Querying for the New Year? Pt 2

January 17, 2014 at 8:47 pm (Industry, Writing) (, , , , )

So last time, we talked about the first steps towards publishing.

So now, you have a finished, polished manuscript, one on which you’ve received honest and detailed critiques, a manuscript that is the best you can possibly make it.

You’ve done your research- you know if you want to self-publish, sign with an agent, or go traditional on your own.

You’ve done even more research- looked at self-publishing companies, looked up agents and what they’re looking for, looked up publishers that accept un-agented manuscripts.

So what now?

If you’re self-publishing:
There’s not a lot I can offer you from here; this isn’t a path I’ve taken. Just don’t commit to anything you haven’t researched. As you’re looking at different companies that can help you, look at the various prices they have listed, and start to list out your own budget. Go right down the line of expenses: editing, formatting, book design, cover design, publishing, returnable options, distribution, publicity. Decide what you can afford for each category, and where you can give a little on one to gain on another. If you’re not financially ready for this kind of investment, WAIT. You don’t want to put out less than your best. Not only will you be cheating all the hard work you’ve done thus far, but you’ll also limit your options in the future. If your first public effort is less than, um…well, less than good, it’s a lot harder to get readers interested in a second book, and that’s just not how you build a career. Also, if you can’t afford to do it right, you don’t want to ruin yourself financially in the hopes that it’ll be a runaway bestseller and make you tons of money in the first month. The simple truth is- and this goes for any form of publishing– you cannot rely upon publishing to pay your bills. Not at first, and honestly, many authors never make it to that point. Publishing is a dream, yes, but you have to be realistic about it. Having a book out doesn’t mean much if you sacrifice your ability to pay your rent. Or buy food. Explore your options, make your decisions carefully, and when in doubt, look to those who’ve had some success with it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

If you want to submit directly to publishers:
Again, not a path I’ve taken, but make sure you pay attention to submission guidelines. Every publisher that accepts unsolicited manuscripts will tell you EXACTLY what they want you to send them. For some, it will be the full manuscript. Some will ask for a certain number of pages or chapters. Some will ask for a synopsis, some won’t. I know the gut feeling is to say “Screw it, I’ll send them everything, I just know they’ll love the first pages too much to want to wait for the rest!” Yeh, don’t do that. Send them what they ask for, no more, no less.

Another gut feeling is to send the first few chapters through such a strenuous polishing process that those first pages are AMAZING- but then the rest of the manuscript hasn’t gotten that kind of attention. Agents and publishers both see this a lot. The first chapters have been workshopped to death and the rest just can’t hold up. You want your submission to be balanced, to be equally strong the whole way through.

Once you’ve sent it off, resist the impulse to send follow-up e-mails every ten minutes. This is hard, I know. Still, you’ve got to resist it. The process takes time, and harassing them with follow-ups isn’t going to persuade them to read your submission any faster. In those agonizing weeks and months while you’re waiting to hear from them, do something else. Go on a reading binge. Work on a new project. Learn how to knit. Something to help distract you from sitting and stewing about it. Keep track of your submissions, including when you sent it off. You don’t want to send out one, wait until you get a response, then send off a second. Send in bunches, small enough for you to keep track of, large enough that you’re not wasting time.

If you want to query agents:
Welcome to the query letter! Also known as the strangest level of hell since the invention of the resume cover letter. Which makes sense, given that they accomplish much the same thing. There are thousands, perhaps even millions, of sites out there with advice on how to write a query letter. I looked at a lot of them while I was querying. What I can share with you here is my own distillation, what I found in my experience worked the best for me.

Step One
Get the agent’s name right.

No, seriously, this does actually bear emphasizing, because too many people don’t bother. This is how your letter is literally opening. This is the agent’s first encounter with you. Do not say “Dear Agent”. You want to personalize it, you want to address it to the person you are actually talking to. At the same time, you don’t want to be overly familiar. Don’t use just the first name, or a nickname. Use the name he or she has listed on his/her website.

A note on titles: when it comes to using Mr, Mrs, Ms, or Miss, there are differing opinions on that. Mr. is usually pretty safe (so long as you are very VERY sure that you are addressing a male; names can be tricky things), but the feminine titles can cause problems. I know some people prefer to use the titles, insisting that it’s more respectful, but I honestly prefer to use the first and last name as listed on the websites. There’s less chance of causing accidental offense that way by using the wrong one.

Spell the name correctly. It’s on the personal website, there really is no excuse for getting this one wrong. This is one of the very few things about a query that is black and white right or wrong.

Step Two
Hook your book.

Different websites and books will give you different opinions about the order a query letter should go in, but this is the one I prefer. You’re writing to the agent to talk about your book, so start with the book. This is a single paragraph, sometimes two if they’re short, that should spark interest in your book. It’s not quite a back cover copy, but it’s more than a twitter pitch.

(side note: don’t pitch on twitter unless specifically invited to do so during a #pitchmad or similar contest; it’s rude and out of place and tends to really piss people off. On the same note, don’t pitch on facebook. Or in the comments of a blog. There are specific avenues acceptable for querying, and you need to stick to those.)

This isn’t the place to go into detail. You don’t need to say everything about your book, every plot point, every character, every twist. This is your book in the most general terms. Think of this as the elevator pitch. You have 90 seconds: GO.

(Personal example: Hamlet Danemark V, Headmaster of Elsinore Academy, is dead and buried, but some secrets seep past the grave: the poison of a man who murders his brother to claim his wife and position; the poison poured into a son’s grief and twists the sorrow bloody; the poison of pills meant to strip away a world no one else can see.

For Ophelia, poison is just another way to drown, and she’s drowned before. When Dane makes a promise to avenge his father’s murder, she knows she’ll drown again- in his pain, in his rage, in his play at madness that becomes all too real. Revenge, after all, is a messy business.)

Step Three:
Define your book.

This accomplishes two things: first, it tells an agent what they should be expecting; second, it tells them you know what you’re talking about. Or, if you don’t do this carefully, tells them that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

This is where you say the title, the word count, the genre, and where appropriate, the category. (I say that because Young Adult and Middle Grade aren’t genres, they’re age categories. Calling a book Young Adult tells us the age it’s meant for but not what type of book it is; it doesn’t tell us if it’s paranormal or romance or thriller or what.) This is fairly succinct, almost a stats listing.

Titles aren’t the be all and end all. A good title can be intriguing, and the ability to come up with good, compelling titles is a definite plus, but titles change all the time. You have to put SOMETHING down, and you should try to make it good and appropriate, but the fact is, titles are hard. A bad title is not going to kill your chances.

Word count tells an agent how well you know you category. Genres and categories tend to have ranges of word counts. YA, for example, generally runs 75K-100K. There are always exceptions, of course, either shorter or longer, but a 140K word YA novel is going to make agents a little leery. Sometimes that means there’s too much story for one book. Sometimes that means there are just too many words, and the manuscript is in desperate need of red pen and a machete. But sometimes, it means that it’s a tight, fast-paced, well-written story that tricks you with its length by coming off as a much shorter book when you’re actually reading it. Word count, as long as it’s reasonably near range, isn’t an automatic disqualifier. If you go over 200K for anything other than epic high fantasy or in-depth non-fiction, you’re probably in the auto-reject pile.

This is a bit more like a twitter-pitch. You don’t have to keep it 140 characters or less, but it is short, and it is to the point.

(Personal example: Complete at approximately 99,000 words, Elsinore Drowning is a haunting, modern retelling of Hamlet through Ophelia’s voice for a Young Adult audience.)

Step Four:
Let’s talk about you.

No, seriously, this is where you get to talk about yourself. Agents aren’t after your life story, but they do want to hear a little about you. What do you do, what makes you the best one to tell this story. If you’ve ever won awards for writing, talk about them here. Member of any writing societies? (Preferably official ones). If you’ve ever published anything, here’s the place to talk about it. If that something is self-published, you might want to include sales numbers (if they’re respectable). Do you have a blog with millions of followers, or some other Cool Thing that means people might fall over themselves trying to buy your book? YOU SHOULD MENTION THIS. All of this relates directly into your sellability as an author- your brand, as it were. If you have a devoted following, you have the beginnings of a devoted readership; agents like to know these things.

Be aware that most agents will google the crap out of you if they’re even remotely interested. If you’re full of BS, they’ll spot it.

And this is where good behavior on the internet becomes a really, REALLY important thing, because agents (and editors) pay attention. If you’re ranting and raving about rejections or the slow pace of things, if you’re throwing tantrums, if you’re insulting to other writers, authors, reviewers, or bloggers, you’re not winning yourself any points. Agents and authors don’t have to be best friends, but they do have to be able to work together; if you’re showing yourself to be an unholy terror, don’t expect too much interest.

One of my best friends had a first conversation with an agent and was shocked when her wedding pictures came up as a subject- they were on her facebook. This isn’t stalking, this is research, the same research you did before you queried agents. They want to know who they’re dealing with, and people, seriously, the internet never forgets. Make good behavior a habit now if it isn’t already and save yourself a lot of heartache. Rant and rave and cry and pout in private ALL YOU WANT- it can be a very healthy stress relief- but don’t do it online, don’t do it where anyone and his mother can see it. You’re presenting yourself as a professional. Act like one.

(Personal example: I come from a mixed background of theatre and writing and for several years have worked at Barnes and Noble and a Kids/Teen Lead, where I gush about amazing books, want to purchase far too many of them, and do a happy dance very time a kid comes back for more adventures. I am not yet published.
My writing awards were, by this point, really out of date, so I didn’t talk about them. My background in theatre was directly connected to the fact that my book was based on Hamlet, working in a bookstore gave me additional knowledge and audience. Is it a ton to go off of? No. Which is why it’s VERY SHORT.)

