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The regular musings of Carolrhoda editorial director Andrew Karre and guests.
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1. Meet Alix Reid! [Part 2]

Alix Reid, the new editorial director of Carolrhoda Books and Carolrhoda Lab, is back on the blog to answer more questions, this time talking about her favorite books, hobbies, and what she'd be if she wasn't an editor. (In case you missed it, you can find the first round of Q&A here.)

1. What were your favorite books as a kid? What are some favorite books you’ve read recently?

I was (and still am) an avid re-reader and some of the books that I read over and over again as a kid included Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeliene L’Engle, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, Homecoming by Cynthia Voight, and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aitken. And, of course, the Anne of Green Gables and Little House books.

I have so many recent favorites! Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Clariel by Garth Nix, The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness (I came late to this amazing series), The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal, and Ricky Yancy’s Monstrumologist series. My favorite adult book right now is Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. As I’ve grown older, as might be clear from this list, I’ve been gravitating toward science fiction and fantasy.

2. Say you’re trapped on a desert island—what 5 books would you want with you?

I’ve never read The Inferno, though I’ve started it about fifteen times, so this would be a great opportunity to finally settle down with it. Jane Eyre would definitely be on my list; I read it about once a year. Maybe the Complete Oxford English Dictionary; that probably sounds pretentious, but in graduate school I studied Anglo-Saxon and Italian, as well as Chaucer, and I love seeing how languages evolve over time and cross over into each other. I think I’d have to put Cynthia Voight’s Homecoming on the list, because it is one of the most beautiful and satisfying books of all time. For my last book, I might pick The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, but I’m not entirely sure about that.

3. Tell us about Chicago. What draws you to the city?

I never thought I’d leave Manhattan, where I grew up, but when my husband got a job in Chicago he couldn’t turn down, and we were in the process of adopting our wonderful daughter, it was an opportunity we had to take. I love the friendliness of the city—strangers actually say hello to each other, which took some getting used to. The lake is beautiful, and the sculptures and architecture are breathtaking. Although we live in Oak Park now (home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio and replete with original Wright houses), we love going into the city to visit the museums and try out the many new restaurants.

4. If you weren’t an editor, you’d be a…

When I went to graduate school, I was planning to become a professor of English literature. I did teach some graduate level courses in creative writing and the history of publishing, but found I really didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I’d expected. However, I’ve been working one-on-one with second graders in my daughter’s class, helping them write stories and edit them, so I could see tutoring children as an alternative career. But I love being an editor, so it’s hard to imagine doing anything else!

5. Speaking of things other than editing, what are your hobbies?

Spending time with my daughter and husband, of course. I also have a big, energetic golden retriever who loves long walks. I enjoy knitting scarves, although I’m running out of people to give them to, and I’ve recently started doing barre classes. And I like to obsess about the Game of Thrones TV series.

Hoss, Alix's golden retriever: "He's a goofball."

Thanks, Alix!

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2. Meet Alix Reid! [Part 1]

We'd like to introduce the new Carolrhoda Books and Carolrhoda Lab editorial director, Alix Reid! She officially started last week and was kind enough to agree to answer some questions for us. We're posting part 1 (about her editing experience and background) today; part two (about her favorite books, hobbies, and life in Chicago) will go up next week.

1.      First, give us a bio!

From the moment I could read, I always had my head in a book, and imagined I would be the next E. B. White or E. L. Konigsburg. But after earning an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Williams College, I started working as a children’s book editor at Harper & Row (now HarperCollins) and realized this was my true calling. I began my career as an editorial assistant, and during fourteen years at Harper worked my way up to become editorial director and vice president. I’ve also earned graduate degrees from Michigan and Harvard, and worked as a freelance children’s book editor while raising my daughter in Chicago.

2.      How did you get into editing?

After I graduated, I opened up the newspaper to look for a job in editing. There were dozens of jobs but my eye immediately gravitated to the editorial assistant job at Harper. Through my late teens and twenties, my secret passion was to read middle grade and young adult novels, and I couldn’t believe there was actually a job where I could edit these books! I thought I bombed the interview—I was so nervous I had to take the typing test twice—but I must have done something right, since I was offered the job the next day. I started working first for the legendary Marilyn Kriney, and then for Kate Morgan Jackson, who has been the editor-in-chief for over a decade.

