Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The publishing industry

I often get frustrated, even angry, about publishing now.

Last weekend I went to look at a house -- I've never owned one -- and while talking to lots of people who had, I learned quite a bit about real estate agents and contractors. Someone advising me said,
"Your interest and theirs are not aligned -- the more money you spend, the more they make."

That really took me aback -- it's in EVERYONE's interest in publishing for a book to do well: the author's, the editor's, the publisher's, the agent's, everyone. No one cares as much as the author, but at least we're all on the same side!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Asian American Author Series

Last summer (pre-baby bulge!), I participated in an Asian American Author Series of interviews for Primary Source. Other authors in the series include the lovely Mitali Perkins, Jean Kwok and GB Tran. Here is a excerpt of one of my interview (you can see more here):

I actually had forgotten what I had said about the "Little House" books until recently. But even though "Ma hating Indians" made me feel insecure about my own racial identity, I wouldn't have them censor out Ma's hatred, now. I didn't like it, but it was true sentiment and one that showed how even good people could believe/feel things that weren't right. When I began to witness different kinds of racism--Asians against Blacks, Chinese against Japanese, Asian-Americans against Asians-- that sometimes originated from people I trusted and loved,  books like "Little House" set the groundwork for me to realize that what the adults around me thought weren't always the right things to think, especially when it came to things like race.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Books that hold up and books that don't

Some friends and I were talking about re-reading books we had loved as children, and how some hold up and some don't. For me, LITTLE WOMEN really held up -- but someone else found all the mother's lectures and Louisa May Alcott's own preachiness really annoying. I did, too, but I still love the book anyhow and suspect that as a child, I ignored those parts the way I ignored much of what the adults in my life said.

Some books that did hold up for me:
The Secret Garden -- I may even love this MORE now, even though I never could get as interested in Colin as I was in Mary, AND liked her better before she became nice
The Hobbit -- especially the scene with the trolls,and when they are first riding into Rivendell
very old MADs, from the late 1950s and early 1960s--they still make me laugh out loud
fairy tales
nursery rhymes
the d'Aulaires Abraham Lincoln
--to name a random few. I could go on and on, but what's going to be most interesting about this post is what other people think.

I also reread a Giant Golden book called ASTRONOMY and could see why I liked it so much, but as an adult, I didn't read every word. Maybe as a kid I didn't either! I was sad, though, to see something I don't know if I noticed as a child: that the scientists and astronauts were always men of European ancestry -- and that even the children doing simple experiments were white boys. People -- men and women -- with dark skins appeared in skin-tight outfits stretching their arms to the moon. Once a woman in a neat suit, hat, and gloves looked at a meteorite with her children. The text talked about MEN going into space someday.

If I get impatient with PC things, I will remember this book and its not-so-subtle message. I hope I ignored it the way I ignored the preachiness in LITTLE WOMEN but I wonder....

What didn't hold up:

Alice in Wonderland -- this wasn't one of my FAVORITE books as a kid, but I did like it a lot. I thought Alice was really smart and both loved and admired the way she always tried to figure everything out. When I reread it as an adult, I realized with dismay that that was supposed to be funny! I also found the book too boring to finish.

Then there were some classics that I could never get into as a child and can't now--like Carl Sandburg's short stories for kids. One was in a beloved, literally loved-to-pieces anthology illustrated by Garth Williams called THE TALL BOOK OF MAKE BELIEVE (this story was NOT by Carl Sandburg -- it's "The Very Mischief"):
Although I read everything else in that book over and over and over, I could never finish the Carl Sandburg story. It just seemed pointless and kind of stupid -- the kind of silliness some adults think children like. I also hated (and still hate) Aesop's Fables.

What about you? What has held up? What hasn't?

I'm especially curious about all the great children's books I've read for the first time as an adult, because I just don't know what I would have thought of them as a child.

(I am only listing authors who are dead in keeping with our blog's unofficial policy of not discussing work by living authors....not that we have ever even really talked about this, we just don't seem to do it.)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

from the BRG archives: blah, blah, blurbs

Last year, I was asked to write a blurb for the upcoming book Kimchi and Calamari, by Rose Kent (which is a really nice book, by the way). I agreed. However, recently after perusing Amazon and looking at the images, I think my quote was not used.

