Thursday, May 28, 2009

How Big Is Your Book?

I mentioned last week on Twitter that I was toying with the idea of creating a calculator for turning word counts into estimated book pages for YA novels. Well, newsflash, I’m not a programmer, so there’s no cool Java calculator, but I can provide these two tricks. First, the crudest. 40,000 words in a relatively standard format (i.e. a mix of narrative paragraphs and dialogue without too many unusual things like court-room transcriptions*, etc.) will be just over 200 pages on a conventional 5 3/16 by 8” books page with normal margins. This is crude, like I said, but in the ballpark for sure.

For a slightly less crude, slightly more specific estimate, try this. Save your manuscript in a separate file. Strip out all the tabs (you can do this by finding “^t” and replacing it with nothing using find and replace). Change the page/paper size to custom and set the dimensions at 5.25 by 8”. Change the margins to 1” on top and bottom and .8” on right and left. Change the font throughout to a nice serif face like Times New Roman or Garamond, etc. Now, under paragraph/line spacing options, you’ve got several things to do. First, set General to “justified.” Then under Indentation, left and right should be 0 and special should be set at “first line” and .25 inches. Under Spacing set the before and after spacing to 0. Now you want to set the line spacing to something like 11/15 (typesetter speak for type that’s 11 points high on a line that’s 15 points high). To get this, set line spacing at “exactly” and 15 pts. Make sure this applies to all the type, and you’ll get a decent page count estimate for a YA novel. For a MG novel, you might want slightly larger type and line space (12/16?).

Here’s a screen snap from Word 2007.

* In a college creative writing course I took where you had to turn a minimum number of pages, the clever thing to do was write courtroom cross-examinations where the attorney asked a lot of brief yes-or-no questions to the witness who dutifully responded yes or no. Ate up a lot of pages with a few words.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The emotional rollercoaster that is the blogosphere

Let’s start high. Congrats to Sally M. Walker (again) for yet another great notice for her Written in Bone, this time on Booklist’s Bookends blog, which is maintained by librarians Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan (who both hail from the state of my birth, Michigan, if I’m not mistaken). It’s a glowing review, but they also throw in some excellent advice for an untapped sales channel:

“And really, why does my dental hygienist continue to nag me about flossing and my imminent periodontal disease? She’s been wasting her time. Every dental office should stock this book in the waiting room with a few carefully marked pages, and the problem will solve itself!”

Zooming down into the valley, we find this post at I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids): Teach to the Book. Blogger Linda Salzman reports that during a seven day visit to a fourth grade classroom last month, “[t]here was no independent reading. There was no quiet reading time. Not even a single read aloud by the teacher.” Why? The answer rhymes with “esting.”

Now we arrive at one of those places on a rollercoaster where your innards aren’t sure which way to go. I can’t help but be hopeful that there are blogs like School Lunch Blog doing meaningful work on an underreported subject (do not miss the posts on school lunches in other countries), and I’m excited about the current Horn Book looking at food and eating. But stepping back from that, I feel very concerned that at an adult level, the debate over food is hopelessly corrupted by red-state-blue-state political branding nonsense (organic food is somehow liberal and a luxury).

And then there’s this prom thing at the New York Times, which is causing flashbacks that are either pleasant or mortifying.

Whereto next?

Friday, May 22, 2009

First time I’ve seen this . . .

Chris Monroe’s Monkey with a Tool Belt books have been featured in a high school commencement address. You really must read this. If I had Photoshop and more time, I would make a picture of Chico Bon Bon with a mortar board and gown (and his mortar board would have mortar on it), but I don’t, so please use your imaginations.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Who is “Carolrhoda”?

I have been addressed as “Ms. Rhoda” in queries and other correspondence many times since I started here in fall 2008. I don’t mind at all, but I do think the true story of the name is worth telling. Fortunately, I don’t have to do it, since Harry Lerner, the founder of Lerner Publishing Group and of the Carolrhoda imprint, has released his memoirs, and there’s a fine chapter on the real Carolrhoda. So here it is, straight from Harry’s book.

