April Webinar: Selling Your Children’s Book: How to Write and Pitch Novels & Picture Books for Kids Boot Camp

Kid lit writers! The PSLA team is hosting a Writer’s Digest week long workshop just for you.

Please join us! It includes webinars, Q&A and a critique!

Monday, April 18: Online Presentation
Tuesday, April 19: Agent Discussion Session Q&A 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM (ET)
Wednesday, April 20: Agent Discussion Session Q&A 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM (ET)
Thursday, April 21: Writers Submit Materials
Monday, May 9: Agent Critiques Due

The details:

Children’s books—young adult, middle grade, and picture books—have taken over the publishing industry (in a good way). Readers of all ages are devouring the books that used to only take up space in libraries, children’s bookshelves, or school classrooms. Now, children’s books are celebrated for their enchanting prose, their relatable characters, their beautiful illustrations, and their fantastic stories that transcend age category. The growth of the children’s book sector has been unprecedented this past decade—so how can you make your manuscript stand out in these crowded categories and genres?

In this Writer’s Digest Boot Camp starting April 18, the agents of P.S. Literary Agency will show you how to make your submission stand out. How do you write a children’s book with commercial appeal? How do you decide what category and genre your book belongs in? How do you find agents and publishers to submit your manuscript to? How can you attract both child and adult readers (and buyers)?

The agent instructors will answer these questions—and more! They will also critique your work and answer any questions you have about writing and selling books for children. As a registrant, you can choose to hear a tutorial on how to craft an amazing picture book, and then have your picture book critiqued—or you can choose to hear a different tutorial on writing middle grade and young adult fiction, and then have the first five pages of your YA/MG manuscript critiqued.

This program will show writers of Young Adult and Middle Grade the following:

  • What the difference is between Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction
  • How to create engaging characters that agents, editors, and readers will love
  • Where (and where not) in the your story to start the manuscript
  • How to avoid the most common mistakes found in Young Adult and Middle Grade manuscripts, such as talking down to your audience
  • How to use common Middle Grade and Young Adult tropes
  • What the biggest genres are in Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction right now—and how to decide where your manuscript fits in
  • What to highlight in your pitch to sell your book to agents and publishers
  • What you can learn from your favorite Young Adult and Middle Grade novels

This program will show writers of Picture Books the following:

  • What the state of the market looks like for picture books
  • How to learn from previous bestsellers
  • How to come up with a great story that’s character- and plot-driven
  • How to create a page-turning arc that will keep kids coming back
  • Why rhythm, not rhyming, is the key to success
  • How to think visually and how to work with illustrators
  • How to avoid the “don’ts” in writing for children
  • How to inspire kids without writing heavy morals

Sign up here!

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Things I Wish I Knew: Navigating Publishing Contracts

Woman's hand signing documents

I’m obviously pro-agent. I believe we add huge value to a writer’s career in all areas, but most importantly protecting their intellectual property rights through their contracts. However, sometimes writers get into contract situations without an agent and don’t know what to do. Or, some writers like to learn about the business side of things. This post is for you.

Susan Spann is a publishing law attorney and hosts a Wednesday information session on Twitter called #PubLaw where you can follow along with the hashtag. (Do it!) I’ve been following, and retweeting, her #PubLaw advice for a couple years now and I think you’ll find this edition of “Things I Wish I Knew” extremely helpful on the contracts side of things. I’ve asked her a number of questions about contracts as well as what happens when a writer gets a contract and doesn’t have an agent: what should they do? Read on…

What is the one thing you wish debut authors knew about their publishing contract? 

That they have the ability to walk away if a publisher won’t agree to industry-standard terms, and that both the author and his or her work deserves the respect of a contract that doesn’t abuse or overreach the industry standards. 

Far too often, I hear from authors who signed non-standard contracts—either from ignorance or from a mistaken belief that as new authors they “didn’t deserve” the same protection as more seasoned authors. Not surprisingly, they come to regret that decision, but once the contract is signed it’s often too late to help them. 

