Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to know if your editor is fabulous

I'll use the feminine for this, because my editor is a woman. But please substitute if yours is a guy. I know some great guy editors.
How do you know if your editor is fabulous? Answer these questions.

1. Is she supportive when things aren't going well?
My editor has always been unfailingly patient during my rough times. I have a big family; I have a lot of rough times (deaths, illnesses, weddings, angst).
She's also patient during my rough writing, first drafts, awkward prose and obvious mistakes.

2. Are her edits heavy handed? Or does she leave room for your own voice in your own writing?
When my first book copies arrived, back in 2007, I was astounded to see how many of the copy-edits that I had suggested were ultimately adopted. My editor acted surprised at my surprise; "of course we'd try to accommodate every request; you're the author!" whereas I'd been led to believe, by other writers, that your vision for your book is abandoned once you sign with a publisher.

I'm learning from her editing -- it's making me a better writer (thank goodness).

3. Does she respond to your emails? And is she warm in her notes to you?
My editor doesn't always write back as fast as I'd like her to. She's the publisher, besides being an editor. She works with very famous authors. I can't fault her for not coddling me and my author angst 24/7 (author angst is legendary; my insecurities are legion).
But she does always sign her notes affectionately and she does always respond quickly on important matters. I feel if we weren't working together, she'd be a fascinating friend who I'd love to get to know better.

4. Does she edit other work besides yours? Are those books critically acclaimed?
Every publisher has a different sort of feel. And not all books are good for all people. The list at one house might not appeal to a particular reader, even if the books are critically acclaimed and the reader is brilliant. We all have different tastes -- and thank goodness for that, because as an artist I can't imagine anything more drab than a world where everyone agreed on everything all the time.
I am not the biggest fan of each of my publisher's books, but I'm a big fan of a lot of them. Ellie McDoodle is not the top book in the catalog (though I hope it gets near). Like not
wanting to own the best house on the block, I don't think I want to create the best books in my publisher's catalog; I want something to aspire to, a reason to always try to do better.
My publisher puts out enough great works every season that I am proud to be part of their list.

5. Do you get paid on time? Royalty statements arrive unprompted?
I don't know. My agent takes care of this. I do know there have been a couple times when we asked my editor to intercede and she did. My family hit tough times last month, and my editor helped me get paid faster than normal. It was a kindness, something I will never forget.

6. Does she buy every book you write?
Mine doesn't -- and if she did she probably would not be a good editor. Ha!
I've pitched a couple books that were stinkers (you know, in a meeting when I should have bitten my tongue instead). My agent has pitched a few that I still believe in, that my editor didn't. Pitched a few that needed work. She bought 4 books from me. I'm satisfied with that track record (though of course I am trying harder to only offer books that are irresistible).

7. Does she work hard at her job?

Mine works maybe too hard. I get emails from her in the wee hours of the morning, on weekends, over holidays. I like having an editor who works as hard as I do.

8. Is she good with words?
My editor weighs her suggestions, balances observations, measures responses, and is careful about what is said and what's left unsaid. More than once I've babbled to her, watched her face for clues, saw the smile, realized belatedly I wasn't saying anything new, quieted down, and listened... and benefited from her wisdom.

9. Does she spend a lot of time blogging and building up warm, fuzzy feelings in the writer community?
My editor doesn't, and honestly I am glad for that. Her priority isn't her own name, it's writing. If she weren't publisher she'd probably have time for lots of other pursuits. I'm okay with how she handles what's important to me.

10. Is your editor human?

Well, yeah, mine is. She's endured some pain and I am sure she makes mistakes, but she isn't a faceless, nameless company pawn.
I can't speak to how she is elsewhere, but she's sensitive, thoughtful, and fair in all her dealings with me.
Her name is Melanie Cecka. She works for Bloomsbury. They've taken some knocks for some of their decisions, and I have opinions on the decisions and the knocks, but I respect her and her staff. They're good, dear people and I am lucky to work with them.