Carolrhoda LocketzCarolrhoda Locketz was a bubbly, perky girl who died too young. She was [my wife] Sharon [Lerner’s] best friend. Their mothers were close friends, and the two girls grew up together. They shared everything: stories, trips, and adventures. As students at the University of Minnesota, they spent a lot of evenings at the Ten O’Clock Scholar, a hangout on the West Bank of the university campus. They listened to the music of a young student dropout, Bob Zimmerman, later known as Bob Dylan.

While a university student, Carolrhoda worked part-time as a page at the Saint Paul Public Library. After graduation in 1962, she joined the Peace Corps. They assigned her to be a teacher-librarian in Harar, Ethiopia. Carolrhoda poured herself into the job and the people she worked with. She even set aside two hundred dollars of her own meager salary to create an educational fund for a twelve-year-old Ethiopian boy.

Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver, John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law, visited Harar when Carolrhoda was serving there. Carolrhoda met with Shriver and talked about the great need for books in Ethiopian libraries. He obviously listened because back in the United States he began a book drive for libraries everywhere Peace Corps volunteers served.

After returning to the United States, Carolrhoda married Gordon L. Rozell, an army sergeant she had met in Ethiopia. She died of cancer in 1967, two years after her marriage. She was only twenty-eight years old.

After Carolrhoda’s untimely death, Sharon wanted to honor and pay tribute to her best friend, who was also Adam [Lerner’s] godmother. So in 1969, we named the Carolrhoda imprint after her. It was a beautiful way to immortalize Carolrhoda’s memory in a manner that exemplified her love of books and learning. Sharon envisioned Carolrhoda books as attractive storybooks, heavily illustrated with art or photography. The first books were This Is..., a rhyming story for beginning readers, and Have You Seen My Mother?, the story of a brightly colored ball that searches for its mother at the circus.

The imprint was Sharon’s hobby and passion, and she was thrilled each time a Carolrhoda book won an award or received a favorable review. Eventually, after Adam came on board, Carolrhoda became our trade imprint, and he added many new titles, including his first acquisition, the Little Wolf books by Ian Whybrow. I’m proud to say Carolrhoda is celebrating its fortieth anniversary [in 2009].

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

ARCs

That great ARC redistribution party that is BEA is coming up, and so it’s a good time to read Liz Burns’ posts about ARCs. Here's her interview with me. And here's the original piece at the Foreword magazine site. If you love the ARC, buy the book.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It all comes down to bread

File:Mie Baguette de tradition France.jpgI bake bread. I’m not really a baker, but I do have a weekly ritual that involves baking two loaves of the infamous no-knead bread pioneered by Jim Lahey of Sullivan St. Bakery in NYC. It’s simple; it tastes good; I’ve probably made 300 loaves now, so the recipe has mutated into something I like. Anyway, that’s why I read this post when nytimes/bitten linked to it. It’s about Samuel Fromartz, a writer and amateur baker whose bread just beat out all comers, pro and amateur alike, for best bread in Washington DC.

Mr. Fromartz is, like I said, a writer by trade, so it shouldn’t be surprising that when he talks about baking bread, I find he’s also talking about writing (heck, he’s also talking about watchmaking or quilting or any kind of craft). I think this paragraph is particularly interesting:

The lowest common denominator may do wonders for a business, but it has never been the path to greatness. Working in my kitchen, I never had to worry about that. My only customer was the ideal loaf that I had tasted on occasion and had in my head. All I had to worry about was to do better next time. [My emphasis.]

He’s talking about creating something an audience of one, judged against an internal ideal—a personal vision of what the thing should be. This stands in opposition to what he describes in the previous paragraph where a famous French baker’s wholesale customers rejected his best baguette, preferring something more “dumbed down.”

I encourage authors to think about their audience all the time, and I stand by that assertion. I encourage them to look to their peers’ books and understand their appeal, and I’ll continue to do that. This is a business after all. But it’s also art, of course, and it helps to be reminded that the personal vision of what is good should never be ignored. Sometimes you have to forget the  audience and the competition and think about Fromartz’s “only customer.”

