The Future of Publishing?

Everywhere I look online someone seems to have a new opinion about the future of publishing.  Some are holding up the success of self-published books like Still Alice, but others are quick to point out that these successes are the exception in a sea of less-than-mediocre self-indulgence.  Some people point to publication on demand and other laud the Kindle and other e-readers. 

You can find lists of the layoffs, restructuring, and acquisition freezes at the major publishing houses.  The delayed release of other brands of e-book readers is also disappointing news. 

And as a writer seeking an agent, where do I go with all of this conflicting and depressing information? 

No where.  It doesn’t affect what I do.  I still sit at my laptop and create worlds in my mind.  I still bleed words onto paper and seek to self-promote through blogs, tweets, and forums.  I’ll continue to hone my skills through feedback groups and workshops.  My query, synopsis, and competitive analysis will still benefit from polishing.  I’m sure as heck not going to stop shopping my YA novel FLASH. 

Whether it’s P.O.D.’d, or e-booked, or rolled out with a smaller initial print run, it’ll still be my book.  I can’t change how publishing evolves, but I stay educated, optimistic, prepared, and proactive.  Regardless of how it changes, quality literature will always be sought and shared. 

And I’ll keep spilling words and worlds onto pages – because I can’t seem to stop.  I don’t want to.
 

The Schmidty Awards

First of all, congratulations Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book was excellent and deserved to win the Newbery Award.   I shall celebrate by seeing Coraline this weekend (we’ll pretend I wasn’t already planning on going!)

Looking over the lists of winners and honorees, I realize I’ve got some reading to do; I haven’t read them all!  It also made me think of the books I’d award – if I had the amount of power that I do in my mind.  I mentally began to compile my lists of can’t-put-them-down books, the books I had talked about so much that I had a waiting list to read it before I’d even finished.  To these books I bestoy The Schmidty Awards!

(Sidenote: I know not all of these books came out in 2008, but that’s when I read them and these are my awards, so I get to make the rules.)

Once Upon a Crime by Michael Buckley
Cross my Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter
Trouble by Gary Schmidt
Drums, Girls, Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
Schooled by Gordan Korman

Young Adult:
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Wake by Lisa McMann
The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Generation Dead by Daniel Waters

Just because I don’t yet have a novel in the running, doesn’t discourage me – it just means I’ve got a whole new year to polish and shop my book. 

Congrats to the winners (and the readers too!) and to everyone else, good luck next year!
 

Feedback and Tears (but not because of meanness…)

I had a bit of a teary-eyed moment in the classroom yesterday. Actually, this was my second teary moment this week – but who didn’t get teary watching America swell with Hope during the inauguration on Tuesday? Yesterday’s teariness, however, had nothing to do with politics or presidents.

 

Yesterday I decided to share with my students the very rough beginning of the new story I’m noodling around with (currently called: the-book-about-alliteration-mixed tapes-leukemia-superstitions-MacGyver-and-cheerleading … I need a better working title). They’ve been struggling within their own feedback groups – too afraid of offending each other to offer any useful feedback – and I decided that this needed skill to be modeled.

 

I’ve shared with them before, little pithy things I’ve written while they write, but never something big. Never something that I hope to turn into a book. So, it was with a stuttering pulse and tightened throat that I read the first three pages of TBAAMTLSMC (really need to shorten that!).

 

And their feedback – wow – this is a group of excellent readers, but they still blew me away with their insight and suggestions. Their predictions about what would happen let me know things I’d given away too early versus misdirection that could work. Their discussion of the mood of the story and their analysis of the characters let me know I was on the right track – they’d made the inferences and connections I had hoped.

 

When they dispersed to go off to their own feedback groups, the conversation was richer, more specific, and flavored with helpful criticism. They got it.

 

 

The moment that made me teary occurred hours later, during dismissal when I only had one student left. His bus had been called and he’d started out the door, then turned around and came back to my desk. “Mrs. Schmidt, I really think you should get that book published – when it’s done. And… I’m proud of you.”

