Young Adult Library Services (YALS) is the quarterly print journal of YALSA, and it's sent to all members of YALSA in good standing. One of the features YALS runs every issue is the "YA Q&A: Expert advice on tough teen services questions." I answered those tough questions for the Summer 2009 YALS on the subject of reviewing. I was inspired to submit an idea for this section because so many of my newer librarian colleagues and the library students I've lectured ask how I got the jobs I have reviewing for Kirkus and VOYA. This month, I spill it all. The questions I answer include:
How do I get a reviewing gig at a professional journal?
What are the elements of a great professional book review?
What are the words and phrases I should avoid when writing reviews?
Although the journal is for librarians, you don't have to be one to get inspired to write more stylish, elegant, and snappy reviews. I know that reviews can take on many forms and are written for different audiences, but I hope that perhaps some of you who are not and do not write for librarians can find useful tips for your own blog work.
Although most of the students at the Columbia Publishing Course want careers in book publishing, we do have a fair number who want to go into magazines. Weeks 5 and 6 of the course focus entirely on magazine production and sales, culminating in a 5-day workshop in which groups of 10 people are assigned a magazine genre and given the task of putting together a prospectus for a new magazine.
I was lucky enough to get my first choice genre, men's magazines. I knew most of the men in the course wanted that as their first choice, but I saw it this way: I spent years of my life as a percussionist, which meant hours a day in the company of men (and perhaps not the most mature men you've met). This couldn't be any worse than college. My group was 7 men and 3 women, and my job was Circulation Director. Magazine circulation isn't a career I want to pursue, but I found the lessons beneficial. There's so much to know and understand about the business side of book and magazine publishing, things I never learned as a librarian but are crucial to know even if you want a career in editorial. Over the week, I learned that it's circulation's job to work out the numbers in terms of newsstand versus subscription sales, the magazine's demographic, who your major competitors are (which has more to do with the content of your magazine and less with the genre, surprisingly), and how much it's going to cost you to get readers. It's kind of a scary economic model, really. Despite my lack of knowledge and experience in magazine business, I had a great time during the week. My group found its voice early and even when we stumbled in terms of content, we still believed that we had a great potential product. I think one of the hardest things was separating ourselves from what's already in the market. Sure, we all like GQ and Esquire, but what could we do in our content and advertising to get new readers who wouldn't say, "I don't need this magazine because I can read about this content in magazines I already get?"
Today is the last day of the CPC, so as of Monday Librarilly Blonde will return to its regularly scheduled book reviews and library discussions. Hmm, what to write about first...?
The Columbia Publishing Course magazine workshop (which will get its own post at a later date) is over, so with one week left to the course I'm starting to plan my August reading list. This is a list that may get longer or shorter depending on how soon I am able to find a job in my new field. In the meantime, here's how it's stacking up.
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. I saw the movie and liked it, but I'm sure I'll like the book more.
These are just what's at the top of my very tall pile. My lack of local jobs is your blog reviews gain! I'm also going to catch up on seasons 3 and 4 of 30 Rock and start watching Prison Break like I always meant to.
Once I renew my library card I'm planning Chris Krovatin Day at Librarilly Blonde. But it's really more My Giant Authorcrush On Chris Krovatin, Who Doesn't Know I Exist, Day. His books are Heavy Metal and You and Venomous, if you'd like to get a head start on the reading.
BBYA? Not in the frame of mind to talk about it right now because instead of going to ALA I was doing the magazine workshop, but I get the vague impression that my opinion (basically, keep BBYA as is and think very carefully about the economics of reading and publishing before establishing that reader's choice award) is one of the less popular ones around.
I'm in the middle of the Columbia Publishing Course magazine workshop (my job: Circulation Director, more numbers!), so I don't have anything of substance to post. It is Bastille Day, however, so here's a video of my favorite band singing the praises of revolution.
Because the Columbia Publishing Course magazine workshop begins on the Sunday of ALA Annual, I am not going to the conference this year. This upsets me because I've had to leave the Printz committee AND I don't get to eat the filet mignon they were going to feed me at the 2009 Movers and Shakers Luncheon. I also won't have the opportunity to attend any of the YALSA board sessions. If you're going, you can see more information on the YALSA wiki here. With your ALA member number and password, you can also see the Board documents in the "for members only" section of the site. Thanks to Jen over at Reading Rants, I saw a board document which I found deeply disturbing. It calls for the disbanding of Best Books for Young Adults and replacing it with a sort of reader's choice award. Personally, I say bring on the reader's choice lists. I think they're a great idea. I don't, however, think they're a great idea if it means taking away BBYA in the process. BBYA is 40 years old, and I think it's needed now more than ever because publishers are printing more YA novels than ever.
