David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: literary agents

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Why Books are Rejected

Books are rejected for two main reasons:

  1. The editor (or agent) doesn’t connect with the voice.
  2. The editor doesn’t connect with the character.

In this video, we explain how writers can revise their pitches and query letters to appeal to literary agents and editors. We cover fiction, practical non-fiction, narrative non-fiction, and memoir.

Click here to watch the video.

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Roxanna Elden

How to Publish Books in Different Genres: Roxanna Elden on Books, Dogs, Kids and Agents

We first met Roxanna Elden at Miami Dade College where we were teaching a class on publishing. From the second she opened her mouth (which she did frequently) it was obvious she was a published author waiting to happen. She asked so many questions. And they were good questions. She was funny, she was engaged, and she had a great idea for a book. In fact, after many trials and tribulations, she got that book published, and now she has a second book coming out. So we thought we’d check in on her and see how the process went.

To read the full interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

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The Book Doctors: After the success of your first book, See Me After Class, what made you want to write a picture book for kids?

Roxanna Elden: The idea came from watching my dog, Rudy, as he adjusted to having a new baby human in the house. Like a lot of dogs, Rudy was the “baby” of our family before we had kids. Ever since, he’s had to deal with all kinds of indignities–pulled ears, missed walks, and lots of interruptions to his couch naps. And, of course, he has had to learn to share the spotlight. A little after Rudy’s first new human was born, I was suffering pangs of “pet parent guilt,” and called my friend, Ginger. She already had two kids at the time, and she noted the similarities between Rudy’s situation and what older siblings go through when a baby comes along. She also just happens to be one of the Chicago-land area’s top illustrators. By the end of that conversation we had a book in the works.

TBD: Since your first book was nonfiction, did you have to find a new agent, develop new social media outlets, or find a new publisher?

RE: Same agent: magnificent Rita Rosenkranz. New publisher: marvelous Sky Pony Press. There is a bit of crossover from the audience of See Me After Class, because some elementary teachers have told me that they’re reading the book with their students, and high school writing teachers sometimes do picture book projects. And, of course, lots of teachers are moms and dads and dog lovers. We are in the process of posting lesson materials on a popular lesson-sharing site called Teachers Pay Teachers. Despite the name of the site, everything in Rudy the Dog’s “store” will be free.

TBD: Obviously your two books are in very different categories, but what did you learn from your first book that you were able to apply to this new book?

RE: The whole publishing process, from pitching the book to working with editors to looking for ways to connect with readers, was actually similar for both books. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published was my road map through the process the first time, saving me years of trial and error. For this book, I reread the sections I needed to review and also ordered a copy for Ginger. The main lesson I learned from my first publishing experience is that marketing a book is (a) ongoing, and (b) unpredictable. With See Me After Class, I’ve done hundreds of different things over the past ten years to get the book into the hands of teachers who would love and benefit from it. These efforts ranged from epic to tiny, and the results ranged from total wash to big break. There hasn’t been a recognizable pattern. For authors, if you do 100 things and only 6 pay off, the temptation is to wish you could have saved the time of doing the other 94 things. But it’s important to remember that what “worked” wasn’t the six lucky breaks you got. It was the fact that you tried 100 different approaches.

TBD: How did you go about getting your book deal for your new book?

RE: Our agent, Rita Rosenkranz, showed it to Jenny Pierson at Sky Pony, and she made an offer on it immediately. Having gone through the publishing process already, I knew this was pretty rare. We all had a conversation and by the end of it, Ginger and I both agreed that Sky Pony would be a great fit for the book.

TBD: How are you planning to promote and market this book?

RE: We have a website, www.rudythedog.net, where people can sign up to have Rudy send birthday cards to their favorite little humans and pet birthday cards to their pets. Also, because Rudy the canine-narrator is based on my real-life dog, we made a stamp out of Rudy’s paw so he can “paw-tograph” books at book signings. We’ve authorized kids in six different cities to be paw-thorized paw-tograhers. They have a stamp and a notarized letter that lets them sign copies on behalf of Rudy. And I spend more time than I’d like to admit thinking of dog-related puns.

TBD: Have you learned anything about picture books from being a teacher?

RE: No one knows better than teachers how important it is to read to kids as often and as early as possible. I’m hoping that as both a teacher and children’s book author, I can find creative ways to help more parents read to their children in ways that encourage a love of books and develop early reading skills. We’ve already put a reading guide on the website that describe some skills any adult can help kids develop, and we’re working on more materials now.

TBD: What was it like working with an illustrator?

RE: In most cases, the publisher buys the book and then chooses the illustrator, so our experience is unusual, but in this case I pitched the book as a team with illustrator, Ginger Seehafer. The two of us are longtime friends–we met about 20 years ago as the only female caricature artists at a Six Flags theme park. That was the end of my career as an artist, but Ginger went on to become a top professional illustrator, doing work for big companies like Glade, Tropicana, and Hotels.com, all the way down to small companies just getting started. She had done my sample cover art when I was pitching See Me After Class, so I knew how good she was at turning verbal ideas into pictures without losing anything in translation. While discussing the book, we kicked ideas back and forth in both text and visual form until we came up with a final product. My description or text might spark an idea for Ginger, or she might send a picture that gave me an idea for a line in the book.

TBD: How did you determine how much text and how much picture would be on every page?

RE: We have a pretty good sample size of kids in the 2-6 year old age range, so for early drafts we just thought about what they would understand. Then we worked with the editors at Sky Pony, Jenny Pierson and Julie Matysik, who had experience with children’s books and helped get the book into its final form.

TBD: What you want readers to take away from this book?

