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The Purple Crayon Blog for May 2005

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Re-submitting a Manuscript to an Agent or Publisher

I've done some major editing on my picture book and now I wonder if it can be resubmitted to agents (or publishers) who rejected the original manuscript?  Also, since several agents said "we are not interested at this time" -- is it fair to interpret that as meaning they might be interested in the future (or do they say that just to soften the rejection)?

If I do resubmit, do I need to mention that in the query?

In general, it's a bad idea to re-submit a manuscript to a publisher or agent who has rejected it. It's actually unlikely that it will be recognized as having been seen before--someone other than the person who first read it may read it, or the volume of submissions may prevent even the same reader from remembering it. But if it didn't click once, it's unlikely to do so a second time.

Think of this process as like applying for a particular job. Once you've been rejected, it's unlikely that you'll be accepted right after that rejection, because the reasons for being rejected the first time still exist. Instead, work on your manuscript, and then at a later date you might consider sending it again. Not too soon though, and not without an extensive re-working first.

If the manuscript has been revised to the extent that it's an entirely different story, and even better if it has a new title, then you have a different situation. Arguably, you could say you aren't resubmitting. However, before re-submitting I would do two things--I would make sure that there weren't any OTHER publishers or agents who should see it first. And then if you do re-submit, I would mention in the cover letter, without making a big deal out of it, that it is a significantly revised version of a story that you had submitted before.

As for the "at this time" phrase, I think your interpretation is correct--it's just meant to soften the blow.

Citing Sources of Information in Nonfiction Children's Books

I'm a national member of SCBWI. I'm almost done with my first children's book and it's non-fiction. I was wondering how you cite information in a non-fiction children's book ; for example, "frogs are a prime example of what is happening in the environment" a study said. But in the book itself you want to state the common fact--do you cite the information if it's common knowledge, or do you find proof in a study (which I have) and put that information in the back of the book in a works cited page or index? I'm new to non-fiction writing for children but I've been a features reporter for six years.

Please let me know. If you don't have time to answer please refer me to a good book to check out.

Good question, but one without a simple answer, because the degree to which you cite sources in a manuscript, and the way in which you cite them, varies from publisher to publisher, and also to some extent by age group. In all cases, though, you should keep track of your sources, even if you do not cite them in your text.

In general, if you are mentioning frogs as a canary in a coalmine indicator of environmental problems, I think you need not cite a source. However, if there is a specific study of frogs in a particular area, and you discuss that in your text, then you should have the source information available. Some publishers will put sources in the backmatter--such as in a junior-high level library-oriented book. Others may not--such as in a trade-oriented picture book. But just about all publishers will want to know your sources for fact-checking purposes.

To figure out how to best prepare your manuscript, examine books that seem most like your idea of your book, that are intended for the same group, and that have been published by the kind of publisher you want to work with. Follow the approach in those books. Some publishers, particularly nonfiction series publishers, may also have manuscript preparation guidelines available.

For more guidance, there is a book by James Giblin on writing that has a section on nonfiction.

I hope this helps.

Comments on Lane Smith's $600,000 (Possibly) Picture Book Deal

In a recent issue of PW Daily, I read that Hyperion had won an auction for a picture book to be written and illustrated by Lane Smith for an advance that is said to be around $600,000. Though there have been a number of instances recently when novels, or a series of novels, were acquired for an advance of that magnitude, that's a a very high advance for a picture book. The book will be about the childhoods of some of America's "founding fathers," and is tentatively titled John, Paul, George, and Ben.

Lane Smith, of course, illustrated Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka, and worked with him on a number of other very successful books, including The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and Science Verse, all of which were published by Viking.

So how does it make sense for Hyperion to pay so much, and why didn't Viking win the auction? Start with the fact that Lane Smith has a distinctive style and is already well known in both the consumer market and in schools. Like the books with Scieszka, this particular book has a clear curriculum tie-in and subject matter that appeals to adults in general and parents in particular. Nonfiction picture books with a focus on American history or culture have also done well lately: books like So You Want to Be President?, Lynne Cheney's America: A Patriotic Primer, and Bill Martin, Jr.'s and Chris Raschka's I Pledge Allegiance.

It may still be a struggle for Hyperion to make money off this book, though there will be opportunities for "synergy" with other Disney divisions. But they may not care. This book could raise their profile and get other titles published by Hyperion noticed by librarians and teachers and carried in bookstores. In a way, the advance for this book is an investment in building the reputation of Hyperion. And why did Viking let it go? This may not be the case here, but when name authors and illustrators get restless and have their agents auction a book rather than work exclusively with their existing publisher, the existing publisher often does let them go. In this case, Smith is said to have been particularly interested in Disney.

It won't take long for this story to play out, in any case, as the book is due out next year.

