Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Five Worth Reading

I went back over my Goodreads list to see which of my most recent reads got five stars (I don’t give those things out lightly!). It was no surprise that 3 out of 5 were dystopian/futuristic/sci-fi books. What surprised me is that out of the 120 books I’ve read so far this year (!) only 20 have earned a five star rating. And within those 20 is a mix of realistic fiction for adults, YA and MG, as well as my beloved dystopian/futuristic/sci-fi titles. There’s still a month to go. I wonder how many more five star books I’ll find in that time?

Top Five Recent Reads

The Pearl Wars (Skyship Academy #1) by Nick James
The voice of this character pulled me in from page 1. I absolutely adore Jesse. Great action, great pacing, great characters. And the crazy futuristic world he’s created? LOVE it. I can't wait for book 2.

Variant by Robison Wells
I hadn't read any reviews of this book before I started so the twists and turns in the story were a complete surprise. I raced through this, breathless to see what would happen next. The only bummer -- it's part of a series. *sigh* I'm reading too many series books!!

Shine by Lauren Myracle (One of two realistic fiction titles on my list)
All I can say is that the National Book Awards people got it wrong. This was such an incredible book, such a moving story. It stayed with me for weeks. Loved it.

A Million Suns by Beth Revis
Expected publication: January 10th 2012 by Razorbill 

I love this series, love that the world is so believable, love the characters and the obstacles they overcome. So imaginative, so awesome...SO SAD that I have to wait more than a year for the final book!!! 

Write fast, Beth!!!

Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse by Lucas Klauss    (You wouldn't guess it from the title, but this is my other realistic fiction pick)  
Expected publication: January 3rd 2012 by Simon Pulse

This book surprised me in so many ways. 

The writing is practically perfect. The characters, I loved. Watching the MC struggle with questions of religion and atheism and respecting his parents as he falls in love, grows apart from his friends and deals with betrayals -- it's all in there and written with such honesty and humor. Once I started reading, I didn't want to stop. And when I did have to step away to cook or pick the kids up from school, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I read it in a day.

So there you have it, five books that blew me away. Books that I keep telling people they have to read. What are some of the best books you’ve read recently?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mastering His Stuff

I help out in the Homework Club after school three days a week.

Yes, the euphemism makes me laugh, too. 
Join our club! It rocks! 
Trust me, I didn't name it.

A few days ago, one of the 2nd graders raised his hand to ask a question. I headed over to his table to help him. He was sitting next to a couple of older boys from my daughter's class.

As I got there, one of the older boys leaned over to the 2nd grader and said, "If you need help, you can ask us. We're in 4th grade. We've mastered all that 2nd grade stuff."

I bit my tongue to keep from laughing. I wasn't needed here. That boy was in good hands. The hands of a master.

Instead, I ran for a piece of paper. So I could write down what the 4th grader said.

Of course.  :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Launching Open Minds: A Conversation with Susan Kaye Quinn

Earlier this month, author Susan Kaye Quinn launched book one of her Mindjack Trilogy. Since it was her first foray into self-publishing (she has previously published a novel with Omnific Publishing), I was curious to know how well her promotional efforts went. She was more than happy to answer a few questions for me.

Overall, how do you think the launch and blog tour went?
I seriously could not have asked for it to go any better. The response on launch day was awesome and wonderful and overwhelming! I’m so glad that I had a chance to share that day with my Virtual Friends (I had an in-person book signing later that week for my Local Friends). I love that people are intrigued by the premise, buying the book, and reading it right away. And leaving reviews! It’s awesome.

The Book Blog Tour has been cool in a different way, reaching out to new readers, people that are not in my circle of friends. And they’re having a great response to the book too. The book bloggers themselves have been gracious and fun to work with. And the reviews have been great! Can’t ask for anything better there as well. (I just had one blogger come back and want to include Open Minds in their year-end Best Books of 2011 list!)

