Tuesday, June 30, 2009

For Those Of You Keeping Score At Home, Give The Fence An Assist

Now that This World We Live In is completed (except for the copy editing, which I loathe so much I refuse to acknowledge it remains to be dealt with), I am searching for new goals, perhaps even a new career.

The goals are pretty easy. My goal for today was to take care of some mother stuff, write a detailed, tastefully whining, email to my brother about the mother stuff, read 100 pages in the biography of Emily Post, due back at the library on Monday, and write this blog entry. So far so good.

The new career part is naturally more tricky, especially since I've had the old career for 40 years now, and until last night, thought myself limited in the skills needed to do any kind of honest work. Or even dishonest work.

But last night a new career option literally fell into my lap.

I'm going to be the center fielder for the New York Yankees.

Lest you think this is some kind of ridiculous fantasy, allow me to explain. Last night I went to a Hudson Valley Renegades game. They're the minor league A team for the Tampa Bay Rays, and they were playing the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets A team. I've been meaning to go to a Renegades game for a long time now; their stadium is about 35 minutes from where I live and quite an easy drive.

What prompted me was that my friend Cynthia (one of the very few people who knows the entire fabulous ending of TW) is on the board of Jewish Family Services of Orange County, NY, and they were holding a fundraiser at the game. You could sit in the third base picnic area and eat all the kosher franks you want.

Who could resist?

I went to the game, ate all the kosher franks I wanted (one), and sat down behind a low wrought iron fence. I kept an eye on the game (the Renegades lost 9-1), while chatting with various people.

While I was sitting, and after I'd finished my hot dog, one of the Cyclones (I don't know who, but I guarantee you it's a future Hall Of Famer) hit a foul ball. It flew over the third base seating area, bounced somewhere nice and high, bounced again on the wrought iron fence and landed directly in my lap!

I'm hard pressed to name a greater moment in my life. I met Eleanor Roosevelt, but I have no memories of that. I've won three blue ribbons at Orange County Fair (for popovers, frozen desserts, and chocolate cream pie). I've been a New York Times Best Selling Author. I even made Dean's List once in college (although they misspelled my name).

But my wildest least likely dream has always been to catch a ball during a game. I've watched zillions of baseball games on TV, and every time I've seen someone catch a ball, I've whispered, "Oh, how I wish that were I." Okay, I really whispered, "Oh, how I wish that was me," but I've been reading a biography of Emily Post.

And now that dream, the dream of so many short plump just past middle aged freelance children's book writers, has been realized. I get a little teary just thinking about it (and about the black and blue mark on my thigh from where the ball landed).

I jumped up and screamed in ecstasy (there are witnesses). I posed for pictures (granted, I made my friend Cynthia take the pictures with my camera, but I still posed). I gestured to the Renegade's mascot that I had caught the ball (it seemed quite impressed). I held onto that baseball, only allowing one kind of old guy to hold it, because I knew if he tried to steal it (which he assured me he wouldn't) I could tackle him and bring him down. I didn't let any kids near it, not that any of them seemed to care.

It was suggested to me that the Mets are in greater need of my services as a center fielder, and it's true that it was their franchise's coaching staff who most likely noticed my incredible fielding skills and promptly text messaged Omar Minaya about me.

But I was brought up to be a Yankees fan. My kitten is named for one of their greats. So sorry, Mets. My destiny is to be a New York Yankees center fielder.

Mantle. Rivers. Cabrera. Pfeffer.

Mickey, Mickey, Melky and Me.

It's the stuff of legend.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Tiniest Of Updates

You may need a magnifying glass, this update is so tiny.

My editor tells me that ARCS of This World We Live In should be available in October, and they're planning on having them at NCTE in November.

You now know everything I know (actually you probably know a lot more than I know, because frankly I don't know very much, although I can name all six of Henry VIII's wives and tell you exactly what happened to each and every one of them. Oh, and I can also name every winner of American Idol. But that's it.).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Advances And Royalties: The Business End Of Writing

I was wandering around the Yahoo listings for the dead and the gone, when I found its official Houghton Mifflin Harcourt paperback publication information. Publication is indeed Jan. 18, 2010, but what I didn't know was that its price is anticipated to be $7.99. That's a dollar more than the paperback of Life As We Knew It, which means that every paperback d&g sells will earn me 6 cents more than a LAWKI paperback.

I figured I'd be safe sharing this information with you, since you'd be unlikely to hit me up for a 6 cent loan.

It occurred to me after I decided to make the 6 cent announcement that there are people who read this blog who may not know how writers get paid (not enough and certainly not often enough, but that's a whole other entry). So for those of you who are interested, here are the basics of how it works, using LAWKI as the example.

