Tag Archives: Halloween Forest

To Market, To Market I Go

Crinkle, Crackle, Crack ... It's Spring!Crinkle, Crackle, Crack . . . It’s Spring! 

Well, not just yet, but soon . . . soon.

I have a new picture book coming out April 1 with Holiday House, Crinkle, Crackle, Crack . . . It’s Spring, wonderfully illustrated by John Shelley who also illustrated another of my picture books, Halloween Forest.

Having a new book out these days prompts some careful questions. How much do I invest in marketing? And what kinds? If I do decide to use my funds for marketing, will doing so make a difference in sales?

Halloween ForestIn the old days—I won’t call them the good old days because they were and they weren’t—no one really did much of anything that could be called marketing. Your publisher sent your book to various review sources. The primary buyers being professional ones—schools and libraries accounted for eighty percent of children’s book sales when I first came into the field—the great majority of purchases were based on these professional reviews.

If your book began to generate attention and sales, your publisher’s marketing department might push a little harder to get it out there. If the first sales didn’t come through in response to reviews, that was pretty much the end of any effort.

This isn’t really marketing, getting buyers to notice a new product. It is promotion, pushing a product once it has proven itself. And in defense of publishers, their funds are limited as funds usually are, so, of course, they concentrate what they have where they can expect the most return.

An author could make herself available to speak in schools, and speaking for professional organizations for teachers or librarians brought attention to your books. That was another success-breeds-success situation, though. You were only invited to speak once your book or books had received a lot of attention. Otherwise, no one had much interest.

These days institutional sales are way down as a proportion of sales, closer to twenty percent than eighty. Schools and libraries have more and more limited funds and the funds they have must, of necessity, be divided between books and electronic equipment and software. We who write for children and young adults have entered a world adult writers have been in for a long time. Our books need to be able to sell off a supermarket rack or, at the very least, call out to customers from a crowded shelf in a book store.

And the author is expected to be the marketing engine to make that happen. That’s not entirely bad, because we do have the Internet now. And having access to the Internet gives us a variety of opportunities for making our books known. I do this blog, for instance, partly for the pure pleasure of communicating with other adults without leaving home and partly to keep my name out there, to let the world know that I’m still here and still writing and that, by the way, from time to time I have a new book.

One reason for all this work is that publishers pay attention to our Internet presence. I know a longtime young-adult author whose latest novel was turned down by her publisher because she didn’t have enough of a following on Facebook. (She went on, incidentally, to self-publish the novel successfully, a whole new world.) So despite the fact that at age 76 I am inevitably approaching the end of my career, I’m still working at building an Internet following. And frankly, at this time of my life, sitting home and writing a blog is a whole lot more fun than climbing onto another plane.

But now, with a new book on the horizon, I have decisions to make. What can I do to help bring Crinkle, Crackle, Crack . . . It’s Spring! to the world’s attention? Winding Oak, the folks who manage my website, will do a fine and professional job of whatever I ask them to do. A trailer, perhaps? An interview to be published in Bookology, their new online publication? But whatever I choose will call for funds, my funds. And the real kicker, even if I do invest in promoting my new book, how will I know whether my investment has made a difference?

It’s a new world out there, and if I want my books to be part of it, I can no longer sit back and wait for the reviews to roll in and for the buyers to leap on the reviews.

But—confession time here—I would so much rather be working on my new book than supporting one long-since completed, a song just about every writer I know could sing.

I’d also rather keep paying my rent and buying my groceries than not, so . . . to market, to market I go!

Cobbling Together an Income

dollar-signsBeing a working writer means just that … working. And it also means continually strategizing ways to cobble together an income. Especially if you have no back-up salary, your own or a partner’s, to count on for the groceries, the medical bills, the rent.

Here’s an example of what I mean. 

Last year I published three new books, a verse novel, Little Dog, Lost, and two picture books, Halloween Forest and Dinosaur Thunder. All received starred reviews. My writing life seemed to be in order. But I’ve long known that starred reviews and big sales are two different things. And so, one day, nearly 200 pages into Blue-Eyed Wolf, a young-adult novel that I knew I wasn’t going to finish any time soon, it occurred to me that I’d nearly run out of new books in the pipeline. 

(Deciding to write a long novel when I can sell shorter, younger work is hardly practical. It may not even be wise.  Longer means, inevitably, more time committed, and more time committed doesn’t mean more income when the book is published.)

