This week in writing: classes and conferences edition

Most writers work to become better. They attend conferences, they take notes, they read, and they try to find usefulness in the criticisms (I say try because even for the best of us, that’s hard). Now, that’s MOST writers. Some have no interest in listening to good advice, they get defensive at critiques, and they are certain they have it all figured out, or they’re angry that no one “gets” them. I have met several of these writers over the years and unfortunately this week I had to deal with two more. Their behavior is baffling. So, this week’s post is for those of us who do want to improve ourselves.

Next week is the New York SCBWI conference. It’s a great conference for kid lit folks. Once again, I’m not going, but Harold Underdown will be there for the first time in years. Harold was very helpful to me on a very early version of my middle grade novel THE JUMBIES (out soon from Algonquin).

Coming soon, Jennifer De Chiara, the head of my agency is offering a 90-minute seminar on picture book writing. Even I want to take this!

In April, School of the Free Mind takes a heart-centered approach to writing children’s books. The 6 week course is offered entirely online.

Later in April, the NJSCBWI is offering a picture book brunch with editor Meredith Mundy. I may go to this as I continue to struggle with a picture book concept.

I will be speaking at the NJSCBWI conference in June. I will do two talks, on Rosen and non-fiction, and best practices in an author/agent relationship with my agent, Marie Lamba. The NJSCBWI site will have for conference info soon.

In July, Emma Dryden of Drydenbks is doing a children’s book writing residency. Those 5 days of workshops sound freaking fantastic. Also, it’s on Martha’s Vineyard! Nice.

Finally, I think I’m going to change the format of my Fairy Godauthor editing service. Between work and my own writing, I have had to turn down working on other people’s manuscripts. I’m not sure what I’ll do yet. Stay tuned.

Now for some free stuff…

This free app highlights your passive sentences, adverbs, and over-complicated vocabulary. Which is not to say you should replace them all. It’s just an app.

If you wonder if you’re holding yourself and your career back, check to see if you do these 10 limiting things.

Hung up over conflict and story problem? You don’t have to be. There is plot without conflict. And it’s pretty amazing, actually.

If you have other helpful things coming up this spring that folks should know about, feel free to add them in the comments below.

Have a great week everyone!

This week in writing… politics edition

The ultimate literature/politics mashup: Animal Farm

I happen to love it when politics and literature meet, but sometimes, it’s a bit too much, and the mash-up is painful, like this week when racist Hunger Games movie-goers let their nastiness all hang out on Twitter. It’s a sad, sad world we live in where that can still happen in 2012.

There are a few overviews of the Bologna Book fair, including this one from Publishing Perspectives which seems to say that YA is becoming a hard sell. Big surprise, the field is flooded! And then there’s this one from Publisher’s Weekly where they’re looking for the next big thing. (Right here, folks. I’m right here.)

Harry Potter was released as an ebook this week, and demand for it crashed the Kindle website. Nook users (Hi! Me!) were fine. Which tells you something about Kindle vs. Nook. But there’s something else there of note: the Kindle and Nook sites weren’t actually selling the books, they were referring them to J.K. Rowling’s site, Pottermore, which is a huge game-changer in the ebook sales landscape because it’s pulling sales from Amazon and B&N (because, let’s face it, she can!) and cutting them down a peg. In this Shatzkin Files post, the implications for other publishing houses is discussed.

A lot of library politicking news this week too… an Ohio county gives OverDrive a $10M loan when the libraries there have been facing cutbacks. They plan on building a global headquarters with two basketball courts…. while the library gets… that’s right. Nothing.

How libraries are still relevant in a digital age (you don’t need to convince me, I’m there at least twice a week).

And author John Green takes on the library/publishing houses issue with this post on how libraries and ebook piracy are NOT THE SAME.

School Library Journal has a list of the best reads of 2012 for kids.

If you’re a children’s illustrator, editor Harold Underdown is running a competition of sorts on his Facebook page. You create a banner for his timeline, and if he chooses it, he’ll put it up for a week along with an article about you on his page. A great way to get some exposure.

Finally, this week we lost a great poet, Adrienne Rich. Diving into The Wreck still haunts me. I don’t even have appropriate words to send off such a literary great, so instead, here’s the poet in her own words.

This week in writing… Dr. Seuss edition

Happy birthday Dr. Seuss! Over here, we’re celebrating with green eggs for breakfast (no ham because it’s a Friday in Lent). How are the rest of you guys celebrating?

School Library Journal is celebrating Seuss by re-illustrating his books in the style of other popular kids’ book illustrations. Babar as Horton? Funny! And check out the croc in the hat above.