3.      Name some notable books that you’ve edited.

My very first acquisition was Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted. I loved the novel from the first, and remember running into Kate’s office saying we had to acquire the book right away. It went on to win the Newbery Honor and remains one of my favorite books of all time. I also edited Louise Rennison’s hilarious Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging series about the irrepressible Georgia Nicolson; the first book in the series won a Michael Printz Honor Award. That said, there are so many books I worked on that hold a special place in my heart: Julianna Baggott’s The Anybodies (written under the name N. E. Bode), Cynthia Rylant’s God Went to Beauty School, and A. M. Jenkins’s Out of Order and Damage. What I love about all the books I’ve edited is not only that they’re wonderfully written, but that they feel fresh and different, and have something important to say to their audience.

4.      What have been some of your favorite projects?

During my tenure at HarperCollins, I took on the role of director of foreign acquisitions. This meant I got to read the wonderful books being published in the UK (and elsewhere, but mostly the UK) and introduce them to a US audience. It was so exciting to meet my UK counterparts and I’m particularly proud of having acquired the Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng and The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver.

5.      What else would you like Carolrhoda Books and Carolrhoda Lab readers to know?

One of the things I’m so excited about in joining the Carolrhoda team is their commitment to publishing only the best books. They keep their list small and no book is considered “mid-list.” Each author is nurtured not only by his or her editor, but also by the design team, the publicity and marketing team, our foreign rights director—essentially, the whole company helps publish each book. In addition, Carolrhoda Books and Carolrhoda Lab have embraced working with new authors and publishing books that break boundaries—no topic is off limits. This philosophy speaks deeply to me, and I look forward to growing the list and staying true to its mission.

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3. Hits the hard stuff; sees stars

My audience-versus-subject preposition obsession is well documented. “About not for 4eva,” and whatnot. So can you see why The Bunker Diary reviews fill me with such perverse delight?

“The Bunker Diary: why wish this book on a child?

“The winner of this year’s Carnegie Medal for an outstanding book for children is a vile and dangerous story. Kevin Brooks’s book contains heroin addiction, attempted rape, torture and murder[…]

“As Brooks revealed in his acceptance speech, he fought for 10 years to get this novel into print, and was repeatedly told that it wouldn’t work for children unless he changed the plot to allow for the possibility of hope. He won the day and, as it stands, his novel is a uniquely sickening read.”

The Telegraph

“Brooks’ latest is not an easy novel, but it’s one that begs for rereading to suss the intricacies of its construction of plot, character development and insight into the human condition.

“Not for everyone, this heady novel is worthy of study alongside existentialist works of the 20th century.”

—starred, Kirkus

It's not a title for everyone: some may be unsettled by the harsh realities the protagonist faces, while others will be fascinated by the simple complexity of Brooks's prose and truly effective storytelling. A unique choice that will get teens talking."

—starred, School Library Journal

"When this latest book from controversy-stirrer Brooks won the 2014 Carnegie Medal in the UK, up piped a familiar chorus of damnation from the frequently scandalized. It was too bleak, too dark, not for kids. The naysayers almost got it right: it is, rather,for everyone, playing just as well as can't-stop-reading entertainment as it does an allegorical passage into darkness.”

—starred, Booklist

Delightful. Just delightful. Keep ‘em coming. (Gratuitous Merle GIF for Carrie. Mr. Kraus of Booklist is welcome over for a drink anytime.)

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4. A chain of events

So I got this email a couple years ago.


And I followed Tess’s advice, and I bought the  manuscript, and Kate worked like crazy on it.

And for a while I thought this guy:

Was as imaginary as this guy:

Kate straightened me out eventually, and she still liked me enough that she told me about this stuff:

Which tastes way better than it photographs.

Eventually, we published this last spring:

And it went pretty well (⋆⋆⋆⋆, etc.).

And then today this happened.

Good year, eh?

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5. Down from their towers

First, Margaret Willey has a tremendously interesting and very honest essay on L’Engle’s Camilla and the long history of YA girls at the Horn Book website right now, and you should read it. It’s a window into why she is a joy to edit and publish.

I remember a long-ago conversation with my sister while we were still young women, and before I had written a novel of adolescence. We swore that we would not forget, if and when we had our own daughters, the power of first love. And I did not so much forget it as I was uneasy writing about it — the mother in me perhaps. I did not want to encourage my readers to enter that place of obsession and treachery and, yes, sometimes ecstasy, without having a clear way out. And I did not know yet, as a writer and an adult woman, how to faithfully re-create the misery and confusion of my own early sexual experiences. For these reasons, I was very well-suited for the phase of young adult literature that I came up in, an era of sensitive and articulate girl narrators who wanted romlengle camilla Girls in Towersantic connection without the complications of having sexual intercourse. In love with love, yes. Sexually curious, perhaps. But sexually active, never.

The whole thing is here.

