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Jul. 8th, 2010

The Picture Book Wall III

As it turns out, I love one of the six books I selected from the picture book wall I visited in Delmar, NY, where I live. It's called "Bag In The Wind," by Ted Kooser and illustrated by Barry Root.

As I read "Bag In The Wind," I thought about the form I've been writing about for this blog and wondered if it would spur a deeper experience of the book. The form, I reminded myself, is a sales tool, not a springboard for critique or analysis. The main reason to read books with the form is mind is to discover how they made it to the wall, or, if you're reading your own manuscripts, whether they, too, may end up on the wall someday (fingers crossed).

Again, I've pasted in the form's relevant categories at the bottom of this post for reference.

Before I filled out the form for "Bag In The Wind," I also wondered if the experience of reading the book had to live up to its form's promise or vice versa. Based on my reading of "I Don't Want To Be A Poodle," the book I blogged about yesterday, I don't think so. The form, after all, is advertising. The real "I Don't Want To Be A Poodle" is far more style than substance, but its stylishness must have lent itself to a compelling form.

On the contrary, "Bag In The Wind," which, by the way, is also published by Candlewick, is more substance than style, so I wouldn't want its form to match the experience of reading it either. That is, I wouldn't dwell in the form on how contemplative, slow, long, and meandering "Bag In The Wind" is. Those qualities would definitely not be worth mentioning. They are also wonderful.

Instead, for the Sales Hook, I'd say, "This beautifully illustrated book concerns the human relationship with the environment while seeming instead to be about people connected by a peripatetic plastic bag." (I'd probably ditch the five-syllable word.)

For the Book Description, I'd write something like, "A girl finds a bag, uses it, loses it, then gets it back in the end, although she can't know it's the same bag." (Although I hope I craft it better than that.) I wouldn't mention that we don't meet the girl until about a third of the way into the book, that we lose sight of her after only a couple of pages, with no promise that we'll meet her again, and that the first ten pages are mainly descriptive, the only real character being a supermarket plastic bag.

Selling Points would be (remember the five empty bullet points I mentioned on Monday?)

• Environmental Theme
• Author former U.S. Poet Laureate
• Illustrator with excellent track record
• Especially beautiful illustrations
• Will gently prompt discussion about important issues

I had no idea that the author had been Poet Laureate when I chose the book, but it comes in handy in the Selling Points category. I did recognize Barry Root's name and style, but I figured that was okay because my one selection criterion was illustration I liked. Still, his well-deserved reputation is a useful Selling Point.

I'm currently working on a book for Henry Holt For Young Readers, and I can't imagine what the selling points for my book will be. But I do know from the editor who gave me the form that "Debut Author" is considered a Selling Point. I take heart!

*      *      *
 
In case anyone is interested, these are the six books I took from the picture book wall (I said yesterday that I'd chosen five, but I was wrong:

"Bag In The Wind," by Ted Kooser and illustrated by Barry Root
"Mixed Beasts," by Wallace Edwards and Kenyon Cox
"Oops!," by Jean-Luc Fromental and Joëlle Jolivet
"The Red Thread," by Grace Lin
"Stella Unleashed: Notes From The Doghouse," by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Paul Meisel
"Who Wants To Be A Poodle? I Don't," by Lauren Child

*      *      *
THE FORM
Picture book editors must sell the works they've acquired to the people within their houses who then sell them to bookstores. They do this with a form they fill out for each book they edit. Below are the most important categories on the form:

Sales Handle – "The hook." The hook isn't the plot. It's one sentence about why the book is worth opening. You'll sometimes find the sales handle on the back of the book's jacket.

Book Description – The plot, in brief. It's akin to the copy on the inside front cover of the jacket flap, only shorter – as in, "what is this book about?"

Selling Points – There should be multiple selling points for any book. Selling Points may be interesting hooks beyond the one used for the sales handle. It should also include who the target audience is, why the book would appeal to the target audience, who the author is, and whether he/she is published with a track record or if this is a debut. In short, anything the editor can think of to sell the book!

Sales Competition – Basically the same as amazon.com's "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought."

Publishing Comparisons – Books that will complement the title, for example books that would work well with it on a table in the store: other counting books, other dog books, or other fairy books.

