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1. The Past Few Weeks in Books 4/11/14

Downtown Brooklyn. I'm on Instagram here
It's been an interesting past few weeks! I had a fantastic time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writers' Institute, great meeting all of the writers there, including longtime reader Alison Coffey, who you may know as commenter ABC. Though I was sorry to watch the Badgers lose in the Final Four.

Speaking of the Final Four, propelled his successful choice of UConn to win it all, longtime friend-o-the-blog Peter Dudley won the 2014 Blog Bracket Challenge! Peter, you know where to find me for the prize.

Meanwhile, some interesting links caught my eye in the past few weeks. Here they are.

There continues to be a great deal of discussion in the book world about the state of diversity in the publishing industry, especially following in the wake of Christopher Myers' New York Times article "The Apartheid of Children’s Literature." Sarah McCarry, aka the Rejectionist posted about how the industry can publish more writers of color. Jennifer Pan has an interesting article that argues focusing on diversity numbers alone misses the point. I also participated in an interview with Maya Prasad about the issue.

Independent bookstores have offered the industry a glimmer of hope of late as they have hung on even as chains struggle, but in a further sign of the times, Manhattan bookstores may soon be an endangered species.

Holt Uncensored compares the movie tie-in book editions vs. their originals.

David Gaughran has a terrific post on the ins and outs of e-book pricing. Lots of nuanced discussion.

Reader Tiffany Roger wrote about the ways in which the writing process can sometimes resemble a burning log in the fireplace.

How do editors in different countries edit? Interesting interview with Emma Donahue, Judy Clain and Iris Tupholme.

And Game of Thrones is back!! I can't get enough of this goat mashup:

Have a great weekend!

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2. What I've learned from the sales of How to Write a Novel

One of the best parts about self-publishing is getting nearly real-time data on how and where your book is selling. I'm not one of those writers who feels comfortable posting my exact sales and royalty figures online, but I'm seriously thrilled with how How to Write a Novel is doing and thanks to everyone who has snagged a copy!

As I was compiling some sales figures, I was struck by two findings:

1) People still want the print version

I brought out the print version of How to Write a Novel about a month and a half after the e-book version. I knew I would have to price it higher and wasn't sure there would be sufficient demand to go through the trouble of putting it out in print.


Even priced at $11.99 vs. the e-book's $4.99, the print version has nearly kept pace, and in the past month I've actually been selling more print books than e-books.

Print! There you have it!

2) Amazon dominates e-book sales

We all may know that Amazon has the dominant e-book platform, but it's pretty stark when you see the raw numbers. Here's what my US e-book sales look like broken down by platform:

89.1% of my e-book sales have been through Kindle, 7.55% through Nook, 2.1% through Apple and 1.23% through Kobo.

Now, to be fair, I have run some promotions where I used the Amazon link, but that choice was mainly driven because of the way these numbers looked even before those promotions. It also took longer to get the e-book up on Apple, so I lost some initial sales. But even after accounting for those considerations the numbers wouldn't look that different.

Is Amazon's dominance cause from concern? Have other self-pubbed writers seen something similar?

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3. Publisher Controversy: Random House in the Hot Seat

Random House in the Hot Seat (iBrotha Flickr.com)
I'm not sure if you've been following the controversy over Random House's new digital-only lines: Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt. Writers have been up in arms because no advance was being offered on these books, like with Random House print authors, and also because copies and other miscellaneous expenses were going to be taken out of the author's royalties. When I first heard about it, I was reading a discussion on the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) listserve I belong to, and the argument was mostly with Hydra and whether or not a book published with this imprint would qualify a writer to belong to the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America). It turns out the way the Hydra contract was originally written an author was not eligible for SFWA membership.

The good news is that Random House has buckled under the pressure from the writers (YAY!), and they have revised the contract. They didn't give in 100 percent, but they now offer two different models of payment, and one of these offers an advance.

Authors and others in the publishing world who were up in arms seem to be happy with Random House's changes and have said so on blogs and Twitter. To read fully everything that has been going on, you should visit Writer Beware.

What I was hoping to discuss with Muffin readers today is this whole notion of having to get an advance in order to be considered "professional" enough to belong to a writing association. And in some of the blogs I read about this issue, they said that authors weren't taking themselves seriously if they didn't demand an advance. John Scalzi, an author with a popular blog, even said that we should question publishers that can't offer advances and wonder if we will ever get paid our royalties.

So, I'm sitting at my computer in St. Louis, thinking, Well, golly gee, I have three books under contract and am not going to get advances on any of them. I was super excited to get royalties and someone wanting to publish them. I think it helps me with my writing goals of doing school visits, teacher workshops, and teaching online classes. Plus, I like small and regional publishers, and I think they often don't offer advances to an author the first time they work with her or him. And I take myself and my work seriously.

What do you all think about this? If you have a book, did you get an advance? Was it hard to meet your advance? Did you feel pressure? If you aren't published yet, will take a contract without an advance? Would love to hear from you on this issue! 

Margo Dill is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg (White Mane Kids, 2012) and writes a blog at http://margodill.com/blog/.  She teaches online classes for WOW! See her classes here.

8 Comments on Publisher Controversy: Random House in the Hot Seat, last added: 3/17/2013
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4. Trends – New bends in the path to publication. By J.R.Poulter

Some time last year, Erica Wagner, Publisher at Allen and Unwin, is reported as having said that there was a lot to be gained by having a text already illustrated [not that Allen & Unwin published picture books]. This is seemingly a change in direction.

Some writers/illustrators I know have recently signed contracts for ‘print ready’ books.  This is not self-publishing, but submission to a royalty paying publisher of a book that is ‘ready to go’ in publishing terms.

What constitutes a ‘print ready’ book?  It is a book that has been -

  • professionally edited,
  • proofread, has been
  • designed to industry standards,
  • professionally designed cover and,
  • if illustrated, has all images appropriately set.

This is a great way to go for authors who are able to pay illustrators and book designers up front. Most authors are not able to do this.  This then means all creators involved in a book project agreeing to royalty share and working between paid projects to collaborate on their book.

What have I gleaned about such ‘print ready’ deals? One company, smaller and reasonably new, offered a small advance and a good contract, by industry standards, with higher than regular royalty share for creators. An offer of help with promotion was also part of the deal. Another company, medium sized and established, offered no advance but better than average royalty shares for creators and help with promotion and marketing of the book.

How does this stack up against what is generally on offer now?

  • Small and middle range publishers, in general, do not offer advances.
  • Larger publishers offer advances depending on the book, depending on the author, and depending on the agent involved.
  • Smaller and middle range publishers often [there are exceptions] expect the author to do it all in relation to promotion, even requiring the submission of a marketing plan.
  • Larger publishers vary greatly as to how much promotion they will give a book.
  • Generally, publishers will submit copies of their publishing output for major awards, such as the CBCA, and to a selection of leading review outlets.

What’s the down side for author, illustrator, book designer, [often the illustrator], to go down the  ‘print ready’ publishing path?

