Children's Author Breakfast 2010 at BookExpo America

This morning I cleaned up dog poop in the yard, but 24 hours ago it was all glam and glitz at BEA's annual children's author breakfast. I was immensely nervous in the green room beforehand, so I clutched Richard Peck's hand for comfort.  It worked:

Cory Doctorow (For The Win), Richard Peck (Three Quarters Dead), and I had a chance to chat while waiting for Sarah, Duchess of York, to arrive:

The Duchess has been in the headlines this week (google it) and was hounded by paparazzi. It was wild seeing them snapping photos and feeling the glare of the flash every time I stood near:

As the event drew nearer, she gathered poise and charm. Notice how intently Donna Spurlock of Charlesbridge (who spoiled me thoroughly throughout the day — thank you!) watched the Duchess pick up my book:

The Duchess was warm and gracious as the Master of Ceremonies, pouring us cups of water, pronouncing my name correctly, and pitching our books with savoir faire. She even asked for copies of our speeches afterwards and gave us her email address. Photo courtesy of Alvina Ling:

Publisher's Weekly summed up our speeches quite well. I talked about windows and mirrors, a frequent theme here on the Fire Escape, and gave some insight into why I wrote Bamboo People. I promise I didn't read my notes the whole time (photo courtesy of Jennifer Laughran):

While Mr. Peck was speaking, Cory Doctorow turned his page of notes into tiny origami birds, which I coveted. Kindly, he gave them to me:

All in all, it was an unforgettable day, and the support from the audience of booksellers, librarians, educators, and publishing people was amazing. Thanks, BookExpo!

My BookExpo America Interview about BAMBOO PEOPLE

Perkins Shines Light on Burmese Conflict in Bamboo People
Bamboo PeopleMitali Perkins
In this podcast episode, Mitali tells us about her new book, Bamboo PeopleBamboo People is a coming-of-age novel that takes place against the political and military backdrop of modern-day Burma. Narrated by two teenagers on opposing sides of the conflict between the Burmese government and the Karenni, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma, Bamboo People explores the nature of violence, power, and prejudice.
Perkins will speak at the BEA 2010 Children’s Author Breakfast, Wednesday, May 26 at 8:00 AM. She will be joined by Cory Doctorow, author of For the Win; and Richard Peck, author of Three Quarters Dead. Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, and author of Helping Hand Books: Emily’s First Day at School will be the Master of Ceremonies.

BAMBOO PEOPLE in Shelf Awareness

Popping in to share this lovely review of Bamboo People featured in Shelf Awareness this week. Here's a clip:
"The author paints war in all of its gradations of gray, including the people who influence those decisions, both powerful and seemingly powerless. Readers will leave this moving story—half from Chiko's first-person narrative, and half narrated by Tu Reh—with the understanding that everyone has a choice, no matter how dire the circumstances."
Thanks, Jennifer M. Brown!

See You In Real Life, Maybe?

Spring is a great time for bookies and bears to emerge from our caves and meet face to face. Will I see you at these events?
  • I'm heading to the Charlesbridge open house today from 4-6 p.m., 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA. Everybody's welcome, so stop by. Here's a map.
I love meeting virtual friends face-to-face, so I'm looking forward to many encounters at these events. Drop a note in the comments so I'll know to keep an eye out for you. I'll be back on the Fire Escape more prolifically in June, and popping in and out for the rest of May.

Amazon as Publisher (Part Two)? An Insider's View From YA Author Andrew Fukuda (CROSSING)

Last week we spoke with Zetta Elliott (A Wish After Midnight) about her experience working with AmazonEncore, a new venture from Amazon with this motto: "Unearthing Exceptional Books and Emerging Authors for More Readers to Enjoy."

Zetta self-published her book before AmazonEncore released it, but that isn't always how the program works. Today we welcome YA author Andrew Fukuda, author of Crossing, an original novel published first by AmazonEncore. Here's his bio:
Born in Manhattan and raised in Hong Kong, Andrew Fukuda is half-Chinese, half-Japanese. He received a bachelor's degree in history from Cornell University and went on to work in Manhattan's Chinatown with immigrant teenagers for a number of years, an experience that led to the genesis of Crossing. He currently resides on Long Island, New York, with his wife and two sons.
Crossing is the story of Xing Xu, a Chinese teenager growing up in a small town in upstate New York. ALA Booklist gave the book a starred review, calling it "Sad, elegant, creepy ... a deft debut." I wanted to find out more about how and why Andrew decided to pursue this new, non-traditional route, so I focused my questions on the nitty-gritty of publishing (again, emphasis in bold is mine).

