Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mass Markets - the red-headed stepchild of the industry?

Before I start talking about mass markets, I just wanted to plug my last post one more time. Only two people commented, so if you have something (anything) to say about submissions, from an editor/agent or author (published or not) perspective, please comment and/or refer people to the post.


Now, I wanted to discuss the subject of the mass market format because, from the day I entered my first publishing master's class (all those years ago) I have been given the impression that mass markets are the lowest of the low, red-headed stepchild, underbelly of the publishing industry. This makes me sad because, well, I'm a stepchild who has an appreciation for redheads and, well, I love mass market books. And not just the format itself, but as a reader I tend to go for the type of books (usually dark urban fantasy) that start out in mass market.

I've heard a ton of disparaging remarks. I had a friend once who, when asked why she didn't read mass markets, responded with, "because I like to read books that are well-written." Needless to say, I was incredibly insulted and said so. Where had she gotten this notion that mass markets weren't well-written? So I, in my indignant rage, made her read some of my favorite mass markets. Vintage Anita Blake, Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, one of the first Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. Within a month, she was hooked and was making her own discoveries -- Sherrilyn Kenyon, MaryJanice Davison -- and cruising on past the more well-known names to discover authors and subgenres that I had never heard of. Now I can't vouch for the quality of the writing in everything she found, but I opened up a whole new world of reading for her. She still loves books by authors like Sarah Dessen (one of her favorites) or Michael Chabon who are published in hardcover, but she can now appreciate the mass market world. In a way, I feel like that was a gift that I gave her (wow what a cheesy and arrogant thing for me to say).

Somewhere else, I saw someone say something along the lines of, "why would you ever want to have your mass markets autographed?" As if it almost wasn't worth meeting the author and having them personalize the book you had loved so much if it wasn't in a "better" format.

Now I'm aware of the realities. Mass markets are not as good in terms of production quality. The paper is not as nice as its larger counterparts, it falls apart easier, it's cheaper and therefore more expendable/replaceable. But mass markets also give publishers the opportunity to give a shot to some authors who they might not otherwise be able to afford. Because mass markets are cheaper, it's a great place to debut an author, especially in a genre like fantasy, and see how they are received on the market. If they sell well and continuously, they will eventually be released in hardcover as well. Many of the authors I've mentioned above have made this transition. This is such a great plan, and I am so glad for it because otherwise, some of our favorite authors may never have been given a chance. So what's with the negative MM vibe in the air? Where did this come from and when will it end?

Clearly there's a lot that could be said about mass markets. In fact, I almost wish I could go back in time to those graduate school days and change my thesis topic to this very subject. But then I would never have written that L. Frank Baum/Wizard of Oz retrospective, which helped me get my job. Oh bother -- too much paradox. But I'd love to get a good discussion going on mass markets and general thoughts on the subject in general. Mass markets -- how do you feel?

And again, feel free to link me and refer others who can contribute to the discussion. I tend to lean toward HUGE posts and that can deter people from reading, so I'm trying not to do that. But if we can get people to contribute in the comments, that would be great.

ETA: I just wanted to throw in a quick edit to add that, in case it wasn't obvious, I love mass markets and think there are MM authors who write just as well as HC/TP authors. I was having a few moments of terror wondering whether I made that clear and hoping I hadn't implied something offensive, since I've been telling people to "go check out my new blog post about MM books." LOL!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My opinion on submissions and The Fear

I was talking to the lovely Betsy Bird last night (that's Ms. Fuse #8 for those who don't know her secret identity) and my lack of blogging came up. More to the point, I was told to blog. HAHAHA! And if you're smart, you know you must do as The Fuse tells you. ;-)

No, but really the reason I haven't been blogging much lately is what I like to call The Fear. It's subconscious, it's hellish, and it will stunt your growth (as a blogger). The Fear is that feeling of angst that one gets when thinking about blogging, a sense of worry that somehow you will end up fired or missing out on some sort of growth opportunity because you said the wrong thing. Sure you can avoid The Fear by posting smartly, but it still lives inside your head. But I don't want to let The Fear control my blogging and frankly, I'm sick of only vent-blogging over in my super-secret blog, so here I am with an actual topic.

I'm a Watch-and-Comment member over at Fangs, Fur and Fey, a dark, urban fantasy community on LiveJournal (which means I can't start a topic -- that is reserved for the published authors -- but I can read and discuss in the comments section). There is a great crowd over there, a mix of authors (published and not), editors, readers, and other sub-groups I am sure I don't even know about. I usually mostly read and don't comment, but the other day, someone posted a topic that sparked my interest enough to comment, and then it came up in conversation with Ms. Fuse last night, so I thought it would be a good first post to help combat The Fear.

The original post is here -
http://community.livejournal.com/fangs_fur_fey/372538.html and I wanted to speak on my own preferences as an editor, when receiving a manuscript for consideration. Obviously I can only speak for myself and what I've heard and experienced from colleagues both in-house and at other companies (so basically trade publishing houses), but I thought it could be helpful. But there are A LOT of rules out there, not all of which matter, so I'm going some things that I'm going to list the things that I DO NOT recommend doing when sending in a submission.

