Recently in Market Prep Category

Finding Comp Titles

shelf-159852_640.pngRecently, I was at a writer's conference where someone asked, "What do you do when you can't find comp titles?". (Comp titles are comparable titles.) Sometimes writers say, "nothing is out there like this book." That's highly unlikely, especially if the book fits a category--picture book, middle grade, young adult, etc.--and it fits a genre. If it doesn't fall in any of these, perhaps the writer needs to rethink the project--there may be a reason "nothing is out there" like it.

How I find comp titles

First, I go to Amazon and search in the category. (You could use Barnes & Noble as well.) Let's say I'm looking for comp titles for a picture book. I start by searching by subject in picture books. For example, manners, or musical instruments, or fun in the sun. Be sure and use the check boxes on the left to help you narrow your search. I usually check hardcover. Since I mostly write fiction, I specify that as well.

Next, I search by characters. If my characters are animals, I'll search for fiction picture books on that specific animal. E.g. How many picture books are there with a tree frog as the main character? Probably not many, which can help your book stand out. I know there are a lot of picture books with chicken, dog, or cat main characters.

If neither of those options work, try searching for the tone of the book, such as humor or sweet, whatever fits your manuscript best. Or search for the theme of your book.

You can also go to a local bookstore and ask someone in the children's section to show you recent books on a specific topic, character, or written in a specific tone.

Reading books

And, of course, I read the books I find to see if they really are a good comparable title.

I also do a lot of reading of picture books and may find comp titles that way as well.

Using multiple comp titles

Sometimes it takes two or three titles to express your book, so your pitch or query letter would say, "My book is like Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code meets Mo Willems' The Thank You Book. (Note these are recent titles, which make the best comps.) You can also use movies or TV shows as one of your comps. "My YA manuscript is like The Truman Show meets M.T. Anderson's Feed." (These aren't recent, but would give the editor or agent an instant picture of your manuscript.)

Usually you don't want to use the blockbuster books, such as Harry Potter or Hunger Games as comparison titles. Although, if you were comparing it to some aspect of the book, that might work too. "My book has a main character who doesn't fit in like Luna Lovegood in HP, but the story is more reminiscent of Laurel Gale's Dead Boy."

Agents and editors I've heard speak agree that comp titles will be out there. You just have to do the research to find them.

For further reading on this topic go to "Finding Comp Titles for Your Novel" by Annie Neugebauer and "Comp titles" by Janet Reid. Both of these posts are from 2012, but have great info.

Writing for Children's Religious Magazines

christ&lamb.pngI've sold over 75 short stories to a variety of religious magazines. Some of these stories were resales as the markets don't have the same audience, but have very similar beliefs. Some stories were tweaked to fit a specific religion. A few of the magazines are no longer in print. Others have gone through transitions and name changes.

Beliefs Vary

Each magazine has its own flavor and set of beliefs. When reading sample stories, you'll find certain magazines specifically mention God and/or Jesus, while others don't. In all cases, there are things you need to know when writing for the religious market.

Theme Lists/Editorial Calendars

Many of the religious magazines can also be called "church take home papers." In other words, 52 issues are printed for each Sunday/Sabbath of the year. Others, are monthly magazines with several stories/articles per issue. Not only does this mean they need lots of material (fiction and nonfiction), but these magazines often have some kind of theme. It can be a yearly theme, a monthly theme, or an issue by issue theme. There may be Bible verses to read along with theme topics. Often, theme lists, sometimes called editorial calendars, are available online. If not, you'll need to write to the magazine for them. For one magazine I've gotten on a mailing list to receive the themes by email.

Writers Guidelines

All have submission guidelines--many of which are online. These will tell you word counts--some will be ranges, others will be up to a specific word limit. You may find deadlines for submissions. You'll find information on the rights the magazine buys. (If you need further information on rights, go here.) http://www.susanuhlig.com/2013/10/is-that-right.html The focus of the magazine is usually mentioned here as well.

