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1. In Favor of Editors


My book club chose our latest novel because: (1) the author is an acquaintance of one of our members and (2) the Amazon rating is 4.5 stars, based on about 150 reviews.

While the book was fast-paced and the character development was wonderful, the plot had a few gaping holes, which really bothered us.  Several unanswered questions and less-than-believable twists in the plot left me wondering, “Who published this?”

Aha...  Self-published.

This is the author’s fourth novel, but the first that is self-published.  Others were handled by the small imprint of a major house.

It may change, but self-publishing still carries an arguably justified stigma of questionable quality.  On average, traditional publishing has set high standards through their editorial review and input.  Selecting work that upholds those standards is a major part of publisher’s added value in the book industry.  While still enjoyable, the novel my book club read could have been much better with the input of a truly critical and constructive reader, a start-to-finish professional editor.  (How the Amazon rating reached 4.5/5, I’m not sure… a combination of loyal fans, friends, and less discerning readers?)

While I don’t know why this particular book went the self-publishing route, self-publishing is becoming more tempting and more common. The pay structure seems better (authors can collect 70% of sales vs. 25% of digital sales or 7 to 12% of list price) and authors have more control.  

Well-known authors and even literary agencies are turning to it.  The NY Times recently ran a front-page article:  Authors Turn to A New Publisher They Trust: Themselves (April 17, 2013).  As a service to its authors, ICM Partners has announced that it will ‘self-publish’ some of its clients, including best-selling author David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross), who says it’s because “nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”

Is self-publishing heading towards 'agent-publishing'?  Many agents are former editors. They may attempt to fill the mid-market space with a higher average. Whether they can successfully distribute and sell books, or make authors ‘discoverable’ remains to be seen.  (Using Pulitzer-prize winning authors helps.)

Not one member of my group realized our selection was self-published.  This points to a challenge for publishing houses:  how to use their brand name to appeal to readers.   Like Ferragamo shoes, or Ruth’s Chris steakhouse, in an increasingly crowded marketplace, buyers yearn for a mark of quality.  Think Community College vs. Harvard; Uncle Vinny's Deli vs. Nobu.  Coming soon:  big cover logos on books from big publishers. 

If publishing companies rise to the challenge, maybe next time my book club will ask "Who published it?" before selecting the next book to read.  

5 Comments on In Favor of Editors, last added: 5/8/2013
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2. Giraffe Limbo

I tossed my ‘giraffe’ in the air…the rhyming manuscript about which I was so excited went off, exclusively, to two carefully chosen editors.

A month or two later, I had heard nothing; I assumed nothing.

As happens in this industry, it turns out that editor number one, for whom I had high hopes, left the publisher two weeks after I emailed her.  Editor number two has sent no reply.  Nearly three months have passed since I submitted.

I need to follow up so that I can forward the manuscript to other editors. How should this be handled? While I am out of luck with editor number one, is it as if the manuscript dissolved in cyberspace? Or do I have a responsibility to follow up with that publisher?  Editors move frequently.  What is the standard practice with manuscripts left unresolved upon that editor's departure?

With editor number two, I have a picayune protocol question: since I submitted by snail mail (as required) must I also follow-up by snail mail? Or can I shoot an email?

Rejection protocol. I know many of you have been through this before. Thanks in advance for your advice.

8 Comments on Giraffe Limbo, last added: 11/11/2012
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3. The Possibilities of Digital Publishing



Over the months and years, we've talked a lot about the move toward e-books and digital publishing. But this recent interview with David Levithan published in Digital Book World is an eye-opener. I'm a huge David Levithan fan -- a fan of both his writing and editing. And in reading this article and understanding that he is also on the cutting edge of digital publishing and what it means to the middle grade and YA marketplace -- well, I just wonder if this guy ever sleeps! So please take a moment to read this article. It may open your eyes to some interesting publishing possibilites.

0 Comments on The Possibilities of Digital Publishing as of 9/1/2012 5:51:00 PM
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4. Fifty Shades of Fan Fiction

Last week, my mother and sister arrived for their annual spring visit. I no sooner picked them up from the airport than my mother began to talk about a book she'd seen on Good Morning America - Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Apparently mommies all over are devouring this book, some even forgetting to pick up their kiddies from school or daycare! And a certain passage, the beginning of chapter fourteen to be exact, made GMA's weather anchor, Sam Champion, blush.