When I wrote LAWKI, I gave my agent the manuscript to sell. That's called writing a book on spec (short for speculation). Neither my agent nor I knew if any publisher would be interested in buying it (when I wrote the dead and the gone, and This World We Live In, I got a contract before writing the books). My agent gets 15% of every penny I earn from these books, so it's in her best interest to sell them.

Harcourt agreed to buy LAWKI, and offered me a $20,000 advance. For that money, they were given the right to publish the book in hardcover and paperback, and to make some additional money by selling some of the subsidiary rights, which they did, selling to both the Junior Library Guild and Scholastic some reprint rights (HMH gets half that money; I get the other half, after my agent gets her 15%).

An advance is called an advance because it's an advance on future royalties. Once the publisher gives you the advance, they can't get the money back, no matter how hard they beg. So I got the $20,000 minus 15% (that's $17,000; I can multiply anything by 15%), gave Internal Revenue its share, and kept the rest to pay rent and gas and electricity and groceries, etc. Since the book was already written, Harcourt pretty much paid me the whole amount at once; with d&g and TW, I got half on signing the contract and the other half after Harcourt decided the manuscript was ready for publication (I'm currently waiting for the second half of the advance for TW).

I get a 10% royalty on the LAWKI hardcover. That means I get 10% of what the list price ($17) of the book is: $1.70 for every book sold, after I earned back the original $20,000. Because of the sale to the Junior Library Guild, I knew that meant as soon as the hardcover sold 10,000 copies, I would start earning royalties. That happened almost immediately, so I've been earning royalties on LAWKI since shortly after its publication. I have no idea why they're called royalties, since most writers earn less than the average medieval peasant.

Royalties get paid twice a year. The publisher keeps track of how many copies of the book are sold, multiplies the total by the percentage the writer gets (10% for hardcovers, 6% for paperbacks), sends the total amount to the agent, who takes her 15% and sends the rest to the writer, who's been going crazy waiting for the check to arrive. It used to be I never knew how much money (if any) to expect, but nowadays I can ask what the sales numbers are, so I have a far better sense of how big (or small) the check will be. This definitely cuts down on the stress.

Since LAWKI earned out its advance just on the hardcover sales, I started getting royalties on the paperback immediately (the same will be true when d&g comes out in paperback, since its advance has already been earned out). Since LAWKI sells for $6.95 a copy, and I get 6% for each copy sold, I get 42 cents for every copy sold (I get considerably less for each copy Scholastic with its very pink LAWKI cover sells). That, of course, is 42 cents minus 15% (hold on, while I get my calculator), about 36 cents a copy.

It's the agent's job to get as much money for her writers as possible, so when my agent sold the publishing rights to LAWKI to Harcourt, she got Harcourt to agree that some of the rights would be mine alone to sell. I get all the money for the audiobook advance (which has already earned out, so I get some royalties there as well, but audio royalties are so complicated, I just take whatever money I get and smile gratefully) and the foreign advances (United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany and France, so far, paid in pounds, dollars, and euros). If the movie rights are ever optioned (an option is kind of like an advance; they give you a little bit of money for the right to make the movie, and whether or not they make the movie, you get to keep the option money), I get 100% of that money as well, minus, of course, my agent's 15% (which is currently 15% of zero, since no one has optioned the movie rights).

So the basic rule is the more copies LAWKI sells, the more money I make. I would tell you just how much money I've made off of LAWKI so far, but I don't know. I'd have to pull out all the information and add it up and multiply it by .85, and it's not worth the bother (I do admit to being curious though). What I also don't know is how much money LAWKI will continue to earn me. I have a good idea of how much I'll be getting for my next royalty check, since it will reflect the sales from Jan. 1- June 30, 2009, but there's no way of predicting whether LAWKI will continue to sell any copies after July 1, or whether it'll go out of print and I'll never see another penny again.

Make that another 42 pennies!

Monday, June 22, 2009

If It's A Girl Maybe They'll Name Her Miranda

Those darlings at Google informed me that This World We Live In has a publication date. April 1, 2010!

Granted this information is for a paperback called This World I Live In, but until I hear otherwise, I'm going to assume it's the pub date for the hardcover of TW.

It is very strange to realize that there are babies who'll be born on April 1, 2010 who are currently on the verge of being conceived. And their parents won't even care that April 1, 2010 is the publication date for This World We Live In. They won't even be thinking about This World We Live In as they begin the conception process. Although I must say, it'd be a nifty theme for a baby shower.