Now, I am NOT upset in any way, shape or form that it wasn’t used. In fact, I am pretty relieved. I had never written a blurb before, so I tried to “sparkle”; and whenever I try to do that my writing comes off really fake. I realize now I should’ve just written an honest line about how nice I thought the book was instead of trying to be some kind of marketing soundbite. Oh well.

I think the reason why I overreached was because I was so flattered to be asked. Famous people give blurbs! It’s their name that helps sell the book, right? But in the case of Kimchi and Calamari, I couldn’t imagine how having my name on the cover would help it, except perhaps as an additional, unnecessary curiosity factor. I imagine the conversation would go something like this:

“Look, this person Grace Lin liked the book.”
“Grace Lin? Who’s that?”
“Um, wasn’t she on one of those reality shows?”
“No, I think she’s an actress on that sci fi show, Battlestar Galactica.”
“Gee, I wonder if this book is about aliens eating human food, then.”
“Maybe, are you gonna get it?”
“Naw, I hate that spaceship stuff.”

But, regardless of my blurb-writing shortcomings and pitfalls, it is the idea of the blurb that I find fascinating. Do these one to two line quotations REALLY make a difference? Do they push a browser over the edge to actually buy the book? Or does the difference come in the judgement of the book? Do these blurbs bias the readers mind, filling them with preconceived notions? Does it elevate the book to a certain stature if Famous Person A endorses it? But book people are smarter than the average George Foreman grill buying public, aren’t they? They don’t need a big name to validate their purchase or opinions. They can choose their own books without a celebrity sanction, I’m sure. Right? Right?

I ask this as I shove my George Foreman grill into the closet.

Originally posted January 24th, 2007

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When is it time to give up on a ms.?

An agent told me recently that when she looks over her list, the mss. that ended up selling the best are the ones that took longest to place. What's the most number of times you or your agent have sent something out before it sold or you gave up on it?I love those stories of mss. that got rejected over and over, and then went on to become famous books -- here's a list of 14 books that became famous that were rejected over and over by publishers. Some I'd heard of, some I hadn't.....but I find it encouraging, especially the comments that must have seemed idiotic to the authors, like:
"Does anyone drown? [to the author of KON TIKI] Then it can't be very interesting."

But sometimes when a ms. doesn't sell, maybe it SHOULDN'T. Dear Genius has lots of stories about mss. that didn't quite work -- by people who then went on to write other things that worked brilliantly. For example:

"....I don't mean to sound cross, but I felt so hopeful when you left my place last weekend, and was a little depressed by the ms. when I read it (several times) this week...I wish I could be more constructive but until you do more on this it is pretty hard for me to be. I will say this: I think your first "chapter" can't be called "The Tiger," and you can't just say in two lines that this Frances was in bed and she couldn't sleep...."

Yes, it was the first Frances book -- published many rewrites later as Bedtime for Frances.

There is really no way for an author to know how it will turn out or which (worth working on or not) is true of a particular ms....what I have concluded about my own work is that it just depends on how interested I am in the story and TIME usually clarifies that. If, years after I first wrote something, I reread it, see the flaws, and want to fix them, I do. If I read it over, and think: "This is really GOOD! Someone ought to take it!" I keep sending it out, but with a different pitch. And if I read it over and wince, I file it or throw it away, thankful that it was never published.

And on an unrelated note: if anyone read the blog earlier today and saw the post about the "1 weird old tip" -- I was going to develop that into a real post by adding something about curiosity and fiction, but forgot that I had set it up so Blogger would publish it automatically. Sorry about that.

I think that post is a good example of something that wasn't worth working on further!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bookstores around the world

Happy valentine's day!

If you are in love with the printed word, you will be delighted to peruse this article about the twenty most beautiful bookstores in the world. Aren't they stunning? I want to go on a world tour.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How I Got Into Publishing, B&N vs Amazon, and Pinterest!

