Sunday, June 28, 2009

We all use math every day

In the words of a famous television math professor:

We all use math every day. To predict weather. To tell time. To handle money. Math is more than formulas and equations. It's logic. It's rationality. It's using your mind to solve the biggest mysteries we know.

Math is the reason I've been away for a few days. We're now on Day 3 of the book workshop. Basically, during the workshop, we split up into groups, form a publishing company, and buy and sell and market titles. My job within the company? Trade Sales Manager. That's right. I, who became a librarian because I was told there was no math, am now Numbers Girl. It's the job of the sales manager to predict sales based on numbers of comparable titles, to know the market and what's selling now. Sales has to know where the gaps are on our lists and how we can fill them. It's not the job I would have chosen for myself and it's not making me love math and calculations, but I find I'm learning a great new skill set, which is what I came to the course for in the first place. Sales is, as Charlie Eppes might say, using your mind to solve the biggest mystery in publishing, that is, how many copies of a book we can sell.

Like math, sales is not a job you always have to build from the ground up. There are formulas and precedents, and you use existing books to try to predict how well your book will do. Today there will be an auction for a book, and later this week I'm going to pitch our books to a buyer. (Which, for my fellow librarians, is pretty much booktalking, but to grownups, with much higher stakes.) I think of it as learning a new language. Though I still can't remember what F&G stands for.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Columbia Publishing Course, Days 5-9

Days 6-7 were free. Next!

I continue to be absolutely floored by the speakers. Highlights of the past few days have included:

  • Megan Tingley (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers). Megan's presentation was on children's publishing, and as someone who doesn't know as much about picture books as I ought to, I was happy to hear her talk about authors and artists like Todd Parr and Darren Shan. (Let's not forget that from approximately 2001 to 2007, Darren Shan positively owned the YA horror market.)
  • Chip Kidd (Knopf) had us all in stitches. My seat partner laughed so hard during Kidd's presentation that she cried. Besides the funny, we got to see a montage of the process of some of the book covers Kidd has done. He also talked about the production of the cover art of his own book, The Learners. (It's about the Milgram Behavioral experiments, for those who are interested. I am!) I have all the artistic ability of a toddler, but Kidd made me want to work in book design.
  • Carolyn Pittis (HarperCollins) talked about global marketing strategies. Wow. Just. Wow. She crammed a phenomenal amount of information on sales, tracking, marketing, and new technologies into that two-hour presentation. It was quite energizing, and you know, I think there's actually a lot that fits into where public libraries can go in the future.
Tomorrow we have our meetings with individual editors, who will be looking over our reader's reports on the unbound manuscripts we all received. Many different kinds of crazy awesome this week there will be, says Yoda.

If you don't read this, you're not an Alpha

If I love books with pink covers, and I love books with sparkly covers, what could I do with a book with a pink sparkly cover but love it?

I picked up a copy of Alphas, the first book in the Alphas series (coming in October, 2009) by Lisi Harrison, best known for penning the Clique series. Over the weekend, I was fretting about my Columbia homework, so I picked it up as a diversion, figuring it'd be fun and fluffy. I got some fluff, sure, but I also got what I'm sure to be the next big thing in YA: Science fiction meets chick lit.

And it was a hell of a good time.

The premise of Alphas: Many will apply, few will be accepted. Eccentric entertainment mogul Shira Brazille has opened Alphas Academy, located somewhere amid a tropical paradise. Alphas Academy serves to train the brightest and most beautiful of the generation with classes tailored to each girl's talent. Enter Skye, a dancer, Allie, a singer/poet/eco-aware vegan, and Charlie, an inventor and engineer. The three of them are part of the Jackie O house, where they live with Thalia, their muse, and sneak out at night to try to meet the only boys living on Alpha Island.

It looks like heaven, but it's kind of like the Hunger Games. Of one hundred girls, one will be left standing, and there are some nasty twists. Of Skye, Allie, and Charlie, one is a spy, one is facing being kicked out of Alphas Academy, and one is a complete faker attending Alphas Academy because they think she's someone else.

Readers will love this book because it's a genre mashup. Since it's a Clique spinoff, there are some brand names mentioned, but a lot of it disappears at Alphas Academy and is replaced with its own Academy brands. There's a terrifying theme of control. The girls are competitive and can be catty, but they also unite for a common cause. Smarts and talent are celebrated at Alphas Academy, but the very nature of the institution divides its students. It also comes complete with a cliffhanger ending. I should also mention that you need not have any familiarity with the Clique series in order to read Alphas. There are a few Clique references at the beginning, but it's easy to get into the story even if you don't understand them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Article to read: Grown up girls...

