Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"What The...?!" Wednesday #2: What is ALA, and What is the ALA Conference?

Funny you should ask, as I happen to have spent this weekend at the ALA Conference in Seattle.

There will be pictures and everything. Hold on to your hats!

(Okay but seriously feel free to jump in with your own questions anytime. This one's kind of a gimmee.) ------>

Anyway, ALA stands for the American Library Association, and the ALA Conference is a week-long event in which librarians, publishers, authors, book reviewers, book bloggers, school teachers, publicists, marketing directors, avid readers, and even library suppliers (those enormous "return" bins outside libraries have to come from somewhere) meet up at a convention to discuss the state of the industry from several angles.

Me and Mom outside our hotel in Seattle
The conference I attended was the Midwinter Meeting and Exhibition. The ALA Annual will occur June 27 - July 2 in Chicago.

Some publishers use their booth to give away advance copies of their upcoming books, plus posters, calendars, and other swag. Others host book signings and buzz panels to showcase established authors or introduce debut authors to the world.

Image Blatantly Stolen from AbramsKids Instagram

My Very First Book Signing! Photo Credit: Mom

Bonus WTW Question: Why on earth would publishers want to give away free copies of their yet-to-be released books to hundreds, nay, thousands of librarians?

Bonus WTW Answer: In the hopes that those librarians will fall in love and purchase final copies for their libraries.

Bonus, Bonus Answer: Forging personal connections with librarians isn't just good business, it's fun.

My publisher, Abrams/Amulet, very generously arranged for me (BRUISED), Cat Winters (IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS), Patrick Jennings (BAT AND RAT), Tom Angleberger (FAKE MUSTACHE, Art2 D2), Nikki McClure (HOW TO BE A CAT), and Margi Preus (SHADOW ON THE MOUTAIN) to participate in the convention.

I've never done a book signing or spoken publicly to strangers about my book, so needless to say, I was excited but nervous. Luckily, I had a secret weapon: my mom, a former librarian, traveled with me. Yay, Mom, you're the best!

We had a lovely time, and I'm grateful to the Abrams team -- Maggie Lehrman, Jason Wells, Cecily Kaiser, and Laura Milhalick -- for including me in the festivities.

Jason, Cecily, and Maggie Introduce the Spring '13 Catalog
I spoke at a book buzz panel, a librarian luncheon, and a local bookseller dinner. I also signed copies of BRUISED at the awesome Abrams booth, and flew home with a bag full of books from throughout the exhibit hall.

Want more scoop from ALA Midwinter? Check out Cat Winters' blog for her take on the weekend.

Cat Winters (IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS) and me outside the Abrams Buzz Panel

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"What The...?!" Wednesday #1: Why Does Publishing Take So Long?

Oh, does it take long? I hadn't noticed.

Har. Hee! Whee.

Back in early 2011, when I jumped up and down and told my friends and family I'd sold my book, they thought that meant it was going to be in bookstores within the month. "When can I get it?" they asked, sweetly, naively. "Next week?"

"Spring 2013," I said, and felt a perverse joy in watching their eyes glaze over.

"Whaaaaa? Why does it take so long?"

My experience happens to be with traditional publishing, so I can only speak to that, but I hope this proves informative to other writers and their anxious loved ones.

The short, simplified answer is: quality control. And thank goodness for it.

A manuscript isn't acquired by an editor at a publishing house because it's perfect; it's acquired because the editor likes the raw material and believes she can help shape and mold it into something even better.

Such was the case with my book. Before I signed a publishing contract, I spoke with my agent, Sara Megibow, and my potential editor, Maggie Lehrman, on a conference call so I could get a sense of how Amulet Books worked and what Maggie envisioned for the story. I LOVED her ideas and immediately wished I’d already implemented them.

The first stage of edits consists of general edit notes: the broad ideas about plot, theme, or possibly reworking character arcs, both big and small, throughout the book. That took a few months.

Next up were line edits, which dig in to more detailed, sentence-level edits for meaning and consistency.

After that were copy edits and proofing, which correct word usage, grammar (unless the character voice deliberately eschews it), typos, and redundancies.

Next up: First pass pages! This is exciting because it's the first time you get to see the book's layout: how the finished product will appear, complete with fonts. *YES, I got way too excited about my font.