Step Five:
Why this agent?

Some people prefer to put this first, or to put it right after the definition of the book, but I prefer to put it here, because it leads directly into the list of what’s included with the query and allows you a graceful way to close out.

This is where you’re telling THIS agent why you’ve chosen to query him or her. You can- and should- create a query template for yourself, wherein the bulk of the letter is the same every time, but the initial greeting and this paragraph should be personalized for every single agent. Yes, it’s time consuming, yes, it’s work, but it’s worth it.

But please, for the love of God PLEASE, make it appropriate. If you follow them on twitter, GREAT, you can say so, but if you’re going to talk about it, make sure it’s relevant. Talking about how cute their kid is? NOT A GOOD IDEA. Besides being unprofessional, it’s also a bit creepy. But mentioning that they participated in a twitter wishlist and requested “A YA that has X, Y, and 3.5”, and here’s why I think mine fits, hey, that’s a very good use of it. Same with things they’ve specifically mentioned on their blog or website. If you met them at a conference and they requested this, give them a gentle reminder here (and if you’re sending the query as an e-mail, put THE NAME OF THE CONFERENCE+REQUEST along with your title in the subject line, unless they specifically tell you to do otherwise- this gives them the heads-up that this is something in which they’ve already expressed moderate interest).

Querying an agent is not like picking a substitute teacher. You are not going down a list of more or less equally skilled people who simply need to fill a space for a day. This is not a case of “are you warm? Are you breathing? Good enough”. You are seeking a highly skilled, specialized individual who with whom you will be able to forge a solid working relationship. You need to know why you’re querying this agent, and not that agent, and you need to be able to say that.

Also, list what you’ve included with the query. Agents will request different things from you- it’s highly personalized, and you need to be able to keep track of it. At one time, one of my submission lists had query only, three pages, five pages, five pages and synopsis, ten pages, ten pages and bio, three chapters, fifty pages. You have to know what you’re sending to which agent. This also tells the agent that you’ve paid attention to their submission guidelines. Avenues of research are useful, but only to a point- books are very quickly inaccurate, unofficial websites that gather information can be wrong or outdated. When it doubt, always go with what the agent says on his or her website. If there is nothing listed, only an address that says send queries to, just send the query. Some sources will tell you to default to five or ten pages, but honestly, if they want to see past they query, they’ll ask.

Do not send more than they ask for.

Send everything they ask for.

If an agent does ask for material to be included with the query, paste it in below the query in the e-mail. Do not submit the materials as attachments unless specifically instructed to do so by the agent. Attachments are terrifying. Attachments are risks. Most agents aren’t going to take that kind of risk on a query they didn’t ask for. Save yourself an auto-delete, and don’t do it.

(Personal example: While researching your agency, I saw that you were interested in stories with a unique voice, something I hope you’ll recognize within Ophelia. Below, please find the first five pages, a synopsis, and a brief bio per your site request. If this piques your interest, further material is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Note that I’m not the most graceful individual when I’m conducting professional correspondence. I’m awkward and self-conscious, so I’m a bit stilted, and as long as you’re basically socially functional, you can probably be forgiven for a little awkwardness. You want to smooth things out to the best of your ability, but if you come off as a little stiff, don’t fret about it. That isn’t going to be the thing that sends the agents running for the hills.

Step Six:
Sign off.

This is another one that might sound strange, but the way you end your letter is just as important as how you begin it. Do not sign off with Yours Truly or Love or Always Yours or anything remotely of that nature. No. Just don’t do it. This is still professional communication.

That being said, I really hate signing things Sincerely. I am sincere, of course (usually, but always in professional circumstances) but I tend to sign off with Respectfully. Not Impatiently Yours or Impatiently Waiting or Desperate To Be Published. If you go with something other than the traditional Sincerely, it should still be professional and respectful.

And of course your name.

SOME TIPS

Just some things to keep in mind.

Be patient.
Keep track of your submissions, and note what an agent says his or her response time generally is. Also note one very important thing: NOT EVERY AGENT RESPONDS. There are a (large) number of agents who tell you to assume that no response means no interest. If the response time has passed for these agents, assume they’re not interested, and move on. If the agent promises a response, note the time span. Then, if the time has passed, give it a couple more weeks and then send a polite, non-pushy email with your query information in the subject line along with FOLLOW UP, and simply state that you submitted your query on such and such date, and simply wish to inquire as to the status now that such amount of time has passed.

Be organized about it. I can be a little OCD, I admit it, but I have a notebook for every project. These notebooks are where I do my brainstorming, my outlining, my character explorations, excerpts, writing stats, and these are also where I (used to) put my query lists. Agent name, agency, how I found them, what they said they were looking for, what they wanted submitted, date of submission, expected response time or no response. Then, as I got answers (or didn’t) I updated the notes. I also kept separate folders on my computer. In the folder for that manuscript, I had a submissions folder. Every batch of submissions I sent out had another folder with the date, and within that folder, every agent had his or her own folder, which contained the personalized query, as well as whatever other material they requested. This way, I knew at a glance what I’d sent, knew exactly what date to use as start date. Anal much? Yes, probably. But you know what, I never lost track of any of my queries. And honestly, it reassured me, knowing roughly when to expect things.

Being patient isn’t easy. This is our dream! This is all we can ever think of in a day, and every minute that passes, we start biting our nails or drumming our fingers or whatever the nervous tic du jour is, and we want to KNOW. More to the point, we want to SUCCEED. But once we hit send, it’s out of our control. We can only control our behavior and what we submit. We can’t control agent reaction. We can’t control rejection or acceptance. So be patient. Find something else to do. Don’t pester, don’t nag, don’t rant and rave at every moment.

Don’t query before you’re ready.
This breaks down into two parts. First part: do you have your materials ready? And not just whatever it is they’ve requested. I know the common joke is that agents take forever to respond, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they come back five minutes after your query is sent and they’re requesting the full. If you’ve polished and polished and polished the first few chapters on the expectation that you’d then have weeks to get to the rest of it, YOU CAN’T TRUST THAT. You have to be prepared.

Second part: are you mentally ready for this? I’ll be honest, querying is exhausting. It is an emotional roller coaster. It’s one thing to SAY that we understand that a rejection is a lack of interest in our manuscript, not a personal cut. Sure. We can say that. But rejection is HARD, y’all. It is. And when the rejections start piling up, it can become overwhelming.

And here’s the thing: you’re allowed to be overwhelmed. You’re allowed to have a meltdown and start sobbing into your pint of Ben and Jerry’s. You’re allowed to have a freak out that you’re nothing and you’ll never be published and oh God what were you thinking. And you know, you can even rant about how agents clearly have no idea what they’re missing out on. Just do it in private. Do with it a friend or family member, someone who has the sense to listen and not try to say anything (and more importantly not share anything). Just don’t do it in public.

The process of querying is this crazy zigzag of hope and ecstasy and anticipating and fear and worry and despair and anger, and you have to be ready for it. You have to go into this knowing that very few people have everything fall in place easily, that for most people, there are many rejections, many silences. You get a request for further material and OH MY GOD IT’S AMAZING but then there’s a whole new level of fear.

Don’t be afraid to re-write your query.
There are so many drafts of my query letters it’s kind of ridiculous. I wrote seven or eight drafts before I ever set out the first round of submissions. Then, as I started to hear back from each round, I worked on tweaking my query, trying to tailor it better, or make it more intriguing. Sometimes I was successful. Sometimes I wasn’t. Always keep a copy of the query you actually sent out, but it’s okay to make it better for the next round of queries. You learn by doing. You learn by feedback. Improvements are never a bad thing.

Don’t be jealous.
This one is hard. We all hear about the people who send out one query to their ‘dream agent’ and get signed, and then six weeks later there’s a huge multi-house auction that lands a three book deal for seven figures and everyone is watching with green eyes and a large vocabulary of curses. The fact is, we hear about these things to such an extent BECAUSE THEY’RE RARE. Most of us have to slog through round after round, and maybe even project after project, before we get a little bit there. It’s easy to be jealous of other people. Don’t be. Luck will always be an element, but sheer determination factors in there too. Rather than dwelling on what other people are doing or getting, focus on what YOU can do. Look for the stories that don’t invoke Cinderella, the ones where it was patience and determination and persistence that got them to their goal.

It took me three years and three projects to sign with an agent, and now that I am where I am, I can be grateful for it, because Sandy is amazing. We’re very well paired, and she gets the dark and twisty products of my imagination. I am where I need to be.

Don’t give up.
You want this- so go after it. Learn from each experience, make it better for the next round, but don’t take those rejections as proof you should tuck this dream back into the corner of the mental closet. You can’t get anywhere by giving up. But, on that note:

Know when to give up.
Not on the endeavor- but maybe on that specific manuscript. If you’ve queried everyone you can think of that accepts your genre and category and not gotten anywhere, maybe this isn’t the manuscript that’s going to sign you.

AND THAT’S OKAY.

Because you’ve kept writing, right? You’ve got something that, built off your experiences, is stronger. Better. Something that you can work on to make even better, and even stronger. And when you’ve reached the point, many MANY MANY MANY queries in, that maybe that first project needs to get shelved for a while, you have something else. And you can start over.

Except it’s not starting completely over, because the experience has taught you a lot. You have an advantage this time: you’ve done this before, and you know more or less what to expect.

Like I said, I queried three different projects over three years. It broke my heart to shelve those earlier projects, but I knew it was the right choice. I knew what I had waiting in the wings, these things I’d written while trying not to go crazy while the queries were out, I KNEW these things were better. I knew they showcased my writing better, that I’d learned and grown and expanded into characters and story and pacing.

Each time, you have the chance to get better, to improve not only your writing but your querying. As long as you’re willing to honestly assess yourself and your writing, you have the opportunity to improve your chances.