Okay, sign me up!

Not too far into it...something seemed eerily familiar.

I knew nothing about this book before my family's arrival but after Googling it found that a)it's a trilogy b) it's erotica (now I'm blushing) c) it was born out of Twilight fan fiction.

Um, about that last bit...

If you don't know the story, here's an informative AP article, but the elevator pitch is this: E.L. James wrote a racy, fan fiction novel Master of the Universe based on the characters in Twilight, and now has a seven figure deal with Vintage Books. The characters are older, and the situations extremely adult, but there are similar themes. The first book, Fifty Shades of Grey is currently number one on the NYT Combined Print and E-book Fiction Bestseller List. The second book in the trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker, is number two.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

I'm not trying to discredit E.L. James because writing, in and of itself, is damn hard work. Putting one sentence after the other to create and shape a story takes hours...months...years. She found an audience, a niche for herself. These books had a built in following on a fan fiction site before they were published. So, Brava!

On the other hand, as I struggle - and I know I'm not alone - to create fresh characters, interesting premises and wrap it all up in a marketable package, I feel a bit disheartened. I want to believe that all my hard work will pay off someday soon, but news like this makes the saying "it's all just a crap shoot" that much more real.

Thoughts? Does E.L. James success give you hope for all of us? Or does it make you just scratch your head and think WTF?

6 Comments on Fifty Shades of Fan Fiction, last added: 3/22/2012
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5. Mostly Good News

Writing conferences stimulate my creativity, so I try get to at least one every year. But in recent years, market reviews were so discouraging -- fewer publishers acquiring fewer books for fewer bookstores -- I left wondering about my choice of profession.

The SCBWI Winter Conference in January was different. The air bubbled with fresh optimism and renewed enthusiasm (amid familiar cautions, of course).

GOOD NEWS

  • The children’s market is ‘very robust’ (Ken Wright, Agent, Writers House). Kids are still reading real books (Chris Richman, Agent, Upstart Crow Literary).
  • Imprints for YA have increased in the last three years (Regina Brooks, Founder and President, Serendipity Litereary Agency, LLC)
  • MG is the new YA (Regina Brooks) with rising popularity and market potential. YA and MG will continue to grow.
  • Picture Books are ‘alive and well’ (Nancy Paulsen, Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin). Digital books, so far, seem to be an incremental purchase rather than a cannibalistic one. Parents like a book which is already on their bookshelf, and buy a digital copy for travel purposes.
  • Non-fiction is underestimated (Ken Wright). National Geographic and Discover are doing more, and make NF commercial enough for Barnes & Noble. A number of NF titles have appeared in the National Book Award lists.

  TRENDS

  • The Best Seller Mentality: traditional publisher’s lists are narrower and more focused. They want the books they publish to do very well, theoretically translating to more support for those titles and authors. 
  • Differences between genres will blur as writers seek new and fresh material. (Ginger Knowlton, Agent, Curtis Brown LTD) 

 WORRIES 

  • Amazon: Is it a big bully? ‘Discoverability’ is a problem here. 
  • Transmedia: How will digital evolution continue to change and impact books? Again, ‘discoverability’ can be difficult in the digital world. New devices generate a need for new content, but beware smaller margins and fierce competition. As kids inherit digital devices from their parents, what effect will this have? 
  • Continued consolidation of the traditional bookstore. Where will it end? 

The landscape is becoming more defined, and more certainty enables the market to move forward. Publishers have mostly stopped merging and wringing their hands. E-books, digital devices and self-publishing are part of the future, but are now more tangible and predictable. 

Personally, I write MG fiction (as well as PBs), so I was pleased to hear MG is ‘the new YA’, and note that many editors list it as one of their needs. Now I have to use my conference-inspired enthusiasm to follow up with those agents and editors who said it. 

What’s your feel about the children’s market?  Do you agree or disagree?  Any good news to share?

