For the next few months, maybe longer, I'll be posting once a month and I celebrate the freedom to do this because . . . I don't have a book to promote! That's right. There are some positives to not having a book deal. At a local SCBWI event, writing coach, Joyce Sweeney, encouraged us nonpubs to embrace this time. Published authors in the room shared knowing glances and smirked. They remember their prebook days with fondness: no agent and publisher prodding you to do backflips and handstands to sell your book; no full calender of signings and school visits; no mad scramble to lure readers on blog, Facebook and Twitter.
Joyce offered many sage morsels that day. I sat in a back corner, womanning the sign-in table, and though Joyce couldn't see me, twice her words struck like a bullet. First, she talked of focusing on your sweet spot as a writer. She said often new childrens' writers explore every avenue from picture book to young adult and that's helpful if you use it to find your strengths. Then, it's time to concentrate. If it's PBs, start cranking out stories like a factory. If it's middle grade or YA, write short stories and work your way up to novels.
I've been writing for four and a half years and I've juggled PBs, MG and YA for almost the entire journey. I've always felt that my voice is better suited to MG and YA but the artist inside urged me to try PBs. I've been blessed to belong to the best PB group (in my biased opinion) in Florida, Rob Sanders' PB&J, Picture Books and Java. They are my writing family. Perhaps my attachment clouded my reasoning because from the beginning, I've heard: "Your voice is too old for PBs" (my words not there's. They were always much kinder.) So, Joyce's advice hit the target. I needed to quit struggling with PBs and focus on my novels for older children. A small part of me rejoiced, the sensible writer who fought the artist for my attention. A large part of me silently wailed at my inevitable resignation from PB&J.
As I recovered from that shock, Joyce addressed branding and how not focusing on one genre can affect new writers. She cited a writer who had a pending deal on a MG novel. The interested agent (or editor, I can't remember which) Googled the writer and up pops a website featuring the author's self-illustrated PBs. The agent wasn't interested in representing PBs so she turned the novel down. Joyce continued, saying agents and publishers want to see an author committed to building devoted readership by producing consistent books. OUCH! I slunk down in my chair, feeling as if a path had cleared from Joyce to my seat and all eyes targeted me. My website is all over the place. I tried to focus it on writing but . . . well, look at it; there's a giant, clothed rabbit hosting the home page! And even though there's only one portfolio page, the art is what viewers notice. No one ever comments on the writing. So, guess who will be revamping their website? One day, I hope to have agents and publishers Googling my name and when they do, I want to be ready. Until then, I'm enjoying my freedom. Today, I don't have to worry about branding or book promoting. The Bible says there's a time for every season. Rejoice fellow nonpubs! This is our season of learning to write the best book we can.
Since, I'm only posting once a month, I'm throwing everything I've got here. If you're in Florida, Tennessee or Missouri, please watch for events promoting Rob Sanders' debut PB, Cowboy Christmas. The launch party is Saturday, Nov. 3 at Inkwood Books in Tampa and you don't want to miss it. Rob's hired cowboy strummers and there's sure to be tasty refreshments.
Happy Halloween everyone. Wishing you treats, no naughty tricks!
A few weeks back, I attended a workshop where Dr. Joan Kaywell, professor of English Education at the University of South Florida, talked about one of her passions, The Hipple Collection of young adult literature at USF. Ted Hipple championed the preservation of YA literature and he couldn't have imprinted his cause on a more valiant supporter than Dr. Kaywell. In 2002, she donated 333 YA books to Special Collections at the USF library, establishing the Hipple Collection in honor of her mentor, Ted Hipple. She works tirelessly to grow and promote the collection. Today, it shelters 2500 titles and includes signed first editions, author's manuscripts and notes. The Hipple Collection's mission is to "provide access to outstanding young adult literature published after 1970 that speaks to the social, emotional, and cultural challenges of adolescence."
Dr. Kaywell brought some of those signed first editions to the workshop I attended. I held S.E. Hinton's Outsiders in my hands, touched her signature inside the covers. We were also privileged to witness debut author, Shannon Hitchcock, hand off manuscripts for her novel, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl (release date, 2013) to Dr. Kaywell. The paper will be stored in specially designed, archival boxes. I imagine it's a relief to most writers to have someone care about those mounds of paper that precede the book. Even though most writing is done on the computer these days, pre-publication, printed versions exist and what does an author do with it? Stuff it in a dark corner where it's discovered years later when they move on. Dr. Kaywell relentlessly pursues authors for their manuscripts and they give them to her. Why not? Her devotion to teen literature is undisputable. She radiates enthusiasm for its power to change young lives. It warms my heart to know there are people like her who care so much about the life of books.
September 30 through October 6 is Banned Book Week. Since the event's inception in 1982 over 11,300 books have been challenged, many of them children's books. Among the top one-hundred most challenged books are:
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Giver by Lois Lowry
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I've read these books. Some of them were hard to read. The Chocolate War was banned partly for unsuitability to age group. I was stunned by the cruelty in that book but I can't imagine it being more relevant than today when bullying has reached a whole new level through social media. Harry Potter was called evil. Yet the overriding message in that series is that love conquers evil. The Giver was accused of degrading motherhood and adolescence. Librarians drew diapers on the naked tot wandering through Sendak's In the Night Kitchen. There are books I'll never read, some I may find offensive. But I want the freedom to choose what I read and I believe school libraries should offer books that stimulate minds and foster conversation, books that children in all situations can relate to.
BannedBooksWeek.org offers a wealth of information for writers, artists, teachers and librarians, including an events page where you can click on your state to find celebrations of banned books. I was delighted to find two events in the Tampa Bay area. One of them led me to an unknown local resource, Bluebird Books, a mobile literary-themed project.
Every week is a good week to read a book. This week, why not choose one from the Top One-hundred Banned Books?
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. And creatures, always creatures. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor