Saturday, June 29, 2013

All About ARCs: The Ins and Outs of Using and Abusing Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)

Remember ARC Gate?

I wrote about it here a year ago. There were many, many responses, including those that agreed with me and those which disagreed with me. There was an article in Publishers Weekly. It led to a discussion about putting together a presentation for ALA Annual this year on the topic of ARCs and how they're used.

Liz Burns, Kristi Chadwick, and myself put together a proposal, which was accepted, and we invited Jen Childs (Random House) and Victoria Stapleton (Little, Brown) to join us in talking about the topic of ARCs and how they're used in the book world.

Because we wanted this to be a presentation about ARCs and how they're used by those who use them, we wanted to ask people to tell us how it is they use ARCs, how they get them, what they do with them, and so forth. You may remember we put together a short survey a few months ago on the topic, and here are the results!

We had an overwhelming response. 476 people responded. Since 2 responses were non-ARC users, most of the results below are out of a total of 474 responses.

First, we asked how do you identify yourself?

For the purposes of simplicity, I had to make decisions on people's profession/affiliation when it wasn't 100% clear. The bulk of respondents called themselves librarians (162), bloggers (129), librarian and blogger (104), teacher and blogger (31), other industry professional (22), book seller (15), and teacher (11).

"Other industry professional" was my way of putting those who fell outside one of the clearer categories into a space, and it included print journalists, archivists, author, trade reviewer, editors, or those who chose not to put an affiliation down.

As seen, librarians made up the majority of our responses, followed closely by bloggers, then librarians who also blog.

We followed that up with what kind of ARCs do you use? We offered three options: print, eARC, or both. Because I was curious if there was anything at all relating to affiliation and ARC use, I broke down the responses in that manner.

Far and away, the bulk of all ARC users try both print and eARCs. A total of 311 responses indicated using both. Print only ARC users made up for 138 responses and eARC only responses made up a tiny 24 responses.

I broke this particular question down by profession since we were curious what librarians were using. I included librarians who blog within this breakdown, as well. It will make sense why I looked at this particular demographic and not the others later on in the data.

Over 66% (176) of the librarians and librarian bloggers used a mix of both print and eARCs. Almost 30% (77) used print only, leaving a very tiny margin -- a total of 12 responses -- who use only eARCs.

Some of the interesting data points I teased out of this: none of the teacher responses, none of the bookseller responses, and none of the "other" responses indicated using eARCs. I suspect a large part of why those who identified as only teachers did not use eARCs is because it means they cannot then use those books with their classrooms unless they purchase a copy. It cannot be put into their classroom libraries or used with the kids. I cannot make conjectures on the other affiliations and why they may not use eARCs, but remember, they represented a much smaller portion of responses.

Our next question was How do you get ARCs? We allowed responses to come from pre-designed answers, but we had an option for "other," which will be explained.

The options were:

  • Sent to work 
  • I request from the publisher
  • I request from Netgalley
  • I request from Edelweiss
  • Pick up at conferences/trade shows
  • Trade with friends/colleagues
  • Purchase them
  • Receive them unsolicited*
After going through all of the responses, I added another category to simplify data collection, which is "receive them unsolicited." The bulk of those who indicated they received ARCs unsolicited were bloggers (which includes librarian and teacher bloggers).

Numerically, it breaks down like this:

  • Netgalley requests: 313
  • Conference/Trade shows: 247
  • Get at work: 206
  • Request from publisher: 203
  • Trade with friends/colleagues: 178
  • Edelweiss requests: 153
  • Sent unsolicited: 35

What's interesting about this data is that Netgalley requests are by and away the most popular way to get ARCs. Though it was noted above that eARC use only is the lowest popularity in terms of the type of ARCs used, the bulk of readers who use ARCs use both print and eARCs. This suggests -- though this wasn't explicitly asked -- that those who do use both print and eARCs may use eARCs frequently and regularly. There's actually a lot that could be explored from this data alone -- do those who use eARCs read more? Do they request more? Do they have a high accept and completion rate? None of those were questions we looked at, but they look like opportunities for further exploration. 

Note that we do not have a bar for "purchase them" as a means of acquiring ARCs. There were responses for this, but they were below the 35 responses of having ARCs sent unsolicited. Also worth noting is that wrapped in the response of "sent to work" were those bloggers who had ARCs sent to their home for review. So, the "sent unsolicited" answers may be those who could have selected "sent to work" and vice versa. We were not as clear in that response as we could have been, as our thought was "sent to work" meant to the library, book store, or school. 

Since we left this a question with the option for "other," we did receive other responses. They're interesting:

  • Win from contests: 30
  • Sent from the author (both solicited and unsolicited): 19
  • Review for trade journal: 10
  • Purchase them: 8
  • Bookstore partnerships: 6
  • Part of a YALSA/Award committee: 4
  • Library free pile: 2
  • Baker & Taylor review program: 2
  • Local librarian review group: 2
  • Online tour/sharing groups: 2
  • Work for publishing company: 1
  • Amazon Vine: 1
  • Publishing friends: 1
  • Ask the authors: 1

The followup question is at the heart of why we wanted to do this presentation, which is this: Where and how do you use ARCs?

As with the previous question, we had a list of options, as well as space for respondents to fill in additional answers. Our options included:
  • Collection development
  • Read for review -- place of work
  • Read for review -- blog
  • For groups at work (teen advisory board, etc)
  • Read for pleasure

Because there were a number of other responses that could be grouped into categories, I made a few categories after the survey closed:

  • Prizes or giveaways
  • Social media reviews (Goodreads, Amazon, Twitter -- anything not a "blog")
  • Author event preparation
  • Classroom libraries
  • Share with other readers
  • Committee reading
  • Reader's advisory/"staying current"
  • Workshop or presentation prep
  • Deciding book club titles
  • To fill the school library**

Note that these graphs use different legend variants -- I had to break them into two charts, and obviously, the scale changed because of the number of responses. So the larger bars in the second chart do not necessarily indicate a larger number of responses.