Don’t beat a project long past any chance it has to attract someone- know when to put it away and put out something better.

Last tip.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

The internet is a wonderful thing. It gives you access to a TON of people who have gotten where you want to be- so when you need to know something and you can’t find the answer- when you need to be reassured- don’t be afraid to ask. A lot of authors, especially in the YA community, have ask boxes on tumblr. They have blogs where you can leave comments. So ask.

Be respectful of the space and circumstances. There are times when it’s not particularly appropriate to ask some things; let common sense guide you.

But we’re here, on tumblr, on twitter, on facebook, on blogs. There are interviews and newsletters and signings and panels, and you know what? For as much rejection as we have to experience, even after we get those first steps in the door, publishing is a ridiculously inclusive community. People cheer each other on, because when people are reading, this is good for ALL OF US. We want you to succeed. We want to cheer you on when you announce your sale, when you have signings and events and features. We want to celebrate your successes with you.

So consider this post an open thread for any questions you have. I’ll answer what I can, and I’ll try to point you to others when I don’t know what to say.

Work hard, be patient, and the best of luck to you all.

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Querying for the New Year? Pt 1

January 14, 2014 at 7:50 pm (Industry, Writing) (, , , , , )

Welcome to the middle of January! When the New Year’s Resolutions are just beginning to flag and we’re starting to curse ourselves for making them in the first place!

No, but seriously, this is the time when our resolutions start meeting reality, and we begin to understand just what we’re getting ourselves into. And for a lot of people in this community, those resolutions have to do with publishing: get an agent, sell a book, have a book come out, etc. These are dangerous resolutions, mainly because: you can’t control a lot of that. A resolution is something you’re supposed to accomplish within THAT year, and if publishing is a realm of hopes and dreams, it’s also a land of harsh reality. The simple fact is, try as you might, even if what you put out there is your absolute best, you may not get to where you want to be in a single year. Sometimes there are miracles and your dream comes true right away, but for most of us, it takes patience and persistence.

BUT.

For those of you that are tackling this mountain this year, whether as a goal or as a resolution, here are some things to keep in mind, things I learned from my own process.

Are you really ready?

It’s incredibly tempting to say “Yes, oh my God, I was BORN READY!!!!”-

-but don’t. Take the time to really step back and look at your manuscript. Are. You. Ready.

-Is the manuscript finished? With very few exceptions, almost all of them non-fiction, your manuscript MUST BE FINISHED. This is for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it’s a lot easier to start a project than to finish one. Whether you’re submitting to agents or publishers, they need to see all of it. They need to see that your writing stays consistent, that you have a full grasp of the story and character arcs, that you can maintain the pace to a satisfying conclusion. There’s not a lot anyone other than a critique partner can do with an unfinished manuscript. If your manuscript is not finished, this is your first step: FINISH IT. Sit your butt in the chair and get it done.

-Is the manuscript polished? The only people who should see your first drafts are your critique partners. First drafts are full of mistakes and gaping holes, with many, many things that need to be fixed. That’s why they’re FIRST drafts. You don’t want to flash around anything that isn’t your best. Whatever you’re hoping to accomplish, whether it’s signing with an agent, selling to a publisher, or self-publishing, your manuscript needs to be the best you can possibly make it. The BEST, not “good enough”. If you’re satisfied with good enough, you’re cheating yourself, cheating your work, and cheating everything you hope to achieve. Editing is work- HARD work- but you owe it to yourself and to your story to do a solid job of it.

-Who else has seen it? And perhaps more importantly, are the opinions legitimate? I know that sounds kind of weird, but if the only person who’s seen your manuscript is your mom, you need to get some more feedback on it. Moms (and dads) are pretty much obligated to adore you and everything you do, so unless you are very, VERY sure that your family members will give you an honest and detailed critique, don’t base your good feelings about your manuscript purely on their approbation. Find people with experience writing, with experience critically reading. Maggie Stiefvater has a Critique Partner dating service from time to time, and if you’re in the market, definitely keep an eye on her blog for when the posts come up. If you can’t find a CP, especially if you can’t find a critical reader, consider making the investment to have a freelance editor look at it, for correctness if nothing else, but if you can get a detailed crit, that’s wonderful. If you’re writing Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult, check out Manuscript Critique Services, run by four YA authors who know their shizz. (They’re by no means the only critique service out there, but they’re GOOD- and they give you a way to test the waters before committing to a full shebang). If you decide to go this route, do your research- there are a lot of freelance groups and individuals out there, at varying levels of skill, experience, and services offered, and you need to really decide what’s going to be best FOR YOU and FOR YOUR WORK.

If you’re planning on self-publishing, chances are you’re going to have to put money down; this is how most of the self-pubs operate. You’re making the investment on the expectation that you will sell enough to recoup that initial cost and hopefully then some. Given that, if you are self-pubbing, USE AN EDITORIAL SERVICE. An error in a blog post is one thing (still tacky, but hey, it happens, and it’s not the end of the world). Errors in a finished book also happen, but it’s rare to find more than two or three in the final copy. This is because humans make mistakes, and as much as we’d love to believe we catch everything, things happen. However, the number of mistakes and errors and screw-ups that get caught through the various stages of the editing process is staggering. Editors and copy-editors are invaluable, and if you choose not to go with traditional pubs, you should really consider making this investment. A good editor, freelance or otherwise, isn’t just looking for mis-spelled words or crazy commas. They’re looking at agreement, at word choice, at sentence structure and cadence, at consistency, at usage. A very good editor is also looking for correctness- do you know what the hell you’re talking about. One of the biggest reasons a lot of self-pubbed books get dismal reviews is because people can’t get past the lack of proper editing to get into the story or characters.

-Can you write the back cover of your book? This may or may not be something you end up ACTUALLY doing, depending on the path you choose, but you need to be ABLE to do it. The back cover is what you’re telling people who ask you what it’s about. The back cover is what you’re including in query letters or cover letters. The back cover is what gets people interested. It also says that yes, you know EXACTLY what your book is about, that you can sum it up succinctly, that you can make it a straightforward pitch. If you can’t intrigue someone with this, chances are, they’re not going to read on, and you’ve wasted an opportunity. If you self-publish, this is something you HAVE to be able to do for yourself.

Checks down the line?
Next up, we have:
Choose your path.

Publishing has, in many ways, become a Choose Your Own Adventure book. There are so many options out there, and you really need to be sure of which way you want to go, because it does change how you approach things. No matter what path you ultimately choose, the first step is the same.

-DO YOUR RESEARCH. Here in the age of the internet, there is so much information available for remarkably little effort. There are writer resources all over the place, there are author blogs, agent blogs, editor blogs. There’s twitter, and tumblr. It’s actually pretty easy to drown in the information, there’s so much out there. Do a LOT of research, and make sure you can understand what information is useful and what isn’t. Towering rages against traditional publishing by someone who sent out two unsolicited submissions to publishers who don’t accept the genre? Not useful. A point by point breakdown by someone who’s done both traditional and self-publishing, and what they liked and disliked about both? VERY USEFUL.

The thing is, you need to understand the decision you’re making. Too many people think of self-publishing as a cop-out, as something you do if you can’t make it in the big leagues. Too many people think traditional publishing is a dead form bent on sales at the expense of quality. Neither is true. Self-publishing is a completely valid way to go about getting your book out there, BUT: you need to be aware that all of the responsibilities that are normally shared within a publishing house will all fall on you, and you need to be prepared for that. Any path you choose requires a hell of a lot of work and commitment.

Something I will say- as a bookseller, not as an author- is that self-published books can be very difficult to get on the shelves. (And being completely fair, a lot of traditionally published books can be difficult to get on the shelves, if they’re a smaller house or smaller title). However, for a bookstore, the traditionally published books are a safer risk. Almost every traditional publisher has a returnable feature on their titles, which means that after a certain period of no sales within a store, the store can send it back to the distribution center, where it can cycle out to other stores (or wait ignominiously to be marked down to bargain, as sometimes happens). The store gets credit for the return, the book sits at the warehouse and go out again at a later point. Everyone wins. With self-publishing companies, the returnable feature frequently costs extra (sometimes a lot extra), and a lot of authors don’t make that additional investment. That means that if the bookstore brings it in and it doesn’t sell, we’re stuck with it. We can’t move it to make room for newer merchandise. It sits on a shelf or in the back room and waits to be marked down to clearance. Most stores aren’t willing to take that risk, because it costs us money.

Some questions to ask yourself: what are my expectations? And be honest with yourself about this. What is it that you want? What are you willing to put into it? This should be a financial consideration, yes, but it should also be a degree of work. How hard are you willing to work? How much time and effort are you willing to put into it? Be honest about your skills, and about the skills of those you may ask for help. For most people, putting out a book is a long-cherished, deeply-held dream, and yes, the package is a part of that. A bad cover, bad formatting, bad editing, can kill a book far more easily than most of us want to believe.

-Make a decision. After you’ve done your research, after you’ve asked (and answered) a lot of difficult questions about yourself, your manuscript, and your expectations and dreams, it’s time to make a decision. Do you want to self-publish? Do you want to traditionally publish? Do you want to sign with an agent?