Take the time to get professional review of every contract, and have the courage to walk away from any publisher or deal that tries to take unfair advantage—having no contract is infinitely better than finding yourself in the publishing version of an abusive relationship down the line. 

 

If writers don’t have an agent who should look at their contract? 

An agent! (Kidding…) Real answer: an agent or an attorney who specializes in publishing contracts. Publishing deals differ from standard contracts, and not all contract attorneys understand the details of publishing well enough to review a contract for an author. 

I know many authors who secured an agent after receiving a contract offer, and many more who reach out to me or to other publishing lawyers for contract review when the deal comes in. Find an experienced lawyer or agent, and get a professional opinion on the contract before you sign. 

 

What has been the best part of starting your #publaw hashtag on Twitter? What’s the reception been like?

I started the #PubLaw hashtag in the hope that it would be come a resource for authors seeking to learn about publishing industry standards and how to protect their legal rights. In many cases, authors can be their own first line of defense against scams and unscrupulous publishers, but you have to know your rights in order to defend them!

I’m thrilled to see how much #PubLaw has grown since I started the hashtag back in 2010. The response from authors and other industry professionals has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s wonderful to hear how many authors have been able to protect themselves after seeing something posted on the #PubLaw feed. The work is definitely ongoing—but it’s great to see the hashtag and the people who interact on it with me helping to spread the word about publishing industry standards and authors’ rights.

 

What’s the best online resource for publishing contracts? 

That’s a rough question – there’s a lot of good information out there, but also a lot that isn’t reliable. 

I’m trying to build a solid resource on my blog (at SusanSpann.com/blog, in the #PubLaw for Writers and Contracts categories), and SFWA’s Writer Beware (http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/) and the Writer Beware Blog (http://accrispin.blogspot.com) also have excellent posts about contract issues and regular warnings about scams and dangerous publishers. 

Generally speaking, I recommend that authors depend on online resources and industry watchdogs who have experience negotiating contracts (agents and publishing attorneys) and who offer information that isn’t filled with inflammatory or self-serving rhetoric. Read widely, and use good judgment when deciding who to trust.

 

What are you reading for fun right now?

I just finished Jennifer Kincheloe’s fantastic debut mystery, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc (Seventh Street Books), Kerry Schafer’s fast-paced paranormal mystery, Dead Before Dying (Diversion Books), and a delightful anthology of World War I short stories called Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War (HarperCollins).

 The book currently on my nightstand is James Rollins’s The Bone Labyrinth (HarperCollins), and Michael Koryta’s So Cold the River is queued on my Kindle. 

I’ve also got A Brief History of Seppuku and a history of medieval Japanese ninjas on my desk, as research for my fifth Hiro Hattori novel (working title Betrayal at Iga), which I’m currently editing. Research is fun too! 

Thank you so much for asking, and for letting me answer these questions for your blog!

Susan Spann is a California attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur, 2013), was Library Journal’s Mystery Debut of the Month and a Silver Falchion finalist for Best First Novel. Her fourth novel, THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER, releases August 2, 2016 from Seventh Street Books. Susan is the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2015 Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and shares publishing legal and business information on the Twitter #PubLaw hashtag.

Things I Wish I Knew: Q&A with Book Sales Rep Vanessa Di Gregorio

The sales department is something that authors usually feel really removed from. It’s something that happens to their book and often they’re not really sure what that department does. I’m so thrilled to have Vanessa Di Gregorio on the blog today. She’s a publishing sales representative with Ambersand Inc. (a sales rep agency) and blogger for PubCrawlBlog which we all know and love. Her role is really unique and I hope you enjoy this interview in the “Things I Wish I Knew” series. You will learn many things, including…the thing about sales in book publishing is that books are returnable. Read on to figure out what that means…

What were your first impressions of being a book sales rep and how did that change as your career grew? 

