First Impressions

by Linda Pratt

So, what makes a good opening line? I work in children’s books, and here are a few of my favorites:

“Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt.” —Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage


“There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself—not just sometimes, but always.” —The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

“If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of year for it.” (The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts by Richard Peck)

And a couple from books for adults:

“The man billed as Prospero the Enchanter receives a fair amount of correspondence via the theater office, but this is the first envelope addressed to him that contains a suicide note, and it is also the first to arrive carefully pinned to the coat of a five-year old girl.” —The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


“I wish Giovanni would kiss me. Oh, but there are so many reasons why this would be a terrible idea” —Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Those lines might be described as intriguing, puzzling, oddly funny, or mysterious. Whatever adjective used, the commonality in all great opening lines is that they evoke curiosity, and for a reader – or an agent or editor – to get vested in any story, they have to be made curious . . . and quickly!

A strong opening line, paragraph or page is probably the most important tool you have in getting your work noticed. Does every acclaimed novel have a fabulous opening? No. Does every fabulous opening line assure that novel that follows is going to be great? No. But in trying to attract the attention of agents and editors, it is the first hurdle to making your work stand out.

Author Sarah Aronson once wrote in a post about First Impressions on The Mixed-Up Files Blog, “usually, the impression made by the end of the very first paragraph is accurate”, which was a relief to see an author say to her fellow authors because it’s true. Editors and agents agree with that almost unanimously when we talk among ourselves, but frankly saying so to a wider audience can make a person sound cranky, jaded or arrogant.

However, agents and editors get hundreds if not thousands of submissions every year, and any single agent/editor is only able to represent or edit a limited number of authors in that year. Picture yourself in that situation – your mindset is likely to look first for a reason to decline a submission rather accept it. A first page is going to say a lot about what’s to come. A first sentence even more. It’s a little like American Idol or any other tv competition show; you aren’t given too much time to settle into a song or an act before your fate is decided by the judge or audience. The difference in writing is that you aren’t doing it live. You have time to really sharpen and hone your introduction, and it’s absolutely worth the time to do so.

So take another look at your first lines. Do they grab a reader and not let go? Give us your best first line!

Burning Questions about Book Publishing: What does an editor do all day?

by Ruta Rimas

Book editors. Writers imagine them as elusive, mysterious creatures who hold in their hands the power to make writers’ dreams of publication come true (and also crush those dreams into oblivion).

Editor? Or Sasquatch? Both are equally mysterious.

Is it true?

As an editor myself, I’d like to dispel some of those myths and misconceptions about the daily work of a book editor right away.

  • Editors read all day at work.

Sadly, this is a big, terrible lie. Editors read on the train, after work, on the weekends, sometimes in bed before falling asleep. Very little reading happens at the office.

  • Editors love to reject manuscripts.

Passing on a project is actually the hardest part of the job. It doesn’t feel good to tell someone who bravely poured their heart onto the page that you aren’t interested in pursuing their work—even with a buffer (the writer’s agent) in place.

  • Editors hole-up in their offices, talking to nary a soul, while scribbling giant red x’s across manuscripts, laughing maniacally as they tear apart the books they’ve acquired.

Mostly untrue. But I can’t say I don’t find joy in slicing and dicing…

So what is it that a book editor does if they aren’t reading and/or destroying the hopes and dreams of writers all day?

It helps to think of an editor as a project manager. An editor is the point-person and in-house voice for the books on their list, whether those books are freshly acquired or a few years old. Publishing houses work years in advance, so right now, I’m working on projects that go on sale in the summer and fall of 2020, for example. At any given moment, I have my hands on 15-25 books, in varying stages of publication development.

Accurate depiction of the paper stack in my office.

That is, I may be hobbling together editorial notes for a novel that is 18 months out from publication or I may be reviewing copyedits for a novel that publishes in a year or rewriting back cover copy for a repackaged (meaning, new cover design) paperback edition or offering feedback to an artist on interior sketches of a picture book. All in the same day!

Throughout the book’s life in the publishing house, an editor presents it at various sales, marketing, design, and editorial meetings and is the primary liaison between departments throughout each stage of project development, as well as with agents, illustrators, and authors, and other industry professionals.

Contrary to popular belief, many book editors are not quiet, reserved, bookish recluses. They are highly social, sales-oriented people who are great at public speaking. They have to be, as they are required to talk about their projects in public on a frequent basis.

