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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The End of Publishing?

The end of publishing? Here's a take on that subject from the UK branch of Dorling Kindersley Books. Here's the YouTube link.

Not sure this is absolutely true, but it's good to know that this is how the publishing industry perceives things.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Listing WIP and Whether to Correct It

No, this is not a post about speech impediments, rather writing impediments. Namely, what happens when your inner and outer muse start to fight.

I'm working on an MG right now that is supposed to be a total comedy/fantasy/unrealistic story about a boy at war with his dad. Really. Like, his father is an evil super villain and it's up to the boy to save the world. Problem is, all these serious feelings and issues and subplots keep intruding, wanting to be part of the story. I thought I could get away with supressing them by adhering to a strict regimen of Comedy Central and a well-developed story outline.

Right. My story keeps veering off to the side, straying off into those murky waters of adolescent angst.

So, last week I decided to let it ride, see where things would take me. Or, at least, that's what I thought I was doing. Actually, I was just humoring my subconscious while still pretending to write the story I set out to write.

Talk about Jeckle and Hyde. The thing reads like Percy Jackson meets Nate the Great. Ugh.

So, what to do? I really like the idea of writing a funny, quirky tale that doesn't try to be serious about anything. But I guess what I need to write is the serious one first. Which bothers me, because I don't like the feeling of having something I need to exorcise. And yet I know it'll be therapeutic. So, that's what I'm going to do. Oh, my MC is still at war with his father, whom he still believes is a secret super villain bent on destroying the world. Sounds silly, right? But, when you think about it, isn't that really the premise of a lot of serious stories?

What do you do when your inner and outer muse start to fight? Which do you go with?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Crossroads: Children's Picture Books in a Digital Age

I downloaded the free Kindle app for PC this morning, mostly to see what free content I could find (yes, I'm cheap). I don't own an ebook reader, nor do I plan to buy one in the near future. I like my analogue versions just fine. It's not that I'm against the technology, it's just that I don't think it's finished maturing just yet. I made a point a while back that with mobile devices incorporating more and more functionality, dedicated devices such as ebook readers will become obsolete. Apple's iPad is a shift in that direction. I like the idea of the iPad, but I'll wait until the competition catches up.

In searching Amazon's classics catalogue for free books, I was disappointed by the lack of children's picture books. There are none (or none that I could find). Understandably so, I guess, since most of the free content is from over eighty years ago, but even the Beatrix Potter stories were all text. But when I checked out some of the pay products - and there are a few dozens of picture books you can buy for the Kindle - I was disappointed, both by the selection as well as the experience.

Which raises a question. Are children's picture books immune to digitization? It got me thinking about why paper picture books work and how it may or may not translate to the screen.

First, let me just say that I think a shift of picture books to the screen is inevitable. Second, neither is it a bad thing. Okay, so maybe the Kindle and other ereaders aren't the right format for such books, but that doesn't mean the technology or the promise of a technology capable of bringing a picture book alive doesn't exist. Heck, if you think about it in broad terms, picture books have been on screen for decades. I mean, aren't Saturday morning cartoons just picture books on TV? Remember "Fractured Fairy Tales" on the Bullwinkle Show? How long did "Reading Rainbow" run?

I know, that's not exactly the same as taking a picture book and digitizing it. Why? Interactivity.

The joy of reading a picture book is in the fusion of image and word, the bond formed between parent and child and between child and book. Can a screen do the same as a printed page? What if that screen is large and in high resolution color? Well, for standard PBs, probably, but certainly not for pop-up and touch-and-feel books. That's why the technology can't stop at a point where the screen acts simply as a proxy for the printed page. Picture books are intended to be interactive, and picture book stories conveyed digitally will never replace the tactile experience, not alone at least. Minimally, picture book digitization will require a device that can allow a child to manipulate the text and image.

I'll make some predictions, and we'll see whether or nor they play out in the coming years.

1. Television will become the first digital device of choice for picture book stories, not ereaders. That's because,

2. Portable devices capable of delivering the quality of experience a paper picture book provides are a long ways off from being affordable.

3. First-to-market technologies that enable a child to navigate the story on-screen with a simple inexpensive hand-held device (controller) will set the standard.