The need for BBYA as a vetted list done by a panel of YA literature experts with input from teens can best be summed up by the life of Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link.
Pretty Monsters is one of my favorite YA books of 2008. It's a beautiful, macabre collection of short stories, all with a weird, semi-supernatural twist. In Link's stories, a handbag contains a faery world. A group of friends form a fandom over a show that has no set broadcast time or channel. It got starred reviews and acclaim from Link's peers, as it should have. Those things, however, are forgotten as we move on to the next book. Pretty Monsters wasn't eligible for the Morris and it didn't get a nod at the Printz, but it did deservedly make BBYA. Now, it's got a spot on a list that librarians use for collection development, a list with an available archive.
Pretty Monsters would fade without BBYA. It's certainly not popular. It's published by a big house, but it wasn't a lead title. Short story collections, though they have a special place in my heart, are not popular with teen readers. The books that make BBYA are the ones we look back on as a profession and remember. They're the ones that stood out in a year when thousands of books were published. The BBYA committee makes an effort to read a range of genres and formats from both large and small publishers. They recognize quality and potential popularity in books that don't have big print runs or expensive marketing campaigns and they give those books a lasting home. Because books go out of print fast, and because it's easy for us to get saturated with YA titles, BBYA serves as a reminder of the great books of a year, ones on which we can build our collections and ones which are setting today's standard of YA lit.
One of the arguments in favor of disbanding BBYA is that a reader's choice award would allow more people to participate in the booklist selection process. I think there's room for a popularity contest, but why should BBYA have to suffer for the sake of wider participation? We already have rewards for popular books in place. Although not everyone can be a member of BBYA (and why should they get to be?), anyone can nominate a book for BBYA, anyone can contact any committee member about any book, and anyone attending ALA can attend the BBYA sessions. BBYA isn't done in a vacuum.
Please, YALSA, instate that popular choice award. Open it to all librarians and give everyone a vote. I'm all for more chances for YALSA participation. But keep BBYA, because the need for it is greater than ever before.
At the writing of this post, I have slept about 9 hours in the past 2 days. Such is the way of life during book prospectus week at the Columbia Publishing Course. During this week, the class is split into ten groups, which must, by the end of the week, put together a prospectus for their publishing company. They elect a CEO/Publisher and nine executives, each responsible for a different aspect of the company's overall plan. As I mentioned before, I took the role of Director of Trade and Special Sales, a role that I wouldn't have necessarily chosen for myself but I'm glad I got. Learning about returns, profit and loss margins (though putting together the actual p&l for each book was someone else's job), how print runs are decided, and how books get into consumers' hands was really interesting. Book workshop week also meant a string of 18-hour-days, and I think I am not the only one in the program who, after the last long night of the program, was considering a career as a bus driver.
One thing I found very useful in my sales position was my booktalking experience. It's the job of the sales director to pitch the company's list to buyers, which means working with the editorial department on coming up with just the perfect hook for each title. In this case, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to pitch my (just for school, not real) imprint's titles to Sessalee Hensley, who is the fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble. Can I say that I totally want to be this woman when I grow up? There is no one who knows more about selling books than she does. Naturally, everyone was nervous about the sales meeting, but I used this line of logic: For years a big part of my job was pitching books to middle-school students. Not only could I pitch six books in ten minutes instead of our allotted twenty if I had to, nothing Sessalee could do or say would be worse than anything any eighth-grader has done or said during any of my booktalking sessions. With this knowledge in hand, I have to say I had a great time doing the pitches.
Sales pitches done, it was time to rework some numbers, because you know that when Barnes and Noble wants to buy 30% of your first print run, you're probably going to end up printing and selling more books than you'd planned. Long nights in tutoring sessions plus lots of help from our awesome visiting professional staff means that I think I have a basic understanding of how sales departments work, knowledge I didn't have a week ago.
I'm still a little fuzzy from the week, but with my newfound understanding of the numbers side of publishing, I have some blog and journal entries to respond to. That's coming after I finish editing an article for SLJ.