Archive for jimmy

Fan Mail Wednesday #308: Advice to an Adult for Publishing a Children’s Book

We all get them. Sooner or later, every published author receives the query. It’s from a person who wants to know how to get published. These letters can be touchingly sincere or — at times — presumptuous and annoying. The annoying ones are typically a dashed off, two-sentence email with the request: Explain publishing to me . . . while I sit around and drink wine.

As if we have nothing better to do. 

They want, of course, for “the published” to hand over the Secret Key that lets them inside the Golden Egg where the rich and famous authors and illustrators all sit around sipping fabulous cocktails, gazing at our royalty checks and, endlessly, complaining about our publishers who don’t do enough marketing. 

(Publishers never do enough marketing.)

Alas, there is no Secret Key.

Anyway, I always answer and try to provide some helpful information. Or at least, basic human recognition — I see you — and hopefully a few encouraging words. 

Because it is really hard to feel like an outsider, that sense of how do I get seen? What do I do? Is there a trick? A short-cut? Anyway, I’m sympathetic to that feeling, even though there’s really nothing new or insightful I can possibly say.

See that rock: Start pushing it up the hill.

This email came with the subject heading: ADVICE FOR PUBLISHING A CHILDREN’S BOOK. For some reason, I gave a longer answer than usual, so share it here.

 

Hello Mr. Preller,

I hope this email finds you well. My name is _____, and I’m a general surgery resident at ______ hospital. I’m writing to you for advice on publishing my first book. A woman [edit: name omitted] at the Medical Library encouraged me to contact you.

Late one night last fall, on call as the senior trauma surgery resident, I wrote a children’s book. The children I had spent the night examining in the pediatric ED were afraid and bewildered, and their parents were afraid and bewildered as well. I realized that a good picture book could comfort the kids and their parents, and could explain the unfamiliar hospital environment.

I cold-emailed a literary agent this week and sent her a query letter looking for representation, but haven’t heard back. I’ve read a few blog posts about publishing a book, but I still don’t know very much about the process.

Do you have any advice on how to get from a finished manuscript sitting on my computer to the next step in the publication process?

Thank you very much!

Best,

Tyler

 

I replied . . .

 

Tyler,

How dare you disturb the GREAT OZ!

 

No, not really.

 

I actually replied . . . 

 

Tyler, 

Well done on recognizing a need and writing a manuscript.

That’s a big part of the job. But you still have work to do (often this work is what separates the published authors from the writers and the dabblers).

The standard and correct advice is that most publishers will only look at manuscripts represented by an agent. The old “slush pile” days, when an assistant editor or hired “reader” might comb through a pile of unsolicited manuscripts are pretty much over. Harry Potter killed it; suddenly everyone figured out a new, easy way to become millionaires.

Write a children’s book! How hard could it be?

Ha, ha, ha.

Publishers got overwhelmed. Some still try to sift through unsolicited manuscripts; others do not. These days, agents tend to be the most reliable gatekeepers, helping to weed out the manuscripts that don’t meet publishing standards or the ever-shifting demands of the marketplace.

So, yeah: Do some internet searching and find children’s book agents. Read the descriptions. Send them queries. Know that it might take months to receive an answer.

Note that an agent will only represent you if s/he thinks that your book has a chance of selling. She will not waste her time if she suspects it has no shot. An agent agrees to represent your work in the hope of earning 15% of the profits. Also, an agent’s credibility is at stake. If that agent passes along too many “bad” manuscripts, editors will no longer trust in that agent’s ability or sense of the marketplace. No one wants their time wasted. So, yeah, in a lot of ways finding an agent is a critical step in the process.

Your book falls under what we used to call “bibliotherapy.” Books designed for specific needs, a narrow audience, often to help young children face social or physical problems. Most of the big publishers you know off the top of your head likely won’t be interested in a niche book like yours. Which doesn’t mean it’s not a deserving or publishable book — it’s just not going to be a bestseller. However, there ARE small publishers who specialize in exactly this kind of thing.

Again, more homework for you –- some of which might have to wait until things open up a bit, Covid-wise. Go to the library. Talk to the children’s librarian. Look at books that fit in your category (“My First Visit to the Doctor,” “When Mommy Is Sick,” and so on, usually shelved in a separate section). Note the names of the publishers. Do more research. See if you can find the name of a specific editor and write a short query letter. It’s a long shot, but it’s possible. Such a letter would demonstrate a lot of good things about your level of interest and dedication.

