Rx for Writers


"Ask the Anonymous Editor”

with Editorial Anonymous

Thursday, July 14, 2008

Editorial Anonymous is a children's book editor with consider experience mining slush. She knows how desperate authors feel. And she knows how exhausted editors feel. The combination can be tough -- but with her chat and with her blog, she's helping a legion of authors learn what not to do to make a good first impression. Hint, never slip the following in with your submission: confetti, glitter, glitter confetti, dead bugs, dolls, and tea. For more of this list, check out her blog.


Jan is Jan Fields, moderator of this interview/workshop, and Web Editor of the ICL Web Site. Green shows names or usernames of people and the questions they asked of our speaker.

Interviews are held once a month in the Writer's Retreat over the course of a couple days, where questions are posted, answers are poured fourth and everyone learns a lot!

Jan: First I want to thank Editorial Anonymous a million trillion times over for taking part in our first discussion board based interview/workshop. We always love hearing from those who have held real slush in their shaking hands. Thanks again. Now, on to the questions...

Diane: There has been some discussion at our critique group about the length of sentences. To me, long sentences are tedious and I find I enjoy reading and writing when the sentence lengths are varied but still shorter than the 20 - 25 word average I've heard is proper. According to "Word" my average sentence length is 18 words. What does an editor think about sentence length? Is there a rule you use or is it just how the story flows?

Editorial Anonymous: Any writer should be considering the child audience they're aiming for, but past that (and with the exception of early readers, which often abide by standards for sentence length and complexity), this is a matter of personal preference. A writer for teens might successfully use very long sentences indeed.

Editorial Anonymous: It is a truth generally acknowledged that a variety of sentence lengths is most interesting to the ear, and allows the author a range of emphasis. But as with all rules in writing, this is not so true that it cannot sometimes be false. The people who break the rules and fail are the ones who don't know the rules or who don't understand the good sense and reason behind the rules. The people who break the rules and succeed know why the rules are a great idea in most cases, and know why they're not going to follow them in this case.

Oh-Bother: What are some of the questions you wish people would ask? Questions about writing, about submitting, about publishing..? Thanks for taking the time. I enjoy your blog!

Editorial Anonymous: One of the nicest things about blogging is that I get to answer any question I like --whether asked or unasked. The best thing about it is my smart readers. Smart people agreeing with me, and smart people arguing with me. Great stuff.

tabwriter: Somewhat related question...What are the things you wish people wouldn't ask?

Editorial Anonymous: I sometimes get excessively negative questions about why the publishing establishment is set up in such a stupid, slow, conservative way, and those I just don't bother answering. People with an attitude that bad aren't going to be swayed by a member of the stupid, slow, conservative publishing establishment. And the only thing I can really say to that is this:

Editorial Anonymous: In some companies, your hands are tied. At my company, they aren't. We're truly trying to do the best we can to produce wonderful books, in the face of the legions of bad slush submitters and the legions of bad book buyers. It's not an easy job, and if anyone had a realistic idea for how to improve any part of it, we'd be more than interested.

tabwriter: Makes sense. It would be even better if those people were reading this forum.

Jan: Okay, here's one I see a lot -- I hear "slush" talked about like it's synonymous with trash. We have to do anything we can to stay out of the slush. Editors who say they've never gotten a manuscript from the slush. Does that mean it's really not worth the effort to submit unless you have an agent or some kind of "connections?"

Editorial Anonymous: I'm one of the people who not infrequently talks about slush like it's trash. But don't get me wrong. And don't get the slush wrong. First, I have found great stuff in the slush, personally. And I've seen other people make discoveries. So I know there's potential in those piles.

Editorial Anonymous: Second, most of the slush IS trash. You have to sift an enormous number of manuscripts to find the ones that are worthwhile.

Editorial Anonymous: Please do NOT take the attitude that you have to do anything you can to stay out of slush, however. This leads to some of the most irritating finagling by authors: for instance the people who manage to get me on the phone and when I allow that something like what they describe could be submitted to my publishing company, they ask if they may mark it 'requested material' and send it directly to me. You know what's requested material? When I request it.

