First let me say that SCBWI’s “The Book” is an online, members-only resource that I’ve always said is one of the single most valuable pieces of membership. You can also have it printed-on-demand and mailed to you, which I also recommend, as I’m tactile as well as visual and like being able to flip through it manually. But the online version IS WHERE IT’S AT! But recently I’ve realized many, many SCBWI members have no idea what the book is, what it offers, let alone how to use use it. Stick with me as I explain the #1 use most people DON’T KNOW, BUT NEED TO.
If you’re unfamiliar with the book, for the most part it’s an up-to-date listing of kidlit editors and agents. It lists names of head honchos down to assistants along with how to get a hold of them, websites, policies, expected turnaround time, etc. More importantly, I think, it clarifies what each house wants and doesn’t want. It offers A TON of other stuff to (how to format a manuscript, write a query, etc), but for now, let’s focus on the list of editors and agents.
Here is an example of detail provided in the Market Survey portion for one house, redacted since the information is proprietary (Note: there are over a hundred pages of listings, each page with 5-6 house per page):
NAME OF PUBLISHER (An Imprint of NAME) PO Box XX TOWN, STATE ZIP (PHONE); FAX www.WEBSITE.com Publisher: <first and last name> ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER: <first and last name> Editorial Director: <f/l name> Editor: <f/l name> Associate Editors <names> Description: NAME OF PUBLISHING HOUSE publishes board books, picture books, and paperbacks that encourage young children to explore facts, examine ideas, and imagine new ways of understanding the world. XXXX imprints also include XXX, XXXX, and XX Digital, none of which are accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Only XXX accepts submissions. Distribution via XXXX. QUERY LETTERS: Accepting. MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS: Accepting. UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS: Accepting for XXX and XXXX imprints. See full instructions at <specific URL given>. Send to <specific email addy>, typical response time 3 to 6 months. PAYMENT: Advance against royalty or flat fee, depending on project. ARTWORK INTEREST: Accepting. Send portfolios for consideration to <email addy diff than manuscript addy>. Will respond only if interested. ARTWORK PAYMENT: Flat fee or advance against royalty, depending on project.
It looks much better in The Book, lol.
Anyway, back to why I’m creating this post. I was recently surprised when I saw someone tweet about her frustration that The Book isn’t the greatest resource. She lamented that sure, there are lists of editors and agents, but it’s such a pain to have to cut and paste every agency’s URL to get more info, or reenter their posted email address. Another tweeter, from a different part of the country, agreed. They were/are both active members.
Even if they weren’t, well, this Book needs a better PR agent! 🙂
To start with, ALL THE URLS AND EMAILS ARE LIVE HYPERLINKS!! There are soooo many websites and emails in there that The Book couldn’t possibly bold or underline each one. It would look a mess. But they are live all the same. There might be a few here or there that have been missed (I mean, there are literally thousands of them in the 322-page document) but I think a solid 98% are good to go. What a timesaver! A thing of beauty!
Here’s how you know if a website is hyperlinked: hover your pointer over the URL or website. Your pointer should change from the arrow to a hand (at least, that’s what my laptop defaults to). Tap or click the words/phrase that the hand is hovering over and VIOLA! you are taken directly to that site, no highlighting and opening another tab and cutting and pasting and hitting enter needed. If someone’s complete email address is given, and you click or tap the provided email address, your computer will automatically open a new window and create a new email with that address in the “To” or “Send” section, from you. No highlighting the address, copying and pasting, opening up your email account, composing a new email, pasting the name into Sender, etc…. *trumpets sound, confetti is thrown* Yes, it really is that easy.
There are soooo many other ways The Book can make your writing life easier. But for now, soak that up. Explore. Enjoy. Click away.
I was presenting at a workshop where they held agent pitch appointments, also called Agent Meet & Greets. Several attendees ended up disgruntled. And they shouldn’t have been.
Let me take a step back.
What’s an “agent meet and greet,” you may ask? At this one, attendees paid a certain amount of money for 10 glorious minutes of face time with any or all of the agents that were attending the one-day conference. Writers weren’t allowed to hand over their manuscript directly, but could:
ask about the agent (are you editorial–do you give feedback on manuscripts or do you only submit as is? how many clients are you actively subbing right now? what kinds of stories do you like and tend to submit: humor, sci fi, YA, etc)
ask about the agency (how long has it been around? where is it headquartered and is that where you are located? how many are in the office? [<–technically they should have already looked up that info but I digress] are you autonomous or does the Director play a strong role?)
ask about the industry (do you see many historical fictions these days? are picture books selling well?)