When I originally decided to work in publishing, sales was the last place I thought I’d end up. As an introvert, the thought of doing all that talking was pretty horrifying. And the more I thought about it, the more awful a job in sales seemed to me. Will I end up having to sell books I don’t even like? Will I have to pretend to have read all the books I’m selling? What if I look/sound like a total idiot?! Will it be all about the numbers? 

Thankfully, I somehow found myself working for a book publishing sales agency (where we represent over 50 different publishers), and my fears were replaced by the giddy feeling of being surrounded by books and people who love to talk about them.

As my career grew, so did my sales territory. Sure, I spend nights away from home, go on long solitary drives in my car to independent book (and gift!) stores, and sometimes sell books I don’t like (which I’m honest about – though I probably sell those books harder than the books I like. And just because I personally didn’t like a book doesn’t mean I think it won’t sell). But I get to balance that with being able to talk about books. A LOT. With people who also love books. And nothing beats that! Book people are some of the coolest people ever, and I’ve made a lot of friends thanks to my job, and seen a lot of cool bookstores. The relationships I’ve developed over the years with book buyers has been the most rewarding experience. Getting to know them and their stores, sending them the perfect ARCs to read so they can hand sell, and helping them curate these giant lists each season has been nothing like what I imagined (but in the best way possible).

What do you wish writers knew about the book sales process? 

The thing about sales in book publishing is that books are returnable. No other industry does this. So while I can lie through my teeth and convince a buyer to take a lot of copies of a book, if it doesn’t sell, I lose that buyer’s trust. And just having copies of a book in a store doesn’t guarantee sales. As a sales rep, I learn what types of books sell at certain stores, and as much as I’d love for stores to take every book on my list, I know they won’t. So doing my job right really depends on my ability to curate my lists to the titles I know will get marketing and publicity (a big driving force in sales), or books I think would work for their market, or books by local authors. And ultimately, even if I think a store should take a book, a buyer can always tell me no. The decision is ultimately up to them – all I can really do is try to steer them in the right direction.

What tools do book sales reps need to make the best case to buyers? 

  • Catalogues remain our number one selling tool. Having ARCs (advance review copies) for buyers also makes a huge difference – if you can get the right book into the right hands, and they love it, that enthusiasm will help sell the book. 
  • Having authors willing to do events with their local bookstores (and even reaching out themselves to stores) makes a difference. 
  • Knowing publicity and marketing plans also help us sales reps make the best case to buyers (even if that marketing and publicity is generated by a writer who is, for example, active on social media).

What are you reading now?

I’m currently reading an ARC of The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – a lush and beautifully written YA Fantasy inspired by Indian Folklore. 

Things I Wish I Knew: Q&A with Author Andrea Dunlop

http://books.simonandschuster.com/Losing-the-Light/Andrea-Dunlop/9781501109423

http://books.simonandschuster.com/Losing-the-Light/Andrea-Dunlop/9781501109423Hi, all. I’m starting a new series on the blog called “Things I Wish I Knew.” I’ll be featuring some of my clients talking about their book deals, their writing careers and their platforms. I’ll also be talking to some industry professionals too. “Things I Wish I Knew” is going to be about everything from things people actually wish they knew when they began their career (as a writer or publishing professional) or a way to reflect back on how far they’ve come. Let me know what you think of the new series in the comments.

Now to our first feature: my client Andrea Dunlop. Her first novel LOSING THE LIGHT is in stores tomorrow! Buy it here.

Debut author Andrea Dunlop has a background in publicity and marketing in the publishing industry. She’s currently the Executive Director of Social Media and Marketing for Girl Friday Productions in Seattle. Helpful when you become a debut author, right?! Not only does she know what the industry expects from writers, she has also assisted other debuts launch their own books. However, knowing the industry side of things is a Catch-22 when you’re an author.

One of my favorite parts of this interview is Andrea talking about publisher’s internal and external responsibilities: “I think it helps to understand that no one at the publisher actually works for you. They have responsibilities to you, sure, but they don’t ultimately answer to you. They work for the publisher, who has many other priorities and concerns that have nothing to do with your book.”