A typical day as an editor doesn’t exist, but there is one thing an editor can always count on: meetings (sales meetings, production meetings, cover design meetings, agent meetings, author meetings, marketing and publicity meetings). In between meetings, editors are generally putting out fires that are lit after a book has been developmentally edited and is already in its latter stages. Some of those fires include issues/questions about:

  • Marketing/publicity (some books have bigger budgets than others and part of an editor’s job is explaining those decisions to agents and authors and also brainstorming how to enact a grassroots effort).
  • Incorrect metadata feeding to online retailers (most publishers function with automated digital sweeps of metadata like book covers, descriptive copy, author names and bios, etc., and sometimes old data gets picked up).
  • Coordinating materials like advanced readers copies (ARCs) for delivery to conferences and festivals and figuring out a plan if those materials won’t be ready on time.
  • Talking through cover design/editorial notes/digital ideas with authors.
  • And more.

New and unusual questions, scenarios, situations, problems pop up ALL the time. It’s never a dull moment in editorial.

Burning Questions about Book Publishing: How do traditional book publishers function?

by Ruta Rimas

Kristen’s post last week about her work as a copy editor reminded me of how—once a book is accepted and bought by a publishing house—there are so many different individuals who are involved in a book’s actual publication.

Obviously, there is the writer, the creator of the content, the most important piece of the book-creation puzzle. Without the writer (without you), there is no book to read.

But there are many hands that touch the book before it goes final. Beyond the writer, publishing houses often have the following departments:

Editorial: The publisher and/or editorial director, the editors

This is the team that initially brings a manuscript in to the house. EditingImageThe editors evaluate projects, buy them when their publisher signs-off on the project, and then conceptually and developmentally edit the manuscript. After the actual editing is done, the editor serves as a project manager and liaises with the various departments below during pre-publication, on publication, and after publication.

Design: The creative director, the designers

I wrote about the book cover design process here, but in short, the design department is responsible for creating the visual cover for the book as well as designing the interior layout.

Managing editorial: The managing editors, the copyeditor, the proofreader

The work that Kristen described in her post falls within this department. Managing editors are responsible for a book’s schedule of production and that includes hiring copyeditors and proofreaders; ensuring materials are turned in and passed over to the appropriate departments in a timely manner; working closely with the production department and design to upload digital files of the book jacket and interiors to our printers websites so that the printer we’ve contracted can physically create the book.

Production: Production editors, in-house pre-press department

The production department is responsible for working directly with internal pre-press departments and printing houses. The pre-press team simulates what certain printed materials will look like; having this function in house saves publishers time and money when evaluating things like printed proofs of book jackets.

Inside Phoenix Color, a Maryland-based printer.

Production editors make sure all flows well with pre-press as well as set up the actual printing of the book by ensuring that the printer has the time, space, and capacity to print the book to a publisher’s specifications. Most printers are based in China or India, though there are some US-based printers for any books that a publisher may want produced quickly.

Marketing and publicity

These two departments work closely together to create a comprehensive campaign for each book published.


There are sales reps for every major account including retailers like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Target, Walmart, and other types of accounts like wholesalers, independent bookstores, museums, and military bases, to name a few.

Subsidiary rights

This is the team that licenses book rights to other parties. These rights can include audio, foreign translation, UK, book clubs/fairs, graphic novel adaptation, film/TV, and more.

Other important players at publishing houses include the Legal Department, the Business Office, Inventory/Warehousing, and the mail room.

Each department also has several assistants, and in truth, the assistants are the ones who make the publisher function. Without them, the system would crumble. They make copies, answer calls, route paperwork, coordinate meetings, go on coffee runs for last-minute visitors, and more, all while learning the business.

It takes one person to write a book…but it takes a large team of people to make one.

Burning Questions About Book Publishing: What are good resources for keeping a pulse on the industry?

By Ruta Rimas

The business of book publishing can feel so far away from the reality of writers. Maybe you imagine an editor sitting at her desk, surrounded by stacks upon stacks of paper (real or virtual), casually crushing dreams as she rejects manuscript after manuscript. Truth be told, very little of that type of work goes on during business hours; the dream-crushing is done late at night, on subway or train rides home. Luckily, that’s when the dream-making happens as well.


