David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Month: June 2014

Peter Reynolds, Picture Book Master, Talks to The Book Doctors about Books, Kids, Writing, Twins & How to Get Published Successfully

We met Peter Reynolds at the New England Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators Conference, when he gave one of the best talks we ever heard.  Whimsical and serious, passionate and jovial, wise and yet curious, Mister Reynolds was everything you’d want in a wildly successful picture book writer.  Plus, he was inspiring.  Much like his books.  The Dot, which has become a classic, is deceptively simple.  Like all great books, it works on many levels.  It can be read as a simple romp.  It is also a child’s coming-of-age story.  On a deeper level it’s about Art, how people become artists, and how the Artist torch is passed from one generation to the next.  So we thought we’d sit down with him and have a little chat about kids, writing, art, and life.  By the way, if any writer has an interest in writing a book for kids, all the way up to Young and New Adult, you’re crazy not to join the SCBWI, and going to their conferences.  They have chapters all over the country.  They are awesome.

The Book Doctors: How did you get into the business of professionally writing books for kids?

1IQEfSIQEuyTY94stlBnnB9RcYwx_ak_0cqvdhRgzUEcpP_mOKydlrGatExgba9W0ahcQ3pcZCo76o-hXMb8n1VgUO7RrMQMiw=s0-d-e1-ft preynolds21HiRes_approvedPeter Reynolds: I took the Long and Winding Road at the junction of Serendipity and Daydreaming. So many things “set the stage” for me being a writer for children (and grown up children), but I owe a lot to my daughter, Sarah Reynolds whose voracious appetite for stories demanded that I start coming up with stories to supplement what we could fit on her shelves or take from the library.  Writing for her reset my creativity compass. You can get lost among the forests, swamps, and thickets of possible plots and characters, but she helped me focus on telling her a story- and instinctively I felt a need to give her something worthy of her intelligence and perhaps a scrap or two of wisdom I had clumsily gathered along the way.

TBD:  Teachers have played such a big part in your development as an artist (& a human it would seem), why do you think we undervalue teachers so radically & horribly in our society?

PR: How long do we have? Seriously, I could go on for days on this subject.  I actually think most of us DO value the role of teachers, but we allow politicians and policy makers–who spend little to no time with children in learning environments–to strip away the resources and flexibility for great teachers to “do their thing.” If our government could control restaurants the way they do schools, you’d find Gordon Ramsey working as a fry cook at McDonalds.  America takes pride in being independent and innovative. Our public education system-being a system–inherently strives to be efficient and in doing so, chops out all the “messy bits.” It’s this very “fringy” stuff that is required for innovation.

Book Doctors, you’ve inspired me to go out and hug the nearest teacher and cheer them on. Actually, the creative teachers DO know how to sneak in the good stuff. That, combined with the fact that technology is getting cheaper and into the hands of kids, is about to transform radically the world of schools as we know them.

TBD:  How do you go about developing a picture book story?  What’s your process, from idea through publication?

PR: We should have booked a week long Caribbean cruise. Here’s the nutshell version: My “story radar” goes off, I jot the idea down, and sometimes just one image or even a rough version of what the cover might look like. I roughly storyboard the images and add captions. I share with a few people. I read it out loud. Finesse and tweak. Then I share it with my agent, Holly McGhee at Pippin Properties who is a fabulous editor, thinker and guide. Then it’s on to find the right publisher. Once the book has a “home,” I work with the editor and art director to refine. The sales team gets into the mix when it comes time to confirm or change the title of the book and create the cover. When we’re all happy, it goes off to the printer and the long wait begins before getting that first preview copy. It may be a few months after that before the book shows up on bookshop shelves. That whole process can be squeezed into a year, but most often–from spark to finish–it can be about two years.

TBD:  You seem to have many projects going on, how do you juggle all of them, running your business, and having a life?

PR: I do indeed, but I have great people around me to help get it all done. I have my wonderful team in Boston, FableVision, my bookshop staff at The Blue Bunny, my agents at Pippin Properties, among other great friends and colleagues. Balance though is key. I’ve worked hard in the past few years to get the formula right. Less is more. Less travel, more time with my 3 year old son. I have a new studio called The Sanctuary which, in theory, is my very own thinking and creativity temple, but I do occasionally find my son sprawled out painting mostly on sheets of paper, but also the floor. He actually reminds me of what freedom really looks like.

TBD:  I’m so jealous that you have a twin.  What’s that like?

PR: For me, it’s amazing. We both feel blessed. Not sure how you “singletons” do it. The journey is so much easier when you have a twin to share it with. While we are technically “identical” twins,  Paul is not a “duplicate” of me. He is the being who is connected to me and able to extend my sensing of the universe (and vice verse.) It’s like two spaceships shooting in opposite directions to explore the universe, but in constant communication and transmitting to the one database back at ground control.

Our advice to everyone, if you don’t have a twin- go out there and find one!

TBD:  So many picture book authors stress the lesson they’re trying to teach kids instead of character & story. Could you address this?

PR: I think that is a common trap. That “being on the nose” is a fear that kids won’t “get it.” Kids are mighty smart and they can smell “a lesson” a mile way. Hey, sometimes it’s a place to start, so whatever works for you, but then try to find a more creative way to get the audience to “connect the dots” after they’ve closed the book.

TBD: Why do you think there is a prejudice against rhyme in the picture book world?

PR: Well, on a practical note, rhyming books make it difficult to translate into the many other languages on the planet. It would be a real doozy to find equivalent words for “kale” and “pail” in Persian.  Having said that, I think you can put that on ignore and just make a rhyming story that works. Rhyming books, done well, are a lot of fun to read aloud. My upcoming book collaboration, YOU & ME is a rhyming delight from Susan Verde. Do what makes you happy and the kids around you.

TBD: What are the greatest joys & frustrations about writing picture books?

PR: It is mostly JOY. I absolutely love sharing my stories with so many people around the world. Seeing the “ripples” that just one story can make is a “wow.” International Dot Day is a great example. Over a million teachers and students put down their regular work and tests on Sept 15th to celebrate creativity.

 

The frustration is having to schedule creativity. The publisher might have a deadline for a book due in September which means that I have to be ready to roll and really feel it in January. Trying to find that “surfer’s perfect wave” in the middle of a cold, winter’s day might not happen.  Eventually, a wave appears and you ride it in to shore.

TBD: How did The Dot become such a great success?

PR: The Dot was my way to come to rescue of children (and adults) whose creativity and confidence had been steamrolled. As it turns out, there are plenty of folks facing this challenge. While it often gets labeled as an “art book,” the idea is really about bravery. Bravery is a universal concept. That helps a book find a big audience.

TBD: What advice do you have for beginning writers trying to break into the picture book racquet?

PR: Start with a real story. A startling memory of your own. A wee bit of advice your Dad shared. A wish you have for yourself – or for the world. Find the idea you know or believe in. One that you’d be very sorry if you lost along the way.

Find your network. Could just be your “twin,” or it could be a gaggle of Twitter friends, or the kids at the local library, or an organization like SCBWI .

Be brave. Make ONE book where you throw out all the rules, all the advice you have been given, all the notes in all the writing workshops, and create something just for YOU.

The most important advice I can give is this: KEEP GOING, NEVER STOP.

I’m planning on doing the same.

Peter H. Reynolds is the author and illustrator of the Creatrilogy series which includes The Dot, Ish, and Sky Color (Candlewick Press/Walker Books) Other books in his collection include I’m Here (Simon & Schuster), The North Star (Candlewick Press/Walker Books), as well as many collaborative works, which include The Judy Moody series (Candlewick Press/Walker Books) with Meghan McDonald. He is also co-founder of FableVision, a children’s media studio in Boston. His family runs The Blue Bunny Book & Toy Store in his hometown of Dedham, Massachusetts.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010).

Pissed Off at Amazon? How to Help Your Writing Career with the Power of Your Purse

To read on Huffington Post click here.

As Book Doctors we always say that independent bookstores are vital to any unpublished author. Right now, as Amazon is standing over the major publishing house, Hachette, threatening to crush them like a fruit fly, independent booksellers couldn’t be more important. Let us explain why.