Now, though, for extra credit, I’d like to poke and prod at the girls-in-towers premise. I don’t think every 1950s teenage girl was up in a tower, and I do think the tower itself is a mark of certain kind of privilege and class. And I think those 1950s tower/penthouse dwellers looked out their windows, not only at the familiar and tidy streets of their own neighborhoods but at the alleys of the distant, unknown neighborhoods as well.  Here, for example, young Humbert and Annabel look down from their tower enviously in Lolita:

All at once we were madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add, because that frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each other's soul and flesh; but there we were, unable even to mate as slum children would have so easily found an opportunity to do so.

Sexual desire, opportunity, and experience are functions not only of biology and age but of class and race and many other other social factors. I understands Margaret’s fondness for a thread one finds less and less in today’s YA tapestry:

I could comfortably celebrate the innocence of these trysts. I could create girls, and also boys, who were longing for a partner, something beyond friendship, certainly, but also with the understanding that they were not ready for sex and did not need it.

But at the same time, I would argue the preeminence of that thread of innocence in the YA of ages past was also a flaw in that it became a constraining orthodoxy. If the YA of today is capturing that truth of adolescence more fully than the YA of times past because that orthodoxy is no more, then something good is happening—just so long as adolescent sexual precociousness and skill don’t take their turn in crowding out other experiences. 

In so many words, I want to see it all.

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6. Let us now praise school visitors

G. Neri visits Krasnoufimsk, Russia

I get to work with many authors and illustrators who have school-visit schedules that would make your head spin. John Coy, Nancy Carlson, and Greg Neri to name only three Nancy Carlson takes input from students on what should be included in her doodle of her popular character Harriet. Harriet is based loosely on many of the experiences in Carlson’s own life. Carlson showed step by step the process she uses for drawing her favorite character.rack up more miles and passport stamps than I care to contemplate. I consider myself a good traveler and something of a road warrior where car trips are concerned, but I’ve seen school visit schedules that would make me cut up my driver’s license and let my passport expire. And as taxing as this work is, I think this travel is also one of the most important things authors and illustrators do today.

Don’t take my word for it though. John Coy has written with characteristic eloquence on the matter.

“Like any school visit, once I’ve agreed to come, teachers and librarians start preparing students. Because of those efforts, I never cancel and am reluctant to postpone. That’s true with winter driving in Minnesota, and it’s true with unforeseen situations at international schools.”

 Read his whole piece here.

Author John Coy speaks to West Carroll eighth-graders Thursday. Oct. 7, 2010, at West Carroll Middle School.

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7. Behold

The trilogy, completed.


The brilliant Laura Rinne designed each of these jackets, and she rose to the occasion each time John delivered a new manuscript. The Conformity will hit NetGalley soon, if you can’t stand the waiting.

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8. This is a call

I’m going to ask for something completely unfair.

Unless you attended opening night of this year’s Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conference at The Loft Literary Center, you probably haven’t seen the Czech film Who’s Afraid of the Wolf. The 2008 film was shown at The Loft thanks to a University of Minnesota professor’s connection to the filmmaker, I believe, and a lively panel discussion followed. Unfortunately, even with the magical Internet at our fingertips, I think the full-length movie is otherwise not very findable in the US.

Who’s Afraid of the Wolf is the story of a girl named Terezka and her parents, and it is striking for the stunningly authentic child’s perspective it conveys. Adult characters are portrayed with depth and good intentions and human flaws, yet for grownup viewers, the cinematography gives a peek back in time to how a kindergartener observes and interacts with her parents and others. Difficult conversations are heard from under the kitchen table or while pretending to focus on an activity across the room. Mom’s old acquaintance is a newcomer to Terezka’s family universe. Events and behaviors beyond a child’s scope of knowledge may as well be the work of aliens. Read a good summary here.

While the story is not limited to one perspective, it treats the child’s point of view with humbling respect and weight.

The trailer gives a decent idea:

Who is Afraid of the Wolf (international trailer) from Bionaut on Vimeo.

My inability to share the whole film with you is what makes this unfair: I’m looking for a picture book manuscript that wows me with similar authenticity. One in which the camera angle is from about three-and-a-half feet high. One that leaves my jaw hanging open at the voice or the way the narration transports me back into a six-year-old’s body. (Give or take a few years.) Especially, and critically, one that holds appeal for both children and the adults who may be reading with them, in the way this film is kid-friendly but no less engaging for adults.

A few notes that may or may not be relevant: I’m a linguist by training. The way the words fit together to paint a story is equally or more likely to woo me as/than any particular type of character, setting, or plot is. I generally don’t go for personified animals. We at Carolrhoda are more likely to publish picture books that are a bit offbeat and/or off the beaten path (think Infinity and Me). I’ll take dry humor and sharp wit any day over super-sweet or sentimental. I will never stop loving Winnie the Pooh.

