—not sure where this comes from
This was first published in March of 2015. On our countdown of Most Read Blog Posts, it’s number 2, in which we look at something every hardcover book has: the jacket flap.
There is an aspect of book writing and publishing that folks don’t talk about much, but is actually quite important: what is called flap copy. Flap copy is the brief description of the book that appears on the inside flap of the book cover. There is also the bio. And there is copy on the back of the book.
Consider how people select a book to read. The title. The cover. Very important. And very often they read that flap copy to see what the book is about, (subject matter) the kind of book it is (science fiction, mystery, romance, etc.) and perhaps the style (funny, sentimental, scary) and so forth. It is key in helping the reader decided if they are going to read (buy? borrow?) that book.
Who writes that copy? Generally speaking it is the editor who writes it. Sometimes someone from the marketing department does. Often, but not always, that draft is shared with the writer. Do I like it? Do I think it gets the book right? Do I approve? Want to change it?
Remember, one has only a few words in a small space.
There have been times I have had very little to say or suggest. There have been times I have rewritten that flap copy entirely. Today I received flap copy for my collection of short stories, The Most Important Thing, which will be published (Candlewick) in 2016.
It was fine, but there were ways I thought it could be smoother, a bit more engaging. So I worked on it, sent it in. The editor felt it was improved. It’s another example of the collaborative nature of publishing but a facet rarely mentioned. But, oh, how important!
But it’s always worth making a flap.
“The writer’s job is to imagine the truth.“
This was first published in December of 2013. On our countdown of Most Read Blog Posts, it’s number 3, in which we look at the idea of reading for pleasure.
One of the hardest things about writing is learning to like what you are writing. Why should this be? I suspect it’s because you came to writing because you loved to read, loved good writing. So you know what good writing is. The process of writing, however, means that when you write, your writing is not, at first, going to be good. And you know it.
Nobody, nobody, writes anything well the first time. If anyone tells you otherwise, don’t believe it. As I often tell students, if you write something, and you think it’s good, you are in trouble. Write something and know it’s not very good, and you are on your way. This means that it is perfectly understandable that when you sit down to work, there’s an internal groan, a reluctance to engage. Why? Because you sense your work is no good. And you are right! It is only by pushing forward, with discipline, diligence, and yes, courage, that you can begin to shape your work into something you can respect, and eventually like.
My good friend and fine writer, Betty Miles, once confessed that it took her some six months working on a book before she felt like a writer. Learning to be patient with yourself—and your work—is obligatory for writers.
(On this album cover, Lee Hays is on the right.)
This was first published in March of 2013. On our countdown of Most Read Blog Posts, it’s number 4, in which we look at the idea of reading for pleasure.
The other day I was visiting a high school class. When I was taking questions, a ninth grader asked me how I go about putting symbolism and hidden meanings in my books. When I replied that I do not put hidden meanings and symbolism in my books, the boy’s response was, “But my teacher is always pointing out that stuff in the books we read, including yours.”
There are many things one can teach about a book: its context, language, style, construction, its historical moment, and so forth. The list is long, and productive. But to teach as if a text is written in code—a code only a teacher can decipher—is to tell students that they cannot understand what is being read. It makes readers feel dumb. It tells them they cannot understand literature. Most importantly, if one teaches literature in such a fashion, it robs a student of the joy of reading on his or her own terms and experience.
“You really don’t put symbols and hidden meanings in your books?” the boy asked incredulously.
“Nope,” I said. “I just want you to have the pleasure of reading them.”
“Wow,” he said, as other students nodded. “I wish you would tell that to my teacher.”
As it turned out, unbeknown to me, there was a literature teacher in the classroom. When the kids left, she introduced herself.
I said, “I hope you weren’t offended by my remarks.”
“Oh no,” she assured me, “I suppose one could make a case for reading for pleasure.”
I hope I did.
This was first published in August of 2014. On our countdown of Most Read Blog Posts, it’s number 5. In which we look at the idea of “fun” in connection with writing children’s books.
The other day I was having my annual eye checkup. Lisa, the young technical assistant was going over my basic data sheet.
LISA: It says here you are a writer. What do you write?
AVI: Novels for kids.
“That must be fun,” she says and moves on to my medical history.
“That must be fun” is the most common response folks articulate upon learning what I do for a living. I suspect it conveys a whole range of inferences, such as: since your writing is about kids, the work cannot be hard; that books for young people are about lightweight subjects; that writing for young people means your life is like a young person’s life, which is to say, without much responsibility, ergo fun. This happens, I suspect because what is embedded in adult memory about their reading when young—if they did read—are books which they recall as frivolous.
At an early stage of my existence, the preeminent shared reading experience among us young, would-be writers was The Catcher in the Rye. Moving along a time line, it became A Wrinkle in Time, then The Bridge to Terabithia. No doubt, other writers can reference other titles that caught and held their emotional intellect enough to make them say, “I want to do that.”
In short, the book which provides the greatest impact is the one full of complex ideas, characters, and emotions, a book which articulates and echoes the complex ideas, characters, and emotions of the young reader. There is nothing wrong about books that are fun. More power to them. I do believe, however, it is the hard book that opens the mind and keeps it open.
“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.“
This was first published in January of 2013. It has been read so often that it’s #6 on the countdown of Most Read Blog Posts. Serialization is a popular form all its own.
Once Dickens made serialization popular, and profitable, it became a 19th Century publishing norm. There was the work of Dickens of course, but think of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, War and Peace, Sherlock Holmes, and many, many more. They were issued in serialized form. Recall that most important 19th (and 20th) century magazine for young people, St. Nicholas, which ran serialized novels. Growing up, I read the serialized novels of Thornton W. Burgess in the daily pages of the New York Herald Tribune. All followed the credo of Wilkie Collins, who, when speaking of the methodology of serialization, said, “Make them cry, make them laugh, make `em wait.”
The longest book I’ve written, Beyond the Western Sea, was my attempt to write a Victorian-like saga. At 675 pages there was nothing of that length in the children’s book world in the pre Harry Potter era, 1995. Indeed I decided to write the book in short chapters, with each chapter having a cliff-hanging ending, so as to propel my readers to read just one more, as if had been written for serialization. [In fact, the publisher was so nervous about the book’s length that they issued it in two volumes, which proved to be a mistake.] When the book was done it came to my mind that I might try to do actual serialization in newspapers. That was the birth of Breakfast Serials.
Why did serialization become so popular? In the 19th Century, literacy was spreading among masses of people. Buying serial installments was a lot cheaper than buying a book. More than that, a serialized story means, beyond all else, a shared story. Social reading. Think of the book club experience, but multiply it by thousands! Think what a relief it is (say in a classroom) not to have the fast reader spoil the book for the slow reader by announcing what happens next. They can’t, because no one knows. Readers are always on the same page.
To be continued …