Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Borders: a section just for teens

It seems that Borders is extending its YA sections in most stores. Though I don't totally agree with the branding (a place to showcase *more* things Twilight?), I appreciate the general idea. I have so much respect for quality YA novels - many of which are more thoughtful and creative than adult books - and think it's great that they're getting more attention.

Borders Ink

When I started reading YA books, the teen shelf of my local library was shoved into a corner of the adult fiction section. The librarians knew that teenagers wouldn't want to be seen in the children's room, among the picture books and art projects, but realized this wasn't a great solution, either. There was no way to showcase the books, and no person other than the general reference librarian to offer suggestions to browsers.

Over the next few years, the staff was able to secure a much more inviting space for YA. Low shelves were set up, and several great choices were pulled out and propped up top. The children's librarian created a teen book club (TBC, if you thought you were cool), inviting discussion about different issues in these books.

Libraries have gotten the idea with separating YA, but bookstores still have a ways to go. Borders is making a good move, I think.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Harry Potter: respecting the fans

It's been so long! I just completed the second CPC workshop, which took over my life for a bit. I was the Executive Editor of a fictional technology website for teens called Wirefly. Favorite article idea: "How to Erase Your Ex: Why detag when you can Photoshop?"

In other news, I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. However (though this situation should never occur), I can't imagine how people could understand the plot and characters without having read the book. I suppose they're banking on the idea that everyone is familiar with the story by this point.

Though I'm more impressed with the adult actors in the movie (Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman... so good), there's something to be said about the professionalism of the three kids. None of them has done anything off set that would mar the Harry Potter experience, even though I'm sure they've had the means to. They take their jobs seriously, and don't complain about the papparazzi and extremely enthusiastic fans, like certain stars of certain other huge book adaptations tend to do.

I just love this article. A little girl with the Scholastic News got the opportunity to interview Daniel Radcliffe, and he went out of his way to talk to her...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Book links

How would Jack Kerouac deal with Microsoft Word? Editing on a computer, where one deletes instead of crossing out and going back to different passages, changes the writing process.

Culture snobs and the Kindle - With digital readers, nobody on the subway can see you're reading something smart and pretentious.

Awful Library Books

Borders starts a book-based online dating system
The Guardian things this is a terrible idea

Monkeys taught to recognize bad grammar

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Hunger Games

The book everyone's talking about in our little YA-loving sub-community at the CPC is definitely The Hunger Games. I was in line to borrow someone's copy but eventually decided to just buy it myself (wanted to find a nice little indie bookstore but it was 10pm and had to go for the closest B&N...). Totally worth it!

A future society, in what was once North America, consists of a filthy rich capital and twelve dirt poor districts. The districts once tried to revolt against the capital, but failed miserably. As punishment, the capital forces each one to send two children to the annual Hunger Games, a fight-to-the-death scenario televised live to entertain the rich. People are enthralled by the drama and bloodbath that always occur, and treat this like an extreme version of "Survivor." The games go on until only one child survives.

I will say I had a few editing qualms about the book, but the narrative was just fantastic.

The sequel comes out in September, but I thankfully have a librarian friend who got her hands on an advanced copy. So instead of waiting months to find out what happens, I only had to wait about two days! The Games are over, so I'm not sure what to expect in this book... but I've heard it's great.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Our book covers!

Our designers did such an awesome job with the book covers, whether they were approximating images that would theoretically be drawn by our chosen illustrators or starting fresh with graphic design.

(Believe me, I've gotten sick of all this "approximating" and "theoretical" and "fake" and "would-be" language, too, but we've needed to use it when contacting people all week. Apparently, the program ran into a little trouble once when an author or agent thought a project was real, and turned down something else.)

I haven't had a chance to scan them in, but these are photos from our book jacket art gallery. All covers are property of Andi Paul and Alex Myerson, as well as the people from whom they borrowed graphics and art.

**These pictures were created for an educational exercise, not for any commercial purpose. While we made a valiant effort to contact everyone, we needed to use a few names and graphics from people we weren't able to get in touch with inside one week. While this project was as realistic as possible, we had to take a few liberties because the real-world timetable and budget for an illustrated book wouldn't have worked in our context. All author/illustrator combinations were invented by my group and do not symbolize real book deals.**

The workshop - looking back

The book workshop was probably the hardest project I've ever completed. We worked on it for a week straight, in literally every moment of time that wasn't spent eating or sleeping... and even that's a stretch, because I slept for about four hours each night, and we talked about the books while we ate. There were a lot of ups and downs, but in the end I'm happy with what we came up with.

Out group created a children's book "company" called Boomerang Books. I was the CEO, which meant I had to oversee ten other people in editorial, design, production, publicity, marketing, business, sales, and subsidiary rights. As a team, we came up with six books for children of different ages. This sounds so much easier than it was... in fact, it felt like we came up with 100 ideas, but 94 of them fell through or were rejected by the editors who came to help with the program. One of the hardest things was to avoid "author-driven" book ideas, and instead come up with things that realistically could be committee-created. (We worked on the Alloy/Gossip Girl model).

To make the workshop realistic, we had to call authors, illustrators and agents and ask if they theoretically would take our offers. We were turned down by quite a few, which was incredibly disheartening, but it was pretty exciting when things came together. We also took part in and won an auction for a middle-reader fiction title that's actually coming out with Egmont next year. When we finally cemented our book ideas, each person had to come up with a marketing/publicity/sub rights/etc plan, while the designers figured out the book jackets. Every time an illustrator or writer fell through, we had to start over.

Thinking of titles is harder than it seems! We had such a tough time with our YA book series, which was about four quirky freshman girls who meet when their high school mandates participation in after-school athletics. We tried everything - going with a softball theme, a friendship theme, a high school theme, etc, etc. We started out with "The B Team," which was already taken. Then "Second String," which we all liked but our review committee rejected. Batting Average... The Benchwarmers... The Curve Ball Club...Second Base... The Fly Ballers... this was only a small sampling our late-night ideas, which ranged from not-quite-there to laughably bad. Finally, one of our team members came up with one we could get behind: "Pitchin' and Moanin'." Thankfully, many other people thought it was amusing, and it stuck.

Our simplest book - about counting, for children ages 0-3 - was surprisingly the toughest logistically. "Elevator 1-2-3" involved a boy who learned to count as he went up an elevator, floor by floor, to visit his grandmother at the top. We knew this had to have a really interesting format, because the idea was so simple. First we decided it would be accordion-style, with one more number revealed as the child opened up each section. We tried creating it out of paper, and scrapped the idea when we saw it wouldn't really work. Our next plan was to make a book that rolled out, one page at a time, to reveal another floor of the building, going up. We wanted to end up with a physical representation of the ten-floor building. But it didn't quite make sense, because our boy character would still be seen on each floor, rather than on one at a time. To fix this, a visiting (and wonderfully helpful) librarian suggested we forget the "unfolding" ideas and use a die-cut format to show that the child was on one floor at a time. We almost went with this idea, but after our production manager called a book production consultant, we ended up with a fantastic sliding-panel configuration, a great representation of an actual elevator. Somewhere in this process, we also went from "boy visits grandma and meets a new party guest on each floor" to "boy visits rooftop circus and squeezes into elevator with crazy animals."

It's bizarre, but we thought about each book as if it were real. This week was sleep-deprived and stressful, but it did get us to consider issues that actually come up at a publishing house - creating content appropriate for certain ages, dealing with changes that affect every department, coming up with ideas that haven't been exhausted in the market, etc. I will say I'm glad I'll never again need to do it all in one week, though.