RE: We hope it will help older siblings adjust to having a new baby in the house–and reassure them that it’s okay to have mixed feelings about sharing attention with another little human. (From what I’ve heard, I was horrible when my sister was born, and now we are best friends.) We also want to calm the nerves of new parents whose dogs used to be the baby of the family and who are now experiencing “pet parent guilt” as they find themselves juggling vet and pediatrician visits, dog feeding and baby feeding, and yeah… maybe have forgotten to clip the dog’s nails for a while, okay?

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for picture book writers?

RE: Young children read books differently than adults do. Adults form a mental picture of the action as they read the words. Kids mostly look at the pictures while someone reads the words aloud to them, so the picture has to tell part of the story. Ginger and I learned this the hard way. There was a page in the book where we had put an exclamation point over Rudy’s head to show that he was surprised. In the first round of comments, the editors pointed out that punctuation marks don’t mean anything to kids who can’t read yet.
Roxanna Elden has been a teacher for eleven years and is the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. Her inspiration for Rudy’s New Human came from watching her dog, Rudy Elden, as he adjusted to having a new baby human in the house. She lives in Miami, Florida, with Rudy and his (now two!) little humans.

Ginger Seehafer is an illustrator who works as a commercial storyboard and
concept artist in the Chicagoland area. She studied at the American Academy of Art and started her art career as a caricature artist at Six Flags Great America. Ginger loves making art that inspires joy and creativity, especially in children who may become future artists themselves. She lives with her husband, two little humans, and two cats in Roselle, Illinois.

Rudy Elden has been a professional dog for eight years and is making his literary debut as the canine narrator of Rudy’s New Human. He likes lunchmeat, cheese, long naps, and medium-length walks.

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How to Get Published Successfully Conference and Pitchapalooza, Saturday, February 13, 2016

Can You Land an Agent or Book Deal at a Writers Conference?

Yes! Look, you can’t call up HarperCollins and say, “Hello! I’ve written a great book, could I please speak to Mr. Harper or Mr. Collins?” If you’re an unknown quantity, and you aren’t sleeping with someone at a literary agency–or even if you are, in some cases–it’s virtually impossible to get face time with a publishing professional, be it an agent, editor, or publisher. Your blind query is usually dropped with a plop into the slop of the dreaded and aptly named slush pile, where it is then skimmed over by an eighteen-year-old unpaid intern. The fate of your book, the object of your passion and hard work, is frightfully beyond your control. Luckily, at the best writers conferences and workshops, and even some of the top-drawer bookfairs and festivals, you can personally meet, speak with, and sometimes even pitch to real publishing professionals. We know. We’ve met amazing writers at all of these places and helped them get book deals.

“I’d already begun the pitch process by mail and email, and it felt like yelling into the void most of the time,” recalls Roxanna Elden, whose experiences looking for an agent to represent her first book are all too typical. “There were agents who took six months to respond to emails, and one who asked me to send a hard copy of the manuscript overnight, then rejected me weeks later with a one-line, all-lowercase email that said something like, ‘love the title but not for me sorry.'”

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Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu thought they had won the lottery when they almost immediately landed an agent. Their agent shopped their proposal to a dozen big New York City publishers and one by one they were rejected. “Soon after,” Nura explained, “our agent dumped us because she no longer had faith in the project.”

Roxanna, Nura, and Ayesha knew they needed to get in front of professionals. Roxanna signed up for Miami Writers Institute, an annual conference at Miami Dade College. There, she attended a talk by agent Rita Rosenkranz. “By this time, I had perfected my pitch and built my platform and had some idea of what I hoped to find in an agent. Then, in her talk, Rita mentioned that many agents wrongly ignore books for niche markets, which my first book was. She also said she was looking for authors who showed the willingness to hustle to promote their work. Everything she said made her seem like an incredibly good fit for my work. I walked up to her after the talk, handed her my card, and emailed her as fast as I could. She answered my email within 24 hours… and still does!” Rita went on to sell not only Roxanna’s first book, See Me After Class, but also her children’s picture book, Rudy’s New Human.

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Nura and Ayesha took themselves to Litquake, San Francisco’s biggest literary festival. They signed up for an event we do around the country called Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for books), and they won an introduction to an agent or editor who was appropriate for their book, Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women. One call later, they had a book deal. “A year later, our book was published and we were on the front page of the New York Times Arts section. And, two years later, we had a follow up book, Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy!”

But just attending a writers conference, workshop, or book festival is no guarantee of a book deal. How you present yourself (and to whom) matters as much as your idea and your book. You have to pick the right agent or editor. Present yourself as a complete package. Seize every opportunity at just the right moment.

Lana Krumwiede, whose attendance at the James River Writers Conference helped land her first book deal for Just Itzy, advises, “Be as prepared as possible by researching the agents, editors, and authors who will be speaking. You’ll get more out of the conference that way and you’ll feel more confident talking to people. Get out there and talk to people! Ask (appropriate) questions and take in as much as you can. And if you have an appointment with an editor or an agent, don’t fall into the trap of thinking of it as your ‘one big chance.’ There is no such thing as ‘one big chance.’ You will have as many chances as you create for yourself.”

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Victoria Skurnick, a literary agent at Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency, has this advice for first-time attendees, “There are ways to an agent’s heart at conferences for writers. The first is–be normal. This is harder for some people than you might have thought. The second, be helpful. The people who provided me with a club soda when they noticed my voice cracking, who offered to pick me up and drive me to a dinner far away–I will be grateful to them for the rest of my life.”

We agree. Here are our top ten tips for scoring at a writers conference, workshop, or bookfair.

