Archive for the ‘books’ Category

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Children need books

June 1, 2011

I read some really troubling news today. In the U.K., three out of every 10 children do not own any books — none! No bookcases in their bedroom with Where the Wild Things Are, The Little Prince, Harry Potter… No parents reading to them before they go to bed. I hope they at least borrow books at a library.

As a children’s book writer, this doesn’t look good for my future financial prospects, but that’s not why it’s troubling. I feel for these kids. They don’t know what they’re missing. I couldn’t imagine my childhood without books. They were my escape when I needed help. Books gave me confidence. The characters were my friends. They were always there for me. And my love of books then has shaped the person I am today.

According to the Guardian‘s report on the U.K.’s National Literacy Trust’s survey, not owning books is potentially damaging to children. Here’s a quote:

Children who did not own books were two-and-a-half times more likely (19%) to read below their expected level than children who had their own books (7.6%), and were also significantly less likely (35.7%) to read above their expected level than book-owning children (54.9%).

And here’s another:

Children who don’t own books “are less likely to have positive experiences of reading, less likely to do well at school and less likely to be engaged in reading in any form,” according to the research. “It is not a case of books being irrelevant now technology has superseded printed matter,” wrote the National Literacy Trust’s researchers Christina Clark and Lizzie Poulton. “Children with no books of their own are less likely to be sending emails, reading websites or engaging with their peers through the written word on social networking sites. Children who grow up without books and without positive associations around reading are at a disadvantage in the modern world.”

The Guardian‘s report says the problem is worse with boys, where 4 in 10 books don’t own books.

Parents are to blame. They set the standard for their children. They are the primary gift buyers.

Couldn’t books be thrown in with the Xbox games? Books are much less expensive. And what are parents reading to their kids before bedtime? The newspaper? It’s sad to think these children are missing out on that bedtime tradition.

But there is something we can all do to stop this problem — because I’d be willing to bet there are similar numbers in the U.S. too. Whenever we’re buying gifts for children, our own or friends’, buy them books.

How did books help you when were a kid?

Write On!

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Beautiful first paragraph: Myra McEntire’s Hourglass

May 3, 2011

I had a blast volunteering for my local Austin SCBWI chapter a few weeks ago at the Texas Library Association. It was my first time at the conference, and the rumors of all the free advanced reading copies of upcoming books were not exaggerated. I saw people walking out with big bags full of books. Very exciting!

I was working our SCBWI booth, promoting our awesome children’s book authors in Texas, so I didn’t walk out with armfulls — plus, I gotta admit, as it was my first time, I was a little too much in awe to move! But, I did visit the Egmont booth and the kind ladies there happily shared the books in Egmont’s upcoming line.

HourglassThe first one I’m reading was called by one Egmont lady her “favorite” and after starting it, I can immediately see why.

Hourglass is the debut novel by Myra McEntire, a YA paranormal/science-fiction book about Emerson Cole, a young lady who, since the age of 14, has been able to see strange things, like Southern Belles, soldiers and eerie apparitions. When she meets Michael Weaver, she learns that there are others like her and she can get help at an organization called the Hourglass. The more she delives into that world, the more she learns about her past, her future and her life.

I’m on page 44 and totally hooked, but I was hooked from the opening paragraph. It immediately set the book’s tone, pulled me into its world and intrigued me enough to want to keep reading — exactly what a good opening should do.

Here it is:

My small Southern hometown is beautiful in the haunting way an aging debutante is beautiful. The bones are exquisite, but the skin could use a lift. You could say my brother, the architect, is Ivy Spring’s plastic surgeon.

Gorgeous! I can totally see why Egmont picked up this book, and that beautiful imagery continues throughout — at least for what I’ve read so far.

I’m one of those people who reads first pages in the bookstore before I take a book home with me. Sure I read the jacket cover, but then I look at the opening of the novel. If it doesn’t immediately pull me in, I put the book down.

At conferences, I’ve heard from agents and editors that they’ll give a manuscript 150 words. That’s all they have time for. If they’re not interested in 150 words, they’ll stop reading and move on to the next. There are enough manuscripts out there.

You might think, that’s not enough. 150 words is nothing. But you’d be wrong. Myra McEntire set up her book in 38!

And of course, this isn’t the only example. Charlotte’s Web anyone? Best first line of a book — ever!

So, if you want to stand out in front agents, editors and ultimately readers, make sure your first paragraph is amazing, then follow it with hundreds more. That’s how you write a great novel. Take Hourglass as inspiration.

The back of the ARC says Hourglass will debut in May, but Amazon says it’s coming June 14. So, either it has been delayed or some other retailer has an exclusive for a while. Either way, get it when it comes out. I know you won’t be disapppointed.

Write On!

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Rest in Peace L.K. Madigan

February 26, 2011
L.K. Madigan headshot

L.K. Madigan

In January, I wrote about the wonderful community that children’s book writing has and how they were supporting young adult author L.K. Madigan, who had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Madigan passed away this week, and the support for her family continues. Fellow author April Henry has written that, if you want to do something in memory of this writer, you can donate to her son’s college fund.

I didn’t know Madigan, but I’ve read wonderful advice she gave via former agent Colleen Lindsay: “The main thing is to WRITE. Some days it might be 2,000 words. Some days, you might tinker with two sentences until you get them just right. Both days belong in the writing life. Some days, you may watch a Doctor Who marathon or become immersed a book that is so good you can’t stop reading. Some days, you may be in love or in mourning. Those days belong in the writing life too. Live them without guilt.”

