Plenty To Be Thankful For

November 2, 2011 at 8:57 pm (General) (, , , )

I thought about saving this for Sunday, when I do the more general posts, but the more I’ve been turning this over, the more I’ve wanted to answer now. So. Today’s a double header. Over on her blog, Beth Revis is asking a pretty simple question: what book(s) are you grateful for? It’s a simple question, but a less than simple answer.

Because the instinctive answer, perhaps the easy answer, is: all of them.

I am profoundly grateful for the mere existence of books, for the fact of them. For the history they represent, for the scientific endeavours they help produce, for the imaginations they spark, and for the worlds they introduce. I’m grateful for the fifty word stories we read as children, for the convoluted theories we read as students and adults. I’m even grateful for Wuthering Heights and I hate that book.

(Seriously, I hate that book. My sophomore English teacher and I had to work out a compromise that said I could spin all of my assignments to discuss why it’s a terribly book as long as I read the book and did the assignments- it was still a near thing.)

I’m a reader (obviously). I’m a writer. I’m a bookseller. I’m a lifelong amateur student and, if I could afford it, I would gladly be a professional student. Books are the ultimate glorification of language, of words. They’re powerful, they’re life-changing, they’re comforting, they’re frightening. Words have the power to shake apart civilizations. They can inspire us to unthought of heights and distances. They can reach across those same distances to close the gap. They tempt us, sometimes to greater things, sometimes to things that are…not. They can cause wounds, but they can also heal them. Words, written or spoken, can damage or even take a life. Words can also reaffirm life, not only our own but the lives of others, as well.

And we take these words, spin them into fine threads, and weave them into books- amazing, stunning, life-altering books.

And for that, I am grateful beyond words for the mere fact of books.

But to an extent, that answer is cheating. A little. Okay, maybe a lot. Blanket gratitude can still be a powerful and sincere thing, but in trying to define specifics, we come to understand why we’re grateful. So, after a great deal of thought, and in no particular order, here are some of the books I’m grateful for.

Martin the Warrior, by Brian Jacques. Some of you have heard me talk (or gush) about this book before, but in every way that matters, this is the book that made me a reader. I had always loved reading but this was the book that made it amazing, that made it magical and personal and life-altering. When I was ten, my school had an open house/parents night type thing that included a book fair in the media center. By that point, I’d read through most of the books in our school library. I saw people keep picking up the same book and putting it down again after a moment. Person after person after person. So I went over and picked it up, took a look, and from the cover I could kind of understand why they were putting it down. A mouse? In clothing? Wearing a sword? But I flipped it over to read the back and thought, despite the mice, it didn’t seem that different than the fantasies I already read. So I decided to give it a try. I had my allowance with me, no surprise that I would want to spend it on books, but when I went up to purchase it, the media specialist shook her head and gave it to me instead. Just for being willing to try it. I started reading it a few minutes later. And couldn’t put it down. I read all through the open house, through dinner, through the rest of the night, and long after I was supposed to be sleeping I was actually huddled under the covers with a flashlight. Reading. Devouring. Being changed forever. When I finished the book, it was about two in the morning and I was sobbing hysterically. I went across the hall to my mom’s room- it was empty- and then down to the kitchen, where she was sitting at the table with a mug of coffee and a crossword. As soon as she saw me she stood up, asked if I was okay, was I sick, was I hurt, did I have a nightmare, and I managed to sob out “WHY DID SHE HAVE TO DIE?!” Once she finally realized I was talking about the book, she started laughing so hard she sat down too hard and broke the chair. I had never been affected by a book like that! The characters were mice and moles and squirrels but I CARED about them, so much so that I cried when they hurt and I missed them when they were gone and I cheered for their successes and joys. This book made me care, and it made me look for other books, other characters, that would make me love them just as much. I wasn’t just reading for entertainment anymore- I was reading because I wanted to be immersed in lives. I read my first copy of this book to shreds, and when a house fire claimed my second copy, it was the first book I replaced. I read that one to shreds, too, and finally replaced it with a hardcover. I have a full hardcover set of all the Redwall books, and there are some I love beyonds words, but this one will always have a special place in my heart. Without this book, I might not have been open to all the amazing books that came after.

I first read this book when I was in fifth grade, but a lot of things happened between fifth and sixth grade. It wasn’t just the shock and trauma of entering middle school. To this day, I still call that the summer of death. Four people I was close to, three of whom I loved very much, died within a span of two months. I picked this book up at the library between funerals, needing something to read something but not having enough focus to read anything new, and an amazing thing happened: things started to make sense. As much sense as death ever makes, at any rate. It wasn’t that it explained things, it wasn’t that it gave a solution, but rather it showed a lot of different forms of grief and grieving, different ways to cope, and most of all it taught me that death was a part of life. It was scary and sometimes random, painful even it’s accepted with grace, a haunting spectre over all of us that we can’t let overshadow our lives. This book taught me what it was to live with death. It’s a beautiful book, full of poetry and connections and a child-like (though never childish) sense of wonder, where scientists are the world’s last true mystics, but it is, above all, a book about life. Not death- life. Sometimes I reread it for the language, sometimes for the images and the thoughts and the musings on science, but every time someone close to me dies, I reread it specifically for those meditations on life.

