Friday, March 19, 2010

Not as rhetorical a question as you might have wished

From the promo blurb for My Double Life, by Janette Rallison:

You know how they say everyone has a twin somewhere in the world, a person chance has formed to be their mirror image? Well, mine happens to be rock star Kari Kingsley. How crazy is that?

Not crazy at all, when you, like I, have just spent two days combing through dozens (and dozens) of new YA novels, every other one of which seeming to encapsulate a formula of romance novel plus high-concept commercial hook plus glamorama cover art. In my day we called these paperbacks.

One of the more interesting of post-Harry Potter developments has been the emergence of commercial fiction for young people; that is, books designed to be purchased by kids/teens themselves, written in an undemanding style and with an alluring, quickly graspable premise. Airport books. Except if they were airport books, I wouldn't have to think twice about not reviewing them. And. There. Are. So. Many. And so many that seem to want desperately to be just like some other book that has already been a hit. Little Vampire Women, I'm looking at you.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Who will read about who?

Whom? I never get that right.

In either case, J. L. Bell has posted one of the smartest things I've yet read about color and reading. Much of the current blogging discussion about the "whitewashing" of covers, etc., assumes that if evil publishers and ignorant librarians would only change their ways and open their eyes they would see a world of unprejudiced young readers eager to devour books regardless of the color of skin on the cover or on the main character. But as Bell asks, do we know this to be true or do we simply want to believe it?

I've been working on an essay about the last ten years in children's book publishing (note to ALA: yes, it's coming, already) and while I can be as self-righteous as anyone about the cynicism of publishing, I can also see that the school and library forces that, in the past, informed a moral code in children's books have an increasingly small impact upon an increasingly small piece of the business. The gatekeepers didn't "make" Harry Potter or Twilight, they followed along.

On a related note, I laughed when I read a reader's comment about the Times report on the Oscar nominations: "'Urban drama' means there are black people in it, in case anyone was wondering. Come ON, New York Times!"

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Publishers and bloggers

In a comment on a recent thread, Elizabeth posted a comment that I thought deserved its own discussion so I moved it here for your consideration:

Re. the question of anonymous posting, I seem to be the only person who holds the opinion that I would prefer to see people use their names, yet hold it I do. I may post my reasons why later, but for now I'd like to talk more about a question that publishers are debating re. the blogosphere, and which I don't think has been discussed on the thread below.

We are getting a lot of requests from YA bloggers, many of them teens themselves, who want galleys of one or another of our upcoming books. We are working at sorting out which of these bloggers have big enough followings to merit sending them a galley. Let's say it's roughly $8.50 to print and mail a galley, and our supply, and our time, is limited. How many of these bloggers might have enough readers to make it worth our while? Or, for that matter, write compelling enough entries that someone would want to read the book they are talking about? Interestingly, most bloggers, when asking for a galley, have not yet learned to say "I get 1000 unique readers a month" or whatever the appropriate lingo is. They just say they love YA literature, such and such book sounds good, and that they'd love to write about it on their blog. And as others have suggested, I think they'd also like to brag to their friends that they get a lot of galleys. But that's not a lot of use to us.

And as Roger and others *have* mentioned on this thread, while we have no idea what professional critics are going to write about our novels, we do expect most blog coverage to be positive. Maybe some of it will be really positive, maybe some of it will just mention our book in a long list of titles, but so far blog coverage, particularly of books seen in advance of the general public, has been pretty positive. When or if that changes, it will be interesting to see what happens. Maybe we'll keep a "naughty or nice" list!

10:51 PM, June 17, 2009


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Friday, May 22, 2009

Blurring boundaries

Kelly Herold (of Big A, Little a) has a new blog with a very promising premise. Crossover "focuses on a rare breed of book--the adult book teens love, the teen book adults appreciate, and (very, very occasionally) that Middle Grade book adults read. I'm interested in reviewing books that transcend these age boundaries and understanding why these books are different." She kicks things off with a discussion of Twilight. Don't forget the Twi-moms, Kelly!

My new crossover favorite is Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim's The Eternal Smile, a collection of three thematically linked graphic stories (First Second/Roaring Brook). Yesterday I had an interesting talk with Lauren Wohl of Roaring Brook about the challenge graphic fiction presents to our traditional concept of grade level. I thought Eternal Smile was YA, or YA enough, to review in the Horn Book but SLJ apparently booted it over to their big brother Library Journal. Conversely, I thought the same publisher's Laika was clearly adult, but Lauren told me it had won a bunch of children's/YA awards. Graphic novels are just one development that promises to keep the reviewer's lot lively; when I think about self-publishing, print-on-demand and e-publishing, I just want it to stay Memorial Day weekend (which I intend to spend reading the new John Sandford and Tom Rob Smith thrillers) for the rest of my life.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

What does this make the future look like?

