Let’s face it: publishing folks don’t have time or resources to consult booksellers on every book jacket or marketing idea, or to conduct post-mortems about why some books expected to do well instead flopped – but if they could, they might save a lot of money and sell more books. At the very least, they would gather fascinating intel on consumer book preferences all over the country.
I was meeting with a sales rep yesterday, and we were talking about a new YA title from a debut author. It has a great cover and a promising premise, but doesn’t stand out quite enough that teens or their parents will be likely to shell out $17.99. It’s one of those books about which buyers say to reps, “I could really sell this in paperback.” But because sales will lag in hardcover, the book risks not even making it to paper. And if it does, the house might change the cover art, mistakenly thinking that was the reason the book didn’t sell.
One thing I wonder each buying season is whether or not every book buyer has signed a binding, subliminal contract to buy in every book about books and reading. Quality only has bearing on quantity here. The book might be good, like Kwame Alexander’s Surf’s Up, the book might be gratuitous fluff, like Richard Rhino’s Read Aloud Rumble¹, but the only thing at stake is the quantity. We are compelled as buyers by an unseen, intractable force to bring in at least one.
Conversations like these happen no less than twice a sales call.
The picture book writing class I teach annually through the Wind Ridge Books Writer’s Barn starts up again this week, and I have a mix of new and returning students. Because the picture book realm encompasses so many different kinds of forms, not just narrative storytelling, it’s always an interesting challenge to shape the class. I send out a questionnaire before the workshop begins, asking the writers to share their goals for the class and to articulate their primary challenges with writing. This year, I’ve heard a lot about frustrations with the revision process, completing projects, and accountability between classes.
Below, you’ll read many wonderful tips on the picture book writing process that several very generous published authors and illustrators shared with me a few years ago. I’d like to invite you author and artist colleagues to chime in with any tidbits you have found particularly helpful, especially on the topics of revision, staying focused, and knowing when a manuscript is ready to be pried out of your ever-editing hands.
When customers pop by the bookstore from their post-college life it’s always time to pull up a chair and really have a visit. I was lucky enough to have Allie and Shea come by first thing yesterday to say hello. Both these young women are 24 and are still best friends even though they live on opposite coasts. They always come by the store when they’re in town, but usually it’s just one of them. Having both together was a treat. Shea used to work for us and Allie said, “I grew up here.” They sat in the back with me for the first hour of a very slow Sunday. It was in this conversation that I learned more about what the store meant to them and I could easily see what great adults they’ve become. Continue reading
Gene Luen Yang may be the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature but the 2016 Ambassador to Young People’s Science and Nature books is unquestionably the blobfish. No child looking at a blobfish can fail to assume that he has feelings, and that those feelings have been hurt. Whether headlining Jess Keating’s excellent new “pink is for everyone” themed Pink Is for Blobfish (Knopf, Feb.), or helping narrate Jessica Olien’s delightful The Blobfish Book (Harper, May), the blobfish clearly is the perfect ambassador to engage both children’s empathy and their interest in science.
Ah, ShelfTalker readers, you have been so patient awaiting the results of the Worst First Line contest. But see how many wonderful extra posts by Kenny and Josie you’ve gotten to read while checking the site for the spoils of victory? We feel that the capricious nature of our announcement date adds a little je ne sais quoi to the award proceedings.
Every year we usually order a paperback Valentine’s Day display. The display – and it honestly doesn’t matter which publisher it comes from – contains a mix of titles about love from the perspective of small animals, classroom Valentine’s issues, and often a book or two about familial love. These books are cute, often adorably illustrated and usually don’t sell all that well. Sure, you’re all wondering, well then, why do you keep ordering them? Excellent question. I think we’ve succumbed to the pressure of having a display for a lot of holidays, which, in theory makes good sense, but often times these are not the books people give for specific holidays.
Every book lover has a special place they prefer to read. The act of reading is a very intimate one, and deeply personal. For some it’s comfy at home on the couch, for others it’s in a noisy cafe, and still others prefer their favorite chair. I was thinking about this while I was chatting with a friend about books. We started talking, not only where you read, but how readers prepare for reading a new book. Starting a book is very much like deciding to spend time with a friend, and this often requires preparation. Continue reading
When it comes to bookselling ideas, interplay, and industry face-to-face connections, Winter Institute is the ultimate buffet. At the end of WI 11, however, we were challenged to focus on one idea from the conference that we wanted to focus on particularly and follow through on right away. Right ho then. First though, here is a list of some other notable ideas and aspects of Winter Institute that I am not going to mention.
Recently, I blogged about the flare-up over Scholastic’s pulling of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, and my feeling was that because the book is for such young readers, who will not have the context to read between the lines of the “smiling slave” narrative (nor, sadly, will many of the adults sharing it with them be aware of this problematic treatment of slavery), it was a thoughtful decision to pull the book, despite the chill of censorship such a move casts.
I had felt that the book carried some of the burden that arose with the controversy around A Fine Dessert, and that it was pulled in part because sensitivities and awareness are now at such high levels that the publishing community has started to catch up to a more nuanced understanding of diversity and the importance of authenticity and accuracy.
But many voices in the community have raised the question of whether the fact that the team behind the book are people of color influenced this almost-unprecedented removal of a book from publication. And that question stopped me right in the tracks of my own white privilege – the kind that is most insidious and invisible, the kind I almost never have to think about. That white authors and illustrators have a level of support and comfort in the halls of publishing that few artists of color do. I’ve been aware of the struggles of people of color to be published, of course, and aware of frustrations with an editorial approach that often shows evidence of comfort only with certain limited kinds of stories about people of color. But I hadn’t thought at all about post-publication issues. Continue reading