I’m grateful for these next two books for a lot of the same reasons. They get compared a lot- with reason- but they both accomplishe something truly amazing.
What Martin the Warrior did for me *mumble mumble* years ago, these series have done for countless other readers across the world. These books made kids WANT TO READ. Kids who a few months before would have groaned and grumbled about a 100 page book were suddenly absorbed in a 900 page book and wanting more. Waiting impatiently for the next book in the series, and in the meantime, looking for other things to fill the gap. They turned to their friends, to their parents, and then- miracle of miracles- to their teachers and librarians and booksellers, because they wanted to know more. Wanted to find more, to discover more. The more kids read, the more books get produced, and they are devouring them. The more people read, the better they do, in school, in life, and now they have springboard series that launch them into a lifelong love affair with books. For that, my gratitude knows no bounds.

I picked this specific book because it was the first one of hers I read, but really, I’m just grateful for Tamora Pierce. I read Wolf-Speaker when I was in seventh grade. I didn’t know it was book two of a series. I didn’t know there was an entire other series before that. It didn’t matter. Pierce wrote the story so fluidly that I didn’t need the previous installments to know what was going on. I loved the book, wanted more, and when I finally found the more, I was bowled over again and again. Talk about kick-ass heroines! But what made them really kick ass was how beautifully complex they were. They were strong but they were also vulnerable. They had faults and flaws, they had weaknesses, they had strengths, they had amazing gifts and skills they worked for, and they also had obstacles they couldn’t use those gifts to solve. They had to learn to rely on other people, as scary as they could be. And here’s the thing that really got me: they had to deal with things like going to the bathroom in the woods. They had to deal with menstruating and breasts and hormones. They were real. And they still are. Book by book, series by series, she maintains characters that are all distinct in their own ways, but in many ways could be considered ideal role models for girls who are too often told that they have to conform to some tame aspect. She takes up an entire shelf on my bookcase, some of them a little battered, but starting my collection of her books took a significant part of my babysitting money one summer. For her characters, for Alanna and Daine and Kel and Aly and Beka, I am grateful.

This next one…it’s…well it’s…

I hate Twilight. I really do. As a writer, it makes me cringe; as a reader, it makes me feel less intelligent; as a female, it makes me genuinely frightened. I hate this book, and I hate this series.
I’m still grateful for it.
Like Harry Potter, like Percy Jackson, the Twilight series got people reading. It reached a massive audience crossing all ages and served as a springboard for other series. I think it could safely be argued that this book launched a hell of a lot of careers, and strengthened others. It didn’t create YA/Teen as a category but it helped define it, helped it stand on its own amidst a number of other categories.
The other reason I’m grateful for this book is a little trickier: this book reminds me on an almost daily basis one of the fundamental truths of reading: everyone reads differently. The same words on the page will be read differently by different people, and they mean different things. They’re taken different ways. And each of those ways, those interpretations? Are completely valid. Twilight reminds me that every book, no matter how much I personally hate it, has readers who love it and will champion it to the ends of the earth in the face of all disdain. There are books I love, books I recommend and gush about and read over and over, that people have come back to me and said they hated. It’s the reason I won’t argue about Wuthering Heights being a classic, only that it’s not romantic in any sense other than the time period and style of the writing. And there are plenty of people, including one of my best friends, who will argue me on that point to their last breaths. And that’s okay.

This last one is a recent discovery, and I’ve gushed about it recently. I can’t talk about this book without gushing. I can’t do it. I’ve tried. I try to talk calmly and rationally about this book but it always ends in me gushing about how absofrickinlutely amazing this book is. Curious yet?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor made me fall in love all over again with language. With the beauty of words and the sheer poetry and grace in the ways they can be spun together. Just as the types and order of the strung objects from Brimstone’s shop change the result, so do the order and choices of the words. I can easily devour books in one sitting, especially ones I love as much as this one, but as much as I didn’t want to stop, there were times when I had to close the book on my finger and just take a moment to savor the images the words painted on the backs of my eyes. Where Martin the Warrior made me fall in love with characters, this book revived my obsession with words, the foundation and the root and the heart of what we do. We can tell a story with gestures, with music notes, with pictures, but what we do as writers, what we absorb as readers, is the words, the language. For reminding me of how elegant my normally clumsy language can be, I am grateful.

And now, just as Beth asked us, I ask you: What books are you grateful for?

Need some incentive to share? To celebrate her gratitude for books, Beth is hosting a giveaway- check out her site or the image below to find out more.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Cover Love: October Edition

October 16, 2011 at 12:11 pm (Cover Love) (, , , , , , )

And it’s back! Got a mix for you today as far as release dates go, some out now and some that don’t even have a release date yet, but there are a couple of them that may have made me bounce up and down in my chair and squeal like a little girl when I saw them, so without further ado: ta-da!

I loved the cover for Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood. It was all eerie shades of white and grey with a few vibrant strokes of black, and eye-catching violent sweeps of red. It told you right off the bat that this was a ghost story, and a violent one. Well, Anna’s back on the cover of Girl of Nightmares (no release date yet) and- just a guess- I’d say she’s back with a vengeance.