Children's book publishing history is marked by scandalous firings and layoffs of editors; see Leonard Marcus's Minders of Make-Believe for some of the stories. I took one on a dozen years ago, but this latest round: wow. Emma Dryden and Kevin Lewis of Simon & Schuster are the most recent of many veteran editors and publishers who have left their positions in the past year; the list also includes Brenda Bowen, Ginee Seo, Melanie Kroupa, Michael Eisenberg, Joanna Cotler and Laura Geringer. (I'm a little leery of naming names here; when Leonard wrote last year in Minders that Susan Hirschman had been dismissed forty-five years ago from Harper Junior Books, Susan wrote to the Horn Book to correct the record, saying she had resigned. If you feel unjustly included or unmentioned, my apologies in advance.)

Beyond my sympathy and good wishes for all these individuals, I only have questions about what this disposal of proven talent means for the future of children's publishing. And they really are questions, not opinions in disguise: Will lists get smaller? (They should.) Or, will editors need to edit more titles? Will the increased reliance on editorial freelancers or "editors at large" change what sorts of books get published? Does company history matter, and who are its custodians? What happens to a profession when many of its leaders are removed from positions of authority? Will new leaders emerge (and how will they lead?), or will everyone just get a little more gun-shy?

I'm sure you have questions of your own, so ask them here. And I'd love for anyone to take a stab at some answers.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Craig Virden

I was sorry to hear of Craig Virden's death today. We first met when I was chair of the Margaret Edwards committee and he was Richard Peck's publisher at what is now Random House. Craig was more excited than winner Peck (who got the news while transiting the Panama Canal, so there's that). We weren't close friends but I always found Craig to be genuine and honest and contagiously engaged--enthusiastic. You can read his blog postings from the recent Bologna book fair to get a real sense of his voice.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Whither YA?

Josie has a post up about adults buying young adult books for their own pleasure, citing The Book Thief, Hunger Games and the Stephenie Meyer books as particular favorites among customers at The Flying Pig. I was musing about this topic the other day with the YA class over at Simmons, as we asked the question "what makes a book YA?" The students had read Stephen Chbosky's Perks of Being a Wallflower for the session, and it's a book that rather famously was denied consideration for the Printz Award because it had not been published specifically as a YA book. (Reading it again for this class revealed to me that it has not exactly held up well, either.) When I look at books like Madapple, The Book Thief, Octavian Nothing, Tender Morsels--basically, literary YA fiction--I wonder what the gains and losses were in publishing them as YA. These are all books that undeniably have a YA audience, but without an adult audience as well they would be unviable. But had they been published as adult, would they have an audience at all?

In the end, and assuming we will see a shrinkage of publishers' lists due both to economics and in the way people parcel out their attention to the various recreational media, I wonder if YA books (the high-schoolish ones, anyway) will become subsumed again into general trade fiction, reaching a dual audience without laying claim to either one in particular.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Why aren't they called adults' books

and adults' books editors? In any event, there is a great roundtable discussion among four of 'em over at Poets & Writers.

This past week I had to deal with a new author who was rather over-enthusiastic in his attempts to persuade the Magazine to review his book. I finally had to call in the big guns--his publisher--to get him to back off, but it also provoked a lament on his publisher's part that the rules seemed to be changing, that authors were being pressed by their publishers, their colleagues, the whole media culture, to go out and promote their own books with the time and zeal that used to be spent on writing the next one. So haranguing review editors might have seemed to this writer to have become acceptable--expected--behavior. I hope it's not a trend!

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

More about money

Boston Globe writer David Mehegan has a great piece on what's going on at Houghton Mifflin. Don't skip the comments, either--lots of perspectives from people who used to work there.

And don't miss the aforementioned Patsy Aldana expounding at some greater length on just what money and publishing have to do with each other, for each other and to each other.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We're still here . . .

But the Horn Book, Inc. has a new owner. See details on our website.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

J.K. Rowling wishes they paid by the word.

Agent Amanda Urban on the economics of book publishing:

“Books can only support a certain retail price,” she said. “It’s not like you have books that can be Manolo Blahniks and books that can be Cole Haan. Books are books. A book by James Patterson costs the same as a book by some poet.”

Which one is the Blahniks?

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt update

While I could not get HMH to confirm or deny Jane Yolen's claim that the children's division was not bound by the no-submissions policy announced last week, I see from a Hillel Italie AP story that Joe-the-spokesman is apparently talking to someone. In a report of today's resignation of adult trade publisher Becky Saletan, Italie also wrote:

Blumenfeld has offered conflicting statements, saying the publisher of authors such as Philip Roth and Guenter Grass had "temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts," but later acknowledging the policy didn't apply to education and children's books and a mystery book imprint.
I don't know where or when this later acknowledgment was made.

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My best friend

and frequent commenter here is interviewed over at Cynsations. The photo is graciously intimidating and makes me think Lawzy has the potential to become a true dragon lady. Oh, but when we were young . . . never mind, let's leave something for the memoir. On thing I'll share, though, that Elizabeth did not: as a child, she asked for and received a gift subscription to The Horn Book Magazine.

Newsflash--I was interrupted in my posting by the surprise visit of Marianne Carus, founder and editor-in-chief of Cricket Magazine. She was in the building with her husband Blouke visiting Jackie Miller down at Reach Out and Read. Marianne is Great Ladydom in spades.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

(Un)block that metaphor!

