Tuesday, August 7, 2012

That Idaho Chic Tells it Like it Is

Day 14

Today was an exciting day—I was finally able to experience what it is like to be present when an editor has decided to acquire a book! This afternoon, Julie came over to my desk and asked me if I would like to try my hand at creating a book proposal. Not only that, but I also had to fill out a terms sheet and put the correct monetary figures into an Excel graph to see what the overall investments and returns would likely be estimated with the book being the type that it is. A book proposal form is pretty basic—at least the ones at Charlesbridge are. On it, I typed in the name of the book, the names of the author and illustrator, and year the book will likely come out. Also on the proposal is a description of the book, the editor’s vision for the book, the editor’s reason for publishing, and more nitty-gritty information like what kind of book it is, who it’s for and how it will be formatted, what the competition is likely to be, the reasons for why it’s marketable, and what the author’s history is. For all of this, it was my job to look at past book proposals for books similar to the one being acquired, and once I had an idea of what should be said, take a go at doing it myself.

Initially, looking at the form and the spaces where paragraphs written by me would have to go (knowing that what I wrote would be seen by not just Julie, but also Yolanda and various others (including the publisher)), I was terrified. The book being acquired is similar in length and structure to Grin and Bear It. Grin and Bear It appeared to have a fairly enthusiastic description that was to the point. I tried my best to mimic the enthusiasm (not difficult since the book is quite good—believe me—I’ve read it), but later on, found out I had to be more careful with my character and subject placement in a sentence as it can make the book appear that one character is the focus when really another character is the main one in the story. Also I learned to be more specific and to remove more umbrella-like statements. For the paragraph about the vision of the book, I looked to Julie’s emails for guidance. Seeing what she’d written as far as critiques or praises about the book helped me to form a couple statements I thought pretty well summed up her ideas. I did the same for the section titled “Reason for Publishing.”

When it came to the more technical items on the list, I opened up Google for some research. The book being acquired is a book about two friends and their adventures together. I looked up books using Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book websites, trying to find books that would fit the same market as this new novel. I found four titles I thought might be comparable. I then wrote brief plot synopsis of each book, and put down the publisher and year of publication. In “Selling Points” I once again looked to Grin and Bear It. Later, I learned that there must be a thoughtful order to the points (I know—no-brainer but I’m new at this), so if an author is well known, it is good to mention his or her name in the first bullet-point. If the author is not as well known, the name mentioning can be left to the last bullet if at all. I learned to ignore the role of the parents and to focus on the kids. I also learned not to mention the story’s moral as that can sound didactic. As Harold Underdown says in his book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, an author should be subtle about the “moral” of his or her book. If there is a lesson to be learned, it can be taught through the actions taken by the characters in the book. It is very rare when a publisher wants an author to just spell out the moral.

As for the terms sheet and graph, these mostly required guidance from the term sheet for Grin and Bear It. It’s so strange to know how much authors are paid, what their payments rely upon after the initial payment, and what percent of each book sold (depending on if it is hardcover or softcover) goes to the author. I felt like I was doing a lot of guessing, but since Julie was looking it over, I didn’t feel too pressured.

Overall, it was an extraordinarily fascination lesson, and beyond that, I am so excited that I got to be here to find out that a book was being acquired!

Today I also was able to conduct an informational interview with Karen. It was great learning about her path to Charlesbridge, her thoughts on what makes a valuable editor, and her recommendations for when I begin to apply for jobs in publishing. She also looked over my questions that I will be taking to New York, and helped me to organize them into “themed” lists. I was so grateful for her help.

Day 15

Today I received Julie’s edits on the book proposal form and terms sheet. After doing those, I had a meeting with Connie, who is the Managing Editor at Charlesbridge. Essentially she is the one who keeps the wheels, nuts, and bolts well-oiled so that production goes smoothly and on-schedule. It’s tough to keep four lists of books organized when editors, designers, and marketers are in the process of working on multiple lists at a time. It would be impossible to remember what books are being copy-edited, what books are with illustrators, what books have been signed off on, what books have jacket sketches, etc. without a calendar. Connie works to keep the schedule up-to-date, and runs the production meetings every other week. She also deals with reprints, accepts or rejects proofs and ozalids, acts as a liaison between departments, preps eBooks, and creates/edits forms. She was kind enough to do an informational interview with me, and I found her work fascinating.

Day 16

I’m headed to the Big Apple! And I’m meeting with all sorts of publishing folks for informational interviews! I brought my resumé in and Karen kindly looked it over and edited it for me. As it turns out, Karen is the resumé pro, and if I may say so, my resumé now looks pretty swanky and awesome. After she so kindly turned my resumé into a professional work of art, I worked on slush. It was hard to concentrate though with thoughts of going to New York flipping around in my head.

Today we also had an editorial meeting but it was later in the day. One of the other interns, Paige, was able to come since it was in the afternoon, and so it was interesting to hear about her work in customer service where she also interns.

At the end of the day, we also had a team meeting where we got to watch videos for Pip Pig Returns and Little Pig Joins the Band. The two books are being marketed together and the DVD features them being read aloud Reading Rainbow style. It was fun to watch.