Welcome to the Fire Escape, Andrew. Let's start with getting published. What was your experience trying to get this book published before AmazonEncore?

It was a test of endurance.  Quite a few publishers showed interest but ultimately declined in the eleventh hour because of the dark tone of the novel and what they perceived to be some marketing challenges.

Crossing isn’t exactly an easy-to-categorize YA novel, after all.  It’s an unconventional crossover YA novel featuring a male protagonist (strike one) who is Asian (strike two) in a plot line that doesn’t feature any vampires and/or fallen angels (strike three).  And it doesn’t fit into a conventional Asian YA novel, either: no ninjas here, no cathartic returns to the motherland, and not a flying dragon in sight.  Other than literature-loving immigrant Asian teenage boys (there are about two nationwide), who was going to read this book?

Crossing’s strengths – its unconventional plot and unique protagonist – were ultimately perceived by many publishers to be a marketing Achilles Heel.  That is, until AmazonEncore came across the manuscript and recognized that it was a novel that spoke of themes with universal appeal.   

What was the editorial process like for Crossing? What was AmazonEncore’s role?

AmazonEncore was very hands-on in making sure that the finished product was something both it, as a new imprint in the publishing industry, and I would be proud of.  To that end, while giving me generous discretion as to the literary vision of the book, AmazonEncore dispatched top-tier copyeditors who meticulously edited the manuscript at least twice before publication.

Terry Goodman, the indefatigable senior editor at AmazonEncore, also outsourced cover-designing to a stellar media firm that designs the cover for many bestselling books.  Terry sought my input about the cover, making sure that he understood my thematic preferences.  In the end, three cover concepts were presented, all wonderful, each reflecting in different ways my input.

How does publicity work for AmazonEncore Books? What do you do? What do they do?

Here, again, AmazonEncore really showed its mettle.  Although a new imprint in the publishing industry, AmazonEncore was able to exert a marketing full-court press that other imprints – lacking the significant resources afforded by the Amazon brand name – would have difficulty matching.

For example, AmazonEncore’s marketing department mailed Crossing ARCs to hundreds of media outlets, put out timely press releases, placed promotional advertisements in relevant magazines, and even put together a book trailer for Crossing.  And its ability to promote Crossing on the Amazon website is, obviously, something even the biggest publishers would find difficult matching.

In addition, demonstrating that it is as personal as it is professional, Sarah Tomashek of the marketing department worked on an individual basis with me, keeping me in the loop of the marketing campaign and giving me invaluable tailor-made advice regarding things I needed to do, e.g., setting up an author website.  An example that really highlights both the professionalism and personal touch of AmazonEncore was when we realized that May was the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a commemorative event that would open up significant doors for Crossing.  Suffice it to say, AmazonEncore bent over backwards to ensure that Crossing would be published in time for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

What are you working on now, Mr. F.?

At the moment, I have the opposite of writer’s block: two stories have tumbled into my head and heart, and both, apparently, are jostling to be written before the other.  They are completely different genres involving drastically different writing styles: one is literary romance (this caught me by surprise) and the other is a YA novel with a neat spin on the dystopian genre.   It’s a bizarre experience; if I spend too much time on the one, I feel unfaithful to the other.  Both are flowing so well that I dare not put either aside out of fear that that might somehow dry up the creative stream.

Thank you so much for sharing your publishing process with us, Andrew. Congratulations on your book launch, and we look forward to more great stories from your mind and pen! Here's the Crossing book trailer, for those who want to find out more about the novel:

KidsBuzz and BAMBOO PEOPLE Giveaway

Looking for a great way to share a book for children or teens with booksellers, librarians, and parents? Why not try KidsBuzz, the brainchild of Deborah Sloan (formerly director of marketing, promotion, advertising and publicity for Candlewick Press, Abbeville Press and Trafalgar Square)? Here's what KidsBuzz can do for you and your book:
KidsBuzz partners with successful online publications that target readers, bookclubs, booksellers and librarians: Shelf Awareness, and Your KidsBuzz notes will go directly to more than 370,000 readers, 3000 library systems (reaching over 10,000 librarians) and over 3000 booksellers. All of whom are currently subscribed to both newsletters. If you have a book appropriate for kids in grades 2 through high school, your book club note will go to more than 2,000 registered youth book clubs. KidsBuzz is for new and already published books. Think board and picture books. Think nonfiction and graphic novels. Think poetry, chapter and middle-grade books. And books for teens.
For example, here's the gorgeous graphic generated for my Bamboo People (thanks, Charlesbridge!) in today's Shelf Awareness:

And since the link isn't live on the graphic above, you may enter the contest to win one of 10 giveaways of Bamboo People here.