Editorial Anonymous: I do realize that sending your work in to the slush often feels futile and frustrating to authors. It is a fact of the industry, however, and the fault is none of ours: the fault lies with the vast number of people who have had a single idea for a book and submitted it under the deeply mistaken impression that writing for children doesn't take practice or commitment.

Editorial Anonymous: But if publishers have to deal with the slush, then you may be able to understand our resentment of submitters who think they shouldn't have to. Please remember that many of the people in that group are also among the single-idea group, and those people are wrong on every count.

Editorial Anonymous: Of course if you can get an agent, then that can reduce your submission time and quantity, and I have seen brand-new (unpublished) authors picked up by young, up-and-coming agents at very respectable agencies. So don't listen to the people who tell you that you have to be published to get an agent and you have to have an agent to get published. Both precepts are WRONG.

Editorial Anonymous: But if you are submitting to publishers, you should remember that along with the dearth of talent in the slush, there is a dearth of professionalism. Showing us BOTH of those things is a tremendous step towards getting your manuscript to surface in that sea of paper. And you can show the most professionalism by reading a publisher's submission guidelines and then (going out of your way, if you must) following them.

Editorial Anonymous: Take heart. The people who educate themselves about the children's book business, and who treat writing as a long-term pursuit, and who have sympathy for what others in the business go through as well as what authors go through stand a VERY good chance of eventually being published.

Walton: You are doing research for info and facts on a subject for a nonfiction book. When doing so you read about 50 academic books related to the subject and gather the information you need to write your manuscript. In your manuscript you never use any direct quotes from these 50 books. In such a case must the writer list these 50 books in his final work as bibliographical sources?

Editorial Anonymous: Nope. Teachers and librarians often appreciate it if you include the bibliographic references that they and/or their students might be interested in, however.

Walton: With regard to only nonfiction works, I am accustomed to publishers and agents requesting query letters and proposals. Lately, when looking at publishers guidelines, I see that many are first requesting a synopsis. I can understand this when it comes to fiction, but nonfiction? What should be included in a synopsis for a nonfiction book? An overview of the purpose of the work and what it is about might only take half a page. Am I missing something? By the way, thanks for all your answers and your time. This is really good stuff.

Editorial Anonymous: I would send a medium-detailed outline for the project, so that the editor can see what points of interest there are throughout, and the overall structure. That's basically what's going on in a fiction synopsis. As long as you're getting those things across, let them call it whatever they like.

Walton:Thanks for your informative reply. While a detailed outline makes sense, I believe it's very difficult to do when dealing with a singular overall subject concept followed by numerous examples a caregiver could use to convey said concept. This is not a cop-out, but I can't imagine such an outline would effectively convey what my work is about. I honestly believe that result can only come from reading my proposal (13 pages), or to some degree only my one page query letter. I know that we are expected to follow the publisher's guidelines, but in this case what are your thoughts about sending a proposal instead of the synopsis asked for? If you agree what reason would you give in your cover letter for doing so, or would you not address the issue?

Editorial Anonymous: What's this about a caregiver? When I suggested an outline, I was assuming that there would be chapters in your book... no? Maybe it would help to ask yourself what you think is going to be printed on the flaps of the book to tell people what's inside?

Walton: A caregiver would primarily be a parent or teacher.The book is to be sold to the mass market through bookstores, mass market outlets, libraries, and could be used as a supplemental work in classrooms. It is definitely not a text book. It's a nonfiction book with a singular overriding subject. Let me give you a totally hypothetical example. Let's say the overriding subject is the Basic Systems of the Human Body, and that's the title of the book. The text is broken into 6 chapters, with each chapter representing a different systems within the body and the title of each chapter being said system. Within each chapter there are 7 individual entries with sub-chapter headings that relate to the body system under discussion within each chapter. All entries relate to the singular subject: Basic Systems of the Human Body. Sorry to make the example so bland, but given the circumstances it's the best I can do.

Editorial Anonymous: That seems to me like a prime example of something you could outline. In fact you've got the beginnings of an outline already-- just add what each chapter is about, and then give some details (2-4 sentences) about what makes each chapter's info interesting/fun.

