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Publisher's Contests, Picture Book Manuscripts, Bible Copyright, Selling Remainders, A Child Writing
The Purple Crayon Blog August 2006

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Publishers' Contests

Thank you for this site. It's been very helpful to me over the years. I've checked your FAQ and searched, but I don't find any information regarding my question.

Do you have an opinion regarding the Milkweed, Paul Zindel, Delacorte Dell Yearling and the Ursula Nordstrom contests for first middle-grade novels? I've never heard of most of the prize winners. They seem to go nowhere. Are these contests highly regarded in children's publishing and is one more prestigious than the others? I can't find anyone who's informed about this or who will express an opinion.

I realize my questions are bold for an unpublished author, but my novel is the best work I've done, and I've been at this a long, long time. [Due to personal circumstances], I need to give my story its best shot. Because [of it's subject matter and approach], it could adapt to the screen. I'm not overreaching. It's just that kind of plot. An agent who could explore that possibility for me might be a better option than a contest.

I don't think I'd call any of these contests "highly regarded," at least not in the sense that the Newbery Medal is highly regarded. They are a way for a publisher to create a pool of manuscripts for a specific need.

And some of the winners do go on. Didn't Christopher Paul Curtis submit his first manuscript to the Delacorte contest?

Of these contests, I think the Delacorte one has been around the longest and may also be the best regarded.

But I agree with you. Contests may not be the best way forward for you. An agent may not be either, given the difficulty in landing one if you are unpublished.

I encourage you to go to local writer's conferences, read writer's guides, talk to other authors, and generally do everything you can to learn about the process so that you can make an informed decision about the best path to follow to publication.


Breaking the Rules for Picture Book Manuscripts

I'm currently working on my first children's story (a picture book for 6 to 9 year olds), and I've found your site very helpful.

I'm an experienced screenwriter and book editor, so I have a reasonable sense of how to craft a story, but I'm experimenting with a structural device that bends or breaks "the rules." I've been having a friendly debate about this with a few writers I know and the opinions differ widely. I'd appreciate hearing from you on this topic.

Rather than having a single protagonist, the story has two parallel protagonists that are connected by an inanimate object. It's a bit like the film "The Red Violin" in that the narrative thread is maintained by an object that various characters encounter...but the conflicts are definitely for the two protagonists.

My precise question: Do you think that most publishers would dismiss out of hand a story that bends the rules in this way? Due to my experience as a screenwriter, I realize that many production companies pedantically dismiss otherwise well-crafted screenplays that don't follow an extremely narrow set of rules. That said, a few films that break narrative rules have made it through the gauntlet ("Adaptation" and "Memento" spring to mind).

I'd appreciate any thoughts you have on this!

What you describe reminds me of David Macaulay's Black and White, which you should read if you haven't already--and which, incidentally, won a Caldecott.

Children's books that bend or break the rules DO get published, as that book demonstrates (there are others). but it certainly helps to have the resume of a David Macaulay when submitting one.

To carry your film analogy a bit further, a screenwriter with a name is far more likely to get a green light for an unconventional approach than an unknown is, or so I would assume (I vaguely remember reading the story behind the screenplay for "Adaptation," which I think was written by a very well-known screenwriter.)

So, I won't say that you shouldn't do it, but you may find that you've made your chances of interest in your manuscript even slimmer than usual.


The Bible and Copyright

Hello. I was wondering if you could answer a question for me about copyrights and the Bible. I have written a children's Easter Coloring Book for our Church, and after having put the time and effort into it, and having received such rave reviews from the Pastor and Congregation members, I would like to try to get it published.

I am not currently a published author, however I have been "writing" children's books and studying up on how to become a published author.

My question is this. Most of the coloring book is direct quotes from the Bible. Each page has one Bible verse on it, with an illustration over it depicting the verse. The whole coloring book is only 7 pages long.

I took the verses I used out of the New International Version Holy Bible. The copyright page on the inside of the Bible reads like this:

"The NIV text may be quoted in any form (written, visual, electronic or audio), up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, providing the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the bible nor do the verses quoted account for 25 percent of the total text of the work in which they are quoted."

My coloring book contains only 7 verses from the Bible, but these 7 verses account for the majority of my text. So, because I have so few verses (far from 500) can I go forward without permission? Or, because it's the majority of my text, will I have to get permission?

You see so many things with Bible quotes on them. Does everyone need to seek permission to publish things with quotes from the Bible? Especially where there are so many different publishers that have printed even the same version of the Bible!

The basic principle that you have to keep in mind is that the text you are quoting is a translation from the original language of the Bible, and that someone, an individual or a committee, did that translation.

