#DVpit, updated submission guidelines, and my #MSWL

Today is #DVpit on Twitter, which is an event in which writers post pitches for their books on the hashtag and agents who like those pitches and are requesting submissions favorite the pitches as a way to say “send that to me!” and editors who like something either retweet it to say “I like this! send it to me, agents!” or favorite it if they take unsolicited submissions. To that end, I’m linking to this post for anyone whose pitch I favorite.

Recently, Cheryl Klein joined the Lee & Low team as editorial director, and that means that we’re shifting a few things around. Tu Books continues to be the middle grade and young adult imprint publishing all genres of fiction for those age groups, but because Cheryl also is interested in novels, I won’t be the sole editor acquiring for the imprint anymore. However, Cheryl and I have different interests and tastes, and she’ll also be acquiring picture books and nonfiction for the Lee & Low imprints, and older nonfiction for Tu.

Also, I’ve tweeted my #MSWL (if you don’t know, that’s a manuscript wish list) on both my own Twitter and on @tubooks from time to time—most recently being yesterday on Tu’s account:

Also:

So if you’d like a better sense of what I’m looking for, my Twitter and the Tu Books Twitter are your best resources, as I’m terrible at keeping up my blog nowadays.

We have new submission guidelines that have not yet gone up on the Lee & Low website, so for anyone looking for whether to send a MG or YA to me vs. Cheryl, some guidelines here. Obviously your first sign is whether Cheryl or I favorited your tweet. But if you’re still not sure, this is what will be put up on the Tu Books submission guidelines when we update the site:

At TU BOOKS, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS, our focus is on young adult and middle grade fiction and narrative nonfiction centering people of color. We look for fantasy set in worlds inspired by non-Western folklore or culture, contemporary mysteries and fantasy set all over the world starring POC, and science fiction that centers the possibilities for people of color in the future. We also selectively publish realism and narrative nonfiction that explores the contemporary and historical experiences of people of color. We welcome intersectional narratives that feature LGBTQIA and disabled POC as heroes in their own stories.

We are looking specifically for stories for both middle grade (ages 8-12) and young adult (ages 12-18) readers. Occasionally a manuscript might fall between those two categories; if your manuscript does, let us know.

Stacy Whitman and Cheryl Klein both acquire titles for Tu Books, and we ask that you identify which of them you wish to consider your submission. As loose rules of thumb, Cheryl has a more literary bent and does not acquire graphic novels, while Stacy takes a more commercial focus and does not acquire narrative nonfiction. You can learn more about each of them through their websites, linked above, and the interviews here.

Novel Manuscript Submissions:

  • Please include a synopsis and first three chapters of the novel. Do not send the complete manuscript.
  • Manuscripts should be typed doubled-spaced.
  • Manuscripts should be accompanied by a cover letter that includes a brief biography of the author, including publishing history. The letter should be addressed to either Stacy Whitman or Cheryl Klein, and should also state if the manuscript is a simultaneous or an exclusive submission.
  • We’re looking for middle grade (ages 8-12) and young adult (ages 12 and up) books. We are not looking for chapter books (ages 6 to 9) at this time.
  • Be sure to include full contact information on the cover letter and first page of the manuscript. Page numbers and your last name/title of the book should appear on subsequent pages.

Graphic Novel Submissions:

  • Please include a synopsis and first three chapters (or equivalent—up to 20 pages of script) of the graphic novel script. Do not send the complete manuscript.
  • If you are also the illustrator, please include art samples with a sample storyboard in PDF or JPG format.
  • Do not include illustrations unless you are a professional illustrator.
  • Manuscripts should be accompanied by a cover letter that includes a brief biography of the author, including publishing history. The letter should also state if the manuscript is a simultaneous or an exclusive submission.
  • Be sure to include full contact information on the first page of the manuscript. Page numbers and your last name/title of the book should appear on subsequent pages.

Tu Books accepts submissions electronically. Please go to our Submittable page to submit your manuscript electronically.

