Tag Archives: publishing

Your Book’s Best Friend

Photo by BBH Singapore on Unsplash

The best friend your book will ever have is your editor.  From the moment you have a contract in hand, that’s the most important thing to remember.

Your editor is on your side.  You and she want the same thing: for your book to be the best it can possibly be when it hits the market.  For it to read the best, look the best, sell the best.   And in the process of achieving that goal, your editor brings to the table something you need profoundly . . . perspective.  Remember, you have been in near solitary confinement with that manuscript since its conception.  At this point both your manuscript and you need the light of air only a good editor can bring.

But let me step back for a moment.  Sometimes an editor can be your book’s—and your—best friend even before she has offered that contract.  I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve had a developing writer come up to me with an editor’s letter in hand asking, “Does she really mean it?”  It’s always a letter that praises a manuscript and makes thoughtful suggestions for revision without yet making a commitment.

Does she really mean it?  Yes . . . and yes . . . and yes!  Editors don’t have time to encourage writers whose work they don’t want to see again.  Moreover, while we have no legal obligation to return to an editor just because she has invested time and energy in our work, why wouldn’t we?  If the recommendations feel right, run with them.  Thank her for her insights and return to her with the new draft her comments draw forth.  You have nothing to lose and a possible contract to gain.

And once you do have a contract in hand, once an editor is truly yours, I have just one piece of advice, but I’ll say it many times.  Listen!  Listen . . . listen . . . listen!  Yes, it’s your manuscript, and it will remain your manuscript, but it’s better to hear what you don’t want to hear from your editor—while the work is still fluid, still can be shaped and improved—than from a reviewer.  When you hear it from a reviewer your book has been set in stone.  Revisions are no longer possible.

I have a rule of thumb that has served me well in working with editors.  I listen.  I don’t defend.  If I don’t understand, I ask questions.  Then I listen some more.  Even if I’m certain an editor is wrong, that if I do this thing she is suggesting the entire piece will come tumbling about our ears, I never say so.  I just keep listening, keep asking.  Once the dust has settled—and the more dust there is the more time it takes to settle—I find that critical comments fall into three different categories.

Most of them are simply, Of course!  I should have thought of that myself.  Gratefully, I make those changes.

Some are I see what you meanAnd certainly it could be the way you’ve suggested, though I think it could be the way I’ve done it, too.  In those cases, too, I simply, without comment, make the changes. I figure the editor is probably more right than I can see, because perspective gives her a great advantage. Besides, if it truly could be either way, why should the change matter?

Then there is the third category, the occasional suggestion that simply doesn’t fit, no matter how often I turn it over or how carefully I examine it.  That’s where I hold my ground . . . quietly, respectfully, firmly.  I don’t make it a last stand.  I’m always aware that I could still be wrong. But usually, because I don’t take such a stand often, the editor accepts my view.  When she doesn’t, after a careful discussion, we’ve always been able to find a compromise.

Singers need vocal coaches.  Athletes need trainers.  Writers need editors.

If you begin your relationship with that knowledge deep in your bones, all will go well.

Finding What I Need to Say

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I’m happy to be working on something that feels personally important. I think that’s really the best there is in writing, yes? Finding what I need to say, and then the way to say it. It’s so much easier than I imagined all those years ago when I started writing. And it is so much harder. Surprisingly so. I’m feeling like I’ve found a new vantage point for being a career author after this second sale–and now I can see just how long this road is. The truth is exciting and daunting. Tiring and somehow thrilling. I’ll hold on.

Cori McCarthy

Riding Piggy Back

The best and most satisfying reason for writing a picture book isn’t just that they are fun to write, which they are.  They are sometimes enormously difficult, too, but still fun.

It isn’t that they are short, either, though short has its own blessings.  And its own challenges.  I am often reminded of Mark Twain’s apology for having written such a long letter.  He didn’t have time, he explained to his correspondent, to write a short one.

The best and most satisfying reason for writing a picture book, though, is to win the privilege of riding piggy back on a talented artist.

The first time an actual copy of one of my picture books arrives at my door always feels like Christmas, even if I have seen the illustrations through every step of the process, which I sometimes do.

Here are my words!  My words!  And look.  A person with talent beyond my richest imaginings has brought them to life on the page.

What a gift!

Winter Dance, my latest picture book, illustrated by Richard Jones, emerged into the world in October.  It has garnered three starred reviews, from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.  (A starred review singles out a book as one of the best of the season.)  And it couldn’t be more clear that Richard’s illustrations are the primary reason for those stars.

I don’t say that out of false modesty.  My words are charmingly simple and even lyrical.  There is a touch of humor, too, something my work isn’t noted for.  And the text conveys solid information about animal behavior in winter.

But it’s Richard’s winsome fox, his appealing landscapes, his entire winter world that captures anyone who picks up this book, including reviewers.

