Thursday, October 28, 2010

Digitized !

Articles, surveys, studies, publishing facts, individual preferences and anecdotal tales come fast and furiously in news print, TV and Internet news cycles on the Future of the Book and the Death of the PB - "Picture Books, Long a Staple, Lose Out..." (NYT), (thepaperwait -October 13, 2010). The decline of the hard copy and printed page, increase in e-books and e-reading devices, "The ABC's of E-Reading," (WSJ), as well as one of the most pertinent articles for writers from the WSJ, "Authors Feel Pinch as E-Books Upend Publishing," bring an unknown future to authors.

In the midst of the many articles cited here and many others published over the last several months, I received a letter for a contract change from Sleeping Bear Press, publisher of my book, G IS FOR THE GARDEN STATE, one of SBP's 50 state alphabet series.

We are being digitized!

SBP was recently approached by an e-retailer to convert their books to digital form to be used with school smart boards. The smart boards are great interactive tools, with students often using handheld responders to write or give answers. SBP will monitor the publishing and financial success of the venture.

This development is exciting. I can sense what interesting information can be presented in this form, how intrigued the children could be at using information in this new manner, and how many children can be reached with this technology.

The report in the NYT on 9-29-10, titled "In Study, Children Cite Appeal of Digital Reading," describes a study by Scholastic Publishing. About 57% of the children between 9-17 said that they are interested in reading an e-book, while 25% said that they had already done so. A Scholastic officer said that "this was a call to action."

Parents and teachers, concerned that children are so immersed in computer games, testing and the speed of technology that they may not have the interest or time for reading, can take heart. If e-books entice them to read, it would be positive.

The future and technology is moving fast (one tech article suggests that the laptop is dying, being replaced by much smaller and faster equipment). Many publishers, librarians, teachers and writers can't see through the cloud in the crystal ball. One of the major parts of this new mix for writers is the declining revenue produced by e-books. One article mentions that authors of e-books receive about 50% of the return they were paid for hard back books.

A question for children's writers - - will you continue to write, or be able to afford the time to write for children, with such declining profits? We are children's writers because we love it, but people also need to support their families. How will the economies of digitization affect your writing life?

I am pre-posting this article by two weeks, so when the post is first up, I'll be visiting the great site of Machu Picchu in Peru. Perhaps in the intervening two weeks more news flashes on the health of writing and books will be published, making this post outdated - like print books and laptops?

Several bright spots in the ball - the Scholastic study says that even though the children surveyed want to read e-books, they also don't want to give up their real, hand held, print books. One of the librarians I interviewed about this said, "Well, PB and print books are still popular and comforting...and they don't have to be plugged in or need batteries!"

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Keeping it in Perspective - Part 3

It has been over two years since I've written about perspective, but given the events in my personal and writing life in the last few weeks, it's time to remind myself that everything has to be kept in perspective.

Life for me has been pretty darn good lately. I'm in my third semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I will graduate in July with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. My picture book, BENNO AND THE NIGHT OF BROKEN GLASS, published in January 2010 by Kar-Ben, has received starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Jewish Book World. I have five Author Visits lined up between now and the end of November for Jewish Book Month. A few weeks ago I learned that BENNO will be going into a second printing. And I learned last week that BENNO was awarded a Gold Medal in the Multicultural Picture Book category by Moonbeam Children's Book Awards. Life is pretty darn good! So why do I need perspective? Because as good as my writing life has been, my "other" life has been, both, even better, and profoundly sad.

Last week my daughter got married. It was a glorious weekend. Probably the happiest weekend of my life (so far). All our friends and families were together to celebrate. It doesn't get much better than watching your children grow up - whether they're heading off for their first day of kindergarten, starring in a high school play, graduating college, or walking down the aisle. Life's events are to be cherished and enjoyed. Two days after the wedding, I got on a plane to Florida to say good-bye to a cousin of mine who is dying of colon cancer (PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE - if you are over 50 get a colonoscopy!). We had hoped that she would make it to the wedding, but that was not to be. After deciding to stop treatment in early August, the doctors expected her to have six months and with pain medication they were to be a good six months. But life doesn't always work out the way we expect it to.

