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Tanya Lee Stone Listens to Tough Inner Editor

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An Exclusive Authorlink Interview
With Tanya Lee Stone
Author of A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl
(Wendy Lamb, 2006))
by Susan VanHecke
February 2007

book cover
A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl
(Wendy Lamb)
by Tanya Lee Stone
ISBN-10: 0385747020
ISBN-13: 978-0385747028
Buy this book
via Amazon.com.

Though she spent 13 years as an editor, Tanya Lee Stone’s childhood love of storytelling took over when she was given the opportunity to write her first book a decade ago. She hasn’t looked back. From board books to mid-grade bios to coming-of-age tales for teens, Stone has now penned nearly 80 children’s titles, both fiction and nonfiction.

Ever versatile, Stone’s Amelia Earhart (DK), a bio of the aviatrix for readers ages 9-12, saw publication last month, while her first young adult novel, A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl (Wendy Lamb, 2006) continues to draw accolades and enlightening discussion on Stone’s blog, http://tanyaleestone.livejournal.com, and goes paperback this summer.

A compilation of free-verse monologues from a trio of high school girls, Bad Boy explores the age-old question: Why are girls always drawn to the wrong guy? Through their interactions with the same “bad boy,” the girls in Stone’s candid tome learn important lessons about who they will eventually become, and what kind of men will ultimately make them happy.

I thought it would be interesting to look
at how girls of many varying types
could still be susceptible. . .

STONE

AUTHORLINK: How did A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl come about? Did you conceive it with the three different points of view?

STONE: The title came first, and Josie, the first girl, followed. At first, it was going to be a short story about one girl. When I realized I should keep going and expand it into a novel, the other girls spoke up. I thought it would be interesting to look at how girls of many varying types could still be susceptible to the same kind of guy. Originally there were four girls, but before I ever submitted the manuscript I had cut the fourth out. I'm saving her story for another time.

AUTHORLINK: Why write it in verse? Was it more challenging to write in verse, or more freeing?

STONE: Honestly, I never gave any thought to form. Josie started coming out in verse and it just felt right. I continued in that vein and never considered changing it. I found the verse format very freeing for this kind of intimate, first person perspective. And in retrospect, it was an effective form for differentiating between their different voices. They each have fairly distinctive ways of speaking, and the free verse was a nice way to explore that.

"I didn't do any research other than hanging out in some cafeterias after the book was already finished . . ."
STONE

AUTHORLINK: So how did you get the girls' voices? Research? Memories of your own adolescence?

STONE: I didn't do any research other than hanging out in some cafeterias after the book was already finished, mainly just to make sure I hadn't used any language that was way off-base. Thankfully, I hadn't. Sure, memories of my adolescence played a role – it was not specific events I was tapping into, though. Instead, it was the memory of where I was emotionally as a teen. For me, at least, feelings were generally heightened at that time of my life. Things took on an extra measure of intensity.

"It was one of those books that became
a friend. And, yes, Judy Blume
has read the book."

STONE

AUTHORLINK: Judy Blume's Forever figures prominently in Bad Boy as the girls scribble their warnings within the pages of the school library’s copy. Why that book? Have you had any contact with Blume – does she know about Bad Boy?

STONE: I wanted some kind of vehicle for the girls to communicate with each other privately. I considered a few non-book ideas, but once I realized that I wanted to use a book there was only one choice for me. Forever played a major role in my adolescent life. It was one of those books that became a friend. And, yes, Judy Blume has read the book. When I found out a copy was being sent to her I was nervous. I had never anticipated her reading it. But she loved it! Sweet relief! We have since met and she is just as cool and wonderful as you would expect her to be.

"I don't generally think about publishing houses, 'dream' or otherwise,
when I'm writing."

STONE

AUTHORLINK: Do you use an agent to sell your books? Did you have Wendy Lamb in mind for Bad Boy? When you're writing, do you think of the "dream house" for your project?

STONE: Yes, I do have an agent. And yes, I am a fan of many Wendy Lamb books, so once I allowed myself to start thinking about where to submit, I knew I was going to send it to her. But no, I don't generally think about publishing houses, "dream" or otherwise, when I'm writing. Getting ahead of myself in that way is too distracting to the writing process.

"A good relationship like that is extremely important because it helps a writer examine things. . . "
STONE

AUTHORLINK: In Bad Boy, you thank Alison Meyer for her talent of "asking the right questions without looking for the 'right' answers." Can you elaborate on that? How important is the editor/author relationship?

STONE: Sure. What I meant by that is instead of suggesting I make a particular change here or there, she would instead ask me why I made the choice I did, and if I might look at it another way. This allowed her to point out areas that may have needed further thought, without telling me what to do. A good relationship like that is extremely important because it helps a writer examine things that might need further exploration or clarification without taking away ownership of the story from the writer.

"I think ideas hover in your subconscious until you let them out. . ."
STONE

AUTHORLINK: How do you write? Where do ideas come from? How do you develop them? How long does a book typically take?

STONE: Oh gosh, that's a lot of different questions! How do I write? One word at a time! Sometimes lots of words in one spurt. Sometimes not. It varies greatly. I think ideas hover in your subconscious until you let them out, for one reason or another. Developing them is harder! And books, for me, vary greatly too, in terms of how long they take. Some come out in a white heat. Others are more painstaking. Bad Boy came out relatively fast.

"I have a deep love for fiction
and nonfiction, both."