"We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline"--Houghton Mifflin Harcourt spokesman Josef Blumenfeld, explaining the company's rationale for ordering its editors to stop acquiring manuscripts.

No, Joe, what you have turned off is the water supply, rendering both the pipeline AND spigot irrelevant.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Add 'em up, Bobby

Could somebody do this math for me? If Sarah Palin did in fact receive seven million dollars for a book contract, how many copies would the publisher have to sell to recoup its cost? Would it be possible?

Yes, I intend to use song references for my blog headings until I get good and tired of it.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Score one for the big guys

J. K. Rowling has prevailed.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Listen to the children!

Maybe Sherry Jones, whose The Jewel of Medina was cancelled by Ballantine for fear of Muslim terrorist rage, was just working with the wrong division of Random House. The copyright page of each fall 08 Random House ARC I've received states "Random House Children's Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read."

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Just how old IS Ellie Berger?

As quoted in the Wall Street Journal:

"There has been a real revolution" in books that "have more kid appeal," especially when it comes to boys, says Ellie Berger, who oversees Scholastic's trade division. "It's a shift away from the drier books we all grew up with."

And I would love to know whose ass this statistic was pulled out of:

Last year, U.S. publishers released 261 new works of juvenile fiction aimed at boys, more than twice the number put out in 2003, according to Bowker's Books in Print database. There were 20 nonfiction entries for boys, compared with just four in 2003.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Trivia question

What novelist for children with more than three or four books to his or her name has never written a sequel? I ask because I'm surveying my books to be be reviewed for the September issue (surveying being far more entertaining than actually, you know, reviewing) and, like, six out of the seven novels are sequels. (And Jen and Martha know to keep the fantasy far, far from me so it's not that.) I thought Katherine Paterson, but then Martha pointed out that Lyddie shows up twice.

If any M.L. S. student is in need of a thesis topic, I think it would be very interesting to examine sequel-publishing over time. We've always had 'em, I know, but do publishers these days routinely encourage writers to follow a successful book with a related one? Or have they always?

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hear Roger (and Richard Peck)

In our latest podcast Roger brings us along for an evening in New York with Elizabeth Law (Vice President and Publisher, Egmont USA), Douglas Pocock (Executive Vice President, Egmont USA), and Newbery Medalist Richard Peck. After a lively discussion about what draws adults to read young adult books, Roger talks to Richard Peck about his current project (here's a hint: "I'm bringing Grandma Dowdel back").

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Code Pink

Scanning the multitudes of new books throughout the office, I am struck--again--by the endurance of pink covers on light teen girl fiction. I know this is nothing new; what interests me is the fact that I wrote about this four years ago, and I'm surprised it still works--not the chicklit formula, which is eternal, but that pink remains the go-to color. When does this kind of genre marker stop signaling "Here I am! The kind of book you like!" and start saying "I've got your number"? Do girls who like this sort of thing appreciate the code, or do they roll their eyes and read despite it? There was a story in PW some years ago about two African American women in a bookstore laughing about the omnipresence of the word "Sister" in the titles of books marketed to black women, suggesting that the ploy had run its course. Will pink? Ever?

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

But I Play One on TV

Elissa told me that Parker Posey's character in the new Fox sitcom The Return of Jezebel James is a HarperCollins children's book editor. Any reports?

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hard books and awards

Australian Sonya Harnett has won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, an honor that speaks to the discussion we're having about Nina Lindsay's comments about "shelf-sitters." Completely deserving of the many awards her writing has won, Hartnett is, however, no crowd-pleaser. While as a culture we are used to the fact that adult fiction with a small audience routinely beats out bestsellers at awards time, we don't seem to like it so much when something similarly "literary" for children competes for shelf space, attention and awards alongside books that have wider appeal. "No kid is going to read this" is something we have all said. That can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, of course, if the person who says it therefore decides not to review it or buy it for a library.

This is a situation as old as libraries but has become more prominent as a) libraries have become less elitist and more responsive to popular taste and b) book budgets have shrunk, making it more attractive to purchase something that will circulate twenty times rather than twice. It's hard to imagine it now, but there was a time when juvenile hardcover fiction was only found in libraries. Expectations were smaller, so were print runs, and thus smaller books had a chance. Is this still true? Could Sonya Hartnett thrive in America?

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I really don't have a horse in this one.

Interesting piece from The Guardian about the pending court case involving J. K. Rowling and the would-be publisher of a Harry Potter encyclopedia. What's intriguing to me is that both sides seem to have given statements that support the opposition!

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Monday, March 03, 2008

March/April 08 Horn Book

The new issue of the Horn Book is out; online articles include Lolly Robinson's guide to alphabet books and Madelyn Travis's profile of Michael Rosen (the British one), including a gorgeous poem of his about reading:

. . . Some of these things
you may have never seen before.
But now you know them.
Some are as familiar to you as potatoes.
But these potatoes are different.