Finally, an article about YA lit written by someone who knows about YA lit! (Please take note of this, Wall St. Journal, Atlantic Monthly.) Sarah Ockler, author of the wonderful 20 Boy Summer, has a piece in Woman Around Town that you all might enjoy reading: Grown up girls come out of the YA book closet. She nails some of the reasons why adult women love YA lit, like "YA spans the shelves with diverse sub-genres" (though I'd also love to see a heading that says "YA spans the shelves with diverse formats") and "YA authors write to compete." I mean, not that we needed more reasons to recommend YA lit to adults, but it never hurts to have them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Columbia Publishing Course, Day 4

Lectures: 9 a.m.-noon, from Peter DeGiglio (Bloomsbury) about the math of publishing. This was incredibly intense and also fascinating. He crammed about six months' worth of learning into three hours. Profits, losses, printing, costs, royalties, cuts...amazing. Actually, the most amazing part is that he explained everything in words even I, who became a librarian because I was told there was no math, could understand.

2-4:30 p.m.: Agents' panel, with Scott Moyers (Wylie), Ira Silverberg (Sterling Lord) and Amy Williams (McCormick & Williams). When you're moving from librarianship to publishing, something I see much more in reverse, the obvious thing is to go into school and library marketing. I am not opposed to this, but what I think I really want to do is agent. These three speakers were very inspiring, knowledgeable and funny but also serious about their business. Listening to Amy Williams talk during the sherry hour after the session was enlightening and reinforced my want to agent. But I'm not applying for her assistantship because her agency doesn't sell YA or MG.

7:30-9:15 p.m.: Sloane Crosley, publicist for Vintage Books and author of I Was Told There'd Be Cake. She read from her book and talked about publicity versus marketing, and what it takes to be part of a great publicity department. Very funny, relaxed, and I would love to spend a day just following her around at her job.

Thoughts from today's lessonss:

- I am rethinking book bloggers. Not in terms of publicity but in terms of math, and in terms of how important bloggers think they are versus how important they actually are, which is a question that has two different answers depending on whether you're discussing children's or adult literature. But the thing is, I might not ever get around to actually blogging about this because, well, I'd rather blog about books than blog about blogging about books.

- I might be the only person here who has no desire to ever write a book. I find I am only passionate about other people's books. But I suppose that's what makes for a good editor or agent, right?

Some math I forgot to mention: Given the number of titles published in a year, it would still take Harriet Klausner quite a number of years just to read all the books published in 2009 alone. Makes me feel a little better to know that "so many books, so little time" is scientific fact.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Put a stake in it!

Today's PW Shelftalker blog had a wonderful post (with sad, sad comments) on nine-year-olds reading The Sparkly Vampire Book: What to Do, What to Do? The question of what to do revolves around dealing with nine-year-olds who come in wanting to read TSVB for no reason other than "my friends are reading it."

I wholly sympathize with Josie Leavitt's dilemma, as I have lectured a few times on what I like to call The Curse of Harry Potter. I also refer to it as Trickle-Down Readonomics. It goes something like this: Popular books trickle down in age. HP is YA, but now no parent will admit if their child was older than 8 when he read the very adult, violent, good versus evil, fantastic Harry Potter books, full of long words. Now TSVB has become the victim of Trickle-Down Readonomics. Why? Maybe the big sisters of these 9-year-olds were hanging around the house reading it. Maybe they've seen the movie (why?) and they want to read the popular, inescapable books. After all, kids always want to seem older. And if the older kids are reading this big huge black book with a pretty design on the cover, well, THEY WANT IT NOW.

One of the arguments in favor of letting TSVB trickle down is "Well, it's innocent! There's no sex! It's all about chastity!" I find this ridiculously superficial and a faulty argument at best. Abstaining from sex until marriage is not the hallmark of an innocent relationship or an innocent book. Why does TSVB get the "It's innocent!" argument because it doesn't have sex? There's more to innocence than sex. I would argue that the romance in TSVB is not innocent because of how abusive Edward is towards Bella. (I know many others feel differently, but this is my blog and I have always seen Edward as an abuser.) Yes, young readers, it's okay, if a man keeps you from your family and friends and you want to cause serious self-harm when he temporarily breaks up with you, it's okay because you didn't have sex! Since when is an abusive relationship innocent?

