Tuesday, March 30, 2010


ALA School Library Month, April 2010
(Okay, this is right now, but click to download the pdf with 30 days of cool activities plus information on this year's spokesperson, Laurie Halse Anderson--and start thinking about next year!)

ALA National Library Week, April 11-17, 2010

CBC Children's Book Week, May 10-16, 2010

IRA International Literacy Day, September 8/9, 2010
YALSA Teen Read Week, October 17-23, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010


Just returned from a wonderful, whirlwind 48-hours in Portland, OR, at the Public Library Association's Biennial Conference. I arrived on Wednesday just in time for a concert by (believe it--those librarians have connections) Natalie Merchant. Then, in the opening keynote, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Nicholas Kristof gave a presentation on his book HALF THE SKY: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, co-written with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. What an amazing afternoon, and that was before I headed on over to...

THE INCREDIBLE EXHIBIT HALL (here come the pictures)!

Walking through the lovely Oregon Conference Center with a crowd of librarians en route to the exhibit hall (left) and a view of some exhibits from one of the entryways (right).

A few highlights of Wednesday and Thursday: Visiting in the Rosen Publishing Booth (left); Getting my coping of CHASING BROOKLYN signed by the charming Lisa Schroeder, flanked by Simon & Schuster's Anica Rissi and Laura Antonacci (center); Posing with a bear called "Pennington" (don't ask 'cause I don't know) (right).  Equally fun (though not pictured here): Shaking hands with America's best-known librarian, the spunky Nancy Pearl; hanging out with editor extraordinaire Susan Chang in the Tor Books booth; and listening to the panel discussion, "Crossover Advisory: Adult Books for Teens and Teen Books for Adults" (more on this soon). 

And here are just a few of the ARCs I picked up.  So much to read, so little time...

I'll write a more thoughtful recap soon, but will close today by saying that if a library or educator conference is coming to your part of the country, I HIGHLY recommend you check it out.  Exhibit passes are inexpensive and what you learn about the book business can be invaluable.  Visit the American Library Association, Public Library Association, and International Reading Association websites to look for opportunities to explore the world of books and meet the incredible people who market and sell your work.  Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Packing Up for Portland...

Tons to do before I hit the road tomorrow so apologies for the quick note.  I am looking forward to seeing and learning a lot at the Public Library Association National Conference.  Will tell you all about it in my Friday post.  Already packed the camera, so here's promising some pictures!!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

THE BUSINESS OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS: An Interview with Sarah Chauncey of Skype An Author

This Tuesday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Chauncey, co-creator with author Mona Kerby, of SKYPE AN AUTHOR. A year after hosting Mona for an in-person author visit at her school, Sarah wanted to afford a new group of students the opportunity to chat with Mona about her book, OWNEY, THE MAIL POUCH POOCH. Skype turned out to be the answer. Sarah and Mona put together a successful virtual visit. And that marked the beginning for a terrific site that, since going live a year-and-a-half ago, now features over 80 authors.

SWK: What were some initial reactions to Skype an Author?

SARAH CHAUNCEY: Some authors were skeptical. They worried that Skype would take away from their brick-and-mortar appearances. I think Skype offers authors the potential for many more visits including schools that can't afford live author appearances every year. Considering the high price of traveling to market a book, Skype can be more cost-effective for everyone...And we've found that authors are loving Skyping. It gives them additional venues for sharing their books and connecting with readers.

SWK: What role does Skype-an-Author play in connecting member writers with schools interested in a virtual visit?

SARAH: After becoming a member of Skype-an-Author (http://skypeanauthor.wetpaint.com/), they can apply to be listed as an author. Skype-an-Author then sets up a page for the author to complete. The page has a standardized template so that teachers coming to the website get consistent information, so we do ask that authors follow the template. Authors can link their page to their own websites where they can provide any additional information they'd like. After that, contact is directly between the author and the host. There is no charge from Skype An Author. This is a labor of love!

SWK: (I must note here Sarah's incredible passion and enthusiasm for connecting kids and authors via this program--she even Skypes at night with authors to help them practice and prepare for appearances!) Besides the obvious, do you feel there are any important differences an author or illustrator should realize about Skype visits versus in-person visits?