Watch the trailer. Then send me submissions until October 31.

-Anna Cavallo (@eatreadwriterun)

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9. On adults reading YA

I had a prepared answer for this slide on today’s PW Webinar on YA. We never got to the question.


Indulge me.

I agree with one aspect all of these hand-wringing articles about adults reading YA have in common: I agree that reading time is precious and finite in a hectic world of boundless good writing.

Some adults may choose to spend their reading hours on anything but YA novels. Fair enough. Indeed, some adults may go farther and choose to spend a portion of their precious reading time writing about what they’re not reading in order to convince others not to read it either. Admirable self-sacrifice, that latter one.

However, as an adult reader myself, I make a different choice in my prioritization. I choose not to read vapid concern trolling about other people’s reading habits. I’ll get to The Goldfinch sooner that way.

To each his own, I guess.

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10. The past is never dead.

On page 21 of Fourth Down and Inches, author Carla Killough McClafferty quotes an entry from the private diary of the coach of the Harvard University football team. In that entry, the coach, who was the highest second-highest paid employee of the university, recounts minimizing a player's concussion to avoid a PR disaster: "Since football is being severely criticized just at present, a case of concussion on the brain would be very serious.” The year? 1905.

Nothing has changed.

“The normally well-oiled public relations machine at the University of Michigan has been clanking badly in the past four days as the Ann Arbor school deals with the fallout from football coach Brady Hoke's decision to play a concussed player.”

Well, not exactly nothing. Now the coaches are apparently worse at handling the PR and they get paid more than anyone at the university. (Brady Hoke gets $4.6 million.)

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11. “A clear and effective picture; vivid.”

Are the sex scenes graphic?

Carrie Mesrobian has written something very important. You should go and read it.

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12. We want diverse books

The Loft asked me for a blog post about diversity in kidlit:

“It’s so easy as an adult to fall into rigid and boring habits of mind about what young people “need” from us—as if all we had to offer was medicine—but a great thing about teaching a class for teens about fisticuffs and fornication is that conventional notions of what young people today “need” are pretty much out the window from the start. This was a class about wanting…”

The rest is at The Loft’s Writers’ Block blog.

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13. The Sex

 Edwin_Meese_publicity_shot (This is a picture of Attorney General Edwin Meese, who commissioned the Meese Report on Pornography. He’ll be keeping an eye on things, just so no one gets the giggles.)

I had the pleasure last week of teaching a class with Carrie Mesrobian at the Loft Literary Center. For three hours every day, we had the attentions of a dozen teenage writers. And what did we do with their attentions? We talked, read, and wrote about sex and violence. In essence, it was a class about crafting dramatic conflict and intense personal interaction. I cannot vouch for the students, but I can say it was an education for me.

This was not a focus group; I wasn’t there to discover what teens in general want to read. I tried to keep my primary engagement with them on the level of writer and editor. But I was keenly interested in listening to them talk and reading their writing, particularly about sex. I was interested in what things they perceived as clichés and as fertile, unplowed YA soil. Outside of increasingly unreliable memory, this was as good a window into experience as I was going to get. I tried hard not to blink and miss something. Here are seven things the class showed us that might be of interest to those who write about teenagers:

1. Girls masturbate, and the writers and readers in this class have noticed a distinct lack of same in YA fiction. A couple students talked about scenes they wished they could read (and will probably write) dialogue that connected the experience of masturbation with the experience of partnered sex. (More on this one later.)

2. Virginity is more a point on a life’s timeline than it is a character trait. To be a virgin is not necessarily to be virginal.

3. More mixed-race relationships. In the context of the class, I took this to mean they wanted to write and read about these relationships without having the mere existence of the relationship become the story.

4. They have a very sophisticated sense of the diversity of sexual orientations. Nobody thought the word “pansexual” was particularly novel or exotic. As people, these teenagers took their sexuality much less for granted than we generally imagine, and as writers they were vastly more interested in exploration than categorization. They’re impatient even with the non-diversity of our so-called diverse books when it comes to explorations and expressions of gender and sexuality.

5. Oral sex is a two way street. We asked the students to identify sexual clichés toward the beginning of the class, and then near the end we asked for the anti-clichés—the missed opportunities as they saw them. One student wrote “girls getting eaten out” three times on her anti-cliché list. Her general sentiment was not unique. This one was very interesting to me. Yes, reconsider the cunnilingus-to-fellatio ratio—duh—but I thought this comment also shined a light on how we adults so often write about teen sex—especially oral sex acts—symbolically. The no-strings-attached quickie blow-job can be a character development move in much of YA fiction. The girl who goes down on a guy but won’t have intercourse with him is a certain kind of person, etc. But what about depictions that aren’t concerned so much with what the act signifies as how the newly experienced desire feels to the character? Would the world come to an end if a YA novel captured a character discovering that she wanted to give a blow job? To capture this is to get ahold of something so much more personal and fleeting than the purely symbolic.