Here my inner cheeseball nature comes out:  these are words I normally say to him (and all my students), hearing from his eleven-year-old mouth made me remember how powerful these words are.  *tear*

The ‘Trouble’ with really amazing books

I’ll set the scene for you: it’s the Tuesday before school vacation. The students have just passed in their last long-term assignment (strategy records for Shakespeare’s Secret or Chasing Vermeer), they know they’ve just got lunch, recess, math class, and then the holiday party. Things seem manageable. They can hold it together for that long.

And then, something changes. It’s too cold outside. Recess will be… indoors.

Anyone else get a sinking ut-oh feeling in the base of the stomach? I know my class – know that they need an opportunity to run around and burn off their Lunchables if they’re going to be functional for the rest of the day. The combination of the impending vacation + indoor recess = a very long afternoon.

Except it didn’t. (This is the part where the book comes in, for those that are wondering). They were dismissed from the cafeteria and stormed the classroom, but instead of getting out playing cards, paper, logging onto the computer, or complaining that they were bored, they had a request:

“Can you read more read aloud? Please? We promise to be really good.”

And they were. So good that you would’ve thought that I was one of the mean, nasty teachers who rules by intimidation. There wasn’t whispering, poking, and there was barely even fidgeting.

And they were able to continue to be that good and focused… until math class.

 Exhibit B: It’s now post-break and we’ve had a two-hour delay for icy roads.

They come crashing into the classroom at 10:15 instead of 8:15 and have just enough time to chat and pledge the flag before we head down to our ‘lunch’ period.

And how do they greet me this morning as they slide down the hallway on snow-wet sneakers? Not with: “Good morning, Mrs. Schmidt” or “How was your drive, Mrs. Schmidt?” or “How are you, Mrs. Schmidt?” (Which is normally how they greet me – I have a very polite class!). Instead it was 26 versions of: “We missed reading, can we read later?” “Are we still going to do read aloud?” “What happens because we missed reading? Can you squeeze it in?” And, I kid you not, “Could we have lunch in the classroom and you could read to us?”

I could add on an Exhibit C and probably all the way to Exhibit Q, but you’ve got the point.
 

The book this blog is about is Trouble by Gary Schmidt – hence the snappy title. My students love to say, “it’s not just a story, it’s literature.” And I agree.

They are so engrossed in this story that it’s discussed at dismissal, during recess, in the hallways, during math, in social studies, in science, over IM at night… And this is in addition to the half-hour we spend discussing it each day in class. Discussion I have to cut off, despite their fervent protests (and despite my own desire to keep reading and listening!).

And when they talk about the book, I’m amazed again each day. They discuss how in most books and movies there’s a good guy and a bad guy, but in this book (like life) people are a mix of both good and bad. They’re discussing motivation, consequences, racism, classism, stereotypes, and the benefits and dangers of tradition.

As a teacher, I suddenly feel superfluous. My only job is to read out loud, Gary Schmidt’s done the hard work in writing the book, and my students are benefiting – both as people and as writers – as they try out his craft in their own pieces and apply his story’s lessons to their lives.

So the real ‘trouble’ with a good book is that it makes the real world a whole lot less appealing. Who really wants to multiply mixed numbers (or even have recess) when there’s a whole lot of Trouble waiting between two covers?

 

Favorite Author Blogs (Time sucking vortexes part 2)

Sometimes I need a little writing inspiration. Or at least to feel like I’m not the only one who types instead of sleeps, thinks of my characters as people, and occasionally considers throwing my computer out the window.

When I do, I turn to my favorite author websites and blogs. I’m sharing a sampling of them below, but consider yourself warned: it’s easy to get sucked in and spend hours clicking link after link.

 Libba Bray – http://www.libbabray.com/ – Each time I read her blog I remember why I love her books so much. Her voice just shouts off the computer screen and I constantly find myself nodding and going, ‘me too.’ As in, you’ve also been banned from watching House because you diagnosis yourself with every pathogen that appears on the screen? I thought I was the only one!