Do you think one works better than the other or are both necessary?
I struggled with how to do this when setting everything up. I’m really pleased with how it worked out, though. The Virtual Launch party was a one-time thing, and mostly with people that I already was friends with (although I made some new friends too!). It gave my friends a chance to celebrate my book with me (which is awesome), without being restricted to a certain schedule or pacing, like a tour. And it was fun!

The Book Blog Tour serves a different purpose, gathering reviews and reaching people who I who don’t know, but that I hope will be intrigued by the book. I’m posting the Book Blog Tour schedule on my blog for my regular blog audience, as we go, but only because they might be interested in some of the guest posts or contests. The Book Blog Tour is really to expand my Reader Audience. As I mentioned on Adam Heine’s blog Monday, I see the two events serving different circles– one is my Blog Audience and one is my Reader Audience. The intersection of those circles are my friends who enjoy reading my work. But the two events were really directed at the two different circles.

That's an interesting way to look at it. I didn't realize you would reach different people with the blog tour. So do you think you the blog tour did its job of attracting new readers and/or followers?
Absolutely. I love the support of my friends, and that’s a key part to getting a book started. Hopefully those are the people that will start handing the book to their friends and they will enjoy it too. But pulling in readers with just a blurb/cover and possibly a review is important. People need to love the book first, and the author second, if it’s going to be successful in the wider market.
Speaking of which, how did you do in that wider market? You climbed pretty high on the Amazon charts, didn't you?
The peak on Amazon US was 7,156 … so close to breaking the top 100 in the Action & Adventure bestseller list for Young Adult e-books (about 6-7k in the Kindle Paid Store)! And while it would have been great to break into the bestseller list right away, I’m really hoping to have the visibility of the book be wide enough to catch some of the after-Christmas Kindle market.

Those are some impressive stats! How'd you do on B&N?
Most of my sales are on Kindle (or paper in the beginning, for friends that want autographed copies), with B&N a much smaller player. There’s all kinds of ways to measure ranking on Amazon. Honestly, I don’t even track rank on B&N.

Okay, so back to the promotion. Were you able to maintain interest over the entire blog tour?
If by “interest” you mean “do your regular blog readers click through”? Probably not (although some clearly are and leaving comments). But, like I mentioned above, the idea of the Blog Tour was not to get my regular blog readers excited/interested in Open Minds – it’s to reach new readers. In that, it’s been very successful, and the sales that I continue to have I attribute directly to the Blog Tour. Some Book Blogs have greater reach (more potential readers) and some have a passionate, but smaller, audience, but both are definitely bringing in sales. Book Bloggers do a great service for both readers and writers. Another benefit is meeting the Book Bloggers themselves. I have several that are already asking to be put on the list to review Closed Hearts (which is key, because most Book Bloggers won’t review the second book in a series if they haven’t reviewed the first).

That's so cool that you can see sales as a direct result of the blog tour. So, what would you change for the next time around?
I still need to do a serious post-mortem, but a couple things I would change: 1) query more teen book bloggers (in addition to the book bloggers I’ve already queried, who are awesome!), 2) shorten the Book Blog Tour to 1 ½ weeks (as opposed to 2 ½ weeks). Originally I thought there would only be one stop each day, but I had so many book bloggers interested in reading/reviewing that it didn’t work out that way. Now, I think it would be better to have multiple stops per day over a shorter (overall) tour.

And because inquiring minds want to know: how far are you on Closed Hearts?
I just uploaded my 19,308th word to NaNo. :) Which, for you plotting nerds, is almost to the break into Act II. In other words, we’re getting to the good stuff!

Woo-hoo! Can't wait to read it!
Congratulations, Susan. You've given me some great ideas for book promotion and targeting audiences. I keep learning so much from you :)
Thanks so much for having me on your blog!

A few places where you can find Susan on the web:
Inkspells (blog)
Mindjack Trilogy website
Life, Liberty and Pursuit website (Susan's first novel with Omnific Publishing)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Editor Spotlight on: Sarah Ketchersid

Back in September you might remember I mentioned going on the Best Retreat EverWhile I was there I was lucky enough to meet the wonderful Sarah Ketchersid, Executive Editor at Candlewick. She edits picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA fiction, as well as those extremely popular OLOGY books. (We own Dragonology and Egytptology.)
In between jetting to exotic places like Frankfurt and editing books with release dates as far away as 2015(!), Sarah was kind enough to take a few minutes for this interview.