The Book Doctors Top 10 Tips for Scoring at a Writers Conference, Workshop or Bookfair

  1. Look good, smell good, and don’t be late. Pretend you’re a guest on The Today Show–act and dress accordingly.
  2. Be respectful of publishing professionals. Don’t just blast over and bombard them. Be patient, wait for your opening. Never pitch your book unless they ask you to, and if they do, don’t go longer than a minute. And please, we beg you, don’t follow them into the bathroom! This has happened to us more times than we care to remember.
  3. Listen more than you talk. Your goal should not be to pitch at all costs. Better to have a good conversation where you get to know an editor or agent.
  4. Research! Make sure the event caters to the kind of book you’re selling. Make note of who is presenting, and plan your approach for whom you want to meet. Sign up early. The most valuable conferences, classes, and one-on-one sessions fill up fast.
  5. How do you get to perform at Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. The same is true with pitching books. Workshop your pitch whenever possible. Tell everybody who will listen, honing your delivery so the pitch lasts less than a minute. Try rehearsing with other conference attendees. All this extra effort will have a make-or-break effect on an agent or editor.
  6. Have an excellent business card and don’t be afraid to use it. Collect as many cards as you can.
  7. After the event, follow up all leads as quickly as possible. Early birds strike while the iron is hot.
  8. Network! Meet as many fellow writers as possible. These encounters can blossom into all sorts of relationships. You never know who will be published one day.
  9. Buy books written by people you want to approach. Ask them to sign the book for you if they are willing. Use this as an informal opportunity to make a connection.
  10. Connect! Do something nice for booksellers, agents, editors, writers, and publishing professionals using social media. If done actively and appropriately, tweeting, facebooking, instagramming, and blogging are great ways of staying in touch and making yourself a known quantity.

The Book Doctors travel across America to feature in writers workshops, conferences, bookfairs, and festivals. On February 13th, we’re holding a conference and Pitchapalooza at one of the greatest bookstores in the country, Changing Hands. If you are in the Phoenix area, come hang out, polish your skills, and maybe take a selfie with us. But please, don’t follow us into the bathroom.

How to Get Published Successfully Conference and Pitchapalooza, Saturday, February 13, 2016
 

To read this article on the Huffington Post, click here.

Roxanna Elden has been a teacher for eleven years and is the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. Her inspiration for Rudy’s New Human came from watching her dog, Rudy Elden, as he adjusted to having a new baby human in the house. She lives in Miami, Florida, with Rudy and his (now two!) little humans.

Lana Krumwiede began her writing career by creating stories and poems for publications such as Highlights, High Five, Spider, Babybug, The Friend, and Chicken Soup for the Child’s Soul. Her first novel, Freakling (Candlewick, 2012) was named a finalist for SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Member’s Choice Award and an honor book for the International Reading Association’s Intermediate Fiction Award. Freakling was followed by two more novels, Archon (2013) and True Son (2015). Lana is also the author of the picture book Just Itzy (2015). She lives with her husband and daughter in Richmond, where she sits on the board of directors for James River Writers and runs a local writers’ group.

Ayesha Mattu is a writer, editor and international development consultant who has worked in the field of women’s human rights since 1998. She was selected a ‘Muslim Leader of Tomorrow’ by the UN Alliance of Civilizations & the ASMA Society and has served on the boards of IDEX, the Women’s Funding Network, and World Pulse. Ayesha is an alumna of Voices of Our Nations writers’ workshop and a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

Nura Maznavi is an attorney, writer, and Fulbright Scholar. She has worked with migrant workers in Sri Lanka, on behalf of prisoners in California, and with a national legal advocacy organization leading a program to end racial and religious profiling. She lives in Chicago.

Victoria Skurnick came to Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency after being at The Book-of-the Month Club for almost twenty years. As Editor-in-Chief, she relished the opportunity to devour every kind of book, from the finest literary fiction to Yiddish for Dogs. She also is the co-author (with Cynthia Katz) of seven novels written by “Cynthia Victor.”

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

Debra Diamond author

Debra Diamond on Going from Wall Street to Published Author

We first met Debra Diamond when at Pitchapalooza in Politics and Prose, one of the great book stores in America. She has completed an amazing journey from Wall Street money manager to artist, psychic and published author. We thought we’d check in with her and see what she has to report.

To read this interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

Debra Diamond book cover "Life After Near Death" Debra Diamond Author

The Book Doctors: Why did you decide to do something as ridiculous as write a book?

Debra Diamond: You have this idea and think, “I’m going to write a book,” and don’t realize until you’re down the road what you’ve gotten yourself into. It’s overwhelming and exhilarating, and challenging and while I wrestled the book to the ground, I often thought, “What the hell am I doing?”

I always wanted to write a book and have been writing my whole life, although some of it was in my former work on Wall Street. Growing up, I was a big reader. I knew I wanted to write a book and first tried my hand at fiction. That was like getting my MFA or being thrown into the deep end and trying to keep my head above water. Writing a book is hard. It’s even harder if you don’t know what you’re doing, which I didn’t. The first manuscript had some good moments but let’s just say this: I’m leaving it in the desk drawer. Life After Near Death is actually my third manuscript. I had the idea of doing research on near-death experience aftereffects, which are not well understood or researched. After I finished the research, the next step was putting the information into a book.

TBD: How did you learn to be a writer?

DD: I started out in a writing group in Taos, New Mexico. The teacher was excellent. Everyone in the group had to learn how to do critique, to understand what worked and what didn’t in our writing, and why. That helped me to understand what writing was about a bit better. From there, I was juried into a writing group at the 92nd Street Y in New York, wrote in a workshop at the Writers Center in Washington, DC, and attended writers conferences, listened to speakers talk about their craft. I read every book I could get my hands on and paid attention to how writers do their jobs. But the best way to learn to be a writer is to write. Practice. Practice. Practice.

