Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Superheroes, Sabayad and SUVs: My Friend Jamal podcast review

Click the link below to check out a podcast review of My Friend Jamal from the fine folks at Just One More Book!!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Would you like another cappuccino? Or, how to do business at the Bologna Book Fair.

We've just returned from the Bologna Children's Book Fair where Annick exhibits every year in order to meet with international publishers. What do we do there? Aside from consuming a lot of cappuccino, gelato, and other Italian culinary delights, we have a booth to display our recent books and present them to foreign publishers who may wish to acquire rights to publish our books in their market (depending on the market, that may mean publishing in translation).

Here's a photo of the corner of our booth this year:

We set up meetings in advance, every half hour for the three and a half days of the fair, and meet with about 60 different publishers and sub-agents from countries in Europe, Scandinavia, Asia, Australia, Latin America... It's really exciting finding that synchronicity, talking with a publisher from across the planet who shares our publishing sensibilities and aims. There's a wonderful global community of children's publishers out there. And personally, I love working with people from different countries and cultures and languages. Books really can bridge cultures!

Preparation for the book fair begins about three months in advance with the booking of appointments, preparation of catalogues, and cover blow-ups, shelf talkers, and other booth display materials. And the follow-up - that is, sending publishers the books they requested to review - can also take months, but the results can be very rewarding and very exciting (see The Little Black Book for Girlz goes to Italy! for an example of what can result from a book fair).

Though we've only just returned, here are some of the Bologna highlights this year:

  • Receiving an unexpected offer from a prestigious Italian publisher for The Apprentice's Masterpiece by Melanie Little (the cover of which is featured in the large poster in the photo above). Stay tuned for an announcement of an Italian rights sale!
  • Hearing several publishers describe The Bite of the Mango (to be published September 2008), the astounding true story of Mariatu Kamara's voyage from victim of war to UNICEF Special Representative co-written by Susan McClelland, as the most outstanding book of the fair! We expect international rights sales of this memoir will be swift.
  • Receiving so many compliments on the quality and innovation of our books (kudos to our editors!)

So now it's all about follow-up. And the great thing about cappuccino? It can be enjoyed while working here in Toronto too.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Best Job in the World, or, The Slush Pile Part 2

I love to read and I think I have one of the best jobs in the world. A part of my job is to read the unsolicited manuscripts that come into Annick...and there are hundreds. There is always the possibility that the next manuscript could be the special one; the one that interests and excites you, the one you want to publish.

Having said that, each manuscript that is submitted is special because it is the result of someone’s hard work and imagination. I'd love to have the time to critique each of these submissions but unfortunately there just isn't time, so below are some thoughts that might help.

What are the ingredients of that special manuscript? First of all it's original; the author has not tried to jump on a bandwagon. Consider the series about that boy wizard. People adored it but now publishers are looking for another kind of story. No one wants to be seen as a copycat. That doesn't mean that fantasy is dead, just that it should be based on an original idea, as should any other book.

I was once asked what makes me reject a manuscript. Sometimes, the subject just doesn't fit; for example, Annick doesn't publish holiday books, so, a book on Christmas or Halloween is not one that we'd consider. (If you'd like to find out what we are interested in, check out the author guidelines on our website.) In other cases, the story may start out well but the plot may fall apart, the characters may be wooden or unbelievable, or the subject lacks originality.

I also find it hard to read a manuscript that has a lot of spelling and grammatical errors. Rather than reading the story, I find myself correcting it instead. It may be out of fashion, but, spelling and grammar are two of the writer's most important tools. Check your manuscript before you send it off (and don’t just rely on spell check, it doesn't know the difference between there and their...but you should.)

And one last piece of advice; read. The best way to learn good writing is to experience it-and what an enjoyable way to learn!

Judy Diehl

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Queen and I

The Queen and I are happy to announce that my website is now up and running: check it out at The Queen is excited because there is a button you can click on to see her talking in a video. She has been coming with me on school visits to talk about Kids Who Rule and she has confided that these outings provide a welcome change from opening hospitals, christening ships, and having lunch with French presidents.