  • It IS a lot of extra work for all creators involved to ensure the book is ‘professional’ standard even before it is submitted.
  • There is no money upfront.

Are the rewards worth the effort?

  • If you love collaborative work, it is a big plus.
  • Creators have much more project control to create the book they have collaboratively envisaged.
  • A quality product, ‘print ready’,  is a major bargaining point for creators/agents. ‘Print ready’ saves the publisher heaps!

The first company mentioned does small print runs, sells out their print runs, reprints and even sells out reprints and so it seems to be gradually snowballing.

It is too early to know in the second instance.  [I’ll keep you posted!]

My feeling is that, if Erica Wagner was sensing a ‘trend’ and if these companies make a success of it, we will see more such deals.  It’s something to think about!

To be launched end of June – “Toofs!” a collaboration between J.R. and Estelle A.Poulter an illustrators Monica Rondino and Andrea Pucci. More to come on what was a ‘print ready’ deal.

TOOFS by J.R.Poulter & Estelle A. Poulter, illustrated by Monica Rondino & Andrea Pucci

TOOFS by J.R.Poulter & Estelle A. Poulter, illustrated by Monica Rondino & Andrea Pucci

0 Comments on Trends – New bends in the path to publication. By J.R.Poulter as of 3/5/2013 11:04:00 PM
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5. Will Books Lose Out in a Tablet World?

One of my favorite predictions I have put down on pixel and screen is this one from 2007, when the Kindle had just been announced, e-book sales were virtually nonexistent, and the iPad was but a glimmer in Steve Jobs' eye:

In my opinion there will never be a widely used iPod of books, a device that people buy specifically for books -- e-books will take off when they can be easily downloaded and easily read on a device like a larger iPhone-of-the-future, something people already have, which evens out the economics since you don't have to plop down a significant chunk of money before you even buy a book. This would give e-books the decisive edge in economics, which might just tip the world of books toward e-books. Until then? Printed page for most of us.
I would argue that this is pretty much what has happened in the last six years. Yes, Kindles have sold pretty well and you see them around town, but they're nowhere near the ubiquity that iPods were in the mid-2000s. Print is still a majority even as Kindle prices dropped below $100. We haven't yet reached a majority e-book world, and it's still "printed page for most of us," as the last paragraph suggests.

And yet... I'm actually a little worried about this prediction.

The second part of the prediction is that e-book sales would reach a majority when most everyone has a  "larger iPhone-of-the-future," aka an iPad, iPad Mini, Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, Nook HD... you get the picture. 

We're almost there. There are now tons of tablets in the world. Apple sold 22.9 million iPads in the last quarter alone (link is to CNET, I work there, opinions here are my own). 

And yet growth in e-book sales seem to be leveling off. Even as people are buying more and more tablets, they're not reading more and more e-books. 

Some people, including Nicholas Carr in the previous link, see the leveling off of as proof that people are simply still attached to print books. I don't doubt that this is the case for many people.

My fear is that books are losing ground to other forms of handheld portable entertainment. Tablets should make it easier for people to read more because there is no delay between deciding you want to read something and being able to read it. It's (usually) cheaper to buy e-books. But that doesn't seem to be happening at the moment.

And this is where publishers have to realize that they are not competing against just books anymore when they're setting e-book prices.

Basically: Buy a new e-book for $11.99 or buy Angry Birds for $0.99? If you want to be entertained for six hours while you're commuting and you're cost conscious, that extra $10 goes a long way, and it adds up quick when you're talking about buying multiple books over time.

E-books have to be priced in a way that makes sense relative to its competition. They're not simply competing against other books anymore, they're competing against very very cheap (or free) forms of entertainment on the same device. Books and magazines aren't the only game in town for portable entertainment anymore.

I don't think the book world should be patting itself on the back that e-book sales have slowed. Yes, print books will absolutely still exist and people are still attached to them. But if people aren't reading books on tablets the book world will be in serious trouble as tablets become still-more ubiquitous in the future.

Art: Take Your Choice by John F. Peto

32 Comments on Will Books Lose Out in a Tablet World?, last added: 2/27/2013
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6. Should Consumers Be Able to Buy and Sell Used E-books?

A debate has ignited in the bookosphere after news surfaced that Amazon had applied for a patent on technology that would let people sell "used" e-books through Amazon.

Author John Scalzi initially reacted harshly: "I’m awfully suspicious that it means nothing good for writers who want to get paid for their work using the current compensation model" and then reacted even more harshly: "I would rather you pirate the eBook than buy it used."

Consultant Mike Shatzkin rightly cautioned that just because Amazon has the technology doesn't mean they're going into this business, and at TeleReads Marilynn Byerly notes that a group called the Owners Rights Initiative is fighting to give digital owners the rights to resell digital works.

For me personally, it's hard to wrap my head around what a "used" digital files even means. A digital copy does not get worn, the pages don't yellow over time, there are not dog-eared corners. A "used" digital copy is exactly like a brand new digital copy. The idea of "used" digital anything is pretty meaningless.

While details have been somewhat scarce on the specifics of the technology Amazon possesses, what I'd guess it involves is the ability to transfer the ownership of a single digital copy from one person to another, deleting original copy so ownership is only retained by one person. When I'm done reading about the fiftieth shade of Grey, I can sell the copy to someone else and I no longer have access to it.

So. In this new world you would have "new" e-books for sale alongside "used' e-books, only the two are completely indistinguishable from one another. But the "used" e-book would inevitably be cheaper, because the seller is more motivated to sell. If I'm done reading something, I'm willing to take less than I paid for it if only because I want to ensure I get something back. It's no skin off my back to undercut the list price.

Authors and publishers are not currently compensated for used e-book sales, and if that paradigm were translated into the "used" e-book world, they would be undermined by completely identical and cheaper copies for sale alongside their "new" e-books. It's hard to imagine any scenario other than the pie shrinking even further for authors and publishers.

And yet... There are plenty of people who want to do away with DRM and sharing speed bumps entirely, which would make it extremely easy for people to sell or share their "used" e-books with anyone who wants it, whether that is a personal friend or someone they've met in a discussion forum or anywhere else on the Internet. People who are opposed to a used e-book paradigm should consider that one alternate scenario is one where non-DRM'd books are running rampant throughout the Internet (or rather, even more than they already are currently).

Lots of readers have been rankled by the fact that when you buy an e-book you don't have the same rights and flexibility as you do for a print book. It's hard to give it away and it's impossible to resell it. It's a license, not true ownership. It's frustrating when you just want to pass it on to a family member or friend like you can a paperback.

It's always seemed to me that the realities of digital publishing should account for the difference in physical form. Digital copies are fundamentally different than print copies, and arguing that we should treat them with the exact same rules strikes me as disingenuous. We have to strike a reasonable balance between the convenience of consumers and fairness to content creators.

Is a "used" e-book marketplace the right way of striking that balance? I'm not sure. A mechanism for transferring ownership of an e-book on a one-to-one basis is appealing, and as a reader I think I might like to have that option. I'd like it even more if authors were compensated for resales.

It's certainly not the worst solution I've ever heard. What do you think?