TBD: What are some of your favorite books and writers, and why?

DD: I love Mary Karr. The Liars’ Club was dazzling, and what it did for memoir was noteworthy, creating a new template in an existing genre. Michael Lewis because he can take a dry topic (Wall Street) and bring it to life. I especially like Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood because he makes some comments in that book that most of us would never say, much less reveal in a book for the public.

I love thrillers and am in awe of those authors who can juggle conflict, character arc, multiple plot lines, spicy dialogue and compelling settings as if they’re writing a late-for-school notice. I started reading Dennis Lehane back in the early ’90s with A Drink Before the War and Darkness, Take My Hand. I like Joseph Finder and local Baltimore author Laura Lippman because both of them know how to tell a good story.

TBD: How did you go about getting your book deal?

DD: I decided to give traditional publishing a try. It can often take years to find an agent and publisher and then another 18-24 months after that until the book comes out. I wanted this book to be published sooner so I made up my mind that I’d try to find a publisher for a few months, and if that didn’t work, I’d self-publish.

I wrote a query letter that went out to over 200 publishers that I thought would be interested in the topic. The list included college and academic presses, small and intermediate publishers, theological book publishers, publishers in the spirituality and new age categories and the big five New York publishing houses.

The query letter was short but concise, three paragraphs long. The first paragraph described the book (research on a universe of more than 50 people and specific near-death aftereffects including mathematical gifts, enhanced hearing, improved eyesight, electrical sensitivity). The second paragraph explained my marketing approach, and the third paragraph was my bio (former Wall Street money manager and artist who left a high profile life to pursue a life of purpose and spirituality, former regular commentator on CNBC).

Fifteen minutes after the query letters went out, my email inbox was flooded. I had over 35 requests for the book proposal and am still receiving them. The responses ran the gamut from one publisher who said, “With your background, I know you’re going to go with a New York publisher and don’t want to get my hopes up,” to one of the Big Five where four different editors approached me for a proposal to one publisher who emailed me a contract without any preliminaries. I had multiple offers. I didn’t have an agent, so I had to go out and find one. I chose a publisher who fast-tracked the book. It will be released in January 2016, one year after the query letters went out.

Debra Diamond's inbox
TBD: How does you work as a psychic affect your work as an artist and a writer?

DD: I’d like to say that I just close my eyes and everything instantly comes to me. The truth is, I’m just like everyone else. Writing, art or any of the creative endeavors, require hard work and discipline. I have to sit down and do the work just like everyone else. There are no short cuts. I may be open at times because I’m a psychic, but that doesn’t get the book written or do the research or make the work of revising any easier. In truth, lots of creative people are open, and if they’re lucky, find that thread of an idea that wants to emerge. If they’re very lucky, they can access it and nurture it. Being psychic may help the creative process incrementally, but I’m just like everyone else who is searching for the right words, the right phrase, the right image. I still have to do the work.

TBD: How would you react to skeptics who say that clairvoyance is not possible?

DD: I’d say, “Okay.”

The truth is, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I think many people have had experiences for which there is no logical explanation. Sometimes we can look outside ourselves for answers. But for some people, no matter what I tell them, they’ll never be convinced. And that’s okay. It’s not my job to try to convert anyone.

TBD: What advice do you have for artists starting their own businesses?

DD: Being in the arts, as an artist, writer, musician, is tough.

I might suggest that they have a steady full-time job until they can build up enough of a business that they can afford to become a full-time artist (writer, musician) because it takes time and you have to eat in the meantime.

TBD: I hate to ask you this, but what advice you have for writers?

DD: Keep writing. It’s how you get better. Don’t give up. I met a woman at a writers conference who had a book coming out. I asked her how many books she’d written before she got this one published and she said, “Eighteen.” I’m not sure if that’s extreme, but I know that you have to keep going. I look at writing the same way I look at all businesses (and I came out of the business world where I watched businesses develop and grow). It takes time, grit, focus, hard work; plus you have to have something that other people want. If you write a book that no one is interested in reading, it might not help you get to the end destination. A lot of things have to break the right way to skew the odds in your favor. You have control over some, and not others.

Debra Diamond is a former Wall Street money manager and artist who left a high-profile life to pursue one of purpose and spirituality. In 2008, she had a transformational experience that left her with unconventional powers as a clairvoyant and medium. As an investment professional, Debra was a professor at Johns Hopkins University and a regular commentator on CNBC. She was profiled in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Baltimore Sun. She has an MBA from George Washington University and is a graduate of Christie’s Education and the Jung Institute. The mother of three sons, Debra splits her time between Taos, New Mexico, and the East Coast.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

Join our newsletter to receive more interviews and tips on how to get published. 

Josh Funk, author

Josh Funk On the War Between Pancakes & French Toast, SCBWI & Getting Published

We first met Josh Funk at the New England SCBWI Conference. (If you’re not a member of this group and you’re interested in books for kids, as soon as you’re done reading this piece and sharing it with everyone you know, go join that group. If you haven’t been to one of their conferences, ditto.) We were struck with Josh’s fabulous combination of goofiness and seriousness. It’s something we aspire to at The Book Doctors. And when we found out his debut picture book was going to be dropping, we had a wonderful wave of serious goofiness come over us. It’s called Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, and it’s a ripping barnburner full of outlandish action, heroic and dastardly characters, roller coaster rhymes and some absolutely fabulous illustrations by Brendan Kearney. So we thought we’d sit down with Señor Funk and see what’s new on Funk Island.