But one of the biggest "guidelines" is reading the stories in the magazine itself. This is where you'll really see whether the stories are simply moral or "good," or whether God is referenced or talked to, or both. You'll get to see if story settings are inside or outside of church--often the most religious magazines use both.

The Characters

Most will have one main character either overcoming a problem or learning something. (That doesn't mean these stories have to be preachy, although some will lean more that way than others.) Someone might help them with the problem, but the main character has to be in control and do the actual solving. Because of what happens in the story, the character will change in some way.

Editorial Relationships

Often, if you break into print with one magazine, you can sell more stories to the same magazine. If you do, you may develop a relationship with the editor(s). I had one editor tell me she liked my story, but since the magazine didn't promote contemporary Christian music, they couldn't use it. Without a relationship, all I'd have gotten would have been a straight rejection. I've also had editors ask me to fill holes in their lists of stories. After receiving a specific topic, I usually had to propose a couple ideas before getting the go ahead to write.

Rejections

You may find as I did that some magazines are really hard to break into. In fact, some I never wrote something that they accepted. You may also find some rejections are a "not now" as they had too many stories that fit the topic. That means you can send the story later when it again fits a topic. I've also resent stories when a new editor comes along. This means you have to keep accurate records on your submissions and on the magazine.

Sales

My favorite sales to religious markets were the magazine I read when I was a teen and the magazine my daughters read when they were teens. One of the fun things with resales is seeing how differently the same story can be illustrated. But the best is knowing that there are children and teens being encouraged by my stories.

Why Twitter?

twitter.jpgTwitter. Facebook. Snapchat. Instagram. Periscope. There are so many options in social media that it can be hard to choose which one(s) to use. If you aren't on Twitter, don't know why you as a writer might want to use it, or don't know what to do with the Twitter account you have, perhaps this post will be helpful.

First, what is Twitter?

An internet discussion/social network where messages are 140 characters long. Some refer to this as microblogging. You can say what you want, whenever you want, and your followers can read it whenever they want. Messages are referred to as "tweets." Messages can include links to a website or blog, photos or videos, gifs, and polls.

My Reasons for Using Twitter

I started using Twitter to connect with other kidlit writers and to get better acquainted with editors and agents. It's a good place for those purposes, both which are really about connection.

Find People to Follow

Following someone is how you get to read messages in Twitter. Your Twitter feed, your timeline, is made up of messages posted by anyone you follow, plus messages you send. It's how you listen in on the conversation. It's how you join public conversations or start conversations. Messages are in chronological order in your feed with the most recent messages on top.

I started by following some writer friends. Then followed some people my friends followed. Since then I add people I meet, read about, read their books, hear speak, or find through retweets, or through Twitter suggestions. I may or may not follow those who follow me.

If I don't know anything about a person, I read his/her bio and some sample tweets. Sometimes I follow someone and later unfollow them as their tweets bother me (it could be language, or too much self-promotion, or too much discussion of politics.)

Because I now have an adult ebook out from Clean Reads, I have a Twitter handle for that pen name @SMFordwriter, too. I've found that the children's literature community--just as they are in person--are more open to conversation, helping each other, sharing, etc.--than the adult literature community.

The Conversation: What Do You Say on Twitter?

Answer questions. Here's an example that @KSonnack posted yesterday: "I need some book recs. #1: for an 8yo who just moved to a new city and is having trouble adjusting. Go!"

Follow links to articles, then comment or retweet the original tweet. (Retweeting means sending the tweet out again from your user name.)

Share articles. This from August 11th: "The 11th hour villain. I agree with this concept. http://www.starpowercomic.com/the-eleventh-hour-villain/ ...

Use the heart to "like" what someone says.

Comment on or retweet tweets. Such as: @Corinneduyvis on September 2nd: "Hugely important part of writing for me: my plot notebook. I take pen, paper, and just talk my way through scenes and problems."

Share good news, links to blog posts, writer quotes, and book recommendations.

Ask questions.

Celebrate others' good news and sympathize with bad.