Thursday, May 7, 2009

WIB written up in WaPo

“Walker's absorbing book reveals what can be gained from digging deeply and patiently.”

That’s the lat line from the Washington Post review of Sally Walker’s Written in Bone. Check out the whole thing at  Washingtonpost.com.

Coincidentally, I got to  spend some time with Sally this week at IRA, as well as see her excellent presentation yesterday. Congrats, Sally!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Kindle DX is here. So what?

Let’s start with this. Books are technology. Ebooks versus bound books is NOT high tech versus no tech.

I’ve read hundreds of books on computer screens, as many on 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper, and now a handful on the e-ink screen of a Sony Reader. They all have their advantages and shortcomings, obviously, but I think anyone who spends time reading on an ebook material they would otherwise read in a bound book (not the preposition difference; I think it’s significant) will be struck by what a sophisticated piece of tactile feedback technology a bound book is. A bound books helps you manage your reading experience in ways I never appreciated until they were gone. For example, it turns out knowing where you are in a book by touch (the size of the pages in your right hand relative to those in your left) is VASTLY preferable to the x of y pages counter at the bottom of my reader. If that’s not enough, try falling asleep reading your ebook in bed. And don’t even get me started about picture books. . .  Anyway, I could go on and on (as others have), but that’s not my point. Here’s what’s really interesting to me. I’m beginning to think ebooks might be a good thing for bound books. Here’s why:

I think there is a phenomenon that surrounds technology, especially established, widespread technology, wherein  a rush of what appears to be replacement technology has the effect of refocusing the old technology on what it’s truly good for—and thus people fall in love with it again.

File:Vynil vinil 92837841.pngFor example, I submit  LP records. This was a dominant technology for years and as such it acquired a huge variety of content, much of it rather ill-fitting (remember those promo records that came with cereal?). Then, it got swamped by a wave of replacement technologies (from tapes to CDs to MP3s), all of which addressed specific shortcomings of the older technology.  So, now it’s 2008 and eight-tracks, tapes, CDs, minidisks, MP3s, high-quality lossless digital audio, and Blu-Ray have all taken a whack at LPs over the course of 30-plus years. Nothings left, right? Even the audiophiles have digital formats that should make them ditch vinyl. All the shortcomings are accounted for, so bye-bye LPs, right?

Wrong. Vinyl is not dead. Not even close. Vinyl sales experienced double digit growth in recent years. Best Buy, the third largest music retailer in the nation, is selling LPs at select stores. Granted, the growth is from near zero, but it’s not insignificant as a trend and a lesson about technology—that phenomenon I mentioned above. Let’s call it refinement by attempted replacement.

The replacements stripped away all the dross that had accumulated around LPs (audiobooks, greatest hits albums, gone-in-a-second pop singles, etc.) and then they satisfied all the needs that LPs weren’t designed to meet (portability, among others). What’s left is a technology focused on what its good at and only what it’s good at: music with excellent fidelity, durability, longevity, and a great tactile experience. Refinement allows listeners to love vinyl again (or for the first time) because they can see it clearly. 

I think this refinement by replacement should apply to books, too. And I think the picture should be substantially better (in other words, books won’t fall nearly as far as vinyl, if they fall at all). I can’t yet articulate why I feel it should be better for books. Perhaps its that bound books are relatively better technology for text and static images than vinyl  is for audio. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the book is millennia old and record music is barely a century. I’m not sure. This is enough crystal-ball/naval gazing for a day.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Meeting Book People

This week, Minneapolis is hosting the International Reading Association's northern conference, and this means there will be a lot of Lerner and Carolrhoda authors as well as librarians, teahcers, and other book fiends are in town. For me, this is always a treat. Most of my interaction with authors and other people who work on books comes over the phone or on email and increasingly on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. I'm happy to have these at my disposal, but there's no substitute for face-to-face conversation. So, if you're in Minneapolis this week, hit the comments or shoot me an email and maybe we can meet up.