To read this interview on the Huffington Post, click here.
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The Book Doctors: First of all, congratulations. What did it feel like when you saw that first box of books arrive and you tore it open and there it was, your own baby book?

Josh Funk: Ahh, the Back to the Future moment: “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

Well, I didn’t exactly have the ‘open the box moment’ that you see in the movies (or at least that one movie). The first physical copy of Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast that I got a copy of was the one the Sterling sales rep gave to Porter Square Books (in Cambridge, MA). I got a tweet from a friendly bookseller at PSB who said she found my book, so I immediately rushed to Cambridge.

The first thing I noticed was the amazing design. I knew it was going to have an embossed cover with foil, but it was really stunning. The book creaked a little when I opened it. I had seen a digital copy, but the clarity of the images on the pages was overwhelming compared to seeing it on the screen. And I think it smelled a little bit like maple syrup.

And then I jumped around giddily for about ten minutes before the booksellers asked me to leave out of fear I was scaring away all of their customers.

TBD: Why in the name of all that’s good and holy would you choose to get into the publishing business? Have you had your head examined recently? Been checked for brain parasites?

JF: Haven’t had my head examined lately. It’s possible I’m housing parasites. But the real reason is that I always read a lot of books to my kids. One day I thought, ‘I can do this.’

But once I joined my first critique group, then attended my first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference, I realized I had a lot to learn. But I also noticed that the kidlit community is so warm and welcoming and just plain fun. I quit my fantasy football leagues and started taking writing more seriously.

I’d like to think that even if I never sold a book, I’d still be happy just to be a part of the kidlit world.

TBD: How did you go about getting a book contract not only for Lady Pancake, but also for your next two books which are coming out?

JF: In the May of 2013, I gave up on trying to acquire a literary agent. I was getting almost no responses to my queries. Out of 35 queries for Lady Pancake, 1 agent responded with a rejection implying she read it (or at least read the title). The other 34 were made up of 10 form rejections and 24 black holes. I felt I was better than that, so I submitted Lady Pancake to 10 publishers via snail mail.

Around the same time, there was an open submission period to Scholastic via author/illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Inkygirl blog. The Scholastic editor was looking for material suited for ages 0-5, and the only manuscript I had written for that age group was Pirasaurs! (most of my picture books are geared toward kids ages 4-8).

And then as late summer rolled around, I finished revising another manuscript (Dear Dragon) and decided to send it out to publishers that accepted submissions via email and online form.

By early November, Scholastic told me they were taking Pirasaurs! to acquisitions, Dear Dragon had garnered interest from two small publishers, and Sterling made an offer for Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast. All of that, plus a personal recommendation from a friend helped me obtain representation with an (awesome) agent. Over the next two months, my agent finalized the deals with Sterling and Scholastic and found a home for Dear Dragon at Penguin/Viking.

And that’s how I got an agent and sold three picture book manuscripts between November of 2013 and January of 2014. I know it’s a non-traditional path, but I feel extremely fortunate with the way it worked out.

TBD: Hasn’t anyone told you that rhyming books don’t sell? How did you overcome this ridiculous idea, and why do you think people keep saying that?

JF: Oh, boy. I have thought about this a LOT. Many rhyming picture books get published every year. So why do people say not to write in rhyme? Why is there this stigma? Well, there’s a single simple reason.

It’s very easy to write bad rhyme.

And lots of people do (please note that if you’re reading this and you like to write rhyming picture books, I’m not talking about you).

Everyone grew up reading and loving Dr. Seuss. Therefore, many people think that picture books are supposed to rhyme. When they start writing picture books, that’s how they write them. This includes me.

It’s a flawed way of thinking. Not everyone is cut out to write rhyming picture books. It’s actually rather difficult. I personally believe that a good rhyming picture book has an added level of charm. But there are so many mistakes you can make when writing a rhyming picture book (mostly to do with rhythm, all of which I’ve discussed in depth on my website and while leading workshops).

But here’s the problem. When a literary agent receives a query for a rhyming picture book manuscript, there’s a 99% chance that it’s bad rhyme. And it’s not worth the agent’s time to read 99 bad rhyming manuscripts, just to get to the one good one. And I completely understand and agree with that policy. Add to that the fact that it’ll be nearly as hard for an agent to sell a rhyming manuscript to an editor. I truly believe that this is why my query response rate was so utterly abysmal (in retrospect, I shouldn’t have said that the manuscript rhymed in the query).

I overcame this hurdle by first worked very hard to improve my rhyming, spending lots of time reverse-engineering critique partners’ comments.

Second, I bypassed agents. An agent is (rightfully) concerned with a writer’s entire body of work and career. If you submit a single rhyming manuscript embedded in an email query and that’s all they have to go on, it doesn’t make you a particularly enticing prospective client. But an editor is more concerned with a single manuscript. It’s not that they don’t care about you or your career, but if they like a manuscript, rhyming or not, that’s all they have to commit to.

I figured I’d have better odds of someone actually reading my manuscript at a publishing house. And at least in this case, I was correct.

TBD: What are some of your favorite things about being a professional author? What are some of the most horrifying things about being a professional author?

JF: I love getting to meet fun people. Like other awesome authors I admire. And super cool teachers and librarians like those in the Nerdy Book Club. Seeing my son’s face the first time someone asked me for an autograph (part confusion, part amazement, part pride) – that was pretty cool. I also get to travel a little more than I used to.

Horrifying? I guess a Misery-type situation would be horrifying. Other than that, I’m all peaches and roses.

TBD: We are big lovers of pancakes and French toast around here. I, myself, leaned toward the pancake. Olive, our eight-year-old, often leans toward the French toast. I think you can divide all of humanity into these two categories. How did you come up with this fantastic idea for a book?