This cover is like a photo negative of the first. Here it’s the reds that hold most of the page, with darker shapes in the distance that make it unclear if we’re going through a hellscape or mountains. Either way, the cliff edges are tall and curling in, almost claustrophobic, and clearly an indication of danger. My guess would be hellscape, given the not-entirely there figures in the foreground, reaching for Anna. Here’s the question, though: are they reaching to her for help? Or to offer more danger? You can’t really tell from her face or her body language; if she’s afraid, she isn’t showing it. Her exact expression is hard to define- it could be a lot of things- and the way she’s holding out her hand is equally ambiguous. Is she extending an invitation? Or a dare? Just as the use of red in the first cover drew your eye to the bloodstains, here it’s the unexpected white of Anna’s dress that pulls in your attention. A sweet girl in a cute white dress…in a hellscape? It almost dares you to find out why. Sadly, we’ll probably we waiting until August for this one.

Here we’re going to switch to a contemporary (I know, how often do I do that, right?) but this is one that held be spellbound when I first saw the cover.

At first glance, it’s easy to miss what this is. An x-ray of a flower, maybe, or a magnified fractal image of a snowflake. But look again- those are dancers. People made to look so identical that they all blur together into a single design. Welcome to the world of ballet. It isn’t just the image is harmonious. It isn’t just that the repeating pattern lulls the eye into tracing the arms. Fractals are intriguing, they’re soothing. Here the image is delicate and elegant- and also a little frightening. Because again: THOSE ARE PEOPLE. And to create an image like they, they sacrificed all individuality, everything unique about them, to blend against the larger design. Ever watched a ballet and wondered how they survive being made to dance all the same? What about making your life all the same as well? I don’t normally go for contemporary, but this cover alone is enough to make me want to read this book. Bunhead, by Sophie Flack, is out in stores now.

To those familiar with this next author, this cover is QUITE a switch from her others- which gives some interesting promise that the story will be, as well.

I love instruments of time on covers. Hourglasses, watches, clocks, even sundials, anything that gives the impression that time is of the essence. That being said, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it come across in such a fantastically creepy manner. It isn’t just that the hourglass is filled with sand rather than blood- it’s that there’s blood on the outside of the glass, too. The two pieces are nearly equal in volume so whatever’s happening, there is a balance to it. Hourglasses, once empty, turn over to start the new process. But given that blood, unlike sand, is a perishable substance- do you suppose it needs to be replaced once it runs out? I love the background here, largely because it gives the ghost of images without destracting from the main focus. The vine-like designs in the upper corners, the suggestion of a face on the left side. It doesn’t pull from the hourglass in the way a busier background might, but neither does it detract in the way a completely plain background would. It is, like the levels of blood in the hourglass, the perfect balance. Every Other Day, the first of a new series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, is out December 27th of this year.

Ready for the next one?

Starting at the top of the cover of Fracture by Megan Miranda, we get a winterscape, cold and grey, skeletal trees caught between slumbering and dying, with a light dusting of snow. Bleak, relentless, frigid…already not a promising sight. Then, as our eyes travel down to the base of the cover, we see what might be a ghost, might be a reflection, of a girl. Her face is expressionless, caught in that same in-between aspect as the trees beyond her. Then, just a little further down, we see the girl herself, caught against the sheet of ice on the lake in such a way that she might almost be under it. She isn’t- but she might have been once, leaving behind the ghost or the echo or the reflection of the girl who looks back at her. Despite the parka, there’s something cold to her- something that has a lot to do with why she’s lying on snow or ice out in the middle of the woods. This is a book where Death is a constant shadow, reaching out a hand as skeletal as the bare trees to try to keep what it has claimed. What we’ll have to discover is what the consequences of escaping Death once might be. This comes out 17 January 2012, right in the dead of winter.

Last one for today, one I have been looking forward to so, SO much.

Even before you read the jacket copy, you know Marie Lu’s Legend has a military rigidity to it. It’s all polished steel like a gun barrel, with stark, sharp-edged contrast in the form of antique gold like medals and insignia. And that’s it. Spartan, severe, no frills or extra colors, it’s like a punch to the stomach if you step out of line. We are not going to go into this book expecting softness and cuddles. Look at the actual insignia though. The left side of it forms a stylized R (presumably for Republic), but look at the right side. In order to maintain the design, in order to keep the visual appeal without disrupting the identifiable nature of the R, there’s a free-floating piece. Essential to the design, but probably rather difficult to pin in place. Necessary, but troublesome. That free-floating piece? That’s our story. How that free-floating piece works within the larger design, the fragility of a portion without connection to the whole, that’s what we’re diving into the gun barrel to find out. If you’re like me, 29 November 2011 can’t come quickly enough.

Any covers you’ve seen in the past month that you want to share? Anything out now or upcoming that you think sells you on trying the book? Share below!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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The Dreaded Question

October 2, 2011 at 10:24 am (General) (, , )

There’s this question that I think every serious reader loathes and fears. It sits and waits- or doesn’t. When a non-reader or mild-reader finds out how into books you are, it’s often the first thing out of their mouth. It comes up in conversation when you have a book with you in line for fast food, outside of a movie waiting to be seated, on the bus.

