Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What Does It Mean For Readers?

Salon writer Laura Miller has a great piece on self-publishing called When Anyone Can Be A Published Author. She discusses what self-publishing means for readers and has lots of interesting thoughts on the subject. Among other things, she wonders if readers will contract "slush fatigue", because, as she describes it, with self-publishing the slush pile is finding its way into print. If "reading is something you turn to, seeking fun or transcendence, during your precious hours of free time, how long will you persist when book after book has exactly the opposite effect, crushing your spirit instead of refreshing it? How long before you decide to just give up?"

Whatever You Do, Don't Cut Back On The Mockingbird Loving

Check out the comments section after reading What 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Isn't in the Wall Street Journal. Jeezum Crow, people do not want anyone messin' with their Atticus.

To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the first adult books I read when in my early teens. I did not read it for school. This was before the schools got hold of TKAM, while it was still an adult book. I remember thinking it was quite an experience. When I reread it as an adult, years later, it seemed very much a father worship book to me.

I would really need to read it again before I'd describe it as a children's book. Do people get to take a vote and determine how already published books should be classified?

Again, this link came from ArtsJournal.

British Authors Fear A Cut In Income That We've Never Had

At least I've sure never heard of it.

In merry old England they have something known as the Public Lending Right, which provides published authors with " a legal right to payment from government each time their books are borrowed from public libraries." We're talking six pence each time one of their books is loaned up to a cap of 6,600 pounds. (I'm guessing that's a year and not in the lifetime of the book, but I didn't actually find that spelled out.) Nobody is going to get rich on that, but talk about a bit of a safety net.

Of course, times being what they are, the PLR's budget is being cut.

I found this by way of ArtsJournal, another place I haven't visited in a long time.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Time For Another Dose Of Jackson

That's Shirley Jackson, of course. Thank goodness Jessa Crispin at Bookslut is also a Jackson follower and periodically connects her blog readers with pieces like last year's Chilling Fiction in the Wall Street Journal. I read The Haunting of Hill House back when I was in high school. If only I had time to read it again.

I know! I'll mark my calendar and read it in October for a Halloween reading! Yeah! I've made a note on the scribble paper we keep next to the computer so I won't forget.

It Really Is What It's Cracked Up To Be

As a general rule, my tastes tend to go against the tide. I take no satisfaction from this. I wish I had loved the Harry Potter books, so I could have been part of that excitment. I wish I had loved the Spiderman movies. I wish I had loved the last two seasons of 24, instead of feeling as if I were Jack Bauer being tortured while I was watching the last one. I don't wish I had loved the Twilight books or Sex and the City because there are lines I won't cross, but the people who did love them sure had a good time, didn't they?

Thus I didn't rush to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney because my history with popular books suggested I was asking for trouble and disappointment. On top of everything else, it was a diary, something I think has been done to death in kidlit, and it uses a faux printing font. Every time I looked at it I was reminded of family member who told me about a book that "uses one of those handwriting fonts I detest." (Yes, we are a family that discusses fonts.)

In spite of all that, I am think I would now describe myself as a Wimpy Kid fan.

This book has so much to recommend it. It truly is kid-centered, focusing on real-life experiences both at school and home. It uses a voice that is both slightly wise/sophisticated and innocent at the same time. Our narrator is such a regular guy, which is kind of unique in a literary world filled with misunderstood geniuses and slacker outcasts. The plots of many kids' books rely upon their kid characters being unsupervised by their inattentive parents so that the kids can go off and do things. (This is, I guess, the twenty-first century equivalent of the nineteenth century dead parents--either way, the literary parents are out of the way so the kid characters can get on with the story.) But our wimpy kid isn't allowed to listen to CDs with parental warning labels. His friend isn't allowed to play violent video games. Both Dad and Mom have their eyes on Wimpy and his brothers and take action when action is required. The parents in this book are attentive, which is a reflection of what many of its child readers are experiencing in their lives. Not all children are left on their own the way so many are in books.