For myself, the answers were no, yes, and yes, and that’s based more on my evaluation of my own shortcomings than any sense of snobbishness about self-publishing. I know what I can do- I also know what I can’t do. I can’t design a book to save my life. I can’t do a good job packaging. I can’t catch all of the errors and tweaks, I can’t find the things that another set of eyes and experiences can make amazing, and let’s be honest, I suck at self-marketing. I try. I do…badly. Even if I’d had the money to make the investment into self-publishing, it would not have been a good fit for me. Plus, my dream for as long as I can remember has been to go into a store and see it on the shelf. It may not be on many shelves, but it can be, and to me, that’s extraordinary. As for the agent, this was a no duh for me personally. I don’t have contacts, and while I know a lot about the industry, it’s not enough. More to the point, I don’t want to tear my hair out going over contracts and negotiating and trying to make sure all the numbers are right and the payments are done correctly and this and this and that. You know, the business stuff, the stuff that goes right over my head. Or under my feet, depending on how head-in-the-clouds I am on any given day. A good agent isn’t just evaluating the likelihood of your manuscript selling, isn’t just pitching it to editors with the valuable contacts and experience he or she has accumulated. An agent is also helping you manage all the business stuff. That being said, ALWAYS READ YOUR CONTRACTS. Read everything you’re signing. Read everything you’re sent that’s even remotely official. Just because you have Agent Extraordinaire managing the business aspects doesn’t mean you can be clueless. This is your livelihood. Well, part of your livelihood.

There are a few (few) agents who take on self-publishers, mostly in the business and loosely editorial realm. It’s a unique stance, and we’ll see if that widens or not in the next few years. So self-publishing doesn’t immediately mean that an agent to protect your interests is outside the realm of possibility- again, it comes back to doing your research and deciding if this is a good fit for you. If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, an agent is going to get you in far more doors than you’ll find open on your own. Most editors aren’t going to look at unsolicited manuscripts. Editors trust agents to show them things in which they may have interest, things that fill well on a list in a catalogue, things that show the agent has paid attention to the editor’s history and preferences. I’m not at all saying that trad. publishing is impossible if you’re unrepresented, but I am saying it limits your options.

Have you made your choice?
Guess what, it’s back to:
Do your research.

I know, you thought you were done with this, right? But now that you’ve identified the best path for you, you need to pick the right door.

-So you want to self-publish? There are a lot of companies out there that can help you. Or, if you want to create and distribute entirely on your own, there’s a lot you need to be aware of. Look at your options. Look at the quality of the products that come out of it. Look at the accessibility of product- will you be available to major retail websites? Major retail stores? Will you be able to sell through your own website? Look at the contracts- not every publisher will allow you to see even a boilerplate contract unless you’re signing it, but google the companies and see what users are saying about them. You want the best bang for your buck- the best product, the best terms, the best accessibility. Don’t just jump on the first wagon you see.

-So you want an agent? Check out the Writers’ Market guides, or Query Tracker, or Agent Query. Check out writers’ forums. Flip open the books you’d be most likely to use as comp titles, books you think would pair very well with your own, and check out the acknowledgments- agents are frequently listed as the lifesavers and mental health companions that they are. Check out agent blogs. Check out agent and agency websites. Follow them on twitter.

Follow.

Do Not Stalk.

Agents are very vocal about whether or not they’re looking for anything at the time, as well as WHAT they’re looking for. KNOW YOUR BOOK- know its age range, know it’s category or genre (s), know how you can compare it to things. Look at what the agent is saying they want- does your book fit? (Personal example: on the L. Perkins Agency website, the Fabulous Sandy’s bio said she was looking for things with strong voice. Ophelia has her faults, God knows, but a lack of voice isn’t one of them.) Where your book meshes with what they’re looking for is what you’re going to want to put in your query. Look at what an agent has sold- do they have sales? Recent sales? Do they represent people you’ve heard of? Every agent has to start somewhere, and a brand new agent isn’t the same as a bad agent, but you want to pay attention.

DO NOT SEND MONEY TO AN AGENT TO READ YOUR MANUSCRIPT. Agents make money when you do, and not before. There are a ton of very good, very reputable agents who aren’t part of the official association, so a lack of membership isn’t a red flag, but if they’re charging you up front? BACK. AWAY. Writer Beware is an excellent resource for known scammers and frauds. Trust your instincts- if you’re getting hinky feelings off something, you’re probably right in thinking that it’s sketchy. Then back your instincts up by checking.

I’ll talk more about querying below, but as you’re researching agents, start making a list of possibilities, agents you think might be interested, agents you’d love to query. Along with their names and agencies, write down pertinent information- website, query email, authors or books they’ve represented that made you think of them, what they say they’re looking for, submission guidelines. This way when you’re actually ready to query, you have all the information right there, instead of making a second desperate search all over creation (also known as the Internet). Agents are not all created equal. They have different personalities, they represent different things. You don’t want to spam every listed agent whether they represent your stuff or not. At best, you’ll be ignored. At worst, they’ll be pissed off, and remember you. That is not how you want to be remembered.

-So you want to submit to publishers without an agent? Yup, you’ve got your research too! And to be honest, yours may be more difficult than anyone else’s, because your information is a little more buried. Your task is to find houses willing to look at unagented manuscripts. Some editors will open to unsoliciteds for a time (like Editor Andrew at Carolrhoda Lab did for this past week) to see if there’s a golden find. Some will let you send it and not immediately shred it for mulch, but it’s kind of on the understanding that the only way it’ll ever be read is if someone gets REALLY bored in the bathroom. The ones you’re mostly going to be looking for will probably be smaller houses. Check websites CAREFULLY. Submission guidelines will be there somewhere.

Let’s leave it here for now, because this is a monster post that’s probably getting a little hard to read, and I’ll be back in a few days with Part 2: Prep Your Shizz.

And I’m going to spend most of the few days writing it trying to come up with a different title, because I can’t take that seriously.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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How’s the Book Doing?

December 29, 2013 at 9:43 pm (Industry)

I think this is a question authors get more than any other. Probably even more than “What’s it called?” or “What is it about?”, it’s “How’s the book doing?” And the thing is, and most people don’t realize this, it’s actually a super rude question.

I mean, think about it. When you ask someone how a book is selling, what you’re really doing is asking them how much money they’re making. It’s like going up to someone in a doctor’s office and asking them their salary. Most people who ask this aren’t intending to be rude or nosy. They just don’t think about it, about what they’re actually asking.

I get this question from friends, from family, from co-workers, from customers, even from complete strangers who happen to overhear part of a conversation where it comes up that I have a book. “Oh, how’s it selling?”

My usual answer is that I have no idea, and it’s true. I don’t. I haven’t asked, I don’t intend to ask. Perhaps it’s cowardly of me, but frankly, I don’t feel like knowing a number or a range is going to do anything productive. It’s not magically going to make sense or give me context. And the thing is, while it won’t do anything productive, it is very likely to do something catastrophic.

Okay, not catastrophic, precisely, but still uncomfortable and damaging.

Because there’s a transition between writer and author, where we suddenly have to confront the fact that we no longer write in a bubble. Before publication, there’s this…serenity, of a kind, in approaching a new project. It might be scary and overwhelming and more than we think we can handle, but the only pressure (and the only perceived pressure) is what we put on ourselves as artists. Within that bubble, it’s just us and the characters, and maybe critique partners. Maybe there’s a part of our brain dreaming of bestseller lists and foreign sales, but it’s a small part, and most of our attention is fully immersed with the store. Our expectation is on what happens next to our characters, to our world, and not on what happens next to the book.

I’m the first to admit I’m a quirky writer. I mull over a project for weeks or even months before I actually open the first document to start. What that means for me is that I tend to draft very quickly. The first draft of what became A Wounded Name took twenty-three days. That being the case, I tend to write three or four projects a year. Not all of these will go on to become anything (in fact I’d guess a good half of them never will, and I’m okay with some of those) but it’s a very strange year that I have less than three complete novels written.

In 2012, I signed with an agent and sold what became A Wounded Name, but the number of people who actually saw the manuscript was still pretty small. It wasn’t out in the world yet, there was no sense of expectation, so I wrote as I normally do and never really noticed a difference. There was maybe a new excitement, a new hope, but I was still in that bubble.

Then, in early 2013, the first ARCs came out. People were reading my book, the first reviews were coming online. And suddenly no matter what I sat down to write, I was suddenly wondering what other people would think. What would readers think of this character’s action? What would reviewers think of this twist?

AND IT’S CRIPPLING.

I wrote two things this year. TWO. One of which was a strong foundation but will need a complete rewrite, and the other was itself a rewrite. But seriously, just two. Which probably isn’t weird for anyone other than me. But I kept questioning myself as I was plotting, as I was drafting, and it made things choppy and awkward and most importantly, made me full of self-doubt. I couldn’t write like that, and as the year went on, as the other stresses added on, it made it impossible to write at all. And then the book actually came out. Suddenly The Question was coming a great deal more.

Because when someone asks The Question, it isn’t merely that there’s a person asking me about potential income. Because in the moment between The Question being asked and my managing a response, there’s a steady stream of “What if it doesn’t sell enough to earn out? What if the sales are so spectacularly bad that no publisher will ever want to buy any book I ever write ever again? What if this is the only thing I’ll ever publish? Oh God, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do and what if I never get to make a career out of this and–” and then I remember that I’ve just been asked The Question and I smile painfully and say that I don’t know.

The conversation moves on but my thought process doesn’t. Even hours later, I’m still stuck on this crippling fear that I’m not doing enough, and I get home and I try to write and nothing comes out. I stare at a blank page, a blank screen, and nothing happens because where dialogue and narrative and story should be, there’s only fear and doubt.

I know what I need to do. I need to find a way to reclaim the process, to make it just for me again, at least until a story is mature enough to send out into the world by one means or another. I need to forget about the expectations, about the pressure, about the possibilities, and write only for me. It’s the only way I’m going to manage anything productive. I made a good start on that, today actually, but I know I’m going to backslide, and a large part of that is people with perfectly sweet, supportive intentions asking me how the book is doing.