2 Comments on Mostly Good News, last added: 2/27/2012
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6. The New Amazon Market


Amazon is publishing 122 books (electronic and print) this fall, and 'aggressively wooing' some top authors, reports The New York Times. The New Republic says “writers should embrace Amazon’s takeover of the publishing industry.”

While playing down Amazon’s market power in its newly assumed role as publisher in addition to retailer, one Amazon executive noted that “the only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and the reader.” And Amazon?

Amazon Publishing is a new market opportunity for writers, and can be seen as a force for necessary change in the industry. Amazon’s willingness to share the Nielsen Bookscan sales data with authors has other publishers following suit.

On the other hand, concerns have arisen: will Amazon Publishing add editorial value or will it be a glorified vanity publisher, loosing an avalanche of slush pile dross? What about those ‘unnecessary’ people like agents and editors? What of books from traditional publishers sold through Amazon: could they be quietly buried on the site if they compete with Amazon's own titles?

To manage it’s group of six imprints Amazon has hired ‘well-regarded’ professionals including former agent and former CEO of Time Warner Book Group, Laurence Kirshbaum, and Ed Park, author of the ‘acclaimed novel’ Personal Days, and previously editor of The Believer and The Village Voice.

Several well-known authors are signing on, including self-help author Tim Ferriss and reportedly, actress and director Penny Marshall. Businessweek notes that thriller writer Barry Eisler, who turned down a $500,000 two-book deal with a traditional publisher earlier this year, later signed with Amazon. Eisler was swayed, at least in part, by Amazon’s ability to publish an e-book version and a paperback within a matter of days, both at cheaper prices than the traditional house’s practice of charging print prices for e-books. “What I care about is readers, because without readers I can’t make a living… If I can find a way to get readers books that cost less and are delivered better and faster, I want that.”

Sounds good, but what about less recognized authors? Will worthy authors, and in turn readers, get lost in a wave of low quality text? Will Amazon ensure the same credibility as traditional publishing houses?

What effect will Amazon's increasing dominance have on our industry?


6 Comments on The New Amazon Market, last added: 10/27/2011
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7. Keeping the Faith

As I sit here on the second day of the New Year, I'm trying to think of something inspiring to say. I'm one of those people who don't watch the news unless forced. If something is really important for me to know, somehow, someone will tell me. I suppose I'd have to be living on a desert island with a coconut shell radio not to know the state of the economy and how it affects us all on many levels. And if I thought getting published was a pipe dream before, well, change that to a snowball's chance in hell these days.

This has been my quandary from the beginning. What am I writing for? Writing definitely feeds my soul and my need for personal expression. It's my hope that my stories can take a reader away from their life for awhile. To get lost in the drama and romance and connect with characters that maybe they too can identify with. It would also be cool to make someone laugh or smile, as one of my favorite things in life is a book that makes me laugh out loud (in the good way of course, not in the "this is pure drivel" way). When I'm in the zone and writing, all of this is on my mind. It's not about getting my name on the spine of a book. But when the dust settles, the line editing is done and I'm sitting in front of something I've poured a ton of my prana into...well, what am I supposed to hope for?

Instead of making lofty resolutions I'll be beating myself up over a month from now; my hope this year is to learn to love the process. The good, the bad, the rejections. All I can do is show up on the page, write, polish, dig deeper, and polish some more before sending it out there into the world. The rest is not up to me and no matter how much dark chocolate I swallow, I simply can't control the outcome.

What are you doing to keep the faith in these dreary times?

6 Comments on Keeping the Faith, last added: 1/4/2009
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8. Defining Edgy

If you've been to a writer's conference in the last ten years, odds are you've heard the word "edgy" used to describe the type of manuscripts editors are seeking. I've also heard "fresh voice" and "characters that leap off the page" but those qualities I can understand. It's that edgy word that leaves me feeling just a bit, for lack of a better word, edgy.

Pressed further, some editors can't really define the quality. They just know it when they read it. And I guess I can understand that too, but as a writer it's frustrating to want to emulate that indefinable something that will make your manuscript stand out. So, in my quest to understand edginess better, I looked the darn word up.

There are three definitions of edgy at Merriam-Webster.com, for my purpose, #3 hits the mark.