When Mom recognizes that something is troubling her wimpy kid, "She didn't try to pry and get all the details. All she said was that I should try to do the 'right thing,' because it's our choices that make us who we are." She's doing her job. After wimpy boy tosses and turns all night over his choice, does he make the right one, as he would in those improving kids' books I detest the way my young family member detests handwriting fonts? No! He does not! How cool is that?

He gets caught, and he never seems to totally get how he went wrong. But one of the beauties of this book is that its author trusts that his readers will.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a nice quick read with cartoons that don't illustrate but actually carry the story. Unenthusiastic readers as well as compulsive ones should enjoy it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Leviathon Wins

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld has won the Locus Award for best YA book. I did like Leviathan, but, once again, I wish I had more time to read more science fiction so that I knew what else was out there.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons I generally don't get more excited about awards than I do. An award isn't all that meaningful if you don't know the field from which the award winner was plucked.

The link to the award site came from bookshelves of doom.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Couldn't Embrace It

I have to say that Printz winner Going Bovine by Libba Bray is a book I respect more than I enjoy. I think it is a very legitimate, serious--if you can say that about a book with this much humor--work. But it starts out as another one of those stories about unhappy teen boy outcasts (grandson of Holden Caulfield?) and in that early stage hammers a bit on a couple of targets that we're all supposed to shoot at--standardized tests and Christian fundamentalism. To me it is a cliche at that point, though I recognize that it could very well be brand new to a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old reader. I felt that the trippy road trip section should be something I'd enjoy but it was a little too much let's-see-how-much-weird-cool-crap-I-can-come-up with. Honestly, I skimmed it.

So while I really do respect this book and would suggest that young readers give it a shot, myself, I can't embrace it.

Booklist Online gave Going Bovine a nice review, saying that it's based on Don Quixote. It made me wish I'd read that book because I might have felt much differently about Bovine if I had. As a general rule, I like modern variations on classics.

Bookslut's reviewer was not as taken with the book.

Right now I am binging on series set in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so I might give Bray's Gemma Doyle Trilogy a shot.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Post About Reading A Blog About Reading An Author's Books

It's probably been a month since I've had a chance to look at The Trease Project, which interests me because it's about reading all the works of an author of historical fiction for children who was working, it seems, mid-twentieth century. It interests me so much that I read one of Geoffrey Trease's books, myself. So this morning while eating my cereal I spent some time trying to catch up with the Trease posts.

This one caught my eye because the blogger, Farah Mendlesohn, asks "...when did the parents of protagonists stop being referred to as "Mr" and "Mrs." by the author?" This past year, while working on the 365 Story Project (which has turned into something else entirely), I was referring to parents as Mr. and Mrs. for a while. I was feeling I was doing something a bit retro with that.

Mendelsohn also posts about a nonfiction book Trease wrote called Enjoying Books, which she describes as "an introduction to critical reading/literary criticism for chlldren and teens." Doesn't that sound intriguing? Seriously.

I had a thought while at the Trease Project--Maybe it would be interesting to do a reading project of books published in the year I was born. I will have to give that some thought.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Women Writing Science Fiction

Charlotte's Library recently carried two--that's two--posts on gender and the writing of scifi/fantasy for young people. I was left wishing I could read much more scifi than I do.

Thanks to Finding Wonderland.

Balanced Account Of Christian YA

I'm always amazed when I hear about what should probably be called a genre that I'm not familiar with. For instance, I have a sister living in Montana who's big on reading what she describes as cowboy romance. There's something I missed at the blogs I follow.

Slate has an article up today called Are You There, God?: How Christian YA novels are offering a surprisingly empowering guide to adolescence. I'm not surprised to learn that there's Christian YA because there seems to be Christian everything. Nor am I surpised to learn hear that it sells well. A decade or so ago the big sales of Christian books were under the radar because the mainstream publications that published bestseller lists didn't include information from Christian bookstores. But the books were moving, nonetheless.

