Monday, September 28, 2009
In a post last week I talked a bit about the dangers of oversharing about your business relationship with your publisher. I want to return to that point and perhaps provide some additional nuance.
It is never my intent to introduce more uncertainty or mystery into the author-publisher relationship. There is far too much of that already, and it’s not good for anyone. I don’t point out potential pitfalls on the publication path with the hope that authors will stop moving along it. I don’t ever want to scare authors out of their enthusiasm for their work. Author enthusiasm is an irreplaceable asset in publishing.
To return to the example I made in the original post, there are areas of publishing where broadcasting news of a just-completed book deal is the norm (much of trade publishing is this way) and there are areas where it is absolutely not the norm (school and library, for example). And there are situations in between. The goal is not so much that authors automatically know where they are along this or any other spectrum of the book biz, but that they know to ask first and to act thoughtfully.
The suggestion I would like to make is this: Once you’ve got a book deal of any kind (assuming you’re excited about it), call or email or text or whatever whomever you need to, be they parents or critique partners or your elementary school teachers. By all means celebrate. (I certainly do.) Once that’s done, though, everything else that happens in public concerning your book needs to be viewed through the filter of a business relationship. No, that doesn’t mean you clear every Tweet or status update with your editor (sweet mercy, please not that). It does mean that you ask yourself what the consequences of a public act might be, and if you’re not sure, you either don’t act or you ask first. A quick email or phone call is probably all it takes to get an answer. If you’re afraid you’re bothering your publisher with a question, remember to apply the business relationship filter. Can for frame your question in a way that focuses on the business of selling your book? A publisher shouldn’t feel bothered by business-focused questions from a business partner—and an author is certainly that. We don’t get irritated when, for example, a printer calls with a question or proposal that might help our business. The same goes for author. If your filter is telling you that this is something that’s entirely personal, then try to keep that to a personal scale of communication so you can leave your publisher out of it.
This line of thinking feels right to me at the moment, but I’d appreciate any other perspectives.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
No, this is not a post about the death of newspapers. I mean, good news about Bad News for Outlaws by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie in the Washington Post.
Starting with its punchy title and arresting cover portrait, "Bad News for Outlaws" is a great introduction to a little-known lawman who did more than his share of Wild West wrangling. . . .
Any review that can make a pun like that in the first sentence is okay in my book.
In preparation for a SCBWI talk I’m giving, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about social networks recently. My talk is going to focus on surviving as a socially networked author, and I’m sure I’ll touch on these two points.
1. Blogging means more than writing blog posts. It means commenting and linking, of course, but it also means being a blog consumer. Think of it this way: just as no self-respecting author would write books without also reading books, no self-respecting blogger should blog without reading other blogs. But what other blogs? The “kidlitosphere” is blessed with an abundance of blogs from authors, illustrators, librarians, and industry types, so I don’t think there’s any need to enumerate the options. What I think authors who are new to blogging should consider is maintaining a diverse blog portfolio in their RSS readers. To continue the book analogy, I think most successful authors don’t limit their reading to the genre they write in. Most authors I know read very widely and that directly affects the quality of their work (for example). It should be the same for blogs. Make sure you’re following blogs completely unrelated to kidlit. In my case, I’m a cycling nut, so I follow way too many bike blogs. I’m also nurturing a new interest in photography, and photography blogs are big part of that for me. I’ve also been
reading skimming pro blogs like BoingBoing, Gizmodo, and Lifehacker for years. These aren’t examples that you should rush right out and follow, necessarily. My point is that I think following blogs where your interest isn’t professional but is more driven by avocation or simple curiosity will give you fresh perspective on blogging and what makes a good post.
2. Pause before you post. Anyone who spends much time on Twitter or Facebook will probably overshare. It happens. And when it’s just personal stuff, it’s probably just embarrassing. However, when you’re an author, an overshare can have professional consequences. Be aware that publishers have different expectations for and different comfort levels with authors on social networks. I know of no publisher that doesn’t want its authors to broadcast their enthusiasm for their books at the right time. But it needs to be the right time. If you don’t have guidelines on this or if you’re in doubt, then ask before you post.
Sharing details about your business relationships with a publisher is another thing to be cautious about. I know Facebook is a natural conduit for sharing exciting news—and a new business relationship with a publisher is certainly that—but it really is better to err on the side of keeping the business portion of your writing life somewhat private. So if your Facebook network extends beyond your family, it’s better not to post about that contract you just signed. In certain categories of book publishing (I’m thinking of school and library markets particularly), information about list development and acquisitions is closely held by publishers for very real economic reasons. Offering a sneak peak at a publishing choice far in advance of publication can be tantamount to revealing a trade secret.
So, there are two editor perspectives on social networking for authors. I’d love to hear author perspectives on those issues as well as suggestions for other social network survival topics.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Millbrook Press can be truly vile, and for evidence you need look no farther than the filth they’re spreading on the Lerner Books Blog all this week. If you can stomach it, you’ll actually learn a lot.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Is this the northern-most SCBWI in America? Do we get an award for that? Not sure, but either way, the site for the Writers Conference in Children's Literature held annually at the University of North Dakota is up, and there I am in all my two-years-ago-buzz-cut glory.