Day 17

I feel I should mention the New York trip as it was just as much a part of this interning process as being at Charlesbridge. My trip was exciting and surprising. When I wasn’t interviewing, I was able to take advantage of seeing the city for the first time, and that meant seeing Broadway, taking in Times Square at night, going to the Met, and taking a ferry past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. While I enjoyed these ventures, however, the interviews were the most inspiring part of the trip. While in New York I was able to interview with employees from Roaring Brook, Putnam, and Workman. I also got to sit down briefly with Harold Underdown, a past Editorial Director of Charlesbridge, which was equally exciting. Most of the people I met with were editors of some kind (either associate or assistant), though one person worked in International Marketing. I learned a great deal from my interviews and have so many more ideas running through my mind now about what to expect, what the process will be like, what others’ experiences have been, and more. I was able to talk about some of my favorite books such as Water for Elephants, Mudbound, Millions of Cats, and Al Capone Does My Shirts with people who had actually helped out/are helping out now with those projects. I also got to talk about a recently published manuscript of which I’ve only read the beginning, with the editorial assistant who helped work on the book. It was incredible hearing about the process and what she got to do throughout to bring the book to publication. All in all, I am so grateful to every person who agreed to meet with me and who patiently sat for and answered my questions.

As for what I did today, First thing in the morning, I had my informational interview with Julie. Although she’s been my mentor and guide for the past two months, it was great to be able to sit down with her and ask the questions I haven’t had the chance to ask before. Learning about her work and having her explain the total book publishing process in more depth was so incredibly interesting and helpful. I was also able to ask her advice on some things.

After the meeting, I got caught up on slush (there was a lot of it over the weekend). One of the manuscripts was from a child, and since Charlesbridge doesn’t publish youth submissions, I wrote her an encouraging letter and sent along a list of publishers that would be able to help her. It was cool reading her story though—hearing what kind of stories a kid wants to read is the best way to know what should be published, I think.

Today I also worked on verifying facts for a manuscript in the process of being published. Fact-checking is such an integral part of writing and editing—I find it exciting, but then again, I’m a history minor.

Day 18

Today’s task was officially the coolest thing Julie’s allowed me to do during my internship. Today I was given the job of writing flap copies for three soon-to-be-published manuscripts. For those unaware of what a flap copy is, a flap copy is what is written on the inside flaps of the books when you open it up to read a short plot synopsis. It’s also what’s at the back of the book to tell you a short paragraph about the author and possibly the illustrator. I can’t tell you how excited I was— how incredible it felt to be given such a task. Over and over in my head I couldn’t help thinking about how when the book was published, if Julie and Yolanda liked what I’d written, the only other writing inside the book aside from the story would be what is written by me on the inside flaps. It’s a fantastic feeling. Since my last day is tomorrow, I probably won’t know until the books come out a year from now, just how much of my flap copy attempts made it into the final books, but I’m going to let myself dream for now that I’ve done an incredible job—a job worthy of going inside the books.

In order to write effective flap copies, I looked at other books the author had written, reading those as well as their own flap copies to get a feel for how it should sound. This method was especially helpful with Saint Saëns: Danse Macabre, as this is the author’s eighth book in the musical series, and her writing is easy to get excited about. If you’re ever looking for enlightening and creative picture books about famous composers, I highly recommend the series by Anna Harwell Celenza. I was wowed by her ability to combine fact with story-telling to weave a book that can level with a child while still being informative. As someone who has sang in many choirs, I also loved reading more about the composers whose pieces I’ve sang, and enjoyed getting to know them on an almost personal level. It has actually changed the way I see those composers— and and in a good way.

For the other two novels, I looked at similar styles of books and tried to gauge what were the most important factors of their flap copies. I noticed that many middle grade novels use quotes to suck the reader in and make them want to continue reading. After reading the two pieces for which I was to write the flap collies, I scoured the pages for the quotes I’d found most impactful and eye-catching. For all three books, I also did some research on the authors to try and put together a draft of the information in the “About the Author” sections.

The most challenging part of the day took place when it came time for me to write the flap copy for the third book given to me. This was a book that asked me to step out of my comfort zone as it was one I would not normally have picked up at a library. This book was much darker than my typical reading list. As I read it, I found myself dealing with a churning stomach. While the writing was well done, and the topic fascinating, I was entirely sucked in by the circumstances within the book and the highly unpleasant topic. As one point I went to Julie’s office and had a discussion with her about the book. I wanted to get her advice on who I should be looking to target in the flap copy. How should I go about promoting a book I didn’t like? Julie could tell I was upset by the book and she was kind enough to ask if I wanted to stop. I told her no. Even though I didn’t like the book, I felt it was important to have the experience. I realized as I was talking to her that this likely wouldn’t be the last time I’d have to work on a book I didn’t enjoy, and Julie confirmed that. Part of being an editor is putting personal feelings aside, recognizing that not everyone is going to agree with you, and you need to think about the other readers out there. I finished the book and wrote the flap copy. Interestingly enough, I think it turned out fairly decent.