The author of the Slate article, Ruth Graham, says at one point, "Make no mistake: Christian novels written for young people are still primarily developmental tools rather than literary efforts. They're often didactic and formulaic..." I think that can be said of many nonChristian novels written for young people, too.

Monday, June 21, 2010

John Christopher Tribute Coming Up

Tom Angleberger is planning a John Christopher tribute for Wired's GeekDad blog. Tom (also known in some circles as Sam) has covered John Christopher before. As have I, though I would describe myself as a Christopher dabbler rather than a fan.

Rabbit Hill Festival Plans

The 10th Annual Rabbit Hill Festival in Westport, Connecticut is set for October 21 through 23, 2010. The theme this year is Collaboration, and the authors and illustrators speaking will be people who work with partners. Andrea Davis Pinkney, whom I've heard speak before, and Pegi Deitz Shea, whom I know, will both be speaking at the Saturday symposium. You can download a Save the Date flyer for more details.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sort Of Like One Hundred Percent More Kidlit Reviews

For a couple of decades The Hartford Courant, central Connecticut's major daily newspaper, acted as if children's literature didn't exist. Reviews were extremely rare, and far between. After it gave up its book editor, it begin running one of those "group" review syndicated columns every now and then. Sometimes it was one person's column, sometimes another.

For the last month, give or take, it has been running Mary Harris Russell's syndicated column, For Young Readers. Now, this column probably appears in many Tribune papers, which means the three books she covers in any particular week get coverage all over the place. Okay, it would be better if individual newspapers maintained their own reviewers who reviewed independently so there'd be a chance for more books to get press. But, come on, that's not going to happen right now, things being what they are.

I just can't get over the irony--while The Courant has cut back its reviews of adult books, because it's running a syndicated column for children's literature each week it has actually increased it's coverage of children's books because it was publishing nearly zero kidlit reviews back in the good old days.

Oh, because The Courant is carrying For Young Readers, I learned a couple of weeks ago that Loree Griffin Burns, whom I've actually sat next to a couple of times at NESCBWI events, has a new book out called The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe. Cool title, eh?

Can Things Get Any Worse?

Of course, they can. How can you even ask?

I learned yesterday that another one of my books is going out of print. This book received quite a few reviews, was nominated for two readers' choice awards, and went into a second printing. Yet it's gone out of print after only four years and without a paperback edition.

There are a number of things to ponder here.

1. I made my greatest pre-publication effort for this book, influenced by all the how-to-market-your-book info I'd been consuming over the years. I created a marketing plan, sent out press releases, contacted bookstores, sent gifts related to my book to the marketing people at my publishing company (which my sources told me would help them to remember my book), and did some other stuff I can no longer recall. I believe I might have done a mailing that year to school libraries regarding my author presentations. The brochure would have included the new book. I managed only one bookstore appearance, at which the bookseller did not sell a single book all afternoon, forget about one of mine. I was able to get coverage in only one extremely local publication. I did get a mention on a local NPR station. The effort I made didn't seem all that successful at the time and, clearly, didn't do a lot for me long term, either.

2. Yes, I wasn't terribly successful with the marketing. But I've heard since then that nothing sells books, anyway. C'est la vie.

3. The poor economy factors into book selling woes in many ways. Specifically, I've been told that a lot of children's literature hardcover titles are disappearing early because school and public library budgets are being cut.

4. And then we get back to the huge number of books being published and the difficulty in bringing them to readers' attention. Readers have less money to buy books while there are more and more out there to buy. With the overwhelming number of self-published titles now available, quality is going to vary widely. By no means am I saying they're all bad. But buyers definitely have to beware. Wary buyers with less money are going to be conservative in their purchases.

I am not particularly distraught about this latest career setback because things have been bad professionally for a while, and I've gotten used to it. I'm also into the big picture. I fully expect a revival in my career, sometime later in this century. It would be nice to live to see it, but, if not, that's fine, too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Does It All Mean?

