Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dana Wright Talks about Barnes and Noble and Book Sales

A couple of years ago, Dana Wright was eavesdropping while she worked at her Barnes and Noble. She overheard me say I write Young Adult and ran after me. She caught up with me at the check out counter. Turns out YA is her "baby." She not only sells it but reads it and writes it.

A friendship was born that day and, last week, when I learned she was speaking at the next Houston’s MG/YA writers' meeting, I was thrilled. Dana has worked in bookstores since she was in high school and possesses a wealth of knowledge on the subject of books and bookstores.

Here are my notes from Saturday's event...

According to Dana Wright, who works at Houston's Champion Forest Barnes and Noble, everything starts with "Receiving." Individual stores order some books, but essentially the corporate office chooses and sends books to the stores. Monday through Friday, the store receives one hundred to four hundred cases of books to put on the shelves, which means older titles must be removed to make space for the newer ones. If a book is not moving, three months on the shelf is too long, and it will be sent back.

Dana is the Merchandise Manager at her store. Barnes and Noble stores' Community Relations Managers (CRMs) are in charge of author signings and acquiring educational accounts from schools and libraries. As a Merchandise Manager, Dana has approximately six hundred assigned tasks per month. In addition, she networks with publishers and authors and receives many ARCs (advanced reading copies) which she enjoys and often reviews.

The first third of the store is prime "real estate" for bestsellers and new release hard covers and whatever publishers want you to see. Publishers pay for their "real estate," which includes every Barnes and Noble store nation-wide and lasts about a month. The teen and middle grade area is growing very fast, and teen novels get two endcaps on the main aisle. (Endcaps are the sides/ends of shelves.) The teen area of the store includes themed shelves determined by the corporate office. Dana has one table that is "her baby." It's in the center of the school and has great visibility, and she gets to pick what's on it.

"Brick and Mortar" (real) stores work hard to get you through the doors because of competitive internet sales. Of course, Barnes and Noble keeps a finger on the pulse of this with their digital option, The Nook. Right now there's a Nook kiosk as you walk through the doors of Dana's store, but soon there will be a Nook boutique, which will look very Apple-esque. Check your local store for informational Nook workshops. Other changes include Bible boutiques, educational games and toys, and adult puzzles and games. The Woodlands (TX) store is adding a teen boutique.

Dana confirms that the YA trend is HUGE. She can not keep her YA table full. TWILIGHT is slowing down. CATCHING FIRE, MOCKINGJAY, and HAUNTED are selling fast. Paranormals and novels with edgy, gritty teen issues are still moving. Dana doesn't read as much MG as YA, but she has noticed lots of middle grade paranormals and zombies. She has a tougher time finding MG "boy" books to recommend to customers than MG "girl" books. For girls, there are clique series type, paranormals and gritty realistic stories. There are more YA girl books sold than YA boy books, but MG sales are 50/50.

To find out what’s selling, Dana suggests reading store blogs and YA blogs, and subscribing to Publisher's Weekly. She also suggests reviewing what you read but warns be careful what you say. Be honest but nice. "Netgalley" (online) is for people in the book industry, bloggers, booksellers and librarians. If you review books and post your reviews online, you can sign up for Netgalley and read books before their release date for an extended amount of time.

Dana's advice: Watch the teen and middle grade sections of your local store and study your rival base. Make friends with your bookseller! Introduce yourself! The people working the departments are the people you want to talk with; the general manager is probably too busy. Booksellers LOVE to talk to authors. Bring samples. Ask questions. Booksellers are voracious readers. Hand selling works.

I can tell you this for sure, nobody talks about the books she loves more enthusiastically than Dana Wright! She took me for a spin around "her table" and the rest of the store yesterday, and I couldn't resist her recommendations. Needless to say, I didn't come away empty handed. You want this woman recommending YOUR books!

If you have a question for Dana, be sure to post it. She says Tuesday is her busiest day, so please be patient waiting for her reply.


The next meeting of Houston MG and YA Writers is 9am, Saturday, October 16th at
La Madeleine's off the Sam Houston Tollway near Town and Country Mall.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fingers to the Keyboard Week

Since I am behind on my self-imposed deadline,
I am not allowed to blog. I wish I was landing at La Guardia (NY) to meet with my editor... However, publishers don't publish unfinished novels. So it's Fingers to the Keyboard Week.
See you soon!

Monday, September 6, 2010

In the Clouds When I Should Be Writing

If you ask my husband what he "sees" in the clouds, he will, every single time, tell you that he sees "a bunny." When I look at clouds, I see texture and shades of color and possibilities.