Edgy: Having a bold, provocative or unconventional quality.

That's a definition I can wrap my mind around. yet it brings more questions. What exactly makes a book edgy? Voice? Plot? In your face realism? I Googled "Edgy YA Fiction" and was lead to the website of the CBCC. (Cooperative Children's Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison) I picked two books from their edgy YA list that I was familiar with to do an "edgy" breakdown and comparison.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I suppose this would be considered "old school" edgy. I read this book in freshman lit and was instantly pulled in because it spoke to me. Not with flowery language, or obscure symbolism, but to ME, a teenager. The boys in The Outsiders were not well behaved. They drank, they smoked and they got into lots of fights. And while there were no "Greasers" or "Socs" in my school years, I could easily identify with the introspective Ponyboy and his plight of wanting to be accepted in society.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I was a bit out of my teen years when I read this book, but from page one felt transported back to high school and all its dramas. Again, the story spoke to ME or my inner teen, with the need of wanting to fit in. Melinda Sordino did not sugarcoat the reality she was living through. It was harsh but often humorous and ultimately real. Speak was also a book that was most often cited at conferences I've attended as an example of "edgy".

What both books have in common is a first person, no holds barred, "here's my naked reality" quality to them. Both also contain bleak subject matter and dark crisis points. And both don't have "big red bow" endings but do leave the reader with the hope and understanding that the protagonist does indeed triumph. They each easily fit the definition as having a "bold, provocative or unconventional" quality. But does this help me in my quest to understand edginess? Maybe a little.

I don't think there can be an ultimate "edgy" checklist, nor do I think edginess is a quality a writer can strive to attain. Not all edgy books will be told in first person (Unwind by Neal Shusterman...so edgy I cut my fingers while turning the pages). On the other hand, many, if not all, edgy books I've read have at their heart some very grim subject matter. But does a book need to contain dark subject matter to be edgy? I guess, what is comes down to, is that you know "edginess" when you read it.

So how would you define edgy?

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9. Mission Submission

Pearls Before Swine By Stephan Pastis









For the past few months, I rewrote, revised, puttered with and polished my middle grade manuscript. My core query is tightly written and ready for agent-specific info. I researched a targeted agent list and I am putting finishing touches to each query. My synopsis is is a 500-word wonder. Will I let the worst possible time of the year during the worst possible economy stop me from hitting send?

Heck no. For me, it's the right time.

If I wasn't ready before, I had an aha moment at our last critique group meeting. We discussed how editors and agents must view "prepublished" writers. How they must see two-thirds of conference attendees as never-to-be-published, with one-third holding publishing possibilities. And how the same work of fiction is viewed oh-so-differently once it's fully justified and between the covers, rather than printed flush-left on 8-1/2" x 11" copy stock.

Enough of this, I thought. Hit send, and send, and send again, until I find a match.

Agents do sign first-time writers and editors do acquire that work. They do get excited by manuscripts they find in the slush. (Or as Edward Necarsulmer IV at MacIntosh & Otis calls it -- the Discovery Pile. I love that.)

So, I'm spending my summer vacation on the agent prowl. Anybody care to join me? And has anyone out there been discovered in the slush? Care to share your story?

9 Comments on Mission Submission, last added: 6/24/2009
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10. Thank You Jon Scieszka!


Today is Jon Scieszka's last day as our first ever National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. How incredible that such a position exists. And how incredible that they chose Jon Scieszka, the absolute perfect man for the job!

When I sat down to write this post, I went to Jon Scieszka's website to see a list of his many books. I was amazed to see how many of them I had experienced personally:

For me, first there was MATH CURSE. What a wonderfully funny math book! I used to have my third graders solve some of these very silly problems as a very motivating math lesson.

Then there was the TIME WARP TRIO series. These chapter books are hilarious! And so motivating for the reluctant readers I worked with in my private practice!

And then there was TRUCKTOWN. Oh how my three-year-old loves TRUCKTOWN! He loves all the characters, was thrilled when a book in this series came in our Cheerios box and chose to give his cousin two books from the series as his Chanukah present.

