Borders Closing and Tips from an Agent

If you haven’t heard, Borders will be liquidating and closing all its stores.  The filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and after no bids (…or bailouts *cough* *cough*) they are going under.

This is TERRIBLE, and let me tell you why:
Borders was the 2nd largest book retailer in the U.S. and has left Barnes and Noble with an overwhelming monopoly.  I’ve never been as big a fan of B&N.  They have more limited seating in coffee areas, and their coffee is more expensive.  (At Borders, I earned free coffees too!) Depending on the store, I have also found they often have a more limited selection of certain genres (Their graphic novel section is pathetic–just one skinny bookshelf).  And now the purchasers of books at B&N will control what titles you see on shelves.  You can’t go to another store to see if there is a different selection of books.
This is going to take a huge hit on the publishing industry.  All of a sudden there are 400 stores not selling books.  There are 400 stores not promoting books.  There are 400 fewer stores to do book events and signings.  This is going to HURT.  I don’t even know what the implications could be in the next few years.
There will be 11,000 people losing their jobs.  This is also 11,000 people whose job it was to read books and recommend books.  We are losing a big chunk of the population who promoted book sales.
And while this could be very good business for Barnes and Noble, it could very well be the beginning of their death as well.  People could become frustrated by the lack of availability of books in stores and turn to eBooks and online more so than ever before.  If people see this as the direction things are going anyway, then why fight it anymore.  Borders closing may be the push people needed in hopping on the eBook bandwagon.
The whole thing frustrates me.  I love my Kindle too, but I don’t want to see brick and mortar bookstores disappear.  I still make an effort to buy books in stores, especially my favorites, or books as gifts, or books for my classroom.
If bookstores are going to survive, they are going to have to take a new approach.  If I were in charge of revamping the bookstore industry, here’s what I would do:

-Hire event planners.
-Hold events and workshops. 
(Some free, some not.  I have a plan of attack ideas there, too.)
-Plan events and workshops that pair well with books.
-Sell those books.

Get people back in the stores by doing things that online or eBooks CAN’T DO.  Socialize, food and drink, hands-on opportunities.

If anyone would like to hire me to plan book related events, I am willing and able.  I could plan book events that would rock the industry’s world.
Speaking of the book industry, literary agent Quinlan Lee came to speak to our grad program on Monday night.  Here’s some of what she shared with us:
What an Agent Does:
  1. Support our clients
  2. Help manage your career
  3. Negotiate your rights
  4. Be your advocate
She spoke about how her job is much like that of a real estate agent.  People are hunting for the perfect house.  Publishers are hunting for the perfect book.  People have spent years building, remodeling, living in, and loving their home.  Writers have spent years writing, revising and loving their manuscript.  A real estate agent knows the housing market and matched buyers up with sellers based on what each is looking for.  A literary agent does the same thing.  They know the publishing industry and match up publishers and writers based on what they are looking for.
An agent also makes sure that you are treated fairly by publishers and plays bad cop when necessary.  You want your publisher/editor to love you.  So let the agent do the fighting dirty work for you so that a publisher still wants to buy your books and work with you in the future.
She advised to have confidence because editors need you.  They need people to write great stories.
Her tip for a dream manuscript is the 5 page rule.  You have to make the reader want to know what is going to happen next in the first five pages.  Hooking them in the first page is even better.
What they are looking for in a manuscript:
  • it’s timeless
  • award winner potential
  • timely
  • action driven
  • suspenseful
  • high concept
  • fun
  • page turning
  • thought provoking
  • fresh theme
She also said all the publishers are asking for “Boy Middle Grade.”  Funny, action-packed, pre-teen books.  (Like Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson, Capt. Underpants)
Overall, I thought she was very encouraging and realistic.
Time to get writing!

Gaithersburg Book Festival

Today I attended the 2nd annual Gaithersburg Book Festival.

We had gorgeous weather and it is held in a really pretty area in Olde Towne Gaithersburg.  It was just as well organized as the National Book Festival in DC with labeled tents, books for sale/signing, food, and detailed colored programs.

The first speaking event was a panel discussion titled “There’s a Children’s Book in Me–How Do I Get it Published?”  The five authors on the panel were very knowledgeable, and I enjoyed listening to them speak about their own personal writing experiences.  They gave out a useful little flyer with commonly asked questions about children’s publishing.

I knew most of the information at this discussion already, but it was nice to reaffirm that I’m doing all the right things, such as joining SCBWI, writing every day, conferences, critiques, staying well-read in my genre, etc.  Not to mention getting my MFA in Children’s Literature.

