Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Audience? What Audience?

I have just read yet another reference (in a review on Fuse #8) to "the current 'Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus' trend of breaking down the fourth wall and allowing the reader the chance to affect a picture book character’s actions." Surely I am not the only out-of-the-loop person wondering what are the first three walls. Could you please explain?

"The fourth wall" is an expression that comes from theater. The people on stage are pretending they are in a room: three of the room's walls are right there, on stage, with the furniture and other props. The fourth wall, the one closest to the audience, is not there. But because it is a play, the actors pretend there is a wall there (and not an audience), and interact solely with each other (and not the audience).
So "to break the fourth wall" is when an actor addresses the audience, breaking the suspension of disbelief that allows us to pretend what we're watching is its own self-contained world.

By extension, the expression has come to mean any situation in which the presence of an audience is acknowledged. Do you remember in Ferris Bueller's Day Off when Matthew Broderick looks directly at the camera, sharing a joke with the audience? That's breaking the fourth wall.

In children's books, this is not a new thing. You've read The Monster At the End of This Book, yes? Basically, breaking the fourth wall is just another way (though not the only one) to work in audience participation. Audience participation is very compelling to audiences everywhere, but especially so to children. Children don't see why they should be patient and let the artform reveal itself before they start being entertained. And, for that matter, neither do I.

Readers, what other children's books can you think of that ask for audience participation?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How Successful Authors Think

The Children's Book Insider has a great feature article about the mindset of successful authors. (It's near the bottom of the page.) My thanks to Laura Backes for putting it so nicely!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's Official!

Melinda Beavers wins! Congrats, Melinda!

Miss Snark had a vicious poodle, and I have an adorable paper-eating monster. (So I believe I win, too. Nyah, nyah.)

Thanks to Melinda, and also many sincere thanks to everyone who sent me a slush monster! And you seemed to have such fun doing it! I have awesome readers.

(Melinda, you mentioned on your blog that you weren't quite happy with him... email me ok?)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

50 Ways to Leave your Agent

BookEnds has a great post about divorcing your agent—one that gives you an idea of how much work an agent does. Good reading for everyone.

And Nathan Bransford, who might run for blogger class president (he's so cute! and upbeat! if he wasn't so smart, I'd have to kill him!), has a very good post about how long it takes to sell a book. Yes, it's thaaaaaat looooooong.

Also, don't forget to vote below for the blog monster/mascot!

The History of Rejection

Rejection has been with us since our very beginnings; it could be termed an innate human quality. I think it's high time we embraced rejection, rather than, you know, rejecting it.

Scientists theorize that the very earliest communities of homo-sapiens were non-verbal*, but as social structures and patterns developed, the use of rocks, fallen branches, and other blunt objects as modes of communication became, understandably, marginalized. So came the need for a new form of rejection; one that could hurt but not injure another member of the community. Thus, language was born.

So it is probable that mankind's first real word, as with many toddlers, was "No!".

No plays an important part in all of human culture, and is to be found as a pivotal element in the oldest stories and religions. What were God's first and second interactions with Adam and Eve (not to mention several more thereafter)? To forbid, and to punish. Both are versions of the Eternal No.

Once you start looking for it, you'll realize that No is everywhere. The ten commandments are all versions of No, with the exception of the fourth and fifth (keep the sabbath; honor your parents), which, as two of the things people are most likely to want to say no to, represents an implied no as well (ie, God gets to say no, not you.)

But in this, as in publishing, no amount of No seems to have the desired effect. One imagines Jesus talking to the angels and saying, "What the hell is wrong with these people? We post the guidelines, but do they read them? And don't even talk to me about conferences. The last time I was down there, every blasted 'disciple' had to write a frickin' book about it, and most of it rhymed! Practically made my ears bleed. Ah, frick, and here's another prayer from Pat Robertson. I hate agents who want to talk about every last line of the contract."

* I'm totally making this up.

Friday, March 7, 2008

BookHabit Contest

BookHabit is running a contest for undiscovered authors, and the grand prize is $5,000 (USD).
The contest ends in May.
Minimum length for an entry is 50,000 words.

BookHabit is a new sort of internet service where authors can upload unpublished work and make it available for individual sale digitally. The website says:
"The price of a book starts at (USD) 2.50 and increases with its popularity, as indicated by the number of buyers. It is free for writers to post books on the site, and they receive 40% of the sale price – which compares well with the 5% to 12% writers receive on the shelf price of their books sold by retail book stores."

I have my doubts about how popular this sort of service may really be, but I'm curious to see how it does.

The contest looks like it's on the up-and-up to me, but you should be aware that you will not be paid for any downloads of your work until at least 20 downloads have been made. And of course you should read the terms and conditions for yourself.

Anyone going to give it a try?

Blog Mascot Finalists

Ok, so I've been procrastinating. And indecisive. I'm not proud of myself. But it was so hard to choose!
The final vote I leave to my readers. But I'll stop taking votes at the end of the day Monday. Or, you know, whenever I get around to it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Work For Hire... Respect for Whom?

I have one picture book published with a medium-sized NY publisher, a handful of magazine sales (to well-known children's magazine), and do a lot of work-for-hire writing for packagers (such as licensed character books, novelty books, etc.). Some writers I know think trade editors look down on writers who do this type of WFH, and they go to some lengths to hide their WFH. (Using pen names, not mentioned it on their website or in cover letters, etc.) Others feel that WFH is a good thing and they're proud to mention it on their websites and in cover letters. I'd love to know your thoughts on this.
I know some WFH writers who don't want their names on the books because they're unhappy with the changes their editors made, but let's assume we're not talking about that.

I'm sure there are some editors who look down on WFH work. I would hope that it's not many—surely everyone knows Ann Martin wrote piles and piles of formulaic Babysitter's Club books before she went on to write Belle Teal, The Doll People, and A Corner of the Universe.

So while a solid history in WFH or series books doesn't necessarily say a great deal about your work's literary merit, it does say that you're someone who has proven you can work to deadline and provide workable text.

I would hope most editors consider WFH as journeyman's work: work which, for a number of authors, can be a meaningful apprenticeship in the trade.

All My Favorite People Are Smart Asses

101 Reasons to Stop Writing, which I've been enjoying for their monthly demotivators, has an interview with Lynn Viehl (who writes for adults, but nobody's perfect).

Sean Lindsay (the man behind the blog) is crusading to get more people to give up writing. Not to give away the ending, but Lynn doesn't do anything to further that cause. Still, everyone who's seen a slush pile appreciates your work, Sean. Here's hoping you keep up the good work, and Lynn keeps kicking ass so hard she needs new shoes.

A sample demotivator:

Monday, March 3, 2008

Books, Books, Books.

Apartment Therapy brings us the stairwell as bookshelf (Thanks to R N Bramwell for the link):

This is great fodder for my fantasy of an apartment where everything is bookshelves. I'll curl up in a bed igloo of books and on the bed, this quilt.