Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Sense of Self

(Cross-posted on the Blue Rose Girls)

More things that have been on my mind lately, in addition to preparations for my trip to CA for ALA and a vacation afterwards, are the various amazing stories I've been hearing on Radio Lab.

Radio Lab is my new obsession, an NPR radio show produced by WNYC. It's been recommended by several friends, and is also one of the favorites of This American Life host Ira Glass. And as This American Life is also one of my favorites, I thought I'd check it out.

I've been downloading many of the old podcasts, and one in particular that I found fascinating was the episode "Who Am I?" with discussions about the concept of self. It included a story about how a scientist experimented giving chimps a mirror to see if the chimps would eventually recognize themselves. At first, the chimps thought that their reflection was another chimp, and treated it as such, but after a few minutes, it started to seem that they recognized that it was a reflection of themselves--for example, they would test the reflection with motion, and appeared to be "checking themselves out," etc. But to prove this, the researchers used anesthesia on the chimps, and while they were asleep, painted a red mark on their foreheads. When the chimps woke up and looked at the mirror, seeing their reflection with a red mark on the forehead, they would touch their own foreheads to see what the red mark was, a sure sign that the knew that the reflection was themselves.

I was curious as to when babies are able to recognize themselves in a mirror, and found that it's generally at nine months of age. While doing a little additional research, I also found an article that stated, "Self-recognition has traditionally been considered a sign of superior intelligence, since so far only species such as chimpanzees, dolphins, orangutans and humans have managed to achieve it." To take this a step further, the article is about a robot at Yale that is also able to recognize itself in a mirror.

And here's another article about monkeys who don't seem to know that the monkey in the mirror is a reflection, but also treat the reflection differently than they would treat another monkey.

Anyway, there's so many more incredible stories in that episode and others. The shows on laughter and deception are also fascinating.

And what does this all have to do with children's books? Nothing, I guess. It was just on my mind!


For those of you who were curious, last week's Focus meeting went fairly well, I think. And also, I'm still leaning towards a Mac. I'm tempted by the black, but am still drawn to the white. Hmmm...

I may not be able to post for the next few Mondays because of the aforementioned ALA and vacation, but will do my best!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Focus meeting and Sneak Peak

(Cross-posted from Blue Rose Girls.)

Our Focus meeting for our Spring 2009 list is this afternoon. I've touched briefly on this before, but I thought I'd take this opportunity to procrastinate from preparing for the meeting by talking a little bit more about what Focus means.

This is how I defined it in an earlier post on Bloomabilities:
For those of you who don't know what Focus is, it's sometimes called Launch, sometimes called Presales. Basically, it's the first formal meeting that we have to introduce our books on a certain list to the sales force. Generally, we have a Focus meeting, then a Presales meeting, and finally the formal Sales meeting.
And so, to set the stage: our Focus meeting is held in the largest of our conference rooms. There is a large table on one end of the room, and additional seating set up as rows of chairs on the other end. I'd say that there are usually about 50 or so people in attendance--generally just the in-house sales and marketing people, which would include Trade Sales, International Sales, Special Sales, Subrights, etc. Occasionally, some of the regional sales reps will attend as well.

In preparation for the meeting, editorial has updated the Title Fact Sheets (these are called Tip Sheets at other publishers, and probably have still more names elsewhere) which are distributed to attendees. Basically, these are what they sound like--they give all the facts for our titles: price, trim size, page count, age group, pub date, etc., a "handle" or tag line, a longer description that will include plot information, selling handles (for example, "Great for Valentine's Day promotions" or "Book has a fun seek-and-find element that lends itself to multiple readings"), reviews and awards for previous books if applicable, and sales from previous books and comparable titles.

Our Marketing department puts together a Power Point slide show, coordinating with Design and Editorial to get the appropriate cover images and interior images.

