books with Athena

books with Athena

Monday, December 21, 2009

Have a Peaceful Solstice!

Solstices are important markers in our relationship to the earth and our own mortality. Celebrating them makes sense. That's why pretty much all religions do it.

But you know what would make more sense? Celebrating the Winter Solstice with quiet meditative activities. Then celebrate the SUMMER one with all the partying and traveling and mailing of gifts.

Traveling to see the family. In summer instead of winter. When there's like, NO SNOW. A radical concept, I realize. But think about it.

So if you don't want to go out in the snow (or here in CA, the rain) risking your life to get to the mall to spend money you don't have, and you want to give a meaningful gift to that writer on your list, here are some suggestions:

1) Leave a nice comment on their blog. Or even something not so nice that stimulates argument. Nothing brightens the heart of a blogger like getting comments. The more the better. Yes, I know these blog programs make you jump through hoops to comment. Even on my own blog, if I want to add to the comment thread without being "signed in" the first time I hit "publish," I'm told I can't do it and have to try again. It always works the second time, but what's up with that?

But a little hoop jumping beats going to the mall and abusing that little plastic card, doesn't it?

2) If your friend has a book in print, write her a rave Amazon review. Give it five stars. Even if it isn't her best book. It will counteract the 1-star review she got from that troll who can't spell and hates the whole genre. It will also raise your own Google profile. And your friend may do it for you later down the road. Win/win.

Then go make some peppermint tea (love the Candy Cane Green Tea from Trader Joe's!) let the cat crawl into your lap, and spend the rest of the day reading that book that's been sitting by your chair since the holiday frenzy started last October.

It's what I'm going to do.

Have a peaceful season, however you decide to celebrate it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

BOB DYLAN DOES LOVE, ACTUALLY?

Going off topic here, but I can’t help myself. I heard it this weekend: Bob Dylan. Singing Christmas carols. Sounding like your Great Uncle Harry on an eggnog binge.

Reviewers are asking if it’s a goof or not. I suggest these folks take a gander at the INSIDE of the CD cover: it shows nineteen-fifties dominatrix Betty Page in a black-gartered Santa suit. I have no doubt that's the cover Dylan wanted on the OUTSIDE.

Bob Dylan. Christmas. Betty Page on the Cover.

It’s hilarious! It’s Dylan doing the Bill Nighy character from Love, Actually—old rocker makes a sappy Christmas record for the money and thumbs his nose at the world.

But Bobby, if Christmas in the Heart makes it to the top of the charts, I expect nothing less than a televised nude performance a la Bill Nighy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kirkus Dead: RIP Intellectual Habitat?

Kirkus Review, one the most prestigious book reviewers in the US, has been given the pink slip today. Kirkus, along with Editor and Publisher, has been axed by their owner Nielson, the New York Times reported this AM: http://bit.ly/6SDxfo. Nielson has apparently decided to sell off or otherwise rid itself of its Jurassic print media.

One reader, identified as bluewombat, said, “this is horrifying -- further evidence of the disappearance of a free and independent press in the United States…More and more, important intellectual habitat is disappearing. This is positively creepy.”

Kirkus negative reviews could be devastating, but a positive one could make a career. Now it’s all going to be about how good a review you can buy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Amazon Breakthrough to Include YA

YA fiction continues its ascendancy: Publisher’s Lunch reports today that the Penguin-Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest will now include a second prize for YA fiction.

Another way they’re keeping up with the times: the prize will also include novels that have been previously self-published.

OK, the monetary prize to the winners has gotten smaller: originally a $25,000 advance, this new contest's two winners will get $15,000 advances each. Still nothing to sneeze at.

They will accept up to 5,000 entries each in the fiction and young adult categories. The judges evaluating the three finalists (selected by Penguin editors) are author Tana French, agent Julie Barer, and editor Molly Stern for general fiction, and authors Sarah Dessen and Nancy Werlin, agent Amy Berkower, and publisher Ben Schrank for young adult.

Manuscripts can be submitted between Jan. 25 and Feb. 7, 2010 at http://www.amazon.com/Breakthrough-Novel-Award-Books/b?ie=UTF8&node=332264011 Up to 10,000 total initial entries will be accepted, with up to 5,000 each in the general fiction and young adult categories.

Three contest winners have been published so far by Penguin imprints--Bill Loehfelm's FRESH KILLS; BAD THINGS HAPPEN by Harry Dolan; and THE WET NURSE'S TALE by Erica Eisdorfer.

So polish up those NaNo manuscripts, people!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to Format Your E-Query

Casey McCormick continues to provide up-to-the-minute helpful info for writers trying to break into the biz. She posted detailed instructions on formatting the e-query on her Literary Rambles blog yesterday. It's the best advice on the subject that I've seen: http://caseylmccormick.blogspot.com/2009/12/how-do-i-format-my-e-query.html

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Catherine Ryan Hyde on YA vs. Adult

There’s been some discussion on other blogs about some of my statements about how publishers label things. Please know I’m just the messenger—I don’t condone those one-size-fits-all categories any more than other writers.

Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay it Forward weighed in by directing me to a blogpost in her blog archives about the arbitrary way her books have been assigned to different genres. With her permission, I’m posting some of it here. You can read more from Catherine on her great blog (and occasionally get a chance to win a book):
http://web.me.com/catherineryanhyde/catherineryanhyde/Blog/Blog.html


Here’s what she said last March:

I want to talk about the labels (figurative labels, not price stickers and such) that we put on books. Particularly the ones that relate to reading levels. As in, “This one is for a teenager. This one is for an adult.”