Other writers have tried, and failed, to imitate Seuss. He’s probably the only writer who’s impervious to the kind of plagiarism that the rest of us fear. Just check out this romance story thief, and this spy novel thief, and who can forget poor Kaavya Viswanathan! So embarrassing. But clearly, not embarrassing enough to make others stop doing it. Le sigh. (Many thanks to Anne Chaconas and her post Why I Won’t Cheat At Words With Friends for discussing that.)

The Hunger Games movie will be out in three weeks and in anticipation, people have been buying up copies to read before getting their movie tickets. (I already have my movie tickets. Do you have yours?) If that particular book isn’t up your alley, there are plenty of other books being made into movies this spring.

Everyone’s so worried about Amazon, but what about Google? Google has long been positioning themselves as a major player in the book industry. Remember when they wanted to digitize every book on the planet? Well we’re still waiting for a decision on the settlement. Whichever way it comes down, Google will still be a major player in the book industry. So keep your eyes and ears open because at least one person still thinks we should worry.

But forget about plagiarizing writers, and movie deals and Google settlements. Back in your writing world, you’re just trying to get things down on the page well. But just when you think it’s over because the manuscript is finished, you have to worry about the synopsis. Good news, Cynthea Liu tells you just how to do it.

Do you write picture books? Agent Susan Hawk describes what she’s looking for.

I don’t know about you guys, but being connected on the internet constantly makes my brain itch. Or twitch. Or plumb shut down on me. Ever wonder what it’s doing to our kids?

And the SCBWI has announced its award winners this week. Have you read any of these books?

An article in School Library Journal discusses how imagination and literacy are connected. It’s a good (long) article. But we already knew that about books and imagination, didn’t we?

And finally a video! This is one of my favorite television moments… Jesse Jackson reading Green Eggs and Ham on SNL. I wasn’t able to embed the video, so just click on the link.


This week in writing…golden edition

So many “golden” moments this week from Rowling’s new book, to great librarian comments, and least of all, an Oscar roundup. Enjoy!

The biggest news this week (at least for the grownups who love Harry Potter) is that J.K. Rowling is set to release an adult title soon. No word on the title, or the genre, only that it’s not aimed at kids. For this venture, she switched publishers. Sorry Bloomsbury!

Because you can’t go a week without talking about Amazon (remember the ’80’s when you couldn’t go a day without mentioning Madonna?) here’s the requisite Amazon post. Stephen Colbert and guest Ann Parnassus discuss the merits of a brick and mortar bookstore, and bash Jeff Bezos in the process. If you look through the comments, a librarian named Arlene has some choice things to say. I know Arlene. She’s a librarian in my neck of the woods, and she’s super smart.

Speaking of smart librarians… I’ve mentioned before that they’re sick and tired of publishers denying them the rights to ebooks. Well, things took a bit of a turn this week. While last year they were up in arms over HarperCollins restricting how many times they could lend an ebook, now that others aren’t letting them have access to any, Harper is looking like a rose. Only, is it wise to cave? One annoyed librarian (not Arlene) takes issue there.

In more weird library news, is the story of Andy Warhol’s shooter and how she defaced a copy of her own  book at the New York Public Library. We’ve all wanted to go back and edit things that we’ve published, but this took it a tad far.

As if there wasn’t enough to pay attention to in publishing, there now may be a new genre. No, it’s not the long-awaited new title for non-fiction. It’s called chick non-fiction, and it was coined by someone trying to insult the new book on the Obamas (and it’s writer), but we girls think we really like it! So ha!

Over at Publisher’s Weekly, there’s some conflicting data over whether teens are embracing ebooks. Let me tell you this. I have a tween (is a 9 year old a tween yet?) and she loves my Nook. I also have a 5 year old, who really loves the interactive books on my Nook. So if teens aren’t embracing ebooks yet, the kids coming up behind them are, so in a couple of years… Moral of that story: create content for them. That’s all I’m saying.

And speaking of creating content… the inevitable question of self-publishing. Should you do it? Well, if there’s a smart way to do it, this article will help you figure it out. And here’s a link to the author’s book.

If you haven’t already, head over to my Facebook page where there are some hysterical opening lines to the story of this cat:

Don’t forget that this is the last day to win a Nook from your Fairy Godauthor. Click on the link in the upper right hand to enter.

Are you going to watch the Oscars this weekend? I am. I had no idea that eleven of the nominated movies are book adaptations. Go books! And if you’re feeling as unprepared as I am, let the Film Fatales help you figure it all out before you sit back with your popcorn to ridicule the outfits… I mean… see who wins.

And because I always feel the need to leave you with a video, here’s OK G0 and their musical drive. Genius!