Jan: Here's another one we always like to ask editors -- What are some of the common trends in the picture book manuscripts you reject? In other words, are there common things writers do wrong that we could avoid?

Editorial Anonymous: There are some trends in slush that you can find on my blog under the tag "How to Tell You're Never Going to Get Published"... however, these are usually trends that do not apply to serious writers. Still, they might make you laugh. To the people of this discussion board, I would suggest watching out for two things: vignettes and not doing your research.

Editorial Anonymous: 1. Vignettes. As I recently blogged, some of the nicest writing comes in this highly disappointing form. A vignette is a scene or two or three, and may evoke a lovely mood or emotion, but it is not a story. A story evokes more than one feeling from its audience. A story has a plot arc. A story has conflict. There is no market for vignettes.

Editorial Anonymous: 2. Not doing your research. Nothing feels more like a waste of everyone's time than a very nicely written manuscript that is the exact plot line of Patricia Polacco's The Keeping Quilt. No editor expects authors to have read everything, or to have read as widely as the editor herself reads. But doing a search for the major elements of your story on the internet is not hard, and moreover there are a few highly regarded authors in the business whose oeuvres we might reasonably expect you to be familiar with, if you're writing in the same age group. Writing a book for late-elementary kids that's about a futuristic underground city? And yet you've never heard of The City of Ember? Problem.

trivia: "...doing a search for the major elements of your story on the internet is not hard." Could you give an idea of how to do that?

Editorial Anonymous: I'd start with Amazon, searching under children's books. If your story featured a quilt, immigration, and a grandmother, I would search those terms. A good children's bookseller (if there is one near you) can also be a great help, but you should plan to pay for their help by buying a couple books.

Jan: A children's librarian is also an excellent source, especially for books that have been out at least a year. They are often very familiar with their collection and used to putting a quick hand on books based on single elements like that.

Jan: Okay, now I'm going to borrow a question from the Writer's Retreat. A writer is trying to cut the length of her novel synopsis. As an editor...what do you want to see in a synopsis? What are key things to be sure to fit in, and things you see in synopses that don't need to be there?

Editorial Anonymous: When I look at a synopsis, it's only after I've read your sample chapters and a) they were so promising that I want to know where this is going. b) they were so confusing that I want to know if you know where this is going.

Editorial Anonymous: So a synopsis doesn't need to tell me the whole story. It needs to convey the conflict, any important themes, the MAIN plot points (ie, the big ones, not every one). And (very importantly) how the story ends. You'd be surprised how many people don't know how to end a story--or simply haven't yet. (Don't send me your WIP!). And it all needs to make logical sense, so don't leave out the details that make it make sense.

Editorial Anonymous: Don't send me a list of these points, either. You're a storyteller; you should be able to tell me a short story about your novel.

Editorial Anonymous: There are great, great examples of good and bad queries on Query Shark, and the good ones are basically the first part of a good synopsis.

kyboni: The synopsis question came from me. And I truly appreciate your input. My novel is a YA with duel viewpoints and the duel conflicts of the twin protagonists run throughout. Trying to include both, as both are major conflicts with separate resolutions, is making the synopsis run long. Hate to focus on only one protagonist and conflict. But I will take a long look at it with your suggestions in mind. Thanks.

Gryphon: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. A synopsis or query letter, because of the trend to shorter word count in PBs, could actually be as long as the book itself. When a publisher accepts queries only, how can writing the query letter be accomplished without including much of the PB text anyway? If a manuscript is short - say 500 words, is it better just to include it? When sending a query, writers are often advised to include other writing credits. What if the author has credits but they are from markets other than children's books. Should that be included?

Editorial Anonymous: It sounds to me like your synopses and queries are too long. Really? 500 words? Now, if you were talking about a manuscript that was 250 words or shorter (and no longer than one page), yeah, I could see just including it. Please understand, I absolutely sympathize with the fact that people have trouble re-writing something to a different length. In my college essay-writing class, I couldn't write something longer (or much shorter) than three pages to save my life. But that was because I lacked practice as a writer. True mastery of your craft will mean that you can write something short about something long, and something long about something short, as need be.