I drew this in my sketchbook while walking out the door after meeting with my editor and her staff in NYC, Feb 2006, for the first time:

I am SO in love with my job of being an author and illustrator of books for kids.

My editor would find a lot to edit in this note, but
I'm going to post it anyway. I have other writing to get to, specifically a girl who likes to read and a boy who likes to run.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ellie McDoodle, rising star

As Ellie McDoodle gets better known, I see little Ellie-isms pop up in new places.

Friends tell me of Ellie spotting, finding my books in bookstores, art museums, nature centers and Michigan highway Welcome Centers.
Some kids use Ellie-isms in their everyday language. I've heard "Cheezers!" exclaimed at events. And a dear friend's artist son once told her he was having "an Ellie McDoodle moment."
Kids tell me about their families, using characters as shorthand: "My brother is just like Ben-Ben" or "He's like Er-ick, when Ellie draws him like a monster."
I find it funny, flattering, and sweet.

Likewise, this video.
I didn't make it; it's a fan-fiction video.

Some enterprising kids came up with a script and shot a little movie for a contest on
I don't know if they won, but I'm honored by the name of their main character.
Video Description:
Ellie McDoodle is exploring an ancient bathroom and finds an American Idol Singer whose dreams were crushed and a CRAZY lady who has a plastic pinapple husband. Please watch it and comment. No insults. If you don't like it, just don't comment! I hope we win the contest! :) p.s. we will make more vids
See the video here.
It's silly and fun and the actors show great enthusiasm. If I were grading it, I'd give them an A for Awesome.
Ellie exploring an ancient bathroom, hm. . . Two summers ago at a writer retreat I talked with archeology professor and future famous author Jeannie Mobley about using an archeology theme for a future Ellie book. It could still happen. Probably won't be bathroom-centered, though maybe a pineapple will make an appearance. ;)

Best of luck to all the young filmmakers out there.

Keep reading!

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Rally of Writers

I see the date's been set for the Skaaldic Society of Lansing's A Rally of Writers:
April 10, 2010.
This is a day-long writer conference held at the beautiful and spacious Lansing Community College West Campus.

My writer-husband Charlie and I attended the Rally of Writers ages ago, long before we joined SCBWI. It was great every year, but one year Charlie said we shouldn't return to the Rally until we were published so we'd have something happy to report at it -- you know, that old "I'm not *really* a writer yet, so I shouldn't attend writer events" sort of thinking that those of us with low self confidence wallow in. Plus we had little kids at home; daily life was a challenge.

Getting published took years. We delved into comic strips, satire, self-published mini books. . . and then eventually I joined SCBWI in 2003. A Rally writer kept urging me to join SCBWI earlier but I was bullheaded, impoverished and easily-distracted.
It's disappointing to realize I could have been living my dream much earlier, but I guess every path has value, even the meandering one.
Last year the Rally of Writers folks asked me to present a session on kids' books.
I was happy to do it but didn't expect to find much of use for me, since I have a genre that works for me, and a career, and no desire to branch out.
Boy, was I surprised.
Several of the sessions were of immediate, applicable use. Lev Raphael's memoir talks were particularly fascinating and deeply moving, and I learned a lot about poetry from keynote speaker Gerry LaFemina. If my sketchbook were handy, if I weren't on[line, avoiding a] deadline right now, I'd upload sketches.
Charlie enjoyed it too, and I think it jumpstarted his new writing career.

I'd definitely go back, either to present or to sit in the audience: Two thumbs up for Lansing's Rally of Writers!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

How I work

Yesterday I dismantled my makeshift desk next to the Christmas tree in the living room: I'm done with the art for the third Ellie McDoodle book. Well, mostly done; there'll be a few revisions/requests.

For a month I've had a mini-studio set up in the middle of the family action, because while writing is more of a solitary venture, art requires the energy of people around me. Plus I need short, intermittent bursts of breaks from it to keep it fresh, whereas with writing, breaks can sound the death knell of creativity.