As I mentioned last week, the CBC Diversity Committee blog is up and running. I'll be posting again this week at some point, but last week I posted about "How I Got Into Publishing," check it out here. As Editor Nancy Mercado said on Twitter, it seems that the path to publishing lies in bookselling, as that is how both of us got our start. See Nancy's post here. Coincidentally, we were both booksellers at B&N. I've said on this blog before that I'll always have a soft spot for B&N because I worked there, even when B&N was demonized for putting independent bookstores out of business. It's strange to see B&N depicted as the "good guy" by most in the battle against "evil Amazon." You probably all saw the news from a week or so ago that Amazon made a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to print books from their publishing arm, and bookstores, including B&N, all announcing that they will not carry those books. For an independent bookseller's perspective, check out Josie Leavitt's post here.

Truthfully (as I've said before on this blog), for the sake of publishing, and books, and the market, I hope that all of these retailers will continue to coexist and thrive, but these are strange times indeed.


In other news, it's seemed that Pinterest has become my new social networking obsession. I joined last week, and already have a few boards up, including one for the Books I've Edited. I love Laini Taylor's board for Daughter of Smoke & Bone. And apropos of the CBC Diversity Committee, check out my fellow committee member Stacy Whitman's many boards of diverse children's books. It will be interesting to see if Pinterest sticks around, and how people use it. I'm also using it to tag recipes, products, and wedding stuff. Are any of you on Pinterest? Do you find it useful?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

new pocket pacy sightings!

The Special EditionPocket Pacys that I gave away at my Dumpling Days Book Launch are starting to pop up! These photos were accompanied by a lovely article published in the Back Bay & Somerville Patch! The article made me blush and I loved these photos!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


I finally got around to watching this. Hilarious! I love that Colbert cut out all of the "private parts" and put them in a bag. And then Sendak said that the state of children's literature is "abysmal."

I love what Sendak says about E-books. "f-them is what I say!" Yeah. Right on.

Happy birthday, Darles Chickens! (a day late)

"Procrastination is the thief of time" -- I never knew Charles Dickens said that, though it's one of my favorite sayings. He went on to add something I hadn't heard until yesterday: "Collar him!"

Excellent advice that he took himself: he never missed a deadline (even though he had weekly ones for many years) and once even climbed back into a crashed railroad carriage that was teetering on a bridge to get his due-at-the-printers-that-day ms.

The train fell into the river minutes later -- but he got his chapter in on time.

Great idea or bubble soon to burst?

We only hear about the success stories, and with making money so hard for most books from publishers, it has to be even harder if not impossible with self-published books.

Amanda Hocking did it -- though the Guardian thinks hers is just the kind of story that fuels the bubble and creates more suckers. They say the bubble bursting is the inevitable economic end of self-published e-books. This author (you will have to scroll down, he reviews other people's books on his blog, too) made it work -- after 13 years of rejections from publishers!

Most fiction by unknowns probably has little chance, but what about a lively (in writing and design) story about someone interesting to kids, told in an unusual way? What are the chances of that showing up in searches and getting read? Or a true disaster story or true anything people might search for, if the book were well-written, well-illustrated and well-designed -- not as a plain book, but as a truly interactive e-book that was more like a game in places than a typical book? I'd be willing to risk it for two of my mss. ("it" being the time and energy to find an illustrator and a designer, and the money to pay them).

I'm not sure I'd be so willing to deal with the stigma attached to self-publishing, though. Lots of readers share it. And would self-publishing non-fiction now make it harder to place fiction mss. with publishers later?

Of course, if the books sold millions of copies, there wouldn't be any stigma-- but I don't think I'm being unduly modest when I say that's not going to happen in my case. Children's biographies just don't sell in huge numbers (maybe that's why they're hard to place?). Thousands of copies year after year -- relatively small but steady sales to some people who really love the books -- are my goals. Novels are much more unpredictable -- in both directions, and those I wouldn't ever self-publish. Novels (at least, in many, though not all, genres) are popular with publishers and mine might just as well take its chances there.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

On writing

Last week I was listening to NPR on the way to the grocery store and they were talking about the subject of writing. There were two quotes that have stuck with me all week.

“I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.” - James Michener


"Becoming a writer is not a 'career decision' like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don't choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you're not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days." - Paul Auster

They both seemed quite true and particularly relevant as I chug slowly uphill, knee deep in revisions...