If you would rather send your submission via snail mail, you may address it to: 

Submissions Editor, Tu Books
LEE & LOW BOOKS
95 Madison Avenue, Suite 1205
New York, NY 10016

ALSO NOTE that for new writers of color, our New Voices Award (for picture books) and New Visions Award (for MG/YA novels & graphic novels) writing contests are opening soon for submissions! If you’ve never published a picture book before, New Voices opens May 1. If you’ve never published a MG or YA novel or graphic novel, New Visions opens June 1. Information for both contests’ submission guidelines will be updated on the L&L website soon, so check back.

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The state of MG vs YA when YA is so much older now

Let’s talk about middle grade books, young adult books, and that liminal space between, that magic spot of readers ages 10-14 who read up. 

There’s a certain kind of voice you expect from a YA book that tells you “this is about a teenage experience.” It’s different from the exploring/discovery of the world voice we generally hear in MG—it’s more mature, sometimes more cynical. It’s not an adult voice, but it is no longer the voice of a child.

YA has been aging up for about 15-18 years now. In the early 2000s, we called books like Holly Black’s “edgy,” but that sensibility is now par for the course in YA, and generally the books you see shelved in the YA section of a bookstore star protagonists who are 15, 16, 17, 18—very few YA novels star 12-14-year-olds anymore.

This coincided with the vast numbers of YA readers becoming adults, as well—last we heard, more than 80% of YA readers are over 18, purchasing books for their own reading, not that of an actual teenager in their life.

Which for me, as someone who publishes books for children and teens BECAUSE I want to serve the population of children these books are intended for, is VERY frustrating. When books I publish in the YA market for 12-year-olds get dinged for actually sounding like a real 15-year-old is talking (“this book sounds middle grade” to paraphrase one review of one of my books because it didn’t contain romance), I feel like we have fundamentally lost our way if we aren’t serving our target market (or when reviewers don’t remember or don’t care about the books’ target market).

But these are the realities of our current system, so what’s emerging out of it is that MG seems to be picking up the slack for that forgotten, now-underserved tween audience who used to be the core readership for YA books.

Where does that leave the publisher of MG and YA books, though? Do I publish what I’ve always published as YA now as a MG? That doesn’t make sense, either, because the voice doesn’t sound MG–the voice is that of an emerging teenager, not an 8- or 10-year-old.

Yes, 12-18 is a very large developmental gap. We do need to allow space for the older YA—I’m glad it’s finally finding a home. But to then define YA as just what’s happened in the last 10-15 years is to ignore the huge body of work that has been YA for decades before that.I’ve seen more bookstores have tiers (8-11, 10-14, 14 and up, etc.), which is great, but publishing only has the two categories, and B&N only has the “children’s” section (with various subsections) and the “YA” section (now also broken down by genre, but not age), so it’s a challenge to communicate to accounts exactly where to shelve the books, and confusion can arise.

So: if you are a writer for that 10-14 age range, where do your books get shelved? Editors: what solutions have you come across? Readers/teachers/parents, where do you look for books for that age group? Librarians, how do you figure out where to shelve books for that age range?

Highlights of 2016 reading

Thanks to audiobooks, I read 144 books in 2016. (If you look at that list, some are still in progress—the problem with relying on the library; when I can’t finish an audiobook in the rental period, I have to wait months on hold for it to come back to me again. I’ve been waiting for The Passion of Dolssa to come back for something like 3 months.)

OBVIOUSLY, this list doesn’t include the books I’ve edited. OBVIOUSLY, you should read all my books! Check out the sidebar under Books I Edited, or go here for more info on Tu Books.

In more than a year of my outside-of-work reading being mostly on audio, I’ve found that audiobooks have an even worse diversity problem than print books. I’m not surprised by this; most of the books I publish haven’t gotten audio versions made, and that’s likely similar to the audiobook market as a whole. So my outside-of-work reading isn’t as diverse as I’d like it to be, but I’ve been able to read a lot more than I would have otherwise, given my aversion to reading finished books outside of work lately. (I work such long hours that I need a change-up when I’m off—I was reading maybe five books outside of work before picking up audiobooks.)