Art: "Novgorod Marketplace" by Appolinary Vasnetsov

39 Comments on Should Consumers Be Able to Buy and Sell Used E-books?, last added: 2/23/2013
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7. The Book Pricing Conundrum - Lucy Coats

This is what I read in The Bookseller this morning:

"Authors have admitted they welcome the “huge boost” in sales when their e-books are sold at rock-bottom prices, despite concern over the long-term impact.It is believed individual authors have earned in the hundreds of thousands from books included in the long-running 20p promotion on Sony and Amazon."

I should say immediately that I have no books out on Amazon's Kindle or Sony's e-reader, so I have no personal experience of this phenomenon to draw on, but that's quite a statement, isn't it? Admit it - what did you focus on first? The 'long-term impact' or the 'hundreds of thousands'? Did a small part of you wonder for a moment how much you could earn if YOU had a book chosen for the 20p programme?  I certainly did.  But then I began to think about those long term consequences if you are lucky enough to be, as I am currently, traditionally published.

In the same article, Terence Blacker, whose latest book was included in the Amazon 99p Daily Deal promotion, says that while his book sold thousands and went to the top of the fantasy chart, 'at that price people are paying 20p for every year I worked on the book."

Peter James, crime writer extraordinaire, worries about the effect on the indy (and chain) booksellers in the high street, who are already beleagured and battered by the Amazon juggernaut.  He says "Booksellers on our high streets are already an endangered species and losing their bread and butter bestsellers sales to an online campaign they cannot compete with... makes life very much harder."  They're both absolutely right - but it seems to be an insoluble conundrum.

If you are an indie author, perhaps you could take the ethical approach, like Dan Holloway, who has removed all his e-books from Amazon and written about why on the Authors Electric blog. But that's not going to work for the traditionally published writer like me, who has no control over whether their books - either print or electronic -  are featured on Amazon or not.  The Amazon Kindle juggernaut is here to stay, it's ubiquitous, it's seductive to the average book buyer, and although there are other e-platforms like Sony, Kobo and Nook, we're going to have to live with the fact that most publishers do use the Amazon Kindle programme - because more readers have Kindles than any other form of e-book.

I didn't believe that the physical book was on the way out. Now I'm not so sure. I still hear people say that they love the feel and smell of print books.  I believe them.  I do too.  But we are in a bad recession.  Money matters. The price of things matters to the average consumer.

Just think about this for a moment. There's a paperback book Mr Average particularly wants to read.  Maybe he's seen a review, maybe it's an author he likes, maybe someone has recommended it. Let's say he passes his local indy bookseller on the way home from work. Inside, Mr Average is offered the physical paperback at the full price of, say, £9.99.  He can take it home there and then. But before he buys it, he has a little check on his smartphone.  Oh!  It's discounted to £4.95 on Amazon. But wait. It'll have to be delivered. He doesn't have Amazon Prime, so he'll have to wait at least 2 or 3 days AND pay postage. Damn! He wanted to read it on the train home. Then he looks at the Kindle or Sony price.  Whoopee! It's in the Daily Deal Slot - he can download it now for 20p. Cheap price, immediate gratification. Job done.

What does that mean for the author, though?  Well, for a bookshop sale, you get full royalty of (probably) between 5 and 10% of the cover price.  For an Amazon print sale, that drops to squigpence ha'penny per copy.  And for the Daily Deal? The current state of e-royalties is the subject of much debate and argument - but even if you do sell thousands of e-copies, it's still not very much on 20p, despite that claim above of 'hundreds of thousands' of pounds.

For me, writing is a job.  It is, agreed, a job I love and feel privileged to do every day (despite occasion rants about books not doing what I want them to and other authory gripes).  BUT, if I am lucky enough to have a book published, I do want to be fairly rewarded for my efforts, and that includes readers paying a reasonable price for my work.

So the thing I worry about most is what is currently happening to the perception of the value of a book. If e-books continue to be devalued like this, I think our Mr Average book buyer will begin to expect bargain prices across the board, and that means physical print books too.  That can't be good for authors in general, nor for publishers - and if it carries on, it's going to become unsustainable to produce a print book because no one will want to pay for what it costs to produce.  I hope I'm wrong, I really do.  Even though more e-book 'units' will be sold (and if that means people are reading more, then that's the one bit of good), from this (currently) tax-paying author's point of view, it looks as if there's going to be only one major winner.  They don't (currently) pay taxes in the UK, despite making huge profits here, and I think that's wrong (but that's a whole other can of bookworms).

I wish I knew how to fight against the book becoming just another unit of fodder for the bargain basement, but I don't.  Do you?

33 Comments on The Book Pricing Conundrum - Lucy Coats, last added: 2/20/2013
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8. Hippo and Gorilla: Interactive Picture Books for Your E-Reader

hippo and gorilla Hippo and Gorilla are two loveable characters, (remember The Odd Couple?) who face problems children will be all too familiar with–things like crashing model airplanes (Airplanes), eating too many donuts (Donuts), and a rainy day birthday (Bathroom Beach) . Illustrator and author Bryan Langdo has created cute, humorous picture books for children. But what makes these different than the thousands of picture books at your library?

These are made for your e-readers! Right now, they are best for an iPod Touch or iPhone or iPad with the program iBooks. I didn’t have this (my iPod Touch is a 2nd generation–I can’t get iBooks on it, oh my!), and so Bryan sent them to me for my Kindle and then the MP3 files, so I could listen to the wonderful readings of the stories by Billy Bob Thompson (he does great voices for Hippo and Gorilla!). I listened to them at Panera Bread, and I found myself giggling out loud. What are the people around me thinking?

Okay, so as a preschool/kindergarten/first grade teacher or parent, what should you know about these cute books and how you can use them with children?

1. Brian and I exchanged a few e-mails, and here is what he said, “The bells and whistles are basically the audio narration, sound effects, incidental music, and read-along feature.” (Kids will LOVE this–my daughter at 2 loves ANYTHING on the iPod Touch or Kindle. She actually says this sentence, “I need the iPod Touch.” I’m not sure if I should be proud? :) )

2. Here’s what Brian said about his own series (and by the way, I COMPLETELY agree with him!): “I’m hoping to share with you and your readers my new series of early readers titled Hippo & Gorilla. It’s about two best friends who are total opposites. Hippo is a great friend, but he has a tendency to make bad decisions. He breaks things, he eats too much, and he makes big messes. Gorilla, however, doesn’t do enough of those things. Together, they make a great team!

These eBooks for young readers explore the joys—and the pitfalls—of friendship, using simple vocabulary and sentence structure. Each book contains audio narration along with original music and sound effects. They’re available for iPad, Kindle, and Nook.”

Donuts cover revised3. GET HIPPO AND GORILLA IN DONUTS FOR FREE! Go to this link. This will only work if you have access to iBooks on your iPad or other Apple device. But here’s the link if you are lucky to have one of these: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/donuts/id585686738?mt=11

4. There are 5 individual books about Hippo and Gorilla. One is free as stated above, and the others are only 99 cents (again, right now for Apple devices). All 5 stories can be purchased together for $1.99!