Monday, February 06, 2012

CBC Diversity

For the past year or so, I've been meeting about once a month with a group of children's book editors from other houses. Founded by Nancy Mercado of Roaring Brook, we called ourselves DIBS (Diversity in Books), and we were hoping to help increase the diversity within the publishing industry, and also in the authors, illustrators, and books published. We started getting a website together and grand plans of doing school visits, job fairs, conferences, and more. But, of course, we were all so busy with our jobs and lives that it was hard to get things going. Well, a conversation at a Children's Book Council cocktail party brought these two groups together, and the CBC Diversity Committee was formed. We had a small kick-off party last week for agents, media, and publishing folks, and we talked about our mission, the importance of it, and what everyone there could do to become a CBC Diversity Partner. Here's a picture of me speaking:
I talked about not being able to fully see myself in the books I was reading as a child.

Diversity is a mission I am absolutely passionate about--it's important not only for children to be able to see themselves represented in the books they read, but also important for children to be exposed to other experiences and viewpoints. It increases empathy and tolerance. And as I said at our kick-off, I hope to live in a world where we can have an Asian Harry Potter or a black Bella without anyone even blinking an eye. We'll get there, I know it!

Please, won't you all join us? I linked above to our mission and how we can all help, and we'll be keeping the CBC Diversity blog active with at least two posts each week. I'm posting this week, so stay tuned!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

from the BRG archives: QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What outside influences do you use to keep yourselves focused ?

Our question of the week is:What outside influences do you use to keep yourselves focused?

What outside influences do you use to keep yourselves focused?

This is a somewhat ambiguous question--so many ways to answer it! When it comes to my job, it's all about people. I'm influenced by my coworkers and wanting to be good to work with and do a good job; by the authors and illustrators I work with, not wanting to let them down; I'm influenced by the librarians, teachers, parents, booksellers, and others who will read the books I work on; I'm influenced by the knowledge of the reader I am and the memory of the reader I once was as I child; and lastly I'm especially influenced by the child reader that I'm trying to reach, what I think they will love.

I also do have some inspirational quotations up in my office to help me keep things in perspective. One is "Follow your compass, not your clock" which is something I heard at a talk given by Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon. Someone had said this to her when she was trying to make a big career decision amd was conflicted, and I love to think about it when I get frustrated with work, or start thinking that I should be at a higher level, etc. I think, my clock might be saying I'm ready for something else, but my compass is telling me what is most important.

Another quotations is one I commented on in Grace's "Hope and Beauty" post above. "It is Simple. We are where we should be, doing what we should be doing, otherwise we would be somewhere else, doing something else."

And one last quote is from college. I think my roommate Grace (a different Grace!) penned it when we were stressing about midterms or finals. "Feel a sense of inner peace. Do your best. It's never too late!"

One thing that always brings me back to focusing is looking at work that inspires me, and reminds me why I wanted to make books in the first place. This is one of my all time favorite books. It awes me on so many levels. The quiet, perfect pacing, the understated storytelling, the somewhat unresolved, haunting ending.

This book brings me back to my desk for other reasons as well- my older sister gave it to me as a birthday present when I was applying to college. Chris Van Allsburg taught at RISD, and this was one of the deciding factors in my decision to go there to study illustration. So I guess this book also reminds me of all the hope and excitement I felt taking my first real step towards being an illustrator.

Well, I like to write when things are completely quiet with no distractions; I do have a music mix on my ipod I listen to when I paint.

But the one thing I’ve always done is make a folder for my work (I posted a photo of a couple of them to the left). I have a penchant for beautiful paper, making folder portfolios gives me an excuse to buy and use it (though I have a lot more paper than my folders need!). Usually I make the folder at the start of a project—as an incentive to fill it! The folder is a visual reminder for me to keep focused.

Here is my most recent folder made for the art of Lissy's Friends! I just had to post it because I love that bunny paper.

Definitely other people's art. I can get really inspired by a landscape, most especially skies and clouds, but often I end up feeling overwhelmed with the idea of trying to capture glorious reality. Seeing what choices other artists have made to come to their own conclusions of beauty is what gets me motivated to try my own version. I've been most certainly overwhelmed with the prospect of painting the landscapes of northern Tibet for my next book, until I found Nicholas Roerich's paintings of the same thing. His simplified paintings burst with colour, vastness, and desolation. Now I'm itching to get painting again.