Like there’s such a huge difference.

Here’s my opinion in a nutshell: I think it’s all meaningless.

A few examples. When I wrote Pay It Forward, I intended it for adults. But the year after it was released, the American Library Association put it on its "Best Books for Young Adults" list. So now it’s YA. So now angry parents write to me and say, How can you put such smut in a teen book? "Well, sorry. Didn’t know." What I don’t say is, "Your teen is not shocked by that ’smut.’ That’s just you." I try to be polite.

Another example. I originally wrote Chasing Windmills to be YA. After all, it’s about two young people falling in love on the subway system under Manhattan in the middle of the night. What could be more YA than that? So I wrote it all from Sebastian’s point of view, and presented it to my YA editor (at Knopf) who liked it very much. But didn’t think it was YA. Hmm. I really thought it was. But I’ve been wrong before. So I rewrote it from both characters’ point of view. Adding Maria’s point of view will make it much more clearly adult, I thought (remember, I’ve been wrong before). I presented it to my adult editor (at Doubleday) who published it. Before it was even released Publisher’s weekly said, "While this is being billed as an adult novel, its closest stylistic relative is S.E. Hinton’s YA classic The Outsiders." And then it got a glowing review in School Library Journal, which classified it as High School/Adult. So, it crossed right over.

It’s official. I don’t know anything.

Or… Or…maybe there’s really nothing to know. Maybe the whole reading level thing is meaningless. Maybe the books are for who they’re for. Maybe they should be read by anyone and everyone they will speak to. And maybe age is the least important factor of all.

Grownups (I do not classify myself as one, despite the advanced age of my outsides) seem a lot more dense about this concept than teens. Teens know they’re mature enough and sophisticated enough to read adult fiction. But lots of adults don’t seem to get that teen fiction is a really great read for anyone. I got more groans and complaints from my adult readers because, after four years off from publishing, my first book out was YA (Becoming Chloe). "Oh, no," they said. "We’ve been waiting all this time for a new book. And now we hear you’re writing for children?" Excuse me? Children? Chloe is suitable for about 14 through adult. I would never put it in the hands of a child. It has more mature subject matter than three out of four of my adult books. When I finally convinced the grown-up fans to read it, they wrote back and said, "Wow. I never would have known this was YA."
***********

So it looks as if none of us on the creative end of publishing can know what marketing people will decide to do with our work. All we can do as writers (and readers) is query widely and spread the word when we find something good--no matter where somebody decides to put it on a shelf, or who they say should like it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

ARE TEEN GIRLS THE NEW LITERATI?

Young Adult and Middle Grade are fast becoming the dominant genres for new fiction. I heard at a writers’ conference recently that one publishing house has fired most of its adult fiction editorial staff and replaced them with YA/MG editors. Many of our most creative authors are now penning books aimed primarily at young people.

I’ve also noticed that most newly minted agents rep primarily YA/MG, and even many established agencies are switching focus to teen/tween fiction.

I suspect this can be explained in three words: “Harry Potter/Twilight.” Kid Lit is where the money is. Publishers are willing to take chances with the genres because the rewards can be so high. (Harry is MG; Twilight is YA.)

Nobody talks about this, but I also think the relatively lower advances for children’s books create a more flexible marketplace. Plus there has traditionally been more open communication between children’s editors and new writers. (My YA writer friends routinely get reads from editors without an agent as go-between.)

So a lot of us who have been writing for adults are now taking a look at these genres and want to know what the YA rules are—and what distinguishes it from MG.

Basically, it’s the age of the target reader—currently about 13-21 for YA and 8-13 for MG.) Word count isn’t so important any more, since many MG books are huge (witness J. K. Rowling’s tomes.)

YA writer Natalie Whipple has a wonderfully detailed post on the subject in her blog "Between Fact and Fiction": http://betweenfactandfiction.blogspot.com/2009/12/middle-grade-vs-young-adult.html.

If you aren’t in the habit of reading YA, go check out the shelves of your local bookstore or library. This fiction is as sophisticated as a lot of stuff for adults, and its themes can be even more “adult” than what's allowed in a lot of mainstream romance and mystery lines. It can also be more literary. In fact, some literary novels originally written for adults have found their ultimate success as YA. (Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Pay it Forward is an example.)

Another important factor to keep in mind is something I learned at a recent writers’ conference: the YA audience is mostly female.

Marketers believe boys stop reading books when they reach puberty. (I have some argument with that, but it’s what statistics say, I guess.) I think this is why Harry Potter is called MG rather than YA—not so much because of the actual age of the characters—since they age through the series—but because it’s popular with both genders.

If you're writing action, adventure, and epic fantasy aimed at boys as well as girls, it’s best to start with a young main character and call it MG. But if you’re dealing with sophisticated emotions and relationships, it can be YA—and pretty much anything goes. As long as your protagonist is under twenty.

So could it be that in the near future, teenaged girls will dictate the literary marketplace instead of a bunch of persnickety old dudes?

Maybe so. When I think of my own teenaged reading habits, I’m not sure that would be an entirely good thing, but it might bring some fun new changes.

And for those of us trying to scale the walls of the seemingly impenetrable fortress that is American publishing, change has to be good.