After quite a number of attempts, I've put a countdown on the right side of the blog. I'm not positive it's accurate, and I certainly don't understand the hour and minute part, but it's close enough for me and the unborn.

If the date turns out to be an April Fool's joke, I'll let you know. In the meantime, I'll stare at my countdowner and see if I can get it to move any faster!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Mother. My Kitten. My B3

It has occurred to me that there are people out there who roll their eyes at the thought of a blog entry from me about my mother, and others who roll their eyes at the thought of a blog entry from me about my kitten, and still others who avert their eyes when I write spoilers about This World We Live In. So I figured I'd title this entry with all three of those things as fair warning. Remember, if an entry has B3 in its title, most likely it will have spoilers.

The editor emailed me with a handful of small questions/concerns Tuesday morning, and I answered them as best I could. Then she sent This World We Live In to the copyeditor, and I grabbed my mother and forced her to come to my apartment and meet Scooter.

My mother is not a big cat person. Her family had a goat when she was growing up, and that left her very anti-pet.

Scooter, on the other hand, was enthralled with my mother's feet. All the world is a kitten toy, as far as he's concerned, but feet are the best toys around. My mother, being an extraordinarily tolerant person, put up with Scooter's toe attack, but shortly thereafter she asked to go home. Good daughter that I am, I took her.

It feels a little odd having This World (which I will now start calling TW, which takes longer to say than This World but less time to type) all finished. Writing it, and rewriting it, and then revising it, was quite intense. And when I think of it, and Life As We Knew It, and the dead and the gone, I feel as though I wrote a thousand page novel. A very complicated thousand page novel.

The editor had expressed a desire for more stuff (she worded it a tad more elegantly) about Alex, so in the revisions I put in a new scene between him and Miranda. For those who are interested, I put the scene over at thirdmoonbook. In it, Alex picks up a copy of Pride And Prejudice from Miranda's bookshelf.

In TW, there's a discussion of Dad and Lisa's attempt to go west to find out how Lisa's family is. Without checking LAWKI, I mentioned that Lisa's family was in Colorado. For reasons that are of no interest to anyone but me, I grew concerned that I'd gotten it wrong, that in LAWKI, I'd located Lisa's family elsewhere. So I frantically leafed through LAWKI, looking for the reference to where Lisa's family was (in Colorado, thank goodness). But in my leafing, I discovered that Miranda referred to something as very Jane Austen-y.

You spend four years and a thousand pages with a character, and you really get to know her!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Oh Happy Day(s)

Life is good. The revisions are completed, my mother's checkbook is up to date, and the apartment is clean.

I like this new video of Scooter. It's clear that while he's interested in himself (and what cat isn't) what he really wants to know is when will This World We Live In come out.

Me too. I do have a publication date for the paperback of the dead and the gone though. Jan. 18, 2010. I found out the way all famous writers find this stuff out, by going to Borders bookstore to see if they had the Adam Lambert Rolling Stone (this was Wednesday, and they didn't, but they did today and I bought two copies without a blush, one for me and one for my friend Pam) and while I was there, I checked to see if they had Life As We Knew It (yes, 2 copies, 5th printing) and d&g (no), so I went on their computer system to look up d&g, and it said I could preorder the paperback with a pub date of Jan. 18, 2010.

I didn't email my publisher about this, since they probably knew, even if they didn't feel the need to tell me, but I did email them when I learned the following from my pal Google: "Life As We Knew It" was chosen as the summer book by every library in the Santa Clara County Library System.

I seem to have been more impressed than my publisher was, since they never responded. The more famous the writer, the less the publisher bothers with them. Or so they tell me.

What I'm not bothering to tell my publisher is that last night, for the first and most likely last time, LAWKI paperback broke 1000 at Amazon. 831, since you asked. I know because I printed it out to cherish forever. LAWKI Kindle is frequently below 1000, so I checked my contract to see what my royalty rate was, and it turns out that when that contract came out, they had no idea what the royalty rate should be.The contract says if it's ever an issue, they'll figure it out. But either the d&g contract or the This World (we still need a nickname, folks) contract says 15% for electronic rights, so go Kindle go.

Sunday will be the 8 week anniversary of Scooter and me finding each other. Except for the regular 5 AM Purr On The Neck sessions, it's been an easy and pleasurable 8 weeks for us both (well, he enjoys Purr On The Neck). I'll be celebrating by leaving Scooter at home to nap the day away, while I'm at BooksNJ2009. It should be a great event, and I hope to see you all there!

