Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to Get Published!

Okay, this ones for all the aspiring writers out there...

This past weekend I gave a talk at the Moore College of Art Alumnae Reunion. Moore is my alma mater and it was an honor and a pleasure to be able to share my experiences and wisdom with my fellow alumnae, and I think it went pretty well although to be honest I don't remember much of what I said.

What I think I meant to say:

Hello, you wonderful, talented ladies! I'm here to tell you about how I became an award-winning author of many shiny books. Come, join me on my journey of retrospection and introspection! HERE COMES THE WISDOM, LADIES!!!

What I probably said:


I never remember what I said when I give a talk. Sometimes someone shows me a video of me speaking and it's like watching Beaker on the Muppet Show.

But usually when I give a talk, either at a school or a bookstore or a library or to some polite stranger at a bus stop, there's a Question and Answer period afterward, and without fail someone usually asks me,

"How exactly do you get a book published?"

So this one is for you, my gorgeous writers and artists out there--I'm going to write out my best, BLOOORR-free advice for getting published. Because my expertise is in print books as opposed to Ebooks, that's what I'm going to focus on.

There are two ways to get your book published: A publisher like Abrams Books (my wonderful publisher that I love and want to hug) will put out your book, OR, you can self-publish a book. Self-publishing means that you pay a company to print your books, and then it's up to you to try to sell them. You can sell them online, or at your local bookstore, or at conferences and festivals, or maybe just give them as gifts to your friends and family. There are some people who have been really successful at self-publishing, but it's a lot of work and can get very expensive.

Let's move on to what I know better--

How to Get Your Book Published by a Publisher

Once upon a time an aspiring author could just take their manuscript to a publishing house, walk in the front door, immediately find the owner of the company and say, "I got this manuscript, see, and it's about a bear, and it's pretty good!"

"A bear? Say, that sounds great! Here's some money, the book will be out next Friday!" Actually, I don't know if that's how it happened but I think I remember seeing six or seven old films where it seemed that easy so let's just assumed that's how things actually worked. Fast forward eighty years. An aspiring author takes their manuscript to a publishing house, walks in the front door, and then gets the stinkeye from a lobby receptionist until security comes.

How are we supposed to get our genius manuscripts to these editors? That, my friends, is why you need


 One of these people is my literary agent. The other sneezed into my mouth today. Guess which one is which!

Literary agents are the gatekeepers of the publishing industry. If a literary agent likes your book, he (or she) will take your manuscript and show it to editors who trust that the agent isn't going to show them something terrible. A good literary agent can make sure that you won't be kicked out of that lobby by security again.

But how do I find a literary agent? Here's the best website that I know of regarding this If you are really for serious on the reals trying to get your book published, this website will tell you everything that you need to know about finding an agent, and it has a fairly comprehensive database of active agents. I'll go into the bare bones of the process, but the website will tell you a lot more, and in a much less ridiculous way.

So you go to AgentQuery and look for agents that represent books like yours, and then you send them emails. Each agent will tell you what it is that they want from a query (Send me a synopsis and your first five pages in the body of an email, Send me the first chapter, etc). Then you send out a bunch of different emails and Hey! Agent McAwesomepants loves your work and wants to represent you. Hooray!

Listen up, because this bit is important: A REAL, LEGITIMATE LITERARY AGENT WILL NEVER ASK YOU FOR MONEY. If they're a good agent, they'll sell your work, and then get a well-earned percentage. Fake, opportunistic liars will take advantage of writers who just really, really want to be published and don't know any better.

Agent McAwesomepants takes your manuscript and shows it to some editors at different publishing houses, and then Editor von Fancysocks says, "Agent McAwesomepants, I love this book that you've sent me! I've shown it to my boss and she loves it too! Let's go to lunch!!!" Everyone in the publishing industry has a deep fear of kitchens and grocery stores so they have to go out to eat all the time or they'll starve and die. Agent McAwesomepants and Editor von Fancysocks come up with a deal, it's presented to you, and Ta Da! In two years your first book comes out. Yes, it can take that long (if not longer).

Of course it's usually not that simple. Some authors spend years and years and years trying to get an agent, and having an agent is no guarantee of getting a book deal. Also, sometimes publishers will look at manuscripts without agent representation, so you could try that route.

But the most important thing to remember, always, is to write. Write and write and write and write and draw and write and write, because if you don't have a story, all this talk about agents and editors and publishers and lunches doesn't really matter. If you are able to tell an amazing, wonderful story, it will get published one way or another, and people will read it and love it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hey Everybody, Here's What I Think About Valentine's Day

Look, hearts and stars and cupcakes! Also a horse with a horn on it's head.

There are many many many many many many many reasons not to like Valentine's Day:

1. If you're in a relationship, you feel pressure to do something special.

2. If you're not in a relationship, you feel pressure to be in a relationship.

3. Some people feel the need to show off things they received from their significant other, which is super-bothersome, because the people who show off the most are usually the ones who are in the worst relationships. When I hear someone say, "LOOK AT THE DIAMOND HEADBAND HE GOT ME!!!" it's usually a pretty good sign that what they're really saying is "SEE? HE LOVES ME! YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE ME BECAUSE LOOK!!!" (or, alternately, "I'M TACKY!")

4. If anyone gets you anything and you didn't get them anything, you feel like a jerk.

5.  If you get someone something and they didn't get you anything, you also feel like a jerk, and then you've made them feel like a jerk.