Anyone can dash off a quick email to an author. But will you do the necessary work?

Also, please note the books that you admire. Their length. The word count. And so on. For example, just about all picture books are 32 pages, total. You know that, right? You have to give them something that fits into the publishing world as it exists. It’s amazing to me how many people don’t get that part, so they are eliminated right out of the box. No one is going to reinvent publishing for your book.

Good luck.

And lastly, thank you for the important work you do, especially during this most difficult year.

 

James Preller

P.S. Don’t quit your day job!

P.P.S. Funny coincidence. You wrote a children’s book while working as a surgeon in a hospital. Just yesterday, while working on a children’s book, I found a few spare moments to remove an elderly gentleman’s gall bladder! At least, I think it was his gall bladder.

My next book, Upstander, comes out on May 11th. How did I pull that off? Well, I have the Golden Key. (You didn’t think I was going to share it with Tyler, did you?)

 

 

 

 

 

Guerrilla Art: Bust of York Mysteriously Appears in Portland, OR, Park

I’m loving the story of a statue that mysteriously appeared in a Portland, Oregon, pubic park — reportedly without the knowledge of city leaders. The statue is of York, an enslaved man who participated in the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The only Black man to make the two-and-a-half-year journey. 

From the 2/22 New York Times, written by Alan Yuhas:

Over two years, York trekked some 8,000 miles from St. Louis to the Pacific Northwest and back, hunting, tracking, foraging and, at least once, voting as a Black man held in bondage by another, more famous member of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Last weekend, almost 215 years after the group made it back to Missouri, a large bust of York was raised in a Portland, Ore., park without fanfare or explanation, on the spot where a statue of a prominent conservative had been toppled last year. City leaders, acknowledging that they had no idea who put the monument to York there, said it looked great.

“This is what we’re calling guerrilla public art, but it was a pleasant surprise,” said Adena Long, the director of Portland’s parks bureau. York, she said in an interview, is “a figure that in my mind that we need to do a better job of proactively and thoughtfully celebrating.”

Ms. Long said that she was not aware of any message about the bust from those responsible, but that it would be allowed to stand so long as it does not pose any safety risks, in line with a bureau policy regarding tributes. “We’re hopeful the artists will make themselves known so we can have a conversation, but it will stay,” she said.

Park officials, who received word of the bust on Saturday morning, believe it was installed the night before. The bust, apparently made of hardened plastic, portrays York as bald and looking down with a somber expression, above a plaque describing him as “the first African-American to cross North America and reach the Pacific Coast.”

I made sure to include York’s role in my novel, The Courage Test (2016 Library Guild Selection), which mirrors the historical exploration of Lewis & Clark with a fictional boy’s experiences following the same trail with his estranged father. 

Late in The Courage Test: Will and his father, a historian, are hiking along the Bitterroot Range. Will passes one evening by looking through one of his father’s books (pp. 142-144). They have this conversation:

Painting by Charles M. Russell, depicting York’s first encounter with disbelieving Hidatsa tribe member at Fort Mandan, 3/9/1805.

I come across a reproduction of a painting. I call to my father, “Hey, Dad, who’s the Black guy?”

He glances over; I hold the book up to show him the picture.

“That’s York, Clark’s slave. He came along on the trip.”

I take this in for a moment. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before. They actually brought a slave across the country. And somehow that’s not totally creepy?

“They dragged him along, like you dragged me,” I say.

“Hardly,” my father scoffs. “You’re just another spoiled kid who watches too much television. York was a real slave. William Clark owned him. They grew up together.”

Chill, Dad, I was joking. I know I’m not actually a slave.

“Wherever the expedition traveled, the Native people were amazed by York, who by all reports was very large and muscular,” my father the professor can’t help but explain. “They’d never seen a Black man before. On at least one occasion, the Native people rubbed dirt on his skin to try to make it come off.”

“So did Clark let him go free after the trip?” I ask.

“No, things got even worse,” my father says. “After they returned, York argued for his freedom. He said, in essence, ‘Look, I traveled as an equal with all of you for two and a half years. We hunted, hauled, and faced many dangers together. Every man was paid money and given land. All except for me. I got nothing. So in payment, I ask you, please set me free.'”

I waited. “And?”

“He got bupkis.”

“Bupkis?” I asked.