If you know an author with books out, please I am begging you don’t ask them how the book is selling. Ask them how their current project is going; this is always a safe inquiry, because even if they aren’t actively writing or editing something at the moment, they’re still mulling over something. Maybe it’s only in its larval stages, but every writer has a current project. Always. Ask them what comes next- not what book comes out next, what comes next. Maybe it’s a different kind of project, a different genre, a different tense, a different age group. Maybe it’s a book of poetry, or a self-help guide, or something completely unexpected. Hell, maybe it’s a vacation, or research.

But please don’t ask how their book is doing.

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Please. Don’t Quit Your Day Job

August 19, 2012 at 7:00 pm (Industry) (, , , )

Sometimes the universe comes together in strange ways.

Every now and then at work, I’ll pass by one of my co-workers telling a customer that I have a book coming out (I guess they’re proud of me or something :D), or it’ll come up when I’m in conversation with a customer, and sometimes I get what I’ve always thought of as a pretty strange comment/question. I got it several times yesterday, and it was kind of bothering me, but then I woke up this morning and three separate posts on my Twitter feed held answers to that, so I figured this was as much a sign as I’m ever likely to get.

“Oh, you have a book coming out? And you’re still working here?”

Um…

There seems to be this mindset that you sell a book and BAM you’re in the bank!

Not so much the case.

There are always exceptions, but usually it takes a long time of steady writing before you actually have a solid enough foundation to quit your day job. If you have a spouse who can support the family- or if you’re on a trust fund- sure, writing can be your Main Thing, but for most of us, writing isn’t going to be what pays the bills. That’s why it’s called a Labor of Love.

The three posts this morning (one by Laurie Halse Anderson, one by The Rejector, and one by Barry Lyga) say pretty much everything about the money thing, with the exception of taxes. Mandy Hubbard has a post that helps add the taxes into the picture.

Writing is a passion, right up until you get paid to do it- then it becomes a job about which you’re passionate. The thing about jobs is that you can love them, and love them deeply, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to pay you enough to live off of. I say that from experience. I love my job, but without getting into numbers, I have to scrimp most months to make my bills, and I don’t live an extravagant life. My vice is books and I actually work my budget around them (sacrificing quality of food in order to make up the difference when I fall short), but I don’t have unreasonable expenditures; some months my savings account (which is a fairly new thing) takes a hit just to pay the power bill.

I’m not saying that to complain or to garner sympathy, because hey, at the end of the month, the bills get paid.

I say that because it’s given me a certain outlook on money, namely that it doesn’t stretch as far as we’d like it to. Even when I get a windfall of any measure (a surpise check, extra hours, or hey! selling a book), I tend to break down the numbers by expenses. It’s this many months of rent, or this much of a rent payment. Even in its smallest doses- oh hey, that’s three meals if I’m careful. I know how much I’ll pay in rent in a year, how much for internet, about how much for groceries and power and gas, and the financial life of a writer- being based on sales and projected sales- is far from predictable. You don’t know how or when your book will sell.

I’m a worrier, I admit it. I worry about that next rent payment, about that oil change I have to budget in, about unexpected expenses that pop up when we can least afford them (flat tires, etc). I’ve spent too many years playing the game of which paycheck I can use to pay which bills, which bills I can pay late if I absolutely have to, to be comfortable not having a steady, predictable income. The notion of quitting my day job? Makes my skin crawl.

There’s a me from the past- the one that thought being a starving artist would be totally romantic and nothing could be wrong with that- that thinks Yes! Throw the shackles of the day job away and write Write WRITE!

Then there’s the part of me that pays rent, that likes having food in my belly and clothes on my back.

That feeling that comes with selling your book is a high unlike any other. It really is. And there’s this part of you that looks at the numbers with wide eyes and thinks of all the things you could DO with that money. But there are bills, and there are taxes, and there are things you HAVE to do.

So please do yourself a favor and DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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BIG BIG NEWS!

April 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm (Industry, Writing) (, , , , , )

The Lolcats are going to help me with this one: I have BIG BIG BIG news, and big news always goes better with a lolcat or twenty.

Some of you may have noticed that I didn’t post on Sunday; there’s a very simple explanation for that. My brain right now, let me show it to you:

Well, less with the caffeine than with “OH MY F#*&Y^($Y# GOD IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING?!”. Yeh, the brain? It was none so good this weekend. There were lots of questions and worries and what ifs, most of them painfully ridiculous. You know the kind I mean, the ones you know- even as you have them- are stupid and unnecessary but you can’t help but freak out over them a little anyway? Okay, so maybe the caffeine does play into it a little.

But now I’m all:

I queried for three years on different projects before signing with the fabulous Sandy Lu, and if I’m honest, there was a large part of me that expected to have to slog just as hard to find an editor to take me on. How much of that was me trying not to get my hopes up to unmanageable levels is anyone’s guess. For three years, my computer greeted me with emails that left me wondering:

And some days that led to:

And sometimes, when a bite had seemed particularly promising or I was staring at the decision whether to keep querying a project or start over with something that might be stronger, my wonderful friends and family jumped in with:

But although I didn’t know it at the time, there was a light! And not even the ACME train tunnel painted on the rock wall kind of light, but REAL light! Because I found Sandy, who was:

And she sank her teeth into mine!

Now, all of this you’ve heard before (plus or minus some illustrations), but here’s the BIG BIG NEWS! A month ago, after some revisions, Sandy started pimping my manuscript out (because let’s face it, that’s really what it is, right? As bloggers, we pimp the books we love, and agents do the same thing; it’s just a different audience). And now…

And now…

*drum roll please*

MY BOOK SOLD!!!!

The official PM annoucement is yet to come, but Elsinore Drowning sold to Carolrhoda Lab yesterday, and I am…well, over the moon doesn’t even seem like enough. It still hasn’t entirely sunk in and there’s still a lot of work yet ahead of me but…HOLY CRAP MY BOOK SOLD.

So next fall, you’ll be able to find my book on a shelf and:

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go dance around the apartment like an idiot again. There’s a lot of the dancing going on right now. Feel free to dance with me!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Reviews, Impulses, and the Mental Censor Button

January 8, 2012 at 12:00 pm (General, Industry) (, , , )

So there’s been a kerfuffle recently (isn’t that a surprise). Bookalicious Pam has a good recap of it, including a link to the review and a screenshot of the rant that started it all. Long story short, a blogger posted a review of a book she disliked, the author freaked out on her, and the internet exploded.

It’s got a lot of people talking, mostly for the positive. A lot of what’s come out of this is authors reminding each other to cool their t**s and reviewers supporting each other. Plus the authors supporting the bloggers and the bloggers supporting the authors, which is one of the amazing things about the YA community. Sometimes the drama makes me feel like I’m back in high school, but the overall support system can’t be denied.

Last week I talked about my resolution-ish-type-things for 2012.

Now I’m going to talk about a few things that go deeper than resolutions and are meant for far more than the coming year.

Reviews are, when pared down to absolute bone and blood, opinions. Everyone who reads a book forms an opinion about it. Some of us share those opinions with friends, or with customers, or with people in a book club. Some of us share them with the internet. Sometimes we gush, sometimes we skewer, sometimes we analyze, we go over books in every possible way, but the method of sharing never changes the fact of what we’re sharing: opinions. Everyone is entitled to them, and everyone is entitled to share them.

It is an actual impossibility for every person to love or even like every book they read. Anyone who says they’ve never disliked a book obviously hasn’t read enough at all. People who read inevitably find books they don’t like. Maybe even books they hate. Books that leave them with a lingering sense of ‘meh’. This is a thing called “life”. Just as everyone won’t want to be your friend, not everyone will love every book.

And for authors, this can be heart-wrenching. By the time a book gets into our hands as readers, authors have put their blood, sweat, and tears into the thing for years. This is their brain-child, their baby. This is all the most vulnerable pieces of themselves, bound and packaged for your convenience. When an author puts a book on the shelf, it’s like tearing their heart out of their chest and putting it on display.

And as readers, we judge that.

We judge the books, evaluate them for merit. We compare them to other books by that author, to other books by other authors. We compare them to our expectations, to the hype, the reviews. We compare and we judge.

THE BOOKS.

A good reviewer, a good blogger, judges THE BOOKS. Not the author.

A review, even a negative one, is not a judgement about the author personally. We may mention something publicly available about the author (like the fact that Maureen Johnson is absolutely crazy in the best possible way on Twitter) but we are not addressing their worth as a person. We are not insulting them, we are not challenging them, we are not stomping all over them. We’re talking about the book.

I hate Wuthering Heights. Hate it with a passion, and I can go on and on and on about all the reasons I hate that book. One of my best friends from high school? LOVED IT. As I Lay Dying? I loathed it. She put quotes from it all over her backpack. She and I had differing opinions about pretty much everything we read for classes. Even the ones we both liked we liked for different reasons. Same for the ones we both disliked. And we’re just two people. Here’s the thing, though: when I told my junior English teacher that Going After Cacciato wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on, I wasn’t saying anything about Tim O’Brien. When the only thing that made me finish House of Spirits was the very real need to get a good grade in that class, I wasn’t leveling insults at Isabel Allende. Maybe a few at my teacher for making me read it. None at the author.

I read a lot of books. A LOT. Between new reads, re-reads, and manuscript reads, I read almost 300 books last year, in addition to a full time job, starting the blog, and researching/writing/editing/querying. I do a review a week. The math isn’t difficult- I read a hell of a lot more books than I review here. I pick and choose what I review, and because of that, I’m able to make a few choices about what I want to review.

For the most part, the books you’ll see reviewed on here are ones that I liked, really liked, or loved. I don’t tend to do negative reviews for a very simple reason: with all the books that I enjoyed to talk about, why would I waste my time talking about books I didn’t like? I’m a reader and a writer, but I’m also a bookseller: when I’m talking about books at work, it’s generally for the purpose of making a sale. I’m not going to try and convince someone not to buy a book.