On top of all that, I found some books that I loved personally. Knowing my love for children's literature and writing, our local librarian recommended I read Scieszka's memoir, KNUCKLEHEAD: TALL TALES AND ALMOST TRUE STORIES OF GROWING UP SCIESZKA. Such fun! Read it if you can!

And the other day I found Scieszka's awesome introduction to the world of modern art, SEEN ART?. My kids are still way too young for it, but I couldn't resist getting a copy for the future (and for me to enjoy write now!).

Sorry if I've rambled into lots of mini book blurbs here, but I haven't covered half of Jon Scieszka's books. And his influence has gone far beyond the books he has written. It has extended into his efforts to motivate boys to read with his wonderful website, "Guys Read" and, of course, all his amazing efforts to connect kids and books during his year as ambassador.

Wow! Talk about inspiring! Talk about making a difference as a children's writer!

Thank you Jon Scieszka!

7 Comments on Thank You Jon Scieszka!, last added: 1/8/2010
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11. Mix This!


It seems “mixing” is the new word for plagiarism. Last month, the media had a field day when the news broke that Helene Hegemann, the 17-year-old “wunderkind” German author of the best-selling debut novel, Axolotl Roadkill, had lifted entire pages from some lesser-known writer’s blog and book.

Hegemann said she didn’t do anything wrong, she was just “mixing.” As one of her very own characters in her book asked, “Who cares where I get things from? All that matters is what I do with them.” (By the way, I got this quote from a magazine article, not from actually reading the book, if anyone cares.)

I must say I admire Hegemann’s chutzpah. I mean, it takes guts to seize someone else’s words and lay claim to them as your own. It’s kind of like literary eminent domain.

I, on the other hand, stink at mixology. I can’t even lift an adjective from another author’s book without feeling guilty. Once, when I was struggling to describe a futuristic computer in my WIP, I happened upon the perfect compound adjective in one of Eoin Colfer’s books, so I stuck it in my manuscript. But every time I reread the words “wafer-thin computer” in my own work, it dogged me. I still thought the description was perfect, but it never felt like mine, so I took it out.

In the grand scheme of mixing, it was a minor infraction. It’s not like I’d inserted, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Who would have even noticed? And even if anyone had, would it have really mattered?

I mean, maybe mixing’s not such a big deal. Let’s face it, plenty of people do it. Musicians and DJ’s remix music all the time. In literature, scenes are stolen and plots are lifted. “Thinly veiled” is nothing new. When I was a magazine editrix, the joke at planning meetings was that we’d create an upcoming issue by throwing an old issue down the stairs, shuffling the pages back together, and sticking on a new cover. (No, we never really did it; not consciously, anyway.)

As Hegemann said, “there is no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” (I lifted that quote from the NYTimes, by the way. On the other hand, since I’m revealing my source, it’s not really “lifting,” is it?)

So tell me, dear readers, what do you think about mixing? Have you ever done it in your own WIPs? How much mixing is too much? As for Hegemann, should the first edition of her book have been recalled? (In the second edition, she finally credited her source, under duress, I’d guess.) Should she pay the poor remixed blogger/author a percentage of royalties? Or, in this cut-and-paste age, is anything fair game for mixing?

Including, perhaps, this blog post.

11 Comments on Mix This!, last added: 3/15/2010
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12. What's in a Name?

Someone I know from VCFA is about to have her second book published. (She gave me her permission to blog about this as long as names were omitted). Her first book, which I loved, is a YA with a male protagonist. This second is a middle grade, again, with a male protagonist. The publisher/sales department of the second book (different from the first) asked if she would consider using her initials instead of her full name on the cover for marketing reason. They assumed/thought/suspected that "impulse" buyers would be more inclined to pick up a book about a boy if the gender of the author were not blatantly female.

My gut reaction was "Heck, yeah!" But when you stop and think about this, the ramifications are huge.

So, was the publisher thinking that boys won't read books written by women? Or that girls won't read books written by men? I think someone needs to stop and explain that boys are certainly reading books by Kathryn Lasky, Lowis Lowry, and Cornelia Funke. And girls are certainly reading books by Rick Riordan and Eoin Colfer. (But, oh, never mind, we shouldn't worry about girls because girls read everything . . .?) And are they assuming that young male readers or "impulse" buyers can't figure out that sometimes "J.K." is code for - "I'm really a woman, but am using my initials so you boy readers out there don't know it"? And what does it say about female writers - that we should hide our identity? That we should encourage boys to only read books they suspect are written by men? And what should a writer do - Stand on their ego and refuse to change at the risk of not selling as many books? Or be a team player despite the ugliness of the situation and the idea of it making their guts roil?