6. One girl said she preferred writing queer sex scenes because it felt like she was working in a room less crowded with other people, an analogy I will not soon shake. In general as writers and readers, the class often found depictions of queer sex more appealing because such depictions had to rely more on “data” (Carrie’s extremely useful word for sex scenes that actually have anatomic specifics) and less on cliché or coy euphemism or nudge-nudge wink-wink. Makes sense, right? To conjure a non-heterosexual sex act, a writer has to be specific about bodies if she has any hope of putting a specific picture in a reader’s head. Spreading petals and silk and exploding stars fading to black doesn’t get the job done.

7. While they’re not looking for things to be “left to the imagination,” they are similarly uninterested in the sexual simulacrum that is porn (at least they were uninterested as writers—they were teenagers with pulses so I imagine they might have been interested in porn in other capacities). The girl who wrote “girls getting eaten out” was not ignorant of the fact that she could find millions of hours of cunnilingus with a single Google search. She was after something else. They don’t want symbols, wish fulfillment, or pretend sex. The sexual weariness, frustration, and disappointment so common to literary fiction about adults are uninteresting and foreign to them. Several said they wanted to write and read sex scenes that include conversations about the sex, which, while possibly terrible as writing advice, is a fascinating observation. Teen sexuality is its own unique thing in the vast universe of human sexuality.

I'm beginning to think of sex in YA this way: the processes of discovering

  • the facts of any given sex act,
  • the desire to have it,
  • and then of the opportunity to have it

are not necessarily erotic or symbolic or easily recalled by an adult, but they are none the less distinct, absolutely fascinating, and true to the experience of being a teenager. And isn’t that the whole point of the genre?

One last observation. But first, it’s not an exaggeration to say that being allowed to listen to a group of teenagers who are serious readers and writers discuss sex, reading, and writing in an open and unashamed way for many hours is a privilege and implies a certain amount of trust and respect. I hope I am honoring that trust, and I want it to be clear when I recount this next student question that I’m doing so with the considerable respect it is due:

"Why would I want to put a dick in my mouth? Do adults even do that?" asked one young writer.

At the time, Carrie and I answered with glib, adult equivalents of “yes” on the latter inquiry, but after a week’s reflection, her questions are far more valuable to me than our answer was to her.

Teenagers have always existed in a weird chasm between childhood innocence and adult experience. And the progress they make across that chasm on the way to adulthood is uneven and sporadic. Desire outpaces understanding. Understanding lurches ahead of desire. You know that people put penises in their mouths—and a dozen other things completely incomprehensible to the last vestiges of your child-self—before your new self quite feels the desire to do it. Or you feel the desire for intense and unfamiliar intimacy but don't know how bodies—your body, another’s body—can quite satisfy it. Your mind surprises you. Your body surprises you. And on and on. The one thing of true value in all this chaos is honest, specific depictions.

“Yes, adults do that, but it’s not the same as what you might feel. No, I cannot really explain why you would want to do that or anything else, but trust me that if you do, you are not weird or a symbol of anything other than yourself. Though I cannot give you a reason, I can try as hard as I can to do justice to the process you will go through,” I wish I had answered.

If you as a writer take the specifics of adolescent sex—all of them—for granted, or let its symbolism be the primary force in the book, then you miss an opportunity to express something breathtakingly true about this thing that is being a teenager. And that would be a shame.

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14. Old magazines, experienced authors, and the long view

One of my favorite topics at author conferences--and one of the few things I feel qualified to advise authors on, really--is helping authors understand what their work is about over the span of a career, regardless of trends, audience, or any other externalities. IBeetle Boyf an author knows what she cares about and what her work adds to the larger, longer conversation, she'll always have something solid and safe to return to when it's time for a new book. Margaret Willey is among my favorite examples of an author with a clear vision of her career, and thus I'm so pleased with this The Horn Book review of her Beetle Boy, which, in typical fashion, puts its finger right on the matter:

"Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape through carefully timed flashbacks, showing how injuries (and small kindnesses) from the past inform future relationships. Relentlessly honest, and also hopeful."

"How injuries (and small kindnesses) from the past inform future relationships" is something I always find in Margaret's manuscripts.