Mostly, though, (smart) writers were there to use the 10 minutes to talk about their manuscript and ask for feedback. If we’re going to call a spade a spade, mostly people were hoping that after discussing the manuscript, the agent would say “sounds interesting, send it my way, I’ll have a look.” They were there to pitch their story to the agent in hopes of getting representation. And that’s fair–nothing wrong with that. Agents know that coming in–in fact, that’s why there are there too! They are looking for new talent/work. Win win.
But as in every potential relationship, not all work out. Even when they were SURE this one would.
Several people lamented to me that their agent meetings “didn’t go well” because the agent didn’t like the manuscript, or didn’t ask for them to send it in. They felt they wasted their time and their money. But that’s not true!! That meeting still went well. In fact, it almost went better than if they asked for the entire manuscript to be sent in.
Listen. If the agent wasn’t a fan of your submitted work/idea, or if you didn’t get the feels, THEN SHE ISN’T THE AGENT FOR YOU! You 100% still had a good meeting. How? You now know that agent isn’t for you. The last thing you want is someone not committed to you or work work, or a contract with someone you don’t get along with. An agent is someone you’re going to be working with for a long time–you want a good working relationship based on mutual trust and effort. If she isn’t into you or your work, it’s GREAT that she let you know (and I’m sure it was a gentle let down). It’s now a confirmed data point vs an unknown.
This applies to interviewing almost anyone for anything–once you’ve said or heard no to/from that person, you are that much closer to saying yes to the right one. This “No thanks” was time well spent. In the case of the writing world, you aren’t getting your hopes up by emailing a proposal or query or manuscript to someone that on paper looked perfect only to wait six months to get a form rejection letter back. You already know this isn’t the agent. Seriously, that is good information. In other industries and situations, you can confidently say, “we avoided making a mistake by hiring that one.” It’s not idle effort. The important thing is that you’re getting yourself out there, seeking.
I once had a dream agent that I found out about, read all I could about her, practically memorized the agency website as well as her bio page, and followed on her on Twitter. She was hilarious. We had the same sense of humor. I KNEW we’d be a great match. I couldn’t wait to meet her at a conference. But once I met her in person…wow. Does. Not. Equal. We were sooo not a match. While she was a great agent for others, there was no way I wanted to work with her. And I never would have known for sure had I not met her in person. It was not a waste of time. It saved me time.
Think of if this way: now you can get moving focusing on someone else to grow old with. The right someone else.
I’ve had a long slump. I’m IN a slump. One long train of rejections that keeps chugging by, practically waving in my face as it passes…
I told a friend of mine last week that if I didn’t hear back from a certain house by Friday, that I was done. I had shopped this particular manuscript around with fast and early interest rapidly fizzling into radio silence. That glowing promise, I think, is what has stung the hardest. Because after what I was certain was a sure thing, it’s gone nowhere. I’ve received the highest level of feedback I’ve ever heard on this one, and yet also received the fastest rate of rejections. I don’t get it. And I’ve. Had. Enough.
I’ve been frustrated for months. “Nothing of mine has been picked up for a few years now,” I told my friend. “I’ve had a good run…21 books. But I’ve got to face the new facts. I’m not cutting it. I need to move on. It’s okay, no hard feelings. No regrets.”
She didn’t say a thing. So I continued:
“I don’t get it. This sh*t is good. Borderline great. I mean, quite frankly it’s my best work,” I bragged lamented. “Agents and editors have flat out told me! Yet for one reason or another, it’s ‘not the right one for them.’ ARRRGGGH.” (I may have shaken my fists to the sky in a trite manner before toning it down a wee bit.) (OK, fine, I may also have let a few swear words fly before caching my breath.) (But I did not punch her, or the wall, or the poor guy walking by with fear in his eyes as he gave wide berth.) “I can’t control others, I can only control myself,” I said, sorta calmly. “So if I don’t hear back from [said house that I’d been really optimistic about] by Friday, I’m done. I’m getting off this train. I’ve submitted dozens of new manuscripts this year alone.” I scrunched my face and self corrected. “Tens? Well, at least five. Some better than others, I can admit. This last one can be my swan song. Time to jump ship. Or long-waving train car, whatever.”
“Everyone has a slump. That doesn’t mean you abandon ship. Shut up–I know you’re gonna say train. You know what I mean. What’s your problem? Why now?”
“The problem is, nothing that I’ve felt with my heart and soul as NEEDS TO BE TOLD has gone anywhere. My older stuff I’ve let go of, it’s crap, but some of this stuff I haven’t been able to abandon because I’ve truly thought they’re worthy. Yet guess what–after years and years of trying, they aren’t published. I’ve got to see that for what it is and recognize maybe my work is just not good enough. I need to move on. It’s okay, I’ve really thought it through. Been thinking about it for years, actually, and only now have the nerve to do it. I’ve made peace with it. ”
“Can you, though?” she asked, her question boring through my heart like a fire-heated rod.
