#FridayReads with Wendy McClure

It’s #FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staffers!  Today Senior Editor Wendy McClure talks about her current reads:

Remember back in October when I told you I wasn’t sure I was going to hit my Goodreads Challenge Goal for 2014?  It turns out—whew!—I did. Those lazy days around Christmas and New Years really helped, and so did audiobooks. I’m pretty new to the audiobook thing. I’d never listened to them on a regular basis before this past fall. In fact, I resisted them: my editor brain is so used to thinking in terms of print that I thought that was the only way I could truly experience a book. But when I was facing a long solo car trip in November I decided to listen to Amy Poehler’s audio book; after that experience, I figured out how to download audiobooks from the public library onto my phone so I could listen to them while driving home from work. (Or folding laundry, or working in the kitchen, or working out at the gym.) I hit my reading goal, and I discovered that audiobooks are good for my editor brain as well: I find I pick up things about story pacing, shifts in tone, and narrative and character voice.

So audiobooks are now A Thing with me, and my favorite audio genre right now is middle-grade fiction. At the moment I’m halfway through The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I read a New York Times review a few years back, and then it won the 2011 Odyssey Award, which is the ALA award for kids’ audiobooks. So I had a feeling it would be good.

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You guys. It is hilarious. Part of it is the writing and the premise, which is: aliens attack and take over Earth; the protagonist, a girl named Gratuity Tucci (her nickname is TIP) and her cat, Pig, embark on a road trip to Florida (she can drive; she has cans nailed to her church shoes so she can reach the pedals) where all the humans have been relocated. Along the way she encounters an outcast alien whose Earth name is “J.Lo,” and they become unlikely friends. And he takes apart her car and combines it with a slushie machine to make a hovercraft. Add to that a deeply funny performance from the reader, Bahni Turpin, and the result is an incredibly entertaining audio experience that I highly recommend.

I had no idea when I first got the audiobook, but apparently The True Meaning of Smekday has been adapted by Dreamworks as an animated feature and is coming out under the title Home in March!  Looks fun, except the alien is no longer named J. Lo. Okay, so the movie features J. Lo as one of the voiceover actors, so I suppose a compromise had to be made. But for me, Alien J. Lo has become the true J.Lo. You’ll have to check out The True Meaning of Smekday to understand.

#FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staff …Plus StarWarsReadsDay!

It’s #FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staffers!  Today Senior Editor Wendy McClure talks about her current reads:

So I’m one of those nerds who does the reading challenge on Goodreads, where you set a reading goal for the year and log all your books. In the past years my goal has been around thirty books—not that many compared to some folks, but then I read a lot of manuscripts for my job, so if you count unpublished works or books in production, my stats are a lot higher. So high, in fact, that I decided I was totally WINNING at reading and decided to set my Goodreads goal for FORTY books this year. So here’s where I’m at now:

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You guys, I don’t know if I’m going to make it to my goal.

Part of what got me behind is The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, the most recent book I finished, because it’s 600 pages. But it’s one of the better 600-page books I’ve read. Then again, I don’t take on a book this long unless I’ve heard it’s good. And as it happened, my husband read it, and he made me read it too, partly because he wanted to talk to someone about it.

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This is only the second David Mitchell novel that I’ve read—last year I read Black Swan Green, and I’ve been trying to gather the will to read Cloud Atlas (which is supposed to be a challenging read). How do I even begin to describe The Bone Clocks? Um, well, it begins in 1984 and ends in 2044. And it’s divided up into six sections. And there are immortal characters fighting a psychic war that has lasted for centuries. And since it’s 600 pages, you really do feel like you’ve been fighting a psychic war for centuries. IN A GOOD WAY, I mean. I really enjoyed it. It just came out, so you’re probably reading all about it right now anyway. (And hey! Here’s an excerpt.) I won’t give anything away except to say that I really hope the real 2044 is better than the one in the book (spoiler alert: it’ll make you want to hoard batteries).

Another fun thing about The Bone Clocks: my husband won the advanced reader copy in a bookstore raffle, so we both got to feel like the cool kids on the block for getting to read it early. And this is one of the first times I’ve read an ARC and found out that there are some significant differences in the final version: apparently David Mitchell loves to put characters from his previous books in cameo roles in other books. Several of them made an appearance in The Bone Clocks, but Mitchell changed his mind at the last minute and took out a few of them in the final version.  As an editor, I know of course that this can happen, but it was fascinating to find out about it from a reader’s standpoint.

So, what do you read next after reading a 600-page book about the future?

