The Great Chronicles Book Club


The first time I encountered the Chronicles of Narnia, I was in the third grade, and our teacher, Mrs. Wallace, read a scant half hour of it to us, every day. The English-isms and the tricky storyline were slightly daunting when heard aloud, the magical surrealism a little scary, and a daily half-hour simply wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to sit down and read it for myself. Maybe if I read it, I could get what all the fuss was about. (Fuss= some indignant parents against children hearing dark fairytales at our small private Christian school. You can assume they’d never read it, but maybe heard there were fauns. How I wish people would read first, object later, but… well, maybe I should stop with wishing “people would READ,” but good luck with that…)

Narnia, that grand old city, is finding new life on film this season. WritingYA will be going where only a few in recent years have gone before — back to the books! We’re reading the Narnia series, and we want you to read too. Some of us will want to read them in the order they were written, others in the order of the story. I’m going to begin with The Magician’s Nephew, and read chronologically, since that is the way the series was first introduced to me. As we read through the series, I challenge any of you who’ve seen the movie to tell me if the book is faithful. Does it fulfill the prerequisites of a ‘classic’ to you? What makes a classic?

Until I’ve re-read the novels (and probably not even after that), I’m not going to see the movie. I’m getting a little sick of children’s movies that come from books which children hardly know exist – and then the storyline gets changed for maximum special effects, or chopped into mince, a la Potter… But that’s perhaps a rant for another day.

When did you first encounter Lewis, the mysterious Wardrobe and the world beyond? Read with us! Post your book review, remembrances and errata on our sister site, and tell us what you think.

Marketing — because a good story needs wings

Marketing doesn’t have to be a dirty word. A writer’s least favorite topic in the world is still a topic upon which every one of us should do a bit of solid research… so here I offer my collected wisdom (hah):

A few publishing houses put out guidelines to help their authors market their own books. Recent discussion of the industry on the NorCal SCBWI list-serv has disclosed the phrase ‘no author involvement = no future.’ Yikes! Many writers (myself included) have no idea how to market anything, so it’s nice to get a leg up on where to start. All of us want our books to have some impact on the market, so here’s how to make our publications last.

First, there’s apparently a difference between marketing and publicity — Marketing, as I finally comprehend it (and J, correct me if I’m wrong), operates within the parameters of paid media, and includes advertising and sales promotions, along with a broader focus on product placement, price, and promotion. Publicity is more about PR hustle, and it’s usually associated with image building and management, unpaid media placement like doing readings and appearing at schools or your alma mater, making use of press releases, media kits, press conferences, and that kind of thing. Marketing scans the demographic and creates a need for your book, publicity gives people good feelings about their desire, and the people connected with the product.

For marketing purposes, publisher’s agents suggest that writers not fall prey to the vanity gift — that is, giving away copies of your books to friends and family. They’re supposed to buy them. Instead, writers should use the copies their publishers give them to send to the local city library, local high school library, independent bookstores within fifty miles of their city, and make contacts there that allow them to get in the door and give talks, book signings, and get face to face contact with the people for whom they write.

There are some great books about marketing that can help spark some ideas on how to work this.
o The Savvy Author’s Guide To Book Publicity, by Lisa Warren,Carrol & Graf Publishers
o The Complete Guide To Book Publicity, by Jodee Blanco,Allworth Press
o Publishing For Profit, by Thomas Wolf, Chicago Review Press
o 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, 5th Ed., by John Kremer,Open Horizons
o John Kremer’s Website: http://www.bookmarket.com/tipsconfirm.html
o Publishers Marketing Association Website: http://www.pma-online.org/
o Selling Your Book: The No-Nonsense, Step-by-Step Guide, by John Vonhof, is on his website.


From John Kremer’s Book Marketing Tip of the Week:

Amazon.com: Online Book Reviews
A new study done at the Center for Customer Insights at the Yale School of Management shows that online reviews do impact sales at Amazon.com and BN.com. The study’s authors, Judith Chevalier and Dina Mayzlin, found that:

a. The addition of favorable reviews at one site increases book sales at that site relative to the other retailer.
b. Negative 1-star reviews carry more weight with consumers than do positive 5-star reviews.
c. The impact of a negative review is more powerful in decreasing book sales than a positive review is in increasing sales.
d. Multiple glowing reviews for a book may be perceived as hype generated by an author or publisher (their theory).
e. Reviews at Amazon.com are longer and more detailed in general than those at BN.com.
You can read the entire study HERE.