Ally Carter – http://www.allycarter.com/ – She sounds adorable and she really interacts with her fans. I love that she started a book club for her fans and when she shares information on her upcoming novels. (I can’t wait to not judge a girl by her cover)

Sara Crowe – http://acrowesnest.blogspot.com/ – Sara’s technically an agent. And the blog isn’t technically just hers. It’s a blog where many of the different authors she represents as well as people throughout the industry share advice and experiences. It’s excellent writing and advice. I share parts of it with my students, and parts I print and share with other writers.

Shannon Hale – http://www.squeetus.com/stage/main.html – She offers great writing advice and has such a great website. It’s so well organized and contains so much information. Great links and resources.

Susan Beth Pfeffer- http://susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com/ – Her blog has been so interesting because it shares all the different directions she’s considered for the third book in the Moon Crash trilogy. She actually has blog posts that include spoilers (but they’re labeled so that people who’d rather wait can be surprised). I haven’t seen another author who has shared so much about the process of writing/publishing – including the bad news, dead ends, and startovers.

Scott Westerfeld – www.scottwesterfeld.com – You know it’s gotta be awesome because Scott named it the ‘Westerblog.’ Although that’s not the only reason I read it! Check it out yourself to find out why.

Enjoy

Time sucking vortexes and Top Model Marathons

There exist, in the nebulous world of the Internet, magical portals whose sole purpose is to consume large blocks of your life. They’re like the Lotus Casino from The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan; while you’re there, you’re perfectly content; but when you leave, you look around and ask where did my whole day go?

I believe these portals take on different forms for each person. For me, they are: Facebook, Amazon.com, and Author blogs. My non-Internet portals are museums, coffee shops, and House marathons. Well, House, Top Chef, or America’s Next Top Model marathons. Okay, if you make any show into a marathon, I’ll get sucked in. I can’t make the weekly commitment to remember when a show is on – but if you put it on back to back, you can effectively glue me to my couch.

Facebook’s time sucking powers are probably pretty universally known. You start by checking out the photos a friend posted from the New Year’s party. You may or may not comment on a few. And of course you un-identify yourself in any less-than-flattering pictures. Then you decide to check her friends list. From there it’s just a few clicks and you’re cyberstalking the kid you had a crush on in third grade. You’re flipping through his wedding pictures and the photos of his wife’s pregnancy and their trip to Martha’s Vineyard and three months’ of posts on his wall. From the “Hey dude – what you up to?,” “We missed you at Gus’s on Friday,” and “We still on for Sunday? Go PATTTSSS!” you try and decide if he’s grown up to be a person who was worth suffering through cooties shots and that sitting-in-a-tree song. Eventually the vortex spits you back out and it’s dark outside and your dogs are whining at the door to go out. Everyone can connect with that experience, right?

Author blogs are just as treacherous. For example, take this morning when I finally sat down to write my own long-overdue post. I have lists of things I want to write about scrawled on various post-its around the house, but I didn’t feel capable of retrieving those until after I finished my coffee. So, while I was sipping I figured I’d cruise around and see what other writers were writing about. A good way to spend a few minutes while I got my b.c.l. (blood caffeine level) back up to an appropriate point.

It’s two hours later. My coffee’s cold. I’m still critically uncaffeinated . And I ordered five new books on Amazon. Author blogs are dangerous.

Which author blogs are particularly insidious? I’ll save that list for another day – if I start compiling it now, I’ll be re-ensnared. Who knows when I’d reemerge? Right now it’s time for me to step slowly away from the keyboard and consume large quantities of double-strength java.

What are your time-sucking vortexes? Actually, maybe if it’s safer if you don’t let me know.

The hot new accessory…

So what’s the it new accessory in sixth grade? No, it’s not Ugg boots or the latest V.S. ‘Pink’ apparel. It’s not leggings or skinny jeans.

It’s books. And a few books in particular. The ultra-cool book right now is Twilight. I know it’s been out for a while and raging through the middle and high schools, but it’s finally hit my elementary school classroom.