This week in writing… unlucky edition

You know… cuz it’s Friday the 13th? Oh never mind.

There was a lot of great writing news this week. Here’s a round-up in case you missed anything.

Someone new for you to query: Joy Peskin joins Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group as VP and Editorial Director of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux BFYR.

Have you seen Joe Sabia’s TED Talk on the Technology of Storytelling? It’s very entertaining, and quite informative.

Agent Jill Corcoran compiled some essential links for picture book writers. They are extensive interviews with the Editorial Director of HarperCollins Children’s books and the Editorial Director at Golden Books/Random House.

Are you planning to go to the Writer’s Digest conference next weekend? Agent Kari Stuart reminds us that she will be among over 60 agents at the event. Polish that pitch!

On January 25th, Henry Winkler, Lin Oliver, and her son Theo Baker will be talking about writing collaborations at Books of Wonder in NYC. It’s one of my all time favorite bookstores!

If you’re not familiar with The Shatzkin Files, you should be. Mike Shatzkin always has great insight on the publishing industry. This week, was no exception with Some Things That Were True About Publishing For Decades Aren’t True Anymore. Like cutting back on the midlist. Will we never catch a break?

UK happy meals go literary with books instead of toys. I’m told Chick-fil-A already does this in the U.S. I guess I’d need to live further south to know that.

This week, Bank Street listed its picture book awards semi-finalists. The last title is a big favorite in our house. That kooky bear!

Channeling her funny dad, Jon Scieska’s daughter, Casey, and an illustrator friend answered the question you were afraid to ask: what if picture book animals wound up on the cover of National Geographic. Hilariousness, is what.

Wanna give away books to complete strangers and hopefully entice them to read? That’s what World Book Night is all about. Sign up on Facebook.

Looks like optimism is waning in the world of publishing as publishers deal with the transition to digital books. And how do you feel about that… hmm?

One of my favorite authors, Francesca Lia Block, is giving away Dangerous Angels with bonus materials free on Amazon for a limited time. Just so you know… I own a Nook, and though they say it’s not transferable from Kindle to other devices, it is. So click away.

Author Mindy Greenstein, Ph.D. explores Why We Write in this article from Psychology Today. I hate giving Psy Today any press after their blatant racism, but that’s not Mindy’s fault.

If you’re new to the world of children’s writing, Harold Underdown is always a terrific resource. And he’s just updated his Manuscript Format Basics. I get so many questions about that from newbies. Thanks, Harold!

And finally, want to know what books do when you’re not looking? Then this video is for you.

And finally, finally, in case you missed it, in collaboration with some of my editor friends, we’ve launched a new editorial venture, Fairy Godauthor. For all your writing and editing needs. Your wishes… our command.

The Mashup

It’s Monday, so here’s your publishing news roundup.

My favorite link of last week was probably the one of Paulo Coelho talking about how he likes pirating books. It totally flies in the face of conventional publishing, but he has a point: it makes you a popular author. Check it out.

If you follow Coelho’s advice and do become popular, you might want to look into getting a publicist. Author Eddie Snipes talks about his experience with a publicist and lets you know whether it’s worth it or not.

Maybe you’re still struggling with writing. Well, according to this article from Forbes, if you’re fresh out of college, you probably can’t write a lick because “learning clear writing in college is like trying to learn sobriety in a bar.” What? I know. That literature degree I have is start to look like an expensive piece of nothing. Think NYU will give me my money back?

Then again, maybe you are writing but you’re suffering from the dreaded writer’s block. Author Gene Perret says it’s all about managing your fear (and maybe not being quite so self-involved).

Perhaps you just need a pep talk. Here’s some advice from bestselling authors. I’m with Cassadra Clare: read the whole thing aloud. Or it might be that you’re not getting enough distractions. That’s right, you heard me. Newbie author Nathan Bransford says that distractions are a good thing. Well, sometimes.

Do you like zombies? Who doesn’t right? The New York Times dissects all those zombie books and prepares us for the zombie apocalypse. Or the zombifying of literature. Or something to do with why there are so many zombie books out these days and why we can’t seem to stop them (the books, or the zombies). analyzes why Americans love book clubs. I’ve never been a member of a book club myself, but like the author of this article, I’d join one, if only for the cookies… and the alcohol.

In YA news, Harold Underdown does an excellent and thorough analysis of the sales numbers in young adult literature, and sees that the genre is booming… er… kind of. But then Roger Sutton of the Horn Book responds about all those YA numbers and the confusion over them, and seems to be really cranky about it all. Take it easy, fella.