Jan: On the question of what credits to include. The number one thing an editor wants to know is "do I want this project?" -- anything else is of minor interest at best. If you have credits in children's media of some sort, do include them. If your picture book features wildlife and you've written ten wildlife books for adults, sure put that. But credits unrelated to this project are probably just eating word count that would be better served to make the editor hungry for this project.

sweetpea: Can we talk status queries?? Especially status queries on requested material?? I know opinions vary widely on this issue. Some writers claim they are the kiss of death. Others say they clog an already congested paper highway. Seriously, do status queries really deserve such a bad rep? Tell me true: Do editors find SQ's annoying?

Editorial Anonymous: I recommend giving an editor three months, which is (I think) about the time at which people might reasonably start feeling guilty about the length of time that's passed. ...And then prodding people pleasantly and professionally (NOT whiningly and reproachfully) every three months until they get back to you or hell freezes over. AND KEEP SUBMITTING IN THE MEANTIME. There are far too many editors out there like one of my mentors, who was terrible about getting back to anyone about anything. Don't get me wrong, I sympathize with them--there's always too much work to do. But an author could expire in the time it takes some people to respond. If a zombie army ever attacks our offices, I'll expect it to be frustrated submitters risen from the dead to eat our brains.

crcook: that would be me, zombifying your offices. This month marks the one-year anniversary for one requested full. Another editor had a requested fifty pages for eighteen months. Two status queries and one assumed-by-me rejection later came the announcement the editor was leaving and an apology for letting some requests slip through the cracks. No outright rejection, so I have that going for me. Thanks for the insight on SQs. No one wants to be that annoying writer who pesters and pesters. Well, I guess that's not entirely accurate...

writergirl: Thank you for sharing with us. I have a question about working with editors. I received edits on a manuscript that is under contract. Many are great, but I feel that a few take away from my story's voice and meaning. I am deeply grateful to be on the publication journey. I welcome editing and see it as a way to grow as a writer. But I would love to keep a couple of the lines intact. What's the best way to bring up my concerns without offending my editor?

Editorial Anonymous: The things I want from my authors are:
1) to consider my suggestions seriously
2) And if they don't agree with my suggestion, to consider if there is another solution to the problem I'm trying to address in the manuscript.
3) If they truly disagree that the part I've marked should change at all, then I want them to

  1. show me they've seriously considered both the change and the issue I was trying to address
  2. tell me why they think it's important the way it is.
As long as you do these things--which show the editor that you take her contribution and book experience seriously and are willing to have a reasonable conversation about edits to the book-- I would be happy. It is, after all, your creative work, and if there's a place where I'm not understanding your creative vision, then please, try to talk me around. Sensitive, open-minded disagreement is a VITAL part of the creative process. Your editor is offering you this. Offer it back to her.

crcook: I assume larger publishers want a broader range of stories and tones while smaller publishers tend to go with a similar flavor to distinguish themselves. Please correct if wrong, but how can writers trying to find a good fit for their manuscripts learn to recognize one? When I research editors and agents whose lists seem to reflect my manuscript's language use, subject and overall tone and who also accept unsolicted queries, they often reply with "I have a client with similar work" or "Not right for our list." I realize this may be a kind way of saying "your work is amateurish," but I sometimes wish agents and editors would come right out and say it if so. Your blog is helpful and a fun read. Thanks again for taking time out to help us.

Editorial Anonymous: Ah, haha, if you knew the crazy aggressive lunatic fringe we have to deal with, you wouldn't suggest doing anything that might offend people. Trying to match a manuscript with a house is tough, no doubt. And not just for the reasons you describe-- each editor is looking for something slightly different, and to make it extra hard, we often don't know what it is until we see it. This is why you should submit, and submit, and submit--to every house your manuscript could conceivably be accepted by. Look, I'm not a big fan of hunting metaphors, but if you were hunting easily startled, unpredictable coveys of difficult-to-target quail, would you use a handgun? Or a shotgun?