Well, sometimes, but usually only because I’d rather they not give an eight-year-old a book with a graphic blowjob in the first sixty pages. And then I hand them a different book.

When I do a negative review, I try to make sure it’s balanced, not just because I like to be fair but also because if I’m spending the time on writing a negative review, it’s because there were other pieces that I really, really liked. Because I really wanted to love the book and there parts that did win that love, which made it all the more frustrating that I encountered pieces that didn’t work for me. A recent example of this? Legend, by Marie Lu. I really wanted to love that book and there were a lot of things about it that I do love, and because of that I hold it to a more exacting standard.

It’s that whole school thing again. A teacher expects more out of the students who routinely work hard and get good grades. A student who always gets Cs? It’s not going to cause any surprise or unexpected or strong emotion in the teacher. A student who always gets As and then gets a C? Then the teacher isn’t just surprised- they’re disappointed. Because they expected more. Because they know everything that student has to offer, because they’ve seen it before. Because they expect to see it again.

I don’t do many negative reviews. There are so many other books to talk about that I just don’t spend the time on negative reviews unless I can give equal attention to the things that blew me away, not just the things that disappointed me.

That’s a personal choice, and I fully respect the choice of others to do negative reviews. I learn a lot from other people’s negative reviews. And the thing about a negative review is that it doesn’t necessarily stop me from reading a book. Sometimes if a person’s general taste runs counter to mine, I find that what they dislike I’ll probably like, and vice versa. Sometimes the dislike comes down to a specific point that I don’t mind. There are only two conditions that lead me to not read a book based on a review:
1. It’s one of a slew of reviews, from people whose taste I generally trust, that all dislike the book. Maybe it’s just that there’s comfort in numbers, but if a number of people I usually agree with don’t like it, chances are decent that I won’t either, and I’d rather put my time towards books I’m probable to like.
2. I’m already waffling on the book. If I’m looking into a book and I’m leaning more towards not reading it, a negative review is only reinforcing the idea I already have. It’s not planting the seed.

When I post a negative review, I’m still only talking about the book. When I discussed what I didn’t like about Legend, I wasn’t calling Marie Lu any names. I was not making rude comments about her antecedents or background. I wasn’t being personal. It’s just about the book, and about my reaction to it.

And not everyone will agree with it. I understand that and more, I respect that. Even more, I like that. What a boring place book communities would be if everyone thought the same things! So when I post a review on Mastiff and people comment about how they really didn’t like Farmer, I’m not taking that as an insult on my ability to review. It’s not that I’m wrong. It’s not that the commenter is wrong. Guess what, there’s isn’t a right or wrong answer with this kind of thing. Sometimes a comment agrees with me and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s fine either way.

As long as the comment isn’t an attack about me or the author.

There are people who can skewer books so thoroughly I can’t safely drink anything in front of the computer for fear of sneezing soda over the keyboard and screen. Cleolinda, for example, whose Twilight recaps make me giggle and snort in public, can be absolutely merciless when it comes to the books. THE BOOKS. I lack the talent to be that funny so I don’t try. I stick to what I do well, which is talk about books I love.

If it’s a review I’m proud of, on a book I loved, I’ll usually tag the author on Twitter. They’ll either read it or they won’t. If it’s a less than glowing review, I don’t tag them. Why would I? That’s just being hateful. But remember the whole “book as baby” concept; just as mothers really love to hear that thier children are cute and wonderful, authors really love to hear that people enjoyed their books.

But every time an author clicks on a link to a review, it’s a crap shoot. Positive? Negative? Fun? Mocking? Glowing? Hateful? An author never knows what they’re going to get if they click on that link. Being an author, being published, doesn’t change the fact that an author is a person, with all the normal instincts and reactions as all the other people. It doesn’t matter that the negative things are being said about the book; it’s still their baby, and it still hurts. An author is a person with feelings that can get hurt by what we have to say.

But an author is also a step removed from a person, in that an author is also a business. People who review books? Buy books. People who read reviews? Buy books. As readers, we are directly playing into the continued life of an author’s career. As a business, authors cannot publicly rant about bad reviews. Not convinced? Check out the fairly recent drama with Ocean Marketing. It’s the oh-holy-hell-I-probably-shouldn’t-be-laughing-but-this-is-unfrickingbelievable story of a man who decided to piss all over someone buying his product. And, of course, given that this takes place in the real world in which we live, it’s also about the consequences of such an act.

Authors are a business, a name brand and a product and a public image. They’re still people, but ranting and pissing and moaning about negative reviews? Need to be private. Not public.

Because the simple truth is, reviews aren’t written to flatter the author. That’s what Twitter is for, to gush and to compliment. That’s what events and signings are for, to be able to walk up to an author and say how much you love their book. To them. Reviews are meant to share opinions about a book, and they’re meant for other readers. They’re meant for people who may not have heard about a particular book, who may be curious about the book, people who aren’t sure whether or not they want to read a book, people who want to talk about a book they’ve read. Reviews are for readers and for booksellers. Not for authors.

As a reviewer, do I love when an author reads my review and likes it? ABSOLUTELY. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like a Hallmark card. But I’m not writing the review for the author. I’m writing the review because I have an opinion to share about a book, because I want to share that opinion with fellow readers, and because I hope other people with share their opinions with me.

As a writer, I understand the pain of negative reviews. I’ve gotten negative reviews for fanfic, and some of those negative reviews are so badly written they’re practically a joke, easy to brush off, but the ones that are even-keeled and calm, the ones that are well-written and intelligent and well supported from the text…those can hurt. Even if the person isn’t being hateful. It hurts when someone doesn’t like what you’ve labored so long and so hard to create. When someone dislikes something you’ve put your whole heart into, it feels like they’re disliking you personally.

But it’s NOT PERSONAL.

And shooting off at the mouth as if it was- ranting and insulting a blogger who may have just put hard-earned money towards your book- is the same as telling people you don’t want them to buy your book.

In retail, one of the first things we’re taught is the Rule of 3 and 30. The average person who has a fantastic, amazing, above and beyond customer service experience in your store? Will tell three people. The average person who has a crummy, insulting, or generally negative customer service experience in your store? Will tell thirty people. And in the age of facebook and blogs and twitter, that can quickly multiply to hundreds or thousands. People talk more about the bad experiences than the good ones.

So when an author rants about a blogger who gave their honest opinion about a book (and in my opinion, wasn’t hateful or inappropriate at all), the end result isn’t that people think that blogger must be wrong.

The end result is that people think that author is an asshole. And then choose not to buy that author’s books.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Everyone is entitled to share that opinion, and while it could certainly be hoped for that people will share that opinion politely, it’s not mandatory.

Reviewers are allowed to write and post a negative review.

Authors are allowed to feel hurt by a negative review.

But take a moment, take a few deep breaths, and conquer that impulse to rant and rave about it in a public space. Call your best friend, your parents, your significant other. Write a journal entry. Bake a cake and write the words in frosting. But keep the reaction in a private space.

I call it my Mental Censor Button.

It’s the thing that keeps me from getting fired. When I have a PITA customer, the Mental Censor Button is the thing that keeps me from informing them that they’ve just made my day hell. The censor button is what allows me to smile (however strained it may be) and tell someone to have a nice day in a voice that at least approaches sincerity. it’s the thing that lets me bite my lip against cracking an inappropriate joke when someone doesn’t realize how they just misspoke. It’s the thing that lets me be polite and sociable, it’s the thing that lets me give stellar customer service even to the people who piss me off beyond the ability of words to describe.

And it’s something we all need.

So I’m making you a promise: my reviews will never attack an author. Whether I love the book or hate it, my review will always be focused ON THE BOOK. No matter what I think of the final product, I respect the time and effort that went into crafting it, and I respect the author for having the courage to put it out there, for having the determination and drive to pursue their goal past all the obstacles. I respect the strength it takes to put themselves out there. I respect that, whatever my opinion, it is just one opinion, and that there will be others who disagree with me. I respect the opinions of my fellow bloggers, whether I agree with them or not, and I respect a person’s right to post a negative review.

Fortunately, this is the standard. The drama happens because one or two or a handful of people on either end misbehave, but we’re lucky to be part of a community that, for the most part, fully embraces the wide range of opinions and the right of people to express that in whatever way they choose.

And I’m grateful for it.

Until next time~
Cheers

Added 1.10- a really good, insightful post about the author/reviewer positions on Dear Author.
-a fabulous post by Veronica Roth over on YA Highway.

Added 1.11- Stacia Kane weighs in from an author’s side of things as well, in a series: Something in the Water; Freedom of Speech ; and I’m Not a Reader

Added 1.17- a post from Maggie Stiefvater in response to the Guardian’s ridiculosity.
-Cleolinda’s take on reviews
-a rather hysterical take on the drama- TONGUE IN CHEEK– sarcasm doesn’t always come across in writing, so please don’t think this author is actually advocating the behaviors portrayed.

Added 1.20- a post from Lisa Schroeder

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A Bit About Jargon: Pre-Orders

September 18, 2011 at 8:38 pm (Industry, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

You know you want it.

It’s that book you’ve been waiting a whole year for- maybe even two or three years. More if you’re a Jordan or Martin fan. It’s that book you scour the internet for, squealing over a cover reveal, searching for teasers and any words the author might release about it. You look for the contests so you can get it early. You have it marked and circled in really bright colors on your calendar. You’ve requested the release day off of work so you can run out, buy it, and just start reading it then and there.

So have you pre-ordered it yet?

You’d be stunned at how many people would answer no.