It was great meeting you at the Los Angeles Working Writer’s Retreat. How intense is it for you as an editor to participate in an event like this where you have to provide feedback on so many different stories?
It was great to meet you, too! The retreat was amazing, but, yes, very intense. I really have to be on my game for two whole days. Yet the time I have with each individual author is very short—just 15 minutes, and that includes listening to him or her read the work out loud. So I’ve got to listen carefully and then respond almost instantly with something coherent, and I hope, intelligent, insightful, and encouraging all at the same time! It definitely helped that all of the authors were so open and willing to hear my feedback. And it was especially gratifying to listen to the first pages session on Sunday morning and see how well the writers revised based on our feedback.

Have you ever found a new author through a conference?
To be honest, I haven’t yet, but I’m ever hopeful. Once at a conference I met an author whose work I was already considering and we had a chance to talk in person about the manuscript, and then I signed it up a month or two later. Being able to connect with someone one-on-one like that goes such a long way toward building a trusting working relationship.

Good to know there's hope!
You recently went from Senior Editor to Executive Editor at Candlewick Press. Can you explain the difference?
Thanks for asking about this. I don’t think there is a general answer for what makes one editor a Senior Editor versus an Executive Editor—it really depends on the company and the dynamics of the editorial department there. For myself, I am adding some more responsibilities, including working more closely with our Foreign Rights Team. So I attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany a few weeks ago for the first time.

Oooh, I'd love to attend Frankfurt some day. Did it live up to your expectations?
I have to say that it did. It was huge! They even have a mini bus to take people from one hall to the other, because it's so big. It was so interesting to see publishers from all over the world as well--it felt as if nearly every country had at least one booth there.

Sounds incredible! Some day... :)
I think you said you’ve been with Candlewick for ten years. How did you get into editing?
I was an English major in college and wasn’t sure what I was going to do after graduating, when a recruiter from Penguin came to campus. I thought, Publishing! That’s it. I’d always loved books and reading so I knew it could be a good fit for me. My work study job was as an aide at the campus day care center, so I was also interested in children and their development. After I got my degree I worked for a year as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble in the children’s department which helped me realize that I wanted to work in children’s publishing. I was eventually hired as an editorial assistant at Dutton Children’s Books, and was there for six years before I joined Candlewick in 2001.

Candlewick is a relatively young press (started in 1991, right?) but your books have made such an impact on children’s literature. How does that award-winning past factor into the choices you make for future books?
Thanks so much for saying that. We do take a lot of pride in our work at Candlewick and in creating the very best books we can. That comes into play in a variety of different ways from the kinds of books we acquire to the quality of the paper we print on! I think all of us editors feel a responsibility to only take on the best of what gets submitted to us, in order to keep that goodwill that we seem to have built up over the years of publishing such wonderful books. Our designers also work so hard to create truly beautiful and beautifully designed books, right down to the smallest details.

Over dinner one evening you explained that the company is 100 percent employee owned. How does that work? How does it affect your approach to books and authors?
The company was founded by Sebastian Walker (as Walker Books) in London in 1978 and Candlewick Press, the American arm of Walker Books, was started in 1991, just before Sebastian passed away. When he died, he left the company in trust to his employees and now employees are given shares in that trust. So we all own a part of Candlewick Press and of Walker Books in London and Australia. It is a good feeling to know that as a company we are only answerable to ourselves and not to a larger company, whose main business may not even be books. I think that gives us the opportunity to take a few more creative risks and to follow our editorial instincts when we sense that something is right.