Speaking of SCBWIs, I did some critiques this weekend at the Minnesota SCBWI. As always, the organizers put on a good conference. Nice to see some familiar faces.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Yep, Cable Vision is launching MSG Varsity to cover high school sports in New York. Yes, a 24-hour network devoted to high school sports in one region. Actually, it’s more than sports. In this article, a spokesperson says it’s a “comprehensive suite of services dedicated entirely to high school activities." Activities?
Seriously, though. What does this mean for a school’s culture? Does it mean anything at all? Does one more layer of media coverage (and an old media layer at that) change anything for a teenager? Is this for kids at all or is this a way to repackage kids for convenient adult consumption—that is, surrounded by ads? Interesting any way you slice it.
Before I started working for Lerner, I never gave much thought to the nonfiction picture book genre. I think I took it for granted that picture books had to be quirky or funny or warm-fuzzy-inducing. Now, I certainly don't say this to belittle those characteristics, because they apply to many of my very favorite picture books. Some of which I have strong attachments to from my own childhood, as well as some other, more recent favorites that I've picked up thanks to a job that keeps me in daily contact with my inner child.
-Elizabeth Dingmann, Publicist
Thursday, September 10, 2009
I’ve been thinking about covers for novels a lot lately because I’ve got a couple of books that present a challenge for cover design. I don’t design covers, but it is part of my job to help the cover designers find the right direction.
I’ve had a fairly consistent procedure for kick starting cover ideas for a few years now, and I’m starting to realize why I think it works for me. Here’s what I do. I mine the manuscript for keywords and phrases. I plug all of these into Flickr and click away until I start to get overwhelmed with images. What this does is disconnect me from the story and reconnect me with something pause inducing about the book. I’ve forgotten the story, but hopefully I’m captivated by an image that still relates to it. Everyone who works on covers must have her own process, but I’m pretty sure one of the major tricks is remembering that the cover literally comes before the story for most readers. If you forget that, you’re apt to fall in love with a cover a that perfectly captures the book for someone who has already read the book—something like a summary. In my experience, a cover that feels like a perfect summation of the book immediately after you’ve read the last page is a cover that’s too busy to slow down someone speeding by the book on the shelves. You can get away with this if the book has a built in audience that’s seeking the book out, but if you’re relying on the cover to be a first impression on a chance encounter, it needs to be enticing, not maximally informative.
Here’s another way to think about this: the cover is a doorway into a book’s world and it functions like the doorway into a well-designed home. It creates a sense of of drama and expectation, but it is not a “summary” of a room. It shows a little bit, but it also preserves some privacy—you could even say mystery. You need to walk through it to know everything. Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses are an extreme example of this. Many of his greatest houses have extremely well hidden “front” doors that require visitors to slow down before actually entering it. The house gradually draws you in instead of throwing itself open for you. It's the difference between entering like Kramer and a ritual procession. One of my favorite books on architecture, A Pattern Language, talks about “thickening” the edges around doorways and windows and then liberally decorating them. Doors, like covers, aren’t always about easy access. They’re about slowing you down for a moment, not speeding you up. And that’s really the opposite of what you get from a cover that tries to sum up the book. Such a cover must rush to get everything in. I think the best the cover, like the best door, slows you down on the threshold of the world (or, less philosophically, it slows you down as you walk past in a bookstore). A doorway or a cover invites a ceremonial pause before a plunge.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
One of the great perks of my job are the relatively frequent opportunities to be in the company of writers. It’s always flattering and thrilling to have an audience. This fall, I’m excited to be a speaker at the SCBWI conference in North Dakota and it looks like I’ll have another class at Minneapolis’ Loft Literary Center this spring.
As you may have noticed, I’m trying to avoid the word “teach.” My wife is a teacher by training and vocation, so I am always hesitant to take the title for myself. I’ve seen true teaching, and it’s not really what I can do. When I do a conference or take on a class, my goal is to facilitate conversation and discussion—generally by sheer force of enthusiasm or ferocity of hand gestures (those who’ve worked with me in person know what I’m talking about). What I try to do is pry open the doors of the often solitary work of bookmaking and get everyone to share a bit before they retreat to rooms of their own. This works really well at the Loft, where it’s just me and roomful of writers and their work. I can pick ideas and trains of thought from conversations I’ve had with other authors and colleagues and toss them out among the manuscripts. Then, we can all poke and prod them until we’re satisfied we know all there is to know. At SCBWIs, I find it’s a little trickier. There’s just something about being at a lectern or on a podium that makes it feel like the audience is expecting a one-way flow of wisdom. I understand that members have paid good money to hear good advice, and I do my best to come up with useful, unique prepared remarks (though I don’t have any insight about magic query letter words—sorry). To be honest, though, I always long to get to the questions—not because I want to give answers (I often can’t) but because I want to hear what people are thinking, what they’re concerned about. It’s the discussion where things invariably get interesting.
So that’s how I like to approach speaking gigs. I’d love to hear comments about what you like and don’t like in a conference presenter.