Sometimes in job interviews, if the field is book-related.

I know the question’s coming and I try to prepare for it, but every time I manage to draw a complete blank. Mostly because there’s a lot of swearing where my regular words should be. Even when I know it’s coming.

The question?

What’s your favorite book?

How the f@&$ing hell do I CHOOSE?

The whole concept of a favorite book baffles me. It’s like choosing a favorite child- parents aren’t supposed to do that, right? Teachers aren’t supposed to choose a favorite student, bosses aren’t supposed to choose a favorite employee, favoritism in general is frowned upon in both a personal and professional setting. We’re not supposed to pick favorites.

And yet as soon as you tell someone that you don’t have a favorite book, they’re look at you like you’re:

A) Crazy. Favoritism, socially acceptable or not, is nonetheless an inherent part of human nature, therefore anyone without a favorite item within various categories is clearly missing an essential piece of intelligence or function.

B) Slow. You do actually have a favorite, right? It’s just not coming to you with the speed of the rest of the conversation. If they sit back with a condescending smile on their face and wait, it’ll catch up to you. Because everyone has a favorite.

C) Indecisive. Once they find out you are unable to name a favorite book, you’ll notice they ask for less input in other arenas as well. Like where to eat. Or what movie to watch. Because if you can’t even come up with a favorite book, how are you going to be able to come up with a decision for anything else.

D) A Reader. This attitude comes pretty much only from other serious readers. Which means the question probably came from someone else in the conversation.

I honestly don’t think I know anyone with a favorite book. Granted, I know and love a WHOLE BUNCH of people who read for fun and fulfillment, so my view is noticably skewed. But if I go around to my family, to my friends, to my co-workers, I don’t think there’s a single one who can identify a favorite book. Maybe a favorite author or series, and they can sometimes name a favorite book within that set, but if you ask them flat out if that’s their favorite book, they’ll probably sputter and backpeddle and say no, just one of them.

Because that’s the only answer most readers can give, me included. I don’t have a favorite book. What I do have is a list of favorite books. Books that for whatever reasons- some I’m able to name, some I never can- stick with me over the years and always jump to the tongue during conversations like this. Books that I consistently bring up whenever talk of good books arises.

When I sat down in my first interview for my current job at a bookstore, I was half-expecting The Question to come up at some point. It’s a bookstore, right? You have to be able to talk about books. I kept waiting for it as we wove through a mix of personal and professional questions, interspersed with some hypotheticals, and then it came. And I still had no idea how to answer it. What I finally said? “Ask me tomorrow.” And the manager started laughing and said “Oh, yeah, you’re a reader”.

But customers ask me ALL THE TIME. What’s your favorite book? Most of them will smile and go along with it when I take them to several on the list and talk about them, but some want to press the point. No, what’s your favorite?

The thing is, these people? They’re not readers. They may grab a Nicholas Sparks or James Patterson to rip to shreds at the beach, but they can probably count on one hand the number of books they read in a year. Well, if they’re James Patterson fans, they may go up to two hands and a foot just to keep up with the new releases. For these people, their pool of choices is so slim that maybe it’s not hard to pick a favorite.

But when you read literally hundreds of books in a year’s time?

Then The Question becomes the bane of your existence.

So, for the sake of the curious, what do you say when someone asks you that question?

Until next time~
Cheers

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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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Share the Love

September 4, 2011 at 11:40 am (General) (, , , , )

When I was little and tried to imagine what heaven looked like, it looked an awful lot like the main branch of my county library.

Our main branch is situated right in the middle of the downtown-university area, nowhere near where we lived at the time, so getting to it was a pain, parking was a pain, and timing was everything. Despite that, Mom made sure we got there as often as we could- as often as I’d been good- especially when school was out. At the tender age of five and a half, I knew that place like the back of my hand and could find any book I wanted, even if it wasn’t in the kids’ section. When I checked out books, it wasn’t one or two, it was a STACK, and I’d have them all read within a week.

A couple of years later, we hit a bit of a snag with our summer arrangements. My brothers were old enough enough to stay home unsupervised, so technically they were old enough to babysit me, but that would have been cruel and unusual punishment for all involved and very likely to end in tears and bruises for multiple parties. My brothers and I didn’t really get along all that well at that age. My grandparents were talking about moving down, but they hadn’t yet, and we couldn’t really afford daycare (one of the reasons we went to the library rather than the bookstore). So, bright and early one Saturday morning, my mom and I got in the car and toddled down to the library to talk to the head librarian. I remember nothing about her, because I’m pretty sure that was the only time I ever met her, but at the end of the meeting, we had a rather bizarre little arrangement worked out on a probationary basis.