NPR did a piece today called On Tour With Best-Selling Suspense Writer M.J. Rose. (I am familiar with Rose from our good ol' days at Readerville.) During the course of the article, the interviewer/commentator said, "With more than 1 million books published last year alone — about three-quarters of them self-published — it's hard for a book to rise to the top."

I know my mind is easily boggled but even if it were not, I think it would be boggled by that statement. Three-quarters of the books published last year were self-published? I know that not all self-published books are created equal, but if that statement is true, then three-quarters of all the books published last year did not have traditional editing, production, and marketing. Many of them may not have had professional editing or marketing at all.

Yeah, it's hard for even the books with professional, traditional backing to rise to the top. And if three-quarters of the books published last year didn't have that, their course must have been even tougher.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Back To Whining

The family archivest went back to graduate school today, and here I am, back to whining...I mean, blogging. I'm nearly three weeks older than I was at my last true post. What have I learned from these three weeks of experience?

Well, I'm sure you all remember reading Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique as a teenager, as did I. And I'm sure you all had her comment about housework expanding to fill the time available seared into your young brains. Well, it is so very true. And it's also true of all kinds of repetitious work, and it's true of what might be termed life work or life chores. I thought that while I wasn't blogging in the evenings these past few weeks I might use a little of my blogging time for some reading or tidying up my journal. No, what I used it for was slogging through family junk that dragged on through the day and slopped into the evening, doing some cooking so that I could have some time on a few Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to write, and tending to some end-of-the-day cleanup for another family member who was buckling under elder care. It was the middle of last week before I was able to even look at my blog reader, forget about anything more substantive. And I didn't look at it much.

I did get some writing done. I also cancelled my subscription to Publishers Marketplace because I've been going months without looking at it. I then left three of my listservs (including my beloved child_lit) to eliminate some distractions and free-up some time. I'm still on the New England Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators listserv as well as the kidlitosphere's.

I've noticed that over the last couple of months I haven't been blogging as often as I had been. I have a couple of days a week when I'm away from the house nearly all day on family business (and martial arts training), and often can't get into the office those evenings. Back before the kidlitosphere exploded on the scene and I got all hopped up about being part of a blogging community, my goal was to blog three times a week. I'm going to go back to that schedule now. That way, instead of feeling badly because I'm not blogging every day, I can feel relieved if I meet me goal and delighted if I exceed it.

I am rather good at manipulating myself.

As long as I was mentioning feminism at the beginning of this post, I thought I would stay on the subject for a moment and take the opportuntity to refer you to an essay that very nicely summarizes my feelings about the word "girl" when referring to anyone above the age of eighteen. I sent this link to a couple of young family members with whom I've discussed this issue, and I found out today that at least one of them (much to my nonsurprise) didn't read it. So I'm going to try to force it upon you guys. My favorite lines:

"In the 1970s, there was a groundswell of opinion suggesting that "girl" was a highly pejorative way of describing a female who was over 18, used to belittle her and rob her of status." Yes, damn it. That was exactly how we felt. What the hell happened to everybody? Why would anyone with an IQ want to be addressed as girl? No, girl is not the female equivalent of guy. It is the female equivalent of boy, a male child. When men are called boys, they know damn well they're being belittled and robbed of status. The "old boy network" is not a good thing. "Good ol' boys"--not positive at all.

And in discussing the acceptance of the word girl when desribing what are without doubt women, the essayist says, "The queasy worry is that in a big swath of popular culture, women are still being infantilised, and that they prefer it that way." That is totally, totally how I feel whenever I hear a woman referring to herself or others of her kind as girls. Where's their self-respect? Personally, I don't even like hearing teenage females referred to as girls. They are young women. They should be treated and referred to as such.

Oh, how I enjoyed writing those last two paragraphs.

Back in a couple of days.