5. These are the perfect books to start important conversations with our little ones–in the classroom or at home. You can ask questions like: Was Hippo a good friend? Should Gorilla fly his airplane again? What else could Hippo and Gorilla do on Gorilla’s birthday? How can Gorilla and Hippo compromise? and more.

6. Bryan has a website and blog for you to check out more details. You can see these at: http://www.hippoandgorilla.com OR http://www.hippoandgorilla.blogspot.com/ .

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments–Bryan can stop by and answer them!

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9. OH, It's a Book; or What to Give a Reluctant Reader

     The season of gift giving is here, and I know what all of you TA followers want...a book. Right?  And what is our go-to gift for the loved ones in our lives? A book.

     I learned early that those square packages that didn't rattle when you shook them were either underwear or a books.  A solid thump would eliminate the former and affirm the latter. No matter what other presents I received, Christmas afternoon would find me curled up with my gift book.  My beloved 
Charlotte's Web was a gift from my father when I was eight.  A biography, You Might as Well Live, my junior year of high school began a life long love of Dorothy Parker.  My dad was the book giver in my family.  He somehow knew just the right book for me, and what I had already read.  I suppose I should not have been surprised since he was an FBI agent with excellent powers of observation.

   Holiday giving was pretty easy at my house.  Both of my parents were non-fiction readers whose tastes ran to non-fiction, particularly political history and biography. They never read fiction. Christmas at my house was books, books and more books (and, from my ever-practical mother, underwear.)

    When I had a child of my own, I felt blessed that she loved books as much as I. Every gift giving occasion included at least one new book, that her father or I would read to her. 

    Then my daughter was diagnosed as severely dyslexic.  While her own vocabulary and understanding of what was read to her was far beyond her grade level, what she could actually read for herself did a number on her self-esteem and willingness to persevere. While everyone in her class was reading Harry Potter, my daughter could not read the picture books that I had written about her.  It was a frustrating situation, since she still loved books and stories.

    Maybe you have a reluctant reader or one, who like my daughter, has so much difficulty reading that it is an ordeal rather than a pleasure. 

    1. Magazine subscription--My husband swears that the only reason he ever read as a child was that his parents gave him a Sports Illustrated subscription every year from third grade on. My dad, the Wizard of Gifts, didn't miss a beat when he learned his granddaughter would never be a reader. He added up her love of nature, travel and her talent as a photographer...and renews her subscription to National Geographic every Christmas. Today, Lily is a National Arts Honor Student in Photography. Her career goal?  To be a National Geographic photographer, of course.

   2. Don't overlook the e books and magazines.  I know I know...there's nothing like a book. However, for a kid, there is nothing like convenience.  When I was a librarian, I noticed that if a student had a choice between the same book in hardcover or paperback, they would always choose the paperback.  They were already lugging around pounds of textbooks; a paperback could fit in their pocket or purse, always ready for a spare minute's reading. The same goes for our kids and their various electronic gadgets.  There is nothing more convenient than a download to an electronic reader or tablet. (E formats can be downloaded to computers as well...but not so convenient.)

    As I mentioned in a previous post, Lily took to the Kindle immediately because there are a variety of applications that can provide voice-activation. Be sure to check when ordering an e-book that voice-activation is available for that particular title. For instance, both of my middle grade novels Yankee Girl and Jimmy's Stars are voice enabled. The one books Lily is dying to read, To Kill a Mockingbird, is not even available as an e-book. (And no, the movie is not the same thing. We saw it again as a family at Thanksgiving and those of us who have read it agree that as wonderful as Gregory Peck is, it is not the same experience as Harper Lee's lyrical prose.)

   As for e-magazines, it would be easier to list those not available electronically.  You can download a subscription to everything from Sesame Street to Seventeen to Sports Illustrated.  

   One word of caution.  Picture books derive much of their meaning from their arrangement of pictures and text.  Even though there are a number of picture books that are available in e format, the print to screen layout is not always the same. There are books designed specifically as e books (Lulu's Brew by Elizabeth Dulembe immediately comes to mind.)  The same is true of verse novels and books of poetry. As much as I love Ellen Hopkins' YA novels, a great deal of their meaning is derived from the way the verse is arranged on the page...something which does not always turn up in the version. 

3.  Audio books--I love being read to. So does my husband. When we were first married and our car did not have a tape player, I would read to him on long car trips. You know you are in love if you are willing to spend an 18 hour car trip reading a corporate history of the Anheuser-Busch company, aloud. 

    By the time our daughter came along we had upgraded to cars with tape and then CD players.  We made a lot of long car trips.  Enter the audio book. Both Lily and my husband ( see item one) enjoyed hearing Henry Huggins, the Ramona books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Percy Jackson Series.
(We are still awaiting an audio version of To Kill a Mockingbird.)

   Two words of wisdom in buying reading material for anyone. One...if you don't know the person well enough to know they will be interested in your gift selection, don't give a book. If you have to ask a bookseller, "What are 12-year-olds (fill in the appropriate age) reading?" then you don't know this child well enough to give them a book.I learned this the hard way from my husbands nieces and nephew who were not readers. For years they would open my present with a fake smile and an unenthusiastic "Oh, it's a book." I also have observed the wrath of some parents whose child was given "what 12-year-olds are reading," (usually by a grandparent), only to find that the parent found the book inappropriate.  When in doubt...give a gift card to their local (independent, if possible) bookseller.

    Two...just because you loved a book doesn't mean your child will.  The only audio book that was spurned by both Lily and my husband, was Charlotte's Web! Sigh.  It happens to the best of us.

     Happy (book giving) holidays, one and all.

     Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


4 Comments on OH, It's a Book; or What to Give a Reluctant Reader, last added: 12/4/2012
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10. Luvverly LISTS for Writers and Illustrators!

Hi Everyone! :)

Lists can be extremely useful, especially when they are constantly being updated!

Here are two such.

The first, compiled by the enterprising and enthusiastic Brain Grove, is a list of US publishers who are currently accepting submissions for children’s books – http://j.mp/SVbnCk  – he also, very helpfully, adds links toeach entry to take you straight to the site.  I also recommend his ebook on  query /submission letter writing.

The second,  a veritable database, is continuously being updated by the very proactive authors, Delin Colon and Lisa Kalner Williams – http://bit.ly/writerinterviewopps …

If you haven’t joined www.jacketflap.com, I highly recommend it – an excellent networking site for all things related to children’s literature and books.

Get busy and good luck!

4 Comments on Luvverly LISTS for Writers and Illustrators!, last added: 9/30/2012
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11. Nice to see Mousey is getting around...

Nice to see Mousey is getting around.  I discovered this website in India with a nice Mousey picture on the front page... right next to Bruce.

I'd say Mousey is nearly famous. It's an especially long way to go for a very short mouse to travel. And it's not true that elephants are afraid of mice... that's just a myth.