First pass pages are followed guessed it...second pass pages. And keep in mind I wasn't Maggie's only book, of course. While all this was going on, she was editing several other novels on her list, not to mention reading tons of brand-new submissions.
Other talented people were hard at work designing the book's cover and interior art (read my review with Abram's Associate Art Director, Maria Middleton), writing catalog and jacket copy, printing up the ARCs (advance reader copies) for reviewer and/or bloggers, creating marketing plans, and more.

Were there days I wished I could jump ahead to the release date? Sure! But now that it's fast approaching, I find myself grateful that nothing was rushed into publication before it was ready. (And from what I've heard, most writers still go through their published books thinking of things they'd change.)

If I didn't have all that help from the talented people at Amulet, my book wouldn't be half as good as it it's turned out to be. And on March 5, I hope you'll see for yourself how their amazing work paid off!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Introducing "What The...! Wednesdays"

Considering that...

A) It's not Wednesday but Thursday that I'm typing this
B) I have no topics pre-selected for tonight anyway

...I'll understand if the title of this post is confusing. Last year I updated my blog (almost) every Thursday, but for 2013, I'm moving to Wednesdays, for a new series I like to call "What The...! Wednesdays." On "WTW"s, I'll be answering questions about books, publishing, agents, editing, and anything else I feel equipped to explain / pontificate on now that my book is honest-to-God coming out, with a second contracted for 2014, and a third being rough drafted.

Until recently, I didn't feel comfortable writing advice posts because I didn't believe I had the authority or experience to talk about publishing. Not saying I'm suddenly an expert, but I have learned A LOT over the past couple of years and I think it'd be fun to answer questions for those who are starting out or want to know more about the process of becoming a traditionally published author.

On that note, feel free to send me questions via Twitter or email, and I'll post my answers on the blog every(ish) Wednesday. If I don't know the answer, I'll find someone in publishing who does, and interview them on the topic.

In other news, I joined Sleuths, Spies & Alibis, a fabulous resource for teachers, librarians, writers, and mystery/thriller fans of all ages.

I also continue to be active at the Lucky 13s blog, where we're celebrating our debut year (AT LAAAAAAAAST) in style. Check out our frequently updated Appearances page to find out when a Lucky 13s author will be signing books or speaking on a panel near you!

See you next Wednesday, Mousketeers.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Art Designer Maria Middleton Talks About The Cover for BRUISED & More!

I'm extremely excited to post the following behind-the-scenes interview with Maria T. Middleton, the talented Associate Art Director at Abrams Books.

Welcome, Maria!
Before I ever knew she'd be designing the cover for my book, I'd admired her breathtaking work on such stand-out titles as SHINE and BLISS by Lauren Myracle, SPLINTERED by AG Howard, and ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET by Joanne Rocklin. Check them out:

Here's Maria in her own words about her process, and how she came up with the cover for my martial arts-themed book, BRUISED (below, available March 5th!)

How did you get started in art design? Was it something you always hoped to pursue?
I was always one of those "artsy" kids, but didn't really get into graphic design until high school. I was the editor of my high school yearbook, so in addition to writing articles, I was also responsible for the theme and design of the book: creating spreads, placing photos, text, captions, sidebars, etc. (Which is pretty much what I do now!) Aside from appealing to my slightly OCD personality, I loved the creative process of bringing stories to life. Having this foundation, I went to art school and knew design was what I wanted to pursue.  

Did you have a favorite book cover growing up?
Yes! The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. I thought the illustrated Charlotte Doyle—with her blue eyes and 80s wind-blown brown hair—was SO pretty. (I think I actually took the paperback with me to the hair dressed and said, I want my hair to look like that.) It's still one of my favorite novels.

Which covers stand out for you today as being particularly remarkable, evocative, or beautiful?
Oh, there are so many! One of my favorites is the Beautiful Creatures series designed by David Caplan. The third book in the series, Beautiful Chaos, literally called to me from the shelf in the bookstore. The typography is stunning and the special effects are perfect—especially the soft-touch matte lamination, which makes it impossible to put down. Bunheads, designed by Tracy Shaw, is another great cover, as is Chasing Lincoln's Killer designed by Phil Falco and Lizzy Bromley's insanely, incredible double-sided jacket for The Blessed.  