Happy writing people, and happy marketing.

OH MY GOSH, OH MY GOSH!! Good news!

TWO FRIENDS of mine — count it — two of my Mills girlz have received acclaim in the SmartWriters W.I.N. contest!!!! That’s just made my Monday morning. I’m so proud I could go all girly and squeal! Go A.Fortis!, who placed third in the YA category, and kudos to you, MeiMei!, who has a very honorable mention – with the words New Yorker and her story mentioned in the same sentence. This is BIG!!!! I’m so excited about them getting in, and connecting with an ANTHOLOGY! (We all know this is my not-so-secret dream.)

[PS:If your stories, like mine, did NOT make it into the anthology, consider reworking them and maybe submitting to Cicada or some other YA magazine. There are plenty of options and places that are looking for good stories.]

In more good news, there’s a great bunch of editors who are actively seeking to update their lists for middle-grade and YA writers. SmartWriters.com reported on a couple of folks looking for expand their lists. Ginger Clark, Anna Olswanger and Lauren Barnhardt have posted their addresses and what they’re after specifically. Good luck to those of you making the hard decision about choice about agents.

An ecstatically happy Monday to you!
And congratulations again, girls!!!

Congratulations LitCrawl and LitQuake!

Meanwhile, our Finding Neverland YA Lit Crawl seemed to be just what was needed to put LitQuake in the running for a juicy $25K grant, as was reported in today’s Chronicle. Are we not the coolest? Do we not spread sunshine (and apparently big money) wherever we go? Congratulations to everybody who took part! Maybe next year we’ll all be readers, and this fabulous event about books and writers will be bigger and badder than ever!

Day of the Turkey

Random Insights: Well, so much for “edgy.” The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature went to Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks, her first published book, and a decidedly tame tale of sisters befriending bunnies and a lonely boy. Okay, it’s not truly YA — it could more be said to be a middle-grade novel, maybe one can’t argue the ‘edgy’ thing here successfully, but why am I unsurprised that so sweet a book is a winner? Edgy isn’t dead, but I’m glad there seems to be room at last for something else.

As for my own brush with glory, it’s decidedly less glorious than I had hoped. I do have an agent. I do have a manuscript being shopped. I have had rejections. No more than the usual, but having them come through the filter of someone so sympathetic is almost — seems — no, is worse. Having someone tell me that ‘this is the way the business goes’ isn’t helpful — I want to hear where next we’re sending it!

Some of the reasons for not liking my last piece were that:
a.) it featured far too much about a secondary character,

b.) we’re asked to believe too much about the secondary character without being shown: why aren’t we spending time in his home, with he and his parents?
c.) the main character is much too strong to need the secondary character. Why isn’t something else going on in her life to engage her readers?
d.) the storyline line is going in too many different directions for us to engage with the character.
Sigh. I do wish the editors would pick a gripe and stick with it. One manuscript can’t be all of these things!
I wish you a happy Harvest holiday. Usually at this time of year, it’s time to settle in with mugs of something lovely and mulled, pajamas and good books. Well, the weather is simply relentlessly bright, so while I’m thankfully not bummed out on rain and struggling to be peppy, I am having trouble staying indoors, but rest assured I will be reading through a couple of “vacation days” I give myself, and will be able to post new book reviews on our sister site. Then, the last few days of the month, I send off another piece to my bemused agent, and begin the round of critiquing and revisions — a.k.a. “the trial by acid” once again.
Good luck to all of you as you strive to keep your butts in your chairs and write through the holidays!

From the New Yorker to Children's Lit: Adam Gopnik

Another cheery draftee to children’s literature is New Yorker columnist Adam Gopnik, profiled in The San Francisco Chronicle this morning. Interviewer Regan McMahon writes:

“He was 75 pages into writing an adult novel and realized “it was boring.” Then one day he was in the American Library in Paris, in the room with what he calls stories of the marvelous and the supernatural — “I hate to say children’s literature because it sounds condescending” — “and I thought, those are the kind of books I loved with all my heart and soul, rather than reading with my mind and taste. And as long as I was going to write a book, I wanted to write it from my favorite images and my deepest obsessions, and that was the kind of book where the magical and extraordinary suddenly enters into the life of an ordinary person.”