Librarians are not, in fact, babysitters- as far too many parents assume- but some of the librarians were familiar enough with me to vouch for my habits and behavior, so the head librarian gave my mother permission to let me stay in the library during the weekdays without direct adult supervision. The slightest inconvenience, the slightest sign of misbehavior, that permission would be revoked. (During this meeting, I went down to the kids’ section, pulled two books, read them completely, toddled back down and put them exactly where they belonged on the shelves)

Monday was the big trial. As soon as the library was open, my mom dropped me off with my backpack (which had some coloring books and crayons in case I needed a break from reading, as well as one of the stuffed animals I loved to read with/to), five dollars for lunch, and two sheets with names and phone numbers on them, one for me and one to keep with the librarians at the kids’ circulation desk. I found a comfortable chair in a sunny spot (I’m rather like a cat that way), staked my claim with my backpack, and wandered off to round up a good selection of books for the morning. I read, I played quietly with some of the younger kids as their parents looked through books, read out loud to some who weren’t old enough to manage on their own, and when I got hungry, I put away my books, told the volunteer at the kids’ desk that I’d be back, and left the library for lunch. Before anyone gets too scared, there was a Subway right across the street, so it wasn’t like I was wandering around downtown. Then, after I’d eaten, I came back and repeated the routine for the afternoon. When my mom came to pick me up, I picked another few books to check out, we went home, and the whole thing had been such a success we repeated it for a large part of the summer.

I got to know every librarian and they’d give me suggestions for books to try next, or- and this got me really excited- ask me what I thought some of the other kids should read. I’d help with the reshelve carts and the decorations, and help with the storytimes, and I loved it. All of it.

Why am I telling you this?

Libraries have a lot of love to give, but they need love in return, and in the wake of Hurricane Irene, there are some that need extra love right now.

Kate Messner posted a blog with pictures from a small library in Upper Jay, New York whose children’s section has been completely ruined by flooding from Irene, and it’s far from the only library so devestated. I dare you to look at those mountains of ruined books and not choke up a little. For this area and others, the libraries are the only way some kids get access to books, especially now with schools equally damaged or hard to access.

If you love your libraries, your librarians, your kids, your readers, if you love anything about putting a book into someone’s hands, share that love.

Kate’s blog has a list of contacts and info for some of the libraries she knows of that need special help right now, but you can search out other libraries in the northeast that have also been hit. Most of them are asking for checks at this point, given the severe limitations on dry storage space for packages, but some are also working with local bookstores to allow people to purchase books through the store and the store will not only keep track of what’s been purchased and what’s still needed, but also hold the books there until the library is repaired and ready to receive them.

We live in a time when money is extremely tight, but even five or ten dollars can help restore these libraries, one book at a time.

When you share the love, it isn’t just the libraries you’re helping; you’re also helping all the kids like us, the ones who are starting off on a lifetime love affair with reading, the future writers, the future agents and editors and publishers. You’re helping an entire generation fall in love with books.

So please, if you can, share the love.

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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Summer Series Soundoff, Session 2

May 18, 2011 at 9:00 am (General) (, , , , )

And here we pick back up with the fun. For those of you just tuning in, I’m rounding up some of my favorite series, finished and continuing, for the long summer of reading ahead. Don’t forget to tune in down below with your favorites!

Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead, takes its title from the first book. It’s an interesting take on vampires here, with three distinct types: Strigoi, the baddies who like to go ahead killing people and nomming on them; Moroi, the kinder gentler vamps who nom only a little at a little and only with permission; and Dhampir, half Moroi guardians who protect the Moroi from the Strigoi threat. This series has one of the most kick-ass heroines ever. Rose Hathaway has a talent for sassing, getting knocked on her rear, and jumping right back into the fight, rarely taking the time to think any of it through first. This series was finished with its sixth book, BUT, it has a spinoff series starting in August with the book Bloodlines, so the fun doesn’t have to end.

For those who love historicals, especially anyone who has ever gone to, worked, or loved Renaissance Festivals, the Blood Jack series by L.A. Meyer is an absolute must. Jacky Faber is an absolute blast. She’s resourceful and fun-loving and respectfully irreverent, and just careens through such an exciting time of history and exploration. There is so much real history woven through this, and the detail is absolutely astounding. Teachers? This series could become your best friend. Seriously. Next book comes out in October in the seas of the Far East, and I cannot wait.

This is a series I’ve mentioned before, but I absolutely love it. The Squire’s Tale by Gerald Morris starts us off on a ten-book adventure through King Arthur’s Camelot and the quests of the knights connected to the Round Table. These stories are told with humor and grace and an exquisite sensitivity that illuminates both the sorrows and the joys of life. The stories themselves are old, but the characters come alive and make you want to laugh and cry, sometimes even at the same time. Teachers, this is another on you want to look out for.

Next up is a Middle Grade series by Garth Nix, called The Keys to the Kingdom. I’ll be the first to admit, this series is bizarre, but in such a wonderful way. Strange and foreign and yet everything makes an odd kind of sense. Think Mirrormask meets Alice in Wonderland meets Nightmare Before Christmas. Seriously. It takes a healthy sense of weird to really appreciate this utterly unique world, but if you can swallow all the things you don’t understand and just immerse yourself completely, it’s the ride of a lifetime.

I was a little hesitant to start this next one, mainly because I really didn’t like the author’s first book, but Lauren Oliver’s Delirium was breathtaking in so many ways, not the least of which was the masterful portrayal of the push-me-pull-me sensation of teetering on a decision that will change all the rest of your life. It’s a terrifying position to be in, especially when you’re taught that love is a disease that destroys everything it touches and therefore must be cured. It pulled me in so completely I was stunned when I reached the end of it- and started swearing when I realized how long it was going to be before the next one came out (especially since I got an advance of this one, so I read it five months before it was even released). Look for the second one around February, most likely.