6. Greeting Card industry blah blah blah blooooooorp.

So I'm not the biggest fan of Valentine's Day. Romance, to me, is specific to every person. For the past five years my husband has not cooked anything with mustard in it because I hate the taste of it. In the mornings when I'm the first person to come downstairs, I make coffee, even though I don't drink it*. This is our sort of romance; he forgoes mustard, I learn how to work a coffee machine. He brings me flowers from Trader Joe's sometimes, and sometimes I walk in the rain to get him the lemonade ice tea that he likes from the Wawa. We do what we can to make each other happy on a daily basis, and it's not necessary to stress out over roses and chocolate and dinner reservations and jewelry to prove our undying love on this one day in February.
They're not Shakespeare, but they are delightfully crunchy. 

What I do like about Valentine's Day:

1. Message hearts, although in truth I'd be perfectly happy with a roll of Necco wafers (they're the same thing, only flatter and less hearty and with more flavors, including black liquorice, which I happen to like).

2. Hanging out with my friend Anand**.

Years and years ago, Anand, our friend Mo, and I were all single when we made a pact to spend every Valentine's Day with each other. Mo dropped out after a few years but Anand and I have kept up the tradition, even now when we're both married (and not to each other). This, to me, is also romantic: when Anand met his wife, he didn't trash our pact. When I met my husband, I made it very clear that Valentine's Day was for hanging out with Anand. Spending time with each other on Valentine's Day is first and foremost fun, but it's also our little way of remembering who we were before we met Bea and Mark. While I'm incredibly grateful for the myriad of ways that my life has changed and improved since meeting Mark, I'm also grateful for the years before that taught me how to appreciate a partner who only ever gets to eat mustard at the ballpark.

However, if you every need a bit of traditional romance...

If you don't know what movie this scene is from, OH MY GOD WE'RE NOT TALKING UNTIL YOU SEE IT.

*It's not that I don't like coffee, it's just that coffee turns me into a jittery ragemonster so I usually avoid it.

**Fun Fact! The character of Principal Rao is named after Anand. Another Fun Fact is that Anand was once interrogated by the FBI on suspicion of being a terrorist. Fortunately, he was not a terrorist. True story.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

This is AMAZING.

I'm often asked, "Why did you want to become an author?" And the answers are pretty simple:

1. I love writing stories.
2. I love drawing.
3. Having a job doing what I love has always been my goal.

But there's a lot more to being an author than just writing and drawing stories. I go to schools and libraries and bookstores and conferences and I get to meet readers and teachers and other authors and sometimes I get free totebags and pens and mugs. I get Facebook fans and fan email from all over the world. I never expected any of this, and it's really, really great.

Then, sometimes, someone sends me something that COMPLETELY BLOWS MY MIND. Meet JungHoo La and Danielle Bent, co-authors of Life in Middle School.

Having readers start their own journals is AMAZING. Like, I'm going to cry fat boogery tears of joy amazing.

Barf. Why is it so funny on paper when it's so gross in real life? I'll never know.

Back in my day, phones were harder to draw! You had to make a rotary dial and a curly cord. Whippersnappers.

 I love "Back of Me".

 That looks about a thousand times better than any cake I've ever baked. I'm awful at it.

 Sorry, Tamara, Victoria. Rough times.

 Also doubles as a change purse!

 Rain, rain, go away, come again some other...ooh, chips!

You can always be the one to ask!

 Adventures in hair-dyeing. Terrifying, but they make for great stories later...

Lovely details!

But seriously...HOW COOL IS THIS?!? I hope Junghoo and Danielle keep this up because it's really, really amazing. I get a lot of fanmail asking how to write books, but not from these girls. They just STONE COLD DID IT. Love you guys.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


First things first...


Excuse #1: I was workingworkingworkingworking

I realize that to the outside world, it kind of looks like I just sit around in my pajamas all day watching old episodes of Star Trek*. This is not entirely untrue. But I'm also writing and drawing and scanning and editing and trying to make deadlines. Looky!

 The completed first draft of The Popularity Papers 6: Somebuddy Name This Book Already!

Excuse #2: Everyone in my house was sick

For serious. We all had the plague. [SKIP THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ A GRAPHIC DEPICTION OF MUCUS.] There was a massive snot monster who lived in my sinuses, took a weeklong vaction in my chest, and then went back up to my sinuses. The snot monster had a baby snot monster who took up residence in my daughter's face, and because she's 16 months old and not so great at blowing her own nose, great big slugs of snot would either slide down from her nostril into her mouth (SO GROSS BABY, SO VERY GROSS) or, she would wipe it away with her hand and then wipe her hand in her hair (ALSO SUPER GROSS). Fortunately no one had the flu, but there were a bunch of days when she had to stay home from daycare and I couldn't work because I had to chase her around the house with a box of tissues.

Everyone is always, "Oh cutes, you styled her hair!" and we don't tell them it's because if we didn't, we'd be picking dried snot out of it every ten minutes.

Excuse #3: The Internet is full of awesomely distracting fun stuff.


But all that is in the past (except for the snot slugs that continue to come out of my daughter's nostrils) and we're in that glorious period of time between when I've handed in my first draft and when my editor gets her notes to me, and that means:

I will clean my studio
I will cook dinner (Mark has REALLY been picking up the slack)
I will get a haircut (I kind of look like a cartoon witch right now)


*Okay, so about the Star Trek thing, there's a whole long story behind why I've decided to try to watch every Star Trek episode ever for the first time, and hopefully I'll get to that in another post, because it's kind of sad and then it gets weird and maybe funny.