“Can you really give up writing?”
My friends, has anyone ever asked you a question that stopped you in your tracks? One that called you out and showed you who you are? One that perhaps caught you off guard because you thought you already thought through all the ramifications and possible outcomes and were fine with all of them, but that one question made you realize you were just PRETENDING to be okay with said decision?
That’s what this question did to me.
Especially because this decision was based on an arbitrary if not fake deadline, with all hope pointing to a house actually getting back to me by said fake deadline, because I really wanted to hear back from them so I could continue writing. I mean, if I wanted to quit, I’d quite, right? None of this “starting tomorrow” business. If I wanted to stop swearing (HAH!) then I’d take it seriously and quit–not starting next week as long as no one pissed me off before then. I guess it’s like an addiction?
Swearing Writing is part of who I am. It’s what I do.
So no dumb, fake deadline is gonna make me quit.
Spoiler alert: As you may have guessed, that house hasn’t gotten back to me. It might never get back to me. Yet here I am. Writing. I’m still looking, still pounding the pavement, still pandering, still waving my LOOK OVER HERE flag. I’ve chosen another house to send to–three in fact. (I never said I was exclusive in the submission and unless requested, these days most assume you aren’t. I’d really like that first one. But tick tock, I ain’t got all day to hear no, lol. I can retract my submission to the others if that one signs me. Wouldn’t that be a great problem to have?)
So, yeah, here I am, writing again.
Does it feel good?
Better than not writing, that’s for sure.
Thanks for joining me on this writing journey. I bet you’ve got “I’m done” stories too. Let me hear about them!
If you’re considering Iceland as a setting for your next book, I highly recommend, it. As one friend put it, it’s “otherworldly.” It’s known for amazingly beautiful, natural underground hot springs like Blue Lagoon. Fantastically colorful cityscapes. Volcanoes. A geyser (Geysir) from which all other geysers are named. The spot where European and North American continents split (tectonic plates). Waterfall after waterfall. Some great music. Black sand beaches. And sure, where Game of Thrones has filmed.
Having recently spent a week there, I want to share some ways this landscape can make for an interesting background–if not supporting character–in your next book. Here are some random facts as told to me by historians and locals (that I backed up by other sources):
Names: Besides being crazy long with letters that look like a fly got stuck on the page, there are some things you need to know before you name your Icelandic character:
Parents who want to give their child a name that’s never been used in the country before have to get it approved by a governing Icelandic Naming Committee. Really.[https://www.island.is/en/icelandic-names/] I’ve heard they are pretty easy going, as long at it’s not disparaging or derogatory (or, I’m guessing, something like Moon Unit [sorry Frank Zappa] or YouTube). Imagine the fun you’d have with the backstory of the first person named Jane or Pepe!
Brothers and sisters have different last names. That’s because the child takes the FIRST name of the dad and adds -son if it’s a boy and -dóttir (daughter) if it’s a girl. A family might have kids named Christopher Vincentson, George Vincentson, and Carolyn Vincentdóttir. (Of course their names wouldn’t be so Anglicized but you get the idea.) The mom can choose to not acknowledge the father and use only her name, although it’s not very common. In that case they’d be Christopher Elisabethson, George Elisabethson, and Caroyln Elizabethdóttir. Rarely, the child can use both names…Christopher Vincentson Elizabethson. [https://wsimag.com/culture/2248-the-peculiarities-of-icelandic-naming]
Phonebooks list names alphabetically by first name! Wouldn’t that be a great nugget to sneak into your novel? Well…assuming it’s in a time period when phonebooks were still commonly used…
Capital: The city looks more like a town with homes that have been there for generations, with many of the same families living in them since they were hand built. Although there is a (small by US standards) industrial area with high rises, the main part of town has homes and historic buildings side by side everything else. Everything is accessible. Even the Prime Minister’s office is smack in the middle of town, a lovely but nondescript two-story building with no guards or parking lot, that anyone can walk up to. (Due to the high wind, almost no buildings in the main downtown are taller than a few stories.) But even though the capital city is lovely and beautiful and the only “real” city on the island, do you really want to write out “Reykjavik” 600 times? Consider picking a smaller town outside the capital so you don’t have to spell it over and over–or force your reader into trying to read and pronounce it in their head over and over. (FWIW “ray-kuh-vek” is the simplified way to say it…RECK or REYK-ya-vek or REYK-ja-vick with a very soft/minor j sound is how I’ve heard locals say it.) Just know almost all towns have equally awkward names, spellings, and pronunciations, at least by American standards. Maybe make up your own city name. Your call. P.S. The cathedral in the center of the capital city is a landmark that seems to be one many people recognize, and is a common tourist meeting place since it can be seen from far distances and is easy to find while walking from almost any point around town. The church was built in an art deco style of the New York Chrysler Building and is supposed to resemble their famous erupting geysir. P.P.S. The city, and well, island, is pretty darn windy, no bad hair jokes!