Our publisher and associate publisher start the meeting with a quick wrap-up of the last season, talking about numbers, successes, books that we shouldn't forget about, and then we go into the new season. Generally, the presentation is ordered according to genre/age group--we do picture books first, then novelty, then middle grade, then young adult. Each editor presents the titles they've edited; we have just 1-2 minutes per title, so we have to be pithy. In addition to quickly introducing the project, touching on the plot, we try to bring in a memorable anecdote that will help get the Sales group interested and excited, remember the book, and then be able to pitch the book themselves to our accounts.

In addition to introducing the books to our Sales group, Focus meeting is also an opportunity for us to get feedback from the larger Sales group on everything from format, covers, prices, and more. Sometimes the feedback is welcome and useful, but sometimes it can be frustrating if we get negative feedback on something that may be too late or too difficult to change. And of course the reaction we're always hoping for is that at the end of the meeting everyone applauds and says, "What a strong list!" and seems excited to start selling.

Let's hope that's the reaction we get this afternoon.

And now, to give you a sneak peak, here are the books I'll be presenting (with their tag lines!):

Picture Books:

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
In this beautifully illustrated environmental story by Peter Brown, a young boy tends to a meager garden which blossoms and spreads across the city.

When the Moon Forgot by Jimmy Liao
An evocative, gorgeously-illustrated story about an unusual friendship between a boy and the moon, who has forgotten to return to the sky, by world-renowned illustrator Jimmy Liao.

Sergio Saves the Game by Edel Rodriguez
Sergio, the adorable penguin who won our hearts in Sergio Makes a Splash, returns with a story about soccer, determination, and discovering one's true talents.

Middle Grade:

Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez
A heartwarming debut middle grade novel about a young Latina girl navigating growing pains in her South Texan city.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (YAY!)
A new middle grade novel that crosses fantasy with Chinese folklore in a wondrous story of adventure, devotion, and friendship, from the creator of the beloved Year of the Dog.

Young Adult:

Geektastic edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci
Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci have united in geekdom to edit a collection of short stories from some of the greatest names (and geeks) in YA literature. Get your geek on!

Fade to Blue by Sean Beaudoin
An intriguing, smart, and satisfying YA mystery in the tradition of M.T. Anderson's Feed and Ned Vizzini's Be More Chill. This is Donnie Darko meets Ghost World.


The Postcard by Tony Abbott
The Devouring by Simon Holt (the hardcover is pubbing this Fall)

And now, back to working on my presentations!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The voice for animals

I had the pleasure of watching the live taping of the Colbert Report on Tuesday--it was a great experience, especially as I haven't been to a taping of any show in a while (I did a bunch of them when I first moved to NY six years ago). Stephen Colbert was so personable--he took questions from the audience before the taping, and the last question was, "What is your best Karaoke song?" The answer? "King of the Road," and he proceeded to swing into the first verse, and he was indeed masterful.

The guest was author and zoologist Alan Rabinowitz, and I have to say, his story about what inspired him to work with animals was so touching, it almost made me (and Stephen) cry. It starts at about 1:13.

After the show, Stephen shook my hand (and, okay, those of half of the audience). Nice firm handshake. I heart Stephen Colbert!

Monday, June 09, 2008

meme of fives

Julie over at no want decaf! tagged me for this meme a while ago. Better late than never!

The rules of the meme get posted at the beginning. Each person answers the questions about themselves. At the end of the post, the blogger then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

What were you doing five years ago?
I was an associate editor at my same company, and had been living in NY for about one year.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
1. Review and decline manuscripts
2. go to pilates class
3. post at Blue Rose Girls
4. meet with an illustrator about a potential project
5. call an author about ALA plans

What are five snacks you enjoy?
1. popcorn!
2. Pirate's Booty (just finished off a bag tonight)
3. fruit
4. string cheese
5. Baked Lays

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
1. Get my pilot's license
2. Travel the world
3. Be a foster/adopted mother
4. Buy property with a tower
5. Donate more to causes I believe in

What are five of your bad habits?
1. Eating when I'm not hungry
2. Procrastinating by watching TV or surfing the Internet
3. Watching bad reality television (like the Bachelorette which is on now)
4. Mumbling
5. Adding "or not" to the end of suggestions

What are five places where you have lived?
1. Edison, NJ
2. Berkeley, CA
3. Somerville, MA
4. Taipei, Taiwan
5. Diamond Bar, CA

What are five jobs you’ve had?
1. Mrs. Field's Cookies cashier
2. B&N bookseller
3. Lawrence Hall of Science front desk clerk
4. Fields+Hellman film production intern
5. English tutor/teacher

What five people do you want to tag?
Grace, Rita, Maria, Tanya, and Sara.

