Library Love

Feelin' the library love today. Hope all y'all do too.



Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Book of the Day: Out of the Egg by Tina Matthews

Third in the HMH Book of the Day series is...

Out of the Egg
by Tina Matthews
9780618737413, $12.95

A retelling of the Little Red Hen, Tina Matthews updates not only the illustrations, but the ending as well. The illustrations depict a mix of country and city elements complete with farm, apartment buildings, cars, computers, and telephone wires, yet the simple woodcuts in black, red, and green maintain the classic feel this tale requires.

For those who don't remember the story, the Little Red Hen finds a seed, plants it, and cares for it. She asks Fat Cat, Dirty Rat, and Greedy Pig for help throughout the seasons, but "Not I," they say each time. "Then I shall [insert task here] myself," answers the Little Red Hen. Over the years, the seed grows into a large tree, providing a safe space for the Red Hen to lay her egg. Soon a little chick appears, as does a little cat, a little rat, and a little pig. When the Red Hen would deny the little cat, little rat, and little pig the chance to play beneath her shady tree, she learns a lesson in kindness from her cheeky little chick.

I don't know if the title is a play on the phrase "out of the mouths of babes," but that's what I always think of when I relate the title to this book, for out of the egg came a little chick and out of her mouth comes true friendship. Share/Bookmark


What I Learned From My Summer Internship, Part 2

Today I want to share two issues I learned about this summer that had not previously occurred to me as problems editors encounter.

The first issue involves an author an editor has worked with before. Say Editor A has published Book B by Author C. Author C's agent then continues to submit Author C's work to Editor A. Unfortunately, none of the work appeals to Editor A as much as Book B did. This could be for any number of reasons - different subject matter, different genre, not as well written, etc. Yet Editor A doesn't want to lose Author C as one of "their" authors. If Editor A continues to turn down Author C's manuscripts, the agent is no longer going to submit them to the editor. This would disappoint Editor A, because Editor A believes in Author C, and thinks Author C is capable of producing another book as good as Editor A thought Book B was. What's Editor A to do?

I was surprised at this situation, having never thought the continued working relationship between editor and author would be anything other than magical (naive, I know). What should/could/would an editor do in that situation? There's no hard-and-fast rule. Anyone in that situation has a number of options, including acquiring a book the editor is not as thrilled with, just to keep the author as one of "theirs" - perhaps they could work on it together to make it more like whatever the editor liked about Book B; not acquire anything and let the author go elsewhere; or perhaps an unorthodox option would be to talk to the author directly to inquire what else the author might be working on to see if there's anything similar to Book B (I thought of this one myself, so I don't know if it would really work).

The second issue is trickier, and is almost more philosophical or ethical than strictly editorial. Let me make it clear that this is a line of questioning I'm pursuing on my own, not in affiliation with any publishing company. In this scenario, Editor A purchased Book B from Author C. Though several people read the manuscript, it wasn't until after acquiring it that someone realized the manuscript for Book B was awfully similar to Movie Plot D. Names, characters, and general themes were changed, but the basic plot points were eerily similar. Now is that plagiarism of ideas or not? And if it is, what should the editor do? Book B is obviously going to be a huge hit for various reasons. To complicate matters, say Editor A has not worked with Author C before; therefore there is no rapport for Editor to say, "Look, Author C, what's up with this manuscript?" What's Editor A to do? Un-acquire Book B, a book that's sure to be a best-seller? Confront the unknown author and risk having Author C pull the project and hand it to a different publisher? Or ignore the similarities and publish it anyway?

I don't have a ready answer to this second issue myself. Does anyone have an opinion on this?

