply choose two or three of them and leave the rest to the book? What exactly is the typical publisher hoping to see in my synopsis -- do they want a character study, or do they simply want to know what happens in the book? This last one is what I've done, but when my husband (who, granted, is not a writer) read it, he said it had so much information that he was "swimming" -- and he's read the book.

Anyway, long question here, but I'd really appreciate any wisdom you have in the area.

I don't think I can speak for all editors. Different publishers really do have different needs. But so far as I am concerned, a synopsis should be fairly brief. I don't need to meet all the characters, or be told about all the twists and turns of the plot.

When I read a synopsis, I want to know what happens in a story, and why, and I want to meet the main characters. Ideally, I want to get a sense for what makes this story unique, but that's not always going to be possible. If your husband feels you are giving too much information, you probably are. I've noticed that writers often have problems with synopses, because they can't leave out details over which they have labored. They want to retell the story in loving detail. That's not what a synopsis is for. You want to give the editor or agent enough information about the story that they will want to read it themselves--and so you do not need to retell it.

I hope this helps....

Some Interesting Links

The Purple Store: A store for lovers of purple. And proceeds from the sales of purple-related books go to adult literacy organizations.

JacketFlap: A great new resource, this site combines information pulled from Amazon's database to give people easy access to information about publishers' books with user-updated information about publishers's submission requirements. Try it out!

Cythia Leitich Smith's comments on agents in her blog: Partly a response to my updates to my primer on agents, Cyn makes some good points about the danger of looking for an agent prematurely.

The Purple Crayon Blog is a feature of:

The Purple Crayon

Find more resources for writers in the Articles section.

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Questions about Resubmitting, Revising, and Reselling

I have a few questions about submissions, and would appreciate an editor's feedback as I don't quite know where to find the answers.

Several years ago I submitted an article to Highlights. They liked it, but it was rejected because they already had something similar. So far the article still has not found a home; could I resubmit it to Highlights or would this be considered rude?

Have you revised it at all? It wouldn't be rude to resubmit it, but being able to say in your cover letter that it had been revised/updated/expanded would be more effective than just saying you wanted them to take another look at it.

I am also wondering about reselling stories. If I write a story/article and sell it to one publication, can I rewrite it and sell it as an original? Is it a new story/article if it's half as long, twice as long, or has every sentence rewritten? And if I do rewrite something, do I need to include information about the original publication in my query letter?

Interesting question. The answer is that it depends on the contract. Some magazines buy one-time use. In that case, you can even resell the same article. Others acquire all rights. In those cases, you have to find out how much they expect you to change it for them to consider a new version not the same as the original. You should include information about the original publication in the cover letter. It's the right thing to do, and it might help sell the article. If you don't know about it already, here's a really useful site for writers for children's magazines: http://www.kidmagwriters.com/

I submitted a manuscript to two editors I met at a conference. During the time I've spent waiting, I revised the story, paid an editor to help flesh out the rough spots, and changed the title. I've contacted one of the editors and she has not had a chance to read it yet. Should I tell her I have a revised copy and ask to send that, or would that be unprofessional? I saved the copy that I originally gave each editor just in case they are interested in the manuscript. Thanks. 

I see no harm in sending her the revised manuscript. She can read it or not--that's up to her. But at least you've given her the choice. What I would NOT do is keep revising it and sending new versions! You've made major changes and making a new version available is fine. Sending multiple versions would not be, but that's not what you are proposing to do.

Illustration Notes in Picture Book Manuscripts

I have written a picture book for the very young (3 and under). I am not an illustrator and I've heard that most publishers would prefer you not seek out an illustrator yourself. My concern is that the text alone is very simplistic and is really only half the story. The illustrations will be crucial in getting across the humor of the book and in the development of the characters. Think "Olivia." I definitely have a vision for the illustrations and I don't feel that submitting the text alone will grab a publisher. Is it unprofessional to submit ideas for illustration perhaps at thebottom of each page or in the proposal? If so, what do you suggest?

People working in children's book publishing are used to evaluating picture book manuscripts without the illustrations. However, if you do feel strongly about including illustration notes, go ahead and do so, so long as it's unobtrusive. The end of each paragraph in brackets is probably fine.

By the way, I hope you aren't typing up the manuscript with one page for each page you imagine for the layout. Your mention of putting notes at the bottom of the page made me wonder.

Of course, if you do sell the manuscript, you'll have to be ready to let the illustrator illustrate--it's possible they'll take the book in wonderful directions you hadn't even imagined, since you are not an illustrator yourself.

Good luck with it.

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

This installment is based on emails I sent in January 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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