Jul. 5th, 2010

(no subject)

This is my first real post and I find myself a little nervous speaking in public. Please forgive awkwardnesses and errors. I'll get better with time, I promise!

The subject of my posts will be The Picture Book Wall. I attended a SCBWI conference last fall that focused on picture books, and one of the editors gave her presentation on the business end of things. She reminded us that although writers and illustrators may feel like they're making art, they're actually making a product that must sell. Selling books is an important part of an editor's job, she told us. She has to sell the books she's acquired to the people within her house who then sell them to bookstores, and she does this with a form she fills out for each book she edits.

As a way of being a really top-notch editor, she takes the form on weekly visits to picture book walls, where she fills it out for other house's books. She doesn't do this in a competitive spirit, she said, but because she finds it a useful way to gauge new books, as well as the industry in general. She gave conference attendees a copy of the form and suggested that we also take it to picture book walls.

The most important categories in the form are:

Sales Handle
Book Description
Selling Points
Sales Competition
Publishing Comparisons

Let me break them down:

The Sales Handle is what the editor called "the hook." The hook isn't the plot. It's one sentence about why the book is worth opening. You'll sometimes find the sales handle on the back of the book's jacket.

The Book Description IS the plot, in brief. It's akin to the copy on the inside front cover of the jacket flap, only shorter – as in, "what is this book about?"

The Selling Points category has five bullet points on the form, with black spaces after each (of course), which is to say, there should be multiple selling points for any book. Selling Points may be interesting hooks beyond the one used for the sales handle. It should also include who the target audience is, why the hook would appeal to the target audience, who the author is, and whether he/she is published with a track record or if this is a debut. In short, anything the editor can think of to sell the book!

The Sales Competition category is basically the same as amazon.com's "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought."

Lastly, the Publishing Comparisons category lists books that will complement this title, for example books that would work well on a table with it in the store: other counting books, other dog books, other fairy books.

I'm a little murky on those last two categories. Without my conference notes to keep me in line, I'd want to switch the descriptions. "Books people also bought" would seem an inclusive group to me, not the exclusive on suggested by "competition." But, whatever. Both categories seem worth thinking about.

Armed with the form, I plan to visit picture book walls and send reports in future posts. I'll be visiting four different walls up here in upstate New York's Capital District: Barnes & Noble, Borders, a well regarded independent book store with a children's book appendage called Little Book House, and my local book store, I Love Books, which also sells cards, gifts, and toys.

I believe the owner of I Love Books truly does love books and that the cards, gifts, and toys are what allow the business to thrive. Theirs is the first wall I'll visit with my form, and I'll tell you Wednesday what I've learned.

Dec. 26th, 2008

Sarah Sullivan's Pick

Tollboother Sarah Sullivan's inspiration music is Giants In The Sky from the play Into The Woods.

 Bettleheim set to music. LOVELY!






Dec. 24th, 2008

Let's Hear It For Carrie

Yesterday was a fantastic day for the tollbooth's Carrie Jones

Her new novel NEED  is in bookstores everywhere.  We couldn't be more proud....

Carrie shared her favorite writing songs with us.

Listen up!

Carrie loves Ennio Morricone, Glue and, for a retro feel, The Alarm


Good stuff, Carrie!






May. 18th, 2008

(no subject)

Get thee to a writers’ group. We’ve all heard the advice. Last week, Tami gave us some terrific reminders on craft; this week I’m going to talk about process--the dynamics of writers’ groups. Sometimes, they can be really helpful. Sometimes, not so much. If you belong to a group, or you’re thinking about staring a group, or participate online with a group, or just wish you had access to a group, we’re going to discuss the down and dirty of why writers’ groups can be good and bad –sometimes simultaneously.

Let me start with my own experiences. I’m lucky to have two writers’ groups, one in Nashville and one in Austin. With both groups, we meet at someone’s house once a month, but there are no set schedules. One or another of us takes on the role of social director, nudging the group to submit pages and offering up dates and times. We informally agree when and where and who’s on first without any particular direction or purpose as to whose turn it might be or to how many pages we should read. Sometimes we read whole novels. Sometimes 500 word picture books. But when we get together, food is a critical component.

There are always M&Ms,usually accompanied by something salty.