How many sketches or drafts do you typically go through before a cover is finalized? Have you ever gotten it right with the first try?
It really depends on the project. For Lauren Myracle's Shine, I probably did something like 15 exploratory comps before landing on the right idea. With other projects, like Shelley Coriell's YA novel, Welcome Caller This is Chloe, my first idea ended up becoming the final.  

How many books do you design for Abrams/Amulet a year, and how do you go about designing them? Do you jot down ideas as you're reading, or read first and brainstorm later? How did you go about it for BRUISED?
In the course of a year, I'll design/art direct about 25–30 titles. For novels, I like to read the manuscript first, 1) because I'm a big kid at heart and YA/middle grade fiction is still my favorite, and 2) I think the best ideas for covers come straight from the text. I'll sketch ideas/thoughts while I'm reading and then discuss them with the editor to make sure we're on the same page. I think editorial input is really helpful because most editors have a vision for a project and I like to use that vision as a spring-board for the design. Bruised happened exactly this way.  

Many YA books in the past few years have used headless models, or partial images of teenage girls. Your cover for BRUISED is symbolic rather than literal, which I absolutely love. How did you come up with the broken trophy concept for BRUISED?
First off: I love this story! I took Tae Kwon Do as a kid, so Imogen's character appealed to me immediately. After reading an early manuscript, I knew there were three things I wanted to convey with the cover: the female narration, the sense of loss/brokenness, and the martial arts angle. My first comps were actually more literal and less symbolic, but I changed course after talking to the book's fabulous editor, Maggie Lehrman, who wanted something very iconic. So I started browsing stock photos for visual metaphors for martial arts, which is where I came across the trophy.

On its own, the trophy checked two of my three requirements—I just needed to add the element of brokenness. Separating the limbs from the body seemed like the most obvious way to show brokenness, so I didn't explore that right away. At first I tried making the trophy look rusted, then corroded, then burned, but those effects started to muddy the graphic approach. In the end, the clean breaks worked best. And splaying the limbs at weird angles rounded out the idea.

How important are colors when setting a tone, mood, and style? What mood were you hoping to evoke for BRUISED by using a gradient blue background, red title font, and a gold trophy? Are there any colors you generally stay away from?
Color is a powerful tool, ranking right up there with concept, composition, and typography. There really aren't any colors that I specifically avoid, but I do gravitate toward complimentary and primary color schemes, which I used for Bruised. Because the trophy is an orangey-gold, I knew it would pop on a darker background. Solid black was striking, but seemed a little too heavy, so I replaced it with blue (orange's compliment) and the gradient adds depth and brings the focus right to the trophy. It also gives a subtle sense of rising or transformation, which is key to Imogen's journey. I will admit that red is my favorite color (so use it a lot!), but I chose red for the display (or title) type because it vibrates ever so slightly on the blue background, and that creates a sense of tension that prepares readers for the story within.  

Something I never realized until going through the publishing process is that art designers don't just focus on covers, but inside elements as well. Tell us a little bit about the inside design for BRUISED. How do you go about choosing fonts, spacing, chapter headings, page number placement, etc.? What factors go into your decisions?
As a book designer, it's my job to ensure that a book feels like a package deal. I view design as the glue that aesthetically holds a book together. Continuity in design can add to the storytelling process when all of a book's elements (fonts, end papers, margins, jacket effects, folios, etc.) work together to carry the theme of the book from cover to cover.

For novels, the design process almost always begins with the cover, so a book's interior should feel like an extension of the cover. With Bruised, the cover is minimal and graphic, so I wanted the interior to mirror that aesthetic. Being the typography-nerd that I am, I like to believe that the main body font sets the tone for the text, so I always begin there. I wanted a more angular, slightly modern serif that would pair well with Democratica, the display type, so I chose Spectrum (designed in 1952 by Jan van Krimpen) because it has those qualities as well as a vulnerability that seemed fitting for Imogen's character. The chapter pages are very minimal, containing just one illustrated element: the blood spatter from the cover. I reused the display type for the chapter numbers and folios because the Democratica letterforms are quirky and add visual interest.

As a reader and designer, I love generous margins, so I always try to incorporate that into my design. But with Bruised in particular, I wanted to balance the tension of the cover with a delicate lightness that would flow from page to page.

I would say you did a fabulous job, Maria. Thanks so much for answering my questions, and for creating such a terrific cover for BRUISED!