If the translation is out of copyright, as for example the King James version of the Bible is, then anyone can use as much of the text as they like without permission from anybody. If the copyright is still active, then yes, anyone using it must seek permission to use the text, unless their use falls under fair use or meets guidelines stated by the copyright holder (which most copyright holders don't provide, by the way).

In your case, you have guidelines. They establish two things--that you can use no more than a certain amount of the NIV text, and that your usage of them may not amount to more than a fraction of your own work. These are pretty generous guidelines, actually. You seem to have gotten a bit hung up on the fact that you haven't quoted anywhere near the 500 verse maximum they give. But you are focusing on only one part of a two-part guideline. Since your text is mostly from the NIV, then you need to seek permission. And yes, so would anyone else using an in-copyright Bible translation.

However, you do not need to seek that permission now. You can go ahead and submit your manuscript to publishers, with a note as part of the manuscript that explains the source of your text. If you find a publisher, they will (well, they should) help you take the steps needed to secure permission.

I hope that helps. Please know that the above is no more than layman's advice. You should consult a copyright attorney if you wish to be 100% certain of the best course of action.


Selling Copies of a Remaindered Book

Hi, I had the pleasure of meeting you at a Hofstra Conference a few years back.

One of my publishers wants to dispose of the copies of my picture book in its warehouse because the house will no longer be doing children's books. I can purchase a few thousand copies of books and do what I want with them. Other than doing school visits, is there anyplace or anyone you can suggest I contact to sell these books in bulk?

I can sell them to someone for less than the sticker price, of course - I can beat out amazon.com, for example - I can sell a few hundred books at a time; I just have to outlay the money and get them shipped to me- I'm looking to make a few dollars profit - not be a pig, of course - so I'd be open to negotiation. This could be profitable for the buyer - he/she could turn around and flip the books to another buyer....

I'd like to do this within a week or two --- any ideas? Thank you for your time.

This situation is faced by authors whenever a publisher decides to remainder a book. At least you have been given time in which to decide what to do! Many authors find out that a book is being remaindered after the fact, when the books have already been cleared out of the warehouse.

In addition to the ideas you mentioned, a few things occur to me, though what you decide to do depends on how much storage space you have, how much of a discount the publisher is offering you, and how much time you have to spend on this. If they are selling them for the cost of printing, or around a dollar a copy for a paperback or two dollars or a bit more for a hardcover, buy as many as you can! You will find ways to sell them. If they are selling them to you for more than that, you'll have to think more carefully about what you would need to charge, and how many you could expect to sell.

That's all that occurs to me to at the moment. You might also try posting your question on a children's writing listserv and asking what others have done in the same situation.

Good luck!

Dotted line

A Minor Writing Novels

I was wondering if you might share your thoughts on what I might need to consider when assisting my [teenaged] daughter in her attempt to get a novel published.

At the risk of sounding like a bragging parent, I must tell you that she is not your average [teenager]. She is currently working on her third YA novel. Her first novel was submitted to six U.S. publishers via queries. From these submissions, she received two requests for the manuscript from major publishers and two form rejections. The other two submissions are still out.

We cannot seem to decide whether or not she should tell editors her age when she makes a submission. We fear that they might not take her seriously if they are aware of her age before they view her work. On the other hand, we do not want them to feel that she has been less than honest with them either. There appear to be several venues that publish short stories and articles by children, but I am not aware of any publishers of novels written by children. 

She is a very serious and mature writer and conducts herself very professionally. She is a member of SCBWI and attended a regional conference in Sept. She will also be attending the winter conference in February. 

We would appreciate any advice you might have. Her father and I fully support her in the pursuit of her dream, but also wish to protect her from any mistakes that could harm her future.

You might first read item #8 in my FAQ file.

I can see good reasons to be open about your daughter's age from the first submission, and good reasons not to be. You really need to decide what you feel comfortable with--there's no "right" way to approach it.

More importantly, though, as a parent myself, and a former teacher as well as an editor, I do feel I have to warn you that in spite of what seem like encouraging signs (requests for the manuscript from two publishers), it is quite difficult for even an exceptional child to compete on level terms with an experienced adult children's book writer. If she gets as far as an encouraging personal rejection letter, I think you should be satisfied, and so should she.

As you said, you don't want to harm her future. Though she is dedicated to writing now, she may not be five years from now. Don't prevent her from following this dream as far as she can, but be ready to help her feel good about how far she has gotten when, as I think will almost certainly happen, she does get a rejection.

This installment is based on emails I sent in April 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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