And finally, my husband says that the script of Cowboys & Aliens was stolen from an episode of Scooby Doo and the Alien Invaders. Hmm. He might be right.

Kidlit drinks night

Last night after BEA a bunch of groovy book people went to Stitch in NYC for some cocktails. It’s always a fun time to be in a room with a bunch of book people, only it was so loud, that you really couldn’t have a conversation. And alcohol only makes people louder and deafer, so things got progressively worse as the night wore on. I lasted just over an hour before ducking out with some folks to a nearby burger joint.

My buddy Karen from Sesame Workshop was there with work friends. I also saw Harold Underdown, who said that the noise was so awful, he was only waiting to say “hi” to me so he could leave. I had to tiptoe to maintain a conversation with him, which was both hysterical and not good at all. He said he’ll have a BEA wrap-up on his blog soon.

Tim Travaglini was there, and you could tell how hot it was in the room by the gradual peeling-off of his layers. First the jacket went. Then the sleeves got rolled up, and eventually, he lost the bowtie. Just so we’re clear, I wasn’t stalking him or anything. He was just in my line of sight.

I also met a woman from Reading is Fundamental, and proceeds from Kidlit night went to their organization. I would have liked to talk to her longer, but like I said, it was incredibly loud.

Word on the street is that some publishers didn’t have any books in their booths. Um. Why? Isn’t BEA about promoting books? But one small press did have a tote bag with a cartoon of a book and an ereader having a conversation which went something like:

ereader: I’m out of battery power.

book: I’m not.

Which was extra-funny when I whipped out my Nook to show off, and it too was out of battery power. (I still love you though, Nook!)

Despite the noise and heat, it was a fun evening, and being around book people every once in a while reminds me of why I write. Because people like this get excited about it.

Have a great Memorial weekend, everyone!

(Monday Mashup will be on Tuesday)

Sex in publishing

Women account for most of the fiction purchases in the United States, as much as 70-80% according to this New York Times article. But despite this, women still seem to get the shaft when seeking literary attention. Book reviewers all over the country are overwhelmingly male, as are the majority of books that they review. The numbers, or in this case, the pie charts, seem blatantly sexist. And late last year, Ruth Franklin reporting for The Atlantic blasted the New York Times for its “shameful treatment of women writers.” (If you go back and read the NY Times article above, you’ll believe that men are somehow getting the shaft as publishers look for books that appeal to women, but the reverse actually seems to be true when it comes to which books get lauded.) Franklin argues that women’s books get treated like trash, saddled with the title “chic lit” and tossed into the “beach reading” pile, while men’s books are pushed into the literary category and given critical acclaim. Are males in publishing just pushing back? Or is it something more benign? And if it is, that may actually be worse, because that goes to an ingrained assumption about the value of women vs. men as writers.

I tried to figure out if more men were being published and could find no solid numbers other than a Cornell study that showed that graduate students who were published both during school and in the three years after leaving school, were mostly male. I can’t assume that the trend translates to trade publishing, but I suspect it’s not very different, especially since according to this article, men submit their work more frequently. Then I looked at a recent post by  journalist Porter Anderson who says that he notices far more women at writing conferences than men. He remembers one where he was the only man in the crowd. I’ve noticed this disparity in children’s publishing especially, where Harold Underdown notes that in kids’ publishing a lot of the writers are parents, “typically moms.”

A 2005 NPR study tried to figure out why women read more than men. And if we do, and there are so many of us aspiring to be writers, and so many of us buying books, how come women don’t rule the publishing world? A few years ago, a Guardian survey revealed that women’s reading tastes are far more varied than men’s. So that may have something to do with it, and the fact that the majority of men’s reading happened in their angst-riddled teens. But though men/boys seem to pigeonhole their tastes, it doesn’t mean they have to.  I’ve gone to plenty of book readings where boys told me that ANGEL’S GRACE wasn’t usually the kind of book they’d pick up, but once they did, they really enjoyed it. Sure, it has a girl on the cover, but a boy on the cover of HARRY POTTER hasn’t stopped any girl from reading it. Though interestingly, Joanne Rowling decided she’d better change her pen name to J.K. Rowling, believing that not being identified as a female author would give her traction with U.S. readers. She was right.

But separating out boys vs. girls’ reading tastes is something we set up. In my daughter’s school, the 5th grade reading club splits along gender lines with each group reading books written by and featuring their own gender. Though when I come in to talk about my arguably girl-centered book, the boys are just as interested.

So I have to ask, are women getting the shaft because publishing is unfair, or are we teaching kids inequality so that as adults, they’re just continuing the trend we established?