Here are some highlights, in no particular order, of my reading in 2016:

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Adventure, magic, and traveling to alternate worlds and timelines. So much fun. Looking forward to the sequel this year.

 

The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde

Clever, funny, and just what I needed to escape in November…

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

The last volume in the Tiffany Aching series, and Pratchett’s last book. It moved me. Pratchett had an ability to make you laugh at human foibles and poignantly appreciate the death of a character—and the author!—in such a unique way. This is a series I’ll return to again and again in the future, I think.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

Historical fiction, set in San Francisco, 1906. If you don’t know why that’s significant, you need to read the book even more. Beautiful.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

Listening to this hybrid book on audio made me not even realize what I was missing in the print version–a comic-with-the-book! But Mary Robinette Kowal’s narration created an audio experience of the comic parts that translated well from the page—I knew from the change in narration that it was was a story-within-a-story, and it all came together perfectly.

Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

One of the few audiobooks in which the narration by the author enhances the book rather than detracts from it. Few authors have a good reading voice, I’m sorry to say. (Few audiobook narrators are good in general, honestly.) So this excellent story was made even better via Tim Federle’s voice.

 

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Speaking of excellent narrators, this narrator sounded like she was a Latina from Queens. That made this fascinating story about a teen girl in Queens just trying to make ends meet while worried about the Son of Sam murders even more fascinating. And man, I felt for Nora in her worries about her brother.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I didn’t realize till MONTHS later that this was narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda. And it didn’t stand out to me because his voice was seamlessly Aristotle’s. A beautiful book with top-notch narration.

 

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

This book is HILARIOUS, especially if you know the real history of Lady Jane Grey. And the audiobook’s narrator REALLY gets this book. She’s great at all the accents, and growls and emotes and simpers and everything perfectly.

Starflight by Melissa Landers

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen some good space SF in YA. This was an enjoyable read.

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Where do I even start?

I often discuss diverse books with people, especially white people, who need the “101”—parents and other people who love children who want to give them good diverse books but don’t know where to start. And that’s GREAT! Saying, “I don’t know what I don’t know” is the perfect place to start when you’re looking to bring diverse books into your home or classroom, because that means you’re ready to learn.

This is a general post collecting some of the things I’ve been telling people lately, so I can point them to it, especially as you start shopping for holiday gift-giving.

First of all: buy my books! Because that’s what I do: publish diverse middle grade and YA books.

And next, be aware of older, problematic books that perpetuate racist stereotypes. (For example, did you know that The Education of Little Tree was written by a member of the KKK? Stop sharing that book with kids! Study it if you must with the real history behind it, but too few people actually know the true history behind it and think it’s a “sweet story.”) Some resources from children’s literature scholars and reviewers to help you evaluate texts:

These resources also review books that have quality representation and are a great source to find new books.

Looking for book lists broken down by age group, topic, genre, and more? Check out the Lee & Low Pinterest board–we’ve got more than 100 boards dedicated to all sorts of topics, including anti-racism, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, teachers and educators, getting published, and book lists galore.

Lee & Low Pinterest board

But most importantly, what I want my friends to remember when they’re thinking about buying diverse books for their kids this holiday season: remember that authors of color are the least represented, and often get the least amount of publicity for their books. You have to look for them, but they’re well worth looking for. If you want to introduce your children to authentic voices from communities different from your own, look at the authors of the books you’re buying. Are they writing from their own experience? (Inasmuch as that experience pertains to racism, sexism, ablism, Islamophobia, etc., not to whether or not they’ve lived in space or used magic…) Look for ways to support authors of color.

This is not to say to shun white authors, who often do a very good job at writing about characters of color, but just asking people who are often in white-centric communities to thoughtfully evaluate the voices getting the most time and attention in their home or classroom, and look for ways to be more inclusive. Often for white people that means actively seeking out authors of color, because we’re rarely going to be running into them naturally in our often-segregated circles.