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12. Co-Reading Survey: Parents and Kids Opt for Print Books

From Shelf-Awareness.com:

Print books are preferred over e-books by parents as well as children when they read together, according to a new study from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop that found 89.9% of iPad owners read “mostly print books and some e-books” with their children, 7.5% read both formats equally with their children, and 2.7% read “mostly or exclusively” e-books.

Almost 75% of the responding parents said they prefer co-reading print books, with more than 50% of their children agreeing. Fewer than 10% of parents or children prefer co-reading e-books exclusively.

The center noted “these preliminary findings suggest that many parents likely perceive children’s print books and e-books differently, particularly in terms the experience and expectations of co-reading. Moreover, in practice, e-books may be playing a different role in homes than print books are. Print books appear to serve as iPad owners’ preferred co-reading medium even in homes where e-books are available. E-books, on the other hand, may play supporting roles for developing kids’ literacy skills particularly when a parent can’t be around to read to them or when families are outside of the home.”

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13. My latest children's picture book: THE SPY GAME

The Spy Game
Eddie would love to have a puppy to play with.  A puppy would pull on a rope. Catch a ball and lick your face. But his Uncle brings Eddie an older dog named about a famous spy.
What can you do with an old dog? It probably couldn't learn new tricks, and the only thing this dog did was stare.  It's what they find to do together that makes them the best of friends!

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14. Poetry Friday: The Poetry Friday Anthology compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

Author and educator Sylvia Vardell has just announced some exciting news on her blog Poetry for Children!  She and her friend/author Janet Wong have collaborated on another wonderful project:  The Poetry Friday Anthology.

The Poetry Friday Anthology is a new anthology of 218 original poems for children in kindergarten through fifth grade by 75 popular poets including J. Patrick Lewis, Jack Prelutsky, Jane Yolen, Margarita Engle, X. J. Kennedy, Kathi Appelt, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Georgia Heard and Nikki Grimes and many more.

The book includes a poem a week for the whole school year (K-5) with curriculum connections provided for each poem, each week, each grade level. Just five minutes every “Poetry Friday” will reinforce key skills in reading and language arts such as rhyme, repetition, rhythm, alliteration, etc.

Thanks to the lovely blog world of the “kidlitosphere,” I’ve been a fan of “Poetry Friday” since the beginning (in 2006). The idea of pausing for poetry every Friday is so appealing to me, maybe because Friday has always been my favorite day of the week. I think it is a natural fit for busy teachers and librarians who can build on that Poetry Friday tradition by incorporating a weekly poetry break into their regular routines. That’s the first “hook” in our book– the idea of sharing a poem every Friday! (More often is even better, but Friday is the hook!)

The other hook is the call for connecting with the new Common Core standards (and in Texas where the Common Core was not adopted– don’t get me started– connecting with the TEKS, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). We’ve always had curricular standards of one kind or another, but poetry hasn’t always been an explicit component. It is now! Of course this worries me a bit as poetry may also be abused and butchered in the name of test preparation. But the challenge is to provide guidance in sharing poetry that respects the integrity of the poem, celebrating the pleasures of language, while reinforcing the necessary skills. That’s the second book “hook”– we’ve tied every poem in The Poetry Friday Anthology to the Common Core standards (and TEKS standards in Texas) for poetry.

This book is first and foremost a quality anthology of 218 original poems for children written by 75 of today’s most popular poets. Children in any state (or country) can enjoy, explore, and respond to these poems. However, we have also come to realize that educators, librarians, and parents are looking for guidance in how to share poetry with children and teach the skills within the curriculum as well. Thus, this book offers both. It’s part poetry collection and part professional resource guide– quality poetry plus curriculum-based suggestions for helping children enjoy and understand poetry more deeply.

You’ll find more information about the book at the PoetryFridayAnthology blog here. Our official launch date is Sept. 1 when we hope to offer an e-book version of the book as well– projectable and searchable! But the print version of the book is available NOW to help jumpstart the school year with poetry. I’ll also be posting a few nuggets from the book here in the near future– as well as more about our new joint publishing venture, Pomelo Books.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Dori Reads so head on over and see what treasures are in store.

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15. Your E-reader is Watching You

For the first time ever, actual science can be derived from reading habits.

Thanks to e-books, companies like Amazon and B&N now know whether people are actually reading the e-books they buy. Better yet, they even know where in books people are leaving off, which books are most likely to be read all the way through, and the speed people are reading them.

As Mike Shatzkin points out, this is important knowledge that the e-booksellers have and publishers do not. It could be more important to know whether people finish a bestselling book than how many copies it sells. If people stop reading and start reading something else instead, it could be a sign people might not be as enthusiastic for that author's next book. And if people read something very quickly it could be a sign of enthusiasm.

The possibilities don't stop there. Could authors improve if they knew at which spots in their book people are dropping off?

Needless to say, this frontier is not without its controversy. Readers may not like to have their e-reading habits snooped, even if it's done anonymously. Authors may be frustrated to be confronted with yet another backwards-looking tool that can pigeonhole them based on their past books without considering whether the new one is really good. And publishers may be frustrated that Amazon and the other e-booksellers possesses this competitive advantage.

I'm excited to have any new insight available, provided this information is made available to authors. It hardly seems fair if this information is hoarded by the e-booksllers if it's being used to make decisions about whether and how an author is signed or promoted. And, of course, care must be taken to ensure that reader privacy is protected.

What about you? Would you want to know where people are leaving off in your book? Is this new technology exciting or intrusive?

Art: The Librarian by Giuseppe Arcimbolo

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16. How I made my first e-book

Are you e-experienced? Until a week ago I wasn't. But, in the last three weeks I have made and published my first e-book.

It feels a bit like giving birth to, I don't know, some kind of strange mutant mongrel beast, some hybrid child whose destiny is unknown, who may grow up to mock me, betray me, give me glory (but only by leave of the wayward capriciousness of viral flukeiness) or, even worse, disappear completely without trace in the infinitely absorptive sponginess that is the e-thernet.

Anyway, for what it's worth, I thought I would share my experience. Some of you may be teetering on the edge of this mysterious pool of brave new publishing opportunities, debating whether to take the plunge. I expect many of you already are e-experienced swimmers with Olympian credits. If so, you can poke fun at my ineptitude.

I kindled thoughts of these waters for a long while. Some of my books had been converted into ebooks by my publishers, but they were like the offspring of alcohol-obscured one night stands; unknown and unclaimed. The publishers didn't even tell me they had been born, I only found out by accident, and I don't have a clue about sales figures.

In a tentative way, I had previously offered PDF downloads of one or two stories or chapters for sale through my websites, but they had languished as forlorn and undownloaded as an unfertilised dandelion in a meadow of opium poppies.

I own no e-reader; nothing I cannot read in a bath without fear. Every work of fact or fiction in my library looks dissimilar from every other, and I like it like that.

What persuaded me to dip my sceptical toe in these waters was partly the persistent encouragement of a local publisher, Cambria Books, whose manager, Chris Jones, is passionate about their new business model.