The thing is, if you really want the book, you should pre-order it, and here’s why:

You have nothing to lose by putting your name down for one. Now, if you’re looking at e-books or if you’re doing it online, that’s different. Obviously there’s money down for that one, and if you get the first few pages and it sucks, e-books aren’t returnable. But if you’re doing it in a store, there’s no money down. There is absolutely no obligation to buy, so you’re risking nothing by having one set aside for you. What that does is guarantees that there’ll be a copy for you if you want it.

For small- to mid-release titles, not all bookstores are going to receive copies in quantity, or even at all. There’s a finite amount of shelf space at a bookstore, so not every title gets to be represented. Sad, but true. If you don’t have us bring it in, we may not be getting it.

For most new releases, publishers send us between three and eight copies, depending on whether or not it’s got extra displays or promotions. Think about that, though: if there are three to eight people in your area who want that book as badly as you do but don’t have to worry about class or work and can get either get to the bookstore right away or send someone else for them, then you don’t get your copy. *sad face* Then you have to order it anyway, but you don’t get it when you were actually wanting it.

For larger releases, we generally get a certain number of books above our pre-orders. There’s a whole equation for it tucked away somewhere but the warehouse considers pre-orders to be an accurate indiation of how many people in our area want the book.

Now me? I live in an area where, for some reason or another, people refuse to pre-order. I don’t know what it is, but everyone just assumes that the book will be there if they want it, regardless of what the title is. They want the books, but they won’t pre-order it.

That results in little things like the Breaking Dawn fiasco.

We were required to have a midnight release party for it, and we were told fairly early on that the number of books we received would be strictly dependant upon the number of pre-orders we got. We busted our butts trying to get those pre-orders, but most people didn’t want to put their name down. They said they’d just come and get it that day, despite our warnings that we wouldn’t be getting that many books above our pre-orders. Despite multiple warnings, even. By the night of the release, we had 45 pre-orders. I think the buyer pitied us because he sent us 130 books.

Then we had 97 people show up for the party.

We were completely sold out of the book by four o’clock that afternoon, as was EVERY OTHER PLACE IN TOWN, because we all got quantity based off our pre-orders. We had to struggle to get more books in, but people STILL wouldn’t put their names down, so as soon as we got them in they sold to other people. This went on for WEEKS (to be fair, it was complicated by the fact that this was a buyer-managed title so we had to beg to get quantities above what their equations told us we should get).

October 4th, we’re going to have a crush of parents in to pick up Rick Riordan’s Son of Neptune, and the kids whose parents have to work during the day will come crowding in at night. We’ve got less than 20 pre-orders and one of those is mine. The buyer knows this is a huge title, they’re going to send us quite a bit, but what about two days from now, when Scott Westerfeld’s Goliath comes out?

If we’re slated to get a certain amount (like in the case of Goliath, about 8) and our pre-order numbers don’t break past a certain percentage, they don’t send us any extra, meaning the pre-orders actually come out of those numbers. If we’ve got three pre-orders, there are five left out in the wild.

Really reduces your chances of getting that copy when you want it.

Pre-ordering through a store costs nothing. You do not pay to reserve the title. We take your name and phone number, and when it comes it we set one aside with your name on it. Release day, we give you a call or email as a courtesy reminder that the book is in. Then, you can come get it or not. Found it somewhere else? That’s fine. Got it as a gift? That’s fine too. Come in and read the first chapter and realize the book is going to dash all your hopes and dreams, and you will actually shrivel and die a little inside if you read the rest of it? You don’t have to buy it.

I like to try new authors, and because I read YA, there are a TON of debut authors. It’s a gamble, trying a new author. You don’t know if you’re going to like the style or the characters, and with debuts, a bookstore may or may not be stocking them without a publisher push. It sucks, but there it is; buyers have to manage a finite amount of display space, so they do their best to tailor to what’s known to sell in each store. So I put in a pre-order. When it comes in, I flip through the first chapter or two and see if I’m caught. Do I like the writing? Do the characters interet me? Does the story intrigue me? If the answers are yes, I buy the book. If the answers are no, I simply have the hold cancelled and it goes out on the shelf.

No money changes hands unless I actually decide to buy it.

Don’t miss out on your chance to get a book when you want it because of a pre-order. It costs nothing, and it takes less than a minute to give us your information to hold it for you. You can even pre-order multiple titles at a time, and we’ll let you know as each comes in (I do my orders a month at a time and just flip through them as they arrive, and I can buy or not buy as I choose).

On November 1st, when Ally Condie’s Crossed comes out, or on December 6th when Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince comes out, do you really want to be one of those people without a book because you didn’t put your name down?

Please, please, as a bookseller I am BEGGING you: if you want a book, take the two seconds to put in a pre-order. You literally have nothing to lose.

But you have a lot to gain- specifically, a guarantee of the book on release day or whenever you want to go pick it up.

Just to satisfy a curiosity, what books are you looking forward to in the next few months? (And are you going to pre-order them?)

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Ask Your Booksellers

August 21, 2011 at 9:00 am (Industry) (, , , , , )

I come from a rather specific viewpoint when it comes to books and the book industry. I’m an enthusiastic reader, I’m a hopeful writer, and I’m a bookseller. It looks a little bit like this:

The one thing that marks all three of these is passion. As a reader, as a writer, as a bookseller, I bring passion to what I do. The thing is, that same passion marks a lot of people within our industry, no matter what part of it they’re in. From the writer’s mind through so many other hands until it finally reaches the reader, it isn’t just a job. It’s a life. Even where there’s the coldly practical element of needing a job to pay the bills, we’re there because we want to be there, because we want to be working with books and the people who love to read them.

What that also means is that we have a tendency to get very excited when people attack a perceived flaw in our happy little world. Back in early June, the Wall Street Journal (always a dubious source when it comes to YA) published an article saying that YA was too dark. There were some excellent rebuttals, including that of Maureen Johnson , as well as an impromptu #YAsaves on twitter, wherein thousands of people, within the course of just a few hours, sent in personal, impassioned, brutally honest confessions of how reading YA has helped them in their lives. (To be fair, the WSJ did collect some of these to present as a slideshow on their site.)

When I read that article, I was pissed. Not at the writer- though I certainly had a few choice words about her opinion- because I’ve gotten used to the misconceptions most people have about YA. Even people who read YA sometimes voice the most appalling, ill-informed inanities until it’s all I can do to nod and smile and bite my tongue. It was actually the bookseller that really got me pissed. It isn’t remotely reasonable to expect that booksellers will know every book on the shelves. We all have certain types of books that we prefer to read.

The thing is, any bookseller worth his or her salt also knows what the other employees read. Everyone on staff knows that I’m the one to ask for anything kids, and they know I also read in Sci-fi/Fantasy, History, Science, writing reference, and skim through mystery, fiction, and some others. I don’t read horror but I know who does. I don’t read current events or business, but I know who does. If a customer asks me about something I don’t read, I know who to take them to. If that person isn’t there, I can pass along books I’ve heard them mention, and I give the customer their name so they can come back for more recs. My co-workers know to pass customers to me for middle grade or teen questions.

So why didn’t that bookseller do the same thing? When Amy Freeman of Bethesda, Maryland walked into her bookstore, why did the bookseller- who admitted she didn’t know the section- sit and pass uninformed judgments rather than handing the Ms. Freeman over to an employee who did know the section?

But the thing was done, and the furor eventually died down.

And then there’s a new article. It’s the New York Times this time. I made a post a while back talking about the difference between boys and girls where reading is concerned. By the time they become teenagers, boys are reading substantially less than girls. It’s largely a function of how reading is perceived by society as a whole and the fact that boys aren’t encouraged to read the way girls are. Can part of it be blamed on packaging? Absolutely. Girls don’t mind reading a book with a boy on the cover.

Most boys wouldn’t be caught dead reading a book with a girl on the cover, because to be seen with such a thing would, of course *insert sarcasm here*, be a grave insult to their masculinity and be the equivalent of committing social suicide. Saundra Mitchell has some great things to say about that.

To paraphrase probably more than I should, the new article basically says that boys aren’t reading YA because there are too many girls in it. Editors are purposefully seeking female-centric manuscripts at the expense of books that boys would read, publishers are marketing too much to girls at the expense of boys who might otherwise buy books, etc etc.

To which I say: SHENANIGANS.

Maureen Johnson – who really is an amazing person, and if you don’t follow her on twitter you should (the passionate defenses of reading are balanced by sheer insanity, it’s lovely)- pulled out a post from her blog archives that answered that beautifully. It speaks to the way we’re educated, the overwhelming mindset that forms the way we view books and reading and gender.

But this also goes back somewhat to the bookseller mentioned in the WSJ article. What this really highlights is the amount of people talking about the books in the teen section that have no idea what’s actually in the teen section.

Are there dark books in YA? Yes.

Are there a lot of female-centric books in YA? Yes.

And?

THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER KINDS OF BOOKS THERE AS WELL.

What about Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series? Or Charles Higson’s Young Bond? Or the Cherub series? All high-octane, high-action spy thrillers aimed towards teenage boys. Anything Orson Scott Card, John Green, David Levithan. How about Scott Westerfeld? How about Suzanne Collins? Boys are devouring The Hunger Games, and the fact that it’s written by a female doesn’t factor into that at all- her MG series, Gregor the Overlander, is also a boy favorite. How about Hannah Moskowitz’s books, which are by the way narrated by boys? Catherine Fisher’s books? Too many books about vampires? Vladimir Tod is a vampire, and his story has certainly sold- TO BOYS. He mentions Walter Dean Myers, but what about Christopher Paolini and Christopher Pike and Riggs Ransom? What about Sherman Alexie? Markus Zusak? James Dashner? Paolo Bacigalupi? How’s about Michael Scott? Want me to keep going? D.J. MacHale, Neal Shusterman, Joseph Delaney, Michael Grant? And that’s not even continuing the list of female authors who write strong, central male characters.