This post is a work in progress and I’ll add resources to it as I have time or discover new resources.

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Case Cracked: Editing Mystery Novels

This post was originally posted on the Lee & Low blog.

 

http://i0.wp.com/blog.leeandlow.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/192e8a7c5b856f76b5331623d80cf7cf.jpgI’ve long been a fan of mysteries. Trixie Belden was my BFF as a third and fourth grader. Nancy Drew was another favorite. Veronica Mars updated the teen sleuth idea, bringing the storytelling form to a new generation.

When I got the chance to work on Valynne Maetani’s Ink and Ashes, our new YA mystery which comes out in June, all of those mysteries and more were going through my mind. Claire, the main character, has the spunk and curiosity of Veronica Mars and all of her predecessors, but she’s also a little different. And to honor those differences in the editing process, I needed to refresh myself on what’s out there right now in the teen mystery/suspense genre, and the mystery genre in general.

As I was editing Ink and Ashes over the course of about a year and a half (which spans two developmental edits and a line edit), between edits I was reading mystery after mystery. I stocked up on Agatha Christie, I rewatched Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and read the first book of the series it’s based on (Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood), I read multiple YA suspense, spy, and murder mysteries.

Miss Fisher ABC
Miss Fisher from the TV show “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”

That reading reminded me that a great mystery read requires the same elements as any good read: well-paced plotting, characters the reader cares about enough to want to know what happens next; even world-building, though that’s a term we generally associate with speculative fiction, is tremendously important in setting the stage in a mystery. But my rereading of classic and contemporary mysteries also showed me that more than in any other genre, a sense of suspense and danger must permeate the mystery book, must drive the reader to breathlessly wonder what will happen next.

Ask probing questions

One of the biggest challenges in this edit—with any edit, really, especially with an author you’ve never worked with before—was discovering how to bring the author’s vision of the characters fully to life. An editor’s job is often to just ask questions: Why is this happening right now? Why would that character decide to do this? What is the goal here?

In that way, figuring out the goal allows the editor to ask further probing questions on what the solution might be—figuring out how current plot points and character decisions hamper the desired effect.

“The plot thickens” turns out to be trueink and ashes cover

The biggest thing I learned while editing Ink and Ashes and reading all these mysteries is the importance of plot escalation. In the original draft, clues did of course build up into a frenzied final few pages of conflict that were very enjoyable—that’s one of the reasons the book won our New Visions Award. But comparing the early manuscript to mysteries I enjoyed the most, I realized that there were so many ways that the narrative could be complicated. (Valynne was on the same page. As she waited for the results of the contest, she was also already thinking of ways to improve the manuscript. That kind of editor-writer synergy makes a huge difference in any book project like this.)

We looked at the end goal, and discussed the plot points that got Claire and her friends to that point. In particular, we discussed how the inciting incident—the moment that gets Claire to veer her course to investigating whether her father and her stepdad ever knew each other—might be complicated and how those complications would have a ripple effect that would improve multiple other plot points, and increase the pacing.

In other words, escalation. If the reader didn’t feel the suspense at every page turn, we had work to do.

Valynne worked very hard on making that happen, and I’m very happy with the results! In answer to all my probing questions, Valynne improved on an already-well written manuscript to bring what was an interesting read to the level of an exciting page-turner that’s getting readers hooked. That’s the end goal for any editor and author: Creating a final book that readers can’t put down. I’m happy to say, we succeeded with Ink and Ashes.

Submit your manuscript to the New Visions Award

NVAL_WinnerLogoIn case you missed it, I’m open again for submissions to the New Visions Award. Details can be found on this blog post.

This is the first year we’re taking only electronic submissions. You can submit via our Submittable site. There is no charge for any of our submissions, including the New Visions Award.