Also, music. I could not work without music. Before I paint, I turn it up, I dance like crazy, I spin a baton, I get energy moving in my studio and my body, and then I sit down, and funnel it into my hands. (Did I just admit that in public?)

First published August 27th, 2006

Friday, February 03, 2012

Occupy Writers

More than 3,000 writers have signed their support for Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world. You’ll find their names listed alphabetically at the Occupy Writers website. Some of the writers have submitted “Occupy Writings.” I’m posting excerpts from the Occupy Writings of two authors—Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, and Alice Walker.
The World We Want Is Us
By Alice Walker

It moves my heart to see your awakened faces;

the look of “aha!”

shining, finally, in

so many

wide open eyes.

Yes, we are the 99%

all of us

refusing to forget

each other

no matter, in our hunger, what crumbs

are dropped by

the 1%.

Click here to read the rest of The World We Want Is in Us and Walker’s other poem the joyful news of your arrest.


Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance
6. Nobody wants to fall into a safety net, because it means the structure in which they’ve been living is in a state of collapse and they have no choice but to tumble downwards. However, it beats the alternative.
9. People gathering in the streets feeling wronged tend to be loud, as it is difficult to make oneself heard on the other side of an impressive edifice.

10. It is not always the job of people shouting outside impressive buildings to solve problems. It is often the job of the people inside, who have paper, pens, desks, and an impressive view.

11. Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.

12. If you have a large crowd shouting outside your building, there might not be room for a safety net if you’re the one tumbling down when it collapses.

13. 99 percent is a very large percentage. For instance, easily 99 percent of people want a roof over their heads, food on their tables, and the occasional slice of cake for dessert. Surely an arrangement can be made with that niggling 1 percent who disagree.

You can read the rest of Lemony Snicket's Thirteen Observations here.

(Note: There's information about how one can join Occupy Writers at their website.)


At Wild Rose Reader, I have an original poem about the Petrified Forest titled Fossil Forest.
Karissa has the Poetry Friday Roundup at The Iris Chronicles.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

B&N vs Amazon

As a follow up to this post, this article explains what B&N is doing in response to Amazon's business tactics (essentially refusing to carry any books published under Amazon's imprint). In a way it seems only fair; if Amazon is going to try to undermine brick and mortar book stores, doesn't it make sense that they fight back? What do you think?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Interpreting editorial letters

As an author, I get editorial letters; as an editor, I write them.
How do you handle them when you're the author? How do you want the author to handle them if you're the editor?

As the author, I usually ask for clarification if I don't understand something. If an editor suggests a change, I feel that I have to do something -- that I can't just leave whatever it was as it is. But even if the editor has made a suggestion, I usually feel that I can solve the problem my own way. If I really like the editor's solution, I'll use it; if I don't, I'll think of my own. I always do something.

But I've heard of authors who just leave things as they are!

As an editor, do you think the author has to fix what you've commented on, or is that optional? And what about how the author fixes it? Are you annoyed if she doesn't do what you suggest, but solves the problem her own way? And what would you do if an author (this happens to me as an editor sometimes) interpreted everything you said as praise and didn't want to change anything?

Not to be sexist, but this does happen to me more with male authors: I'll send a letter saying what I liked, and then suggesting changes, and the author responds,

"Oh, you liked it! Great!"

When I'm the editor, I'm in a different situation from most people reading these pages, I think -- I'm being paid by the author to get the ms. into publishable condition. So what I do in that case ("that case" being when I've sent a long letter and the author responds only to the praise) is get blunter -- painfully blunt, sometimes.

So you'd think I'd be good at reading editorial letters, but not always! When I'm the author, letters from an editor I don't know can be really hard to interpret, and I've gotten it wrong more than once. So, anything anyone has to say would be helpful....

Lastly, I'm talking here about books that are under contract. Alvina's post (was it called Rejection Letters 101) on submissions was hugely helpful. It's easy to misinterpret those letters, too.