What I Like

(cross-posted from the Blue Rose Girls)

While at the SCBWI Austin conference, I had a one-on-one critique with a woman who, as she was sitting down, said quickly, "I know what I wrote isn't your thing, but they said you had a slot open in your schedule and I felt like I had to grab it!"

She had written a paranormal YA novel, and I had actually quite liked what I had read of it (I think we had 10 pages submitted to us).

"Why would you think this wasn't my thing?" I asked.

"Well, I don't know, I've read some of your blog and have seen the kinds of things you've edited..."

Well, that was eye-opening. I don't want my blog to give in inaccurate picture of what I like, so I thought I'd write a post to expand on this subject (restricted to novels for this post) based on the books I liked to read as a child. Because although what I've acquired and edited in the past is certainly indicative of my tastes, there are so many other types of books that either I've acquired but haven't been published yet, and still more that I'm open to but just haven't acquired anything in that genre. The thing is, I guess it's a bit of a cycle--I tend to get submissions in a similar vein to the books I've acquired.

Two books that I've acquired that stand apart from the rest of my list are:

1) The Devouring by Simon Holt, the first in a YA horror series (we've signed up three books so far) due out this Fall. The Devouring is about a teenage girl, Reggie, who loves all things horror--she even works at a mystery/horror bookstore. While unpacking a shipment of used books, Reggie comes across a mysterious journal which describes evil creatures called Vours who can inhabit the bodies of fearful humans on Sorry Night, the eve of the Winter Solstice. Of course, she thinks this is just a harmless scary story, but when her younger brother Henry begins to act strangely, Reggie realizes that there’s some truth behind the journal, and needs to take on the Vours in order to save her brother. (by the way, if this sounds like your kind of thing, you can sign up for the mailing list here.)

2) Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey (I mentioned this in my last post). This was just posted in Publisher's Lunch:
Alvina Ling at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers bought North American and U.K. rights to debut author Karen Healey's Guardian of the Dead, a YA adventure novel about a teen who taps into a magical Maori world and races to prevent the destruction of her homeland in New Zealand. Barry Goldblatt at Barry Goldblatt Literary was the agent.
I remember Barry called me up and asked, "Do you like urban fantasy?"--I'm glad he asked rather than assume it wasn't my thing--I totally love it!

Both of these two books have horror elements. I loved horror as a kid. Stephen King was one of my favorite authors--I read every single book he had ever written by the time I was 12. One of my all-time favorite stories is the novella The Body (which was adapted into the movie Stand By Me) in his Different Seasons collection. I also loved loved LOVED Lois Duncan, especially Killing Mr. Griffin. I read every book by her in my local library as well. I read most of V.C. Andrews as well.

What else did I love? I loved mysteries. I loved the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, Encyclopedia Brown, Phyllis A. Whitney, and especially The Three Investigators.

I loved fantasy and science fiction: Edward Eager, The Chronicles of Narnia, Piers Anthony's Xanth books, Anne McCaffrey's Dragon books, Terry Brooks's Sword of Shannara, Orson Scott Card's Ender series, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle and Time series, Susan Cooper.

I loved animals books: Black Stallion and Black Beauty, Watership Down, Rabbit Hill, Incredible Journey, Where the Red Fern Grows, Rascal, Bambi, Socks, Charlotte's Web.

I loved the commercial: Choose Your Own Adventure, Cheerleaders series (not the R.L. Stine horror series, but YA books about a HS cheerleading team), some Silhouette romances, etc.