I know you were excited about ABOVE WORLD by Jenn Reese. Can you tell us about the book and some of the others you have coming out in the next few months?
Yes, I am very excited about ABOVE WORLD! It’s coming out next February and it’s a middle grade novel set in a future where humans have turned to genetic engineering in order to survive in extreme environments, like growing tails to live under the ocean, or wings to live in high mountains, or horse bodies to survive in the desert. It’s a great adventure with strong characters that I simply love.

Sounds like my kind of book! I'll have to look for that one.
The other middle grade novel I’ve got coming out next spring is the fantasy novel THE PRINCESS OF TRELIAN by Michelle Knudsen. It’s the sequel to THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN which came out a couple of years ago. People might know Michelle as the author of the picture book Library Lion. She’s also an amazing fiction writer. Here is another novel whose characters I just fell in love with! I’m very excited for this sequel to come out—I know a lot of young readers who have been waiting.

I’m also excited about two lovely picture books publishing this spring: HAPPY LIKE SOCCER by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Lauren Castillo; and STEP GENTLY OUT by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder.

And I’ve also got a very funny new illustrated chapter book from Daniel Pinkwater called MRS. NOODLEKUGEL.

And the eleventh Ology book is also coming out next spring: ILLUSIONOLOGY, which is about magic and illusions. I didn't know anything about magic before starting work on that one, and now I can do some pretty cool card tricks and mind reading feats!

Now I wish I had brought a deck of cards with me to the conference. I could have learned some magic and impressed my daughter! I know she'll want that book. She's always buying magic kits and trying to do tricks :-)

How many books are you working on right now? How many new projects have you signed on in the last year?

 I’m working on lots of different books in various stages of development—from looking over proofs near the end of the process, to line editing or reviewing sketches in the middle, to giving feedback on plot synopses and first drafts right at the start. In 2012, I’ve got about 15 books coming out, and in 2013 I’ve got 11 so far. And then I even have a few books already scheduled for 2014 and 2015. In the last year I’ve probably signed up about 7 to 8 new projects.

2015? Dang, that's so far away!
Will you be at any other conferences in the next year?
I actually don’t have any writer’s conferences scheduled right now, so I’m not sure!
Have you been practicing your karaoke for the next conference? :-)
Ha ha! I really should! I think was a little ambitious taking on ABBA’s "Fernando." Did I really do that?? A true “one-night only” performance that I don’t think will (or should!) be repeated ;) It was so much fun, though!

It was fun! There was something in the air that night... :-)
As was this interview. Thanks, Sherrie.

Thank you, Sarah!

Find out more about Candlewick Press at their website.

A few of Candlewick's bestselling/award winning books:
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson
The Magician's Elephant by Kate diCamillo
Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Author Spotlight on: Caroline Starr Rose

Today I'm so excited to be interviewing someone who is not only a fabulous author, but an agent-mate as well. Caroline Starr Rose has had more than her share of ups and downs on the road to publication. (Read this post, When Things Don't Go as Planned, to learn about just one of the bumps.) 

But the end is in sight for her debut novel, May B. It's set to hit shelves in January and best of all -- I get to be there for her launch party in Albuquerque! Woo-hoo!!


YES!!! It worked out perfectly!
That is so cool!!

I know, but I have to stop dancing around the house, and do a proper interview so tell me: how long have you been writing?
Fourteen years this December.

Has it always been historical fiction?
No, though my first attempt at a novel was a horrendous historical about the Oregon Trail. I still shudder to think of it!

Ha! My first novel causes way more than a shudder. Ugh! What sparked the idea for May B.’s story?
A couple of ideas came together for me as I worked on May. I started by researching the frontier -- an era that fascinated me -- and trusted something would catch my interest as I read. I was curious about the challenge of writing about a character alone for much of the story.  And I’ve always wondered how children with learning disabilities would have coped in an era before their challenges were understood.

How did you research the setting and period?
I started reading about mail order brides, actually!