Jan: Now, speaking strictly as a writer, I would recommend you don't submit to all the possible houses at the same time. That's because a lot of us send out a manuscript before it's ready. And sometimes we're totally sure it was ready -- only, it wasn't. Sometimes really really really before it is ready. So if you send to a handful of publishers and no one is sending anything more encouraging than a form letter -- you might want to pause and really look at your manuscript again just to be certain it isn't your manuscript that needs work. If you blast everyone at once and collect form rejections from all of them -- you're a bit stuck if THAT'S when you start thinking, maybe something is wrong with this story? Because if an editor doesn't ask to see the piece again, she really doesn't want to see the piece again. So, personally, I'm a firm believer in making a long list of potential publishers but not blowing them all off the map at the same time.

crcook: great advice from you both, thanks!

walton: Just curious. Over the years submitting to agents or publishers has become increasingly difficult. I believe I understand why, what with so many more writers and their works being submitted than ever before. I also realize that agencies and publishers are understaffed to meet these demands. My question: To your knowledge are agents and/or publishers discussing any method that would streamline the process?

Editorial Anonymous: No, I haven't heard anything new from publishers or agents. Every once in a while somebody sets up something internet-based that's supposed to make it easier... but so far nothing seems to have caught on. Do you have any suggestions?

Walton: It would have to be something communal, and it would cost publishers and/or agents money and a degree of cooperation. Accordingly, any such system would never be adopted.

MissyP: It is always helpful when editors post their specific interests online. Dutton has a webpage that lists what editors are looking for. I know this has the potential to open floodgates to editors, but if writers were to use this properly (is that a big if?) it could save everyone time. As a writer, I don't want to waste an editor's time or mine with a submission that isn't targeted well.

MissyP:I just think as writers we have to do more self-screening. If we're still unpublished in fiction, we should be sharing our work with critique groups before sending it out. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of submitting, but if we're sending out something that isn't our best work, it is bound to be rejected.

MissyP:Maybe SCBWI could start selling mailing labels that members can order personalized. At least if an editor receives an envelope with one of these, the editor will know that the author knows enough about this business to join the SCBWI. (Not that membership automatically guarantees quality of work, but it might help prioritize slush a little).

walton: Using SCBWI and Authors Guild as prime examples, when sending submissions to pubisher and/or agents, would you recommend noting on the outside of the submission envelope: "Member of SCBWI and Authors Guild."

Editorial Anonymous: I believe there are some publishers who do give SCBWI members some preference. So I suppose it's worth it in that way... but (unfortunately) I've gotten a fair amount of newbie crap from SCBWI members, so I don't personally see it as a guarantee of quality. (Though I still appreciate that they're trying to educate themselves.)

Lill: First, is 20,000 to 25,000 words too short or just about right for a younger middle grade novel - younger meaning it would probably hold the most appeal for 3rd-4th graders - ? Second, should you mention series potential in a cover letter? I've heard varying opinions on this, and wondered what you thought.

Editorial Anonymous: Sounds about right. You know, if you go to Amazon and click on the "text stats" for, say, Frindle, The Best School Year Ever, Shredderman, and A Mouse Called Wolf, you'll be able to get a good idea of the range. Amazon doesn't have text stats available for all books, unfortunately, but if you poke around you should be able to find enough to help with any word count question.

ColoradoKate: I know, you just said to go to Amazon... but you're right here, yanno? So--is 16,000 too short for early MG?

Editorial Anonymous: Nope.

ColoradoKate: The late, lamented Ms. Snark said, repeatedly, that one should enclose sample pages (ten, I think I recall) with a query for fiction, whether or not the submission guidelines called for them. She seemed to feel they were simply expected, so guidelines didn't always mention them. On your blog you wrote that, in that case, it's really a cover letter rather than a query, and you didn't seem to mind getting the pages. But do you think it's a good idea to include pages with any query, to any publisher or agent, as a matter of course? Are sample pages folded to fit a #10 envelope instead of a flat annoying or lacking professionalism? And am I being way, way too OCD about this whole process? Your blog is one of my daily requirements; thanks for being there, too.