. . .it’s Jones’ soft-lined, textured illustrations that steal the show, as they cast beautiful forest scenes across the page, using a cool wintry palette against which the fox’s orangey-red fur pops.  (Booklist)

Jones’ full-page illustrations, done in rich, muted earth tones, are stunningly designed and executed. (Kirkus)

Bauer’s verselike text pairs gracefully with smudgy and similarly understated scenes from British illustrator Jones: the text and artwork work in tandem to suggest the hushed onset of winter while carrying readers forward with the swiftness of a snow flurry.  (Publisher’s Weekly)

This particular picture-book text required weeks—even months—of writing and rewriting.  In fact, for reasons too complicated to explain here, I had to reconceive the whole thing after the editor had committed to my first version, a story about spring.  The editor turned down my first two, three, four attempts to revise before she and I together came up with the idea of a fox and the first snowfall and before I finally found a way to make those elements work.

I haven’t asked Richard how long it took for him to create his appealing paintings, but I’ll guarantee that despite the length of my labor, he labored longer and harder.

The writer has to come up with the idea, and the idea is key, of course.  But without the artist’s bringing another whole world of ideas to the page, the story would be only half born.

Thank you, Richard Jones, for your amazing work.  And thank you to all of the illustrators who, over the years, have brought my picture book texts to life.

I love riding piggy back!

What’s the Point?

Credit: Beth-Alison Berggren

First published on Karen Cushman’s blog post “What’s New?” in response to the following question:  “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer.  My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them.  What’s a girl to do?  In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create?  Do you have the same thoughts?  If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing, troubling times?”

 

What ‘s the Point?

 

Mary Oliver:  I also believed and still believe, with more alarm as the years go by, that we are destroying the Earth.

Krista Tippett:  And you don’t write about that.

Mary Oliver:  No.  Simply that I think you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.  And there are some poets who pound on that theme until you really can’t take any more.  And I think that my way of doing it, saying this is what we have, let’s keep it, because it’s beautiful and wonderful and wondrous might work better.  Though probably it’s not going to work either.  We’re in deep trouble with the environment I believe.  And nobody’s going to stop this business of … of business, of making money, the amassing of things that will vanish for us as we vanish.  I’ll leave a few poems behind . . . but not much cash.

Unedited interview, On Being, October 15, 2015

So . . . Mary Oliver, from whom so many of us draw hope for our precious, struggling world, for our precious, struggling lives, despairs, too. How painful to hear!

And yet when I listened to that interview I only nodded and thought, Of course.  That’s the way it is, isn’t it?  We despair and, at the same time, we write about wonders.

Because what is the point of writing anything else? The wondrous, after all, still exists.  The wondrous in the natural world that surrounds us, the wondrous in human relationships, the wondrous that flows from the human mind . . . art, science, even technology. All worthy of honor.

I feel a powerful aversion to the message I’ve heard too often handed to young people, “We adults have failed.  The world is yours now.  Fix it!”

If I were young today I can’t imagine much that would fill me with more disdain . . . or more anger.

So I have recently spent intensive months first researching then writing and rewriting and rewriting a picture book text called EarthSong.  I don’t say one word in it about our collapsing climate.  I only celebrate. A hymn, not a sermon. My theory is that if I can fill a young child—and perhaps that young child’s caretaker, too—with wonder at our Earth, they will be more ready to take care than if I preach the fire and brimstone I can too easily see gathering at our feet.

And if, as I suspect, taking care in our individual lives is no longer enough to make a difference, then at least my words will bring my readers to the kind of deep appreciation that can change us today.

Of course, climate chaos isn’t the only threat I, and many others, see gathering around us.  We stand on the brink of war, war we can no longer simply export to other lands and pretend is not ours.  Our own society is collapsing under the burden of inequality, of a neglected infrastructure, of short-sighted and greedy economic policies.  Politics—all of it, not just the too-easy-to-name newcomers—has become a travesty, focused on power rather than the common good.

There are days when my most optimistic thought is that I’m old.  If I’m lucky, I will come in nature’s unerring way to that final exit before the collapse.

But then I have grandchildren.

I have grandchildren.

And young readers.

And the only answer I can find when I speak to them is to combine honesty with a deep honoring of the good, of the beautiful, of the holy.

Because it isn’t just that “you catch more flies with honey.”  That’s true, of course.  But what’s even more true is that we need, all of us, young and old, to live in that good, beautiful, holy place.  Otherwise, what is the point?

And if we need to live in it, then I need to write in it, too.

Believe in yourself …

Credit: Scarletina | morguefile.com

Believe in yourself when no one else does.  No one will believe you can do it until you do, so you have to want your own dreams. Others can want your dreams for you, but you’re the only one who can make them happen, and you’re the only one who can succeed or fail in reaching them.
Becca Martin