Thursday, October 29, 2009

Learning from other blogospheres

One of the many potential benefits of the web and social media is how it can make niche communities accessible and less exclusive. Here’s an example: a couple years ago, I decided it would be cool to learn to shave with a straight razor. So I did. Entirely from the Internet. Three years later, it’s the only way I shave. (Those who have met me can confirm that my face bears no scars nor do I wear a beard.) Here's the interesting thing: I have never had a person-to-person interaction with another straight-razor shaver. I learned all I know and procured all the necessary supplies entirely from lurking on the web in the surprisingly active community of “wet shaving” enthusiasts. Twenty years ago, cracking this community would have been more effort than I would have been willing to put into it, and I’d still be giving Gillette hundreds of dollars a year.

steel-greyMore recently, I’ve become interested in photography (no, that’s not my camera), and I consciously decided to follow a similar track—making online sources my primary ones (though I’m also reading books this time and I have a lot of photog friends, too). The online photography community is in many ways like an eerie parallel universe to the book blogosphere, except they’re farther along in their digital revolution. Like book creators, photographers are carving out all sorts of exotic existences in their new digital world, and it’s interesting to see how they’re succeeding (poke around this photographer’s site for a while to see an interesting example). I don’t pretend to be fluent in their language yet, but I feel like I can get by, and I also feel like it’s giving me valuable perspective on the analogous world of books. It’s a lot like how learning German made me understand English grammar better.

My point here isn’t to say that you should all go learn to shave with a straight razor or get into photography. You should follow a genuine interest of your own. I think we should take advantage of what are now low-to-nonexistent  barriers into other creator and enthusiast communities and use those communities to help us understand the book world better. 


-Andrew Karre

Friday, October 23, 2009

Single-media devices, don’t get comfy

This is Friday ebook-naval gazing. No kidlit content at all.

The last year in ebooks has been weird. It’s felt a lot like an Oscar red-carpet reception, where all the celebrities showed up dressed nicely enough and we all clapped and complimented (Ohh! nice big screen, Kindle DX. Cool library features, Sony Reader. Plastic Logic Que, the Blackberry of e-book readers, how shrewd). But our enthusiasm has been a little tempered because all of us are anticipating the one starlet who will truly wow us all and change everything. Well, it’s getting late, and she’s not here.

You can probably guess I mean Apple and the mythic tablet. I’m beginning to wonder if our anticipation is one thing that’s keeping Jobs from greenlighting the device. Is it possible that Apple doesn’t want its device to appear among the riffraff at this party, this single-media device party?

Gizmodo has an interesting article on the demise of the iPod, and I think it is instructive. The iPod—that is, a device that only plays music—was a brilliant flash for eight years, but it is pretty clear that its time has come, and that multimedia devices like  the iPhones and iPod Touch devices are more like the future.  Is there any reason to believe that something that only reads print will last any longer, especially when they’re going to compete with the much cheaper and largely equally portable analog technology (books)?

So, if e-book readers have the stench of death about them already, why release a superficially similar  tablet in their midst (especially if your tablet will certainly cost twice as much)? Why not wait for all the major existing stake-holders in ebooks to do their thing, let the air clear a bit, and then bring out your new thing? (You could probably fit netbooks into this context too—I doubt Apple wants its device to be seen as a luxury netbook.)  

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Social network sites are a little like real estate’ve long had an urge to watch the movie version of  Glenngarry Glen Ross again, and it’s an urge I finally satisfied last night. It put me in the mind of a blog post. No, this post isn’t going to be about how important profanity is to voice (but you could learn worse things from Mamet). Instead, I’ve been thinking a lot about real estate and how, for an author, joining social networking sites is a lot like real estate speculation.

In Glenngarry Glen Ross, Pacino, Baldwin, and company are selling real estate of very dubious value for very inflated prices. Fortunately, this is only half true for the social networks analogy.  The value of any social networking “property” (a Facebook profile, a MySpace page, a Twitter ID, etc.) is indeed dubious--and variable--but fortunately you don’t have to pay an inflated price (nor will Jake Lemmon come to your house to try to sell you). The cost of “investing” in “premium” social networking land is basically the time it takes to sign up, so this is what I tell authors to do: Even if you don’t plan on using a social networking technology, think like a speculator and claim your little piece of it, just in case you change your mind or in case the value of that site changes. By “your little piece” I mean the piece that best fits your name. Get the Twitter address that most closely matches your name. Get you personalized Facebook and MySpace URLs. (because you already bought your real URL, right?). When the next big "investment opportunity” arises, just snag it and file away the login info. It’ll be there when you need it. Hate to miss an opportunity, as Shelley “The Machine” Levine says.

(Another place where it’s useful, and a little troubling, to think about social networks as real estate is in how they tend to segregate along racial and socioeconomic lines. Don’t miss this excellent NPR piece on that subject.)

-Andrew Karre

Thursday, October 15, 2009

An editor’s day in web surfing (for one book!)



 Stars at Tallapoosa

The lines are straight and swift between the stars.
The night is not the cradle that they cry,
The criers, undulating the deep-oceaned phrase.
The lines are much too dark and much too sharp.