Pretty much anything Tamora Pierce goes on my summer reading list. I reread her again and again and again, because I just love her stories and her characters and her worlds so much. She’s got the third book in her Beka Cooper series coming out in October, Mastiff by name, and I can’t wait. Beka’s story is amazing, and her voice is stunning, that blend of Lower City cant and the gradual increase of intelligence and observation as she proceeds through her training. The fact that Beka, as a Provost’s Dog, is an ancrestress of Alanna’s George is…well, priceless, and given that it requires a mate of some sort to be an ancestor, it lets us wonder if perhaps George inherited his tendencies honestly- just not from Beka. Hopefully, this will be the book where we get to find out.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis came out in January, with A Million Suns to come out next year. It’s almost space opera meets murder mystery dinner theatre, and I mean that in such a fun way. The dust jacket includes a map of the ship. The society that has evolved on the ship as the intended occupants slumped in cryostasis is simultaneously simple and complex with more secrets than anyone knows to look for. I occasionally have issues, but I’m very much looking forward to what happens next, especially since there’s a vague sense of hopelessness that will linger from the previous book.

All of Rick Riordan’s Middle Grade books go on this list. The Percy Jackson books, along with its continuation of the Heroes of Olympus, makes me so ridiculously happy. I love mythology just as much as I love fairy tales, and I love books that get kids reading, and this series just…I love it. Same with the Kane Chronicles- Egyptian mythology is confusing as best, layered through itself many times over the millenia, but it becomes so clear, and Carter and Sadie’s banter and knife-sharp observations are brilliant. This is another set(s) for teachers to love, because it actually gets kids excited about the lessons. Heroes of Olympus continues in October with book two, Son of Neptune.

I’ve talked about the next one before- raved about it, really- but I’m still excited about this one. Veronica Roth’s Divergent was amazing, and I can’t wait for the sequel. Having to wait til May is kind of killing me. I put the review up here on the site, so feel free to hit that up for more gushing about how much I loved this book.

Of course, this list couldn’t possibly be complete without the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I could gush about this forever and maybe in another post I will, but this series rejuvenated the industry of kids lit. I won’t say it was dying before, but this gave it a huge boost because suddenly kids wanted to be reading. And it wasn’t just kids! Adults were suddenly discovering how amazing so many of these books are, and enjoying it for themselves and not just for their kids. If you haven’t read this series, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

If you’ve never read Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series, you’re in for a treat. Plots within plots and plans within plans, there isn’t a single thing in this series that can be taken for granted. It isn’t just court intrigue, it’s the intrigue of people and countries and hearts, as intensely personal as it is political. Everything has more than one way it can be taken, and the way we take it is so rarely the way it’s meant. These books will blow your mind.

This is another one you’ve seen here on the blog: Paranormalcy by Kierstin White. The second book, Supernaturally, comes out this July (another one of those books that’s going to keep me broke this summer) and I’m very much looking forward to it. Evie is bouncy and silly and a little bit scary and more than anything, just wants a normal life. It should be interesting to see what happens when she’s actually got it, or at least as close to it as she’s likely to get when she’s…well…Evie.

Last one, I promise! This is a little bit of an older one, but it made me fall in love with the Regency period. Patricia C. Wrede’s Mairelon the Magician and its sequel The Magician’s Ward were amazing. The system of magic, the detail of everyday life, the dialect, the plots, the characterizations…loved everything about them. This was the series that made me fall in love with historical fiction. They were just rereleased together in a single volume, in print and in ebook, which makes me laugh a little over the weeks I spent trying to track down a pair that were in really good condition, but a fair number of libraries still have these, so do yourself the favor and check these out.

Don’t forget, drop me a note and let me know what your favorites are! What are you looking forward to this summer? What’s on your list?

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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Don’t Judge A Book By…

April 16, 2011 at 10:20 am (General, Industry) (, , , , , , )

Stay tuned below for giveaway information!

We all know what comes next, right?

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Except, we do. All the time.

Almost always, the cover is either the first or second thing we see. We may see the title first, if the book is spined out on the shelf, but if it’s faced out it’s the cover that first has the chance to catch our eye. That’s what’s going to bring us over to the shelf, that’s what’s going to make us pick up the book and investigate further. It isn’t the cover that makes us buy the book- the writing and the promise of the story is what does that- but the cover is the bait.

And because the cover is our first impression of the book, we make certain judgments based on that.

We decide what ‘type’ of book it is, what the story is likely to encompass, who the target audience is, even what the tone of the book is going to be. The cover can make or break a book as far as getting it into people’s hands are concerned- and publishers are very aware of this. The covers are designed to make very specific impressions; let’s take a look, shall we?