SARAH: No. On both sides, the school and the author, it is important to do the same preparation. Schools should read the book, think of questions, and practice them. Authors should be professional and give the same presentation they would for an in-person visit, showing who they are and what they do. Kids always love to hear about the writing process and how stories become books. Authors can provide study guides or activity suggestions to prepare for their visits. I had one author who sent numbered bookmarks to a school ahead of time. These were distributed to the students. During her Skype, she called out a number and the child with that number on her bookmark won a signed book. Question-and-answer interaction, writing or drawing together, these things engage the audience just like they would during a live visit. For Skype, anything you can send ahead to help prepare the audience is great. Oh, one difference, on the day of a virtual visit, you should always do a test visit as it can be so disappointing for students if the technology is not working properly.

SWK: Do you find a particular audience size and/or presentation length to be optimal for Skype author visits?

SARAH: It depends on the age of the students and the purpose of the visit. For younger students, ten to fifteen minutes can be enough. And some authors are not comfortable with chat, live blogging and other things going on, while others, like Daniel Pink, can do lots of things at once.

SWK: Do you have any thoughts on pricing?

SARAH: We are not prescriptive. We do ask that authors offer a 10-15 minute free chat. Beyond that it is up to the author to set whatever fees they would like. The authors set their own criteria.

SWK: What suggestions would you give to help authors or illustrators decide if SKYPE is a good platform form them?

SARAH: Find a local library or local bookstore and ask to try doing a virtual presentation. Libraries and bookstores get excited about this because they can even have the author virtually visit multiple locations in one day.

SWK: Do you have any other thoughts on how authors can make the most of Skype An Author and the opportunities provided by virtual visits?

SARAH: Authors are wonderful at sharing and can help each other by giving information on best practices for virtual visits. It would be great if they could suggest ten ways to make a visit successful, and to let us know what kind of information they would like our site to provide to help make visits successful. I also think that authors would do well to provide a video of their in-person visits. Being able to see authors interacting with students would help PTA's and other groups make decisions on authors they want to invite. So there's a live visit connection there, too... We started with Skype because it is easy to learn and to use but there are so many options to explore, especially for older students: Live blogging, using Wimba, video chats, making an author the "head of the class," or reading a book series by a single author and having the author do a series of visits. The technology offers so many possibilities we haven't even tapped yet.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Today I had the pleasure of interviewing the delightful Sarah Chauncey, co-creator of SKYPE AN AUTHOR. Look for the complete interview post on Friday. To prepare for our conversation, I experimented a bit with Skype. Here are some quick conclusions (I bet you know all this but, just in case...):

1. Comb your hair and wear a nice shirt. Cameras are cruel.

2. Think about what is behind you. (Behind my desk are two lovely framed watercolors of which, unfortunately you can only see the bottom 1/3 when I am centered on the web cam.) Cory Doctorow has a cool shot of his laden bookshelves behind him as he reads from LITTLE BROTHER. He also shares a few personal details to help viewers understand the setting (his London office).  Bare walls or a pile of dishes on your kitchen counter...not good.

3. Look at the camera, not the computer screen. (This is hard for me as I compulsively want to check my hair.) John Green posted a hilarious review of TWILIGHT AND NEW MOON which is pretty straightforward technically (except for a quick photomontage at the start, it's pretty much John in the frame--also backdropped by bookshelves) but his gestures and energetic focus make it very engaging to watch.

4. Prepare & Practice. This point is echoed by Sarah Chauncey but more on that Friday.

To keep the issue of Virtual Visits in perspective, and to counterpoint the enthusiasm of some, I must refer you to a very entertainin blog post by author  Kirby Larson. This leads me to point number...

5. Manage your time. I don't have room to quote all the authors who comment on the amount of time required for virtual marketing (though arguably still much less time than is required to fly on airplanes to remote school districts across the country and world). The best advice I have heard is from a few authors who suggest setting aside a few hours on a particular day of the week for the cyber stuff and trying to stick to that.
Well, despite my Internet explorations this week, I've managed to finish two AWESOME books (gave them  both five stars at Goodreads): THE FARWALKER'S QUEST by Joni Sensel and AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by the above mentioned John Green. Now at the top of the stack on my bedside table: THE COMPOUND by S. A. Bodeen.  So, I'll sign off here and get back to trying to make sure to have time to work, write, research, blog and, oh yeah, READ!!!

Friday, March 12, 2010


For the last hour, I have been struggling to complete my introductory post on Virtual Author Visits. This is a huge topic right now, the subject of much discussion amongst writers, and amongst the marketing and publicity folks within publishing houses. There are some amazing things going on in the virtual world and also some frustrations. The topic is far too big for a single post, so consider this an introduction.