A few years back, we met a lovely, talented woman at a Pitchapalooza, an event we created that’s like American Idol for books. She didn’t win, but we could see that  she had the goods. She contacted us after the event because she wasn’t having any luck finding an agent. We worked with her to get her manuscript and pitch in shape. This wasn’t hard. She was an exquisite writer with a great story. What was hard was our number one recommendation to her: Go work at an independent bookstore. She didn’t have a lot of time to do this. She had three kids and another part-time job. But she wanted to get her book published, so she took our advice. The bookstore hired this lovely, talented writer because she was a customer, a great reader, she knew about what was on the shelf and how to hand-sell a book. She ended up working with the events person, introducing authors who came to do readings at this store. Through this work, she met the agent of one of these authors. An agent who just happened to be perfect for her book. They chatted and in the conversation, our client was able to pitch her book (a pitch she had been working on for almost a year). The agent asked her to send it. The agent took the book on. And last week the agent sold the book to a top-notch publisher.

No matter how many books you order through Amazon, you’re not going to get an agent and then a book deal by clicking “buy.” As Robert Gray, retired bookseller, once told us, independent booksellers are the last three feet of the publishing business. That means you can go talk to someone in the book industry, without a connection and without paying them, by simply walking into an independent bookstore. The problem is, if you buy your books on Amazon, soon there won’t be any independent bookstores. For those of you who don’t follow the publishing news, Amazon won a major suit against several of the biggest publishers for “price fixing” (though there is much debate about whether this was so), allowing Amazon to take control of the e-book marketplace in what is now damn close to a monopoly (or rather a monopsony, as a recent N<em>ew York Times</em> <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/31/opinion/how-book-publishers-can-beat-amazon.html” target=”_hplink”>editorialist</a> pointed out).

As our world turns more digital, the lack of competition for ebooks and Amazon’s domination will mean less and less money and opportunities for authors. Right now, authors are already getting the short end of the stick royalty-wise on e-books. This inequity is due to publishers, not due to Amazon, but the more market share Amazon has, the easier it will be for them to determine what they want to keep and what they want to give away. Do you think they’ll want to keep more or give away more? Not a hard question to answer.

If you’re thinking, I’ll just self-publish, then think on this: If you self-publish, Amazon is your number one marketplace for sales. If Amazon controls the percentage of what you receive per sale, and if Amazon is doing what it’s doing to Hachette — which, by the way, is owned by a multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporation — do you think they’re going to give one hoot about you? No! They’re going to take whatever they feel like and you will have no leverage whatsoever. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. And if things continue to go in the direction they’re going, you’ll have nowhere else to go where large numbers of shoppers are looking for books.

If you think we hate Amazon, you’d be wrong. Amazon is an extraordinarily run, inventive, forward-thinking company that has nearly single-handedly led the way in e-book growth. They’ve increased the sales possibilities for any author — for some exponentially. For self-published authors, they’ve created a marketplace that for the most part didn’t even exist. What author wouldn’t be excited by — even grateful to — such a company? We just don’t want Amazon to be the only choice. While Amazon has sold thousands of copies of our book, <em>The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published</em>, so have independent booksellers. And most of the latter sales have come through booksellers recommending our book to customers who never even heard of it. Who may have not even known they were looking for such a book. We don’t want that choice to go away. We want authors to be able to meet their readers face-to-face within the walls of a brick and mortar bookstore, just like we met the lovely and talented writer who now has a book deal. We also don’t want there to be an unbridgeable divide between authors and the publishing industry. If there are no independent bookstores, this is precisely what will happen. There will be no free advice from industry professionals. Just that interminable moat between writers and agents, writers and publishers that has kept so many from getting published.

The result will be books that aren’t as good, writers that are less informed, readers who have to depend on algorithms to know what to read next. So if you’d like to keep your indie in business, think about your purchasing power. That’s the one power you have as a writer. Use it well.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010).

David Henry Sterry Talks US World Cup Soccer in Omaha

To listen click here.

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David Henry Sterry & Alan Black Rock NPR on World Cup 2014

Me & Alan Black on NPR with the inside skinny on World Cup 2014. Can America escape Group o Death? Hell yeah!

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Diana Abu-Jaber on How to Write Literary Yet Commercial Prose

To read on Huffington post, click here..

After three different people recommend the book to me, I always try to read it.  This is the case with Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber.  It was one of those rare books that I found literary yet page turning.  A work of art but also a work of commerce.  So I thought I’d reach out to her, to find out exactly how the heck she does it.