We are both looking forward to the Silver Birch celebrations in May. We are booked to go to four award ceremonies in the week of May 19: in Whitby, Innisfil, Toronto, and Uxbridge. Can’t wait!

Charis Cotter

Author of Kids Who Rule: The Remarkable Lives of Five Child Rulers

Silver Birch nominee for non-fiction, 2008

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Slush Pile

Now that spring is here it doesn’t seem appropriate to be talking about slush, but as publishers we mean something quite different, of course. This is a silly way to lead into the question that we might most frequently be asked: how do I get published? For the record, I think the second most asked question is, “How many manuscripts do you receive each year”? We’re often not asked the third question that I would anticipate follows the first two: how many unsolicited manuscripts are published?

The answers, to the chagrin of the asker, is that virtually none of the manuscripts submitted are published; perhaps one, maybe two every couple of years. We receive thousands per annum. The sad truth is that so many of the manuscripts demonstrate real potential - we wish we could bring them into development. They may be based on a terrific idea or demonstrate some lively, engaging writing that shows flourish and promise. But can we take it on and fit it into our publishing program? Most often not and I’ll explain why in a moment. First, I should mention that we also receive a great deal of material that is totally unsuitable for Annick. Anyone wishing to submit a manuscript should spend time thoroughly researching publishers to make sure that what they’ve written is an appropriate fit with the company’s publishing program.

Every publisher has their own philosophy and approach to literature. We discuss ours on our web site. In a nutshell, manuscripts must be written to a high literary standard, be inventive, resonate with the reader, and advocate the priorities that this house stands for: encourage kids to think critically and analytically, entertain, and convey that change and getting by are possible no matter how difficult and elusive the challenge may seem.

The vast majority of ideas or requests to authors to submit stem from editorial story meetings. We’re constantly discussing topics that are of concern to the contemporary child. We search out exciting ways to offer a fresh, new look at a subject. We’ll also discuss which writers might be a good fit. Once we’re rounded out the various components of our list, YA fiction, illustrated non-fiction, etc., there are few, if any, spaces left. So if you’re wading into the slush, you’ll have to bowl over the reader with a work that is innovative and brilliantly constructed. That reader will need to hear a strong, clear voice that has something compelling to say to youth.

Rick Wilks

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Sugar in the Spice Cabinet

Although I'm not an employee of the company, I've been working for Annick Press for 13 years. I’m a freelancer who works from home, thanks to the wonders of computer technology. As a copy editor and proofreader, I check the text of Annick’s books for spelling and grammar and such. I work for other publishers as well, and one of the things I most appreciate about my work is the variety: I can be editing a very dense piece of adult non-fiction in the morning, and then be checking the proofs of the latest Ruth Ohi picture book in the afternoon! If variety is the spice of life, then kids’ books are the sugar in my spice cabinet.

The technology that allows me to do my work has changed considerably since 1995, the year I first copy-edited an Annick book. In 1995, my first Annick job was dropped off at my apartment by one of the Annick editors. Nowadays, the books are sent to me as attachments to emails, and I print them out myself. In 1995, though, I didn’t have a printer. In fact, I didn’t have an email account. Heck, in 1995, I didn’t have a computer! I don’t think I was using a quill pen and toiling away by candlelight in those days, but I can’t be sure …

Despite these technological advances, I still think it’s important to maintain personal contact. For that reason, at least once a year, I make the trip to Toronto and catch the subway to the most northerly station on the Yonge line in order to visit the folks at Annick. For some reason that is an ongoing mystery, I usually seem to make that particular trip in mid-winter. As I trudge through the snow with the northerly wind whipping down Yonge Street and making my cheekbones ache, the passing cars splashing me with slush, I do have fleeting moments when I have to ask myself: is it REALLY all that important to maintain personal contact? I mean, wouldn’t a phone call have been sufficient? Maybe a greeting card?! But once I’m seated at the table in the Annick kitchen, with a cup of tea and some homemade goodies in front of me (they ALWAYS have goodies in the kitchen at Annick), such thoughts have vanished—until, that is, I have to set off again through the frigid wastes of North York on my return trip to the subway.