RICKSHAW GIRL and a Mother's Day Tribute

I recently received a poem from a reader of my book Rickshaw Girl who said that the main character in the story, Naima, reminded her of her mother. I asked for permission to post it on my blog in honor of Mother's Day, and here it is:

by Katherine Nguyen

With your long black hair
Fingers like a brush
You draw an alpina
The work of an artist

Young and free
In a world so narrow           
You fly like the wind
Pave the way to a new tomorrow

Your hopes and dreams
Are like blue skies and rainbows
Colorful, pure, and hopeful
Painting the world, one stroke at a time

With your hair tucked in
The façade of a boy, inside truly a girl
You embody a woman
Strong, independent, beautiful

Unsure of your success
Remembering your mother’s bracelet
You hold onto that memory
Cannot let go, will not forego

Life without a family
A vision you cannot see
Determined for a better tomorrow
Change and you will be free

Withstanding all stereotypes
Going off into the unknown
You face the bleakness of reality
Standing up for your rights on a road so narrow

With a smile on your face
Eyes bright as the sun
You win the heart of the Rickshaw owner
A new life you have earned

Amidst adversity
Up against a mountain of challenges
You rise so high
Took a chance, broke all the barriers

Lessons learned
Climb that mountain, however so high
You’ll never know unless you try
Love and perseverance is all it takes

Impossible it may seem
To risk it all for just a twinkle of hope
You, Naima, are the vision for us to follow
The face of a child, the ambition of a woman, the future of a society

Here's what Katherine has to say about her mother:
My mother, like my grandmother, is a very strong and determined woman. As a child growing up in a family with very little means, she went out to work with all the men in the village, doing whatever they did, trying things that no other girl would try, getting down and dirty to make money to help support her family. 
It was a hard life, trying to set up her own business at a time when the war was going on and girls had no place out of the home. She overcame it all, the obstacles, the stereotypes, the name calling, and became the woman she wanted to be. 
She escaped Vietnam and came to the U.S. because she knew only here would she be able to live the life she always dreamed of and give back to her family so they, too, could overcome all the oppression. It was her way to end her suffering, and she did. 
My mother has done the impossible, with two bare hands, raising two daughters on her own and achieving the American dream.

Happy Mother's Day to Katherine's Mom, mine, and all the mothers on the planet who take courageous risks and make costly sacrifices for our sakes.

5 Children's Books About Microfinance

Microfinance is the provision of financial services to low-income clients who traditionally lack access to banking. Organizations like Kiva and the Grameen Bank believe it's a vital weapon in the war against poverty. But how do we help kids grasp the concept? Here are five books that introduce children to the impact of microfinance (full disclosure: one is mine).

Beatrice's Goat | Page McBrier | Atheneum | 2001

A young girl's dream of attending school in her small Ugandan village is fulfilled after her family is given an income-producing goat. Based on a true story about the work of Project Heifer.

A Basket of Bangles: How a Business Begins | Ginger Howard | Millbrook Press | 2002

With seed money borrowed from a bank, a young woman and four of her friends in Bangladesh change their lives by starting their own businesses.

Rickshaw Girl | Mitali Perkins | Charlesbridge | 2007

Naima is a talented painter of traditional alpana patterns, which Bangladeshi women and girls paint on their houses for special celebrations. When Naima's rash effort to help to raise money puts her family deeper in debt, she draws on her resourceful nature and her talents to save the day.

Give a Goat | Jan West Schrock | Tilbury | 2008

After hearing a story about a girl in Uganda whose life is changed for the better by the gift of a goat, a class of fifth-graders pulls together to raise funds to make a similar donation to someone in need.

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference | Katie Milway Smith | Kids Can Press | 2008

A Ghanaian boy buys a chicken through a community loan program, which eventually helps lift him, his mother, and his community out of poverty.

Amazon as Publisher? An Insider's View From YA Author Zetta Elliott

I admire certain publishing houses because of their history of championing voices from the margins. Recently I was surprised to discover that AmazonEncore (yes, that Amazon) makes a similar claim as a publisher. Here's the program's mission statement:
Even great books can be overlooked. And authors with great potential often struggle to connect with the larger audience they deserve to reach ... AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate.
I definitely had my questions, so I invited Zetta Elliot, author of the award-winning picture book Bird, to share about how Amazon Encore published her novel A Wish After Midnight. Zetta calls this program "part of the 'next wave' in publishing," and provides a compelling argument about why it worked for her. (Note: the emphasis in bold in some of her answers comes from me, not Zetta.)