Editorial Anonymous: What's a #10 envelope? One of those greeting card envelopes? Listen: Do the things the submission guidelines tell you to do. Don't do things the submission guidelines tell you not to do. Outside of those things, this is the real bottom line: Expect that something you do is going to irritate somebody, somewhere. The slush is irritating, and it makes us grumpy. Obviously this is not the best attitude to have while evaluating submissions, but we're easily influenced. And the upside of that is that if your manuscript is really something worth publishing, it will melt away our irritation with the way you've folded the paper and stapled the corners and doodled little bunnies all over it.

Editorial Anonymous: As snarky as we can be, you don't get into the children's book business without essentially being an optimist. I can remember opening an envelope I didn't like and looking at a pageful of typeface I didn't like (and yes, I was aware at the same time of how unreasonably picky I was being) and starting to read and thinking, "I don't like that first line... Ugh, not another quilt story... Oh, I see what you're doing here... That's kind of amusing... Ha ha, that's funny... Clever hand with the plotting... Hey, good ending!... I like this. I like it a lot! I'm going to show it to my coworkers!" So while your worry that people are going to annoyed by your non-standard envelope is justified, it's also unnecessary. Never mind about that crap. Just write something really, really good.

ColoradoKate: Thank you, that was helpful... and reassuring. I will begin doodling little bunnies forthwith. With fangs?

Editorial Anonymous: Ooo, with fangs. Bonus!

KimK: I like to write all sorts of things, articles for kids, adults, and manuscripts from PB to YA - so far. Do you see this as a problem? And, what recommendations would you give?

Editorial Anonymous: No problem. You may need to have more than one editor/publisher, but go for it.

kernrivergal63: Hello, and thank you for taking our questions. I've been hearing/reading quite a bit about writers' conferences. Could you give us your opinion of them? Do you highly recommend them? If so, could you possibly let us know which are the best ones to attend and what to expect? Thank you.

Editorial Anonymous: I think that everything a writer can do to educate themselves about the children's book business and to connect with other people in the children's book community is a good thing. It gets quite easy to tell the pros from the newbies from the rank amateurs who don't really want to learn anything but how-do-I-get-this-book-here-published. The pros are My People. The newbies I feel motherly toward. The amateurs.... Of course, there are ways of going about both educating yourself and connecting with others which are much cheaper than attending writers' conferences. So I suggest each person try going to a conference or two (to see how different from each other they can be) and decide whether conferences are worth it to them. Some people LOVE them. Others can't be bothered. Nobody is wrong.

kernrivergal63: Thank you for your candid comments and advice. They are very much appreciated.

tabwriter: EA, thanks for stopping by and letting us pick your brain! I have a question about what authors can do to promote their published books. What's absolutely necessary? And what would be considered above and beyond.

Editorial Anonymous: Oh, I keep getting these marketing and publicity questions, and I keep meaning to try to find a way to pick my M&P people's brains for this info. Sometimes being anonymous is a real pain in the rear.

Editorial Anonymous: Literaticat, who is an agent and bookseller, has sent me this on this topic (and people ignore her advice at their own risk): "This is the answer I give when clients, etc, ask me about how they can promote themselves.
These are relatively inexpensive and painless things that authors can do to help market their book -- if they do these things, more opportunities WILL follow:

Jan: And our board too!

tabwriter: Great info, thanks!

Lill: We often hear about people signing two and three book deals. To my knowledge, all such deals I've heard of are agented. Are these kinds of offers also made to un-agented writers?

Editorial Anonymous: Less frequently. It's much easier to get a multiple book deal offered to you when there's an auction situation, and unagented writers are unlikely to be able to set something like that up by themselves.

Jan: Do you work with a lot of different agents or mostly the same few? How does a writer having an agent change how you deal with a book?

Editorial Anonymous: Lots of agents. It doesn't change how I deal with the book. An agent is most in the picture before the contract is signed, and that means before I really start working on the book. Sometimes later in the process, if there is a difficulty in understanding between the author and the editor, the agent can step in and help. Some agents are simply wonderful at their jobs: and this means sometimes kicking editor butt when the editor is being unreasonable, and sometimes kicking author butt when the author is being unreasonable. The agents who are most wonderful at their jobs accomplish all this kicking without anyone's rear becoming sore.