The Fat GirlIt should be noted Horn Book is good at this long-term thematic awareness. Roger Sutton's review of Margaret's previous book with me made reference to her very first YA novel, published in 1983, when I was five. And seven years ago, I bought the rights to Marilyn Sachs' then-out-of-print The Fat Girl because Roger mentioned it in a blog post about (I believe) Chris Lynch's masterpiece Inexcusable. We sold many, many thousands of copies of that "old" book in its new edition (we changed nothing but the cover[and what a cover you made, Lisa Novak]).

All hail historical perspective.

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15. The pleasures of pagination

There are few pleasures in bookmaking greater than that moment when you're paginating a picture book text, and suddenly it all clicks.


I have no idea how others do it, but I make a 40 page Word document (so I can include ends—hence the “[pasted down endsheet]” tag shown above). Then, I dump in the manuscript  and work backward from the key spreads and page turns.

I find the manuscript’s dramatic high points really reveal themselves in this process, especially when you put in the page turns.

And sometimes, like the one I worked on last night, the thing just calls for one of my favorite parts:


Now I get six months or so of anticipating what the illustrator will do with this blank space. Delicious.

This is Vaunda Micheaux Nelson picture book, by the way. To be illustrated by the marvelous Elizabeth Zunon and designed by @carkneetoe. It’s becoming very clear in my imagination. You’re going to love it.

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16. In case you missed the frosting and sprinkles.

Questions were asked; answers were given. A good time was had by all.


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17. "Nothing but individual talent mattered."

Like some sort of irritating, insane migratory bird (because sadly this topic is sadly too persistent to be compared with locusts), the debate about whether x group should read y book type is back. The only saving grace of this tedious conversation is that it always makes me think of this bit in my favorite book. 

[Professor Lake] had been born in Ohio, had studied in Paris and Rome, had taught in Ecuador and Japan. He was a recognized art expert, and it puzzled people why, during the past ten winters, Lake chose to bury himself at St Bart's. While endowed with the morose temper of genius, he lacked originality and was aware of that lack; his own paintings always seemed beautifully clever imitations, although one could never quite tell whose manner he mimicked. His profound knowledge of innumerable techniques, his indifference to 'schools' and 'trends', his detestation of quacks, his conviction that there was no difference whatever between a genteel aquarelle of yesterday and, say, conventional neoplasticism or banal non-objectivism of today, and that nothing but individual talent mattered - these views made of him an unusual teacher. St Bart's was not particularly pleased either with Lake's methods or with their results, but kept him on because it was fashionable to have at least one distinguished freak on the staff. Among the many exhilarating things Lake taught was that the order of the solar spectrum is not a closed circle but a spiral of tints from cadmium red and oranges through a strontian yellow and a pale paradisal green to cobalt blues and violets, at which point the sequence does not grade into red again but passes into another spiral, which starts with a kind of lavender grey and goes on to Cinderella shades transcending human perception. He taught that there is no such thing as the Ashcan School or the Cache Cache School or the Cancan School. That the work of art created with string, stamps, a Leftist newspaper, and the droppings of doves is based on a series of dreary platitudes. That there is nothing more banal and more bourgeois than paranoia. That Dali is really Norman Rockwell's twin brother kidnapped by gipsies in babyhood. That Van Gogh is second-rate and Picasso supreme, despite his commercial foibles; and that if Degas could immortalize a caleche, why could not Victor Wind do the same to a motor car?
-Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov.
There are reasons for the pictures on my office door. This quote is one of them. 
"... which starts with a kind of lavender grey and goes on to Cinderella shades transcending human perception." 
What were we complaining about again? [Goes back to trying to be Professor Lake.]

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18. #amediting, a soundtrack

Some books demand a musical accompaniment during the editing. And this was certainly the case for the book I'm finishing now, the sequel to E.K. Johnston's debut, The Story of Owen

The highlights:

(There was a great deal of Stan Rogers, whom I totally imagine as Siobhan's bardic forebearer.)

(And then there was a considerable amount of Glenn Gould. Because Canada and also because I always listen to Gould.)

(And then Kate introduced me to a couple new things from Canadian bands, including this, which is crazy moving.)

And there's one other, but it would be spoilery.

I have no idea what @carkneetoe listens to while she designs Kate's books, but I do know she's procuring a bugle for the photo shoot. I'm not sure if that will be easier than the sword from the first book.

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19. Hiring an editor

This Gun for Hire (1942) Poster

Lots of smart people have gone over the famous Hugh Howey AuthorEarnings.com Report, revealing its many statistical and analytical shortcomings. I have nothing to add on those fronts (hell, I didn’t even read the whole piece). Read Shatzkin and others for detailed rebuttal and commentary.