As I was considering all this, Holiday House came to me asking for a picture book to be paired with Halloween Forest. So, glad to be writing something that I knew an editor was actually looking for, I set the novel aside to try to find my own heart in her idea. In the process, I produced several picture-book manuscripts that pleased me but, for one reason or another, weren’t what was wanted. Returning to the same artist inevitably creates a different set of requirements for the text. I did finally come up with the right manuscript, Crinkle! Crackle! Crack! Curiously, it was the one I’d written first, but I’d tucked it away in the bowels of my computer because I’d decided it wasn’t right. (Which tells you that my own instincts aren’t always reliable.)

In the meantime, I have just received notice of an offer on one of the other manuscripts I especially love, The World is Singing.  So—deep breath—I now have more books in the pipeline.

At various times this past year, in response to ideas that niggled, I’ve also paused to work on other short pieces. One, You are the Love of Baby, has sold to Chronicle Books for their new personalized books. Another, Higgledy-Piggledy, is just starting its journey.

And then every few months I return to a commitment I made a couple of years ago to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for their new Celebrating the Fifty States series. The books are brief, but each requires another pause. 

Finally, there is Patches, the young verse novella I began this winter when I found myself having to dictate because of my broken arm. I’m close to completing a first draft of that. 

All while Blue-Eyed Wolf waits.

It’s certainly a disjointed way to work. Though while I’ve been pursuing other projects, I’ve continued my research for Blue-Eyed Wolf and rethought important aspects of the story. Thus this very impractical project stays alive while I cobble together a living from my writing.

It doesn’t sound like “economic security,” does it?

It doesn’t even sound like the life I imagined for myself forty years ago when I waded into the cold water of my first novel. 

Am I complaining? Not at all. I feel blessed every time I sit down to write, whatever I’m writing. I never forget how fortunate I am to be paid to do the only work I’ve ever wanted to do.

But still, all of it is—and this is the bottom line—work. Good work. Good, good work, but still work.

And that’s the basis, more than anything else, for whatever success I’ve had in my career. I am a working writer.

A formless form

I’ve found a new way to write.  It’s something I’ve been doing from time to time for several years now. I gallop along in a free-swinging prose dropping in rhymes here and here and over there, too, just for fun. It could almost be called free verse except that free verse specifically doesn’t use rhyme.

In Like a Lion, Out Like a LambMy first picture book to be published using this oddly formless form was In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb published by Holiday House in 2011 with delightful illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully

March comes with a roar.
He rattles your windows
and scratches at your door.
He turns snow to mud
then tromps across your floor.

Another passage shows the variation in rhythm and in rhyme placement better:

No, never!
This fellow is much too clever.
He finds himself a sunny spot.
He stretches, yawns,
and curls into a knot.

Halloween ForestI didn’t have any name for what I was doing. I just liked doing it. When I used this formless form again in Halloween Forest, just out this fall, (with wondrously spooky illustrations by John Shelley) an interviewer asked me if I had a pattern in mind as I wrote. “No,” I found myself answering. “It’s more like writing by the seat of my pants.” And, in fact, the hardest part of writing this way is avoiding falling into any specific pattern for too long so that the reader won’t be too disrupted when I move on to an entirely different rhythm.

And hanging from
the branches
are bat bones.
Climbing the trunks
are cat bones.
Snarled in the roots
are rat bones.
Bat bones,
cat bones,
rat bones,
and all are
looking at
you.

And a little later:

And together they’ll cry
“Take care!
Beware!
Despair!
You can bet
you’ve just met
your worst nightmare!”

The first time I wrote this way my choice seemed to drive reviewers crazy. One complained about “off rhymes.” There wasn’t an off rhyme to be found in the entire text! It would have been more fair to say the rhythms were “off,” if it’s fair to use the term “off” because the pattern keeps shifting until there is no pattern at all. 

My editor, Grace Maccarone, became proactive with Halloween Forest. She named this new form in the jacket copy. “Unmetered rhyming verse.” The starred review in Kirkus repeated that descriptor. A Booklist reviewer said, along with praise generous enough that I shouldn’t complain, “Bauer’s rhymes are bumpy, sometimes purposefully so” and I wanted to holler, “It’s not the rhymes that are bumpy, it’s the rhythm that keeps shifting! Can’t you see?”

But it doesn’t matter. It’s fun to invent a new form. And it’s fun to sit down with the end result and swing through the text with a lilting gallop as though there were no other way to tell a story. In fact, I so enjoyed the end result when each was coupled with its art that I almost forgot how much work it was to make my newly devised formless form work. I got to thinking it hit the page that way on my first try … until I went back to my computer files and counted one, two, three … fourteen drafts of Halloween Forest. And that doesn’t count the many changes, large and small, that were made in each draft before I thought to rename it and save it again.