They’ve all seen the movie and now they’re reading the book. But it’s so much more than a book to them – it’s an accessory. It needs to be prominently displayed on their desks at all times. (Bonus points if it’s the movie addition with Robert Pattinson’s photo on the cover). The books go to lunch with them – they take them to band lessons, recess, and specials. First thing in the morning, the girls check each other’s books to see how many pages they’ve read and then they compare their favorite scenes. Some of them are even using post-its to mark pages they want to remember.

Without realizing it, the language from my reading lessons is leaking into their dialogue. They talk about visualizing Edward’s smoldering eyes, and their inferences about the characters’ motivations.

While I’m slightly squeamish about the ideas of these impromptu book discussions continuing with the rest of the series (which is less 6th grade appropriate), I’m thrilled by how excited they are about what they’re reading. So I felt the need to state it publicly that my sixth grade girls are more excited about books than boys, the latest gossip, or the newest style of Uggs – and as I writer and a reader, that makes me feel like our future’s going into good (and literate!) hands.

Feedback and Revisions

My feedback group meets the first Wednesday of every month and this past week was the first time I was offering a sampling of FLASH up to the red pens. It wasn’t my first time contributing, just the first time for this book, but I realized mid-meeting that no matter which piece of writing I’ve submitted, I go through the same five-step emotional process each time.

Step 1

This is the same sweaty-fingers, please-like-me, is-this-sweater-okay?, I-knew-I-shouldn’t-have-worn-pink, why-did-I-listen-to-my-mom?, you-like-my-sweater?, I-like-yours-too feeling that I remember from the first days of middle school. The differences being I no longer have braces and I no longer have to worry about what I’m wearing. For all my group knows, I could be e-mailing my submissions while wearing pajamas, which I frequently do. The feeling is the same, however, it’s the result of making yourself vulnerable and inviting a layer of honesty that just isn’t found in day to day life.

Step 2

I’m stupid sometimes, and this is one of those times. Each time I listen to feedback on my pieces, I spend the first two minutes being stubborn and defensive.

I don’t actually show that I’m being stubborn or defensive, I smile prettily and nod and simper, “Oh, absolutely. That’s a great suggestion.” But inside I’m seething – doesn’t he know how hard I worked on that scene? Take out the –ly words? Well, if we don’t know that Cole slightly nodded, how are we to feel his hesitation? If Tessa’s not walking unsteadily, how will we know she’s exhausted from her flash? Humph! My inner petulant child stamps her foot.

Luckily, this stage quickly comes and goes, and then I realize I’m being an idiot and start listening and absorbing helpful feedback.

Step 3

When the protective, defensive layer comes down, I tend to accept all feedback /criticism at once. And try to figure it all out at once. And then my brain goes into hyperdrive. This is when I sink into an it-can’t-be-done, I’m-just-going-to-scrap-this-piece-and-start-again funk.

Fortunately, I was born without the ability to be pessimistic for more than ten minutes, and after those ten minutes are up, I get proactive again.

 

Step 4 – Puzzling

Sometimes I get over step three rather quickly, but usually progress here requires me to do something. Late night runs are great times to run scenarios in my head. Sitting on my porch with my laptop during summer rainstorms works as well. Calling someone who’s read the book and is willing to listen to me sound out multiple possibilities works great. And sometimes just a night of sleep brings clarity.

But when it comes – this is the most exciting time of all. Seeing the possibilities for the piece, and knowing how much better it can become because of the feedback I’ve gotten? It’s an awesome feeling.

Step 5 – Production

Once things start clicking in step four, watch out. Neither food, nor sleep, nor conversation, nor life will interfere with my re-writing and polishing. (I do, however, make an exceptions for the dixie-cup sized bladders of the puggles – I’d rather to stop to take them out than stop for clean up).

When I get on a role and have a plan in mind, I work with a singular focus until I’m done. Then I run around like sleep and social stimuli deprived maniac and insist that everyone coo over every new comma and every deletion of an –ly word.

– Overwhelmedness – Stubborn Protectiveness – Submission.

Polling and Puppy Puke

Today did not start off well. I was supposed to be able to ‘sleep in’ until 6:30 since today’s an in-service, not a regular school day.