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Sad Day In Polka Land

Yesterday I endured the trifecta of discomfort, taking Scooter to the vet in the morning, having my annual mammogram in the afternoon, and working on the revisions for This World We Live In in between.

Scooter is fine. He weighs 4 pounds 2 ounces. My vet thinks he's a week or so younger than I keep saying he is. He'll go in for what my vet so tactfully referred to as his "big boy surgery" at the end of July. I would have gladly performed little boy surgery on Scooter myself this morning, when he woke me up at 4 AM, 5 AM, 6 AM and 7 AM to play Purr On The Neck.

Not that mammograms or revisions are that much fun either.

I'm about 1/4 the way through the revisions (I've decided that's a much classier term than rewrites), and should make the June 11 deadline, by working non-stop starting tomorrow. Today I'm getting a shingles vaccine (I've never heard a good thing about shingles) and having a late lunch with a friend, so once I finish this blog entry I'll get to work, but I don't anticipate working in the afternoon.

Thanks to all of you who voted in the chapters/no chapters poll. I'm favoring chapters, in part because my friends Geri and Paul, both teachers, say it's easier when a book has them. I think in the case of this particular book, it will be easier for the readers as well.

But the true sorrow of yesterday was the announcement that the Grammys are no longer going to have a polka category. Polkas are very big around here, because Jimmy Sturr, winner of 18 Grammys (one less than Bruce Springsteen, and I think that's why they eliminated the category, because they didn't want Jimmy Sturr to end up with more than Bruce Springsteen), lives in Orange County, NY, same as me, and is quite the local celebrity. I've been to a couple of his concerts, and if the weather is good, I'll go to his July 3 outdoor one, although it will be a tad more patriotic than I usually care for. The last one was, but times have changed, and maybe I'll be more in the mood.

Clearly, I'm not in the mood to work on revisions, but work I must. At least I have something to look forward to. Jimmy Sturr's upcoming CD is called "Polka Cola: The Music That Refreshes."

I'd like to see Bruce Springsteen top that!

Monday, June 1, 2009


I thought it would be a good idea before beginning the revisions on This World We Live In to print a calendar and cross off the dates that I use in the book. The editor wants me to add some stuff, so by finding which dates were available, I could squeeze the new entries there.

The calendar looked much better before Scooter got his teeth in it. The book, however, will be much better now the editor has gotten her teeth in it.

Printing the calendar reminded me that June 1 (aka today) is the first anniversary of the official publication date for the dead and the gone. It's also the anniversary of my party in celebration of 75 books published. And because I was in a bad mood over the rent increase in the lease, it brought back a memory of my feeling last summer that after three years of non-stop good news, things were going to level out, and I was in for some bad times.

I did have bad times during the past year. My cat Alexander died, and then my other cat Emily pined away and died. In the late fall, I adopted Charlotte the kitten, only to have her die ten days later. I still feel all three of those losses very deeply, although it certainly does help to have Scooter playing at the keyboard even as I type this.

In addition, my mother fell twice and cracked a rib. There was a separate health worry about her. An uncle I loved dearly died. And two people I'm close to are angry at me (in both cases, they're right to be).

Professionally, there were problems as well. It was very upsetting when my editor left Harcourt, and it hasn't been the smoothest sailing since then.

But the great thing was when I remembered my conviction that this would be a bad year, I also remembered that I'd forgotten that conviction. It completely slipped my mind that I was due for bad times and should anticipate a whole slew of them. Most likely I forgot because I was so busy having a good time. I traveled all over the United States for business and pleasure, and met wonderful people wherever I went. I sold and wrote This World We Live In, and take enormous pride in it. I sold the audio rights to it before I wrote a single word, and have also sold German rights to the first two books and French rights to all three. Life As We Knew It won four awards as well as being the One Book New Jersey 2009 teen selection, and was on a New York Times best seller list three different weeks. All across America, schools are using one or another of the books for classwide, even schoolwide, reads. I've heard from extraordinary teachers and librarians, as well as from readers throughout the world. My health is great, my mother's health is great, and this particular June 1 is bright and shining and full of promise.

Oh, and it turns out I misread the lease, and my rent isn't going up after all. My mother says I can buy myself another diamond bracelet.

In celebration of all this good news, and in honor of the six week anniversary of Scooter's entering my life, I got him a remarkably obnoxious cat toy. Thank goodness he's lost it already. But here he is, in all his 3 and 1/2 month old glory. Note, if you will, the little piece of pink yarn on the floor. It turns out the reason I can never find my place in Mistress of the Monarchy is because Scooter keeps pulling the bookmark out, so he can bite off its tassel.

It's a good life for kittens and their feeders!