There is one item in the Report and in Shatzkin I would like to address. (And if it has been addressed elsewhere, I’d be glad to know of it.)

Here’s the item in Hugh Howey’s Report:


And Mike Shatzkin actually echoes Howey’s position:


Allow me to say this plainly: When an author chooses, hires, and pays an editor, the author is creating incentives that are meaningfully different than the ones present in a “traditional” publishing deal.

To put it another way, if you want financial advice, you may hire a fee-based financial advisor or solicit the services of a commission-based advisor. And maybe if you’re very wealthy or your money is very interesting, advisors will pursue you. People feel strongly about both models, but no sensible person would claim they are interchangeable.

Or, perhaps an analogy closer to home: authors have long been counseled (rightly) that they should never “hire” an agent, that they should never pay reading fees, etc. to agents. Donald Maass gets tremendous criticism from many quarters from being an agent who also sells and promotes his own writing advice books. There is among authors a strong—and I’d argue healthy—awareness of the different incentives in each model where agenting is concerned.

Why, then, are so many people so quick to say “hiring” an editor is an acceptable substitute for the present model? The incentives are so clearly different.

It is not presently possible to hire me as an editor. I choose the manuscripts I want to edit, compete for them in the marketplace, and when I win them, I am accountable not to the author  but to my employer, the publisher, to make from that manuscript a book that the publisher can sell in quantities sufficient to meet certain performance goals. My incentive is to do this more often than not so I can continue to have a job.

I am not a short-sighted idiot or a sociopath or glutton for punishment, so I want very much for my authors to enjoy working with me and to find the experience rewarding and to be happy in the end. Authors are the fountainheads of my personal satisfaction in doing my job—my emotional incentive, if you will. But that doesn’t mean I want them to sign my paychecks. My primary incentive—my financial incentive—does not not come from the author. When it comes time to say what I believe will make a book successful, the pressure comes not from my relationship with the author but from my relationship with my employer—who is, pleasantly, fairly removed from the day to day work of editing. No one editorial decision has me thinking about my livelihood, thank goodness.

In the world of for hire-editors, the incentives and accountability are much . . . cozier. Or, if you prefer (and I do), you could say the incentives appear hopelessly entangled, painfully acute, and way too close for comfort. I do not want someone who is trying to do the hard work of writing a novel with me looking over her shoulder thinking about whether she’s getting good value for my fee. I don’t want “he who pays the piper calls the tune” in any author’s mind as he works on my edits. I don’t want to think about my mortgage when I suggest an author needs to scrap tens of thousands of words. I don’t want the temptation to flatter a writer whose manuscript I don’t believe will sell because he will make a good reference.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made myself clear. For-hire editing is different from the model that’s evolved in traditional publishing. Maybe it’s actually better for reasons that remain opaque to me in my vast inexperience of it. Maybe for-hire editing is the way I’ll have to go one day (may that day be very, very far off). But don’t let anyone get away with telling you it’s the same.

[Update: I will happily attach a civil rebuttal, critique, or commentary to this from a freelance editor who wants to address the question of incentives and editing. Just stick it in the comments and I’ll copy it into the main post.]

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20. If I had a million dollars…

…to spend to help the ALA Youth Media Awards, I’d probably spend it like I’m about to describe. You see, I love the awards—the whole slate of them. They’re a fantastic but underutilized resource for anyone who loves books. And I want to see them reach their maximum audience. So here’s how I’d start: I’d endow a fund to finance a permanent YMA Civilian Publicity Strike Force. Here’s how it would work:

The three governing principles:

1. I would begin by stating that my goal is that the whole awards list becomes well known as the premier discovery tool for people who want to buy high quality books. The Whole List—all the Youth Media Awards--will be important even if the Newbery and Caldecott remain supreme. People on the street buying books for children in their lives should see the YMAs as guide that has value to them across a huge spectrum of needs—not just those addressed by the big two.

2. Nothing about how the awards are chosen changes. New awards are added or modified as they would naturally be

3. The one slight exception to 2 is the date of Midwinter. If Midwinter needs to move into the holiday shopping window, the ALA should at least consider that.

Given those three principles, the strike force might consider the following as first steps:

1. Every single honoree and committee member is a trained and promoted public ambassador for the list in their community—in the media, in the retail, and in libraries. If a news outlet in Topeka, Kansas wants to do a story about the Caldecott book, they should at least be aware that the a Printz honoree or the chair of the Stonewall committee lives in their city—and that those awards were chosen with equal care. There are a lot more news-worthy early morning phone call stories than are presently reported.  Hell, you could even deputize editors in this aspect.