These responses came from all affiliations in our survey. So it makes sense that the highest number of responses came with "review for blog" at 295. Other top responses were personal reading (280), collection development (201), for groups at work (111), and review for work.

To break this down further, I pulled out the responses from everyone but those who affiliated as bloggers only (so this still includes librarians and teachers who also identified as bloggers), and the responses looked a bit different. Again note the scales are different since this graph needed to be broken up.

The top response in this set for how ARCs are used is personal reading (273). That response trumped all of the others which were top responses, including collection development (196), blog review (170), groups at work (109), and review for work (69).

** One of the responses listed above was "to fill the school library." For anyone unaware yet, this is not an ethical practice. ARCs have their use in classroom libraries or any of the other purposes listed above, but to use as a means of creating a school library is not an ethical use of ARCs. Fortunately, this was a single response.

Our next question was what do you do with your ARCs when you are finished with them?

Again, we offered a series of response options, and we also allowed for responses to be submitted. These were the options:

  • Add to personal collection (300)
  • Give to colleagues or friends (227)
  • Give away at the library on a free shelf (58)
  • Give away to interested patrons (146)
  • Sell them (7)
After reading through the responses, I made a few more rough categories, which included:

  • Recycle/trash them (29)
  • Donate them -- to hospitals, shelters, detention centers (23)
  • Use as prizes (18)
  • Add to classroom library (15)
  • Blog giveaways (9)
  • Donate to school library (6)
  • Donate to library (4)
  • Add to library collection (4)***
  • Donate to thrift store (7)
  • Craft use (2)
  • Bookswap websites (1)
  • Freecycle (1)
  • ARCs Float On / ARCycling (3)
  • Donate to library book sale (1)
  • Other (3)
  • Only use eARCs (2)

In short, from these responses it's clear that ARCs get around. Even if people keep them in their personal collection, many also indicated they share these with colleagues and friends. They are donated to places that can take and use them. 

*** As noted above, ARCs shouldn't be put into collections for libraries. But this is still a really small number. 

Our final questions were about the buying and selling of ARCs. The questions were simple and straightforward. Since this survey was anonymous, we feel responses were honest and genuine. 

Have you ever bought or sold ARCs?

Out of our 474 responses, 53 noted they have purchased ARCs. A total of 16 have sold ARCs. Because these numbers were small, I collapsed the data together, so the following charts are for those who have bought AND sold ARCs together. I didn't see a reason to separate them. 

So who is buying and selling ARCs?

Librarian-bloggers, librarians, and bloggers were among the most likely to buy and/or sell ARCs in this survey. The numbers are small compared to the total number who took the survey. 

If you've bought or sold ARCs, where have you purchased them or sold them?

These were the answers. I did separate these out as "bought" vs. "sold":

  • Bookstore: Bought (37)
  • Bookstore: Sold (11)
  • Library Book Sale: Bought (12)
  • Ebay: Bought (5)
  • Ebay: Sold (3)
  • Thriftstore: Bought (3)
  • Amazon: Bought (3)
  • Amazon: Sold (1)
  • Conference: Bought (1)

What's interesting about this data is comparing it to the responses to what people do with their ARCs when they're finished. Some donate them to bookstores or thrift stores or book sales. And then it's not a super surprise there are people who respond to having purchased ARCs through these places with things like "I didn't realize I bought an ARC until after." Because that was a response that appeared numerous times throughout this set of questions.

Worth noting: every response about purchasing from Amazon noted they didn't know they were buying an ARC. Half Price Books was cited in over half the responses for where ARCs were being bought AND sold. 

What to do with this data?

I'm not doing anything with it except laying it out there. I think the data actually raises a lot more interesting questions and places for consideration when ti comes to ARC use. I'm curious about why there aren't more eARC only users when it's clear eARCs are being requested far and away more than print ARCs are. 

ARCs get used. That's the biggest take away. 

So what more to know about ARCs?

You can check out our entire visual presentation about ARCs, which is primarily these graphs again, right here.

Another dimension of our ARC survey was from authors themselves. We posed the question of what differences they saw between their ARCs and finished copies. Because we know that ARCs are not the finished product, we were curious just how not finished some of them were. The link to the Prezi above will show you some of the responses, but for the curious, here's a sampling from the over 40 responses we got asking the single question "What were the biggest differences between your ARCs and finished book?" (This, we hope, should illuminate some of the reasons why putting these books in a circulkating library may be a bad idea, among other things).

Note that while we allowed responses to be entirely anonymous, some authors chose to identify themselves. This has been left  -- maybe it'll encourage some exploration of print vs. ARC in and of itself:

  • I make a lot of changes after the ARC is printed, from correcting errors that slip in during typesetting, to tweaking entire passages to improve the writing. For my first YA novel, PROXY (there goes my anonymity!), I actually rewrote the last few paragraphs for a much stronger ending. It didn't change the story, but changed the quality of the telling and, I hope, the emotional impact of the final page.