Weather: beware of stereotyping.
You picture a vast snow-covered land, right? Well surprisingly, there is very little snowfall! And even less accumulation. Reykjavik only gets an average of two to three inches of snow per month in the winter. Due to the natural warm springs resting underground, most snow melts soon after it lands, making for little need to shovel driveways or pave roads. Compare that to Alaska, that might get two feet in January! Virtually no snow May to Oct. Note: it rains often throughout the year in Iceland. Precipitation numbers will be different from snowfall. [https://weatherspark.com/y/31501/Average-Weather-in-Reykjav%C3%ADk-Iceland-Year-Round]
“Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes.” Since it does rain at least a little bit almost every day–or at least it seems like it, that doesn’t mean it’s a hard rain. It might be a light mist while cloudy or while sunny. Or ten minutes of hard rain that fades out like nothing ever happened. Given the year-round island wind (told you it was windy!), no one but a tourist carries an umbrella, as it’ll just be blown inside out or down the street. I like that a variety of same-day weather might make for a fun backdrop, especially if your character is wishywashy or their future uncertain.
There are 600 different types of moss covering land and rocks. [https://grapevine.is/mag/articles/2017/12/07/the-life-and-death-of-icelandic-mosses/] They’ve been around since the Ice Age. Some take 100-150 years to regrow if disturbed, kids are told, so they are taught at a young age to respect and stay away from it. Don’t have characters running off the beaten path. Or if they do, it’s has to be hugely significant.
There’s a saying that if you ever get lost in an Icelandic forest, just stand up. 🙂 The Norse deforested most of the original land when they arrived a thousand years ago, using trees for ships, warmth, housing, etc. Around 1950 a plan was put into place to start replanting. Most trees are relatively new to the island, and therefore not very tall. So don’t create any dense forest scenes! Hmm, actually, a pre- and post-1950s landscape might make for some interesting comparisons in character growth. [https://guidetoiceland.is/best-of-iceland/the-forests-of-iceland]
Drinking: How’s this for a fun fact? Beer was banned in Iceland from 1915 until 1989. Seriously. [https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31622038] Overall, I found Icelanders to not be big drinkers. Or drinkers at all. Stats agree; studies show they drink less than other cultures: in 2014 there was a reported lifetime abstinence for 14.1% of the drinking age population, and 32.1% of not drinking in the past 12 months, compared to, say, Denmark that had 4.5% and 11.4%. [https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/msb_gsr_2014_2.pdf?ua=1] Any bar scenes you put in might need to have a larger percentage of visitors with the local beer (say, Gull–pronounced sorta like ‘gulsh’) or vodka (say, Reyka) in their hands. Don’t ask me how I know, lol. Drinking age is 20.
Prices and food: Ah, gee, don’t get me started. Prices are out of control.
A pint of that draft Gull beer? $12-$15 (1450-1800 krona). FOR ONE. Mojito? That’ll be $24, please. I got a vodka soda and was charged the equivalent of $22 for the vodka, and an additional $5 for the cute little bottle of seltzer. Dinner meals will cost a solid $40 each for nothing too fancy. Chinese food, Italian, Mexican, etc, all available. And all AT LEAST $25 a meal; most closer to $35. If you’re itching for just a burger and hit a version of a TGIFridays, you’ll get a pretty good burger and fries (only served medium/medium rare) for $25. Iced tea (no refills) $3-$5. I bought a large bottle of Icelandic water in California before I left, for $2, and the exact same one IN ICELAND was almost $4. Explain that to me? But I digress.
Their economy seems to be doing well, although some still understandably complain about inflation. <No political discussion will be had here!>
Their meal staples are lamb (pretty gamey I hear, since they are only fed a clean diet of grasses) and lots of fish dishes. They are vegan and vegetarian friendly, but are quick to make jokes about the lifestyle (as are the rest of the world, it appears!). Lots of farming generations there…sheep and cows…so the older generations are slower to warm up to meat-free diets.
Also they breed special Icelandic horses too but not for eating! It’s a pretty big exporting business; the horses can fetch upwards of $8,000-$20,000 each (told you everything there is more expensive!). They are smaller than other horses but have a unique gait.
Oh–and one more set of random interesting facts: Taco Bell and Dominos are there. McDonalds is not. Nor is Uber. Both are banned.
Ack, I could go on and on but I started this three weeks ago and keep thinking of new things to add. You get the picture, right? If not, see below 🙂 I think this is good enough for now. I hope you do too. Time to hit the PUBLISH key.