Conversations: Private

You can also have private conversations by using DM (direct message) through Twitter. This only works for people who follow you. You can DM a single person or a group. More info here.

Searching Twitter

Twitter is searchable and the main tool to use is a hashtag. Hashtags can be anything anyone creates using the pound symbol (#) followed by a word or words with no spaces, but common ones start becoming known, such as #amwriting or #writingtips or #writingchallenge or #kidlit. Some are just initials or abbreviations that have become great tools.

Some of the most useful writer hashtags for submitting are #MSWL (manuscript wish list), #PitMad (pitch madness), and #PitchWars (a contest).


  • #MSWL also has a website--both the hashtag and the website offer editors and agents to post "what they are looking for." This is amazing!

  • #PitMad is a chance for writers to pitch manuscripts during quarterly events. Basic information can be found here. One of the most important things about it is that tweeters must also indicate the genre of the manuscript with another hashtag, such as #PB #MG #YA.

  • #PitchWars is a "a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer critiques on how to make the manuscript shine." See full details for 2016 here. What a deal!


These latter two give you a chance to see if your pitches are working. Do they garner any attention or not? You can often offer different versions to try pitches out.

Search for a specific editor or agent--one you'd like to know more about--by name. You may find links to interviews or blog posts by this person. You may find comments about the agent or editor. If the agent or editor has an account, you can read his/her tweets. Seeing a "I hate squirrels" tweet would let you know not to send a squirrel story to that specific person.

Twitter Lists

One of the tools on Twitter is the ability to assign those you are following to lists. I normally add someone to a list when I follow them. That means if I want to see what Picture Book writers are saying today, I can just see the posts of the people I've put on my PB list. (Would need to use Tweetdeck or HootSuite). Lists can be public or private.

Setting Up Twitter

When you sign up for an account, you create a user name or handle--mine is @SusanUhlig, my pen name for my children's writing. The @ symbol is the common way to indicate a Twitter handle. Once you have someone's user name, you can view their page by typing in your browser twitter.com/username. So in my case it would be twitter.com/susanuhlig. Once you go to my page, you'll see Sue (Susan Uhlig) followed by @susanuhlig.

Actions you need to take asap are upload an avatar--usually a picture of you--and create a bio. You don't have a lot of characters, so keep it short and pertinent. Mine says: "Children's Book (PB, readers, MG, YA) & Mag Writer. Writing helps/book recs on my site ('cuz I always have an opinion). SCBWI Oregon. ICL Instructor." You can see I used some of my bio space for affiliations. I also get to list my location and my website in addition to my bio. Another fun option is adding a header photo, but that can come later. However, often people won't follow those who do not have an avatar.

Of course, Twitter itself has articles and FAQs that can help you get started.

Once you are set up, you can join the conversation. If you find you are spending way too much time on Twitter, set a timer for how long you want to be on and when it goes off, close that Twitter window.

Making Use of Twitter

You can also set up a Twitter widget on your website that will show a specified number of your most recent tweets. It's one way to have frequently changing content on your site. (How you do this depends on your website software.)

Someone once asked me if I could explain Twitter in 140 characters. As you can see, I can't. But I can sure tweet this post.


MS Wish List

photo courtesy of morguefile.com
wishing.jpgIf you're on twitter, you've probably seen the hashtag #MSWL. If you've read the SCBWI Insight, you're aware of it, too. Maybe you're still wondering though how useful it is. Or maybe you have no idea what I'm talking about. In either case, keep reading.

On the webpage itself you can find a collection of wish lists from a specific agent or editor. For example, here's a sampling from editor Cheryl Klein who has recently gotten involved with #MSWL.

Cheryl Klein
@chavelaque (her twitter handle)
After long thought and much perplexity, to be very brief was all that she could determine on with any confidence of safety. All tweets here my own. (her twitter bio)
Brooklyn, NY
cherylklein.com

She's interested in MG, YA, Nonfiction, Women, Diverse, Picture Books.