And that's where perspective comes in. Yes, My writing life is great right now. My personal life is great right now. But all of it can change in an instant. Getting published is not the be all and end all of our lives. Yes, some of you may say, "Well, that's easy for her to say. She's published." But I truly believe it. Writing is a part of my life. It is not my life. My full life is a combination of friends, family, activities, hobbies, and beliefs. Not one thing defines me. I think that keeping perspective keeps me on an even keel. No one could have been happier at their daughter's wedding than I was at mine. And no one could have been sadder bidding farewell to a loved one than I. But by keeping a balance of what's good in our lives with what's bad, makes it all easier.

So, the next time a rejection arrives in the mail - and there will be rejections - throw a hissy-fit, threaten to stop writing, say nasty things about the editor or agent who turned down your gifted prose, eat a box of chocolates, drink a bottle of wine, and then remember the good things in your life. Drag yourself back to your desk and send your masterpiece out again.

Oh, yeah, and when I get my next rejection. Remind me of this post!

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Leaping out of my Creative Comfort Zone

A week or so ago my neighbor asked me to join her team for the Ultimate Fitness Challenge at our local YMCA. It’s a program designed to challenge you to keep weight off through the tough holiday months. Since I’ve already been wrestling with the Snickers/Milky Way/Twix miniatures assortment that I purchased for trick-or-treaters two weeks ago on sale at Target (where Halloween began sometime in August), I was like “I’m so in!”

And knowing I’m a writer, she asked me if I’d consider coming up with a name for the team.

Like, zoinks, Scoob!

I get stage fright when asked to be creative on demand and coming up with something catchy, that others like too, makes my knees buckle. This is why I write novels. Not that I don’t want my novels to be catchy or have people like them (I do!), but writing a novel is like going on a nature hike – there are moments you grapple with the elements, scale sheer heart-thumping mini cliffs, narrowly miss stepping in a pile of animal dung and sometimes feel as though you’ve lost your way on the path. A hike can be long and at times arduous. Then there are those moments, when you slow down and take it all in and realize there’s a magnificent vista in front of you, beauty that’s so overwhelming it’s hard to contain and all the effort on the journey was worth it.

Being asked to come up with something on the fly is like a sprint – using a completely different set of muscles and mind set. Heart pounding for sure, but quick and if you stumble on your starting block you’re pretty much out. In the writing world, I’m a hiker. So being asked to sprint – no matter how lighthearted the task – immediately put me out of my comfort zone.

Writing is such a solitary (and sedentary!) activity that it’s easy to get used to sitting in your chair, creating your world the way you want it, without having input from anyone – at least at the onset. This required immediate approval. A vote. I tossed some ideas around and kept coming back to one in particular. It was catchy, fierce, fun. I e-mailed the group, they voted and we became the Cardio Ninjas. When we signed up with our name, the receptionist noted “That’s a name to live up to”. Um, yikes, maybe , but better to be a Cardio Ninja than a Cardio Schlepper.

Next we wanted a logo for team shirts. I immediately thought of a pal of mine who happens to be one of those multi-talented, double threats – he can write and illustrate. I wasn’t sure if he’d be available but I knew the ninja thing would be right down his alley. I e-mailed him and asked politely (begged) if he could help us out. He said sure. I told him our name, a little bit about the challenge – and the tag line my neighbor came up with “You’ll never see us coming”. He took it and ran with it. And the logo above is the finished product! So now not only do we have to live up to the name Cardio Ninjas, but the awesome logo my friend Austin created.

Asking someone else to help out was also out of my creative comfort zone, but not in my wildest dreams would I have come up with a logo as impressive as the one above. If I had imposed my own vision on this it would have been much different. My envisioned ninja was not nearly as sleek, fun and kick ass as the girl, wait WOMAN, ninja above. This may be the closest I get to an author/illustrator collaboration, and it was rather inspiring to see another person’s vision add that much more to two simple words and a tag line.

So, Paper Waiters, how are you going to get out of your creative comfort zone this month? Try it. I DARE YOU.

*Logo credit: the fabulous author/illustrator and fellow Writing Barracuda, Austin Light

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Listen Up, Everyone. It's Read Aloud Time!

"So, what to choose when a family truly of 'all ages' wants to read a book together? What can satisfy a six-year-old, a ten-year-old, and their eccentric middle-aged uncle and formidable grandma all at once?"

Horn Book editor Roger Sutton asks this question to introduce "What Makes a Good Book for All Ages?" in the September/October issue.

His question is answered with seventeen recommendations from ten H.B. reviewers.