There's much more in the print edition, including a fascinating oral-history portrait of Ursula Nordstom compiled by Leonard S. Marcus from interviews he did with Nordstrom's writers and colleagues. As a companion (although she would probably sniff to see what company we're putting her in), we've resurrected the equally legendary Edna Albertson and the rejection letters that made generations of authors shake in their shoes. Save yourself from Edna's scorn and read all the web extras.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Frontlist becoming backlist

Hearing Norma Jean Sawicki talk (see Tuesday's entry) about the massive debt behind the publishing industry's mergers and acquisitions made me feel much better about my Visa bill. It also made me think about how much more company is on top of what I personally see at most houses--I might know the editor in chief, the children's publisher, occasionally that publisher's boss, but most often a company goes up up and away into corporate dimensions we just don't see on the ground. Norma Jean and I had a good time talking about what that can mean for which books get published how.

The question that only came to me today is about how much frontlist becomes backlist, and how long it stays there. For example, what percentage of, say, juvenile hardcover fiction published five years ago is still in print? Ten years ago? What percentage of first-novelists get a second crack, and has this figure changed? When I look at the piles of new novels rolling in, I wonder how long an attention span any one of them can command. I worry about those forlorn first-in-a-projected-but-abandoned-trilogy books, their characters left at the breath of the Fire Dragon or in the mouth of the Imponderable Cave. How many books disappear, and how quickly? This is not to say that many of them shouldn't, and not soon enough, but have our expectations of a "normal" literary lifespan changed?

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

We Were There

Does anyone remember the We Were There books? There were two I read over and over: We Were There at Pearl Harbor and We Were There at Guadalcanal. I would have been reading them around 1964, roughly twenty-five years after the events in the books took place, which seemed to me like forever ago.

I'm thinking of them because tomorrow I'm talking to Norma Jean Sawicki's publishing class at Simmons; my topic, the last twenty-five years of children's book publishing. I was there. How weird. Now I know why Betsy Hearne was once initially resistant to giving the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction to a book set during WWII. She was there, so it didn't feel like history to her.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

You can buy a printer, but can you buy a clue?

We got a call last week asking if the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards accept submissions of print-on-demand books. Editorial Anonymous explains why not.

Clueless wannabes will always be with us but what confounds me more are stories that indulge in all the sentimentality, preachiness, lame rhyming and anthropomorphism we say never, ever to indulge a manuscript in, and yet they somehow get published, by a real publisher, anyway. (Yes, Peach and Blue, I'm thinking of you.) Let's make an award for that. (Anyone remember SLJ's Billy Budd Button and Huck Finn pin?)

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What good do do-good books do?

I just received a press release from HarperCollins for Declare Yourself: Speak. Connect. Vote. 50 Celebrated Americans Tell You Why (Greenwillow, May), a compendium of essays about the importance of voting and civic participation by such allegedly teen-friendly names as Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) and Atoosa Rubinstein (a name I know only because Gawker makes fun of her); YA writers including Naomi Shihab Nye, Meg Cabot and Chris Crutcher; and NPR-friendly types like Norman Lear and the late Molly Ivins. Ugly Betty's America Ferrera is the "celebrity editor," a job I would kill for.

Published in association with the teen-voter registration organization Declare Yourself, the book supports a worthy cause and could, in fact, be a good book, although I always feel a certain degree of self-inflicted social blackmail when reviewing anything whose profits support a 501(c)3: be nice to this book or a dog will die. And while "it's for a good cause" has caused me to buy plenty, it's never gotten me to actually read anything.

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How to Make a Book Look Good and Work Well

In our new podcast, Horn Book designer (and webmaster) Lolly Robinson talks to Lee Kingman Natti: author, editor, and old Horn Book hand. Lee discusses working with Virginia Lee Burton, picture book design and the aesthetic of the Folly Cove designers.

Lee mentions that she first wrote for the Horn Book in 1929, when she won that year's Reading Contest: "for the best set of fifteen book notes on as many well-chosen books, each book note not to be more than 200 words or less than 100--a prize of ten books." And I must say I like the then nine-year-old Lee's straightforward approach to book reviewing: "I like the book because of the horrible things the Bastables did."

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Some people still wear a hat.

Former Horn Book editor Anita Silvey received the Education Publishing Association's Ludington Award "for an individual who has made a significant contribution to the paperback book business." Her confrerees at the award banquet sported the singular Silvey accessory in her honor:

(Anita is second from the left.)

Let us join in the salute. Congrats, A.S.!

Photo by Duncan Todd

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008


In the February issue of Harper's, Ursula K. LeGuin has some interesting things to say about reading ("reading is active, an act of attention, of absorbed alertness--not all that different from hunting, in fact, or from gathering") and publishing ("What's in this dismal scene for you, Mr. Corporate Executive? Why don't you just get out of it, dump the ungrateful little pikers, and get on with the real business of business, ruling the world?").

But until you get your hands on Harper's, take a look at what Groundwood's Patsy Aldana had to say in our pages a few years back: "I would posit that the greatest, most defining boundary in our cozy little world of children’s books is money."

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Congrats to my best pal

and our frequent commenter Elizabeth Law, whose appointment as VP and publisher of Egmont USA has just been announced. Yay, Lawzy! Send us pics, I mean snaps, from your glam London party!