These are two of the major issues that stand out to me as particularly difficult to negotiate, and are probably indicative of the types of decisions editors deal with on a daily basis (though I imagine situation 1 is more common than situation 2, though I don't know for sure). While a part of me can not wait for the day when I have the power to make decisions like these, it is very clear to me that I will need years more experience before I feel comfortable handling a decision like that on my own. I'm very much looking forward to continuing to work my way up to that. Share/Bookmark


What I Learned From My Summer Internship, Part 1

I can hardly believe that one week from Friday, my internship with Houghton Mifflin will be over. Ten weeks wasn't nearly enough time to fully absorb everything, yet I also learned so much from the wonderful editors I've worked with this summer.

Margaret Raymo, Kate O'Sullivan, and Erica Zappy were the Editors "on location" in the Houghton Mifflin Boston office, with the knowledgeable Christine Krones as Editorial Assistant, and the ever-helpful Meredith Wilson as Assistant to the Publisher. Editor Ann Rider also sent me tasks from her home office in Minnesota.

My primary responsibility was to read, read, read - a job with which I had no problem, as you might imagine. I read manuscript submissions for the various editors and wrote reader reports. What are reader reports, you ask? Basically, it's my opinion. How great is that? As I clearly have no trouble stating my opinion, that's pretty much the perfect task for me. What was harder was putting into words the feelings I get from reading manuscripts, both those that appealed to me and those that didn't. What was it I was/was not liking? What about that character was so compelling? Was the dialogue too stilted and unreal? What impressed me about that turn of phrase or plot sequence? Could a paragraph be removed to tighten a scene? I don't know how other interns/editorial assistants work, but nothing seemed too large or too small for me to comment about. Thanks to my MFA and the critical papers I spent the last two years writing, I was somewhat more prepared to describe the answers to these questions using (I hope!) appropriately descriptive language and industry jargon. The hardest part about this? Not knowing if or when I might see the books I liked in print. It IS thrilling, though, to know that at least a few manuscripts I liked were acquired during the time I was at HMH. Sometime in the next few years, I'll be able to pass a bookstore shelf and smile, knowing I'd read the manuscript version years prior.

Other fun editorial tasks I learned included how to write decline letters, catalogue descriptions, and flap copy. For decline letters, I learned never to send them right before a major holiday - even if it clears off my desk, the recipient won't be so pleased. I also learned to say something nice before making a suggestion, much like operating within a writing group structure. Lastly, personal to me, I had to learn to change my tone - I was sounding too condescending (shocker!). Catalogue descriptions are comprised of a one-liner sell-line, a short descriptive paragraph, and maybe an excerpt from the book. This all goes into the catalogue publishers put together to give to their reps who sell to bookstores and other retail accounts. As for flap copy, in April 2011, go take a look for The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True, Book 3 in the Knights' Tales series by acclaimed Arthurian author Gerald Morris, illustrated by Aaron Renier (9780547418551, $14.99). On the cover of the book, on the inside flap, should be printed my synopsis/description of the tale. Book 1 is pictured here; this series has been approved by the eight-year-old boy in the household I live in.

Last, but certainly not least, I also got to go through slush piles. Confession: this was my favorite part, second only to reading the actual solicited manuscripts. Slush piles are unsolicited manuscripts, sent to Houghton Mifflin by hopeful would-be authors who have not made a personal contact with any of the editors. Houghton Mifflin is one of the few publishers that still accepts unsolicited manuscripts; most publishers prefer that potential authors work through agents. The slush piles were my favorite because it was like a treasure hunt AND a project I got to organize at the same time. My fun-loving, slightly-OCD self was in heaven. What's even more exciting is that one of the picture books I plucked from the slush pile might get picked up by HMH! Nothing for sure yet but an editor is taking a second look at it. I have daydreams of helping an unknown author get their work published to the joyful satisfaction of us both. I can't help it; I'm an idealist.

Those are the major day-to-day tasks I work on. Stay tuned for the next installment of "What I Learned From My Summer Internship," when I will be discussing unexpected (by me) issues that editors come across.

Oh, the other thing I get to do? Go out for after-work-drinks with my fellow interns (and co-workers). Share/Bookmark