Right off the bat, there are certain things you know about this book. The background of a galaxy tells you right away that this is sci-fi; deep space, given the darker colors, which already gives us a sense of isolation and tension despite the beauty. The positions of the faces give us drama- we know there’s going to be romance, but we also know that things are going to be complicated by coming from very different perspectives. We also know there’s a mystery here- from right to left (opposite the way most people scan the page), as the background passes through the gap between the two figures, the image changes from a galaxy of stars through some bright source and into something that looks more like water, which makes us wonder what else we’re going to find out in space. It also tells us that the target audience is female- boys may not be terrified to be seen with it, but the predominance of pinks and purples, along with the near kiss of the figures, means this is going to appeal much more to females than males. (Across the Universe, by Beth Revis)

Compare that to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It’s striking (eye-catching) in its simplicity, stark contrasts, basic colors, a memorable design. It’s a strong image, a little military with the font and the clean lines, and then the bird with the arrow. We know right away that there’s going to be violence in this book; we know it’s going to be dark, we know the threats are going to come from multiple angles, and we know that arrow is going to be very, very important. Yes, the bird is as well, but even the way the bird is shaped draws the eye to the arrow. This is a cover that’s going to appeal to males and females alike. Just from the cover, we know better than to expect anything approaching light and fluffy.

We also see this in Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron. The dark colors draw us in, especially given the contrast with the prismatic blues and silvers. Our eyes like the shiny in conservative doses, especially because the prisms make it seem false.. The skeletal leaves speak to ill health, the rusting machine components speak to decay, and the portions of number- like computer code- fascinate us. What do they mean? Are they counting down? Counting up? Listing things off? Up near the top we see the blending become more intertwined, but the page is dominated by the key. Keys are, by themselves, fascinating things, because if there is a key, there must be a lock, and if there’s a lock, there’s an obstacle. Instant promise. The fact that this key is so ornate just draws us in deeper. The deep, cool colors make it gender neutral, so anyone who likes that bit of darkness, that edge, to their books is going to be drawn to this one.

Then there are covers like that of Andrea Cremer’s Nightshade– this is very much aiming at a female audience. It isn’t just that there’s a girl on the cover (though that’s certainly a piece of it). Ignoring the tag line for the moment, we see blood dripping from the T of the title, see splashes of color in the throats of the lilies that could also be blood. The girl’s make up, the shimmering sheen of the cover, the pinks and lavenders, all indicate that this is geared towards girls. The flowers and the make up indicate that there’ll be romance, even as the hard gold of her eyes lets us know that this isn’t going to be a typical high school drama at the lockers affair. Those eyes aren’t human, and the way they’re shaded at the edges, to draw that gold into greater relief against a cover with a mostly silver cast to it, we know there’s going to be violence- you don’t have colors hit each other that hard for a soft novel. We know, as soon as we look at this cover, that the main character isn’t human, she isn’t soft, and that there will be both blood and romance. (Note: the cover is being redone for the paperback issue; this is the original hardcover image)

Boys are harder to attract, on so many levels. It’s hard to get them in the bookstores in the first place, because we as a culture have this strange obsession against boys reading- that they have “better things to do”. Boys are much more self-conscious than girls about being seen with books, and many are worried that they’ll be made fun of. Covers with lots of soft colors or with glammed up girls across the front are unlikely to find their way into boys’ hands even if the story itself is designed to appeal to both genders.

So for this, publishers rely on things like Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. It’s a bold cover, strong colors, red and steel blue-greys and dull bronze. We know right away that this is steampunk, which is something boys can really sink their teeth into because it’s machines and grease and shop class on a grand scale. (No, I’m not saying girls can’t sink their teeth into steampunk, but we’re talking about boys for the moment.) The wings give us flight, but there’s something almost skeletal about them, unfinished- there are obstacles and threats visible even from the cover. Boys are less likely than girls to pick up books with portraits on the cover, but on other issuues of the cover, at least it’s a boy (and he isn’t so pretty that a boy will a: make fun of it, or b: feel uncomfortable with it). This is something a boy feels safe picking up and being seen reading.

So, AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION TIME: what cover has jumped out at you recently? What about it made you take that closer look?

Leave me an answer before midnight EST on April 23rd, and you can win a copy (might be ARC, might be finished) of one of my favorite covers so far this year: Veronica Roth’s riveting debut Divergent. (US only, sorry- postage is expensive). But seriously, isn’t that cover amazing? And all you have to do to win this amazing book is:

1. Follow this blog: lots of book reviews, meditations on writing and the book industry, and lots and lots of pretty covers.

2. Tell me about a cover that has captivated you recently, and what about it caught your attention. What did you like about it? Why did it work? Make sure you include a name and an email in the comment so I can contact the winner.

That’s it, folks, and that amazing book can be yours!

Update 4.24: And, thanks to random.org, we have a randomly generated winner from the comments! Thank you so much to everyone who participated, and keep an eye out for more giveaways in the future. Congratulations, Danah! You’ve won the ARC of Divergent, and will be shortly getting an email from me to arrange details.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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A Bit About Jargon: Displays

April 12, 2011 at 9:00 am (Industry) (, , , )

Before we begin, I have been…oh, let’s say requested…by a new company policy at my work to post a disclaimer. I’m cheating a little as I do this, because I haven’t said what company what I work for and frankly don’t intend to, but in the spirit of one who more or less follows the rules, here goes: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, and the statements made therein, are in no way indicative of or reflect the views, opinions, and statements of the company I work for, and should not be thus construed. Consider this my past, present, and future disclaimer. That being done, let’s continue, shall we?