Monday, September 17, 2007

I'm over

at Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog today and feeling cynsational!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Let's play "peel the label."

I haven't touched the stuff in years, but this NYT booze blog piece querying the value of blind tastings has me thinking about book reviewing, prompted by its rhetorical question, "why are book critics permitted to know who wrote what they are reading?" The question of how a critic's judgment is affected by his or her knowledge of the author (or publisher, etc.) of a book was addressed by Doris Lessing, when she published two books under a pseudonym, Jane Somers. In 1984 she told the Times:

''I wanted to highlight that whole dreadful process in book publishing that 'nothing succeeds like success.' If the books had come out in my name, they would have sold a lot of copies and reviewers would have said, 'Oh, Doris Lessing, how wonderful.' As it is, there were almost no reviews, and the books sold about 1,500 copies here and scarcely 3,000 copies each in the United States.''

But what did she prove, really? That people are more interested in hearing what Doris Lessing has to say than in what an unknown writer might? It is a rather dramatic example of how hard it is for a new writer to get noticed, I'll grant that. But book reviewing (and wine reviewing, I guess) is as much news as it is evaluation--readers want to know not just that there's a new spooky thriller just out, but that Stephen King has written a new book. (King of course himself invented a pseudonym, Richard Bachman, not to test the public but to enlarge his share of the market.) Would I be reviewing Ana's Story were it written by someone other than the President's daughter? It's more "not bad" than it is good (which, in an era of egregious books by celebrities, is itself news) but I can definitely see a teen audience for it; kids who would read it regardless of its author's name. But that's the other question, of course: would it have been published had a Name not come with it?

Blind reviewing could certainly shake things up, though. How would publishing would look if reviewing was done that way?

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Friday, July 13, 2007

It was an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny . . .

Galleycat reports on the news that Boyds Mills Press has backed out of negotiations to publish a picture book series by German artist Rotraut Susanne Berner after the author refused to change two pictures that displayed nudity, both small representations of artwork displayed in a museum. Oh, the horror, oh, the censorship, oh these self-righteous blog posts that write themselves.

But if I were running Boyds Mills Press, I would have made the exact same call, although I might have spared myself the embarrassment of expressing interest in the first place. Selling picture books is difficult, selling foreign-born picture books is almost impossible, add some boobs and a little dick to the mix and you might as well just climb up to the roof and throw your money over the side. It's not censorship, as there is no private obligation to publish. It's stupid parents. Again.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

East Side, West Side,

Brooklyn and Harlem, too. But I began my New York Time (an obscure but funny adult novel by Richard Peck, btw) with a view, from Elizabeth's living room, of the East River and ended it in Viking publisher Regina Hayes' office, which overlooks the Hudson. And had a grand time in between, too.

The memorial service for Janet McDonald was held at NYPL's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, up on Lenox Ave. in Harlem. It was great to meet so many of the people, family and friends, Janet had described in her emails. It was great to "see" Janet as well: we had never met and never spoke, so a couple of videos filled out the picture for me. (You can see her infamous Condi Rice "tribute" here.) Friends from Vassar and Paris spoke, as did Janet's editor Frances Foster, making everybody cry. Afterward we repaired around the corner to what I was told was Janet's favorite NY restaurant, Miss Maude's Spoonbread Too. Yummy. Afterward, Janet's agent Charlotte Sheedy skillfully strong-armed me a cab.

Virgin to all boroughs save Manhattan, I took my first trip to Brooklyn the next morning to meet Bruce Brooks. I totally should have rearranged my schedule to meet Jon Scieszka there, as he lives just two blocks away from Bruce. But Bruce and I had a fine time without him, reminiscing over the past twenty years of our friendship and wandering around Prospect Park in vain hopes of finding Bruce's baby son Drake, who had gone there with the sitter. We caught up with Drake (as well as Bruce's grown son Alex) back at the apartment, though, where, in an incident that would provide great fodder for my later discussion about boys and reading with Jon, one-year-old Drake became fascinated with my watch. I thought he was enjoying the sparkly blue and chrome-ness of the thing, but no, he kept twisting my hand so that he could inspect the workings of the clasp, less interested in how the thing looked than how it was put together. Score one for gendered behavior!

Then, carefully ushered via excellent directions from Atheneum editor Jordan Brown (a colleague of Bruce's wife Ginee Seo), I subwayed myself over to Penguin's offices to meet Jon, who, for the record, totally got the Big Monkey-Little Monkey thing. We spent a lively hour or so talking about boys and books and reading, and Jon showed me the first page proofs of his upcoming Truck Town empire over at Simon and Schuster. (Let me hasten to add, o Penguin potentates, that we also talked about Jon and Lane Smith's forthcoming Viking title Cowboy and Octopus.) Look for the interview in the September Horn Book special issue, Boys and Girls.