Read on…

What do you wish you knew about expectations during the publishing process?

I was pretty well-prepared in terms of expectations from all the years I’ve worked in publishing. I definitely knew enough to keep them in check, namely. From the time you and I sold the book (about a year and a half ago), I’ve really tried to come from a place of making plans, rather than having expectations. Mostly because the former is more active, more about what I could do than what was going to happen to me (or not). To be frank, whatever expectations I allowed myself to have about what getting published would mean for me, after a decade of working in the industry, were pretty minimal. On the one hand, simply getting published fulfills a lifelong dream, on the other I know enough to understand that it’s neither a panacea for all of my other problems, nor is it a guarantee of future success. That said, my experience thus far with you, with Atria, with Booksparks, and with all the other fellow authors and friends who make up my support system for this book has been wonderful. I know exactly how rare it is for things to go as well as they have with my book: working with my editor Sarah was a blast and went smoothly, the first cover I saw, I loved and everyone in-house—the social media, marketing, and publicity folks, the sales team, the publisher—has been a dream to work with. I never imagined that the book would go into a second printing before going on-sale. I won’t lie and tell you I don’t have any nerves or fears about the book coming out, but really I’m mostly excited and grateful to everyone who’s worked so hard on the book thus far.

You came from the publishing side to the author side, how did that help your understanding of how to be a good collaborator? 

I think it helps to understand that no one at the publisher actually works for you. They have responsibilities to you, sure, but they don’t ultimately answer to you. They work for the publisher, who has many other priorities and concerns that have nothing to do with your book.

This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised (well you wouldn’t be surprised, but other folks might) how many authors seem to be confused on this matter. You can expect support, you can expect good communication, and to be treated with respect by your team—but ultimately, it’s your book. You need to show up for it. And by that I do not mean that you need to micromanage your book: let the pros do what they’re good at and figure out where you can be most helpful. I’m in a great spot with my background, because I knew what to ask for and what to just plan to take on myself or use my advance to pay someone else to do. I went into it thinking “Here’s what I’m going to do, anything my publisher does is gravy.” And they’ve done a lot! So, it’s been great.


What is the best part about being a debut?

Connecting with other authors. I’ve been on one side of the fence for all my life: as a reader, then in my day job as a publicist, now social media and marketing director. I’ve known lots of authors, obviously, but getting to be one is just its own singular joy. Getting support, getting blurbs from people whose work I so admire—Laurie Frankel, Katie Crouch, Courtney Maum, Miranda Beverly Whittemore, Taylor Jenkins Reid—I mean, what could be cooler than that? So many people have reached out and have been so genuine and supportive. It took me a long time to get here, it feels good to have arrived at last, especially since the natives are so welcoming.

What advice would you give to other debut authors beginning the journey?

Anyone who works with authors knows that the lead-up to a book’s publication—particularly a debut—can be joyful or miserable, sometimes both in the same day. You don’t have control over a lot of things: what happens at the publisher, whether your publicist is going through your divorce or your editor moves to another house six months before pub. But there is a great deal, in this day and age however, that you do have control over. Learn about social media, learn about the industry, invest in your own career by hiring whatever help you need. I recognize that not everyone has a decade of experience going into their debut the way I do. But there are so many good resources out there which authors can learn from—including this very blog: Jane Friedman’s is another essential, there are a dozen more I could name. Do what you can, enjoy the moment, and live to fight another day. Being an author is a lifelong occupation. This is not an industry for the faint of heart, so decide you’re not going to be that.

What are you reading right now?

My TBR pile is an ever expanding monster that I co-exist with happily. Right now, I’m reading Flood Girls by Richard Fifield, another February debutante. It’s about a woman who returns to her tiny, completely bonkers Montana hometown to try to make amends for a couple of years of damaging shenanigans. It’s super funny and weird, I’m loving it.