JF: One Saturday morning, I asked my kids what they wanted for breakfast. One said, “Pancakes.” The other said, “French toast.” “Pancakes.” “French toast.” “Pancakes!” “French toast!”

While the arguing continued, I checked the kitchen, and as you might have expected, all we had were waffles. To top it off (literally and figuratively), we had enough maple syrup left to fill a single square on a waffle grid.

It was on the way to the diner that I came up with the idea.

TBD: What was it like working with your editor? Illustrator? Agent?

JF: Zaneta Jung (my editor at Sterling) is terrific. We had one phone conversation discussing her revision notes, went back and forth for a week over email finalizing the manuscript, and that was pretty much it. Zaneta (pronounced ‘zuh-net-ta’) has so much energy and excitement for kids’ books. She has a great eye for picking out illustrators, too. She definitely had a hand in finding Brendan Kearney.

Like many author/illustrator relationships, Brendan and I didn’t really talk much (or at all). Rumor has it that the publishers like it this way. Author talks to editor editor talks to art director art director talks to illustrator. This way, the publisher maintains complete control of the message (good or bad). I’ve had nothing but good things to say about Brendan’s work on Lady Pancake, which I think have been relayed to him. I’ve had a handful of quick conversations with Brendan over Google chat, but that’s about it.

My agent, Kathleen Rushall, is a rock star! I was extremely fortunate to sign with her while she was actively building her picture book list. She represents picture books through young adult at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency and is strong in every aspect you’d want from an agent. She has a fabulous editorial eye, she has a good sense of what particular editors are looking for, she knows the business and contracts side, she’s extremely communicative, and she’s a genuine pleasure to work with. We, her clients, affectionately refer to ourselves at #TeamKrush. We even have a logo designed by author Jessie Devine for PitchWars.

2015-09-23-1443041716-4337963-joshfunkteamkrush.jpg

TBD: What do you see is the value of going to a writer’s conference? And specifically how has being a member of SCBWI helped you in your career and as a person?

JF: I think going to a writer’s conference is valuable at many levels of your career. If you’re brand new to the writing world, you’ll be able to learn the basics. It’s important to learn not only the craft of writing, but also about the industry and its expectations (e.g. picture book manuscripts should be around 300-500 words).

Once you’ve learned the basics, you might meet people who will ultimately become your critique partners (this has happened to me).

Perhaps you’ll read a picture book manuscript at an event’s open mic session, which will validate that you’re on the right track (also happened to me).

Maybe you’ll have a good time, make some friends, and get to watch the one-of-a-kind #Pitchapalooza led by The Book Doctors (again, happened to me).

Conferences avail the opportunity to connect with agents and editors for critiques or casual conversations (networking is so important).

SCBWI kickstarted everything for my writing life. In 2012, I attended my first New England SCBWI Regional Conference as one of about 700 attendees. And in 2016, I’ll be co-coordinating the conference alongside Heather Kelly, writer and founder of The Writers’ Loft (planning is already heavily underway for next spring’s event).

In 2016, we’re trying something new. We thought it might be nice to hear from (and get face time with) leading educators and booksellers. We’re bringing in a panel tentatively called “The Voice of Reading” with Elizabeth Bluemle (author, bookseller, blogger at PW’s Shelftalker), Donalyn Miller (teacher, author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, Nerdy Book Club co-founder), Susannah Richards (professor, expert in all things children’s literature), and John Schumacher (AKA Mr. Schu, school librarian, newly appointed Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic Book Fairs).

SCBWI has helped me so much in such a short period, I’m grateful for the opportunity to volunteer my time to plan the 2016 (and 2017) NE Regional Conferences.

TBD: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

JF: Keep writing. When you finish a manuscript, write the next one. It’ll be even better than the last. Networking is half the battle. I’ve written a 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books available (for free) on my website here.

TBD: And finally, how do you keep it so funky?

JF: I eat lots of candy corn. I wear Old Spice deodorant. And I’m 17% psychic.

Josh Funk is the author of Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (Sterling), available now. Josh is also the author of the forthcoming picture books Dear Dragon(Viking/Penguin 2016), Pirasaus! (Scholastic 2017), and more. Josh spends his days as a software engineer writing Java code and Python scripts, and his nights and weekend drinking Java coffee and writing picture book manuscripts, alongside his wife, children, and assorted pets and monsters. Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA, and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. Find out more about Josh, his books, his schedule for public appearances, and more at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, June 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

Join our newsletter to receive more interviews and tips on how to get published. 

Andy Ross, agent Andy Ross Literary Agency

How to Find an Agent: The Book Doctors and Andy Ross

The Book Doctors first met Andy Ross at Cody’s Books, which was one of the most influential bookstores on the West Coast, smack dab in the middle of Telegraph Avenue in book-crazy Berkeley, California. In fact David did his first professional book reading at Cody when his first memoir Chicken came out. Andy’s now an agent, and we thought we’d check in with him about how he views the book business from behind a desk dealing with writers rather than behind a cash register dealing with readers. To read on the Huffington Post click here.

Andy Ross, agent Andy Ross Literary Agency

The Book Doctors: How did you get started in the ridiculous book business?

Andy Ross: I got into it for ridiculous reasons. I was in graduate school studying German Intellectual History at the University of Oregon. I was unhappy. I didn’t understand Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, my girlfriend left me and joined a hippy free love commune, and it rained a lot. I decided I needed a change and I liked bookstores. These were/are not good reasons to set one’s path for the rest of his/my life, but still…. That was 40 years ago, and here I am today.