  • My ARC went out after copyedits but before proofreading and final changes, so there were still A LOT of mistakes and inconsistencies. Some which I caught, some the proofreader. I always feel a sense of regret when ARCs go out before these changes are made, because reviewers might point out flaws that are fixed in the final novel. But I also understand that with schedules the way they are, it's difficult to hold the ARC back for these changes without getting out "too late." It's a tough one. That warning on the cover, "uncorrected proof" means something.
  • Aside from the grammatical and typesetting errors we caught in the ARC, I opted for the finished book to change the name of the first school my character attended. I had originally used the name of a real Chicago school, citing its gang problem and violence, as relayed to me by a former student and by a parents' Internet-based watchdog group. However, I felt in the end that I was doing a disservice to the school, and to the teachers and the students and their families, by drawing such negative (though accurate) attention in naming their school. (Leslie Stella, PERMANENT RECORD)

  • I re-arranged an entire scene for timeline continuity in one ARC, and in another changed two names important to later books in the series. The changes were minor details alone, but have huge impact on the overall world-building and timelines of the books.
  • The entire first section--ten poems--of my YA poetry novel were not included in the printed ARC. Reviewers would have had no idea that they were missing anything. It was obvious that some reviewers did not check the finished book before posting reviews. Heartbreaking.
  • Quite a few--the timeline was completely revamped, one character was removed (a minor character, but still), some embarrassing continuity errors were corrected, and the prose was made more sparkly and smooth. I shudder to think of the people who judge the book by its ARC. The ARC gives an idea of the finished product, but it isn't the finished product by a long shot!
  • I had a book where the publisher sent the very first draft of the book out as the ARC. In the revisions before the final, I changed 45,000 words, removed a subplot, changed the relationships between the secondary characters, renamed people.

  • Sometimes minor, sometimes major.Typos, spelling errors, etc. Proper acknowledgments or dedications might be left out of an ARC. Last-minute content changes can make a difference between an ARC and a finished book, too, not to mention that the overall quality of an ARC is generally less than a for-sale book. I've had paragraphs of content that were to be cut, show up in the ARC but not the final version.

It's our hope that through this presentation and ongoing discussion, it's clear ARCs have a purpose and a reason behind them. They are not finished copies. They are not meant to be used as a means of currency. They're instead tools designed to help professionals -- be they librarians, teachers, bloggers -- engage in professional activities. This can be personal reading; often that personal reading ends up turning into a collection development or reader's advisory purpose.

Continue reading...

Friday, June 28, 2013

What I'm Reading Now

For you this Friday, a few quick snapshots of the books I'm currently reading.

The Originals by Cat Patrick
I dug Forgotten, plot holes and all, and I had high hopes for this one, too.  Alas, I think Patrick's exhausted her ability to make me see past plot issues by now. The Originals features three girls who are clones of each other, but fool the world into thinking they're a single person. One girl goes to school in the morning, another in the afternoon, and the third goes out in the evening for any extracurriculars and social engagements. It's strange, and it's frustrating that I have no idea why such a charade is necessary. Identical triplets would be completely plausible. I can only hope the answer is revealed further in the book.

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan
This is normally the kind of book I love - spies, intrigue, secrets, set in one of the few historical periods I always find interesting (Tudor England). But it's so slow. So, so slow. I'm halfway through and have only barely begun to learn about the secret goings-on in Queen Elizabeth's court. If it doesn't pick up sometime soon, this may be a do-not-finish for me. (Incidentally, if you've read this one, please let me know if I should persevere.)

Tumble and Fall by Alexandra Coutts
This is a little different from the usual post-apocalyptic fare because it's not actually post. An asteroid is about to hit the earth, and Coutts tells the stories of a few teens as they prepare to be obliterated. I expected to read an adventure story (I admit that images of Armageddon flashed through my mind), but that's not what this is at all. Rather than focusing on a desperate attempt to save the world, Coutts seems to be telling a story about how to live when your days are numbered - lots of personal stories about family and friendship and love. I can't blame the book for not being exactly what I wanted, but's not exactly what I wanted.

Vortex by S. J. Kincaid
Insignia was a surprise hit for me last year, so the sequel is a must-read. So far, I have not been disappointed - Tom's voice is still wonderful, Kincaid's world is still fascinating, and I was hooked on page 1. Vortex follows Tom and his friends as they become mid-level cadets, encountering new challenges and uncovering more secrets about the Intrasolar Forces and the corporations who bankroll their activities.

Three of the four books above have been tough going for me, and it's been a bit of a struggle lately to get through the books that I normally enjoy. So I've actually mixed it up and have been re-reading the Bridgerton romance series by Julia Quinn. I first read these as a teenager; they were in many ways my entree to the romance genre. They're funny, fast-paced, and sexy, and I've been flying through them. If you are a historical romance fan and haven't read them (hardly likely), I recommend them heartily. (And I may risk the wrath of many readers by saying this, but you really don't need to read them in order.)

Continue reading...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff

First Second seems to have a near-monopoly on high-quality, full-color graphic novels for kids. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is another example of what I've come to expect from them, though Tony Cliff's book actually has self-publishing roots. It started out as a web comic, and it's still available to read online, though I haven't compared the print vs. web versions to see if there are any differences.

Delilah Dirk is the daughter of an English ambassador, but that hasn't stopped her from pursuing adventure - which usually involves stealing from very rich people. By the time she's captured in Constantinople, she's earned herself quite a reputation. The man set to guard her is Selim, the Turkish lieutenant from the title. She spins him a terrific and mostly true story about her escapades, and the two bond over a good cup of tea. Unfortunately for Selim, Delilah escapes while he's relaying her story to his boss, and a miscommunication causes Delilah to turn rescuer and save Selim's life. Selim has no choice but to run away with Delilah.

Delilah's next target is a very wealthy, very dangerous pirate. She is more than happy to drop Selim off at any point in her journey, but Selim feels he owes her a debt for saving his life, so he stays. It's quite a ride that she takes him on, complete with a flying ship and a bit of a body count. Selim has to decide if he's truly up to such a life, even if leaving her would mean also leaving his debt unpaid.

While Delilah is the character that's most heavily emphasized in the flap copy and other marketing, this isn't really her story. Instead, we see her through Selim, who gets caught up in her adventures and eventually reconciles himself to an exciting, dangerous life alongside her. Selim is the character with the arc, the one who grows and changes. I can't say that I wasn't a little disappointed that Delilah isn't the true protagonist, at least of this installment, but she's still great fun to read about. She's confident in her skills, a natural leader, and there's never any doubt she'll be able to extricate herself from any sticky situation; it's Selim's story that's unpredictable.

