Books Before They’re Books

Inspired by fellow 2015 debut, Adam Silvera, here’s a look at where my books are pieced together.

photoI have a journal for each of my manuscripts. I bring them around and jot down notes/ideas/scenes as they come to me. The full book isn’t written in them (i’m a much faster typer), but they have a ton of details I like to go back and look at.

On the left is, obviously, the one for TNWSY. My friend Katie got it for me because it’s circus themed. Before it tragically lost its cover, it said “reach for the sky, be adventurous,” which is kind of fitting for writing your first novel.

The middle one is for my second contracted book with HarperCollins (more on that later, but yes, I have a second book set to be published-!!!!-it’s also a YA contemporary, and this one takes place in Tallahassee because I clearly only like to write about places I’ve lived in). My friend Sarah got it for me. It’s blue and thick and hasn’t lost its cover…yet.

The one on the right is for something I’m currently working on. My friend Michelle got it for me, and the story is fun and sweet like her.

I used a journal I bought myself once, and the manuscript fell apart. So i’ve decided to only use ones given to me, because then I associate the person with the book. And I wouldn’t want to let my friends down, right?

So those are my books. And it’s weird thinking that inside them lies actual books that one day will see the light of day. (And the inside of a library!)

Editing Process: Step Four

Since my book is coming out in a little over 10 months (it seems so far away, and yet so close…), I’m starting to actually DO things for promotion. Such as…create a Facebook page! Make little promotional cards to hand out at events (more on that later)! Talk about the book some more! I guess it’s starting to actually exist, and that’s both exciting and terrifying.

Editorial wise, copyedits came in. I was a bit nervous about these, as i’ve heard horror stories where copyeditors made writers change everything. Thankfully, my copyeditor was fantastic. She had little suggestions here or there, asked for my approval on anything she changed, and really mostly changed things to suit Harper’s style guide. (Shout out to my copyeditor – you’re the best!)

Now i’m working on the dedication and acknowledgements. It’s funny – I’ve imaged what i’d write since the book sold, and now when I can actually put words on paper, i’m drawing a blank. I want to thank everyone. Can I do that? Just…thank you to the world? (Okay, I should probably be more specific.)

TNWSY aside, I had my first public reading! I read for the book launch of FORGET HOW YOU FOUND US last week and it was so much fun. It was a great introductory event for me, because there was only so much pressure. There were four other writers reading, I only contributed one chapter, I did not represent the entire book. I loved meeting/hanging out with the other authors, and just being part of the entire experience. It was such a privilege to be able to contribute to the book, and even more so to read my chapter.

So one reading under my belt. A few more to go?

Editing Process: Step Two

(A continuation of my “editing process” series for TNWSY.)

“Dee, turn it up!”

That was the first line I ever wrote in my very first variation of TNWSY. I won’t even say draft because it was merely a scene, not even a chapter. In the end, I didn’t use much from that first bit of writing, mostly just the setting (a bedroom) and the two girls talking, but even their names changed. (There is no “Dee” anymore.)

But, somehow, in all of the drafts and revisions and edits and craziness, that line remained. It’s not the first line, but it’s still in the book. Which is kind of cool, at least to me.

Because currently I’m going through my book another time. There are line edits now, corrections and suggestions in track changes for me to go through and revise. I like these kinds of edits because I know exactly what my editor is looking for. It’s not “elaborate on this theme,” It’s “elaborate on this scene.” It assures me that the rest of the book is succeeding, and that there’s still a chance to make small moments bigger, better. And after going through all of the edits and thoughts, I’m super happy to be with the editor I have because she gets it. And that’s really awesome.

In theory, this might be my last revision before copyedits, so I’m a bit nervous about making everything as perfect as possible. I suppose we’ll see.

But as I go through it and see how things have changed and evolved from that first draft, I smile whenever I find an original piece. Because it all started from a thought, a line, and now here it is. It was a simple note played once, and now it’s a full song getting ready to be heard. It’s bigger, better, louder.

Turn it up, indeed.

Color My Shelf – Part 2

Here are the results of my highly unscientific study hinted at in my previous post.

I decided to test out two things in my study: how fast multicultural books go that have said ethnic characters on the cover (face covers), and how fast multicultural books go that have no hinting at all about their ethnicity on the cover (non-face covers). The books pulled were random, I just wanted books that weren’t extremely popular at my library (such as Clockwork Prince). I had no preference to titles nor nationalities, though I did want a range of genres (fantasy, contemporary, etc.) and nationalities. Unfortunately, nationalities were hard to find. (Note: I KNOW there are a lot more than these titles, these were the ones that were in stock. As mentioned, this was not very scientific.)

First, the face books:

  • Battle Royale by Koushun Takami (Japanese)
  • Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick (Cambodian)
  • My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman (Jewish/Indian)
  • Liar by Justine Larbalestier (Black)
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick (Nepali)
  • Spirit’s Princess (Princesses of Myth) by Esther Friesner (Japanese)
  • Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald (Mixed race, black/white)
  • Transcendence by C.J. Omololu (Black)
  • Joseph by Shelia P. Moses (Black)
  • Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst (Honestly, I’m not sure, but the cover is beautiful.)