Leavitt also talks about the problem of Trickle-Down Readonomics squishing the great books written specifically for the age group that wants the age-inappropriate book. If the nine-year-olds want TSVB, why on earth would they want the less sparkly Clementine? In bookstores and libraries, those two books are shelved nowhere near each other. Why should they be? In their trip to TSVB, those nine-year-olds aren't going to be standing anywhere near the wonderful books that exist for kids their age. The nine-year-olds in Leavitt's store are very lucky to have an enthusiastic, knowledgeable bookseller there to guide them. Not every nine-year-old in a bookstore is. Those customers buy what looks cool and hope for the best. If we're lucky, they buy Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls (love, love, love and I need to write a review on the first 3 books!). If not, they end up with, I dunno, the House of Night books or whatever's facing out on the shelf next to TSVB. Maybe they'll come up with a book they'll love, maybe not, but what they're pretty much guaranteed to come up with is something they'll enjoy better in a few years. What they're probably NOT buying are the oldies-but-goodies, like personal favorite Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth unless they have someone (bookseller, librarian) to help them navigate the stacks.

I can sort of see why Harry Potter trickled down, though I personally don't recommend it to anyone younger than sixth grade. At its opening, it's a fun adventure-in-magic-school story. By book three, though, the layers have built so thick and dark that the book beyond its surface is best enjoyed by readers with more life experience. IMNSHO. I still think third-graders are better served by books other than Harry Potter.

Columbia Publishing Course, Days 1 & 2

No, I do not plan on blogging the entire thing.

Days one and two of the Columbia Publishing Course have been both exhilarating and exhausting. So far, I've heard lectures from Michael Pietsch (Little, Brown), John Fagan (Viking), and Bob Gottlieb (Knopf). The one thing I've really taken away from their lectures is that you must be enthusiastic in publishing. If you can't love editing and the industry, you need to get out and you need to get out immediately. Being an editor is a 24/7 job. It's not just about reading, it's about selling and believing in what you publish. Individually:

  • I was personally dying to hear Pietsch talk because I am fascinated by Little, Brown's publishing model. Ounce for ounce, they are the most successful out there. Their secret? Discretion. Mostly. It was nice to hear, also, that SOMEONE out there besides me doesn't believe that publishing is dying. Please. Hasn't publishing died like 50 times already?
  • Fagan's speech was about paperback publishing, both paperback reprinting and original paperbacks. He talked about the different lives books can lead in hardcover and paperback and the very delicate balance that always must be achieved in marketing, shipping, etc. in order to maintain profit.
  • Gottleib's lecture was wonderfully funny and wise. He, too, exemplified the enthusiasm we all have to show if we want to be editors, talking about editing as a service profession.
Also, there's some pretty good chocolate cake in the cafeteria.

I've met a few people who want to work with children's and YA books, and I'm sure when Megan Tingley comes to lecture we'll have a fascinating discussion on Twilight and YA.

I have classes every day at 9 a.m., 2 p.m., and 7 p.m. These people don't fool around, yo. Most of my classmates want to work in book publishing, but there are a few magazine enthusiasts as well. I haven't met anyone else who wants to be a literary agent, but I haven't met everyone in the course, either.

Tomorrow's lecturers include two authors and the president of Grove/Atlantic. As Neil Gaiman would say, "Whee! Thump."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

All summer in a day

What's a librarian to do with no job, no job prospects, and years of experience in librarianship?

Change professions.

This summer, I'm very excited (and very scared) to be taking the Columbia Publishing Course, formerly the Radcliffe Publishing Course, which includes one of my heroes, Arthur A. Levine, among its alumni. Since I've had some questions as to what the CPC is, I'll explain as best I can.

The CPC is publishing industry boot camp. They cram a year's worth of information on book, magazine, and new media publishing into six weeks. It's not the only publishing graduate course in the country; similar programs are offered at NYU and the University of Denver (see more on those here). They accept 100 people per year, most of whom are recent college graduates. Lecturers include current industry professionals; the opening day lecturer is David Young, Chairman of Hachette Book Group. There are also two hands-on workshops for book and magazine publishing. Part of me is absolutely dying to do the magazine workshop at Lucky but alas, I am only stylish when it comes to beauty products and jewelry. (Also I'm short and curvy, two more strikes against working at a fashion magazine.) Anyway, this is more than just "how to edit," it's "how to edit, agent, market, promote, distribute, and generally survive." In preparation for this course I've been reading a lot of industry blogs and completing the advance assignments, which cover marketing and acquisitions.