The variety of the suggested titles surprised me: from classics like Kipling's "Just So Stories," to "Dying to Meet You: 43 Cemetery Road," by Kate and M. Sarah Klise, published in 2009; from Hoban's "The Mouse and His Child," to "Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man," by McCloskey; from Peterson and Audubon field guides for birds and trees, to Steig's "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble."

One reviewer concentrated on books about families, mentioning (among others) : "The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963," by Curtis, "A Long Way From Chicago," by Peck, and "Harris and Me," by Paulsen.

I wonder how many extended families read aloud together these days. I suspect it's a lucky minority.

Has anyone had this experience?

What title(s) did you read?

Read more!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

R.I.P. PB?

Hey, all you PB writers out there, I bet you read—or at least heard about—last week’s downer of an article in The NY Times, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children.” According to Julie Bosman’s article, a poor economy aside, parents are another big factor in the growing pb sales slump. As Bosman writes, feeling pressured by the kid-eat-kid world of standardized testing in schools, parents are “pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books.”

As a result, more pbs are collecting dust on bookstore shelves. This shift away from pbs toward older kid genres—from chapter books on up, in particular, those blood-thirsty YAs—was confirmed by some key booksellers and kidlit publishers, who say they’re buying fewer pbs because of it.

Of course, cyberspace was abuzz with reactions from anyone who had any connection to the pb world, from school teachers to booksellers to parents. Most defended pbs for their challenging vocabulary and ability to “force an analog way of thinking,” among other traits.

But here’s my question for you PB writers: After reading articles like this, writing for and landing sales in the pb market sounds more challenging than ever. Does discouraging news like this make you think twice about continuing to write for this genre? Does this article make you want to jump the sinking ship Picture Book and swim over to the YA lifeboat? Or do you just try to ignore whatever The Old Gray Lady and her fussy friends say about the state of kidlit, so you can keep on doing what you do best, writing and hopefully selling your next and best PB?

Read more!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Getting Psyched!

As I'm sitting down to write this post, I'm feeling pretty exhausted. Ridiculously exhausted in fact. The past month has not been a good one for my writing productivity. (A Jewish holiday every week for four weeks straight didn't help. :o) )

Right now what I need is a good kick in the pants to get my writing back on track.

And, thanks to Tara Lazar (author of the upcoming picture book, THE MONSTORE), that kick in the pants is coming. Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) is right around the corner. Hurray!

For PiBoIdMo, Tara challenges us picture book writers to come up with one idea a day. And she provides lots of inspiration on her blog to help us come up with those ideas.

Last year,it was exactly what I needed. And this year, I think I need it again too.

For those people who participate in NaNoWriMo-- Wow! What a challenge! I don't know if I could do it.

PiBoIdMo is much more my speed. I loved the list of ideas I had by the end of the month. It has provided me with a lot of inspiration throughout many months of writing.

Now I'm ready to be inspired again. So I'm signing up for PiBoIdMo!

Anyone signing up with me? (Or will you be participating in any other exciting writing challenges this November?)

Let's cheer each other on all month long!

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Monday, October 4, 2010

The Paper Whip

A couple of days ago my son plopped the latest version of the Kindle on the kitchen counter. "Take a look," he said. "I'm reading "Siddartha" in German, and when it drags on too much, I toggle over to English. Feel how lightweight it is. And no back light. It looks almost like paper."

I was impressed. Easy to use. Lightweight and transportable. Great for reading in bed.

My son is like me. He gets shaky if he doesn't have a novel going. I'm happy with a tattered paperback; he was a hard cover addict. It took him two years to go electronic, even though he works with computers for a living.

I'd just finished an article in the Wall Street Journal on the decrease in payouts for authors due to the Kindle and its competitors. Like so many, I see doom in the distance; paper books will be tomorrow's buggy whips. Fewer writers will make it economically.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin, home of the Book of Kells. In the library's vaulted hall, 200,000 books stand on the shelves like sculpture. One wanted to climb up and examine each one. Images of the many hands that have fondled these covers sprang to mind. Later, we visited a private library that held queen Elizabeth the First's Irish grammar book (She actually tried to learn the language, at least enough to say, "Let's converse in Latin.") Imagine touching that book!

By the time I publish, if ever, the paper page may be relegated to the antiquities department. Like this blog, everything I write will reside somewhere in cyberspace, only available to someone with a Kindle. Now I treasure even more the picture I mentioned in my last blog installment, of children sitting cross legged on the store floor, immersed in a picture book. Like the buggy whip, will that too be a thing of the past?

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