And you know what? If boys- and their parents and friends and teachers- didn’t get so hung up on what the covers look like, there’d be even more amazing stories for them to discover, books with strong stories and strong guys. Authors like Sarah Rees Brennan, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare offer stories that should not, under any circumstances, be limited to girls. Holly Black’s White Cate? It’s about a boy from a family of magical con artists. IT HAS A BOY ON THE COVER. I wouldn’t call that a female-centric book, never mind that it’s written by a female author or that it includes female characters.

It isn’t about the number of males writing in YA (male writers make up most of the adult fiction ranks and yet it’s mostly women who buy the books), it isn’t about the books that are out there. The books are there.

What we need to change is the attitude that keeps the boys- and the parents- from finding all of the amazing options that are already out there.

Teens, parents, as a bookseller, I am begging you: ASK US. Ask your booksellers. If you’re looking for books for boys, for younger precocious readers, if you’re looking for books that stay away from the magic or the vampires or the sex/drugs/angsty issues, ask your booksellers. Ask your school librarians, who work so hard to keep up to speed on what kids want to read. Ask the blogging community, ask twitter, but ask us. We’re out here. YA isn’t just my passion or hobby, it’s my JOB. Don’t be content with people who don’t actually know the section. If that bookseller doesn’t know, ask if there’s another employee who does, and when they’ll be there. Ask us.

It makes our day as well as yours.

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A Bit About Jargon: Signings

July 24, 2011 at 9:48 pm (General, Industry) (, )

It’s a massive book release summer, which means there are also a TON of author tours coming up. Events at Cons, workshops, regular signings…So here’s a bit about that.

1(these are in no particular order): Look before you ask.

Authors generally post tour info on their sites as soon as they have it confirmed. Publishers will also often put big events up on the author pages for their websites. Information is out there about the tours, signings, and other events, with where they’ll be held and what they’ll entail. Before you send an email or tweet or blog comment to the author asking- as eight hundred people in front of you have already asked- when they’re coming to your area, just check the website. THEN, if nothing’s listed anywhere that you can find, ask. But seriously, folks, they get eight million emails from people just like this, and so many of them ask the exact same things again and again. Just do a little research and save your chance for author contact for that burning question you’ve always wanted to ask.

2:When in doubt, check with the venue.

Every signing is going to have slightly different rules and restrictions. Some places you have to show up super early and get wristbands to show your general location in line. Some say you can bring your own books, some say you can bring your own books as long as you also purchase something at the store, some say that you have to purchase your books at the store but can bring them in with the receipt, some say you have to purchase them then and there. Venues will be apprised if the authors (or author handlers for the celebrities) have particular rules about whether or not you can take photos (and if so, whether or not you can get in there with them), whether or not they personalize, whether or not they’ll sign things other than books, as well as how many items people can bring to sign. There are a lot of things that suck more than showing up at a signing having spent money on a ton of books from somewhere else that the author won’t sign, but when it happens, you may or may not be able to think of anything. A simple call to the venue a few days in advance will tell you everything you need to know and save you a lot of hassle.

3: Be respectful.

Signings can vary from half a dozen to half a thousand, but every single other person is there for the exact same reason you are. Well, maybe not the one who was dragged along because he/she is the only one with a license or car but you get the drift. Everyone wants a chance to talk with the author, tell them how much they love the book(s) and gush about the characters and all that. Just be mindful of that. As you’re waiting, don’t begrudge the people in front of you, and when you actually get up to the table, don’t be an ass to the people behind you. It all balances out.

4: There’s a fine, fine line between fan and creeper.

You want to be very, very sure that you fall on the right side of this line. It can be hard to identify sometimes. The things that seem like they’ll be a really cool, funny schtick in theory may come off a little Fatal Attraction in person. Shrieking “OH MY GOD I LOVE YOU SO MUCH” can be a fairly normal reaction. Pulling down your pants to show them their name tattooed on your ass? Both illegal and terrifying. When in doubt as to where you fall on the line? Play it safe. It’s hard to get your book signed from the booking cell.

5: Be generous with the thank yous.

This seems like such a no-brainer but really, you’d be astonished at how much it gets overlooked. The author has written (an) amazing book(s) that you absolutely love, has now come (possibly) out the way to do this event, and he or she has just signed your book. Say thank you! And don’t forget the venue staff. Signings are incredibly, intensely stressful. Even when they’re fun, even if they’re small, there’s just SO much to putting them on. Hearing a thank you for a job well done? Definitely makes the event better for the staff.

6: Have fun, but pay extra attention to rule number 3.

You’re there to have fun, to see someone you admire, to get the books signed so you can pet the title page and grin like an idiot for years to come, and maybe some day down the line you can try to explain to your children exactly why they should care that this person scrawled their name in your book. Just remember rule number three.

For everyone who actually gets to attend the signings and Cons and workshops and all the fun shindigs- I’m jealous but happy for you. Go get ’em!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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The Difference Between Boys and Girls

May 10, 2011 at 9:00 am (Industry) (, )

Wow, there are a lot of ways this could go.

But we’re still talking about books here, people. Promise.

I got an interesting assignment at work the other day. We had a school contact us needing books for an in-school book fair, ranging PreK through 12, and with their discount, the books needed to average about five dollars a piece. Then came the really interesting part: every book had to be for boys AND girls.

And suddenly the project got a LOT harder.

It’s one of the first questions I ask people when they’re looking for recommendations for kids. What’s the gender, and what’s the age? It makes more of a difference than people realize, and if you track through, it starts a pattern that continues with us well into adulthood.

At the youngest age group, books are gender-neutral. Board books are, almost without exception, good for both boys and girls. At that age, there aren’t really preferences yet. They’re more interested in the colors and the patterns, in the visual stimulus.

It’s during preschool that this starts changing, and I think it’s safe to say Disney is to blame for a lot of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love Disney, I grew up on Disney, but it’s certainly a huge contributor to gender distinctions. One word: Princesses. Movies like Cars, Invincibles, Toy Story are geared a little bit more towards boys, but girls love them as well. The princesses are less boy-friendly. It’s hard at any age for a boy to be concerned with girls in big poofy dresses, especially when they’re prancing around with animals and singing. If you look at the Disney preschool section, about three quarters of it is Princess; the other quarter is a mixture of Pixar movies and Clubhouse Mickey. We start telling kids at a very young age that boys and girls don’t like the same things. We give them different toys, different books, different movies and stories, so even at so young an age, boys are being told that fairy tales aren’t really okay, and girls are being told that G.I. Joes are boy toys.

This actually levels out a little during kindergarten, specifically during the process of learning to read. You can thank teachers for this one. Because they have to administer to a mixed classroom, they look for the neutral titles, like Biscuit and Little Critter and Berenstain Bears, etc. It’s about recognizing the words and the characters, not the story. You still have the princesses and fairy tales, and girls are typically steered away from dinosaurs or soldiers, but within the classroom, they’re all reading the same things.

When we get to beginning chapter books, it’s amazing how even things are. Junie B Jones and Magic Tree House are pretty much staples, whether boy or girl. Same with My Weird School, or the A to Z mysteries. Even things that feature girls- like the Franny K Stein- are still weird enough that the boys love them. However, this is where things start getting a bit interesting. There are girls’ books like the Disney Fairies and the Ivy and Bean books, but it’s harder to find boys’ books that girls don’t also read. When it comes to reading, girls are omnivores. Boys are more picky. Girls will read books that feature boys but the opposite rarely holds true, especially as we get older.

Look at two of the biggest selling kids’ series: Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Main character? Boys. But girls devour them just as much. It’s not like it’s at all subtle, either. The boys are on the covers and in the titles but the girls just don’t care. They love the characters and the stories and it just doesn’t matter to them that it isn’t a girl in the main role. You hand a girl the first Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or Bobby Pendragon book, the boy on the cover isn’t going to turn them away. Then pick up Dragon Slippers or Ella Enchanted or Julie Edwards’ Mandy. If they’ve been raised to be polite, they may read the back or study the cover, but as soon as your back is turned, they’re putting it down. Sometimes you can convince them- tell them it’s about dragons who save a country, or someone who fights a curse of obedience, or an orphan who wants a home. If you can sell them on the story, they might be willing to overlook the fact that it’s female. Once they start reading, if they get sufficiently hooked, they’ll forget the girl and focus on the story. You have to get them past that.

Then we hit the teenage years. There are a number of male YA authors out there, but let’s be honest: if you look at the shelves in a bookstore, they seem like a distinct minority. There are a lot of female authors out there and most of them write more-or-less female-centric books. A notable exception is Hannah Moskowitz, who writes males protagonists, along with Heather Brewer’s Chronicles of Vladimir Tod. By this age, though, boys are generally being discouraged to read. They’re told to go out and play sports, or that reading is sissy or a waste of time. The ones that still read have generally skipped over most of the teen wall and gone straight into the general genres (usually the Star Wars/Halo/D&D novels, or the hardcore fantasy sagas of Jordan, Goodkind, or now Sanderson). They go into the Tom Clancy or the David Baldacci, but they don’t tend to go through the teen wall very often. There are exceptions (always, always exceptions).

So we get back to the original problem. How do I pick a stack of books designed to appeal equally to boys and girls? This is where it’s possible that I read too much: I know SO many amazing books that boys would probably love if they could just get past the girl on the cover. But- I’m not the one handing them the book. The books will be spread out on tables and they’ll be told to wander through and pick without anyone who knows the books well enough to sway them past the fact that the main character may be a girl.

I found a healthy number of books that I think fit the bill, and I’m pretty satisfied with the choices, but it really is such a strange thing: why do we tell boys and girls from suhc a young age that they should read different things? Why do we set them into this pattern that leads straight through adulthood?

Any thoughts? Ideas?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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