TBD: What did you learn about the book business in your time owning Berkeley’s iconic Cody’s Books?

AR: That would be a very long list. I owned it for 30 years. What strikes me now is all the things I didn’t learn. A bookstore is the end of the literary food chain. By the time I opened the shipment box from the publisher, the books had been written, edited, designed, printed, marketed, and shipped. I only did one thing, but a pretty important thing: I put it into the hands of the book lover.

TBD: How has becoming an agent changed your view of writers, writing, and the publishing industry?

AR: Otto von Bismarck is reputed to have said: “Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made.” I think the creative process is like that too. It’s pretty messy. But also pretty miraculous, when I see the transformation from a train wreck of a first draft into a masterpiece.

TBD: How has the book business changed since you started, for better and for worse?

AR: I first opened a small store in Sonoma County, California in 1972. It was 600 square feet, about as big as my living room. My first day, my sales were $32. Remember the counter culture? We sold a lot of books, mostly paperbacks, on humanistic psychology, eastern mysticism, and other things spiritual. Fritz Perls, Abraham Maslow, Alan Watts, The Urantia Book, Be Here Now, and Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism were some of my best selling books and authors back then. I made a lot of money on the I Ching (Princeton University Press edition). And, of course, all things having to do with the ever mysterious, Carlos Castañeda. The big topic of conversation was whether Casteñnada really existed – although much later he married a friend of mine. She said he was a rat. But the business still had its share of schock at the top of the lists. It was no worse than it is now.

TBD: What mistakes do you see writers make? What things do you see successful writers do?

AR: Let’s talk about mistakes in writing fiction. What I see from inexperienced writers is not knowing when the story starts. Too much literary throat clearing, usually in the form of “prologues.” The use and misuse of adverbs. My advice to the writers is: “get rid of all of them.” (Andy said authoritatively.) Using too many metaphorical figures of speech is a sign of insecurity in an inexperienced writer. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a green tree is a green tree.

TBD: What are your pet peeves about writers and their submissions?

AR: We don’t have enough time for this, but here are just a few things: In your query letter, don’t say “this is a fiction novel” and really don’t say “this is a non-fiction novel.” Don’t mention Eat, Pray, Love; Malcolm Gladwell; or Oprah in the query letter or book proposal. Be honest and transparent to your agent, and I will be/do the same with you/the publisher. I don’t know what your advance will be. If any agent tells you: “I can get you a 6 figure deal” or “this book has Hollywood written all over it,” best to find a different agent.

TBD: Tell us about the Slush Pile Derby?

AR: I made a bet with somebody that anyone could see talent right away, even if you couldn’t explain it. So I took 10 first paragraphs from my slush pile. None of them were horrible. Some of them I decided to represent based on that first paragraph. They were subsequently published. When I do the slush pile derby at writers conferences, pretty much everyone can identify the books that got my attention.

TBD: Do you google potential clients? How much attention do you pay to the platform?

AR: I like to say that platform means one of two things: Either you have an endowed chair at Harvard or you are sleeping with Oprah’s hairdresser. Platform is almost essential in non-fiction. But with fiction, it’s usually about the story and the style.

TBD: What advice do you have for writers?

AR: For writers of literary fiction, most of it won’t find a publisher. If I’m representing you, you are good enough to get published. But commercial publishing is a business. You have to be good, but that isn’t enough. They usually make decisions more for marketing reasons than for aesthetic reasons. Rejections are a big part of this business. Learn to live with it and keep writing. If you are writing memoir, it’s often even harder to find a publisher. Remember that the journey is the destination. Or as Camus famously said: “The struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart.”

Andy Ross was the owner of the Legendary Cody’s Books in Berkeley from 1977-2007. In 2008 he started the Andy Ross Literary Agency. Andy represents books in a wide range of genres including: narrative non-fiction, journalism, history, current events, literary and commercial fiction, and teen fiction. Andy has a popular blog, “Ask the Agent,” where he talks about writing, and book publishing and reminisces about his life as a bookseller. You can find Andy’s website at www.andyrossagency.com.

 

Pitch tip: Show How the Characters Change

Today’s pitch tip: I need to know how the characters change in the course of the story. What happens in your story and how do your characters develop?

That’s not to say we want to know everything. Time and again, we see amateur authors pitch by trying to tell the plot of their entire novel or memoir in excruciating detail. Here’s the kind of thing we’ve heard about a squazillion times: “My main character, Frodo Potter, gets up one morning and decides to have breakfast. So he invites his pet rat Bobo to eat an egg with him. But the egg is slightly runny, so they decide to cook it a little bit more….” This pitch, which we heard a few months ago, might still be going on if we hadn’t emphatically put an end to it. Broad strokes combined with specific imagery should display how exciting your characters and story are. Universal appeal should be implied via the mention of themes rather than an endless recitation of events. And, again, the pitch should be the amuse bouche that gives your audience a tiny, delightful taste of the delicacy that is your writing.

Once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback. Join The Book Doctors for Pitchapalooza and we’ll critique your pitch. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, we pick a winner who receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their work.

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! 

More pitch tips

Pitch Tip: Stakes and Danger

Pitch Tip: Villains We Love to Hate 

Pitch Tip: Convince Me They’re Charming and Sexy

Pitch Tip: Word Pictures

Find more pitch tips at thebookdoctors.com and in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  Watch this short cartoon to find out how NOT to pitch your book.

 

Pitch tip: Build your world through word pictures specific and sharp

Pitch Tip: Word Pictures

Pitch tip: Build your world through word pictures specific and sharp

A strong pitch helps writers successfully query literary agents.

Today’s pitch tip: Build your world through word pictures specific and sharp, not general and vague.