The art is lovely - deep colors, clean lines, detailed landscapes. Facial expressions are all realistically rendered and characters look consistent from page to page. If you've been reading Stacked for long, you know this is just the kind of art I like in a graphic novel. I was puzzled by some of the words chosen to represent sound effects, though - swarm, slice, dive, loom, and so on. In the context of the story, they're actually verbs masquerading as sound effects. It's jarring and mostly unnecessary, as Cliff does a good job of telling the action of the story through the art without needing to resort to these words.

This is a natural choice for readers seeking adventure comics. There's some violence, but it's not graphic (almost bloodless, really). Scott has a second adventure available for purchase at his website, and one can only hope that more stories will emerge afterward.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant will be published August 27.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

Becky Randle has always considered herself pretty plain. Not an uggabug, mind you, but nothing special either. She lives in a trailer with her mother, an obese woman whom everyone else seems to write off, but who Becky knows is the kindest, most wonderful person in the world. 

But then her mom dies, and Becky is left rudderless. She's just graduated high school, she has a part-time job at a corner store that she hates, she's not going to college, and her mom was the only bright spot in her life - aside from her best friend, Rocher (named after the candy). Shortly before her mother died, she cryptically told Becky to embrace the magic when it's offered to her - and sure enough, it is. She's contacted by Tom Kelly, the world's foremost fashion designer, who promises to make her three dresses which will magically transform her into the most beautiful woman in the world.

Sure enough, the first dress she puts on - a hot red number - does just that. When she's alone, Becky looks in the mirror and sees her average self. But when anyone else is with her, she looks like Rebecca, the knock-out, the stunner. Tom Kelly and his dresses take Becky on a wild ride - the cover of Vogue, a starring role in an action movie opposite the hottest actor, and even a meeting with the prince of England. Then Tom Kelly reveals the catch (you knew there would be a catch, didn't you?). Becky is not so sure of her transformation, not so sure of Tom Kelly, and very afraid of what being permanently Rebecca would do to her life.

The standout of this novel is Becky's voice. She's sarcastic, funny, self-deprecating, and vulgar (though not nearly as vulgar as Rocher). Her story is told in first person, so you really get a good feel for who she is through her own eyes. It's obvious her self-esteem isn't very high. It's also obvious she's in over her head with this whole situation. Her friend Rocher is a breath of fresh air. I fully expected Rocher to be written as initially supportive but eventually envious, complete with a falling-out and ultimate reconciliation at the end of the book. That's not at all what happens. Rocher is beside Becky's side the entire time, and Becky never abandons Rocher for any of her new, more famous, acquaintances. Plus, Rocher is freaking hilarious.

The weakest part of the book is Becky's romance with the prince, which is fun but not very well-developed. It seems he and Becky go from meeting each other to being an acknowledged couple with no steps in between. It seems rushed, like perhaps Rudnick just wanted to skip ahead to the good stuff. For all that the prince is a good-looking, funny, kind-hearted, famous, and very wealthy man, I never felt the swoon that I felt I should have.

I haven't been as involved in the new adult discussion as Kelly has, but I think Gorgeous fits the bill pretty well. It features a protagonist who is 19 for the majority of the story. She's no longer in high school. She's concerned with marriage (in a mostly non-romantic way), with finding a job that will allow her to make a living, with how the world perceives her as an adult and what her legacy would be. For people who don't go to college after graduation, these are very realistic concerns. (As an aside, I think it's nice to see a teenager who makes the valid decision to not go to college.) There's also quite a bit of strong language, which doesn't make a book NOT young adult, but it does contribute to a more mature tone.

So is it a good read? Definitely. Is it Printz-worthy? Probably not. The pacing isn't perfect. More than that, though, the message is just kind of murky. When you write a book about a self-professed "plain" woman who is magically transformed into the most beautiful person in the world, how do you resolve that neatly? How do you make the story true to its world, which values physical beauty, but also prevent it from being total wish fulfillment or a complete downer? I'm not sure Rudnick got it totally right, but then again, I'm not sure it's possible to get it totally right. And of course, there's no reason there needs to be a message at all. He gets points for grappling with it in the first place.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June Debut YA Novels

Here's this months YA debut novels. As you know, we've been keeping track each month (you can get to May's here, and then April through May's post and so forth). We try to make the effort to come back and link up our own reviews in each of these posts, so if you're curious what we thought of the various debuts throughout the year, that's how you can find out.

If you know of other traditionally published debut YA novels out in June, let us know in the comments. We define debut as first published novel, regardless of whether the author has published in a different category (adult, picture book, etc) previously. We want the freshest blood for these round ups!

All descriptions come from WorldCat unless otherwise noted.

Another Little Piece by Katie Karyus Quinn: A year after vanishing from a party, screaming and drenched in blood, seventeen-year-old Annaliese Rose Gordon appears hundreds of miles from home with no memory, but a haunting certainty that she is actually another girl trapped in Annaliese's body.

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn: A lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy must either surrender his sanity to the wild wolves inside his mind or learn that surviving means more than not dying.

Linked by Imogen Howson: When Elissa's nightmarish visions and inexplicable bruises lead to the discovery of a battered twin sister on the run from government agents, Elissa enlists the help of an arrogant new graduate from the space academy.

Tides by Betsy Cornwell: After moving to the Isles of Shoals for a marine biology internship, eighteen-year-old Noah learns of his grandmother's romance with a selkie woman, falls for the selkie's daughter, and must work with her to rescue her siblings from his mentor's cruel experiments.