One stereotypical and broad-sweeping comment I will make is that I found the Icelandic people to be truly kind and nice and open. While once a secluded country, it’s slowly getting more diverse with people from all over the world moving in and finding a happy home, whether it’s in the fishing industry, aluminum, retail, educational, tourism, whatever. So if you’re looking for a unique main or supporting character you don’t have to limit yourself to the “typical” Icelander. Because just like with every other country in the world, there isn’t one.
There are plenty of ways to make your characters and setting stand out. Iceland just might be one of the better ways.
Whether you’re headed to your first conference or your fifth, you’re gonna want to plan ahead. Most writers are introverts, and panic at the thought of being in a room with strangers. Relax! You’re going to be fine. The children’s book industry is wonderfully welcoming and supportive. (I’ve attended and presented at conferences across the U.S., from local to international events, and never cease to be amazed at the kindness.) To help maximize your precious time, and all that coin you’ve already dropped on the event, here are some tips I’ve found most helpful:
Have an overall goal in mind. This might change for every conference. Most people assume they are they are there to get published. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You’re not going to get a contract at the conference (seriously, toss that thought right now). Be realistic. Let’s assume you’re there to figure out how to get published. Try to break that down into measurable steps.
Maybe your goal for that one conference is to find an agent, or to find out how to get an agent, or simply bust out of your comfort zone. OK. Can you make it even more specific? If you’re looking for in an agent, for example, what qualities or skills are important to you? Figure that out before you go so you know what to look for in the agents that are there, and you’ll be able to better size up and decide if anyone there is right for you. No sense submitting to an agent you don’t want to work with, right? If you want to break out of your comfort zone, list out two or three specific actions–like initiate a conversation with two strangers, attend that awards banquet by yourself, and/or refuse to sit in your room doing email every night.
Center all your time/schedule decisions around that one overall goal. Attend only those sessions that fit your goal, for example. It will help you manage your time AND challenge yourself to achieve that specific goal. (Next conference you can attend the other sessions that sounded equally good–odds are you’ll have a difference goal by then.)
Get ready to smile and say hey. I hate the slimy connotations of the word networking, but conferences are really about the people. Otherwise you’d stay at home. What I mean by that is don’t just focus on the workshop topics,look at who’s teaching them. Read their bios. Try to read the book of the keynote speaker and/or whoever you’re taking classes from beforehand, so you know their background and you’re not coming in cold. That’s how you feel like a insider! By doing your homework you’ll feel like you already have an edge. Odds are you’ll be eager to meet the presenters. When else will you have the chance to meet them, and see what they’re really like? You can take just about any class online these days, but meeting these professionals in person? That’s why you’re there.
Have your “elevator pitch” ready! You’ll be using it throughout the conference, that is, if you’re taking the conference seriously and are out there meeting people. (Here’s a good primer to get yours shiny.)
Pack with a theme in mind. Not as in 1800s or hippy, but something that is consistent. It not only helps make packing easier, but makes it much easier for people to find and remember you every day, as well as afterwards. “I’m the one in polka dots” or “I was the one with pink striped hair.” You won’t be in the same thing everyday but people will start to recognize you by how you dress.
Get your class act together. Speaking of clothes…at writer’s conferences you don’t have to dress to impress, but c’mon, this isn’t your mom’s basement. Make an effort. Dress like you’re going out to eat, not like you just woke up. If you look like you’re taking this seriously–others will take you seriously too. (But skip the heels, ladies, that’s one fashion item that’s just silly at a conference.)
A simple trick: stick business cards (people still use them!) in your badge holder, so they’re handy. Make sure your website and whatever social media handles/hashtags you use are included–if not, write them in with pen. Consider adding a QR code to your card that allows a cell phone to take people directly to your contact info, including your website URL, without them ever having to type a thing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS7jdYZomu0 tells you how to create a free vcard. https://blog.4colorprint.com/great-designs-for-business-card-layout-inspiration has ideas for unique looking biz cards. [Note: I have no affiliation with either of them whatsoever]
You never know who you’ll be sitting next to so be nice to everyone you meet. Author and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi has some great conference tips on “making the first move” – you need to suck it up and introduce yourself around! Remember the part abut people being the reason you’re there? [See more of Debbie’s advice, including charming comics about being an introvert, at her website here.] Since most of us will be attending the conference alone (even if we traveled with a friend), it can get nerve racking. Wracking even. Take some “survive attending a conference alone” tips from themuse.com here. [Again, no affiliation]
Be open to learning. If you’ve attended a hundred conferences before and find yourself saying “I already know this” at every session/workshop, then you’re preventing yourself from learning anything new. I mean, if you already know everything, why are you there? (<— remind me of this one, ok? I’m always the one rolling my eyes saying I knew that, when, hmm, maybe I didn’t)
Prepare ahead of time. Review the schedule. Figure out why the keynoters are keynoters and not session presenters. Plan your day(s). Choose your workshops carefully so it’s not a last-minute choice made in haste. (They need to support your goal, remember?)