STONE

AUTHORLINK: You also write a lot of nonfiction. Do you prefer nonfiction over fiction? Is one easier to write than the other?

STONE: I have a deep love for fiction and nonfiction, both. I do not think, in general, that one is easier to write than the other. Although I have such a long background in nonfiction, I perhaps know more quickly how to execute one of my nonfiction ideas than I might with one of my fiction ideas. On the flip side, fiction does not necessarily require exhaustive research or fact-checking. I remember discussing one sentence from my Abraham Lincoln (DK, 2005) book with a fiction writer friend who marveled over how much research had gone into that one descriptive sentence. I love fiction and nonfiction both, frankly, and do best when I'm working on one of each and can switch back and forth between them. They use different parts of my brain, somehow.

One intriguing thing about nonfiction that is similar to fiction is that, although the facts already exist, a writer still has plenty of freedom to decide the "what" and "how" of the story to tell. For example, I have a picture book biography coming out with Henry Holt in 2008 called Elizabeth Leads The Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton And The Right To Vote. The timeline and details of Stanton's life already exist, but I got to decide what piece of her life might capture the attention of kids, and how I wanted to present it to readers. I find that a great way to spend my time!

"I really don't have my finger on the pulse of what any editor wants to see – I wish!"
STONE

AUTHORLINK: You hear all the time that every editor's looking for great nonfiction. Have you found nonfiction easier to sell than fiction? What kind of nonfiction books do editors want to see?

STONE: I really don't have my finger on the pulse of what any editor wants to see – I wish! Ultimately, I don't think nonfiction is easier to sell, but I am personally able to sell nonfiction on proposal because I can see my way through the entire book without having to write the entire book – something I am not able to do with fiction. However, I know plenty of writers who are able to visualize that process for fiction, and do sell on proposal. But to answer your last question, I think editors are always interested in unique angles that can make nonfiction fascinating for kids.

"I think some authors do just fine staying with one publisher; it all depends on their relationship with their editor. . ."
STONE

AUTHORLINK: Like most authors these days, your books have been published by various houses. Are the days of an entire career at one publisher long gone? Is that good or bad?

STONE: I think some authors do just fine staying with one publisher; it all depends on their relationship with their editor, I suspect. For me, because I do so many different kinds of books, it's really not possible to stay with only one publisher. I think most publishers understand this new reality, and I've been lucky enough to work with a wonderful variety of editors.

"Whatever I can do to help my publisher, I do."
STONE

AUTHORLINK: Can you talk about marketing? How involved should an author get? What kinds of things do you do to promote your books, beyond your website, www.tanyastone.com?

STONE: I promote some books more heavily than others, which is determined by need, among other factors. There are certain books I don't need to do much for because a large distribution process is already in place, or because book clubs have pre-ordered, or what have you. Other titles require my involvement to give the book the best shot I can help give it. I think fiction is likely always in this category. Whatever I can do to help my publisher, I do. Sometimes that means writing articles, sometimes it means going on the road or doing mailings. I try to make well-informed decisions about what to do for each book. I think making sure that interested groups related to the topic of your book know about your book is a really great thing to do. For example, I will do my best to make sure the League of Women Voters and the National Organization for Women know about Elizabeth Leads The Way. And when my Almost Astronauts book with Candlewick comes out in 2009, which deals with women pilots and the space program, I will reach out to female aviation organizations and other related groups. Basically, you want to make sure that your target audience is as aware of your book as possible.

"I have a very tough inner editor, and I already have some sense of what an editor expects. . ."
STONE

AUTHORLINK: Can you tell us about your background as a children's book editor and how that has helped you as a writer?

STONE: I loved, loved, loved being an editor and never really considered giving it up until we moved away from a publishing city. That said, it gave me the welcome and unexpected opportunity to delve into writing. Today, I would say that having been an editor helps me in that I have a very tough inner editor, and I already have some sense of what an editor expects and will ask of me. I also have a basic understanding of the way the industry works, which can be helpful.

"I think the biggest mistake. . . is when writers do not do their homework regarding what a particular house publishes.."
STONE

AUTHORLINK: In your editing days, what were some of the biggest mistakes you saw writers make, in their work and in their queries, cover letters, and proposals to you?

STONE: I think the biggest mistake, and the one that is the least appreciated as well, is when writers do not do their homework regarding what a particular house publishes. When I worked for a children's nonfiction imprint, for example, we received way too many fiction submissions, as well as materials for adults. Know who you are sending your work to, and why. Otherwise, it just appears that a writer is sending their work out to as wide an audience as possible, hoping for a hit. Research your market, and submit selectively.

". . .since I think the market dropped out
partly because it was inundated
with too many picture books."

STONE

AUTHORLINK: Do you see any trends in today's children's book market – are picture books making a comeback? Is fantasy still hot? Chicklit? What about historical fiction? What do editors want to see?

STONE: I don't feel qualified to speak to trends, although anecdotally, I will say that picture books sales do seem to be picking up a tad. But I don't expect them to go back to where they were several years ago, since I think the market dropped out partly because it was inundated with too many picture books. I am heartened, though, and am returning my focus to a few picture book manuscripts that have been "resting."

About Columnist
Susan VanHecke
Susan VanHecke is a mother, author and journalist whose work has appeared in newspapers, national magazines and online publications, including Spin, Old House Journal and The Washington Post. She is the author of two published books, one of which was adapted into an award-winning screenplay, and blogs about writing at www.susanvanhecke.blogspot.com. Susan covers the children's and young adult book publishing market with special interviews and insights.