Your world building needs to be as vivid as your heroes and villains. We need you to show us this exotic world you’re taking us to with word pictures. That’s part of the joy of a book.

Your pitch is your audition to show us your skills as a prose stylist. Just telling us that it’s a rich backdrop doesn’t really let me know that you’re capable of weaving gorgeous word pictures that make your book come to life. For example, instead of telling me that your story is set in lush southern Louisiana, you have to show that landscape to me. Wow me with how beautifully you can portray this part of the world.

Make the pitch for your hardcore, authoritative business book hardcore and authoritative. Make your tear jerker jerk some tears. Make the pot boil on your potboiler.

Once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback. Join The Book Doctors for Pitchapalooza and we’ll critique your pitch. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, we pick a winner who receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their work.

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! 

More pitch tips

Pitch Tip: Stakes and Danger

Pitch Tip: Villains We Love to Hate 

Pitch Tip: Convince Me They’re Charming and Sexy

Pitch Tip: Show How the Characters Change

Find more pitch tips at thebookdoctors.com and in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  Watch this short cartoon to find out how NOT to pitch your book.

 

Pitch Tip: Convince Me They’re Charming and Sexy

Telling us that someone’s charming and sexy doesn’t convince me they’re charming and sexy. You have to paint vivid word pictures, just like you do for your villains.

Need examples on how to do that? Read flap copy and, particularly, the backs of paperbacks, where the whole kit and caboodle is limited to a paragraph or two, tops. You’ll see how concise those copywriters had to be, and how they managed to describe a book — and sell it — in only a few sentences. Online bookstores are great resources as well, and they have an added benefit: Because nearly every book is accompanied by flap or back cover copy, you can cut-and-paste phrases you like into a document and then use these phrases to craft your own pitch. Just be sure to study copy that represents the writing style of your book. (And don’t copy copy. There’s a word for that: plagiarism!)

Remember, once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback. Join The Book Doctors for Pitchapalooza and we’ll critique your pitch. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, we pick a winner who receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their work.

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! 

More pitch tips

Pitch Tip: Stakes and Danger 

Pitch Tip: Villains We Love to Hate 

Pitch Tip: Word Pictures

Pitch Tip: Show How the Characters Change 

Find more pitch tips at thebookdoctors.com and in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Watch this short cartoon to find out how NOT to pitch your book.

Pitch Tip: Villains We Love to Hate

Give us a villain we love to hate. Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at. It would be great to give tiny little physical descriptors to your main characters. Show us that you’re capable of painting beautiful and realistic tableaux as you make your story world come to life.

Remember, once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback. Join The Book Doctors for Pitchapalooza and we’ll critique your pitch. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, we pick a winner who receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their work.

Writer beware

Yes, we did use Lord Voldemort as an illustration, but your pitch must be selective about comparable titles and characters. Do not overpromise. Have you called your opus the next Eat, Pray, Love? An even better version of Harry Potter? Early Philip Roth with a dash of Jane Austen? If so, you’ve got trouble. Better to underpromise and overdeliver. As Daniel Greenberg of the The Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency says, “Anytime anyone compares himself to a big bestseller, it’s a big turnoff. While it’s not impossible that there’s a real comparison to be made, it raises my suspicion that the person is overhyping himself.”

Instead, construct a pitch that specifically explains how your book will speak to the audience of those über-authors: “What happens when the repressed male sexuality of Alexander Portnoy meets the strong-minded, spunky joie de vivre of Elizabeth Bennett? Watch the sparks fly in The Shiksa of Herefordshire, a new twist on the old battle of the sexes.”

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! 

More pitch tips

Pitch Tip: Stakes and Danger

Pitch Tip: Convince Me They’re Charming and Sexy

Pitch Tip: Word Pictures

Pitch Tip: Show How the Characters Change

Find more pitch tips at thebookdoctors.com and in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  Watch this short cartoon to find out how NOT to pitch your book.

Show us stakes and danger pitch tip desert

Pitch Tip: Stakes and Danger

Show us stakes and danger pitch tip desert

Get an agent with a strong pitch

Show us stakes and danger on an immediate level and on a mega quest level.

Don’t underestimate the power of the pitch. Your pitch will be both the backbone and lifeblood of your book, from idea through (and past) publication. When you approach an agent, you will have to explain what your book is about. When your agent approaches an editor at a publishing house, she will have to explain what your book is about. When the editor presents your book at his editorial meeting, he will have to tell his editorial colleagues as well as his colleagues in publicity, marketing and sales what your book is about. And they will all be evaluating his pitch to determine whether or not to buy your book. If you’re lucky enough to sell your book, the sales force will go out to large retailers and small booksellers alike to pitch your book. And the publicity and marketing staff will be pitching your book to the media. If you get on the Today show and Matt Lauer asks what your book is about, you better have a very good answer.

There are two kinds of pitches:

  1. The elevator pitch, which is over by the time the elevator gets to the next floor
  2. Your long-form pitch

Never, ever, let your pitch go longer than a minute. Whenever pitches go longer than a minute, eyes start to glaze and boredom sets in. Hey, most people are willing to give you a minute, but often not a second longer.

Once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback. Join The Book Doctors for Pitchapalooza and we’ll critique your pitch. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, we pick a winner who receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their work.

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! 

More pitch tips

Pitch Tip: Villains We Love to Hate 

Pitch Tip: Convince Me They’re Charming and Sexy

Pitch Tip: Word Pictures

Pitch Tip: Show How the Characters Change

Find more pitch tips at thebookdoctors.com and in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book PublishedWatch this short cartoon to find out how NOT to pitch your book.

 

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