Mail order brides could make a good story :P  And actually, Mrs. Oblinger sounded kind of like she could have been a mail order bride.
She wasn't, but I thought it would be fun to throw in a little ode to my beginning research :)

From there I read about the frontier in general and was especially drawn to first-hand accounts of families moving west and to journals and letters kept by pioneer women. I decided May’s story would be a great fit for Kansas: the geography was right for a sod house (with which I was enamored) and the weather extremes worked with the blizzard I needed to help tell her story.

Well her story is amazing. I enjoyed it tremendously and I'm not the only one. You’ve been getting some amazing blurbs, including the awesome one from Karen Cushman. Are you just delirious?
Absolutely, crazily delirious. I’m not sure if I still believe it!

I first found Karen Cushman’s books in college and used CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY, THE MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE, and THE BALLAD OF LUCY WHIPPLE in my classroom. To realize she not only read my work but loved it -- it’s an incredible honor.

You've had a wilder ride than most in your quest for publication. How did you keep your spirits up when you heard your first publisher was shutting down?
Agent Michelle let me vent when I needed to. She reminded me from the start there were other editors who had loved May before and would probably be interested in her again. I was a part of the Class of 2k11 at the time, and they along with the Elevensies really bolstered me. My first editor, Nicole Geiger, let me call and cry. Really, people were wonderful.

How hard was it to go through another revision with a second editor once your book found a new publishing home?
I’ll be honest; I was a pill at first. I’m generally very open to others’ suggestions, especially ones from the publishing world. But it was really hard for me to hear my book, which had been weeks from an ARC printing, needed more edits. As in three more rounds. That said, editor Emily Seife so clearly loved my character and wanted what was best for the story, she won me over pretty quickly.

I’m so grateful things ended up this way. The book is much stronger; I have two marvelous editors to thank for that.

And you wound up with an AWESOME cover!!

You were a teacher for a number of years. How do you think that influences your writing?
I’ve taught all over the place -- five schools in four states. Being with kids from all over and from all walks of life showed me despite incredible differences, kids are pretty much the same: they need to feel accepted and they need to know there are adults who believe in them. I’d like to think I’m respectful of my young characters and honestly portray their experiences, hoping one day my young readers will, through the magic that is fiction, see their own big and small moments as important and valid.

You’ve been looking at unconventional ways to market this novel. Can you share some of those ideas?
You mean those 2000 postcards sitting in my office? ;)

Uh, yeah. 2,000? 
That's a lot of stamps!
I spent months collecting addresses of frontier and historical museums in the plains states. I also have the addresses of every elementary and middle school in Kansas. May comes out two weeks before Kansas Day, the anniversary of Kansas’s statehood and a day set aside in Kansas schools to study state history. I’ve used Kansas Day as a draw in the postcards I’m sending to schools. As for the museums, it’s a long shot. Still, I think of the number of times I’ve left museums with a book or trinket related to the exhibit I’d seen. I also plan to send postcards to all Kansas public libraries and all the elementary and middle schools in my city.

I created a huge giveaway called the May B. book club kit open to any school, library, or reading circle. Included were 10 copies of the book, discussion questions, lesson tie-ins, bookmarks and stickers, a copy of the May B. book trailer, and a Skype visit with the winners after they’ve read.

Then there’s Take Five! Pick Two! where I sent five bookmarks to interested blog readers and asked them to share two of them with librarians, teachers, young readers, book bloggers, or booksellers.

I also applied for SCBWI's new grant for authors with books coming out in 2012, where two winners receive $2000 to put toward book promotion. Though I didn't win, it was an opportunity I refused to let slip by and gave me a chance to intentionally think through promotion ideas.

How do you plan to celebrate your release day?
Not sure yet! Champagne, definitely.

Well, when I'm there we're celebrating at Sadie's with some sopapillas! If they have champagne, too, all the better!
Sadie's, here we come!

What are you working on now?
A picture book about the Louisiana wetlands and another historical verse novel.

Thanks so much, Sherrie. This was a delight!

Absolutely! See you in January!!

To learn more about Caroline, you can find her in these online spots:
Blog: Caroline by Line
Facebook May B. Page
The Apocalypsies -- Class of 2K12
The (Teen) Book Scene
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