Jan: Okay, here's a related question that I just happened to think of. I once heard an editor say she didn't like it when she's shown interest in acquiring something and THEN the author steps up with saying she has an agent now and the agent will be contacting the editor. But many times writers are told that when you have an editor who wants your book, that's a great time to interest an agent because it's "relatively" easy money for the agent as there is no submission involved. Has that ever happened to you? Where you start off with the author and then suddenly an agent pops in? If so, how was that? If not, what do you think of the idea?

Editorial Anonymous: Yes, that's happened. I hope that authors in that position are not going with an agent who has no particular interest in the rest of their work, because an agent should be in it for the writer's career, not this one book's sale. That said, it doesn't bother me a great deal, as long as the agent comes in before (a) the author does any negotiating or (b) the author accepts my offer. Agents will always try to negotiate further, and that's just not kosher in those circumstances.

Kidwriter: I agree. I'm a former ICL instructor and occasionally run conferences locally. It really galls me when agents tell new writers to contact them after they've got a contract. One even went so far as to describe herself as "hungry" at our state event. I admonished my students and other writers to wait for the person who is passionate about your work and hire a literary attorney to help explain contract clauses. To not depend on "mass-market" conferences and the advice of other struggling writers on what to do. Contract stage is when authors are the most excited and also the most vulnerable and my personal experience is in the case you describe, the agent gets a commission but often gets very little more for the client than the client could have negotiated for themselves. In the example of the agent above, she told of a new author who was offered a $10,000 advance on a debut novel. The agent bragged that she increased the amount to $12,000. Now - I'm not a rocket scientist (okay - yes I am ) but the "math" suggests the agent's commission at 15% was $1,800 netting the author an extra $200 but the author will now PAY 15% of all future revenues.

Kidwriter: I have an agent so I'm not advocating that authors don't use one. But there has to be a specific reason for the relationship - not handing over a paycheck to someone whose most difficult job (helping to introduce you to publishers) is already done at the time you find them. And whose interest is in the instant paycheck not you and your long-term career. Unfortunately too many authors are steered in that direction and flattered to be able to say "I'm agented." So I'm glad to see your response.

Lill: As a companion question to this, is it okay to mention in the cover letter to the editor that you are also submitting the manuscript to select agents? I am nearing completion of my wip. I do plan to start querying agents, but I also want to send this manuscript out to the editor who requested it after a conference critique. I'd really love to work with this person. I thought I would mail it to the editor and up to five agents about the same time, and yes I'd include the info in the cover that it's a simultaneous submission.

Editorial Anonymous: I don't care at all if you're sending your work to agents at the same time... but the agents will most likely care that you're sending your work to editors at the same time. They don't want to pick up a work that's already done the rounds and been rejected. (I once got the same manuscript from an agent that I had rejected to the author a year and a half earlier. I let the agent know. And I can only imagine the conversation the agent must have had with her client.) But what you're describing (a single editor who expressed interest) will likely be just fine. Do let the agents know that you're sending it to that editor (and name her) because she asked for it, but no other editors at this time.

tabwriter: All of this is great info. Thanks! I have a similar question. What if a manuscript is at a publishing house, has made it to the final stages of acquisitions, but there's still no guarantee of an offer. The author would really like to find an agent to help manage this book, plus future books. Is it premature to mention this publishing house's interest in agent queries, even though there's no offer? Okay, I lied, I have two questions....If an author has an offer on the table, how long would she typically have to find an agent without annoying the publishing house?

Editorial Anonymous: It's ok to mention the publisher interest. Offer on table? Maybe two weeks max. That's if you let me know you want to think it over, not two weeks with no response at all.

crcook: How would you rank the basic elements of a story = voice, character development, plot, language usage, specific genre-related elements, grammar, POV choice, length == in importance? What lacking elements might you be willing to work on with a writer, and what earns an automatic No thanks? thanks again for the opportunity to pick you brain (in a non-zombie fashion, of course)

Editorial Anonymous: It's not possible to rank these things. They're each important, but there's a degree of relativity, as in all book-related things. It's possible to write a book that scores high in plot but low in character development (Alex Rider). It's possible to write a book that scores high in voice and language but low in plot and character development (Criss Cross). It's possible to write a book that scores low in grammar because the characters have bad grammar, but NOT because YOU have bad grammar. What's important depends on what the book you're writing needs. And your editor can help you some with any or all of these, but she can't fix it if it's not there to begin with.