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Book 3 in a totally addictive YA trilogy!  Ashes to Ashes by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian is now on deck. This is the follow-up to the novels Burn for Burn and Fire with Fire (which of course I’ve read), about three girls who find they’ve been wronged by the same people and enter into a revenge pact to bring them down. PSYCHIC WAR, INDEED. I can’t wait.

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And here’s a little bonus link in honor of #StarWarsReadsDay tomorrow—my favorite story ever about books and Star Wars: Darth Vader Made Me Cry, about a book signing with the Imperial Dark Lord. Seriously, read it.

Rolling with the changes

Things never stay the same at publishing houses. Offices move, editors come and go, and submissions guidelines change all the time. Within the past five years here at AWCo we’ve relocated, seen two retirements in Editorial, experienced new leadership, and have changed our submissions response policy. For a small house like us with a long history, it feels like a lot of change, but it’s often par for the course at bigger houses.

What’s the best way for writers to respond to all these changes? Don’t panic. I say this because, well, people panic sometimes. I’ve gotten the phone calls. “I submitted my manuscript to Editor X,” the caller will tell me. “But I heard she’s gone! What does that MEAN? What do I do NEXT?”

I can’t speak for other publishers, particularly the bigger houses. But a writer sending us unagented work does nothave to worry that we’ll make a big bonfire of unread submissions addressed to Editor X. Here at AWCo, submissions still come addressed to Editor X sometimes, or for Editor Y, who retired two years ago, or even Editor Q, who left sometime in the 90s. They still get read.

Having an editor’s name is helpful in that it helps your submission get to the right place in a publisher’s office. In the case of our office, an envelope with an editor’s name on it will bypass the big pile of envelopes in the editorial mail bin and go straight to . . . the big pile of envelopes in an editor’s cubicle. One pile gets read a little faster, but both still get read.

How-to-get-published guides will tell you that a cover letter sent to a real name is preferable to “Dear Sir or Madam,” and that’s still true. But an editor’s name is not a Wonka Factory Golden Ticket to the inner circle of a publishing house. To an editor, a personally addressed cover letter lets her know simply that the writer has taken time to research the company and find out her name, or else came across her name in a publication or at a conference, or found her business card on the sidewalk. None of that, of course, is nearly as important as the manuscript enclosed.

Here are some additional tips for when you learn your Editor X has retired or left the company:

  • Just call. And be calm! Just state that you would like the name of another editor to submit work to now that Editor X is no longer there. (This works better than asking for the name of “Editor X’s replacement,” because sometimes the size and structure of a department changes as staff members come and go.)
  • When in doubt, just resubmit.If you had an unsolicited manuscript on submission to a recently departed editor, you may not know for sure whether it was read. Rather than trying to get other staff members to solve the mystery, just send your story again.
  • Don’t make assumptions.One of our other editors was very surprised to get a cover letter saying, “congratulations on your promotion, now that Editor X has retired!” (Luckily she thought it was hilarious.)
  • Write the best stories you can and put your energy into understanding the market. We tend to forgive the finer points of etiquette when a story is good enough.

Good luck with your submissions!

What’s in a Title?: The Editorial Perspective!

(From betterbooktitles.com)

Yesterday Michelle spoke about choosing a book title from the marketing department’s perspective, and about the “running argument” she has with us folks in Editorial.

Hmm, is it really an argument? Well, I will admit to thinking that if Marketing truly had their way, the title for every book would be an artless string of words broadcasting its selling appeal. The Hunger Games would be called ACTION PACKED DYSTOPIAN LOVE TRIANGLE and When You Reach Me would be FRIENDS ARE IMPORTANT, PLUS TIME TRAVEL.  It would be like that Better Book Titles site, except worse, because it would be for real! And mostly not funny!

But I also get why it’s often necessary for book titles to be unsubtle. Since Whitman specializes in “issues books” I understand that a well-chosen title can broadcast its usefulness to those in need. If a child is diagnosed with asthma, chances are her mom would rather not scan endless titles looking for artful metaphors for “hard to breathe.”

If anything, I think my place in the running argument titles is somewhere in between Marketing and the author. In fact, I’m often the actual go-between: sometimes I’ll have to explain to Marketing that the author-illustrator I’m working with would rather not have “A Story About the Importance of Oral Hygiene” as a subtitle for her picture book about a wacky tooth fairy; other times I might have to persuade a writer to let us come up with something better than “Tommy the Turtle” or “Reflections.”

(Note: these are all hypothetical examples.)