First things first -- most of the rules floating around out there are probably outdated, rumor, or specific to a particular house (or possibly migrated over from some type of lit mag). I'm a strong believer in breaking the rules when there doesn't seem to be a logical reason to follow them and so I say (and keep reading for some exceptions) THROW OUT THE RULES! The exceptions -- the first page of your manuscript should have your full name, the title of your book and your contact information on it. The rest of your pages should be paginated and have your last name and the book title in the header or footer. 1" margins are always good, and it should be obvious that you should check your grammar and spelling and be sending in the cleanest manuscript possible, but other than that, there's nothing else I can think of as a MUST-HAVE (and of course, other editors should feel free to comment below and add anything I might have missed, or that applies to their house). We don't care how far down on the page your first chapter starts, or whether your chapters are named or just numbered. That stuff is unimportant for the first stage.

Overall, the best advice I can give is to check each publisher's submission guidelines. They will give you all the rules you need to apply to that specific house. Not only will they help you put together the best package to submit for our consideration, but if you DON'T follow those rules, it shows us that you are someone who either doesn't take direction well or who doesn't care, and it helps that house single out the writers who can act professional.

Some things you shouldn't do (read: my griping)

*Your font should match your novel. As I said in the comments on Fangs, Fur, and Fey, I would never decline a project based solely on the font. I hate Courier. I think it's ugly and many editors I've spoken with have agreed. And I've probably fallen in love with some manuscripts that were presented in Courier. But it is just another hurdle for the editor to get past while reading, and if they have trouble reading because of the font, they could mistake that as a lack of interest on their part or a pacing issue.

By all means, if Courier fits your project, use it. And if the font that best matches your novel is unreadable and filled with curly, girly lettering, DON'T use it. Readability and presentation are both important. When in doubt, Times New Roman and Arial are both fairly safe to use. They're presentable and readable without being atrociously ugly.

*For the love of god, please paginate your manuscript. It's not detrimental, but it can be a pain in the neck, and if I accidentally drop your manuscript and have to figure out where each page goes by reading the first and last line on every page, I'm not going to be happy and that's not going to help me love your project.

*Don't be sneaky, sketchy or a liar. Because of my company's policies, the editors here usually only see unagented projects from writers who have attended our conference events or who we've sought out on our own. If you didn't attend one of our events, don't send your manuscript in and say that you heard about our event or saw that we had attended the same conference. That's being sneaky. Also being sneaky -- if we say you request queries and you send the first three chapters, or if we request the first three chapters and you send your full. Sure, that makes you stick out in the slush pile, but it makes you stick as out someone who doesn't listen to our request, and that causes disgruntled feelings.

Also, please don't send your full manuscript and say "you requested to see my full manuscript" if we didn't. If I requested your full manuscript, I am going to remember you and if you are not one of those people, I am going to know. That's being a liar.

*It doesn't matter if you use a rubber band or a binder clip or a paper clip or a staple (though that last is a pain in the neck, frankly). That's not important. But please bind your pages together somehow so that when I take them out of the envelope, they aren't flopping all over the place, and so I don't have to go hunting for a paperclip.

*In general, if I haven't requested material from you, it's not in your best interest to send me something. Unsolicited queries and manuscripts get automatically given to the department assistant and/or intern, who will then send your materials back to you with a form letter stating our company policy. That's a waste of postage and why would you want to do that to yourself? And trust me -- nothing you say is going to change our minds because we're not even really reading the cover letter. We're skimming it to see if it says SCBWI or one of the other conferences we've attended, or to see if it is from someone we actually have met. But if that info isn't included, it goes in the pile.

*Likewise, if I have requested something from you or you attended an event I was at, please be sure to write that on the envelope and/or in the cover letter. Preferably in big letters on the envelope. If I don't know that you are sending your stuff to me for a reason, I won't know to hold onto it and read it.

*Be aware of what I'm looking for and don't send me something that I'm not looking for -- even if you attended a conference event that I attended, if you send me something I have no interest in, you're wasting your time. For example, I am not a fan of sports books, non-fiction, or (most) historical fiction. I usually will say that at conferences. If you send me a sports book, it's getting declined. I have a colleague who is very specific about the types of picture books she does and does not like. So if you're sending to her and she has said "I don't like x, y and z" and your picture book falls into that category, you're wasting her time as well as your own time and money. I know it's tempting to say, "well maybe I could just try..." or "maybe once they read it..." but the odds of that happening are slim to none and are more likely that we'll get frustrated that you're sending us something we aren't interested in. There's a reason we said we weren't interested and we're saying it so you won't be misled or confused about what to send us.

With agents it's different because they know us and we can usually pass agented projects to a colleague who would be more appropriate. But that isn't a reality when it comes to unagented projects, no matter how nice you are or how sweet and/or professional you are in your cover letter.

I'm sure there's more, but that's all from me for now. This is not new info. It's all out there already. But if posting this can help one person from wasting postage or missing an obvious error, then it did its job. Please discuss! I want to hear from other editors in the comments section and if there are questions from writers out there, I want to hear those too. Make me interact with my blog more, so I have more reasons to come back and update more often.

And now, I'm off to see a friend who just moved back from being out of state for a few months (I know -- what was she thinking?). We're going (what else) book shopping! WOO!

Next up - a discussion on mass markets and their reputation. Stay tuned.