Annus Mirabilis, Book 9, and taking charge

A few days ago I came across Don Brown’s ODD BOY OUT, a picture book biography of Albert Einstein. The book is lovely, and it would be great for kids who are a little “outside the box” as young Einstein was, but this isn’t a review of the book. The thing that stuck with me was the phrase annus mirabilis. It’s Latin for wonderful year. Einstein’s annus mirabilis happened when he was still working in a patent office and published four articles that changed thinking about time, space and matter.

I need an annus mirabilis. I’ve been sitting on the sidelines of my own career for much too long, and things are just not going as I’d like them to. And while you can’t make things go your way, you can make decisions to move in a better direction. So today, I made a few changes. Some startling. One was quitting a new freelance job. This doesn’t seem like a great idea in this economy, but it’s the right decision for me.

There was also an article on Harold Underdown’s site this morning, Just Say No to Bad Contracts, which is pretty much how I feel about writing in general. I’m saying no to things that just aren’t good enough for me. Things that devalue me. I’m saying no.

Making big business decisions aren’t in my wheelhouse, and having done them all before 10am this morning, I’m feeling empowered, rather than terrified, which is what I thought I’d feel. And while I have no way of knowing if those decisions will help me to make this my annus mirabilis, they’ll help me carve out the career that I really want, not just the one that I feel I can live with.

Today is the day I take charge.

How about you?

Authors behaving badly

The publishing industry is in a sad state lately, and bad wanna-be writers are just making it worse.

Publishers are used to spending the majority of their marketing dollars on a handful of blockbusters, leaving us mid-listers in the dust. With the economy in bad shape, and everybody and their mother wanting in on the action, it’s getting crowded and lean.

There seem to be a few factors. On December 12, 2008, Paul Greenberg’s article “Bail Out the Writers!” for the New York Times expressed that overcapacity was causing “snow-blindness” in publishers. God knows, if you walk outside your house right now and put up a sign that read: WRITER WANTED, you’d stop traffic in an instant. And because there are so many of us vying for attention, it’s hard for publishers to sort the wheat from the chaff, which leads to all kinds of bad behavior.

I recently joined the social networking site JacketFlap. This morning as I scrolled through some member profiles, I came upon the same messages from a few members. Each of them was a small ad for their own book. Each of them seemed to have been sent to every single member in the network. This kind of behavior is disgusting. I realize you’re trying to promote your book, but spamming people is just unprofessional. These are probably the same people who would steal your seat at a conference when you get up to use the bathroom, even though you left your notebook there. Yes, this happened to me.

Then there’s the fact that new technology has made it easy for anyone to publish a book. Bowker reports that the number of titles every year is increasing, but who is publishing those titles? According to Motoko Rich’s New York Times Article “Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay Tab” it’s increasingly the authors themselves. And because you can publish a title for $99, you will be responsible for doing all the promoting you can on your own, which can lead to more bad behavior. You can, for more money, purchase a marketing kit with some vanity presses, but these prices go into the thousands.

Self-publishing is enticing. I could have my next novel available at Amazon in a couple of months if I wanted to. And for a couple of hundred dollars out of pocket, earning 45-55% of the cover price and selling for $12, I could make back my money after the sale of 37 copies and the rest is bank. Who wouldn’t? (Actually, I’m thinking about it. A LOT)

Some authors have even found traditional publishers this way after selling several thousand copies on their own. Of course, there are no guarantees you’ll be that diamond in the rough. Then there are the independent bookstores being innundated with requests to sell self-published titles that may not be any good. One such bookseller said, “For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published.”

Harold Underdown on his Purple Crayon site has a new article “Working in Children’s Books and the Recession of 2008-09” that breaks down the current economic trend as relates to the publishing industry. Harold is always pretty positive about the way things will turn out. I’ve known him a while and have never known him to grouse. He writes that Hachette Book Group recently handed out bonuses after a banner year, but since Hachette publishes the “Twilight” series, and those books sold more than 2.5 million copies in Nov/Dec 2008 alone, I wonder how much of those bonuses came driectly from the Stephenie Meyer or Rob Pattinson fan club. Even Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” won’t get those kinds of sales, and it won this year’s Newbery!

With a bad economy, everybody self-publishing, rock-star authors and their marketing-$-sucking-power, and authors behaving badly, I’ve had about all I can take.

The current state of affairs may be bringing out humor or a can-do attitude for some. I for one, feel the pressure of my shoulder to the grindstone. Every time I write, it just feels harder. And maybe that’s the job (one that I would do regardless), but I dislike sugar-coating except on pastry. It’s not pretty out there, people. So those of you who kind of suck at writing, (you’d know who you are if you read what you wrote) could you just roll over? The rest of us are feeling crowded.