Speaking of preparing…if you’re a true beginner, and are looking for basic tips on writing your first children’s book so you don’t feel out of place at your first conference, check out a video I made for the beginning picture book writer. It’s fun. Really. https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/179/
I joke about lotion-ing up so you’re not remembered as the hand shaker with the rough skin. But bottom line: do your homework. And get ready to smile. You’re going to have a great time!
Looking for that perfect gift to give your writer friend? We’re a quirky unique bunch. As an author myself, I’ve amassed my share of “Here’s a notebook I think you’d like”s over the years. I’m not complaining! Any well-intended gift is sincerely appreciated. But if you’d like to wow the pants off of your writer friend (or just get an all-caps THANKS!), here are some out-of-the-box, creative gift ideas. Some are standard but fun [wacky bookmarks] but others I guarantee you’ve never thought of before–and are–get this–free [book reviews]!!
Please note I get no royalties or kickbacks from any of these external sites, and I cannot otherwise vouch for their awesomeness; I just happen to think they rock.
1. Adorable, unique bookmarks
Sure, anyone with kids has bookmarks climbing out of our ears and flowing off our desks…but do we have any creeping out of our books? Creative ideas like these are sure to please even your writer friend that MAKES bookmarks.
2. Ways to not keep spouses/kids up at night when ideas strike
Don’t let them wake the house when they are up late catering to their muse. This cool nightlight not only opens up to the shape of a book (see what I did there!), it’s attached to a USB cable, allowing them to write by hand by plugging in their cell phone which is next to their bed anyway, or write on the laptop with just enough light to see the keys. This way they can stay in bed writing copious notes, or drift off to the side of the room without needing to turn on all the house lights to head downstairs.
Books on the craft of writing
Great books on writing are super easy to order online and have delivered to their door (but of course I’m going to suggest you get from your local bookseller).
Show them you have your full support, and that you believe in them, by buying them a bottle of champagne to celebrate their first/next/upcoming contract or milestone. It doesn’t have to be a fancy bottle, or break the bank. It’ll mean even more if you include a handwritten note of encouragement for them to reread when they are having a bad day.
5. Yoga class pass or membership
Give them time to get past redundancy and perhaps writers block, as they FINALLY LEAVE THE HOUSE to let those ideas simmers once they hit the yoga mat. Good energy begets good energy. Couldn’t we all use a little of that?
6. Buy their @%#! book!
This may sound weird, because technically you aren’t giving them anything. But trust me–you are! Telling an author you just bought their book is like giving them a warm hug wrapped in chocolate cake (without the mess). If you already PAID FOR their book–not already have it–(which, unless you are their mom, sorry but I doubt you have), then buy another one to give to a friend or donate to a school library or teen shelter or neighbor. Even if you know you’ll never read it–they don’t need to know that. Support your friend fer pete’s sake. It’s Christmas!
Buying it at a local independent bookstore (if they don’t carry it–ask them to order it) is more helpful then buying at the website where everything is 40% off, because it helps the local economy and introduces the bookseller to your author friend. [Fork over the retail price you cheapskate. The amount you’d have saved won’t even buy a cup of coffee.]
7. Art How can you not love artwork like the above, lettered on clear glass and matted in a circle? Head over to etsy for this mantra made by JaneAustenandCo, or pick your/their favorite quote and make your own.
8. Support — via a book review
If you’ve got zero money in your pocket but want to give SOMEthing, give a book review! Did you know that the number of book reviews can help boost a book’s placement on websites like Amazon Books and general Google searches? The more reviews, the higher up it will likely show. Reviews of any kind are a HUGE factor, if not boost, to an author’s success. Even if they aren’t glowing reviews! A review shows the book has been read. And that the reader took the time to review it–which means it made an impact on the reader. In fact, a mention of the book in any form of social media is welcomed. I mean, who can’t give a free gift? Just make sure you’ve read the book, and make it a genuine review. Websites are cracking down on what they perceive to be “buddy reviews” and are deleting them without warning. Give a fair review. I mean sure–round up on the number of stars by all means–just don’t go too overboard on the comments or it’ll come across as fake. No one wants that, not even for the holidays.