Ink by Amanda Sun (via Goodreads): On the heels of a family tragedy, the last thing Katie Greene wants to do is move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn’t know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks, and she can’t seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building. Then there’s gorgeous but aloof Tomohiro, star of the school’s kendo team. How did he really get the scar on his arm? Katie isn’t prepared for the answer. But when she sees the things he draws start moving, there’s no denying the truth: Tomo has a connection to the ancient gods of Japan, and being near Katie is causing his abilities to spiral out of control. If the wrong people notice, they'll both be targets. Katie never wanted to move to Japan—now she may not make it out of the country alive. 

In the After by Demitria Lunetta: In a post-apocalyptic world where nothing is as it seems, seventeen-year-old Amy and Baby, a child she found while scavenging, struggle to survive while vicious, predatory creatures from another planet roam the Earth.

Insomnia by J. R. Johansson: Sixteen-year-old Parker Chipp spends his nights experiencing other people's dreams and getting no rest, so when he discovers that new friend Mia's dreams are different he becomes fixated on her until memory blackouts lead him to question exactly what their relationship is.

The Oathbreaker's Shadow by Amy McCulloch: Fifteen-year-old Raim lives in a world where you tie a knot for every promise that you make. Break that promise and you are scarred for life, and cast out into the desert. Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember.

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross: Sixteen-year-old Maude Pichon, a plain, impoverished girl in Belle Epoque Paris, is hired by Countess Dubern to make her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, look more beautiful by comparison but soon Maude is enmeshed in a tangle of love, friendship, and deception.

Continue reading...

Monday, June 24, 2013

So You Want to Read YA?: Guest Post from Zoe Luderitz (School & Library Marketing, Social Media at Little, Brown)

Let's switch around who we have sharing their picks this week. Let's talk to someone who is in the business of getting YA books into the hands of those who work with teens. We've got the manager of school and library marketing, as well as social media, from Little, Brown, Zoe Luderitz. 

Zoe Luderitz is the Manager, School & Library Marketing and Social Media at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She also has her MLIS from San Jose State University. She did not want to give us a head shot, so imagine her smile right about here.

Thinking about how I would introduce YA to non-YA readers was more of a challenge for me than I thought it would be! I've always been such a fan of teen books. When I was a teenager I was into alternative lit. I loved Francesca Lia Block and read all of her Weetzie Bat books. The worlds she created of real teen lives mixed up with unexpected circumstances always appealed to me. My friends and I would draw stars and faeries on our notebooks. I would have died if Holly Black was around when I was in high school! I absolutely would have loved the Tithe series.

But YA was still so new when I was a teenager. There was not the variety that there is today. It was just becoming a "thing" when I started High School. I completely remember my freshman year when Speak was making the rounds. Then my senior year when the new The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out it was the first time I had heard about a fiction book for teens specifically. 

Though I was interested in children's lit when I started my marketing internship at Candlewick Press in college I came away with a real love for YA. I read Feed by M.T. anderson and The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. I realized the depth and breadth of new YA. 

When I started working at The Horn Book I became fascinated by the conversation around YA literature. The topics ranged from more traditional realistic fiction to fantasy to paranormal romance. I started the year that Twilight came out. But it was also the year that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian was published. One of my very favorite books of all time. I still remember sitting on the couch in The Horn Book offices opening it up not knowing the awesomeness that was in store. When I got my job at Little, Brown working on that book had me starstruck. 

I love that some of my favorite books of all time are written for teenagers! Sweethearts by Sara Zarr, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock that's coming out this summer from Matthew Quick.  And I promise I'm not just naming Little, Brown titles! Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, Going Bovine by Libba Bray. The list could go on and on.

YA is such a welcoming place. You can read realistic fiction like This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen AND graphic novels like American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Science Fiction like Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi AND novels in verse like This is What I Did by Ann Dee Ellis. The characters and emotional experiences are some of the best out there and if you haven't yet, you should definitely join the club. 

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Links of Note: June 22, 2013

This display for YA road trip books is so awesome. Go read Molly Wetta's post about putting it together in her teen department and be inspired to do something similar with your own space. 

This might be one of my favorite collections of interesting links in a long time. It's shorter than usual, but there is a lot to take in, so let's go for it. And if there's something I've missed in the last couple of weeks, let me know in the comments.

  • Kicking off next month is this awesome project by Kody Keplinger and Corrine Duyvis called Disability in YA. I will be watching this like crazy because I am eager to see what they're talking about when it comes to disabilities and representation in YA lit. Such an important and under discussed topic. I think this will be a mega resource for anyone who works with teens. 
  • Someone asked me a few months ago if there was a "So you want to read middle grade?" series that was similar to the "So you want to read YA?" series we run here. Enter Sarah at Green Bean Teen Queen, who is kicking off a middle grade series for those who want to start reading more of it. 
  • Here's an ambitious project that I have been waiting for: Recaptains. Remember when you read book one in a series a long time ago and forgot what happened at the end but you still want to read book two? Here's where they spoil the books for you so you can carry on with the series and not need to reread the book. 
  • Why not make card catalog art? One Greenfield, Massachusetts librarian did just that. 
  • June is pride month, and even though we haven't done anything here, I've collected a couple of really worthwhile reads on the topic. First, Anna has a great post over at gay ya about getting queer YA out there (including how to be a good reader AND how to be a  great librarian who knows where to find and how to promote these books) and Rebecca has a guest post over at Housequeer about queer YA fiction and MORE queer YA fiction.
  • Linda over at NPR's Monkey See wrote a really interesting and sad post about how there are no films out there right now which feature women. I have to say more broadly, there's been nothing of interest to me at the theater in months. I'm picky with movie watching, but there's usually at least something which I want to see. But this year? I've seen nothing and have put nothing on my must-see list. 