Thanks to my first grade teacher, the grandmotherly Mrs. Walker, who took us to the grassy playground, told us to lie on our backs, look up at the sky and describe the shapes we saw, I developed a passion for the sky and fell in love with clouds. However, when you move to the cornfields of Illinois and later the Gulf Coast, you quickly learn clouds aren't just bunnies and elephants and Abraham Lincoln's hat. They can be funnel clouds dipping to to the ground or the fury of a hurricane headed for land. They often revise your plan for the day.

Lately, I've been cloud-gazing again, and I'm convinced Texas clouds are the biggest and best-- probably the meanest and most dramatic, too. I've been snapping clouds pics for a few months now. From the car... in flight... through the branches of the trees around our house. I took the photo above when we were leaving the Grand Canyon. It's hard to believe there's a canyon nearby! The clouds below are Texas clouds. I took the photo from the car yesterday. It poured an hour later.

I write a lot in the car and on planes and, when I get stumped, a good long look at clouds is often just what I need to haul me over a rough spot. I'll allow my mind to wander just long enough to untangle an issue with my WIP or figure out what should come next...
What do YOU do to give yourself a short, creative break?

WIP Clue for the week is: Austin, Texas

Writing Tip of the Week is: Find a creative break that is not reading. Free your mind from words for a bit, and watch them flow when you return to your writing.

I guess that's all for now. Today, while I drink my first cup of coffee and write the next chapter, Annie and I will imagine our bags are packed, we're ready to go... to Washington State! Scroll to the bottom of the page for a beautiful view that will explain WHY Washington. We're so ready to feel a cool autumn breeze... Are you?

Sunrise over New Mexico or Arizona

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sometimes Winning, Sometimes Losing

I have to admit, I could buy all the raffle tickets but one, and it would be the winner. I don't like calling it losing. I'm accustomed to Not Winning. I've had some nice near misses and some pleasant runner-updoms. Okay, you know I make up words, right?

Long story, long... Remember Flat Stanley? Well, if you don't, YOU ARE OLD. (Maybe not. Sorry. Maybe you're just deprived.) Flat Stanley is a picture book that winds up in most elementary school classrooms. The main character, a boy named Stanley, is flattened when a bulletin board falls off the wall. Being flat allows him to slip under doors and have some great adventures. When I taught second grade, my students cut out, colored and named their own Flat Stanleys and then sent them off in snail mail to relatives and friends across the country to seek adventure.

Last week, Tina Ferraro, author of young adult novels The ABC's of Kissing Boys, How to Hook a Hottie and Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress had a contest on
YA Fresh, a blog she hosts with Kelly Parra. To enter a random drawing for a critique or a novel, all I had to do was post the name of the song I thought her new, very flat friend "Critter" was listening to on his iPod. I'm pretty sure Critter is a distant alien cousin of Flat Stanley. Since Critter was headed to college, this is what I wrote: "I think he's listening to the Glee version of 'I'll Stand by You.' A little melancholy, the whole college thing! Wow, I'd love a critique! (Heck, I need a critique, lol.)"

Well... yesterday, while wondering what clever topic I'd blog about today, I discovered I'd WON the critique by Tina Ferraro! This is a big deal! I read her blog. I read her books. I met her at a conference. I know I sound like stalker... but, quite simply, I respect her work!

T H A N K Y O U, T I N A F E R R A R O! (And I will calm down now.)

I was still pondering ideas for this blog and got to thinking how the whole Critter/Flat Stanley thing is a bit like The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Critter is, without a doubt, distantly related to Flat Stanley... or at least the idea of Flat Stanley. And here's the thing... Last month in our hotel room on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, I discovered I've been carrying around a Flat Stanley in my make-up bag since 2002. I'd taken it to Disney World that summer and thought I'd lost it. I'd written a letter of apology (and a really good Flat Stanley-type tale) to the student who knew she'd get it back at the end of summer and didn't. I never heard from her and figured it was either no big deal or a really big deal. Her teacher messed up badly. :(

So it turns out, "Flat Amy" has traveled with me for eight years under the fabric flap at the bottom of my make-up bag. Besides her original trip to Disney World, the sneaky stowaway has been to Chicago, DC, San Francisco, New York City, Yellowstone, London, Boston, Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, LA and Disneyland to name a few places. She's been to writing conferences too. My guess, she's written a novel!

Unfortunately, there are no pictures and, honestly, I would photograph her now, but she's gone missing again. Don't ask me how I let this happened again. Here's my theory: Shia LaBeouf was shooting Transformers III down the street from our hotel on Michigan Avenue. I think Flat Amy did whisper that she has a huge crush...

This week's WIP clue: cats on a couch in a dark alley

Writing tip of the week: Good critique partners are worth their weight in print cartridges and reams of paper! Find a critique partner--find several! Remember you, in turn, critique too!
Be the kind of critique partner you'd like to have!