The article gives a quick sketch of the book’s premise; The King in the Window tells the tale of 11-year-old Oliver, an American boy in Paris with his family who gets drawn into a parallel universe by the revenants in the hotel mirrors who’ve stayed ‘active’ since the reign of Louis XIV. This middle grade novel sounds like an extraordinarily creative jaunt into the paranormal.

Admittedly, it’s always great when an able, articulate general fiction writer crosses over to the kid’s side of the world. However, Gopnik bewilders me a little when he tries to find an apt description of the other literature from the American Library in Paris that he read as he was working on this piece. Do the words ‘children’s literature’ sound condescending to you? (Gopnik prefers to call it ‘literature of the marvelous and the supernatural.’) Whatever you call it, the heartfelt sentiment that ‘these are the books that I love’ rings true, and I hope we all follow the call to write what we love, no matter what anyone else says is marketable, acceptable or trendy.

YHappy WritingY

From the New Yorker to Children’s Lit: Adam Gopnik

Another cheery draftee to children’s literature is New Yorker columnist Adam Gopnik, profiled in The San Francisco Chronicle this morning. Interviewer Regan McMahon writes:

“He was 75 pages into writing an adult novel and realized “it was boring.” Then one day he was in the American Library in Paris, in the room with what he calls stories of the marvelous and the supernatural — “I hate to say children’s literature because it sounds condescending” — “and I thought, those are the kind of books I loved with all my heart and soul, rather than reading with my mind and taste. And as long as I was going to write a book, I wanted to write it from my favorite images and my deepest obsessions, and that was the kind of book where the magical and extraordinary suddenly enters into the life of an ordinary person.”

The article gives a quick sketch of the book’s premise; The King in the Window tells the tale of 11-year-old Oliver, an American boy in Paris with his family who gets drawn into a parallel universe by the revenants in the hotel mirrors who’ve stayed ‘active’ since the reign of Louis XIV. This middle grade novel sounds like an extraordinarily creative jaunt into the paranormal.

Admittedly, it’s always great when an able, articulate general fiction writer crosses over to the kid’s side of the world. However, Gopnik bewilders me a little when he tries to find an apt description of the other literature from the American Library in Paris that he read as he was working on this piece. Do the words ‘children’s literature’ sound condescending to you? (Gopnik prefers to call it ‘literature of the marvelous and the supernatural.’) Whatever you call it, the heartfelt sentiment that ‘these are the books that I love’ rings true, and I hope we all follow the call to write what we love, no matter what anyone else says is marketable, acceptable or trendy.

YHappy WritingY

Competitions and Contests

NaNoWriMo is the NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth competition, where you attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. (Look here for more information.)While I have nothing but faith in you, my darlings, I do urge you not to be dismayed if you’re not finished with it by the end of the month. Plug away!


Can’t hang with the novel? There’s a new short story contest coming up from Writer’s Digest. The deadline is coming up, so start now on getting your entry form and details squared away. Good luck!


The Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature,is a writing competition into which anyone who submits to Milkweed Editions is entered. Milkweed is in search of quality children’s novels intended for readers in the 8-13 age group. This competition is part of Milkweed’s children’s book publishing program for middle-graders. Prize: Judging will be by Milkweed Editions, and the winner of the prize will receive a $5,000 cash advance on any royalties agreed upon in the contractual arrangement negotiated at the time of acceptance. Check out their The World As Home series — very, VERY cool.

Now, here’s a different kind of contest: Through the cool connectivity of the Web, you can submit a favorite book while recommending it to a another person via email and be entered to win a 15 book library of titles recommended by contributors from Bookmark Now a Bay Area book/blog/web buzz phenom.

As for my peoples doing the SmartWriters short story contest…good luck! Good luck! You’ve all got great stories!

Blooming Tree Press

Writing for the SmartWriter’s W.I.N. Contest is just as hard as I thought it would be!!! If all else fails, and I totally bail on the competition, I hope to win entrance to an anthology by going directly to the source. Word has it that, since August, Blooming Tree Press has been seeking to increase their middle grade and YA lines. One of their editors, Judy Gregerson is interested in YA contemporary or historical fiction. Agent reports from various SCBWI conferences have reoprted that there’s a dearth of solid historical fiction for kids, and I know other agents who profess a liking for it. Blooming Tree is the one printing the anthology for SmartWriters, and I hope everyone is writing like mad to meet the deadline! The Contest ends on Monday!

Write away!