Friday, July 3, 2009

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.

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