I ended up buying two of the author’s books because they appealed to my interests.  I bought Jennifer Allison’s Gilda Joyce series for middle grade readers.  It’s a mystery series about a girl who is a psychic investigator that looks like something I would have LOVED as a young girl.  It will be perfect easy reading when I’m done with all my grad school texts.  Jennifer had some good advice about revision, and she also spoke about how she’s learned a lot from teaching and listening to her students.  I really identified with a lot of what she spoke about.  Check out the author’s website below.

I also bought Pamela Ehrenberg’s book Tillmon County Fire.  The book tells the story of a hate crime in a rural community through several different characters.  Definitely sounds interesting, and I’m always looking for books that give me insight on how to write from multiple points-of-view.  Pamela also spoke about how she teaches classes at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda.  Once I’m done grad school, this would be a great resource nearby to keep me motivated and writing!  Information about her books and The Writer’s Center can be found on her website:

Another author I really enjoyed listening to is Wendy Shang.  Her first book The Great Wall of Lucy Wu just came out and I loved the excerpts so much that I had to buy it.  I can’t do the summary justice, so here is a summary from Wendy Shang’s website:

Lucy Wu, aspiring basketball star and interior designer, is on the verge of having the best year of her life. She’s ready to rule the school as a sixth grader and take over the bedroom she has always shared with her sister. In an instant, though, her plans are shattered when she finds out that Yi Po, her beloved grandmother’s sister, is coming to visit for several months — and is staying in Lucy’s room. Lucy’s vision of a perfect year begins to crumble, and in its place come an unwelcome roommate, foiled birthday plans, and Chinese school with the awful Talent Chang.

Her plans are ruined — or are they? Like the Chinese saying goes: Events that appear to be good or bad luck often turn out to be quite the opposite, and Lucy finds that while she may not get the “perfect” year she had in mind, she can create something even better.

Wendy was an excellent public speaker (not all the authors today were…), and I connected with a lot of things she said.  She brought up joining SCBWI (I just did!) and applying for grants (I need to do that!).  She also spoke about describing sensory details and how scents and textures can bring a scene to life.  I’m confident Wendy has a long career ahead of her as a children’s writer.  I bought her book and can’t wait to read it!  Check out her website:

I also heard the following authors:

Newbery Winner, Clare Vanderpool, author of Moon Over Manifest
National Book Award Winner, Kathryn Erskine, author of Mockingbird
Alison Hart, American Girl author
Dominique Paul, author of The Possibility of Fireflies
Alan Orloff, adult mystery author

And finally, two pictures of the event:

Awesome Book Previews for Fall

If you click on the link below, you’ll find the editors of Scholastic speaking about their upcoming book releases this fall.  It’s pretty awesome to pair editor’s faces with names as well as hearing what they get excited about in a book.

I’m also going to be adding several books to my to-read list!

Thanks to author, Maggie Stiefvater, who shared this link.

(I have only watched the YA segment so far.  You can watch the whole thing or pick and age/segment to watch.)

If I could make it happen… I would

If you want to write children’s literature, you should join SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).  They send you all kinds of awesome newsletters and info about the world of children’s publishing.  You can join even if you aren’t a published author.

I joined this year after a recommendation from one of my grad school professors, and have been really impressed with everything they’ve sent me.

They also hold two BIG conferences each year.  The summer conference is in Los Angeles.  The winter conference is in New York City.

Just to show you what caliber of speakers are at these conferences, here are the keynote speakers for the Summer 2011 conference: Laurie Halse Anderson, Libba Bray,  Bruce Coville, John Green, Norton Juster, Donna Jo Napoli, Mary Pope Osborne, Gary Paulsen, Jerry Pinkney, Jon Scieszka and David Small

Yeah.  They’re all kind of a big deal.

Downside: The conference is expensive.  Registration is $425 for SCBWI members and $525 for non-members.  That’s just registration… there’s also airfare, hotel…

And then there’s this optional extra day of workshops you can sign up for (for another $200).  I was curious what kind of workshops they offered, so I opened their cute little flyer… and see…

One workshop is taught by Arthur A. Levine.
The editor who did Harry Potter.
Arthur A. Levine
Arthur A. Levine
Arthur A. Levine

O. M. G.

The workshop was already sold out.
Not that I would have the $1,000 dollars it would cost to fly out to LA and go to this thing.
Especially not after the $8,000 worth of grad classes this summer.

But if I could make that class happen… if I could take a class with the guy who published Harry Potter… I would.

Tiring weekend?

This weekend wore me out more than classes. Halloween Party (I know it’s July. Don’t ask.) I was kind of disappointed in the costumes. I’d heard it was a big deal, and was expecting cool, kid’s lit themed costumes– and it was a let down. There were only 3-4 cool costumes, including my own last minute Harry Potter costume. Oh well.