I loved the contemporary: Judy Blume, Betsy Byars, Beverly Cleary, Patricia Hermes (You Shouldn't Have to Say Good-bye), Susan Beth Pfeffer (Kid Power), Robert Cormier, S.E. Hinton, Cynthia Voigt, Katherine Paterson.

And, of course, I loved classics (which perhaps is more obvious). I read all the Louisa May Alcott books (my favorites were Little Women and Jack and Jill), all of the L.M. Montgomery books (I especially loved the Emily books), the Great Brain series, Noel Streatfeild's books, A Little Princess, E. Nesbit, Tom Sawyer, etc. etc.

And now I'm realizing that this might not have been helpful after all, because basically I loved almost every genre. As a child, I read anything I could get my hands on, including my brothers' comic books (X-Men) and graphic novels (Sandman). But I hope this serves the purpose of having people not dismiss a submission for me based on genre. Of course my tastes have continued to change over the years and as an adult (I read a lot of narrative nonfiction now, for example), but I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for books that remind me of the books I loved as a child. As an editor, I'm still open to every category. However, what I've come to realize over the years is that I'm more drawn to literary writing than commercial, and that voice is all important to me--there are probably a few books listed above that I wouldn't acquire if they crossed my desk now.

And I know some of you are thinking, "But you don't accept unsolicited manuscripts, so what good does this do me?"--well, I've noticed that many agents are asking their clients if there are any editors they would like to submit to, and so if you're in that boat and weren't sure if your manuscript would be right for me, I hope this helps clear things up a bit.

At any rate, this was a fun exercise--I remembered a few books that I hadn't thought about in a long time. What are some of your forgotten favorites?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Let's sum it all up

Just saw this great video from summing up the Democratic Primary in eight minutes. I guess I didn't have to follow it in real time as closely as I had.

If the video doesn't work, you should be able to see it here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

My children's book weekend in pictures

(Cross-posted belatedly from the Blue Rose Girls)

I had a busy weekend, so I'll try to keep it brief.

Friday night was a Sex and the City movie party at the fahhhbulous Jenny Han's apartment. It wasn't exactly a children's book-related event (although, remember Carrie's children's book idea?), but as several children's book authors were in attendance, I thought it was worth mentioning.

We were told to come dressed as one of the characters, so I went as Charlotte York (in a hand-me-down dress from Grace). I won runner-up for best dressed, and won a pack of Post-its:Here is token male Bennett Madison as Annabelle Bronstein, and Miss Jenny Han, also as Charlotte York:
Ghetto-fabulous Carrie and her prize, a copy of He's Just Not That Into You:A note I left on Jenny's computer:
And some of the girls (including Longstocking Siobhan Vivian) at the theater. A great time was had by all (Charlotte, Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda):
And in case you're curious, I enjoyed the movie. It wasn't Oscar material, but it made me laugh and it made me cry. I miss those ladies.


Saturday I was at agent extraordinaire Barry Goldblatt's apartment for a BBQ in honor of one of his newest clients, and the author of my most recent acquisition, so new that it hasn't even been listed in Pub Lunch yet, Karen Healey. Her debut YA novel (Guardian of the Dead) is an innovative urban fantasy set in her native New Zealand, steeped in Maori lore. It's awesome--stay tuned for more info in the future. Barry and I wrapped up the deal just in time for Karen's visit to the US--it was great to meet her and celebrate!
It was also great to meet some of the contributors to the upcoming YA short story collection (pubbing next Spring) Geektastic edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. Holly was there, and I also got to meet Libba Bray (of course), Cassandra Clare, and Scott Westerfeld (sorry, no more pics).


And finally, gorgeous Sunday was spent up in Mystic for another BRG gathering. We went for a nice long walk to the Farmer's market:
Then had a belated birthday tea party celebration for Grace (Anna made a fantastic cheesecake): There was even the surprise arrival of Meghan, who I know hates being in pictures so I'll do her the favor of not posting one of her here.

Grace, of course, made cupcakes for the occasion--vanilla with chocolate ganache frosting. Yummy.What goodies will this week bring?