I had a post over at Book Riot this week you can check out, too -- 15 awesome young adult book cover inspired manicures. Do you have any idea how fun it is to spend hours looking at images of people's incredible nail art? Meanwhile, I try to paint my nails one color and it is a disaster. 

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

When We Talk About "Girl Problems"

My problems might be superficial on a global scale, but they're real to me. 
-- Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

One of my favorite quotes in YA fiction is the one above. It's one I've thought long and hard about, and part of the reason is that it captures one of the reasons I love realistic YA fiction so much. On the global scale, problems about boyfriends or about parents or even about the "tougher" stuff -- drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, and so forth -- are fairly superficial. Few of the stories presented in realistic YA make a huge impact globally. They're in the here and now, but that doesn't at all discredit their importance and immediacy to the characters who are telling the story.

Amanda Nelson wrote a really great post over at Book Riot recently about her conflicted feelings for Elizabeth Gilbert (most well-known for her Eat, Pray, Love) that struck a chord with some of what I've been thinking about lately in regards to YA fiction and more specifically, the problems that girls encounter in YA fiction. It's a short post, but the heart of it for me was this:

I have CONFLICTED FEELINGS about Elizabeth Gilbert. I read Eat, Pray, Love, and while I thought her actual putting-words-in-sentences-in-nice-and-interesting-ways WRITING was really good, the subject matter was so annoying that I ended up turning my nose up at the book. A wealthy American white lady complaining about…what, exactly? The spirituality-lite? Leaving her husband because she doesn’t want to be married, then spending the rest of the book talking about men? Ergh.
Except I could deal with it, apparently, because I didn’t fling the book away in disgust or even irritation. I finished it, thought about it, talked about it with other readers. Realized that judging the seriousness of someone else’s problems and the sincerity of their spiritual expression was probably a personality flaw of mine. Changed a little–all because of a book I kinda sorta didn’t even like.
What the wealthy white American lady complains about is the heart of the book and the heart of the criticism people have for this particular book. Gilbert's memoir is about how she was working through the spiritual and personal aspects of a changing relationship that had, at one time, meant a lot to her but now had left her feeling something different. Amanda nails her own biases here in a way that many readers don't or don't think about when they approach a book like Gilbert's -- she judged the seriousness of the problems in the book, rather than reading and considering the book on its own merits.

This is where I see a huge link to what many readers do when it comes to YA fiction, particularly realistic fiction about teen girls. Their problems become disposable, collapsable, and easily judged by the reader. Their problems aren't considered as global or with any heft. They're seen as silly and it's almost an insult to even be compared to a teen girl. Because whatever they're feeling or experiencing isn't legitimate or worthy of consideration or attention.

This video is a shining example of what I'm getting at. The standout moment for me is what she has to say here:

People don’t wanna be compared to the teenage girl; the teenage girl is hated, teenage girls hate themselves. If you listen to a certain kind of music, or if you express your emotions in a certain kind of way, if you self harm, you write diaries, all those kind of activities are sort of laughed at and ridiculed because they’re associated with being a teenage girl. Even just things like being cripplingly self conscious or overly concerned with our appearance, that’s considered like a teenage girl thing and therefore its ridiculous, it’s stupid, it’s not relevant or legitimate, and you know, what we needed at that age was legitimisation and respect and support but all we got was dismissal and “oh you’re such a teenage girl.

This is precisely what we do when we're reading about teenage girls as much as when we're actually interacting with teenage girls. We call their problems -- the real, honest, painful, tough things they're experiencing -- "typical girl problems."

What does that even mean? What's a typical girl problem? What's a typical girl? What's a typical problem? What puts the line between a "typical girl problem" and a book that's published featuring a male main character going through "typical boy problems?" What's a "typical boy problem?" And why is it that "typical boy problems" are considered Literary as opposed to throw away, fluff, or otherwise light reading that "just some book about typical girl problems" can be?

I'm not sure I have answers to any of these questions. And I know for a fact that I've used lines like "typical girl problems" in my own reviews to describe what's going on in a character's life. But the longer I think about it and consider it, the less that line makes sense and the more it sort of frustrates me as someone who not only loves books about "typical girl problems," but as someone who loves working with teen girls. I think about this in light of what it might mean to be an unlikable/complicated female protagonist in YA and what it means when a girl learns about her own ability to make choices for enjoying her body and sexuality.

Are we scared that by legitimizing the issues girls face that they might learn to like themselves or that they might find themselves valuable and worthwhile despite not having global problems to work through? 

Rather than offer up answers -- I can't -- I thought instead it'd be worth looking through some of the common criticisms leveled at books featuring female main characters and why those perceptions are problematic. As Hubbard notes in that quote from Wanderlove -- a book about a girl who needs to travel in order to sort out what's going on in her own personal life and her own relationships -- while the problems may be trivial, they're very real to the character experiencing them. That doesn't make them less challenging or less important. 

In many ways, it's that very thing which keeps girls coming back to YA. They're seeing themselves in the fiction and they're empathizing and relating to the problems in these stories. These are their stories and their challenges, and for once, they're finding a place in the world that not only understands them, but accepts them and loves them through it. 

These books remind teen girls they are perfectly capable, lovable, and valuable as they are right now.  

Keep Calm, Keep Silent 

There are so many books about teen girls and silence. About what happens when something terrible happens to a girl and she isn't invited to speak up about it or when she tries to, she's brushed off as being just some girl who doesn't really know what's going on.

I've been thinking about this since I finished Julie Berry's All the Truth That's In Me (September). There's nothing spoiler in saying the book is about what happens when a girl comes back from being kidnapped. She's lived in a cult/Puritanical-like world, and that world values a girl's virginity above all else. When the nameless main character is kidnapped but returns home from where she was taken two years later with her tongue removed -- a literal statement -- no one wants to listen to her. When she wants to go back to school to be educated, she's met with sexual advances on the part of her teacher. 