OK, I said. But I wasn't sure what content to offer first. Then, an old colleague and the series editor of some of my non-fiction, suggested that I republish an old novella of mine. (Thank you, Frank.) This seemed a perfect way of testing out the market, since I knew it would have an existing audience, and that there'd be a new one to which I wanted to introduce it. All I would have to do was find those readers. (The expected readership, by the way, is YA, most likely readers interested in humour, politics, science fiction, and comics/graphic novels.)

I still am sceptical, so I'm going to be watching sales with interest.

The whole process of preparing the content from start to finish took two weeks, which itself is very attractive: contrast this with the swimming-through-jelly tempo of traditional publishing - two years start to finish?

Here are the stages it went through:

One of the illustrations, by Rian Hughes
  1. Scanning in the original book using OCR (optical character recognition) software. I used ABBYY. The software is remarkably accurate but does need a bit of an eagle eye for spotting 1s that should be Is and Os that should be 0s.
  2. Scanning in the 12 illustrations, which different comics artists from Dave McKean to Simon Bisley had contributed to the original edition. This was the fun bit.
  3. Designing the cover, which included colourising in Photoshop a black-and-white illustration that had been on the inside. That was fun too.
  4. Adding a short story on the same theme to give extra value, that had been published elsewhere in another collection but not widely seen.
  5. Writing a new afterword. This involved a nostalgic and enjoyable expedition into overgrown verges along the side of my personal memory lane. I took my butterfly net for effect (a butterfly effect) to catch those extra special chaotic moments.
  6. Completing the whole thing in Word. Word, the software, is not my friend, although Word, the archetypal personification of language, is. But sometimes you have to dance with the Devil, since the e-book conversion process requires a Word file. How did Microsoft sew that one up?
  7. Making sure all the prelims were hunky-dory and accurate. That included researching and writing up short biographies of all the artists, updating them from the previous edition, and making sure I thanked everyone.
  8. Then I thought I ought to add some adverts for some of my other books at the back that readers might be interested in. Why not? 70-90 years ago, most books had adverts in the back - and the front, sometimes, just like magazines. Perhaps this is the way to go to finance this new form of publishing? Interactive ads for acne-banishing face creams in the back of YA novels, anyone?
  9. Then I got carried away and added a real ad from the 1940s for a chemistry set for boys that included real uranium! Most people don't believe that I didn't make this up.
I sent the file to the publisher, who checked it over, made more corrections, added the ISBN and converted it into the .mobi format, which Amazon likes.

I chose to go with Cambria Books, but there are many other companies offering similar deals. It may be worth shopping around, but I didn't bother. Some of them offer print-on-demand as another option. This may be worth considering as well. If you want to get reviews you should have a few print copies to send to reviewers. Also, if you don't think you will sell more than 1000 print copies, print-on-demand is generally cheaper than a conventional print run. Over this number, you should go down the conventional printing route.

The publisher then sent the e-book file back to me to check. I was horrified. I had designed it in Gill Sans font, which I love, and it came back in a frankly disgusting, evil, serifed font. All my lovely formatting was strewn about like weatherboard in a hurricane, and my unique work was reduced to the same common denominator as everything else that you see on a Kindle.

I had to resign myself to the fact that there is little you can do about this, except to control where some page breaks go. It's a bit like designing for the web, except you have even less control. That's the nature of this homogenising beast.

Then, holding a stiff drink, I muttered: “Go!" The publisher uploaded the file to Amazon and it was live - for sale - in less than 24 hours! Wow.

However, I didn't just want to sell it through Amazon and merely contribute to their increasing domination of the market. I wanted people to be able to read it on something other than a Kindle.

So the nice publisher also gave me a version in the .epub format, which works with other e-readers.

Cambria Books also made a Facebook page and a webpage on their company website for the title, to promote it alongside all of their other titles. For all of this Cambria charged £200, which includes £50 for the ISBN. The book is for sale at £1.84. So, I need to sell, bearing in mind the cut that Amazon takes, just 125 copies to get my money back.

I could also have chosen to do all of this myself, but I'm lazy, and I figured that it's worth it, especially since this was my first time.

But I wasn't finished yet.

I then chose to make the files available on my own website. I already sell books on my website through PayPal. Selling e-books is slightly different, because there isn't a physical product to ship, and you need to create a place where buyers can download the file, after PayPal has checked that they have paid for it successfully.

This place has to be completely inaccessible to search engines, otherwise people will just grab the files for nothing.

Here's what I did:
  • I made the webpages holding the downloads, one for each format, which just need to be very simple, and put them together with the files in a folder on the server. At the top of the web pages is this text: <meta name="robots" content="noindex" />.
  • Just to be safe, I also uploaded a text file to the folder named robots.txt, which simply contains the following:
    User-agent: *
    Disallow: /
  • Both of these little tricks should prevent search engines from indexing and making public the content of this folder.
  • The next thing to do is to get an account with PayPal, if you haven't already got one, and, once logged in, go to the Buy Now Button-making page (if you can't find it just type those words into the search function), which allows you to create a button for a single item purchase.
  • All you need to do here, is to put in the name of the e-book, a product code that you make up, and its price. There is, of course, no shipping cost. You probably want to check the button that says “Track profit and loss".
  • Then you come to Step 3, subtitled “customise checkout pages". This is the important bit. Answer the questions the following way:
  1. “Do you want to let your customer change order quantities?" No, because they won't order one more than one e-book.
  2. "Can your customer at special instructions in a message to you?" No, there's no need for that.
  3. "Do you need your customer's shipping address?" No, because messages will go to their PayPal e-mail address.
  4. Check the box saying “take customer to a specific page after checkout cancellation" and type or paste in the full website address for your shop page.
  5. Check the box saying “Take customer to a specific page after successful checkout". Here is the really, really important bit: type or paste in the full website address for the page they go to download your e-book. Make sure this is right! This is the complete address for the page that you made earlier and uploaded, the one at the otherwise secret place.
  • All you have to do now is click “create button" (don't worry, you can go back and change things if you made a mistake, as I did), and, when happy, copy the code and paste it on your page exactly where you want the button to be.
  • Save your page and upload it to your website.
That's it!

The things writers have to do these days.

But I still hadn't quite finished. I had to write a news item publicising the e-book for the front page of my website, in which I included a link not just to the page where people can buy my books, but to the exact part on the page where they can buy that e-book, to make it super-easy for them.

On that page, I include all the options for them to make the purchase: a link to the Amazon page, because most people will be comfortable doing that; and the two buttons for both formats that I made using PayPal.

You can see the news item on the front page of my website here.

I then wrote a post on my blog promoting the book, which you can read here.

Of course, I also had to promote it on Facebook, on both my own page and the page made for the book itself, and on my Twitter account.

And, I launched the e-book at what was billed as the UK's first festival for e-books, in Kidwelly last weekend. My publisher had a stand there.

Unfortunately, this event was poorly promoted and badly attended (having it in a more accessible place would have helped), but there were many excellent speakers, not to mention, for children, our own Anne Rooney, plus Simon Rees and Mary Hooper, Clive Pearce and Nicholas Allan.