Just for a change of pace, I think I’ll try to visit Annick soon, before the snow starts flying again.

John Sweet
Freelance copy editor and proofreader

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Inuit Literature: Unearthing Margaret’s Diamonds

Most people know my mother-in-law as the nice elderly lady who sells homemade bread and exquisitely embroidered and beaded mukluks, at the farmer’s market. We, her family, know her as a woman with a unique heritage, who has always been a force to be reckoned with. She moved south to the Fort St John, from Tuktoyaktuk, at a time when the Alaska Highway was little more than a dirt trail, and the trip from Fort St John to Fort Nelson took more than a day, instead of only four hours. But, what would you expect from an Inuvialuit woman who is the eldest of 17 children, frequently hunted caribou with her father (when other children her age would have been playing with building blocks), and was responsible for her own dog sled team, by the age of eight. (And you thought your mother-in-law left a lot to live up to?)

Whenever we read A Promise is a Promise by Robert Munsch and Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, Allashua’s bold defiance, conjures images of my mother-in-law, as a child. When Margaret was a very young girl, her grandmother would warn her against whistling to the Northern Lights, lest they come down to carry her away. The Northern Lights can dip quite low, and I am sure that Margaret enjoyed seemingly provoking them, just as Allashua provoked the Qallupilluit. It is not difficult to imagine Margaret, her face framed with the fur of her parka, standing rebelliously; lobbing hunks of frozen dog poop, the prescribed defense to ward off the evil blue/green tentacles, until they retreated.

Our family’s immense love for books has opened the door for countless discussions with Margaret. While Inuit literature has been a magnificent catalyst, even stories that simply take place in the Territories have produced some good yarns, from Margaret. One day, after listening to, yes, more Robert Munsch stories (we love his use of Northern settings), my mother-in-law shared a story with us, which involved her own triumph over a craaaa-zy adult world. While the other children of her community were scared to leave their families to attend residential school, Margaret, ever adventuresome, was more than eager. However, residential school was not a welcoming place for a strong willed child. When a box of assorted stockings arrived at the school, one of the nun’s seized the opportunity to tame Margaret. Each of the pupils were handed one pair of new stockings. After the box had been emptied, they marveled over the blue, grey, or black tights they had been given. As for Margaret- she found herself the very unhappy owner of a pair of bright red stockings. She was horrified. As she was much taller than the other girls, fitting in had already been a challenge. The other children took one look at her bright crimson calves, and began calling her “fatty legs”. But, Margaret’s spirit was far from broken. While boiling the laundry one day (which was her appointed job), she decided to put an end to the humiliation. She waited, until she was alone, slipped off the hated red stockings and threw them into the fire beneath the laundry vat. Soon, they were reduced to a dark wisp of smoke. The nuns made threats, and tore the school apart, but Margret’s lips were sealed. She never told a single soul. I guess her secret is out now.

If it were not for the several remarkable works of Inuit literature, by authors such as Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak and Alootook Ipellie, many of Margaret’s stories would have been lost, to our family. My Arctic 1, 2, 3 has evoked tales of hunting and berry picking (Margaret loves berry picking), while The Inuit Thought of It has left my children with a plethora of questions for their grandmother. (The children are looking forward to our next craft day when we will be making Inuit sunglasses by cutting two slits in a piece of scrap cardboard.)
It is important, to me, that my children grow up with a strong sense of pride in themselves. In order to have that, they must have an understanding of who they are, and of their unique heritage (their grandmother has actually given each of them a special name in Inuit). Books on Inuit culture have not only encouraged Margaret to share her exceptional past with our children, but have also helped my husband develop a respect for the culture in which his mother was reared, and find delight in our children’s fascination with it.

I challenge everyone to take a moment from their busy lives, to share a culturally themed book with a child, coax a story from a relative, or record an anecdote from their own unique past, or, perhaps, one that an elder may have told them. When we explore and share different cultures, gems are exposed. I know we look forward to unearthing many more of Margaret’s fascinating little diamonds.

Mommy C