Now the non-face books:

  • The Vow by Jessica Martinez (Jordonian)
  • Death Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez (Hispanic)
  • Good Enough by Paula Yoo (Korean)
  • The Living by Matt De La Peña (Hispanic)
  • He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander (Black)

Before I discuss what happened, here’s some information about my branch library. It’s located by a university, and also surrounded by both richer and poorer developments. According to SimplyMap, and the 2010 census, the area is 39.25% Hispanic, 6.49% Asian, .53% American Indian, 12.43% Black, 69.77% White, and 6.79% other. I realize this does not add up to 100% – a large portion of our population marked two or more races on the census. Also, the general population does not reflect the library’s population, but you get it.

Anyway. The face books (of which there were more) were placed on the top of the display, with the non-face books placed below them. This was due to my theory: non-face books would check out first, so I gave priority to the others. This is what I’ve seen in the past, at least, when placing these books out on display. Once they were out, I patiently waited.

To my surprise (and delight) in the first day, the following titles were checked out: Never Fall Down and Sold. Two face books taken by two different patrons! As books were checked out, they were not replaced, I just waited for the display to empty.

The following day, the first of the non-face covers was checked out: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia. That same day, Liar and My Basmati Bat Mitzvah also went. Again, more face covers!

By the end of the three days, there were three titles remaining in each category: Battle Royale, Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood, and Spirity Chosen from the face books, and The Vow, The Living, and Good Enough from the non-face covers. Yes, three and three, but still, the face covers were going faster.

I had the display up for a week, and by the last day the only titles remaining were Battle Royale and The Living. By the end of that day, The Living found a home. This surprised me quite a bit, because I thought both books would have gone much sooner. Sadly, I shelved Battle Royale and analyzed what happened.

Books were checked out. Books were wanted, and liked. My initial thoughts, due to previous experiences, that these face books wouldn’t go was disproved. Whatever the reason, they were wanted, and I was really pleased about that. And the fact that they went faster than the non-face covers was extremely interesting.

Clearly there is a demand for these books, if even in the smallest sense. They are checked out, they are looked at (and, as it seems, patrons seem to prefer people on their covers)!

As a follow-up, I looked back at some of the titles we weeded and found something incredibly telling – the majority of the multicultural ones were historical. Sure those books are great, too, but it seems like the majority of the popular books are contemporary or fantasy or dystopian or science fiction. Readers want multicultural characters of today. They want them in books they can relate to, not older tales. Again, not a scientific observation, but still one that’s worth mentioning.

So what does this mean for my library? The other books are still more popular, as our checkouts show, but clearly there’s a demand for these. I’ll definitely be displaying more of them each week. I’d like to do this experiment again in the future and see if the findings change. I’d like to get more titles similar to these, too, because clearly they’re appreciated. And I’d like to thank the authors for writing these characters that my patrons  want to read.

Color My Shelf

Recently, there was a hastag on Twitter (#colormyshelf) discussing multicultural books, and, more so, the lack of representation of multicultural characters in novels. Leading characters. Leading characters on covers. People mentioned their favorite books with ethnic characters, and asked for more – many, many more – to be published.

As someone who’s about to have a multi-ethnic child, of course I’m in support of more people represented in literature (specifically YA, as that’s what I write and read). Working at a library, I see how few there are in comparison to those with, as my co-worker and I call them – pretty blonde white girl covers. (And I’m in no way dissing those pretty blonde white girl covers – I really like quite a bit of those books!)

Though we don’t control what books we get at the library (a person at the main branch handles collection development), my co-worker and I do control, in a way, what stays and what leaves. Our shelves are only so large, so once a year we have to weed out titles that don’t circulate. (These books that are weeded are then usually sold, with the money going towards library development, such as programming.) Weeding is not easy. We have very strict guidelines, and don’t take the task lightly. But, because we get so many new books as they’re released, it has to be done, otherwise we’d have no place for patrons to walk.

Since I’ve weeded these books (for the purpose of this post, “these books” refers just to YA, though I do weed all sections), I see what goes and what doesn’t. Sometimes it’s not surprising in the least (Hunger Games has a HUGE circulation; Twilight is only weeded when it’s too beat up to circulate anymore). Sometimes it is (those Lauren Conrad books are incredibly popular; mermaids are still adored). But here’s a sad fact – a lot of the books people are pushing to be published are not being checked out. There’s clearly a demand, and I KNOW we put them on display and promote them, but they’re not checked out nearly as much. Which is sad!

So therein lies a problem – yes, readers want these books, but are they buying them? Are they, in the library’s case, checking them out?

Obviously I can’t know sales details, and my library is only one small branch within the entire country, but I was curious about those questions. Really curious. So I decided to do a very low-key, very basic and unscientific, study.

I made a display of books featuring leading protagonists of color and saw how long it took for them to be check out.

Was it interesting? Yes. Were the results surprising. Yes! Interested in how it turned out? Stay tuned – I’ll post the results tomorrow!