2. The strike force will help the Newbery and Caldecott honorees to lend some of their celebrity to winners of the awards that are now less well known.

3. The strike force will disseminate the list of awards in forms and through channels that are accessible to regular readers. Apps, shareable videos, whatever.

4. The strike force will reach out to retailers large and small who could use the awards lists to help their customers discover books.

5. The strike force will annually make non-binding recommendations to the various award committees about how they might optimize the way the awards are announced, how annotations are written, and when speeches and celebrations are held. However, the strike force will remain forever mute on the subject of selection criteria.

OK, that’s what I’d do with that million bucks I could give to the ALA. You?

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21. Simple New Year’s resolutions for authors

  1. Backup your work.
  2. I don’t care what else you resolve. See 1.

I have very few good habits, but computer backup and regular review of my backup schemes is one of them.

Here’s what I do these days:

  1. I’m on a Mac at home, so I backup to an external drive on the desk with Time Machine. Easy. This is in case of disk corruption or some other failure. I’m sure there’s some PC equivalent.
  2. My wife is a freelance writer and editor, so all her working stuff is in a folder that lives in my Dropbox folder, and that syncs to the cloud and to my work machine. In practice, this should mean her most recent working files plus a decent version history are effectively impossible to lose accidentally and are easy to retrieve from several sources.
  3. I use Backblaze to backup the whole Mac to the cloud (including things like photos, etc. that don’t go to Dropbox). There are lots of options for this service, of course, but Backblaze works well for me.

Annual cost for all my backup schemes is around $100.

If you’re a writer, you owe it to yourself to do number 2 at least. Do it right now. Dropbox’s free storage allotment will be more than sufficient for many years’ worth of manuscripts, and thus for no money at all you can have good, basic protection from lost files. Just move your manuscripts (your intricate folder structure or the mess of files in your Documents folder—however you work) into your Dropbox folder and leave it there. If you’ve got multiple machines, you’ll also have easy access to your files from anywhere.

(Yes, of course there is a tale of authorial woe behind this post.)

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22. This is a call

Unagented debut authors of YA fiction, I will open the submission window for one week in January. I will look at any debut YA attached to an email dated between 1/6/2014 and 1/12/2014.
Some specifics:

  • I consider a debut to be a first book-length work in any category. So, if you've published a picture book, a MG novel, a work of narrative nonfiction, etc, you're not eligible for this call. Similarly, self-published books are books as far as I'm concerned. If it had an ISBN and appeared for sale anywhere, it's your debut.
  • Please take a look at what I’ve published in the past. I’m not going to set any sub-genre specifications, but you might draw some conclusions based on what Lab has done before. It’s a small list.
  • I'm open to submissions from any country, as long as the book is in English. 
  • No “New Adult.”
Warning: Ask anyone. I’m slow as hell with these, and thus I do not require any sort of exclusivity.
Submission specifics are here: http://carolrhoda.blogspot.com/2007/11/solicted-submissions.html

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23. So this happened


We are all so very, very proud of Carrie. (And we hope her pinky feels better soon.)

I obviously have a well-established soft spot for the YALSA's Morris Award, but the award really is a fantastic standard bearer for all that YA can be and for how healthy and exciting the genre is. The Morris should the high-road rebuttal of choice for every stupid HuffPo/Slate/whoeverthehell piece about how YA is just sparkly vampires, dystopias, and John Green (though it is all those things too).

Congratulations to all the nominees! I look forward to reading them all.

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24. “I am a pretty, pretty woman. But I’ll cut you.”

I have a fantasy where I’m able to employ certain authors as editors. I’ve worked with several whose strong taste and advice-giving chops would make them into formidable editors—or at least into editors whose work I’d like to read.

Tessa Gratton, at large editor? Where do I sign? I’m sure E. K. Johnston and Dot Hutchison would concur. (The emails I got from Tess about Dot’s debut will never leave my possession.)

John Hornor Jacobs would definitely be on that list too. And alas, for now, the list is a fantasy. Fortunately, though, John’s extremely entertaining (and sound) thoughts on character are available for the price of a click. A taste:

My responsibilities to my characters are (1) I should be fearless in the depiction of their character. This has very little to do with appearance, garb, physical description. I doubt any reader has one whit of interest as to the exact shade of red lipstick some ingénue wears – they care about her capacity for emotion and action. For love or betrayal. That is the essence of her character and consequently, the essence of that part of my own subconscious from which I conjured her.

Pretty neat trick, that.

I am a pretty, pretty woman. But I’ll cut you.

So click.

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25. Pass the red Solo cup of bad life choices, please

(I promise it doesn't link to the Toby Keith song.)

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