April 22, 2011
It’s 144 days until the release of The Only Ones. For those without an abacus on hand, that places the launch date at September 13, 2011 (aka Peter Cetera’s 67th birthday). Movie studios like to whet audiences appetites months in advance of their release date, so I’m thinking I’ll do the same thing. At the end of this post you’ll find a humble, but hopefully enticing, teaser book trailer for The Only Ones.
Those outside of the book business might not run across book trailers during their internet adventures. With honey badger videos to watch and alt.magick bulletin boards to monitor, the average surfer doesn’t have time to dabble in such things. Well, book trailers are thick out there. Some great. Some…different. There’s debate as to whether these things boost book sales or whether they cheapen the esteemed art of the novelist. My take is that as long as you’re not sinking big bucks into the forgettable or misleading, then a book trailer can’t hurt. At worst, no one will watch it and forward it on to their pals. At best, you’ll win a Nobel Prize (let the boy dream big!).
So, without further ado, here’s the teaser trailer for The Only Ones. Keep in mind this is just a preview, a tiny taste. Like when you go to see the new Michael Bay flick and Warner Brothers hooks you with a short clip of Rick Moranis, shirtless and sweaty, running through a supermarket with a cocked crossbow and a flowing Confederate flag as a cape, a soundtrack of the Georgia Satellites in the background and a booming voiceover proclaiming, “This Christmas, Moranis will rise again. Live and Die in Dixie”
Like that, but better.
April 15, 2011
When I was young books were paperbacks. I knew of hardcovers of course, but I rarely ever read a book in hardcover. I thumbed through cheaply produced light-weight volumes that would split at the seams by the time I’d gotten to the final chapters. That was fine by me. I wasn’t a collector of objects. I was a collector of stories and I shelved them in my mind.
Many of the paperbacks I read were published under the Yearling imprint. According to their web site Yearling has published beloved authors such as “Judy Blume, Christopher Paul Curtis, Patricia Reilly Giff, Norton Juster, Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Lowry, Gary Paulsen, Philip Pullman, Louis Sachar and classic characters such as Encyclopedia Brown, Harriet the Spy, Nate the Great, and Sammy Keyes.”
And now me. That’s right, the DWEEB paperback now appears under the Yearling banner. An honor, to say the least.
It’s during moments like these when a fellow has to ground himself. Heck, I’m no Judy Blume. I’m not even Judy Tenuta! (If there’s a single kid out there who knows who Judy Tenuta is, I salute you, and fear for you). I’ve written a couple of books and they’ve had very little effect on the global economy. Believe it or not I’ve even fallen victim some negative reviews. Some authors say they don’t pay attention to reviews (some authors are liars). I pay attention to reviews because they often contain helpful advice. Especially the negative ones, even if they’re draped in snark.
That’s not to say there aren’t negative reviews that are basically useless. I did receive one review that featured no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It was sent to me in a box containing a collage of photographs depicting the reviewers showing their disdain for DWEEB, along with the warm corpse of an ivory-billed woodpecker. The review was so cruel that I had to be put on bed-rest for a fortnight after reading it. I contemplated burning it, but now that I have some perspective, I know it’s better to just get such things out in the open. Yes, to keep me humble, but also to remind me that no matter what I do, not everyone will be a fan. Nor should everyone be. So, without further ado, the worst review I have ever received.
Dear author of DWEEB,
We use the word “author” loosely. We have seen vomit better crafted than this alleged novel. The word novel comes from the Latin “novus,” which translates as “new.” Well, the book was certainly new, but only because we couldn’t find it at a used book store. We doubt anyone else has bought such derivitive dreck. Perhaps the CIA has. They probably read it down at Gitmo, causing the inmates to holler, “I’ll tell you anything! The cave where Osama is hiding! The meaning of Mulholland Drive! Just stop reading! You can even put the Creed CD back on. That’s heaven compared to this!”
We would love to list all the reasons why we hated this book, but it would be like listing all the reasons why we think Hitler would make a terrible babysitter. It would take eons. That’s right, it’s only paragraph two of our review and we’ve already compared you to Hitler. It’s actually the closest thing to a compliment we’re going to give you. Heck, at least Mein Kampf earned back its advance.
After reading your book we considered bringing in a priest to exorcise the blasphemous trash. Obviously the pages are simply lousy with demons. The pope suggested we lock it in a trunk filled with holy water, rosaries and the shroud of Turin, and bury it fifty feet deep beneath the Sistine Chapel. “Torch it and throw in the Ganges,” others told us. Nerds advised us to call in Elijah Wood and have the shameless little imp toss it into Krakatoa. But we figured those courses of action had the potential to set off chain reactions, causing blessed springs and powerful volcanos around the world to spew forth mixed metaphors, paper-thin protagonists and overwrought third acts.
We thought the best option was to set out into the southern swamps and hunt down the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker. For years, people thought this beautiful and majestic bird was extinct. Well, it wasn’t. At least, not until Tuesday. We found the last one and we broke its neck. Why would we do such a thing?