I guess that's all for now. While I drink my morning coffee and write the next chapter, Annie and I will imagine we're on the grounds of Polesden Lacey, an Edwardian house in Great Bookham, Surrey, England. Perhaps I should be drinking tea! Check out the pics way way below. I don't know about you, but we can almost feel the cool breeze sweeping over the lawn... Oh that's right, it's the air conditioner again...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What do you mean, summer's over?

So tell me, if it's gone, where did it go? I'm not sure I want it back--it's hot enough out there and will be for another month or so, at least here in Texas. I realize I spent some time away, but really! I was supposed to have finished The Novel by now, and I have a long way to go. I am way behind schedule!

Yesterday I.WAS.READY to kick-start the writing frenzy. The boys left the house and I got dressed, packed up my writing gear, prepared to find a distraction-free location with coffee and promptly fell asleep on the couch. Luckily, when I woke up two hours later, the energy I'd acquired was excellent stuff. Pretty sure I'd been dreaming my next pages, considering the way the words flew onto the computer screen when I sat down to write.

Last night I stayed up too late reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth. We get up early around here, so I'm really s l o w this morning. But today I shall, repeat, shall exit and write. Two chapters? Three? Must finish the book soon because I've got other ideas that have been simmering in the back of my mind and are rapidly coming to a boil. I refuse to get sidetracked. (Hear that, distracting good ideas?)

Writing tip of the week: For a fresh view of your work, email your pages to your Kindle. Typos stick out wickedly but, you never know, you might just dazzle yourself with your brilliance. (Well, it's possible.) Hugs to friend and author Pauline Baird Jones for this suggestion. It was just what I needed!

This week's WIP clue: a 2002 Honda Odyssey with a crack in the windshield. And that's all I'm saying. Except, if you see this "clue" on the street, remember there's a little bit of the author in every piece of fiction. And be kind, the car was clean 'til I drove through the work zone at Klein High School in the rain.

Kudos to: The Houston YA/MG Writers Group, which was organized by Mary Lindsey, Jessica Capelle, Rose Garcia Moriarty and Iona McAvoy. Hugs to each of those terrific women for the grand thing they've started! The group meets the third Saturday morning of each month (currently at La Madeleine's near Town and Country Mall on the Sam Houston Tollway.) The August 21st meeting included an active discussion about "Plot Pitfalls" led by Rose Garcia Moriarty. Attendees offered great suggestions for avoiding little buggers like premises that aren't very compelling, illogical sequences, shallow/boring/frenzied/too predictable plotlines and unsatisfying endings that disappoint readers.

Special note: If you're wild about musicals like I am, check out PBS' gorgeous "Encore" presentation of South Pacific, brilliantly filmed on The Lincoln Center's stage in NYC. Check your local listing for dates and times.

I guess that's all for now. While I drink my morning coffee and read a few pages before writing a few pages, Annie and I will imagine it's March and we're in Wyoming, on the road to the Grand Canyon. Check out the pics below. I don't know about you, but we can almost feel the frosty wind in our faces... Oh that's right, it's the air conditioner again...

See ya next Tuesday!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Launch Date!

No, that's not lunch date! "Hellooo!!!!" (in the voice of Alicia Silverstone in Clueless) But I do love La Madeleine's strawberry and spinach salad, which sounds delish... Extra pecans, please. Where are my lunch buddies when I need them??? Oh, that's right. They're probably still sleeping on this last Tuesday of summer vacation.

Today is the launch date for this blog, the title stolen from Bryan Adam's song "18 til I Die" because it seems appropriate. I'm pretty sure I'm way more immature than anyone my age--which would be about--well, hmmmm, let's just say 31+. Tapping into my inner teen, creating characters and events, I write Young Adult novels and, technically, lie for a living. Of course, I'm not published yet--so I haven't made a living at this yet. It's not a race, and I'm definitely following a winding path to publication.

My WIP at the moment? For normal people who don't lie for a living, WIP= work in progress or current project. This week's WIP clue: My novel is realistic YA fiction with a love triangle. It's set in Texas, and nobody wears a cowboy hat. Okay, that's three clues.

Writing Tip for the Day: Read what you've written out loud--novel pages, note to child's teachers, grocery list... If something doesn't sound right, there's a good chance it's not, or something's missing, or it could sound better another way.

I guess that's all for now. While I drink my morning coffee and write a few pages, Annie and I will be imagining we're sitting on Huntington Beach in California (aka Surf City USA.) Check out the pics below. I don't know about you, but we can almost feel the chill in the breeze... Oh wait, I think that's the air conditioner kicking in...

See ya next Tuesday!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Testing the blog!

Testing. Testing. 1.2.3. If I can drive on the left side of the road, I can do just about anything!