The assumption is that when she was kidnapped, she was made unpure. And as an unpure woman, she had no value to society anymore. She's not entitled to an education. No one wants to hear her speak up and no one will help her meet her own desire to do so. 

Even though the book is set in a historical time frame, what made it standout was that it was so much a reflection of our own world as it is right now. We silence teen girls and belittle whatever their experiences and opinions and insights might be about what's going on around us. The main character in this book had the answer to a major crime in town, but no one wanted to listen to her. No one wanted to find out why her tongue was cut out because by virtue of her being a teen girl, the town had already metaphorically removed her ability to speak

The girl knew what was going on. And part of her motivation for coming back home was to help people understand what happened to her friend. To make sense of a senseless crime. But no one would listen to her. It wasn't simply that she had no tongue, making her voice impaired -- remember, she wanted to go back to school to learn how to communicate -- it's that no one valued her voice enough to want to help her get to that point. Part of it was her perceived impurity, but a bigger part of it was that she was a teen girl. 

Silence has played a role in the lives of girls in YA for a long time. That was the whole premise behind Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. It played a huge role in Colleen Clayton's novel about sexual assault, What Happens Next. It certainly played a role in Courtney Summers's Cracked Up to Be. In all four of these cases in particular, that silence revolved around sexual assault or sexual impurity or at least perceived sexual assault or impurity on some level. 

Which is interesting because for whatever reason, sexual assault and rape and the notion of sexual purity are "girl problems." 

It's interesting too, how many parents in these stories don't exist. Whether that's by design -- they aren't there -- or by perception. Whatever the case is, the truth of it is the adults in so many of these stories aren't there

Girl voices aren't valued. Girl voices are written off as unimportant, and even when it's clear there is a girl in trouble -- a girl who maybe even knows the key to something bigger -- she's seen as a devalued member of her world. She's troubled and has problems and needs help but no one actually reaches out to her and sees her through it. Or worse, they do but they're doing so not because they care about her, but rather, because she's causing a scene or a fuss and needs to be silenced again. 

In many ways, it's because of the culture of being undervalued, for being seen as not having something worth sharing, that these girls internalize. They don't choose silence. It's not a choice at all. 

The Love Triangle

I'm not the biggest fan of love triangles in YA fiction, but they serve a purpose and do reach a number of readers. But responses to love triangles in YA are fascinating and I think speak to what I'm working at here, too. 

Love triangles are about not just the romance -- though that plays a valid and important part. They're about choice. They're about making choices among people who a girl wants to get to know better and they're about making choices regarding time and energy. They're about following one's heart and one's mind in pursuing relationships. 

Responses to love triangles? They're lame or overdone or tired or stupid plot devices. They're boring because who cares about romance

The girl in the story cares about the romance or else she wouldn't be struggling with which boy or girl she wants to pursue. Just as fairly, the girls and boys reading the story care about the romance. They relate, even if it's in their own personal fantasies, of having to make a choice between two people who want to be involved with them

Do you see that?

A love triangle is, in many ways, where the girl at the center of the story is able to not only make a choice, but she's making a choice among two pursuers who are interested in HER. Who want to get to know HER. Who care about who SHE is as she is. 

These sorts of responses don't get leveled at books where there a male at the center of the story, though, quite in the way they are when it is a girl choosing between two romantic partners. Andrew Smith's Winger features Ryan Dean West, who has a choice between two girls. But the responses to his pursuits aren't met with nearly the same vitriol a novel which features similar set ups but with a girl choosing between two boys (and here is my bias, since I haven't read enough YA where a girl is choosing a non-heterosexual partner). It's not that Ryan Dean is seen as a hot shot who can get all of the ladies -- he's not! -- but rather, his pursuit of romance and physical intimacy and enjoyment isn't met with the cries of boredom or triteness or the phrase "who cares about the romance?" And while the girls in his book get to make a choice too, about whether or not he's the guy for them, because the book's in his voice and through his perspective, we don't get to know what it is that's driving them or why it matters to them. 

Boys in YA novels are allowed more choice when it comes to pursuing romance. And in many ways, there's a special novelty granted to stories where the boy pursues romance in the way that when a girl at the center of a YA novel pursues it, she's judged for doing so and in many ways, the strength and value of her character are determined based on this decision. 

Dismissing the love triangle trope in YA and complaining about how it's lame and boring undercuts the value of choice, of independence, of romance, of making tough decisions about relationships to pursue and relationships to drop that teen girls do experience. Though the girls in the real world don't always have two boys seeking their love, they do deal with tough choices similar to these choices. They have to make choices between activities to engage in. Between friendships to hold onto and those to break. Between making choices about the futures that send them down one road or another. The love triangle in YA is both the literal choice among two romantic paths and the metaphorical choice. That sometimes you simply have to make tough decisions between two appealing but different things.

Further reading on the love triangle and why it is valuable can be found on Angie's blog in relation to Katniss in The Hunger Games titles "Why Team Peeta is a Feminist Statement" and on S. E. Sinkhorn's post "Love Triangles: Why? - A List."  

The Every Girl

There was a really interesting comment last year over at the Someday My Printz Will Come blog about the Sarah Dessen formula. And it's a comment that's appeared in more than one review of a Dessen book. While I definitely agree there is something formulaic in Dessen's writing -- all of her stories feature an average girl dealing with challenges of balancing family, self, romance, and friendship -- the writing is always top notch. But more importantly . . . 

All of her stories feature an average girl dealing with the challenges of balancing family, self, romance, and friendship

The Dessen girl is the every girl. She is, if you will, often much like Elizabeth Gilbert. She is worried about her own life and the tough things she's going through at the time. Yes, this often revolves around a boy. Sometimes it revolves around a good friend. Sometimes it revolves around a family that's not necessarily 100% whole and intact. 