Thanks, boys, for a great trip, and girls, too: along with my best pal Elizabeth (with whom I didn't get nearly enough talk, but thanks for the hospitality!) I got some time (and choice gossip) from Regina and Sharyn November and Lara Phan at Penguin. I guess we get to do it all over again at ALA in--yikes!--two weeks.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sometimes the Jokes Just Write Themselves

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Tell Us What to Do

After enduring my second round with the dentist with an audiobook about a serial killer who removed his (or her, I haven't managed to finish it yet) victims' teeth, I decided for my third date with Dr. Guen to try some chicklit (chiclets, heh) again and began listening to Sally Koslow's Little Pink Slips, the roman a clef about Rosie O'Donnell's takeover of McCalls. I'm enjoying it enormously: the writing is several cuts above Sophie Kinsella's, and leagues from Plum Sykes or the Prada and Nanny girls. When the book begins, our heroine, the editor in chief, who is soon to be usurped (or something, I'm only an hour in) by the Rosie character, has just come up with a radical re-visioning of her magazine (helped by a hunky but as-yet sexually ambiguous designer) only to be outfoxed by her "frenemy," the publisher character, who has come up with her own plan to brand the magazine with the Rosie character's imprimatur.

The book's discussions' about the future of the fictitious Lady magazine made me think: What could the Horn Book Magazine do better, or more of, or more interestingly? I always have this question running around in my mind (this is not necessarily a sign of dedication; it stems as much from my default anxiety as anything else) and I've come up with plenty of ideas that usually involve money we don't have. Like becoming a monthly, or printing in color, for example. Some ideas don't cost anything, but they do collide with Tradition: changing the logo, say, or making the magazine a standard size (which would actually save money).

And while book reviews remain the number one reason people subscribe to us, more and more of our readers access them electronically, either through our own or via our licenses to the various wholesalers who sell books to schools and libraries, who provide their customers with ancillary databases of reviews and bibliographic information. So I think print book reviews, ours and everyone else's, will become less and less important to the school-and-library audience that is our mainstay.

So what should the Horn Book--the print Horn Book--do? My enthusiasm for The Invention of Hugo Cabret in great part stems from how it's so necessarily a book. It needs ink on paper to do what it does; it needs to have page-turns to convey the story. There's plenty that the Horn Book, Inc. can and does do electronically to "blow the horn for fine books for boys and girls," (our sturdy mission statement since the 1920s) but what will keep our print-self necessary? What can we do with the Magazine we can't do online? Who can we reach, and what would they want us to tell them? Yes, they pay me to answer these questions but they pay me to ask them, too. So, I'm asking.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

But Sammy the Snot Who Lives in Your Nose? Sure!

Publishers Weekly alerts us to the latest buy-an-agent scam; I love e-literary agent's sage analysis of the publishing market: "because this is a highly competitive business, we recommend that you take the time to run your manuscript through a spell check." If they wanted to tip us off that they were wolves after sheep, well, they just did.

But mind their strict guidelines: "Sorry, we don’t accept poetry or pornography." And whose pride, poets' or pornographers', do you think that hurts more?

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Friday, April 27, 2007

When It's Time to Keep Quiet

In yesterday's Huffington Post, author Leslie Bennetts complains about a New York Times piece, which, using Bennetts' new book The Feminine Mistake as an example, speculated that the sales of hot-button books have been compromised by their authors' endless talk show rounds: readers figure they already have enough of a gist for their purposes. This is a valuable argument, but Bennetts says that the article's real point was to attack her; she also works in a rather impressive amount of self-congratulation and glowing quotes from reviews, which I suspect is her real point.

From my own one skirmish with trade book publication (Hearing Us Out, Little, Brown, 1994) but also from conversation with writer-friends, I'd have to say that Bennetts is exhibiting the classic signs of an author with a new book. It's the best high in the world. But: no amount of attention is enough, no criticism can be taken lightly, the world is divided into two kinds of people: those who have Read My Book and Loved It, and ignorant pigs. Anne Lamott writes funnily about this phenomenon in Bird by Bird: when publication date arrives she expects flowers and candy and congratulations; she practices modestly digging her toe into the dirt in expectation of all the compliments and attention she's about to receive. Nothing happens.

I think it's a completely understandable and forgivable attitude. For so long, your whole world has necessarily been that book and it becomes natural that you believe others will feel the same. It passes, thank God, or we would all be insufferable, but I wish somebody had told Bennetts that no matter how valid her point is (not, in my opinion), now is not the time to complain about being attacked. When the only response you will find truly acceptable is "you are wonderful," you can't win. Don't play.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

With apologies to Velma

Varner, who played no part in the story I was vaguely remembering on yesterday's blog comments. Varner succeeded May Massee as the children's book editor at Viking, and did many good things, not least of which was suggesting to the young Susie Hinton that she go with the initials S. E. for her first book, The Outsiders.

Here's the story, which is from an interview Leonard Marcus conducted for the January/February 1995 issue of the Horn Book. Leonard was interviewing HarperCollins's library marketing wizard Bill Morris, who was clearly in the mood to spill:

I don't know that this is true, though I've been told it is, that during the years when Miss [Anne Carroll] Moore was chair of the Newbery-Caldecott committee, the committee would never actually meet. The other members would just send in their ballots to her, and she and Miss Massee would get together to count them! If you look at the list of medal winners, there was a period when Viking won something almost every year! It's a marvelous story, whether or not it's true.