Day 19

Sadly, today was my last day at Charlesbridge. I cannot express how mind-blowing this internship has been, nor can I contain my enthusiasm for what I have learned and been able to accomplish. It has been a truly wonderful and unique experience in which I have made measurable growth, and I feel undyingly grateful to every single employee at Charlesbridge as absolutely everyone here has been so kind, welcoming, and patient. I have had the most unforgettable internship experience, and am so thankful.

As for what I did on my last day of work, things were pretty mellow. I revised a rejection letter, worked on slush, and attempted to remove my folder from the computer (I say ‘attempted’ because I was not successful. Figuring out Macs is a skill I have not yet fully mastered). During work, Julie also sat down with Page and I and went over Charlesbridge’s book acquisition contract. Learning about the legality of acquisition was both important and interesting. I’m glad I was able to learn about contracts before leaving.

After work, Julie kindly took me to dinner where we feasted on some delicious appetizers and chatted about outside-work things. It was a wonderful way to end my time at Charlesbridge. Next week I will be able to bring my parents in so they can see where I’ve been working, as they are coming here to Boston for a visit. When I bring them in, I will be able to say my final goodbyes which I am dreading… hopefully no waterworks will be present.

Final Thoughts…

Well, this is it. For those who have been following my blog, thank you. I am ever as much a hopeful writer as a hopeful someday-editor. I hope the next time I am on a publisher’s website, it will be as an employee, and then another adventure will begin.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

In the Spotlight . . . and the Shadows

       The five cousins (ages ranging from six to fourteen) crowded onto the hammock in my brother’s backyard, pretending they were in a rowboat in a terrible storm. They shifted their weight trying to make the hammock sway perilously close to tipping over. They squealed and shrieked with delight, and the youngest yelled, “Watch out for the salami! Here comes the salami!” It took several minutes for the adults to figure out she was trying to say “tsunami.” My sister had the same idea I had: great Facebook status update. We took dozens of photos of the kids on smartphones, digital cameras, and iPads. Every moment from that lovely afternoon recorded.

Quentin and Archie Roosevelt were 
honorary members of the 
White House Police Force.
       Now, it’s one thing to be forced to sit still while the summer party paparazzi get their cameras out, but imagine living in this kind of fishbowl every day of the year. That’s how many of our presidents’ offspring described their experience as residents of the White House. But for every photo opportunity and “aw-shucks-isn’t-that-kid-cute” White House Kid fluff piece in the news, there are thousands of “salami” moments missing from the historical record. It’s this “hidden” history that I sought to capture in White House Kids. Often photographed, but also just as often forgotten or at least relegated to the footnotes, these children experienced history firsthand. They did their homework where some of the nation’s most important documents were signed. They rode their bikes down the same stairs where their fathers and mothers were introduced at large gala events. Dressed up and told to behave, they tried not to fidget while their parents spoke, waved, shook hands, etc. Any mistake or normal childhood/adolescent/teen indiscretion, a potential news story the following day—a non-fluff-piece story mom and dad would not be happy to read. (Just ask George and Laura.)  The next time your kids complain because you’re reading their text messages and Facebook comments, remind them that they should be lucky they don’t live in the White House.
Alice Roosevelt was one of 
nine White House kids to 
get married at the White House. 
She cut the cake with a sword.
       I had a lot of empathy for these kids as I learned about their lives during and after their time at the White House. Tad Lincoln lost his brother at the White House. And then his father. Chelsea Clinton got made fun of on national TV because of her looks. She was a fourteen-year-old girl for God’s sake! The Garfield children spent more time in the White House watching their father die than watching him lead the country. Years later, Jesse Grant fondly recalled stargazing on the White House roof with the country’s most famous war general and president—whom Jesse simply called “Dad.” And then there was Teddy’s brood. They didn’t move into the White House so much as invade it. They brought dozens of animals, explored every nook and cranny of their new home, discovered that the cookie sheets from the White House kitchen made great sleds for sliding down the back staircase, and played pranks on the staff. Of all the White House kids, these are the ones I would have wanted for childhood friends. Alice would have been my first crush—though she never would have even noticed me. Quentin would have invited me to join his White House Gang, and together we’d have stuffed Algonquin the pony in the White House elevator. I would have gladly helped him try to fix the full-length portrait of First Lady Lucy Hayes, which he rammed into with his wagon. But, most of all, I would have wanted to be there for all the “salami” moments that weren’t captured. These young lives were spent in the spotlight and the shadows at the same time, and for every wonderful moment I learned about while writing this book, I know there are dozens more lost to time.
Jesse Grant hanging with the president and first lady.

                                                         This video was created by fifteen-year-old Aidan Weaver.
Posted By: Joe Rhatigan

Joe Rhatigan has authored more than twenty books for children and adults, including Bizarre History, Bizarre Crimes, Don't Unravel When You Travel, and Out-of-This-World Astronomy. He has also produced several best-selling books and series, including 100 Places You Gotta See Before You're 12!, The Boo Boo Book, and the My Very Favorite Art Book series. Joe has been a poet, a teacher, marketing manager, and a newspaper boy. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three children.