Please note that the New Visions Award is open only to authors of color resident of the United States (including non-citizens, but you must be a resident). This includes Asian Americans and other people of Asian descent, African Americans and other people of African descent, Pacific Islanders, South Asians, Native Americans and other indigenous peoples, Middle Easterners, Latino/as, and mixed race people.

If you are a white American, or any author who does not reside in the United States, you are welcome to submit to our regular submissions, guidelines for which can be found here.

Where I’ve been lately

Ink and Ashes updated cover JLGAs you can tell, I haven’t really blogged much in the past couple of years. I even forget to blog when I have a new book, though I’m sharing that news *everywhere* else. This blog isn’t quite dead, but I would encourage you to follow the links on the side of the page to my Twitter and Tumblr and to the Tu Books Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook pages for the most up-to-date information. Also, I’ve been blogging at least once a month on the Lee & Low blog, which I recommend you subscribe to.

Most recently, we’ve been talking about the New Visions Award finalists, which were just announced (winner to be announced in April), my talk at SCBWI NY about writing for a diverse audience, and revealing the cover of our upcoming spring book, Ink and Ashes by Valynne Maetani, whose book won our first New Visions Award in 2013 (and is a spring Junior Library Guild selection!). It’s our first mystery title, and I’m very proud of it.

Speaking of, I need to get back to editing that book. We’re in the final proofreading rounds, before the book gets sent off to the printer. More later—mostly in all those other places. 🙂

#WeNeedDiverseBooks kicks off today!!

I’m sure you’ve seen me talking about this EVERYWHERE else, but I’m posting this here too just to be sure. If you don’t know what #WeNeedDiverseBooks is, check out the original post on Tumblr. Then share YOUR picture that completes this prompt: “We need diverse books because ___________.”

Simple, right? But it’s not all talk. There’s another step: recommend great diverse books, then go out and #DiversifyYourShelves (more at the link above). This weekend we’re heading out en masse to buy diverse books at our local bookstores and online. If the book you’re looking for isn’t in the store, ask for it! Booksellers pay attention to books they’re not carrying get requested a lot over time. If you don’t have the money to buy a book right now, ask for more diversity (request specific titles) in your local library.

Follow all the discussion—and there’s a LOT, as it’s trending right now!—on Twitter, and check out the pictures that have been submitted to the Tumblr starting at 1pm EDT.

Then today at 2, join us for a #diverselit chat on Twitter with Shannon Hale, discussing diversity, specifically writing “specific” vs. “neutral” characters.

Another review roundup

Awakening Final cover low resThe Horn Book Guide reviews have come out for several of Tu’s recent books. Thought I’d share a couple of the highlights.

Review of Awakening by Karen Sandler

“The innovative premise, detailed world-building, and ethnically diverse cast make this a must-read for science fiction fans.”—Horn Book Review

Review of Diverse Energies edited by Tobias Buckell and Joe Monti

“Riveting protagonists—many LGBT and/ or characters of color—in eleven short stories by authors including Paolo Bacigalupi, Malinda Lo, and Ursula Le Guin grapple with agency, exploitation, disDiverse Energiescrimination, and familial tensions in impeccably built dystopian worlds. With robust treatment of an array of topics (global warming, robotics. mythology, etc.) this is compelling YA social science fiction.”—Horn Book Review

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ACat Girl's Day Offnd then the other day I discovered a short but sweet review of Kimberly Pauley’s Cat Girl’s Day Off on Amazon by Geography Club author Brent Hartinger: “Pauley, who’s been pretty good at reviewing books for years, has turned out to also be very good at writing them. Who knew? A breezy delight.

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The prices from our Friends & Family sale are slowly changing back (it takes time for these things to process, even though the sale ended on Friday), but so far they’re still reduced on several vendors, so if you haven’t had a chance to check out Cat Girl or other books published by Tu, you might still be able to snap up a deal on the e-book versions. Only, be quick about it—they’ll go back up soon.

If you’ve already taken advantage of the sale—or have already read our books—please consider leaving a review on one of the online booksellers, or on your own blog. We’d love to hear what you think!