1. To prove that your writing is responsible for the extinction of a species.
2. To put the poor little guy out of his misery. When we read that bird the first chapter of your book, he promptly flew into a tree and pecked out a short message in morse code. “Goodbye Cruel World. You Have Finally Bested Me.”
The evidence is enclosed. We hope it makes you rethink your dastardly ways. However, we suspect it will just turn your black, black blood and your black, black heart even blacker. So we will keep our copy of your book and we will take to the streets with it. We will speak at schools and libraries and community centers and religious monuments and we will warn the world about your soullessness. And when Kirkus reviews your next book, we will send them a picture of that woodpecker and a petition signed by millions proclaiming:
Aaron Starmer Must Be Stopped.
Your nephews Will and Jacob
April 1, 2011
A lot of people stop by this site because they’re curious to learn what it takes to not only write a children’s book, but to write a successful one. Some authors appear at workshops where they charge hundreds of dollars to dispense such insider tips. Not me. Today, I’m giving the good stuff out for free. I only ask that you thank me in your acknowledgements and cut me in on any foreign rights. It’s a fair trade for this invaluable wisdom. Let’s get down to it.
First off, the old advice is often the best advice. Write what you know. Do you know a puppy that’s a bit poky? How about some teenagers who hunt each other for sport? Connecting with children is about connecting with the world around you. A few monkeys don’t hurt either. That’s right. Forget wizards, vampires and zombies. Monkeys are what distinguish great children’s books. Try to imagine The Secret Garden without Jose Fuzzbuttons, the wisecracking capuchin whose indelible catchphrase “Aye-yaye-yaye, Mami, hands off the yucca!” is still bandied about schoolyards today? I don’t think you can.
Of course, the magic that is artistic inspiration must find its way in there. So how do you grab hold of it? Christopher Paolini swears by peyote-fueled pilgrimages to the Atacama Desert. I’m more of a traditionalist. A pint of gin and a round of Russian Roulette with Maurice Sendak always gets my creative juices flowing. Have fun. Experiment. Handguns and hallucinogens need not be involved. Though I see no reason to rule them out. Find what works for you.
Now, you’ll inevitably face a little writer’s block. There are two words that cure this problem and cure it quick. Public Domain. Dust off some literary dud and add spice to it. Kids dig this stuff. For instance, you could take some Edith Wharton and inject it with flatulence. The Age of Innocence and Farts. Done. Easy. Bestseller.
I give this last bit of advice with a caveat. Resist the temptation to write unauthorized sequels to beloved classics. I speak from experience. My manuscripts for You Heard What I Said Dog, Get Your Arse Outta Here! and God? Margaret Again…I’m Late have seen the bottom of more editors’ trash cans than I care to mention. Newbery bait? Sure. Immune to the unwritten rules of the biz? Hardly.
Okay, let’s jump forward. So now you’ve got your masterpiece, but how the heck are you going to sell the thing? Truth be told, you’re going to need an advanced degree first. As anyone will inform you, kid lit authors without PhDs or MFAs are rarely taken seriously. If you can’t work Derrida or Foucault into a pitch letter, then you certainly can’t survive a 30-minute writing workshop with Mrs. Sumner’s 5th period reading class. So invest 60-100K and 3-6 years of your life. Then let the bidding war begin.
In the off chance that your book isn’t going to sell for six figures, try blackmail. Sounds harsh, but the children’s book industry runs almost exclusively on hush money and broken kneecaps. I mean, Beverly Cleary doesn’t even own a car. So why is she always carrying a tire iron?
Money is now under the mattress and the editorial process begins. Don’t worry at all about this. Editors won’t even read your book. They’ll simply call in Quentin Blake for some illustrations and then run the whole thing through a binding machine they keep in the back of the office. Should be in the front display case at Barnes and Noble by the end of the week.
As for marketing and PR, you can expect the standard twelve-city tour, a Today Show spot, and probably an interview in the Paris Review. After that, it’s up to you. Publishers know that the best marketers are the authors themselves, especially bookish introverts with a penchant for self-deprecation. So go after it. Blog. Tweet. And don’t underestimate the power of guerilla marketing. Shel Silverstein once clearcut a hundred acres of redwoods just to make his advance back for The Giving Tree. What’s your gimmick?
I hate to say it, but you’re bound to get a bad review or two along the way. My advice is to take the high road, ignore the naysayers, and solider on. Your best revenge will be your golden trophies and your framed New York Times Bestseller lists. Still, if you’re dead set on getting back at a grouchy librarian or two, go with kidnapping. It’s a mainstay plot device in YA potboilers and is bound to lead to either hi-jinks or some meaningful rite-of-passage. Be sure to keep notes, because your follow-up book is already in the works! Like I said, write what you know.
There you have it. A step-by-step manual to penning an award-worthy, blockbuster children’s book. As you can see, it’s not very hard. And it’s really the only way to do it. Well…there is one other way, but it feels a bit like cheating. Are you John Lithgow?