That, my friends, is gossip (for those of you who opined that children's book blogs did not traffic in same).

Thanks to all of you who participated in yesterday's ferocious discussion. I learned a lot--mostly that what I was looking for in blog book-reviews was perhaps a case of missing the oranges for the apples. Someone has just asked in the comments there that I address the question "why do you [meaning me] write book reviews?" to which I have a long answer and will try to address after I've gotten a virtuous amount done on the book I am allegedly here at home writing. So it might be tomorrow.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Tish! That's French!

GalleyCat's report on an article (that originally appeared in The Bookseller, whose online subscription is veddy expensive* and thus to whom I cannot link) about books that prosper on either side of the Atlantic but sink when they venture across reminds me of Ben Brantley's recent NYT piece exposing our country's fetish for English accents ("so silken, so stately, so, well, so darned cultured") that I have long accused Hazel Rochman of trading upon. I like the quote about The Thirteenth Tale: "There are two incidences towards the end where they drink cocoa. I haven't drunk cocoa since I was a child. That picture of cocoa-drinking England only appeals outside England." It also makes me wonder if this is the reason that Donna Leon's Venice-set mysteries starring the to-die-for Commissario Guido Brunetti have not, according to Wikipedia, ever been translated into Italian.

*from the same company that brings you the similarly overpriced Kirkus Reviews.

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A role model in better clothes

When I got an email from Robin Smith with the subject line "Someone we both love," I thought, oh God, I really cannot handle another death right now. But I perked right up when I opened it and saw that rather than an obituary, it was a link to a New York Times article about My Secret Boyfriend.

But I've decided to promote Tim Gunn from Secret Boyfriend to Middle-Aged Role Model because he's an example of how someone can make a big career shift in the autumn of one's life, moving from the academic slog of deaning to the high-stakes glamor of brand management. Of course, he had a television show to help him do it, whereas I only have you, dear readers. On the other hand, I have a boyfriend, so ha ha ha ha ha ha Mr.-I'm-So-Alone-Gunn.

Wouldn't that be a great job, though? I mean in publishing? Gunn's new job at Liz Claiborne is to "to bring a sense of excitement about fashion to a corporate culture known for blandness and to effect a change in the perception of its brands, from outdated to fashionable." The difference in publishing--a considerable one, I think--is that it's a business where fashionable has become what it's all about, so my job would be instead to get them to straighten up and fly right. To paraphrase Paul Hazard, give them books, give them wings. Let Tim Gunn be the fashion spinmeister; I'll go out and prove you don't have to stick fleurchons all over a book to make kids like it.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hometown Girl Makes Good

Do you read those Seven Impossible Things interviews and think, wow, I wish I could get me one of those? Do like Alvina Ling, who got her start right here as a Horn Book intern!

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Still Baking

I know I promised another post re chicklit earlier today, but my thoughts never got quite where I wanted them. I was pushing an enormous book-truck's worth of the stuff back to the Guide after rejecting it for review in the Magazine and I found myself thinking, I bet old Michiko never has to do this. That the grown-up book world recognizes distinctions between literary, commercial, and genre fiction that we barely observe in children's book publishing. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Or is it a bad thing for Literature, but a good thing for Children? But my thinking is still half-baked so I'm not ready to offer any conclusions. Feel free to draw yours, however. I would appreciate being beaten to the punch.

Posting sporadically until Wednesday as my beloved Limoliner is taking me and a bagful and an earful of unread adult books to New York, where I'll be attending the Scott O'Dell Awarding to Ellen Klages for The Green Glass Sea, interviewing Ellen for the Horn Book podcast which is to debut in May, I think, and hanging out with Elizabeth. We're seeing Company, and she is going to explain to me the mystery of Sanjaya, and I also hope she--or someone here--can point my in the direction of a good classical cd store, as we have lost all of ours in Boston--you can get El Divo and Andrea Bocelli at Borders, but that's about it. But E and I also hope to send some posts your way. I hope you all have swell weekends, too.

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Cheryl? It's Not Just the Manuscripts.

Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein has a funny post up of a picture-book manuscript she created as an intentionally bad example of a submission that had "no child appeal." "Cheering up Cheryl," a model of its kind, is a chicklit novel (more about them later today) in picture-book form, but it does everything a bad picture book does except rhyme.

But here's the thing. While Cheryl and other editors I know often share the rules of picture-book writing with hopeful authors at SCBWI conferences and the like, why, oh Lord, why, do we keep seeing published picture books that positively revel in breaking these very same rules. No, revel's not the right word, because there are great, great picture books that break the rules in service to a Higher Good (that would be Literature); what I mean are books that indulge in stupid rhyming couplets, age or format inappropriateness, preachiness, and lists, lists, lists (Cheryl's parody is hilarious here) that serve only to give the illustrator time and space to indulge him or herself in a series of pretty paintings. These are books that presumably have been accepted by some editor somewhere (and it's not just the MorningWood HappyBear small presses; it's the big guys), thus rendering your "show-don't-tell" workshops a mockery. If you don't want people to submit crap, stop publishing it.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Maybe they do things differently down under

A childlit reference today to a blog post last year on Michael Thorn's Achockablog revealed a semi-juicy scandal heretofore unknown to me involving the excellent Australian writer Alyssa Brugman, who complained to her publisher that Thorn was selling an ARC of her book Being Bindy on eBay. The publisher, Faber, dutifully if thickheadedly wrote Thorn to tell him to cease and desist, or they would stop sending him advance copies for review. Apparently the blogosphere was thick with reproof, because Brugman wrote a rather stern note about the matter on the home page of her website, saying that ARCs are the property of the publisher, not the reviewer, and therefore Thorn had no right to sell them.