When a writer publishes their book, it can take a year or two for it to get to market. In the meantime, information and news about the publishing world might seem like it bounces around at light speed. What are editors buying next? What manuscripts just sold? What’s the juicy industry gossip? How can anyone keep up?!

Well, in my attempt to answer that, I thought it might be time for a straightforward post that provides a few resources for anyone who wants to keep better tabs on the goings-on of book publishing. Below is a list of sites that, as an industry professional, I often turn to when I need intel. Because here’s a secret: it’s nearly impossible to keep up with everything that’s happening, even for those of us who work within the industry.

Industry News Sites

Publishers Weekly:

This publication is both in print and online and is the quintessential publication for the industry. Some online content is free, like this article ( Big book deals are announced, industry news is shared, and the best part? Loads of book reviews. It might worth it to invest in a subscription for the wide range of information, depending on where you are in your writing career.

Shelf Awareness:



A FREE (!) website and FREE (!!) bi-weekly newsletter with the top 25 books of the week, as selected by booksellers and librarians. Also included is book news, interviews with authors, and more publishing-based articles.

Publishers Lunch:

Publishers Lunch is similar to Publishers Weekly, meaning some of the content is behind a paywall and requires a subscription, and some is free, like this recent article:

You can also sign up for daily Publishers Lunch emails for FREE. From their website: “Publishers Lunch is the industry’s “daily essential read,” now shared with approximately 45,000 publishing people every day. Each report gathers together stories from all over the web and print of interest to the professional trade book community, along with original reporting, plus a little perspective and the occasional wisecrack added in. Daily Lunch is e-mailed daily to qualified book trade professionals. Deal Lunch is e-mailed occasionally, sharing about 10 deal reports from the previous week (or roughly 5 percent of reported deals).”

These three sites and newsletters can help orient you within the book publishing business, from the who’s who of editors, to buzz-worthy books, to bookstore openings and author events. They’re a worthwhile investment, even if only in the time it takes to read one of the free newsletters. Knowledge is power, after all, and these publications provide a ton of great information.

Burning Questions About Book Publishing: What’s the deal with children’s books?

By Ruta Rimas

When people think of children’s books, the first type that usually pops into mind is picture books, the often large-trimmed delights of young childhood, sometimes (but not always) read at bedtime. Most adult readers can fondly look back upon their youth and recall a few favorites books, the ones that transformed them into the readers they are today.

There are the classics: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, anything by Dr. Seuss, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (which has countless spinoffs!) by Laura Numeroff. But if you don’t have a toddler, an elementary-aged kid or teenager, you may not know that the children’s book industry is so much more than picture books, and so much more expansive than the classics. For instance, my employer produces over six hundred new children’s books every year.

A classic picture book.

Children’s books often get lumped into one giant box, but this segment of the publishing industry is robust, diverse, innovative, and vast. The books published in this category span 0-18 years of age, and that includes:

A board book is short and simple, made from thick cardboard for little hands that like to pull and little mouths that like to bite. Generally, children’s publishers either repurpose content for board books or write board books in-house.

Picture books are usually geared for readers aged four to eight, and contain both a text-based narrative and a visual one. Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt are modern picture book successes.

For young readers who are eager to begin exploring stories on their own (or perhaps with a reading partner) there are chapter books. These tend to run between 10-12,000 words, sometimes have spot art, and are gobbled up by kids six to nine years old. A great example of a chapter book is the Clementine Series by Sara Pennypacker

There are also middle-grade novels, usually for readers who are eight to twelve. These tend to be longer and offer more complex and sophisticated stories. Diary of Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is middle grade, as is Wonder by RJ Palacio.

Finally, children’s publishing also encompasses the thriving young adult category. These are books published for teenagers, though there is a significant adult readership, too. Recent YA successes include To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

A modern YA bestseller

The business wasn’t always this way: The world of children’s publishing fundamentally shifted about twenty years ago and we have a young wizard to thank for that. The Harry Potter series changed everything for this part of the publishing business, and created a shift from a primarily back-list driven industry (i.e., books that have been published many years prior) to a front-list driven one (i.e., new books). This type of model is much more in line with how the traditional adult book market functions. The Harry Potter series is also responsible for the invention of a children’s New York Times Bestseller list, too, because when those books published, they ate up the slots on the regular bestseller list.

Children’s books. It’s where it’s at.