The Book Doctors: What is your writing process from coming up with the idea through writing the first draft and then revising and working with an editor?

Abu-Jaber, Diana credit Scott Eason birds of paradise mech.inddDiana Abu-Jaber: The Book Doctors: I write my novels long hand in the first draft. I used to transcribe them myself, which of course is wildly time consuming. These days I hire a typist and then revise on the computer. I try to get several eyes on a manuscript before it goes to my agent–I’m often in some sort of writing group and will inflict hundreds of pages on them, begging for feedback. My agent always has excellent editorial advice, and my editor is–I say this with a smile–extremely involved. She is brilliant and I’m lucky to have her guidance and support.

TBD: Having written memoir and fiction, how do you approach these two forms differently?

DAJ: Novels I understand better. They’re about trying to get the story down–which is never easy, but the process makes more sense to me. Memoirs are more elusive to me. I’m trying to write a new one now and first I wrote it as straight chronological narrative, then I had to go back over the whole thing, bust it into sensory fragments, then pull up the big themes, then try to weave it together again. There must be an easier way, but I haven’t found it yet.

TBD: What kind of training did you get in learning how to be a professional writer?

DAJ: My father was a story-teller and my mother was a reading teacher, they really gave me my foundation. I took a lot of writing classes and workshops in high school and college, but I think they were most valuable in giving me the justification for pursuing this madness and instilling the sense of an audience.

TBD: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about writing?

DAJ: Start with yourself, work out from there.

TBD: I love the way you use food in Birds of Paradise, how did you come up with & implement the idea of weaving food through the narrative?

DAJ: Thank you. I’ve been writing around and about food for a long time. I come from a line of serious cooks and it was something I thought I’d do professionally to support my writing. I used to keep little writing books in my pocket when I worked in kitchens and it naturally became one of the lens through which I saw the world.

TBD: It seems one of the themes in Birds of Paradise is how disconnected Americans are from each other. Family. City.  Country.  What made you want to write about that?

DAJ: That’s interesting– I hadn’t been conscious of that as I was writing! But it makes sense as it’s a bit of an obsession for me. I think it comes from a lifetime of listening to the Arab side of my family complain about the American side. It’s a real Old / New World divide, the tradition of gathering, talking, cooking, and eating together is still very strong in other countries and I see it getting winnowed away in this country– everything sacrificed to the great American time crunch. I think it’s one of our great and most catastrophic losses.

TBD: What is it like to judge writers for the National Endowment of the Arts?

DAJ: Enormous fun and crazily exhausting. The piles of manuscript boxes that come in before the judging kind of makes you want to weep. But then the actual week of judging is so intense and interesting– the other writers I worked with were so smart and talented, I’m grateful to have done it.

TBD: What advice do you have for writers?

DAJ: As much as you’re able, don’t worry about what others are doing– try to keep your head in the work. Read widely and continually and work on your writing on a daily basis. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

Diana Abu-Jaber’s newest novel, Birds Of Paradise, is the winner of the 2012 Arab-
American National Book Award. It was also an Indiepicks selection, named one of the
top books of the year by National Public Radio, the Washington Post, and the Oregonian,
and a finalist for both the Northwest Bookseller’s Award and the Chautauqua Prize.
Diana was born in Syracuse, New York to an American mother and a Jordanian father.
When she was seven, her family moved to Jordan for two years, and elements of both her
American and Jordanian experiences, as well as cross-cultural issues appear in her work.
Her novel, Origin was named one of the best books of the year by the LA Times, the
Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. Her second novel, Crescent, won the PEN
Center Award for Literary fiction and the American Book Award. Her first novel,
Arabian Jazz won the Oregon Book award for Literary Fiction and was a finalist for the
PEN Hemingway Award. The Language of Baklava, her cooking memoir, won the Northwest Booksellers’ Award, was a finalist for a James Beard Award, and has been published in many languages. Diana teaches at Portland State University and divides her time between Portland, Oregon and Miami, Florida. She can be found on Twitter at: @dabujaber and on her website www.dianaabujaber.com

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of <a href=”http://www.thebookdoctors.com/” target=”_hplink”>The Book Doctors</a>, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of eight books and co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His books been translated into 10 languages, and he’s been featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today. Twitter: @thebookdoctors
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