Jody: First, thank you very much for taking the time to answer so many questions. I've read several of your responses and I appreciate your candor. I would like to share my current situation regarding my middle grade novel and see if you have any thoughts or words of wisdom for me. For the past year, I have worked with an assistant editor of a large publisher on my first middle grade novel. In April I sent her my second set of requested revisions. A few weeks later, she e-mailed me to say that she was leaving the publishing house at the end of the week (this e-mail came on a Thursday) and that she had shared my MS with another editor. She did not give me a name, a contact or an e-mail for the "new" editor and simple said that the new editor would get back to me 'at her earliest convenience.' Do you have any suggestions for me regarding my next steps? It has been three months with no word yet. Should I keep sitting tight? Should I be worried? When should I attempt to make contact with this mysterious editor and how do I go about doing that without any contact info? Any and all thoughts/comments/suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Editorial Anonymous: Well, there's some missing information here. This is a book under contract? What publication date did you and your editor discuss?

Jody: No, I do not have a contract with this publisher, and no publication dates were discussed. I submitted my novel in full to this publisher, received a two page letter from an assistant editor with revision suggestions. I resubmitted and she again responded with another lengthy letter and more revisions. I made those revisions and resubmitted in late March. In April she notified me that she was leaving. I'm just wondering if you have thoughts or suggestions on my next steps.

Editorial Anonymous: Oh, crap. That's not good news. It's possible that all the real enthusiasm for this manuscript left the publisher with that assistant editor. The unnamed editor she passed your manuscript to may yet be interested, but don't try to follow up with or identify the editor. Treat it essentially as a rejection with an asterisk, the same way frogs in fairytales have asterisks. It may yet get the kiss that gives it a fairytale ending... or it might just stay a frog. Look at the changes that the assistant editor helped you make, and decide whether they've made the book better. Then keep them or don't, as the case is, and KEEP SUBMITTING! Good luck!

arabella: I have made a couple of submissions recently for a very popular series of children's books. I bought a few of them to study closely, in the hope of writing something the editors would find interesting. But I've noticed a trend in the series which has really confused me. The series seems to be written by a combination of new and established writers. In the case of the latter, their writing for this series is, almost without exception, truly dreadful! I don't mean just that the stories aren't to my taste - I mean that there are serious flaws in the plot lines, areas of strong repetition, loose ends etc. Whereas it seems to be the newer writers who present some really wonderful, well written and crafted work in the series. Can you offer any insight into what's going on? Is there such a thing as a slush-pile-for-the-established?

Jan: EA has finished up but I have some thoughts on this. One thing that can happen with a series like this. Many are "packaged" and thus the packagers may be handing out assignments to different authors. For new authors, this is a chance to "showcase" their talents. For established authors, this is one more thing to fit into what might be a packed schedule -- it also might be their first time working with packager schedules and packager editing. Which tends to be different (at least in my experience). Packager schedules run like this..."don't call us, we'll call you and when we do, we'll want the writing that day." So you wait forever and then the packager pops up and wants a lot of writing RIGHT NOW. Then you do it and they vanish....for a long time. Again, strictly from my experience, editing tends to be a mix of "can you rewrite this part" and "we did the editing for you." And again, the turn around for the rewrites is blindingly tight. For an author used to dealing with normal publishing time (and getting to make some decisions about editing and doing a lot of revision). All of this can result in a shakey book. While the new writer -- this is normal as far as they know. Plus the new writer probably went after the series by reading all of it and immersing in it (as you said you're doing) while the established writer had to go read the series once it was offered to him/her -- thus eating into part of the extremely limited writing time.

Jan: That brings us to the end of chat. Thanks again, EA, and thank you to everyone who asked questions -- it's not fun without questions.

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