3.Boltzmann’s Brain






It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

-Andrew Karre

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More cover fun for |-1|

My colleagues, the author, and I had the pleasure of sharing cover concepts for The Absolute Value of -1 with the Teens Know Best Group last night. It was an education, as always. Steve covers the whole experience nicely. For my part, I'll say it was a thrill when one of the members asked me afterward how he could get my job when he was done with school. I should have told him that, given where he's at now, I'll probably be working for him in ten years.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The FTC Blogging Debacle

I don't believe I have a lot to add to this discussion other than to say I think it will will be interesting to see how it plays out and that at first glance, it seems like regulation that is particularly ill-suited for the book-review blogging community. I hope there’s a good deal of revision. From where I sit, there really aren’t consumers to be protected in the cases of the vast majority of children’s book blog reviews—unless you consider librarians and bookseller consumers. These blogs are more in line with the reviewing done by professional journals than the reviewing done by consumer publications like newspapers. Yes, publishers have long quoted SLJ and PW on their jackets, but I’ve never been convinced that those are decision makers for consumers in bookstores—who seem to be the people this regulation is designed to protect. Again, I realize my insights are limited to the corner of the book world I occupy. I know there are book blogs that do have consumer followers, but even there the notion that those reviewers are somehow more corruptible than newspaper reviewers seems quaint at best.

For a larger perspective on the impact of this regulation, this story from WNYC’s indispensible On the Media is instructive.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hearing voices

"What's it going to be then, eh?"

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days and everybody quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither....

Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: Book Cover These are opening sentences of Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange (by the way, this is a work not enough discussed in the context of contemporary YA—maybe because the Kubrick movie makes us forget how young the protagonist is). Clockwork is the first book I can remember reading that opened my eyes to an author creating a voice from the ground up, plucking the outlines of words from Russian and plopping them into the exceedingly foul mouth of an English-speaking delinquent living somewhere in the not-too-distant future. When you read the first page of the novel, it’s hard not to be astonished by the voice Burgess conjures and by how clear it is despite all the unfamiliar words.

When I only worked on YA, I wore out the word “voice.” It really is the most important thing in any YA novel, I’m convinced, and so I harped on it endlessly and constantly sought it when I read manuscripts. As with A Clockwork Orange, good YA voice isn’t about  going to the mall with a tape recorder. It’s a creative, not an imitative process. You know it when you read it.

But here’s the thing I’ve realized as some of my attention has shifted to other kinds of books: voice is never unimportant, even in third-person nonfiction. There is no good storytelling—fiction or fact—without a discernibly unique voice. Nobody wants to read a book narrated in the textual equivalent of monotone. Vaunda Nelson’s text for Bad News for Outlaws is perfect example of this in practice. Here’s page one:

Jim Webb’s luck was running muddy when Bass Reeves rode into town. Webb had stayed one jump ahead of the lawman for two years. He wasn’t about to be caught now. Packing both rifle and revolver,the desperado leaped out a window of Bywaters’ store. He made a break for his horse, but Reeves cut him off.

Bass hollered from the saddle of his stallion, warning Webb to give up. The outlaw bolted.

Bass shook his head. He hated bloodshed, but Webb might need killing….

Vaunda’s challenge is a little different than Burgess’s—and maybe a little harder. She’s aiming for a narrative voice that’s captivating and that transports the reader to a real past. The language palette she has available is more limited; she doesn't get to invent words from whole cloth like Burgess did. On top of that, she has to navigate all of our Dusty-and-Lefty, cowboy-talk associations to avoid making her serious book a joke. I think Vaunda’s anonymous narrator’s voice is as crucial to the success of her story Alex’s voice is to Clockwork. 

So, if there’s a moral to this post, it’s that I will continue to wear out “voice” when I talk about what I want in a manuscript. I’m okay with that.


[Reposted from the Lerner Books Blog]

Friday, October 2, 2009

Addressing some more social networking questions

In a Lerner blog post and in another post here, I wrote about social networking for authors. Social networks being, well, social, this led to some questions and comments. One astute commenter (on the syndication of this blog that runs on my personal Facebook) made many good points, and I’d like to riff a bit on couple. Denise M. Harbison wrote:

[T]oo much promo seems to be a turnoff. I like to see the writers, editors, agents . . . as people. You have pictures of your son AND you post business-related things. I'm shooting for a balance between business and personal (not too personal as you say)--sort of like an extended "about the author" on a book jacket. I have the same page for writing as my family and friends, but I keep in mind it is a public platform.  

I really like the idea of thinking about your Facebook as an extended “about the author.”I think that helps set some much needed boundaries and protocols for Facebook.

As I see it, Facebook, with its ever expanding user base and list of features, is the most thorny branch on the social network tree for authors. If you choose to maintain a single profile, then the blending of professional and personal is inevitable and can have privacy implications (it can also be fun: I’ve gotten excellent comments from readers of my blog who have nothing to do with my life as an editor—they just happen to be friends on Facebook). I think this is ultimately a personal comfort level question, and I don’t have a universal recommendation for authors.

A more troubling aspect of Facebook I think is features. Facebook offers a lot of advertising-and-broadcasting-like services that aren’t necessarily in every author’s interest. Yeah, the quizzes are a pain and I hate them personally, but that’s not what I mean. I’m thinking particularly of the event announcements and the so-and-so-became-a-fan-of ______ announcements. To borrow Denise’s about the author metaphor, these are the equivalent of the about-the-author page growing legs, coming into your living room, standing in front of your television. This doesn’t necessarily seem like the kind of exposure an author wants. At best, it’s a tool to be used very deliberately and judiciously, or so it seems to me. 

Denise had one other thought on Facebook I thought I’d share.

Facebook is such a great peer support tool. For instance, when I see the great 319-book Jane Yolan post that she got a reject, I feel like I can persist. The whole writing dream is real when I log on and see all my FB friends who have overcome the obstacles to publication. And FB friends teach me how to deal with the emotional aspects of being a writer--the ups and downs can be depressing. (Ahem, Edgar Allen Poe!) So in my mind, Facebook supplements the book knowledge and writing practice of the MFA program. It is like being out in the field.

Couldn’t agree more. This is where I think social networking can really shine for new and aspiring authors. It can be a knowledge base and an emotional support system.

I’d love to hear any other tales of Facebook triumph or tragedy.

-Andrew Karre