If free is the only way you’re going this year, at a minimum, check out their book from a library–or ask your local library to carry their book (and tell your friend you did so). It might not seem like a big deal, but checking a book out of library, or even taking it off the shelf and having a librarian re-shelf it, can make a big difference in how long a library keeps a book. This is how a California librarian explained it: “If a book has not been checked out in a certain number of months, it gets chucked. Yep. And then [the] book will be gone from the system, forever.” Sad, right? She went on to say, “Basically, librarians are always actively looking for books to ‘weed.’ They have to get rid of books on a regular basis to make room for new ones coming in. If they find a book that hasn’t been checked out for ages, and it’s a book they love, they might put it on display or do something else to increase its circulation. But they might also just decide this book has lived its life, and because there is no demand for it anymore, it’s time to pass it on. Sad but reality. ” So check out your friends book(s)!
9. (Nice!) Clothes
Scarves, leggings, pins, you name it. A friend bought me a scarf that has banned books listed/crossed out. I sometimes wear it as a skirt–see above (writers are the creative type afterall). Other scarves have bookshelves [found on etsy, Amazon and Zazzle], ones with the text from your favorite novel such as the Alice in Wonderland scarf and other classics from storiarts, and ones (like above) that look like a stamped library due-date card. Google “books scarf” or “word scarf” or a similar combination and you’ll be amazed at the selection. Order now, though, as many are special order (and most likely worth it).
Then there are ADORABLE pins like a set of images from The Little Prince Book from Out of Print (typewrtiters, Edage Allen Poe with a Santa hat, oh…too many too list). They can go on the scarves or be standalone gifts–they are small in size but sure to win over any heart.
Leggings are fun too. I will warn against ordering leggings online without checking their material and reading reviews. I ordered a pair from a company that rhymes with Brave New Rook and while I’m sure the company is full of wonderful people, their leggings are HORRIBLE quality (100% polyester) and there was no way to tell from the their website how awful they’d feel or look in real life. The stitching is atrocious. The fact that there was only one review should have tipped me off. [They also took weeks to arrive but that’s another story]. You don’t have that issue with scarves so I’m thinking they are a safer sight-unseen purchase. And scarves look so classy!
All these suggestions are conversation starters too. Many writers are introverts so any are a welcomed party accessory.
Sign your writer up for a class, a workshop, a conference. I love SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and it’s one nonprofit I can vouch for. Why not buy your writer an annual membership? It’ll last all year long (join SCBWI). Everyone has a chapter near them (check here for where yours might be) and every region hosts local events, meet ups, etc. Kidlit411 has no membership fee, and offers a list of reputable places to look for events/conferences/workshops practically worldwide that might be wroth signing them up for. Other online and/or downloadable classes seem to be cropping up daily. Most are hosted by solid industry professionals and offer sessions year round. Just carefully investigate the credentials of who’s presenting, and comparison shop for prices. SCBWI tends to offer stellar webinars throughout the year, for example, for $10 or $15 members (only $20ish for nonmembers). Have a look at some upcoming ones here — check back often for updates. Make sure the topic is a good fit. I mean, don’t get your writer a workshop on editing if they haven’t even written their story yet; if that’s their situation, suggest they take a beginner’s class on how to write or how to get started first.
11. Some bling, or anything Harry Potter, or both
Jewelry is a slam dunk most of the time. So is anything Harry Potter. Harry Potter jewelry? Oh my. Then there’s simple bracelets like the one above, with bookish sayings, for $14. For your writer/illustrator friend, here’s a great crayon charm necklace for only $12! They’ve got it with typewriters too. Plenty of jewelry out there for all tastes. Google key writing-type words or phrases and add “bracelet” or “necklace” to see what crops up. There’s lots.
12. A professional critique
We could all use a helping hand when it comes to making our writing better. Why not buy your writer a professional critique of their work? [Note: NEVER do this on the fly. ONLY go with a reputable, experienced author who you’ve gotten recommendations from. (What have they published recently, by what publishing house, to what acclaim? If you’ve never heard of them, get names of people they’ve critiqued for and see what they say.)] Here are some writers I can vouch for. There are plenty of others too! These are literally off the top of my head. Check them out yourself–carefully! You want to make sure you get the best fit for your specific work.
Nothing I like better than supporting small businesses, especially when they have quality goods. This one even has a “Gifts for book lovers” page! I know, I know, the last thing we need is another book bag, but the book-themed tees are super cute. Anyone can find a crass shirt with text. Why not find a pretty one they WANT to wear, and can wear anyplace? Since I’ve purchased from this vendor before, she’s kindly offered up a 20% off for anyone to use as much as they want: KEMPER20 (and no, I get no profit or benefit from your purchase–I just like her stuff).
Regardless of what you get your writer, knowing you shopped with them in mind will make all the difference. They will love you went out of your way for them!
“When it’s all said and done, the particular gift you give isn’t what matters most. What matters most is how the particular gift made the recipient feel.”