Then a 4th of July potluck… where there wasn’t any hotdogs or hamburgers. Just salads and dessert. Kind of lame. And then I’d heard you could see the fireworks really well from a hill on campus… not so much. Fireworks also lame.
But both were late nights and both wore me out. And today I had to drag myself out of bed to class. Luckily I love this class.
Brief Summary
In the early 1960s, two daughters deal with being abandoned by their mother who feels she must pursue her dream of a music career in Nashville before it’s too late.
Thoughts on the Book
This book was written by the woman who was supposed to teach the class. And we didn’t hold back when we were discussing it… because she wasn’t there. The biggest strength of the book, in my opinion, is the conflict with the mother. There are several other subplots, but the core of the book is the protagonist, Garnet, learning to deal with the fact that her mother is not a good mother. This is pretty tough subject matter that I haven’t seen handled frequently in Children’s Lit.
Our criticism was multifaceted. My biggest criticism was that the climax came too early in the novel. Garnet goes to Nashville to confront her mother and learns just how much her mother has been lying and cheating. But after this last big moment with the mother, there is still another 100 pages in the book! Other criticisms were that there was way too much description and unnecessary detail as well as too many subplots without strong meaning. The book didn’t feel as well knit together as some of the others that we’ve read.
However, if for some reason, I had someone looking for a book with a strong mother/daughter conflict, I would recommend this book in a heartbeat. That part of the book was done very well.
Publishing Discussion

We had a discussion in class today where we began by going around the table sharing our dreams about writing. Here’s what I said:
“I read a lot of author’s blogs online, and see that they spend a lot of time traveling and talking about their books, whether at schools, conferences, or book events. I would love to be successful enough at writing that I could quit teaching, but travel the country talking to kids about my books and just reading in general.”
No one else mentioned the traveling aspect or talking to kids about books. But that is the kind of interaction I want to have, and that will be my test that I’ve made it in the publishing industry. If I can draw a crowd–I’ve made it!
Our teacher then went on and shared her own experiences in the publishing industry, which are dream-like and not realistic at all. A friend sent in her manuscript to a publishing house, who forwarded it to an editor who handled that kind of material, who called from New York City, asked my teacher to come up in the next few days to chat, and when she got to NYC they told her they were going to publish her book. A fairy tale, correct? It doesn’t normally work that way.
She went on to explain about query letters, agents, self-publishing, etc. Most of which I knew because I’ve already done a lot of reading up/research on the industry. It surprises me that so many of my peers haven’t done that.
Two big resources where I’ve learned about the publishing industry are:

#2 = the blogs of authors I enjoy.
Pretty much every author has some sort of website, and many of them keep daily blogs. My two favorites are Lois Lowry and Maggie Stiefvater. (Maggie has lots of good writer tips/advice and she’s adorable.) But I have over 20 authors bookmarked in their own folder, and when I’m having a lazy-stay-in-bed-until-noon-with-my-laptop kind of morning, I’ll often go through author websites/blogs for a few hours like I’m reading the newspaper. I highly recommend any aspiring author do the same.
In Class Writing Exercise

Inspired by today’s book discussion, we had to write a scene where our main character is disappointed or betrayed by someone. This was perfect for the story I’m working on! I had no trouble with this prompt and easily scribbled out three pages in half an hour.
Next class, we are going to have to write a scene where the setting has a prominent role in the conflict. That one I’ll have to think about, but I already have some ideas.
Ahhhh! Such a long post! Gotta go do work!

Golden Books Speaker

We had the pleasure of hearing Diane Muldrow, editor of Golden Books at Random House, speak yesterday. She mostly went over the history of Golden Books, which was fascinating. The lecture almost made me want to write a picture book… but I don’t think that is going straight on my to-do list for now.

Some cool info I learned:

The Poky Little Puppy is the bestselling children’s book of all time.

Golden Books revolutionized children’s publishing because they were the first reasonably priced children’s book series. Before that, children’s books were expensive, glossy paged, handcrafted things that people would only buy around the holidays. The first 12 book run of Golden Books were 25 cents each.

Golden Books are featured in the Smithsonian because they are considered an American Icon.

Many Golden Book illustrators also worked at one time as Disney animators. Golden Books and Disney have a long history of working together, and Disney actually approached Golden Books about doing books that tie in to their movie releases. There is a whole Disney division at Golden Books

If you want to read more about how Little Golden Books changed the face of children’s publishing and became an American icon, check out the book “Golden Legacy.”