Instead at 5:30 I woke up to ‘huruph blurph bleah’ and a warm lumpy wet splatter of doggie vomit. To make the situation even better, Bruschi decided to make amends for throwing up on me by covering my shocked and sleepy face with kisses. Gross!

But the day’s gotten much, much better since then. My school is a polling place (hence the no-kids today) and when I pulled in to the driveway today, it looked like a kindergartener had done the parking. There were cars everywhere, in every direction, on the grass, on the sidewalk, and two thick around the bus circle.

I haven’t seen lines like the ones snaking across the playground and twining back and forth in the gymnasium since my last trip to Disney World. That’s pretty amazing!

And all day long people have been sharing their voting stories:

My friend Val reported a 20-year-old reemerging from his booth in panic. He was saying, “I know this was already explained to me, but can someone tell me again? I just don’t want to screw up.” And everyone else in line smiled and stood a little taller.

Or my co-worker, Jesse, who teaches second grade just passed my door on his way down to ‘Kids Vote.’ When I commented that he was a little too old to be participating in the kids’ voting program, he told me how one of his students e-mailed him asking for help. This 8-year-old had to leave last night to attend his uncle’s funeral, but wanted to make sure his vote would count, so he asked his teacher to cast his kids’ ballot for him. It’s children like this that make me feel so confident that our future’s in good hands.

I waited to vote until after work today – I’m heading out in just a minute. This way I could look forward to it all day long. It’s days like today that I’m floating with American pride (and so grateful for hot, post-puppy-puke showers!).

Anyone else have a voting story?

 

Oh my Lawn Chair

Matt and I were at Ikea yesterday to try and get ideas about how to organize our new closet. This has now devolved into diagrams on graph paper with color-coded scaled-down squares that represent the different sized units. I still have no clue how it’s going to work, despite all of Matt’s patience and diagrams. I’ll excitedly suggest a way that I think will work great and Matt will calmly respond, “Tiffany, if we set up the wardrobes like that, you won’t be able to open the closet door to get to your clothing.” Or “Yes, the wardrobes would fit facing each other like that, but will we fit between the wardrobes to get our clothing out?”

But I digress, the thing I wanted to write about was the little boy who was skipping through the store ahead of us, singing cheerily to himself and ignoring the taunts and pokes of his bored older brother.

“Oh my lawn chair, Oh my lawn chair,” he was crooning to the tune of “Clementine.” I kept trying to hear the next line of the song, but Ikea has so many twists and turns that I couldn’t get close enough and his mother started to give me the wary eyeball.

Since I didn’t feel like explaining I wasn’t a creepy child stalker, I just wanted to hear what made-up lyrics he was singing, I let some distance grow and actually gave Matt and the closets some long-overdue attention. But after answering a few of my closet questions, he was practically begging me to find a new child to stalk.

“I’m not stalking! I’m writing,” I explained indignantly.

“Okay,” he responded in a clearly placating, go-away-and-leave-me-to-my-tape-measuring voice.

That was a mistake! Now he was going to get a full explanation and I was going to make him take me seriously, or at least be annoying enough that he would listen. “No really! I’m pre-writing. I’m gathering stolen conversation. Maybe that little boy’s song will make it into a story someday, either way it’s adorable and I’m intrigued. Aren’t you?”

“Not really. I just want to look at these wardrobes and get home. If you want to go steal conversations, that’s fine. You can tell me all about it in the car. Okay?”

“Fine,” I grumbled. “But since I didn’t get to hear the rest of ‘Oh my lawn chair,’ you’d better be ready to help me think up some good lyrics.”

Here they are:

Oh my lawn chair
Oh my lawn chair
Oh my chair that’s on the grass
You are cozy, and so shady, I want lemonade in my glass.

It’s clearly a work in progress. And now I’ll always have to wonder what the ‘real’ fake lyrics were. sigh

So, if you ever see me following you a little too closely in a store, or leaning in a suspicious manner toward your table at a restaurant, try not to be alarmed. I’m not stalking, or eavesdropping, I’m simply stealing your conversation. And if you know the rest of the words to “Oh My Lawn Chair,” feel free to take that opportunity to sing them for me.

 

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