Several speakers told their own experiences of publishing e-books. Notable for me was Polly Courtney, who confessed her lamentable experiences with HarperCollins that made her realise that self-publishing was a far better route than being with one of the big five, and Dougie Brimson, who has sold over one million self-published e-books, because he knows his audience really well.

Listening to the speakers gave me confidence that it really is okay to do it yourself and publish ebooks. It doesn't mean you have to give up working with mainstream publishers. You can do both. But given that we all nowadays have to spend at least 25% of our time marketing ourselves and our books, in practice it is not that much more work.

As one of the speakers said, most readers don't care who the publisher is, as long as the book is good.

Did I leave anything out? Is there a better way of doing this? Perhaps some of you will share your experience. After all, I'm just a beginner, but at least I'm no longer an e-book virgin.

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17. Journey of a Book – children’s literature creation under the microscope

Click to view slideshow.Books are created from the imagination and inspiration of authors and the insightful vision of illustrators. They are then crafted. The authorial crafting may be right brain with a touch of editing or slow and laborious left brain plotting. For an illustrator, it may be  inspiration flowing like rivers from brush or  stylus or it may be  storybook or dummy creation then rethinks, scrap some ideas, adapt others. Eventually, a book emerges that is then ‘ready for submission’. These days, that may mean  adding animation and audio to make the book a digital production for app developers like  Utales or Flying Books, or for YA, formatting it for Kindle or Nook e-publishers. It may mean self publishing on Createspace  or Lightningsource, Smashwords or Lulu.  Or it will mean the long road via submission to traditional publishers.

If the latter is chosen, the publisher will often require more editing, changes and perhaps more changes. My own book, started under contract to one publisher, was already well underway with the inimitable Sarah Davis as illustrator. We were having a ball creating our book. Then our publisher was taken over and the new publisher wanted  to  institute changes. At first, the major change – ‘get rid of the dead bird’ – seemed straight forward. Then we realised  the book needed the bird but, to keep it, we had to  make some big adjustments. An injured bird can’t just disappear in a children’s book, it has to get better and be released, which, in our picture book, meant its story  had to be woven into the fabric of the main story seamlessly. No problem, a few days and Sarah and I had nailed it! As book creators, you have to be flexible and, especially if going the traditional publisher route, you can’t be too precious about your creation.

SO! This exhibition is about the journey numbers of wonderful children’s and YA books took from creation to  bookshelf! Each book has a different creation story to reveal - something the public doesn’t see, it’s behind the scenes. Now the reader can take a peek backstage, behind the scenes to how it all came together!


Setting up was not straight forward. The spaces has to be utilised to best advantage and the  items displayed needed to be seen from as many angles as possible given I had a two shelf rectangular glass case.  I didn’t end up using everything I brought with me. It would have been too cluttered. Last minute inclusion, bulldog clips, proved life-savers! They held the  photographic prints in place.

I had never ‘hung’ a painting before at an exhibition and that proved ‘interesting. Sarah Davis sent up her wonderful original painting via kindly courier, Peter Taylor, but it was unframed. I had no time to find a frame. Fortunately, I had one around the house that was  a good match colour-wise though not quite the  perfect size.

Given my exhibit was about my close collaboration with Sarah, the items displayed needed to reflect the two minds working together to make a new creative whole – our book! Sources of inspiration, stages in text change, changes in images, cover and trivia relating to the characters, objects and places in the book all combined to make a successful ( I hope you agree) exhibit!

Click to view slideshow.


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18. The continuing saga of the year of the e-book

by Scott Rhoades

I've posted about my gradual conversion to e-books before, but it's been a while. I now feel like I've read enough of them to be able to write somewhat coherently about the (nonsensical) battle of the book vs the e-book.

First of all, let me say that I no longer draw a line between e-books and "real" books like I once did. The words are the same regardless of the medium, and the experience of consuming the words is similar enough, that any thoughts I once had about e-books somehow being less real have vanished. As far as reading goes, they are just as real as paperbacks or hardbacks.

When I started the year with my new Nook Color, a Christmas present from my wife, I expected to read about 35-40 books in 2012, based on my reading history over the past few years since I started keeping track. I read 42 last year, 15 of them on my iPad. The rest were printed.

Right now, I am nearing the halfway point of my 31st book of the year. I think four of those have been printed books. The Nook is a major reason why I've read so much. It's easy to have around and comfortable to hold, especially for big books. I can carry an entire library with me, between the Nook's memory and its memory card. I've even switched my favorite magazine to a digital subscription. It's easy to read without losing the sense of the magazine's design, and I don't have to deal with piles of past issues. I can read with the lights out (although I don't do that much). I can adjust the font size for more comfortable reading, and adjust the brightness of the screen for comfort in whatever lighting I'm sitting in.

That last bit shouldn't be underestimated. One of my friends, who used to be an avid reader, had all but given up on reading because his aging eyes required perfect lighting and a reasonable font size. He bought his wife a Nook Color, tried reading on it, and ended up buying another one for his wife because he took hers over. Now he reads a lot again.

Clearly, this little device has its advantages, But what about disadvantages?

I'm sure there were people who complained when mass-produced books from printing presses replaced the carefully and lovingly made manuscripts of yore. Book lovers (and I consider myself one of them) always talk about how they prefer the feel of a book, the smell of the pages, the tactile pleasures of the printed book. You don't get that from a reader. I have a leather cover for mine that gives it a cozier feel than the hard plastic of the bare e-reader. It helps, but it's not the same. While the Nook is more comfortable to read in bed than a thick book or a large-format book, it can't compete with most books in the coziness battle. This has really become obvious to me in recent months after I inherited some books that belonged to my grandmother and my aunt, who both died in the past year. I pick up those books, several of which were read to me when I was very small, and I can smell Grandma's house. Those books are treasures, for reasons far beyond the wonderful words they contain. Nobody is going to get excited about inheriting my e-book collection when my time comes. Some of my printed books might mean something to somebody, though.

I love my bookshelves. I have shelves in three rooms, all overstuffed with books, too many to fit standing upright, so there are

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19. Collaboration – an adventure to be savored!

I have found the opportunity to collaborate with illustrators something eminently rewarding, an experience that  enriches both participants and results in a more vibrant and much richer work. My first picture book, “Mending Lucille” was also a result of a collaborationWorking with the amazing Sarah Davis was inspirational! I have gone on to collaborate closely with illustrators all over the world to create numbers of other picture books, some digitally published, some in process with print publishers and some I am still researching the right publishing outlet. Finding the ‘right’ outlet is very important. Not every publisher is ‘right’ for every book.

Digital Publishing

I have had the pleasure of collaborating with first time picture book illustrators, Jade Potts [USA], Jonas Sahlstrom [Sweden], Alexandra Krasuska [Sweden] and fellow Aussie, Jodi Magi [now of Abu-Dhabi] on uTales, and am about to have my latest collaboration, “Little Dragons’ Babysitter” released with Caroline Lee. Utales is non-exclusive which means  creators can take advantage of other  opportunities for their work as they arise. I have just signed a contract with Flying Books, Islreal, for “Rich Man, Poor Man” the book I did with Jodi Magi. My first digital collaboration is on www.istorytime, “At the Beach with Bucket and Spade” with Sarah Bash Gleeson [USA], whom I met on JacketFlap.com, a wonderful children’s literature networking site along with many other amazing and inspiring folk. Sarah is editor of magazine, “Dream Chaser” which focusses on children’s books and their creators.