Personally, I still think I would use my initials if asked, or write under my middle and maiden names, which sound fairly androgynous. (With a last name like mine, it would be pretty hard to think if I suddenly started using M.B.T. Wiviott instead of Meg Wiviott that someone wouldn't it figure out). I think it's a personal decision. Some people just like their initials! And other's don't.

I could go on, but I won't. I'd like to hear from you all. What do you think? I'd especially like to hear from people who write under their initials? (J.A. and J.L.???) Why do you choose to use your initials?

Oh, yeah, and my friend . . . she's going with her full name and her editor backed her up 100%.

11 Comments on What's in a Name?, last added: 9/27/2010
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13. The Paper Whip

A couple of days ago my son plopped the latest version of the Kindle on the kitchen counter. "Take a look," he said. "I'm reading "Siddartha" in German, and when it drags on too much, I toggle over to English. Feel how lightweight it is. And no back light. It looks almost like paper."

I was impressed. Easy to use. Lightweight and transportable. Great for reading in bed.

My son is like me. He gets shaky if he doesn't have a novel going. I'm happy with a tattered paperback; he was a hard cover addict. It took him two years to go electronic, even though he works with computers for a living.

I'd just finished an article in the Wall Street Journal on the decrease in payouts for authors due to the Kindle and its competitors. Like so many, I see doom in the distance; paper books will be tomorrow's buggy whips. Fewer writers will make it economically.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin, home of the Book of Kells. In the library's vaulted hall, 200,000 books stand on the shelves like sculpture. One wanted to climb up and examine each one. Images of the many hands that have fondled these covers sprang to mind. Later, we visited a private library that held queen Elizabeth the First's Irish grammar book (She actually tried to learn the language, at least enough to say, "Let's converse in Latin.") Imagine touching that book!

By the time I publish, if ever, the paper page may be relegated to the antiquities department. Like this blog, everything I write will reside somewhere in cyberspace, only available to someone with a Kindle. Now I treasure even more the picture I mentioned in my last blog installment, of children sitting cross legged on the store floor, immersed in a picture book. Like the buggy whip, will that too be a thing of the past?

7 Comments on The Paper Whip, last added: 10/6/2010
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14. History-Making Duo


Newbery Award: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. (See previous post by J.L.)

Caldecott Award: A Sick Day for Amos McGee, illustrated by Erin Stead. Philip Stead, author.

These 2011 awards, taken together, make medal history. Why?

The Newbery has been won by a first-time author AND the Caldecott has been won by a first-time illustrator. Has never happened before.

In addition, since Erin Stead is 28 years old, she beats Robert McCloskey (by a few months) as the youngest artist to win the Caldecott.

When her world settles down, Erin Stead promises more posts about her award. For now, it's fun browsing Erin's blog to get a sense of her life in Ann Arbor, MI. with author/illustrator husband, Philip. What a talented couple!

Don't you wonder how it would feel to hit the top of your profession on the first try? Would you worry about your long term career?

3 Comments on History-Making Duo, last added: 1/19/2011
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15. There's an App for That


Recently, we've talked a lot about the emerging digital market and how it will affect writers. But a recent GalleyCat post took a different point of view. 27,000 Horrible Kids’ Apps & Other Digital Book World Dispatches laments the overwhelming number off children's books apps that are --as Rukus Media CEO Rick Richter says, "horrible."

Now we've all seen good and bad self-published books. More bad than good, in all honesty. But published books still far outnumber self-published books and published books are far more available to every reader.

But it is highly possible that in this technology rush there are far more self-published apps than apps from traditional publishers, or newly launched, legitimate, digital publishers. As GalleyCat asks, who will curate the App space?

Who is ready to develop an app for that?

6 Comments on There's an App for That, last added: 2/4/2011
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