July 29th: I also want more MG/YA narrative nonfiction in history & science. Again: stakes, characters, good writing. Women & diversity a plus. #MSWL

July 29th: But the idea has to unfold thru v. real characters & a story w/ stakes, action & smarts. Ex OPENLY STRAIGHT, MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD #mswl

July 29th: I always want Big Idea books -- PB/MG/YA whose story shows the character exploring a philosophical/political/personal idea or problem #MSWL

Interesting quick look at Cheryl and what she wants to see, right?

As of today, July 30th, there are 255 agent profiles listed on this website. There are also 130 editor profiles, 44 editorial assistants, and a number of other categories. Go here to see who they are. Once you have clicked on the type of person you are interested in, you can use the sort for categories such as Children, MG, Humor, etc. Editors, Agents, etc. are listed alphabetically by first name or by Agency name.

Does a listing on this site mean you can submit to that agent or editor? If you have something that fits their wish list, by all means. But if not, don't. Look at this query tip:

aba Sulaiman @agentsaba · 21h
"Although this isn't what you asked for, I hope y--" Stopstopstop. Pointing out that your book isn't on my wishlist won't help you. #querytip

Which reminds me, you can also click on Pub Tips, which will give you publication tips, including the query tip above.

There's also a Queries tab, which lets you get a look at some query responses such as these:

Eric W. Ruben, Esq. @EricRubenLawyer · 2d
Q1 YA: Dark subject matter and gritty MC. Not my style but might be good for someone else. Pass. #tenqueries

Laura Zats @LZats · 2d
Q456:C MG. Too introspective and not enough of a romp for me. #500queries #everyquery
There's also an Ask Agent tab. Here are a few samples:

Linda Epstein @LindaEpstein · 1d
@CharleyPearson Only resend a "completely revised" ms if it's "COMPLETELY revised." Otherwise it's just annoying. #askagent

Peter Knapp @petejknapp · 2d
Someone asked: Can you help explain the difference between YA & adult fiction w/ a teenage protag? http://t.co/aJTRg9F0DV #askagent

Do you have to be on twitter to use this site? Yes, and no. If you want to see more tweets related to a specific tweet, yes, you'll be directed to twitter. Do you have to have your own twitter account to read tweets? No. Do you have to have your own twitter account to read this website? No.

If you have more questions about the #MSWL hashtag, feel free to ask.


One Size Does NOT Fit All

picture courtesy of Creative Commons License taken by Alisdair
almost fits.jpg

Recently, someone asked me "how do I submit to agents?" As I told them, each agency has their own submission guidelines. Not only do the guidelines say how they want you to submit, but what they want you to submit. And, of course, some agencies or agents are closed to submissions.

The only ways to know for sure what a particular agent wants are to visit the agency website, visit Publisher's Marketplace and search for a specific agent, or hear the agent speak at a conference or other writing event.

I personally am interested in contacting agents whom I've heard speak, met in some way, have read their tweets, have read their blogs or have read interviews with them. I like knowing a bit more about an agent, than what is said on the agency website or on Publisher's Marketplace.

The basic three "how to"s of agency submissions:


  • Via a form on their website

  • Via email, either with attachments, or pasted into the body of the email

  • Via postal mail

What agents want is more complex, but these are common variations:


  • Query only

  • Query with a certain number of pages or chapters for a novel

  • Query with synopsis and a certain number of pages or chapters for a novel

  • Full manuscript for picture book

  • Full manuscript for middle grade or YA novel

Addendum


  • A full manuscript probably needs a cover letter

  • A few agents may want "exclusive submissions," but most do not

Samples of how and what:

FORM
Currently, EMLA's (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) website says: "EMLA is closed to unsolicited queries or submissions. We consider queries that come to us by referral from industry professionals we know, and individual agents are open to queries from attendees of conferences where they speak, except that Erin Murphy is entirely closed to queries and submissions in the first half of 2014. If you have met us at a conference or have a referral, please paste your query into the contact form on our contact page. Please note that we are no longer responding to queries or submissions from those who do not have a referral or have met us at a conference. Those sent in hard copy form via post or other means will receive no response, and those sent via email will receive a form rejection." So, the how is use the form on their website, the what is query and the extra important information is "by referral from industry professionals" and if you heard a specific agent speak at a conference.