A question I get a lot from customers, and from a fair amount of small press local authors, is about displays. How do we decide what goes on display? Why can’t we make a display of his/her book?

The first one is the easiest to answer: how do we decide what goes on display?

We don’t.

Okay, we mostly don’t. IF there’s space left over after everything we’re required to have, we can sometimes create a Staff Recommends or Local Interest display. That’s a big IF, though, because the way displays normally work is this: publishers buy them. It’s true, it all comes down to money. Publishers pay the big book retailers to display the titles they want to push. I have no idea how much display a given amount of money buys, and don’t need to know. At least not yet, anyway- someday it might have more immediate meaning. There are different types of displays, and different amounts of visibility.

Corrugates: Also called dumps, as in book dump. They come in different sizes and shapes, holding anywhere from three to sixteen (or who knows, maybe more) spaces for books. Sometimes it’s just a vertical shaft for the books on top of a support to keep it standing, no frills, no extras, relying purely on the book itself to capture your attention. Corrugates can also be very elaborate, with full size figures or designs that tie in the cover or theme of the book. A recent example of this can be seen with Lauren DeStefano’s Wither; the shaft holds a column of three hardcover books (perhaps four or five books deep in each pocket), with an elaborate, withered tree around the construction and the design theme of the book chasing across the branches with the phrase “No girl has escaped”. It’s eye-catching, draws the attention of browsers as well as makes it easy to distinguish it from the other books.

Endcaps: Aisles finish off in what are called endcaps, and should always have a unifying theme. Sometimes these are single-publisher displays; more often, these cross different publishers to group around whatever that theme is. A good example of the first one was the To Kill a Mockingbird anniversary not too long ago- it had several different editions of the book as well as essay collections and commentaries. For the second, you know that new show, The Borgias? There are a fair number of novels out there that deal with the Borgias as either main or incidental characters, or are set within the same time period and locations, so these all tie together nicely into a display to not only advertise the series but attract people who are already fans of the series and want to learn more. These also serve to group together similar titles so that someone who has read and loved one can find others that might appeal to them.

Stepladders: These are usually prominent in the front of the store and change every week for the brand spanking new releases. These books are the BIG PUSH by the publishers, because they’re pretty much the first thing the customers see when they enter the store. These fixtures occasionally share titles, but it’s rare- it’s almost always significant quantity of a single title.

Tables: There are a lot of different kinds of tables. Smaller ones usually group around a specific author or series, usually in preparation for or celebration of a new release/movie/reissue. Larger tables, because of their size, have to be a lot more general. New In Hardcover Fiction, for example, or Back to School. These are themes with very large windows that allow a lot of books to be on display at once, anywhere from twenty to a hundred titles depending on the size of the table.

There are a couple of other types of displays as well- waterfalls, in section features, etc- but they follow the same basic principles as the others.

There are two kinds of exceptions.

Bestseller bays: This is a purely by-the-numbers display, one that has nothing to do with the publisher and everything to do with the simple fact of whether or not people are buying the books. Like the others, we have zero control over this on a store level.

New Release bays: These are a little trickier, because they’re a weird blend of by-the-numbers and common sense. When a book releases in quantity, if it isn’t on a display, we put it into a new release section at the head of its genre to draw extra attention. Yes, this can create confusion, but it’s actually meant to be easier: when a new book comes in, you check with the new books. These rotate through on a couple of factors: sales, how long we’ve had it, whether or not the vendor wants it back, and whether or not we’re modeled for it. (When we’re modeled, it means it’s something the company expects us to have on hand all the time- as soon as we sell a title below the modeled number, it’s on automatic reorder. Modeled titles are the ones everyone expects to see, the ones that have continued sales). As we figure through these different factors, we either leave a title in the new release bay, move it in lesser numbers to the section, or return it to the vendor.

The New Release bays are the only ones that are store specific. Everything else is mandated by agreements between the home office and publishers.

We have to do those displays, but every now and then, there’s a little bit of space left over, an empty endcap, a spare small table, maybe even a display behind the registers or in the window, that we can play with. WITHIN LIMITS. If you’re a local author wanting to get your book into stores, and it’s actually possible for the store to do so (thaaaaaat’s probably best to save for another post), this is sometimes the best way to get that extra visibility, IF the store has the extra space to do a Staff Recs or Local Interest. Be warned, though, this is very rare. It’s far more common that we have to struggle to get up all of the required displays, much less the optional but strongly suggested ones that have to come before anything we might want to add on a store level. Larger stores will have a better chance of this; smaller stores pretty much never manage it. If they have the space, if they can get your book, and if you speak very politely with the community relations managers, this could be your way onto a display, but all other displays are mandated by publishers and home office.

Of course, the important thing to keep in mind is that this is all in reference to the larger chains. Independant bookstores are going to have a lot more leeway in this, and within reason are a lot more able to work with local authors. Something to remember.

Any questions about displays? Or anything else? Let me know, and I’ll do my best.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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