Madigan’s husband wrote a lovely post on her blog after she passed away.

Whether you know Madigan’s work or not, please spread the word about her and her books. She will always be remembered through those.

Write On!

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Self-publishing and ebooks

February 24, 2011

Going into the Austin SCBWI chapter’s annual conference this weekend — it was great, by the way — I was curious to find out how middle-grade novels are selling in ebooks, as that’s what I write. I’ve seen lots of articles in the Publishers Lunch enewsletter saying that ebook sales are rocketing in adult books and even taking off in young adult, but I suspected that middle-grade was behind. According to Egmont‘s Elizabeth Law, I was right. She said they’re not seeing noticeable ebook sales in middle grade.

Anathema book cover

Megg Jensen's self-published YA novel Anathema

Even though MG is slower to this technology, it’s great to see ebooks being embraced so quickly. As I wrote in January, sales of ereaders were stellar for the Christmas season, with many places selling out. Although I still love — LOVE — physical books, whether a book is printed on paper or eink, it’s still a story. And if this new technology is enticing more readers to stories, that can only be good.

The new technology also is changing the publishing landscape. With ebooks, it’s easier than ever — and less expensive — to self-publish books. Author J.A. Konrath has written about this extensively on his A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog. He had gone the traditional route before he started publishing his books on his own as ebooks, but he gives good arguments of why that doesn’t matter. YA author Amanda Hocking is an example, selling more than 185,000 ebook copies of her self-published novels.

Now, I’m not saying all writers should stop submitting to agents and editors of traditional publishing houses and go it alone. There are definite advantages to being signed by an agent and getting your work published by someone else. Let’s face it, most writers are not so great at the business end. And throwing an ebook on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or wherever doesn’t automatically mean it will sell; there’s marketing, publicity … oh, and the book should be good (editors are invaluable) or repeat sales won’t be much.

But the advent of ebooks has made it easier for writers to take the publishing of their work into their own hands, and blogs and social networking make it easier to build publicity.

YA author Megg Jensen is trying just that with her novel Anathema. And so far, it looks like she’s off to a great start. The book launched on Tuesday, and as of Wednesday, she had already sold 50 copies. She’s hosting a contest right now where people can guess how many books she will have sold by March 11, and the main prize? An ereader. Now that’s what I call promoting future business.

What do you think? Would you be willing to read a book if it’s self-published, either in print or as an ebook?

Write On!

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New Enid Blyton book uncovered

February 23, 2011

Being British — to my American readers, yep, that’s right, if I was talking instead of typing, I’d have a funny accent 🙂 — the first author I knew by name because I loved her books so much was Enid Blyton. I keep naming things in my books Nod after her Noddy!

So seeing the news from the BBC that an unpublished novel of hers has been found, I got goosebumps. I, for one, am dieing to read it. How about you?

If you had the chance to read a lost manuscript from a children’s book author, whose would it be?

Write On!

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Book recommendation

February 22, 2011

I don’t write book reviews — I’m not a fast reader — but when I find a book that I really love, I like to write it. Today’s book recommendation is for Gayle Forman‘s young adult novel If I Stay.

If I Stay book coverI discovered this book when Gayle was a speaker at the Teen Book Con in Houston last year. When I go to writers’ events, I try to support the industry by buying a few of the speakers’ books, and If I Stay was one of the novels I picked up that day.

The book’s premise intrigued me immediately: After being in a car accident with her parents and young brother, a teenager falls into a coma. But her spirit stands outside her body, and as she watches her family, friends, doctors and nurses try to keep her alive, she considers if it’s worth it.

You could say I’m drawn to the dark, and this book was no exception.

But what also touched me was the way Gayle talked about it. She said that when we’re writing, we shouldn’t worry about the market or whether a book will sell when we’re done. We should follow our heart and write the story we want to tell. That’s what she did with this novel, putting her whole heart into the writing, and that’s what made me want to read it.

If I Stay pulled me in from the first few pages, and I couldn’t put it down. I finished the book in less than a week, which is fast for me — the only time I get to read is while I’m brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed.

It’s a touching and beautifully written novel that has a lot of heart.

I highly recommend it.

What book did you read recently that you’d like to recommend?

Write On!

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Authors helping authors

January 18, 2011

The Mermaid's Mirror book coverWhen I joined the children’s book writing community, one of the things I was immediately impressed with was how supportive everyone was. Not all writing communities — or all creative communities — are like that, and it’s wonderful that children’s book writers are. On Verla Kay’s board yesterday, I saw another example, author Cindy Pon writing about and supporting fellow author L.K. Madigan.

Madigan, author of Flash Burnout and The Mermaid’s Mirror, was recently diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, and Pon put out a call for support. Pon and the other 2009 Debutantes are giving away copies of Madigan’s books to create awareness, but she also hopes you’ll add them to your Goodreads lists, tell your friends about them (if you’ve read them) and do whatever else you can to spread the word.

I haven’t read Madigan’s books, but they sound great and have gone on my plan-to-buy list.

So, if you haven’t read Madigan’s books, check them out and spread the word about this wonderful author.

Write On!