The Moon and More debuted at #3 on the New York Times best sellers list. Dessen isn't a stranger to this list, and her books are among the first associated with realistic fiction. She's been around for a long time, and her books are always highly anticipated when they come out every couple of years. Readers love Dessen because they know what to expect of her stories: a girl working through her life's challenges, with the hope and promise of a satisfying, honest, and real ending. There's also hope for a little romance and an adventure or two -- however small -- along the way.

Dessen writes books that readers relate to because they're their stories. And in many ways, Dessen's books are criticized for that very thing: for being formulaic and for being predictable. But the truth is, that's the bulk of a teen girl's life -- it's formulaic and predictable. That is not a slight on teen girls but rather, a window into the truth of what their every day experiences are. They find themselves drawn to stories like Dessen's or Susane Colasanti's or Deb Caletti's or Jessi Kirby's or other similar writers because they understand these girls because they are these girls. 

They're finding authors who completely understand them, but more than that, who want to tell their stories. These authors respect and cherish teen girls and do so by illuminating their worlds in ways that readers (and I don't leave out boys here!) completely understand because they are living these stories every single day. Contemporary YA authors do this in their work, but there's something even more intimate and personal about the authors who are so focused on these stories about girls working through their every day challenges. 

The characters in these books? They're living the problems their readers are. And these books respect that. These are not grand, end-of-the-world problems. They're real world problems. Today's teen girls are told over and over their problems don't matter. They're trivial. They're not global.  

But these same teens are buying these books and caring about these stories because they're finding here that their problems DO matter somewhere.

What's Scary For Teen Girls To Know?

In 2006, John Green's Looking for Alaska won the Printz Award. It's a book which features an oral sex scene. The book is considered literary despite that.

I talked at length about female sexuality in YA already and the positive, empowering portrayals of it in recent titles. But in many ways, I think that when we think about positive female sexuality in YA, it's not given the same sort of merit or time or praise. Much of it has to do with the greater book, of course, which leads back to the idea that stories about girls, with girls at the center, aren't received with the same seriousness and merit as literary as those with boys at the center. Yes, Looking for Alaska was primarily about Alaska. But it was about Alaska through the eyes of Miles

Coming back to this particular topic in YA is important because I spent a long time reading and considering the comments about my own post over at Dear Author. I wonder if it's true that a sex scene as mild and implied -- not explicit but implied -- as the one noted in Doller's book really and truly wouldn't fly in some of the public and school libraries as suggested. 

Do these libraries not have Looking for Alaska on shelf? 

I think we come back to the same thing -- when a girl is at the helm, the perceptions of what a book is or isn't about comes through. A girl exploring and being positive about her sexuality is considered too much for some libraries, but a book about a boy doing the same thing is par for the course. It's, in fact, literary, where the book about the girl is considered more disposable. And sure, there are books where girls who are sexually active or experience positive sexuality which merit the label literary. But I think there is a much quicker knee-jerk reaction to what a book is or is not when it is a girl having these experiences. When it's a boy, it's just a boy being a boy.

Are girls' stories frivolous? Are they worth less than a story about a boy?

Is it scary to think about a girl who is in control of her life, her story, or her experiences, physically, mentally, and emotionally? Why do we bristle at a girl experiences? Why do we devalue it? Why is there a belief that sexual moments in YA books that are through a female main character are there as means of titillation? 

Of course, we know that Green's book has been challenged. But I think there's a difference between a book being challenged because it's made it to the shelves and a book that never gets a chance because it's not seen as worth the expense. 

So . . . what?

I don't have any answers, but I have a lot more questions. 

We see girl problems in stories, and we call them out as much.

We dismiss girls' feelings and experiences as "typical girl problems" and I think we often do it in a way that makes these palatable. But they're palatable not to girls through this sort of language, but instead, they're dismissed as a means of making the story palatable to boys

Think about the books -- realistic, in particular -- featuring amazing male lead characters. Whether the book is written by a male or female, those boys are noted for having memorable and strong voices, often because they are boys. This is something someone pointed out to me in my own reviews and discussion of memorable voice. I've fallen into calling a voice memorable on the basis that the voice is a male's. Even when I am conscious of my own thoughts on characters, on gender, and on avoiding conflating either or both of them, I find myself coding them together. This isn't something I tend to do when talking about a girl main character's voice.

Is it because I, too, have silenced her voice in my own reading?

Or is it because I'm trying to making statement about the palatability and the importance of problems in these stories, even though it's far from intention on my part to do so? 

Many times I think we go much easier on our male main characters than our female ones. We don't have an easily-created "unlikable male characters" book list. We forgive tragic back story much easier (note that male characters don't often have a back story where they were a victim of rape, sexual assault, or sexual abuse -- big, heavy, hard-to-take female back stories that are so often dismissed as "tragic" or "easy" or "lazy" back story). I've found myself thinking a lot lately about those books about boy main characters -- those I've loved, especially -- and wonder what the reactions would be toward the behaviors and stories would be if it were instead a female main character. Would they be memorable? Or would they be disposable? Or would they face harder challenges? Or would it be easier? 

There is a lot here, and there is a lot more I can't say because I don't have the words to sort through my thoughts on this topic. But I keep going back to the Hubbard quote, and I keep coming back to what Nelson notes in her post about Elizabeth Gilbert. 

Despite many of the books being about "girl problems," there's no such thing as "girl problems." These are people problems. And if we keep devaluing people problems by calling them "girl problems" or "typical girl problems," we inherently devalue the girl. We keep her silenced. We keep her from making choices and pursuing her destiny on her own terms. We make her an every girl. And we keep her scared that she's always going to be just a teenage girl.

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