Nancy Gallt Literary Agent accepts submissions via a form, in a step-by-step process. Or by postal mail.

EMAIL
"The Bent Agency ONLY accepts email queries. If you send your query by postal mail, it will be recycled and not returned to you."

Some guidelines will tell you what to put in the Subject line of your email.

Email Query Resources

How to Format an Email Query - Nathan Bransford

How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents - Seven Tips from LiteraryAgents.com

POSTAL MAIL
BookStop Literary accepts via postal mail and has specific instructions by genre. Here's what they say for the younger readers:

TO SUBMIT A BOARD BOOK, PICTURE BOOK OR EASY READER
Mail submissions: Please send the entire manuscript (but no more than 15 pages), a cover letter and a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) to BookStop Literary Agency at the address on the left. In your cover letter, include your phone number, e-mail address, a short paragraph about your background, and a brief synopsis of your manuscript. Please do not submit more than two manuscripts at a time.

Please DO NOT send art, dummies, binders, or mock-ups unless you are a professional illustrator.

They also accept email submissions.

What Agents Are Looking For

What we haven't covered so far is the interests of the agents. Some agents look at the whole gamut from picture books to new adults. Others are boutique agencies who may focus on a specific audience or age range. Some agents tell you what they specifically want.

Here's a portion from Bree Ogden's want list (D4EO Literary):

Seeking:
*NOTE: I am actively seeking children's/YA nonfiction. NO memoir unless you have a gigantic platform (i.e., The Pregnancy Project). I would love something in the vein of The Letter Q, Dare to Dream!: 25 Extraordinary Lives, The Forbidden Schoolhouse, or a Starvation Heights type historical fiction.
~Highly artistic picture books (high brow art, think Varmints)
~Middle grade (generally horror)
~Young Adult
~New Adult (no erotica, please)
~Adult (very specific genres, see below)
~Graphic Novels (preferably artist/illustrator OGNs)
~Nonfiction (no heavy academic, rather pop culture and journalism or essays, think Kelley Williams Brown, David Sedaris, Chuck Klosterman. MUST have platform, no memoirs)
~Humor
~Pop Culture
~Art books
~Unapologetically bizarre books
~Macabre literature for children

Response Times

How long an agent takes to get back to you varies by agency and by agent. I remember one writer friend getting a response from an agent the same day. Other writers told me one agent takes 8-9 months to respond. You may be able to learn this information on the agency website or perhaps on Publisher's Marketplace.

Example:

The Bent Agency: "It is our goal to respond to every query. If you don't receive a response within a month, please resend your query and indicate that you're sending it again."

More and more agents are not responding unless they are interested in your submission.

Example:

Wernick and Pratt Agency: "We receive hundreds of submissions each month, and while we would like to respond to every submission received, we unfortunately cannot reply to each one. Submissions will only be responded to if we are interested in them. If you do not hear from us within six (6) weeks of your submission, it should be considered declined. If you would like to request confirmation of receipt, please use the request-receipt function when e-mailing your initial submission to receive an automatically generated response confirming receipt. We will not confirm receipt of submissions unless we have requested additional material."

Can I Submit to More Than One Agent at an Agency?

Most agencies consider a submission to one agent at the agency as the only submission allowed. In other words, you can not submit to another agent at the same agency. This information will probably be in their submission guidelines. It never hurts to ask at a conference what the agency's policy is on this.



Finding Comp Titles

Writing for Children's Religious Magazines

Why Twitter?

MS Wish List

One Size Does NOT Fit All

How To Start Querying an Agent

Agents Telling What They Want

Do You Remember?

Mind Your Cs and Qs - part one

Market Research Resources - Agents

Writing a Novel? Where Does It Fit?

Meeting Editors and Agents - In Person

Meet Editors and Agents - Online

Book It! - Recording What You Read