Could you tell us more about why you self-published this novel first and then how AmazonEncore decided to pick A Wish After Midnight?

I think my experience was the same as most aspiring authors—I finished the manuscript in 2003 and began querying dozens of editors and agents. No one was interested! One white male agent said it was “cliché,” yet when I asked him to name another time-travel novel featuring an Afro-Latina protagonist he couldn’t, of course. So after five years of rejection I opted to self-publish.

My first picture book, Bird, was coming out in the fall of ’08, so I made sure I had copies of A Wish After Midnight to share with educators and librarians whenever I did a public presentation. I don’t know just what it was that caught AmazonEncore’s attention—likely a combination of my credentials, the success of Bird, and the quality of the book itself. I got an email from an acquisitions editor last summer saying he’d read my book, loved it, and felt we could partner to reach a wider audience.

I know AmazonEncore looks at reader reviews, and I was fortunate to have many book bloggers who raved about my novel. I had already made a book trailer and study guide for the book, it had been adopted by local schools and public library systems…in a way, it was a no-brainer, although AmazonEncore’s been very smart about selecting books that have the potential to connect with multiple reading communities. And out of the first ten authors they’ve published, a third are writers of color—which is huge, considering how marginalized people of color are in the traditional publishing industry.

What was the editorial process like for you before you self-published? Did AmazonEncore ask you to make any changes or give you any editorial input?

With my picture book, Bird, I found the editing process to be quite challenging. I had a great relationship with another editor at the same press, and so went in with pretty high expectations…I thought a small press would be attentive, more intimate, but that wasn’t my experience. Still, my editor chose a brilliant illustrator for my story, and ultimately we produced a beautiful book.

 Self-publishing obviously offers greater autonomy—but you’re also responsible for every decision you make. AmazonEncore stressed that they wanted the book “as is,” so we didn’t go through any wrangling around content. The copy editor was a comma maniac, but I had the right to reject any proposed changes—and that’s important when you’re working with people who may not be culturally competent and/or understand certain language choices. AmazonEncore’s bottom line is: “We want our authors to be happy,” and they work hard to make sure that’s the case.

What do you see as the gains and losses of not working with a traditional house?

I’ve never worked with a traditional house, so I can’t really say. When I was out there promoting my self-published edition of Wish, authors from big houses were right there with me! They were working just as hard on behalf of their books. So I’m not sure what the advantages are, aside from the advance (which we don’t get with AmazonEncore).

Some people still feel there’s a certain prestige to being published by a big house…and I think the big presses do have a lot of influence over libraries, schools, and possibly even review outlets. I like working with a publisher that’s nontraditional, willing to take risks, and believes in innovation. I like being treated as an equal when it comes to big decisions about my book. I like being respected as a writer who knows how to tell a story about my own community in my own way. It’s always hard to take criticism about your work, but it’s especially hard to take from someone who’s outside your culture and your community. I like that AmazonEncore trusts me to get it right without being micromanaged.

How does publicity work for AmazonEncore Books? What do you do? What do they do?

AmazonEncore hired a fantastic publicist for my book—Liza Lucas at GoldbergMcDuffie. She worked tirelessly to get me on the radio and to get Wish reviewed across the country—and in Canada (though that hasn’t worked out yet). I thought of myself as her partner, and we were in touch several times a week—I let her know about local resources in Brooklyn and she followed up on every lead.

It’s my book, so I felt I needed to work just as hard as I did with my self-published novel. I contacted local bloggers and cultural institutions since my novel is set in Brooklyn and mentions several neighborhoods and historical sites; because of the success of Bird, I already had a lot of school and library contacts, and got additional support from the UFT (NYC teachers union) Teacher Center. Liza reached out to The Huffington Post and they asked me to write about my self-publishing experience; I’ve posted several articles on my blog there, though I think I get more hits on my own blog, Fledgling.

What are you working on now, Ms. Z?

I’m working on Judah’s Tale, the sequel to A Wish After Midnight.

I'm so glad. Judah was a superbly drawn character, and I want more of him. Thank you so much, Zetta, for your innovation, courage, and prophetic voice. Stay tuned for another perspective from Andrew Fukuda, who also worked with Amazon to release his YA novel, Crossing.