Two Questions about Non-profit and Grant-supported Publishers

I received a letter from an editor from [a small press] saying she is interested in publishing one of my children's books. Apparently this is a non-profit publisher that needs to raise the funds before publication can begin. Have you ever heard of that? She has not asked me for any money, but has asked me to help find sources that might help with funding, ie. literacy foundations, bilingual organizations, etc. Am I getting my hopes up for nothing, or should I spend the time and energy to help find organizations that might help with the funding?

Thank you for your interesting question. I'm not familiar with this publisher or this approach to publishing ( I do know of some publishers who are partly grant-supported, but they raise the funds themselves, rather than asking their authors to do so), but it seems legitimate, if unusual. From what I can tell--and I have done no more than visit their web site and read the company's history--they really are a non-profit publisher, not a vanity press in sheep's clothing. You may want to do some more research to confirm that.

Should you work with them? Well, that's a question only you can answer. Have you tried all the more traditional publishers and found that you aren't getting anywhere? Is this is a manuscript you care deeply about? If "yes" to both those questions, then it might make sense to work with them. If you can still look elsewhere, do, and if you don't feel that you can put the extra work into this manuscript, then you should set it aside.

So I can see either working with them or not as reasonable decisions. You need to decide which makes the most sense for you. Good luck!

I received a reply from [a small academic publisher] interested in a picture book manuscript I've written about [a disease]. They stated that they were interested, but that they are a fairly new business and a new writer is too risky for them to take full financial responsibility. They assured me they are not a print on demand, or vanity press. They are asking me to find a sponsor for $3,600 and the publisher will cover $8,000.

At first I was leery, but then when I spoke to them I decided to do it. Well, that was in December and I am having a hard time finding a sponsor. I am not planning to make any money on this, I wish to donate the royalties to research. I have already been marketing the book and it will be featured on several websites, including [deleted].

My problem is that now the editor I have been corresponding with seems very unorganized. I know it isn't normal for a publisher to ask for money, but I want so badly to get this out there.

What do you think about this offer? Should I turn and run, or bite the bullet?

Interestingly enough, yours is the second question I've received this month about publishers that ask for sponsorship or grant support. Your publisher's focus seems to be academic, and the other one takes a more literary approach, but they both seek to avoid providing all the investment needed in a book themselves.

I know you are also concerned that they are asking for help with the illustration process, and I can see that they have published very few children's books. Their lack of experience with children's books actually concerns me more than their request for sponsorship. After all, getting a book with a narrow audience published can be tricky and I can see that a publisher would want to reduce their risk before attempting it.

However, I'm inclined to suggest that you walk away. Given the company's focus on academic publishing, I wonder if they would be able to reach your intended audience. If you can't find another publisher with more qualifications in children's books, I'd look into self-publishing, I think.

How to Respond to a "Personal Rejection"

Thankyou for your time. I submitted a manuscript to a certain editor and got a no thankyou including a nice personal note with some suggestions. Should I continue to send further manuscripts to this same editor, or will he get tired of seeing my name?

Thanks again,

P.S. I love Harold and his purple crayon too. I can still see his arm shaking and making waves. Thanks for the memory!

You must not know how unusual it is for an editor to respond with a personal note. You have been singled out--congratulations! The "personal rejection" is a significant milestone for any children's book writer.

Of course you should send him further manuscripts. He could get tired of seeing your name, but only if you make the mistake of sending him dozens of manuscripts at once, or if you aren't careful to send only work that is at least as good as the manuscript that sparked that personal note. Or... well, you get the idea. Manners and common sense are what you need to call on now.

You've made a connection! Nurture it.

Length of a Picture Book

I bought your book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Children's Books and I would like to ask a question: I wrote a children's book with 3500 words for ages 5-8. (I think it should be a picture book but I'm not sure.) I saw in some websites that a suggested picture book length is about 1500 words but I haven't seen anything about it in your book.

1. Can I submit a manuscript of a picture book with 3500 words?
2. Should I try to cut some parts out of the book?
3. Do I have to write specifically in the cover letter or in the query letter that this is a picture book?

Thanks a lot for your help!

I think that you need to spend more time getting a feel for picture books and the length that best works for them. Read.
I tend to avoid giving exact word counts for different kinds of books, but I think that 3500 words is very unlikely to be a picture book. Think of real picture book classics such as Goodnight Moon or Where the Wild Things Are, and you'll see what I mean. Picture books don't have to be that short, of course, but very few true picture books are more than 1,000 words long. Over that length, and you start getting into story book territory.

Story books may be illustrated on every page like picture books, but the story is likely to be carried almost entirely, if not entirely, by the text. It's a crucial distinction, which Uri Shulevitz explains better than anyone in his Writing with Pictures.
A text of 3500 words may be an easy reader, or a story book, or an overly wordy picture book. It's impossible to tell just by word count--the lengths of many types of children's books overlap.

To answer your specific questions:
1. You could submit it, but you might do better to get it critiqued first, at an SCBWI conference or by joining a local critique group.
2. Probably.
3. No, you don't. The cover letter can just be descriptive. The editor will have her own feelings about what a particular manuscript is, so you don't have to tell her.

I hope this helps, and good luck.

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

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