Personally, I think Brugman might better torture herself by contemplating the fact that Thorn had no desire to keep his copy of her book, but the fact remains that the book was his to sell; at least it works that way on this side and end of the pond. Publishers don't lend books to reviewers, they simply hand them over. Thorn very carefully made the point that he does not sell ARCs as new books (which would be fraud) or indeed before their publication dates. The publisher is certainly within its rights not to send Thorn (or anyone) review copies if they don't want to, but this would rather defeat the purpose of review copies. (And, contrary to what one irate publisher told me, no one needs permission from the publisher to review a book.) I imagine that Faber knows this, too, and is banging its corporate head repeatedly on the table for being caught between author and reviewer on this one.

For the record: after the Horn Book has finished with its reviews, and the publishing season has passed, we cherry-pick titles to keep in our collection (everything reviewed in the Magazine and a culling from the Guide), give some away, make "creative art" projects out of others, consign some to a Wall of Shame, and sell the rest as a lot to a used-book wholesaler.

But if anyone knows: is this standard operating procedure among our fellow nations?

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

. . . or we will shoot this dog.

Note to book publicists: don't put stickers like this on ARCs. Reviewers don't want to know how you're going to spend the money.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Being an American Can Be Fun

SLJ this month runs a short, vague article on possible changes to ALSC book awards criteria. Fuse8 has a pretty good discussion on it going; over here I'd like to consider the larger implied question about American children's literature. SLJ attributes to K.T. Horning, 50, the idea that the Newbery and Caldecott have "accomplished their mission . . . to encourage U.S. publishers to seek out high-quality literature and picture books for children by American authors and illustrators." Like this is something that gets finished? The Newbery and Caldecott are among the shiniest, sharpest prods we have to encourage U.S. publishers to keep seeking out "high-quality literature and picture books."

The decision to limit the awards to Americans, of course, is of course worth discussion. Nationalism in literature is something we tend to value only when other nations do it, but I think the questions are worth asking: do we have and do we nurture children's literature that speaks to "being an American"? There is Munro Leaf's Being an American Can Be Fun, and Lynne Cheney's various droppings, but I'm wondering more along the lines of contenders for The Great American Children's Novel--books that speak to the theme of how being an American is different from not. In my recreational reading, I'm on something of a Turkey kick right now, reading novels and histories by and/or about Turks, and always lurking in my head is "oh, so this is what it's like to be a Turk." (You already have my take on Canadians.)

So what children's book could you give to an outlander that conveys a sense of Us? I've argued for Sachar's Holes as a G.A.N., steeped as it is in the American tall tale tradition, and placing the roots of its story in our mythic Wild West. It seems, too, that a lot of the recent immigrant literature, by presenting a protagonist "settling" in a new land while carrying along the old (usually in terms of parents and grandparents) does a sort of microcosmal version of the idea of America as a nation of pioneers, while Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House and Game of Silence provide a "we were here all along" corrective to Wilder's Little House books, themselves indisputably G.A.N.s in my view. If somebody asked you for a children's book that "tells what it's like to be an American," what would you give them?

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Did you really think that invitation was because they liked you?

I really like Gail Gauthier's take on Jenna Bush's book deal. Let's wait to see the book (which will be about a Panamanian teen single mother with HIV) before we trash it. I for one am grateful it isn't a picture book about self-esteem (the inexplicable praise given Jamie Lee Curtis notwithstanding), and in fact, sounds like something that teens might find both interesting and valuable.

I can't even get worked up about the rumored six-figure advance. Anyone who believes that had HarperCollins not given a lot of money to Bush for her book, they would be putting it into more (equally unproven) "real" writers, hasn't looked at the HarperCollins catalog lately, nor at that of any other large publicly-held publisher. They are giving that money to Jenna Bush in hopes that it will return threefold, in some form or another (whether from sales or other business opportunities the book and/or author may generate or suggest).

Any librarian or bookseller or reviewer who has ever accepted free food from a publisher should really think first about his or her own place in the publishing economy.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

If They Could Turn Back Time

The Boston Globe's David Mehegan takes a look today at the evergreen topic of boys and reading, focusing on a pair of Houghton Mifflin veterans who are repackaging, for Sterling Publishing, the old Random House nonfiction Landmark Books series for a new generation of boys. We'll see. Leonard Marcus is quoted as being a little doubtful; thinking back to my parents' attempts to interest me in the Tom Swift books of their childhood, rather than the Danny Dunn books of my own makes me wonder, too. Times change. So do boys.

And who says that boys don't read? How soon they forget the wizard knob.

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