Virtual Visits, for the purposes of this conversation, include Skype, chats, blogs and vlogs, and any other internet medium through which authors connect with school or library groups.  At this point, Skype seems very popular.  Authors are handling Skype requests in myraid ways. Many offer free short (10-15 minute) Skypes with book groups, etc., and only charge for longer Virtual sessions. (If you're doing this, please share your experiences--thanks!). There are authors who Skype for free, those who charge a fee or require minimum book purchase, and every possible permutation and combination in between. Some just find the medium challenging (shy!) and are nervous about charging because they are not sure they are any good at virtual appearances. Others love the high-tech stuff. In sum, there is a lot of experimentation going on.

At work, I routinely receive requests for authors to Skype or otherwise "virtually visit" with school or library groups. With school and library budgets shockingly tight, it is not surprising that this is an appealing notion.  But, though the idea seems great, the hows of a successful virtual visit are still being figured out.
Here are a few third-party sites for those investigating Virtual Visit options. Not endorsing any of them as yet but it's good to know what's out there. Please do share your experiences or any other resources you may have found for Virtual Visits: Skype an AuthorTeaching BooksSchoolTubeEduBlogs.

So the resources and interest are out there.  The big question, in my opinion, is how can authors build great relationships with schools and libraries, have successful interactions with students, and encourage readers to BUY THEIR BOOKS through Virtual Visits? What does it take to develop a thoughtful, payment-worthy Virtual Visit program? Next week, I'll look at some authors who are innovating in the virtual visit arena and a few I think are handling the medium with great success.

For tonight, I'll end with a Happy Friday book note: I finished THE FARWALKER'S QUEST on Tuesday (loved it, especially the notion of "The Forgetting") and am halfway through AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES (artfully drawn protagonist and hilarious footnotes).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

THE BUSINESS OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS: It's YALSA (ALA's Young Adult Library Services Association) Teen Tech Week 2010

The Teen Tech Week program was started by YALSA in 2007. It is a national initiative aimed at helping teens access and responsibly use their library's non-print resources. Curious? Click here for more YALSA Teen Tech Week details.

Got a bit behind on the blog recently because I was working behind-the-scenes on my third-grader's school  production of "Willy Wonka Junior" (he was an Oompa-Loompa). I love to see kids sharing their talents on stage and, though this was a giant group (over 100 performers, grades 1-6), the production was fabulous and full of life. There's actually a segue here to Tech Week: I took an informal survey of the cast and discovered that far more kids had seen a movie version of this story than had read Roald Dahl's CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Hmmm. Here's a case where I'm not sure I'm glad the kids had the tech resources to skip over the book though, admittedly, it was over the reading level of much of the cast. Still, this has me thinking hard about what I'll call Tech Platforms for School and Library visits.  So, having spent some time discussing reading guides (one type of content you can put on your website), I'm going to write a few posts on "Technology and Author Promotion."  I'll begin on Friday with some thoughts on school and library visits via SKYPE and the experiences a few of my authors have had with this medium.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

THE BUSINESS OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS: Checking Reading Guides for Balance

I just sent out a reading guide for the first book in a fun new series. I was happy to be a part of this project but also nervous because I know the author is excited about this series and I wanted to be sure to do justice to this book and those that will follow.

So, although I finished writing the guide this past Friday, I did not send it out. Instead, I put it away for the weekend. Today, I opened up the file and looked for what I call "balance" in the piece. Here are some questions I asked myself:

1. Am I happy with the number of discussion questions? Do they flow together meaningfully? Have I included all of the major characters, plot elements and themes in one way or another? Do I feel that I have encouraged readers to see the elements in the story that the author is excited about exploring?

2. Are my activities balanced in terms of writing exercises, research, creative/arts-based activities, debate/interactive activities, etc.? As I look at each activity, can I imagine one real, specific kid who might enjoy it (another reason I recommend working in classrooms!) or one situation in which it might be useful?

3. Do I feel that the guide is practical for use by educators and by parents? Will students find some questions or activities interesting and appealing without adult guidance? Are there some easy, quick things to do as well as more complex suggestions?

After I tweak the material to satisfy the above, I print out a hard copy of the guide. Note that this is the same thing I would do for a draft of my own fiction. I take a look at the shape of the text on the page. Do some activity descriptions look too long? Do some questions look too short? And, of course, I do a red pencil line edit.

Finally, I type in my corrections, drink a cup of tea, wait a half an hour and take one final look. Just like any piece of writing, part of knowing when you are "finished" is a gut feeling. However, this is writing not just for myself but in support of someone else's hard work and ideas, so instinct has to be just a part of the equation. Examining the guide for balance gives me a metric for checking that I am honoring the objectives of the author and the publishing program.