Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ask The Author

Here are two answers to a great question from Linda Zajac. Thanks, Linda. I hope you find these responses useful.

How do you folks orchestrate working on multiple books for multiple publishers and meeting deadlines? Is there some kind of courtesy given by one editor to another if you're currently working on a project or are the deadlines roomier than they are for magazine articles or do you set your own deadlines?

Loreen Leedy says:
I always have multiple books in progress but at different stages and try to keep the ball rolling on each one. In my experience, trade book editors propose the upcoming deadlines within their production cycle then I gauge which one is realistic given my outstanding commitments.

The agreed-upon deadline might be a year or more in the future. Some publishers put a clause into the contract that requires working on that particular book "next" as opposed to signing a contract for Book A then signing another for Book B (with a different publisher) and working on Book B.If necessary, my editors are generally willing to push deadlines to the next cycle (making it a Spring instead of a Fall book, or vice versa), That may be in part because I'm both the author and the illustrator so there's no contractual issue where an author contract spells out that the book must be published within X number of months.

In my case, any delay is usually due to the uncertainties of design and illustration, which often seem to take much longer than one optimistically estimates. A missed deadline may also happen if the editor is unsatisfied with a manuscript, dummy, or artwork, which means the work has to be redone. Changing deadlines depends on the priorities of the publisher; some may not be willing or able to be so flexible.There are many factors... it takes time to do a quality job and trying to force someone to rush may be counterproductive... the advance money in many cases does not compensate the author and/or illustrator for the time spent working on the book, so they may take a paying job to stay afloat... publishers naturally don't want tons of cash tied up in advances... publishers need to have a book in hand to sell it... et cetera!

Karen Romano Young says:
It seems to me that there are really two questions here: how do you manage multiple editors, and how do you manage multiple books?

I'll take the multiple editors question first. I think of it as any supplier with a customer: Make the one you're working with feel that he or she is the most important. Meet your deadlines and your quality goals, do your work well, and don't mention or comment on the demands other customers place on you. But these are editors, so there are a couple of other issues here. Built into these issues is how to get into this multiple editor fix to begin with!

One, be careful to reserve your genre for one editor. For instance, if you have two novels available, selling them to different editors isn't such a hot idea. You also have a choice to make if your editor turns down one of your novels. Will you submit it elsewhere?

If you work in two genres, you may wind up having one editor for everything, or a different editor for each. Different age groups, too.

Even within one genre or age group you might work with two houses. You might succeed in selling, say, your ocean book to one editor, and your insect book to another, as happened in my case. The key is to figure out what that first editor who took your work wants in the future: does she want to see EVERYTHING? Then make sure she does—and that she knows that if she turns something down, you'll be taking it elsewhere.

Second, be open with your editors about your multiple books. While I don't think you should talk about every book you're working on while you're doing it, I believe it's important to be up front about publishing schedules.

There are lots of issues around publishing different books with different houses in the same season—just as there are issues with publishing two books at once anytime, even if they're for the same house. Some people think that reviewers and buyers will sometimes choose between one book and another in terms of space in their journals or stores. There's some controversy around this, so it's best to keep your various editors informed of the dates, genres, age levels, topics, etc., of your books. The fact is that the market may respond to one of your books more than another, and that this can affect each different title.

Now to the multiple books question. How to juggle multiple books is really up to the individual's multitasking capabilities—just as you decide for yourself how you're going to get dinner, walk the dog, go to graduate school, and write the next Newbery-winning novel.

Some people really don't seem to be able to go back and forth between two books, but I do. I need to. I rarely work on one book at a time. I like best to be working on something fictional or very creative at the same time as working on nonfiction, whether I'm researching or writing. Now that I've added illustration to my resume it's interesting to figure out the mindset I need to be in to work on that as well. And I'm not even getting into freelance writing projects, mentor teaching, and keeping up with Facebook. Here are the highpoints, for me:

1. I make my own deadlines. Right now I'm struggling to finish the revision of a proposal for a new nonfiction book, a painting, and a dummy for an illustrated book. None of this has to be done. Nobody is waiting for any of it. And if I miss the deadline (most likely the painting will take too long) nothing will happen. I don't know why I can do this. And I have just as much trouble finishing things as anyone.

2. I use my energy. I have a lot of energy, but not a long attention span. I want to work all day, but can't focus long enough on one thing. So I'll pick two or three things to work on during the course of the day, break it up additionally by walking dogs and doing the laundry, and more gets done than if I try to park my rear for hours and hours to do only one thing. Fatigue hits, and I can't do anything, and that gets stressful. That said, I can get obsessive about things and just stay with them at the expense of all else; but I never start out by assuming I'll be able to do that.

3. I do the thing that's calling to me. Is it the laundry? Is it the novel? Is it the internet research? It's not that I don't require heavy disciplining; I do. But over time, for the most part, I find that I get to everything.

This is THE KEY to my ability to work on multiple novels: when you work on two, then each of them becomes a vacation from the other. When I'm tired of writing fiction, research seems simple and black-and-white; when organizing information is tying me up in knots (I'm not a linear thinker) then working on a story of my own imagining feels like such a pleasure. And, although the freelance work can seem like a drag, I've learned that I like working with other people occasionally; at least it forces me to get dressed.

I have to admit that there are days when the yardwork or housework or dogs or kids get me carried away and the work goes along the wayside. I tell myself that I need time to process the work; sometimes I can even focus on doing so while up to my elbows in something physical. And I know that the next day, when I sit down to write again that the place will be organized and that writing will feel like a rest.


Linda Zajac said...

Thanks Melissa, Loreen and Karen for being so open to questions and taking the time to thoroughly answer them. It sounds like communication is the key and the publishers you folks have dealt with are reasonable people. That's good to hear. I had this fear that at some point I could be faced with a decision of not meeting a deadline or sacrificing quality--neither of which I find acceptable. The comment about taking a vacation from one project by picking up the next hits home. But I don't understand why you would have to ponder whether to submit a proposal elsewhere if an editor has turned it down. There's a lot of time invested in those.

Loreen Leedy said...

It does seem absurd that a publisher would expect an author to throw a ms. they’ve rejected into the trash can... yet an editor said that very thing to me. I sold that book to another publisher right away.

While it might be desirable from a publisher's perspective to have exclusive rights to an author’s work, if they’re not going to pay for that exclusivity nor publish part of what the author creates it’s not a tenable position. As the digital revolution continues, things will get even more... interesting!

Anonymous said...

Maybe I was fuzzy in what I said about this resubmitting of proposals. What I meant to say was that you need to be open with editors and let them know what's going on. If Editor A rejected my book, then I would let her know that I would be resubmitting it. But I don't feel compelled to tell Editor B that Editor A saw it first, and I don't feel compelled to keep Editor A up to speed on the sale to -- or rejection by -- Editor B.

Jantz said...

I appreciate all the inspiration you have provided for those of us who have always felt they have a book in them.