You may have wondered if Work For Hire is right for you. If you’re considering writing in the children’s book industry, I’ve created a quiz that might help. It’s based on my personal experiences as well as several colleagues I interviewed. [To give you some perspective on collective experience that I’m drawing from: I’ve written 16 kidlit titles for hire so far; picture books, chapter books, and YA–most of them as part of an existing series where the other titles were written by several other people. The fellow writers I talked to have authored close to 100 for-hire titles total.] We’ve all written for different editors and publishers, on different topics, in different genres, with different parameters. Every contract was in some way unique. But generally speaking, Work For Hire has similarities that differ from traditional publishing.
It’s not for everyone.
Is it for you?
First, a definition. “Writing for Hire” means a contract from a publisher or third party—usually from an outline, writing samples, or pitch—to write a book as assigned. For them. It
might have pre-established characters and settings
might be ghostwritten under someone else’s name
might include a “tie-in” or “media-related” connection to an existing product, entity or trademark, such as a movie, comic book, game (typically referred to as intellectual property rights, or i/p)
Lawyers define it as “an exception to the general rule that the person who creates the work owns the copyright. If a work is made by an employee within the scope of their employment or if it was a specially commissioned contribution…it may be a work-for-hire. The employer or hiring party is considered to be the author and thus the copyright owner. A work-for-hire agreement must be signed by both parties before the creation of the commissioned work.” (emphasis mine)
Sometimes you work directly for a publisher. Sometimes you work for a middleman, called a book packager or book producer, who in turn works for the publisher. The book or series might be your idea, but is more likely their in-house idea that they are hiring out for–usually part of a series such as early readers featuring popular TV characters like Spongebob or a history series for K-3rd grade.
Bottom line is: you write it, they own it.
Do you prefer innovation over purely-from-scratch invention? (More like, say, creating a collage than painting)
Can you work with a pre-existing format, one you didn’t create?
Can you write in someone else’s voice, and/or match the general tone/voice and target age range of an existing series?
Are you okay handing over your work and having someone else do whatever they want to before going to print–even though it (probably) has your name on it?Do you take direction well? (See earlier reference to pre-existing format and matching voice)
Are you good at research, note taking, keeping files of resources and interviews?
Can you handle rewrites without arguing? (See all of the above)
Are you good with deadlines–possibly short ones? (Typically in the six-eight month range, start to finish)
Can you handle someone else telling you exactly what needs to be done, then possibly changing gears midstream?
Are you okay getting a flat fee, with no royalties? (Note: there is a chance you’ll come out ahead this way. Slim chance, sure, but a chance.)
Are you okay with the fact that even though it has YOUR name on it, the contents and everything about it may not have been your preference or decision?
If most answers are Yeses, you might be on the right track.
If most questions made you clench, well, relax. Before you get too nervous, know that the publisher isn’t out to screw you. They don’t want to mess up your work on purpose. Their goal–like yours–is to get the best possible product in the hands of their customer/reader; but the main caveat is it’s usually the best product possible created in the shortest amount of time. You might disagree on what the best product ultimately looks/reads like. (It doesn’t matter though. They have final say. On everything.) Just know they really do have the best interest of the customer in mind. They want to sell books! This is their business! They fully understand a crappy book won’t sell as well as a well-written one. They don’t want to put their reputation on the line for shoddy quality. They have your back; their name is on the cover, too.
There are feel-good questions to ask yourself about Work For Hire too:
Would you like a shorter time to market? (That is–getting your book on the shelf faster? Most WFH is on the shelf within a year, vs up to potentially 2 to 5 or even 7 years later going the traditional route.)
Would you like getting paid in a timely manner? (Many pay half the fee upon acceptance of contract and the other half upon submission/completion of the work)
If the project is cancelled, would you still like to get paid some of the contracted amount? (Make sure you’ve got a “kill fee” in your contract!)
Do you like direct feedback on how to make your assigned work better?
Do you like taking an idea and running with it? (Assuming you are okay when they need to rein you back in)
Do you like a clean set of rules, with a detailed schedule, giving you less time to goof off online and on social media? [Maybe that’s just me, lol]
Do you like being in control of which projects you agree to and which you decline? (It’s always okay to say no thanks)
Do you like researching and choosing which publishers and packagers you work with?
Do you like having a built-in opportunity to work with the same WFH people again? (Assuming you’re not a jerk to work with…)
Do you like learning about new topics you may have never considered writing about?
And most importantly:
Do you want to get published?!
If you took this quiz and are a yes (wo)man, then Writing For Hire is for you! Give it a try!
How to go about finding Writing For Hire opportunities will be the topic of my next blog… Hint: it takes just as much effort as pitching your current manuscripts! But worth it.
If you’ve had experiences similar or in contrast to these Quiz questions, tell me about in in the comments. I love hearing anecdotal WFH stories.