We also indulge in coffee or wine, or both, and the first part of the meeting is spent sharing gossip and news. We snipe about reviews. We share war stories. We laugh. We bring show and tell of new book galley proofs or illustrations. But then, after a bit, we get down to business. Social hour becomes truth or consequences. I’m making this sound a bit more dramatic than it actually is. The whole point of having a writers’ group is to one) to get honest feedback on your work; and two) to have some kind of social interaction with other human beings. Writers notoriously live in their heads only a little less than say Neo, so getting out is good.

Before I talk any more about my own writers’ groups, I want to say I generally like writers’ groups. Finding a writing community where I am validated and challenged makes me feel like I’m in the flow of my work—that I’m creating something better than I could do alone, yet it is only work that I alone can do. But the truth is, very one of us knows that a writers’ group or workshop can be downright fearful, particularly if we’re unsure how our work is going to be accepted or critiqued. We’ve all been in workshops where someone has gotten so rankled by the comments, that the whole event was worst than a Chicago Bears game. Defense! Defense! Defense!

So, what is the deal about writers’ groups? Why are we always told as writers that the first rule of common wisdom is to go out and find one?

Let me digress. Remember that happy guy, psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi? Dr. Csíkszentmihályi, or Dr. C. as we’ll refer to him, coined the term flow, meaning that for most people, when they are doing something meaningful, something outside their normal routine, they go beyond their sense of self-consciousness and fear and become immersed in what they are doing to the point of feeling happy. Dr. C, it seems, as a little kid in post WWII Hungry, saw a lot of people pretty unhappy, but he wondered why others, no matter how grim things seemed to be, never threw in the towel. They never “disintegrated” into anguish.

So the question Dr. C. asked was, “how can we live life as works of art, rather than as chaotic responses to external events?" Dr. C. has spent his whole life learning about what makes people feel happy. He has a checklist of things, but when it comes right down to it, he’s talking flow.
Flow is based on a goal and a high degree of concentration doing an activity that is intrinsically rewarding. I think (I hope) I can say we have all felt that sense of flow when a scene is working and the words are flying out of our fingers and we’re not the least bit aware of time or place or if kids are picked up from school or if dinner is in the oven or if the house is falling down. We are “head deep” in the virtual world of our story, living it as if we were standing right next to our protagonist. So, why is it so hard to make the leap from the flow we feel when writing to feeling a sense of flow in a larger community of writers like a writers’ group? The answer is probably obvious:

A writers’ group is there to judge our work, and what’s so flow about having your turn in the barrel?

Well, my dears, let’s talk that…tomorrow. I’ll have a few of my buddies from my writers groups in Austin give you their perspectives.

Anon....Helen Hemphill

Sep. 30th, 2007

Step on Through the Tollbooth!

Welcome to Through the Tollbooth, the LiveJournal home of nine grads of the Vermont College Master of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults!

What are we doing here? Talking writing, of course!

We’re a group of kids’, middle grade, and young adult writers who can’t get enough of talking about craft, books, and ideas. Every Monday, we’ll bring you an interview from one of our Vermont College faculty or other illustrious authors, a mini-lesson, some exercises, or our thoughts about what’s going in the kids’, middle grade, and young adult book world. We hope you’ll read along and comment back to us.

Who are we, you ask? We’re Sarah Aronson, author of the YA novel Head Case; Kelly Bingham, author of the YA poetry novel Shark Girl; Tami Brown, middle grade and nonfiction writer of the forthcoming Soar, Elinor; Liz Gallagher, author of the forthcoming YA novel The Opposite of Invisible; Stephanie Greene, author of a multitude of early readers, chapter books, and middle grade novels, most recently Christmas at Stony Creek; Helen Hemphill, author of YA novels Long Gone Daddy and Runaround; Carrie Jones, author of the YA novel Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend and its forthcoming companion, Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape); Sarah Sullivan, author of picture books Root Beer and Banana and Dear Baby: Letters from Your Big Brother>/a>; Zu Vincent, author of the forthcoming YA novel The Lucky Place.

Thanks for stopping by. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other from now on, and we’re so excited about it.

Learn more about us and and explore our first Big Question: Why write for young people? It's all behind the cut!Collapse )