“It’s a Yiddish word. It means ‘nothing.’ Clark wouldn’t do it. He refused to grant York his freedom. In fact, in later years Clark became quite unhappy with York, who he considered impudent.

Impudent? Dad! Speak English!

“It means, ‘not showing due respect,'” my father explains. He sighs, runs a hand across his jaw. “Times were different back then.”

“I guess so,” I say, thinking about how much changes, and how much seems to stay the same.

 

I wrote in an “Author’s Note” at the end of the book:

Painting by Michael Haynes, depicting a hunt as recorded in Meriwether Lewis’s journals.

York, a slave — a man owned as the property of William Clark — eventually did earn his freedom, though it took at least ten years after the expedition’s triumphant return before Clark freed him. The historic record is incomplete and conflicting, as if York was a man little worth noting. One legend has York returning to upper Missouri as a free man, going off to live with a tribe of Crow. However, most historians believe that York contacted cholera and died somewhere in Tennessee after working in the trade industry. The exact date and location of his death remains unknown. In many ways, York’s stunted life serves to illuminate the tragic, cruel legacy of slavery in America. 

REVIEWS FOR THE COURAGE TEST . . .

 

“A middle grade winner to hand to fans of history, adventure, and family drama..”School Library Journal.

“Preller traverses both domestic drama and adventure story with equally sure footing, delivering the thrills of a whitewater rafting accident and a mama bear encounter, and shifting effortlessly to the revelation of Mom’s illness and the now urgent rapprochement between Dad and Will. Whatever young explorers look for on their literary road trips, they’ll find it here. — Elizabeth Bush, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Preller stirs doses of American history into a first-rate road trip that does traditional double-duty as plot device and coming-of-age metaphor. Will is initially baffled and furious at being abruptly forced to accompany his divorced father, a history professor, on a long journey retracing much of the trail of Lewis and Clark. The trip soon becomes an adventure, though, because as the wonders of the great outdoors work their old magic on Will’s disposition, his father and a Nez Perce friend (who turns out to be a Brooklyn banker) fill him in on the Corps of Discovery’s encounters with nature and native peoples. Also, along with helping a young runaway find a new home, Will survives a meeting with a bear and a spill into dangerous rapids — tests of courage that will help him weather the bad news that awaits him at home.”—Booklist, Starred Review

 

2016 JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD SELECTION!

Spread from “ALL WELCOME HERE”

Here’s a spread from my picture book, All Welcome Here, a series of connected haiku, illustrated by the great Mary GrandPre. I wrote this back in 2016, took a long while to become a book. I guess June of Covid 2020 wasn’t exactly a great time to launch a back-to-school title. Oh, rats. And I was so looking forward to sharing this book with young readers. Talking poetry, and community, and connection.

Still here for virtual visits. Look me up!

“Caldecott Honoree GrandPre captures the day’s variable moods in pictures of absorbed, interacting kids of various skin tones and abilities . . . a cheery take on the joy of camaraderie.” Publishers Weekly.

“Lively haiku pairs with vibrant art to showcase various facets of the first day of school . . . Expressive, mixed-media illustrations are an eye-catching blend of bright colors, patterns, and perspectives: the multicultural kids and adults further the sense of inclusiveness. With it’s reassuring and upbeat elements, this may also help alleviate first-day fers as it highlights the many positive opportunities that await.”Booklist.

Scene from a Book

I “screen selected” this moment from the most recent Jigsaw Jones title, The Case of the Hat Burglar. It’s the first time in the series that Jigsaw and Mila had a conflict, a painful misunderstanding, and it stabs at my heart a little. 

Appreciate the way R.W. Alley decided to illustrate that scene, from outside the window, the darkness and light, Jigsaw’s features obscured. R.W. conveys a lot of emotion with deceptive simplicity and careful choices. That’s the artist’s skill and craft and sensitivity. Meanwhile, I just sit off to the side, hoping for the best.

Readers enjoy the codes in the books. Here we find Jigsaw at the final stage of solving a space code. The next move is his.

I am grateful for all the classrooms that have bins of Jigsaw Jones books. Usually the books are old, battered, torn, well-read. I do suspect that teachers might not realize that there are 2 all-new books, plus 12 older titles that have been revised, updated and available for the first time in years. All from Macmillan. Even the books themselves are slightly larger than the original editions: cleaner, fresher. I hope teachers and parents — and, naturally, kids, too — will find and enjoy these books. I’m awfully fond of them!

 

Everyone’s Growth Looks Different