With more than 25 years of experience, Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry have the inside scoop on writing and publishing. Sam is the author of How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons; National Women’s Book Association Award winner Kathi is the author of And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You. Their book on publishing is scheduled for release in 2010. Email your questions (along with your name and hometown) to authorenabler [at] aol.com or visit their blog at bookpage.com.
Dear Author Enablers,
I am writing a book about planning group travel for clubs or senior adult groups, and would like to include the lyrics of songs such as “She’ll be Comin’ Round The Mountain,” “Red River Valley,” “Crawdad Song,” “Bicycle Built For Two,” “Oh My Darling Clementine” and some religious chorus pieces. I have a limited budget and am trying to select songs that are in the public domain.
Winter Garden, Florida
Oh no! As Thanksgiving approaches, we’ve got “Over the River and Through the Woods” stuck in our heads, which means that soon “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” will be playing everywhere, even in police stations and bathrooms.
You are correct that if a song is in the public domain no one can claim ownership and you can use it in your book. A handy site for determining public domain is pdinfo.com, though you should double- and triple-check, since this is your book and you are responsible for everything in it. Music rights issues are complicated, and any author using music in the text of a book must be extra diligent in the effort to clear those rights.
So, make absolutely sure that the songs are not still protected under copyright. If you want to use lyrics from a song that is protected, you must get permission from whoever owns the rights to the property. A search on bmi.com and ascap.com (the two largest music-rights organizations) will usually provide this information. Then it is up to you, the author, to contact the copyright holders and arrange to pay whatever fee is required for usage.
Dear Author Enablers,
I wrote a children’s book. I know a little bit about this industry, but have not yet experienced the realities of being a first-time author. I worked with a children’s magazine called Power Kids, which was phased out after one year. That is a sad story for another time.
Can you recommend an agent who works with the big six, is real and can help me? I am looking for the traditional route to get my foot in the door.
So sorry, but we can’t offer a personal connection to a children’s book agent. We do know some real agents, but they don’t do children books. Kathi has an imaginary-best-friend play agent who gets her pretend million-dollar movie deals with Pixar, and Sam had a pretend big-time agent friend, but they had a fight and aren’t speaking.
Seriously, though, it is our policy not to recommend specific agents. Here’s what we do recommend: if you haven’t done this already, find a few trusted readers to give you feedback. This can happen in a class, a writers’ conference or in the more informal setting of a writing group. Your local library, bookstore or community college might offer writers’ groups or seminars in which you can share your manuscript and get feedback from both instructors and peers. This may or may not result in making changes to your book.
Once you’re ready to share your book with the world, a good place to start is the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest. This resource will help you to find outlets for your writing, including journals, contests and book publishers. There’s information on how to write a query letter, format your manuscript and find an agent. Literary Market Place is another resource. Here you will find a comprehensive list of agents and publishers in the United States, their specialties and requirements for query letters and submissions. By “big six” we gather you mean the six major New York publishers with notable children’s imprints: HarperCollins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic, Penguin Putnam and Disney/Hyperion. But don’t limit your search to these publishers—sometimes a smaller house is a better fit for a particular book. Send each publisher or agent whatever is asked for in the agency’s published guidelines, along with a clever and engaging query letter.