All of this means I'll be on hiatus, save for possibly blogging about the CPC, for the rest of June and all of July. If I'm lucky enough to have spare time to read, I'll be reading books for Kirkus and re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. And also The Ask and the Answer, which I was beyond thrilled to receive last week.

Will I come back to libraries? I don't know. I'm certainly not opposed to it, but right now I'm going to pursue this publishing thing and see how it turns out. Right now I'm most interested in agenting, but perhaps Columbia will show me that I have a talent for an aspect of publishing I never even considered. Stay tuned for future revelations.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

YALSA e-chat

I'm going, even if it's just to lurk: Teen librarians, YALSA, and the economy chat on June 9 (Tuesday) at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

This interests me from a grownup more than a teen perspective. With all this talk about serving teens in a bad economy and what YALSA can do for you, I am most interested to learn if there's anyone else out there who has actually lost a full-time, professional, YA librarian position. All the grants and conference support are no good if we don't have jobs to professionally develop. I know that personally, I'm facing a career change because of my job loss. I wonder if anyone else, especially anyone who's been in this profession more than five years, is having some of the same thoughts.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The copyright in the Rye

Today's publishing lesson: If it isn't yours and it's still under copyright, don't sell it.

Seems obvious to you and me, but the latest debacle in the industry goes something like this: An author calling himself J.D. California wants to publish a book called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, about Holden Caulfield as a man in his mid-70s. J.D. Salinger is suing.

-CNN: Lawsuit targets "rip-off" of "Catcher in the Rye"
-BBC news: Salinger sues over Rye "sequel"
-New York Times: Planned ‘Rye’ Sequel Draws Salinger Suit
-Huffington Post: Right Or Wrong: J.D. Salinger Wants Holden To Stay "Forever Young" (Warning: If you've ever written fanfiction of any kind at any point in your life, this one will make you roll your eyes.)

Parody is protected by fair use laws, but this looks like a continuation (or where I come from, fanfiction), rather than a parody. Sigh. Some people never learn.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Buffy the literature slayer

Back from Book Expo, over the cold, and counting down the panicked days until my job ends and the Columbia Publishing Course begins. And did I mention I have HOMEWORK? I haven't had homework since library school! More on the Columbia course later. On to today's question/rant/musings.

Sometimes I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer was both the best and worst thing that ever happened to YA literature. Yes, I know it was a TV show and not a book, save for the Season 8 comics that Dark Horse is printing.

Please don't think that I think Buffy was a bad show, or that it wasn't influential in teen pop culture. I quite enjoyed the seasons I watched (1-4) and do have plans to finish watching to the end of the series via DVD. Eventually. Teens with superpowers were a very hot trend during the run of Buffy. I love Joss Whedon's wit and wisdom and do quote it from time to time. Buffy holds a place in the Great Teen TV Shows Hall of Fame, no doubt, but all of us who work with teens know that their perception of popularity, of hot shows, of important shows, changes every week. Every day, even.

Here's the sad fact we have to face, and if you're a Buffy fan who's my age, meaning you were an older teen or younger adult during the show's run and a fan of the series, one we must accept:

Buffy has been off the air for six years. It ran from 1997-2003. Today's fifteen-year-olds were born in 1994. That means, as far as they're concerned, the show barely existed. Sure, there are teens that are fans of the show, but either I'm oversensitive or they're showing up a lot more in teen literature than they do in real life. (Anyone studied this? I am totally using unscientific anecdata here.) Buffy is no longer the be-all end-all of teen shows, but sometimes I think that the teen literature world is slow to catch on to this fact. I know books are often a year behind pop culture, but this is much more than a year. I'm sure there's at least one book coming down the pipeline somewhere with devoted Gilmore Girls fans as the characters. (I know I've read one which mentioned a group of girls who were fans of Jensen Ackles, but I don't think the writer did her research because the group always got together on Thursday nights to watch DVDs...during Supernatural.)

Hey, I didn't say I LIKED acknowledging that fact. But it is a fact. Every generation has the shows that shape it, but every generation's shows can and do come to an end. Buffy has come to an end, and in five years no teens will have memory of its first run. It might not even show in reruns anymore and have to live solely on DVD. And those of us who serve teens and try to provide the latest and greatest in reading and pop culture for them must move on, though Buffy will always have a special place in our hearts.