Tu Books fall Friends & Family sale: a reader’s guide

If you haven’t noticed me talking about it EVERYWHERE, this week is Tu Books’ Friends & Family sale! We’re offering some pretty amazing discounts on our books—in particular, Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley and Vodnik by Bryce Moore are only $1.99 in e-book format! And all our paper books are on sale for 35% off plus free US shipping. See the sale announcement for more details.sale

There’s not much time left, so hurry and take advantage of the sale while it’s still available!

And please share this link on with any friends or family who you think might be interested. Books depend on word of mouth to succeed, and no books more so than those published by small presses. If you believe diversity in books for young readers is important, or you just plain think we’re publishing awesome books, please spread the word!

For those who have already bought/read the books, please consider reviewing the books on Amazon or requesting the book at your local library if it isn’t carried there. Here are a few more things you can do, too.

If you’re not really sure what you should pick to read, though, I have put together a handy guide, according to interests and mood. Find your next weekend read here!

For older readers (young adult and adult):

If you’re looking for comedy, or you’re a fan of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or you love cats, or you have always wondered what your superpower would be, read Cat Girl’s Day Off—Kimberly Pauley’s love story to Chicago, John Hughes, and snarky cats who talk. Not to mention mystery (kidnapping of a celebrity blogger, murder plots) and adventure (literal cat herding).

If you love rich worldbuilding, inspiration from less-well-known fairy and folk tales, sympathetic characters, and complicated, dark humor,  read Vodnik—about a teen trying to avoid being drowned by a creature out of Slovak tales to capture his soul and put it in a teacup. Oh, and having to make a deal with Slovakia’s goddess of death to accomplish it.

If you’re looking for a (literal) kick-butt superheroine in a post-apocalyptic world, defending her family from despotic rulers and making the world safe for humankind, read Killer of Enemies—postapocalyptic Apache steampunk.

If you like dystopian tales with strong science fiction and human rights issues elements, read Tankborn and its sequel Awakening—hard science fiction with a romantic subplot set in a strict caste system in which “non-humans” are at the bottom rung.

Love books about reinterpreting old stories anew? Looking for a complicated father-son relationship, or love stories about genies and monsters and golem? Or a magical coming-of-age set in a rich historical time period? Read Hammer of Witches. Also the perfect classroom tie-in to a unit studying the events of 1492, particularly Columbus’s first journey westward, and particularly for reluctant readers who might need a “fun” story to get them into the history.

Read Summer of the Mariposas if you’re looking for a strong sisterhood story with no romance, a Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, or a book that can best be described as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Weekend at Bernie’s. This is a great gentle read for your advanced older middle grade readers and young teens looking for a clean read, as well as a great classroom tie-in to an Odyssey unit.

Wolf Mark is great for readers who love paranormal romance and science fiction. It’s best described as Burn Notice with werewolves—Abenaki skinwalkers, actually, written by one of the best Native American writers working today.

Diverse Energies is a collection of 11 dystopian stories that all star people of color—if you’re looking for where the people of color are in the future, here’s one collection of tales exploring that lack elsewhere. Stories from Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon (both of Diversity in YA here on Tumblr), Paolo Bacigalupi, Ursula K. Le Guin, and more.

For younger readers (ages 8-12), we also have a couple of fun books: The Monster in the Mudball and Galaxy Games: The Challengers.

Monster in the Mudball is the perfect first “real” middle-grade novel for your readers who have just graduated from chapter books, and it makes a great read-aloud as well. I like to think of it as Warehouse 13 for kids–an artifact inspector comes to town, and Jin, our main character, has to help her find the monster that hatched from the artifact before it eats Jin’s baby brother!

Galaxy Games: The Challengers is a hilarious romp of a book that basically involves the Olympics in space. Aliens come to Earth to recruit Earth kids for the biggest sporting event in the galaxy—and our hero is mistaken for the best kid athlete on Earth because he got a star named after him for his birthday.