Joanna Marple’s mini review of my latest digital book, “Xengu and the Turn of Tide”:

“A Tolkienesque tale, I love it!”

See a review of her first picture book in my last blog post with links to her interview with Darshana Shah Khiani on “Flowering Minds“.

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20. Nicola’s Monsters! An interview with illustrator turned author, Nicola L. Robinson

Interview with Nicola L. Robinson, illustrator turned author and the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a change of hats!

Hi Nicola

First off, HEARTY CONGRATULATIONS on the release of “The Monster Machine” with Pavilion Books – a sort of mad inventor meets Granny’s knitted nightmares joy of a book!

Have you always had a strong visual sense of story?

Yes I have, I’ve always loved drawing (like all illustrators I should imagine!) but particularly loved drawing pictures with something happening in them, be it a big thing chasing a small thing or any kind of interaction between my creations. As a child I’d name the characters and make up stories around them..

I grew up and went to university and did a degree in Fine Art, which was fantastic, but I realised my work was more illustration and less ‘Fine Art’. I have always looked for the story in the picture, and love adding narrative details to things, be it a little mouse hiding behind a teapot or something more sinister watching through a crack in the curtain... I am a visual thinker, but at this point I didn’t consider writing the actual words down to go with the illustrations.

What were your favourite storybook images as a child and how did they influence you as an illustrator and the style you adopted as ‘you’?

I didn’t have many traditional picture books, I did however pour over photos of crocodiles and snakes from a really old book on ‘The Animal Kingdom’. One of my favourite storybooks was a book of Greek Myths which had a lot of colour plates inside of the various mythological beasts and some nice black and white ink illustrations, fairly traditional in style. My favourites were always the ones I could imagine myself being in, something with some perspective, or one where you can see inside an open door or window. I also loved the Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, with Smaug the dragon. I have drawn many dragons since then and continue to do so today.

I have always loved the traditional fairytale illustrators like Arthur Rackham and others like Aubrey Beardsley and more recently Edward Gorey. Black and white ink illustrations in particular have always appealed to me, as has the sinister so I expect I have absorbed a little of their influence into my current working style. I certainly hope so!

Do you have a favourite among your previous illustrative projects? Would you tell us something of the creative process involved in bringing the images to light?

 My favourites change all the time, but I am still very attached to a detailed illustration from last year titled ‘Downtown’

It started off like so many drawings as a few scribbles on the page, I could see a cityscape of sorts in my head… I often write lists of words and ideas to include in a piece, little descriptions like ‘Dark alleys’ and ‘Iron Bridges’ just as little word pictures, alongside thumbnails which I find very helpful.

1 The Rough idea is drawn

From here it gets its structure and is drawn out. If I’m going to be working in colour I usually stretch some paper at this point before transferring the idea to it.

I work up the details in pencil…

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21. I Love My E-Reader!

Last year on Mother’s Day the kids got me an e-reader. Unfortunately, it took me until a few weeks ago to get through the pile of print books I’d already purchased so I could try it out. Funny, how my reading list can get ahead of me! In the meantime, I’d started teaching a course [...]

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22. Are Non-Interactive Books Are Going to Be the Black & White Movies of the Future?

When we talk about e-books, we mainly think of them as rough, imperfect translations of a paper book. The illustrations within a paper book go straight into the e-book, and while interactive e-books exist and offer some intriguing potential, they haven't yet gone mainstream.

There was another time in another medium where there was a new innovation that afforded new possibilities, and that was color coming to movies. It was initially an expensive novelty, but even after it grew more affordable, "serious" movies were mainly still in black and white. People still associated black and white with newspapers and newsreels, and it lent a more "realistic" look. It wasn't until decades after the introduction of color that it became truly mainstream.

Now it's black and white that's the novelty. It's a nostalgic throwback. And sure, many of us love old movies, but it would have seemed strange if James Cameron had tried to make Avatar in black and white.

There is a world of possibilities afforded by the format of e-books on tablets. Books could be colorful, interactive, three dimensional. Imagine the ease of a hyperlinked choose your own adventure novel (no more having every finger stuck in the page) or instructional videos within a cookbook. A lot of this already exists on tablets. Who knows what's next? What about a book that interacts with your TV to cast spells? Oh yeah, that exists now too.

Right now these are novelties, tablet adoption hasn't yet gone truly mainstream, and we might even feel they cheapen the experience or transform it into something other than a book. But will there be a Gone With the Wind or Wizard of Oz that pioneers the new mold, goes mainstream, and shows people what is possible?

Can you envision a time when it will seem strange to kids that old books are just, well, black and white?

Art: Saint Hieronymus - Follower of Joos van Cleve

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23. Let&#8217;s talk about how/on what you read

On Facebook today, I’ve started a poll that anyone is welcome to answer. Let me know: do you prefer e-books to print books or vice versa? Both, depending on the circumstances? Or do you forget e-books entirely and go for audio instead of e-books? Check it out and weigh in!

And if you aren’t on FB, feel free to weigh in here in the comments!

Originally published at Stacy Whitman's Grimoire. You can comment here or there.

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24. What Did We Learn Today?

I spent a chunk of today researching book trailers with Darcy Pattinson's The Book Trailer Manual. I own this on Kindle. I like to mark up my nonfiction books while reading them, so I learned how to highlight and make notes on Kindle. While I was at it, I learned how to make collections so I could organize some of the e-books I now own.

I feel as if I've accomplished something, but it was also quite painless. Those two experiences don't usually come together, I've found.

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25. Wow of a launch results in 3 titles in reprint already!

Andrea has gotten it spectacularly right! The CEO of Tell Me a Story launched 10 new titles on 30th June, this year. I was privileged to be guest speaker at an event that had even seasoned politicians, Ian Rickuss, MP Lockyer, and Steve Jones, Mayor, Lockyer Valley Regional Council,  commenting on attendance numbers!

Assembled authors, illustrators and guest panelists with Andrea Kwast

Muza Ulasowski [Panelist] and Guest Speaker, J.R.Poulter

The audience was rapt. I have seldom been at a publishing event where everyone’s eyes shone! Andrea has the  devoted support of her very wide community of readers and growing. She also has the  good fortune to have a very devoted group of assistants in administrator, Rel, and local photographer and budding author herself, Jenni Smith.

Research and innovation, preparedness to think out of the box, are hallmarks of Andrea and her team. She believes stories are lurking everywhere and it just takes the right determination, editing and dedication to bring them out. That she is succeeding over and above expetaction is more than demonstrated by the sellout and reprint, within the first few weeks since the launch, of no fewer than 3 titles!

Hearty Congratulations Andrea and Team and to all her authors – keep writing!

Click to view slideshow.
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