4. Adaptation of, or development of apps for, current gaming systems, such as Wii and PlayStation, for picture books will likely be the first generation products.

5. Illustrators and publishers will need to rethink how they go about designing and publishing picture books to be more amenable to the new formats.

6. This will open up a whole new world of possibilities for how authors conceive and write their stories, not restrict them. Writers receptive to these changes will be more successful.

So, anyone interested in starting a joint venture?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Enough is Enough - Part II: When to give up on your own work

Last week I talked a little bit about how much time I give to a published book and when I finally put it down unfinished. Reading is so subjective that we, as writers, inherently understand that what we write is not going to grab everyone. Okay, fine. But how do you know when what you're writing won't grab anyone? When do you stop working on something, pack it in, call it a day?

I'm wondering this because it's been a frustratingly long week of rejections, most of them impersonal. Based on my own personal mood meter, one encouraging rejection is worth seven form rejections. This week the weight is heavier on the form rejection side.

Now, I know that's just the nature of the business. We write, we revise, we polish, we submit, we wait and hope. But, inevitably, in the time between the submitting and the response, hope gives way to doubt. Doubt grows....

But we are an optimistic bunch, especially the childrens book writers. As a reformed golfer, I can understand this mentality: it's the one sweet shot in an entire round that brings us back to the game. Same goes for writing. A little encouragement goes a long way. Cruel, cruel hope.

But what about that particular work that you spent so much time and effort on, poured heart and soul into, sweated and cried over? What if you just can't seem to get any positive feedback on it? When do you say, "Enough is enough. Time to stop beating this dead horse. Time to put me out of its misery."

Or do you just keep revising and resubmitting, believing that someday, somewhere, someone will see that secret little something in it that you saw in it when you created it? Denial? Optimism? Or just being realistic?

Just wondering.

Anyway, I've got a dead horse to beat some life into.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Committing & When to say, "Enough is enough!"

Got a basketful of books from the library yesterday, all with that blue library tape on the spine that reads "NEW" and the hopeful smell of glue and ink and tape still hovering about the covers. I've already gone through four.

Now, what I mean by that is that I tried to read them... but I just couldn't find myself committing beyond the first few dozen pages.

I choose my books based on several criteria, in loose order by impact:

1. Cover/Title/Author
2. Jacketflap
3. The first 2-3 paragraphs
4. Page 70

Now, I admit that Cover/Title/Author shouldn't be more important than what's inside. But let's be honest, if I find a cover attractive and/or the title sounds interesting, I'm going to pick the book up and look inside. The opposite is true if I'm not pulled in by those things. Face it, would you pick up a book whose title was, A STORY ABOUT SOMETHING or HAPPY? Would you spend time and/or money on a book whose cover was about as exciting as the generic food labels back in the eighties?

All things being equal - meaning, you're looking at a shelfful of books vying for your attention - the one with the catchy title and cover is the one you're going to pick up.

As far as page 70 goes, it's a random metric. Basically, I want to know whether the promise made in the first few paragraphs is being delivered at least through the first several chapters of the book.

Now let's assume a book has made each of these cuts, how much time should I give it at home? Well, that's a tricky question because it relies on so many other variables: Was it recommended by someone whose opinion I respect? Is it an author whose work I admire? Is the writing off but the subject interesting (or vice versa)? Do any of the other books in my pile look more interesting?

Short answer: roughly 2-3 chapters.

I have a fairly low tolerance for writing that doesn't grab me, grab me and shake me and doesn't let me go. It's a high bar to set for a writer, I know, and more than 80% of the books I take home don't end up attaining this mark. But the other truth about being an overly critical reader is this: there are more than enough quality writers out there to satisfy my tastes. Why waste time reading stuff just to slog through it?

So, why am I bringing all this up? Because I try to keep these things in mind when I write. Does my writing grab and shake and not let the reader go from the first page to the last (acknowledging that I have no control over the cover and little input on final title and jacketflap)? And what if it doesn't? It's also helpful to remember my own tastes aren't universal; many of the books I've found to be blase are or end up being quite popular and well regarded.

So, where do you say "Enough is enough?"