Upon my mother in law's death a couple weeks ago we inherited, among other treasures, two tv tables. I've wanted a pair of tv tables for a long time (I knew they'd be perfect for temporary desks), and these came at a useful time.
Before them, I stacked things on an ottoman; not very stable, no leg room.

So this was my portable art studio:
- one tv table with my editor's handwritten notes on the penciled art pages, plus a Mason jar of water and a bag (
pink wintergreen lozenges) or roll (Mentos) of mints, plus an assortment of bad carbs and good raw veggies.
- second tv table with my lightbox balanced on top. On that, graph paper, pencil, two pens, razor blade for mistakes, and the penciled rough to be inked.
The light box isn't the nice one I used in college or at my job at MSU. It's an 18" x 24" cardboard strawberry box from a supermarket with a hinged plexiglass lid which is still encased in the blue plastic I bought it in years ago. The blue cuts the light and reduces glare. Better would be a portable box with frosted glass. Someday...
Inside the box is a portable flourescent light fixture with an on/off switch.

- round plant table with a box of files on it: About 2,000 papers which include drafts 1, 2, and 3 of this book, both writing and art, editor comments, a thin sheath of loose paper for inking (too thick a packet is discouraging), a couple encouraging notes from my agent and editor, and a folder of "Must adds". I hope I remembered to add all the musts. . .

Every day at about 1pm I set up my workspace next to the Christmas tree, across from the tv, turned on the tv and all the lights in the living room and plugged in the tree lights and the light box.
I settled in for about 15 hours of work, taking only very short breaks, working until 4 - 6am, quitting when hallucinations started. I'd watch whatever not-too-mindless thing was on tv (on our new Christmas present, DirectTV): Dog Whisperer, Mythbusters, anything on Science, Nat. Geo. or Discovery Channel, sometimes a movie (my favorite was The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, about a lady carrying sextuplets; wartime America's response to the Dionne quints in 1944). I learned about survival techniques used in disasters (have confidence, take immediate action, believe your time is limited, practice evacuation routes in advance), how to make a car skip across a pond like a stone (redistribute the weight, pump up the acceleration to 100 mpg), what's the dirtiest thing in your house (kitchen sponge), secrets of Pompeii (I don't know why, but this story has gripped me since I was a small child), and I scrawled down the websites and prices of at least a dozen infomercial products that looked like a good deal to my addled brain. I watched Clean House on the Style channel, wished I could do that to my house, but disliked the sometimes-bullying tactics.

I worked methodically, sometimes stopping for commercials and sometimes working through them and stopping for the main attraction, usually mixing both. I tried to ignore the page number of the art I was working on because knowing I still had 75 pages ahead of me would be paralyzingly disheartening.
I ignored the phone and email. Opened Christmas cards, read them, grunted appreciation, and got back to work.
Went to Christmas parties only because I had to. Ate no meals in the dining room. Barely showered.
Paid attention to my kids or spouse or grandkids only when necessary.
I quit working in the wee hours of the morning, turned off all the lights, put my work in a safe place, scrubbed my face and teeth and collapsed into bed, then woke up 6-7 hours later and started again.

Some days I was very productive. Some days it felt like I worked and worked and worked and accomplished almost nothing. That's typical for a book.

When it was all over early Saturday morning I spent a few hours copying all the art, then took a nap, then ran it all over to UPS.
It will arrive in NYC on Monday morning.
Next I'll make the text revisions requested by my editor, and unfortunately that's a more solitary task. I don't have a good computer to work with in the living room yet. When all the text changes are done there will be a few art revisions to make, and then my editor will send ARCs (galleys) for copyedits. That will take a couple weeks -- it'll probably be the end of January. I think? Then I jump into the next book, a novel, with a synopsis and 3 chapters due ASAP.
I'm filled with such self-doubt right now, despite meeting this huge deadline. I worry they won't love the novel. But maybe they will. It's about a girl who has trouble balancing things in her life. Sounds familiar, eh?
As they say, write what you know.