In fact, I was reminded how hard I’d worked to create those texts when John Briggs, the Publisher at Holiday House, asked me to write a companion book for Halloween Forest. I’m not sure whether it was the idea I came up with that didn’t work or if this formless form I devised was too hard to do again, but I’m still struggling. 

I’m ready to go back to the safety and comfort of formlessness or a tightly defined form … at least until the next time rhymes come blasting through demanding to find their own continually shifting place on the page.

When Is Scary Too Delicious?

Halloween ForestLast week I talked about my new picture book, Halloween Forest, and about the function that fear has in a story, even for very young children. Fear tucked inside the safety of a story can allow us an exciting chill without submitting ourselves to danger. It allows us to move through our own feelings and emerge on the other side, having grown larger.

But that leaves us with a question, an important one. When is scary entirely too delicious? The truth is—and it’s an important truth for those presenting books to young people—no one can answer that question except the one facing the fear.

Most children, I think, will find Halloween Forest simply fun. Some will be frightened and love being frightened and emerge more self-assured. Others may peek at the forest of bones and turn away. If they are allowed to choose their own level, their own instincts will protect them. 

My rule of thumb when my children were growing up was always to have lots of reading material available and to have no restrictions whatsoever on what they were allowed to read. Obviously, we didn’t have pornography in our home—neither sexual pornography nor the pornography of violence—but we had plenty of adult material they weren’t yet ready for. Without fail my son and daughter sought out what served them at each age and stage of their growth, selecting what entertained, satisfied, and nurtured them. And they both grew into responsible adults and lifelong readers. So our free-selection policy worked.

(I must add, though, that my children grew up years before the Internet and cable television came on the scene, so the pool from which they could select had easier boundaries than today’s world provides. And the access provided by those media would be the basis for a whole different discussion, one I’m not equipped to lead.) 

Books, however, still live in a pretty safe zone. A movie that is terrifying can imprint itself on a young brain before the recipient has a chance to blink. But because reading is a less passive activity—or being read to is an interactive one where the child still can exert control—we have time to put the book down, to turn away when it overwhelms. And I’m confident that those for whom the fear set up in Halloween Forest is not delicious will do precisely that.

So “Take care! Beware! Despair! You can bet you’ve just met your worst nightmare!”

And if my story is for you and for your child, it will give you both a satisfying shiver . . . and a deep sigh of satisfaction.

The Purging of Pity and Fear

Halloween ForestHalloween is almost upon us, and my newest picture book, Halloween Forest, is on the shelf.

When I received my first copy with John Shelley’s marvelously creepy illustrations of the forest of bones I’d written about, a rather delicious shiver ran down my spine. All those bony tree hands reaching … reaching.

And my own shiver brings up an interesting question. What is the point of scary for kids? 

The question carries me back to another book and a very specific child. When my son, Peter, was a toddler, he had many books to choose from, but for some months he returned over and over to one I now remember only vaguely despite my being the perennial reader. (Obviously the book didn’t impact me the way it did Peter.) I’ve forgotten the title, the author, even the plot. The story, I think, took place in a zoo, but I’m not entirely sure even of that. 

What I do remember distinctly was that on one turn of the page, a bear appeared. A very large bear. And every time we came to that bear, Peter, cuddled into the safety of my lap, vibrated with terror … and total fascination. He covered his eyes, his body a tense little ball, and peered at the bear from between his chubby fingers. 

Nonetheless, each time we finished the book, the bear safely tucked away in the closed pages, Peter asked to have it read again … and again … and again!

There is a name for Peter’s experience. Aristotle came up with it long ago. “The purging of pity and fear.” Peter delighted in being frightened because it gave him a chance, in the safety of his mother’s lap, to conquer his fear. In order to conquer fear, however, a little boy has to feel it first. And that was the function of that book and of that bear in his life … to allow him to discover that his own fear didn’t destroy him.  Each new reading gave him a chance both to be afraid and to rejoice in his own bravery. And each time he emerged from the book a step closer to being the big boy he so wanted to be.

We all need bears in our stories. We need Halloween and perhaps even bony trees with deliciously reaching hands. We need, from time to time, to face fear—and loss and unfulfilled longing and loneliness and despair—to move through those all-too-human feelings and to emerge on the other side wondrously intact. And then we need to move on with our lives, a bit braver, a bit wiser, a bit more compassionate toward ourselves and the world than we were when we picked up the book.

That’s the way story works, and that’s what Aristotle was talking about.