And I’ve been there right in the middle myself. A few years back I wrote a picture book about a girl with a peanut allergy. I called it “The Princess and the Peanut,” which I thought was totally the cleverest title in the world for a book about peanut allergy. Except that it didn’t have the word “allergy” in it. Somehow it sounded a lot less witty with that “A” word.  But Marketing began to insist, and while it took a while, I finally realized that while “The Princess and the Peanut” was a clever title, The Princess and the Peanut Allergy was a SMART one.

And then we all lived happily ever after, and with continued royalties, too! THE END.


I met Mouse!!!!

I work with most of our authors and illustrators long distance, and don’t usually get to meet them in person, but on the rare occasion that I do, it’s great. But it’s even more awesome when I get to meet a CHARACTER from a book I’ve worked on.

And this fall, on a weekend trip to Iowa, I got to meet Mouse from The Buddy Files! (Also known as “Dori Butler’s dog.”)

The thing about Mouse is that he really does look like a dog who speaks all in caps. He’s HUGE.

Here Mouse is telling my husband, “HELLO. YOU SMELL LIKE PEANUT BUTTER AND SOAP.”

Not only is Mouse a character in The Buddy Files books, he’s also, as a part Golden Retriever and as a therapy dog, the inspiration for Buddy himself. And he loves to play in the yard with Dori and her family.

LOOK AT THAT FACE.

Notes From a NaNoWriMo Convert

I’m not a convert to National Novel Writing Month in the way you might think. I’ve never completed a manuscript during NaNoWriMo (and in fact have only attempted it once). My conversion has to do with the fact that I used to really sort of hate NaNoWriMo. As a writer, I felt it reduced the book-writing process to a hacky speed-typing game, and as an editor I’d shudder at the thought of thousands of novella-length rough drafts heading straight to my inbox in December. NaNoWriMo was for dilettantes, I thought.

But in time I changed my mind. Something about that surge of collective writing energy rearing up every November as the weather grew colder was—I had to admit—extremely appealing. And if any underdeveloped NaNoWriMo novel manuscripts wound up in the slush pile, I couldn’t tell them apart from the many underdeveloped novel manuscripts that were already there.

Eventually I began to just appreciate NaNo for the unique creative opportunity that it is. Because if there’s one pet peeve I’ve developed from working in this business, it’s talking to people (acquaintances, strangers on airplanes, fellow cocktail party attendees) who find out what I do and tell me they have an idea for a book, a book that they will write someday. The peevish part is that because of my vocation, these folks often expect me to help them by giving them a complete explanation of the publishing process, or my agent’s email address, or even a book deal. But honestly, when someone has just an idea for book, the only way I can help is to say, “Well, then you should write the book.”

So I’m grateful now that every November, pretty much the entire internet comes out to rally behind those words: YOU SHOULD WRITE THE BOOK. Stop talking about “someday.” WRITE THE BOOK. Look, here’s a whole month where you can WRITE THE BOOK!

I believe NaNoWriMo can be serve you beset when you approach it not as gimmicky experiment, but as a starting point. Personally I don’t think NaNo’s official word count requirement and the “don’t delete anything, ever” rule is necessarily useful for everyone—for me, for example, taking the extra step to shape a sentence from time to time helps me think. And reading about this guy’s non-NaNoWriMo experience of writing a book in two months gives me pause when he says that he “barely left the apartment” while writing 1500 words a day, making me wonder how people who work day jobs manage to produce the 1667 words/day that NaNo requires. But as Justine Larbalestier points out, taking the time to write and think and learn about what kind of a writer you are is more important than the word count.

For that matter, there’s nothing saying you can’t start NaNoWriMo now, ten days into November, if hearing about thousands of people deciding to WRITE THE BOOK inspires you to WRITE THE BOOK. Why wait until next November?

From the Archives: The Scariest Children’s Book We’ve Ever Published

Oh, we’ve done plenty of Halloween books over the years, and we have a fine selection of them out this season and on our backlist. But the creepiest and most terrifying book our company has ever published isn’t a Halloween book at all.

It’s this book:

Published in 1945 with an exclusively black-and-white palette, Time to Eat presents “correct ideas on a proper, balanced diet for children,” according to the flap copy. Clearly, though, the book does far more than kill all the fun of mealtimes, and must have been used as an instrument of terror.

Scroll down, and brace yourself. What follows are some of the most haunting images ever produced for children.

Yes, just “stew.”

I think the use of shadow in this one is especially effective.

Oh, no.

And now, the worst one of all:

THE HORROR.

Happy Halloween, everyone!