Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cover Redesign: Delirium

Last week, fed up with the homogeneity and sameness of most YA book covers, I gave myself the challenge of redesigning covers that I felt could use a different perspective. This isn't a knock on YA book designers or YA marketers, just a little experiment to see if I could take a cover and reimagine it without the typical YA tropes.

Before we get to today's reveal, let's remind ourselves of the rules:
No headless/partially obscured models
No girls dying/dead (that includes drowning, falling, burning, etc etc)
No luxurious, fancy dresses
It has to actually represent the book, either the book's theme, a particular scene, or the general feel
It can't look like anything else on the market

Today's cover redesign is Lauren Oliver's Delirium. Here's the original:

Yes, it features a pretty, white girl (who also looks older than the main character is supposed to be) with her face partially obscured. It also, for some reason, has plants on the side. I'm not totally sure why, because plants don't really factor into Delirium, at least not enough that they would warrant prominent cover space. Maybe it's a metaphor? The biggest problem I have with it, though, is that it's so generic that it says virtually nothing about the story itself.

So, let's see if I could do any better. My version is after the jump!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wrap Up: Vanilla Ice Cream Edition

The thing I was absolutely most excited to receive when I got married (aside from, obviously, the husband), was a high-quality ice cream maker. I'd wanted one for ages but being budget-conscious, never quite could justify the money. So when we got engaged and decided we could include one expensive, completely-unnecessary dream item, the ice cream maker was it.

Best. Decision. Ever.

I've been lax with the maker, but this week I finally broke out David Lebovitz's classic recipe-book, The Perfect Scoop. Yesterday I made my first batch: classic French, custard-based vanilla. Ohohohhoh man...



Knock-out punch vanilla.

It's gonna be a good summer.

I'm sure you all will enjoy some ice cream this lovely Memorial Day weekend, but before you head off to your picnics and barbeques, here are this week's blog posts:

Mary Kole discusses the difference between confusion and mystery and how you can introduce some questions into your story without leaving your readers scratching their heads

Nathan Bransford had several excellent posts this week. The first talked about something we always hear: how much of an impact does social media use have on book sales? He also chimed in on the attitude some self-publishers take towards traditional publishing, and, later in the week, continued to talk about why the idea of self-pub vs traditional pub was a mistake

Rachelle Garnder discusses a topic that always gets authors excited: what to expect from your advance. She also broke down how the editing process works

K.M. Weiland uses The Ten Commandments (the movie, not the actual commandments) as a guideline for how not to abandon your characters in the third act. She also talks about the pros and cons of building a series

At Pub Crawl, Joanna Volpe explains what debut authors can expect to do as far as publicity and promotion (hint: start a blog)

This is something I think about a lot: the myth of "overnight success"

Via Rachel at Dystel & Goderich: photos from New York's Underground Library (this makes me extraordinarily happy and brings back so many lovely memories of reading on the subway every morning and afternoon--two of the nicest times of my day)

Have a great long weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What is Going on With YA Book Covers?

My brother is a designer and instilled in me a pretty big appreciation for good design. My absolute favorite book in the world isn't fiction but instead is a wonderful collection of design theory called The Art of Looking Sideways (buy it. It will change your life).

And the truth is, a lot of YA covers are just really poorly designed--boring and generic. Kate Hart's epic breakdown did an awesome job of showing just how homogenous covers are: the vast majority showed a (white, model) girl in some sort of bizarre pose. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with white, girl models in weird poses. But when the point of a book cover is to attract attention and get people to buy your book over all the others, how successful can it be if it looks like 99% of what's out there?

There are a lot of inventive, imaginative covers in the adult world. Covers that are smart, witty, evocative and make me say "Woah. I have to read that."

For example?

This is just a sampling from two minutes of Googling, but it's still more evocative and creative than almost anything out there in the YA world.

And I know that YA has a lot more market constraints, but that shouldn't be an excuse. And even despite the constraints, it can still be possible to come up with something that stretches the limits or at least doesn't look like every other book out there.

So, I'm going to give myself a little design challenge over the next few days and weeks: take some of the most popular YA books and redesign their generic covers.

Here are the rules:
No headless/partially obscured models
No girls dying/dead (that includes drowning, falling, burning, etc etc)
No luxurious, fancy dresses
It has to actually represent the book, either the book's theme, a particular scene, or the general feel
It can't look like anything else on the market

I'm not a professional designer, so don't expect miracles. What I am is a fan of the genre and a fan of design and a writer and reader who would earnestly like to see some changes in the industry.

Check back in the next few weeks for the first installment and wish me luck!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Writing Spaces: Library Love

I love libraries. I mean really, who doesn't? Free books, often housed in lovely, historical buildings. Wonderful nooks and crannies to explore. And some of the best writing spaces in the world.

Today's Writing Spaces post was inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer, who, when asked what his office looked like, sent in a picture of the New York Public Library's beautiful Rose Reading Room. As you might expect, the biggest library in the biggest city in the country has a pretty spectacular reading room.

When I was a lonely intern, exploring New York for the first time on my own, I used to sit in the reading room. It was always cool and quiet, and I loved the variety of people who visited the room: kids with colorful picture books, students surrounded by piles of papers, researchers, writers, or folks just looking for a quiet, comfortable place to read.

Right now, my main library reading room is the Harper Memorial Library at the University of Chicago. It gives me that "I'm still a student" feeling, which helps me steer clear of catching up on Degrassi when I really should be working.

When I actually was a student, though, I was lucky to be in the land of libraries, aka Harvard University. It is a library-lover's dreamworld, with more than 70 libraries on campus. Some are huge and historic, like the main university library, Widener, while others are hidden away in the residential houses or corners of buildings.

My dorm had an old library that had been converted suite of rooms for students (called, aptly enough, the library suite), although the only thing library-like about it was the bookshelves that paneled the common room walls and that you'd occasionally stumble across someone passed out in the corner (it was a big party space).

I loved stumbling across hidden alcoves or tucked-away desks, and the sheer magnitude of libraries meant that there was a pretty good chance no one else would discover you. Out of all the things I miss from college, access to the libraries is pretty high on the list, and even just thinking about them today is getting me all nostalgic. Here, then, some of my favorite library spots.

This is Lamont, the undergrad library and the spot to be during finals period. While I was a student, they converted a portion of Lamont into a cafe/reading room, thereby ensuring that, other than the occasional shower, it was possible to actually live comfortably in Lamont for a period of several days. This was also my favorite place to catch a midday nap.

The Widener reading room. Just looking at this gives me stress hives. Widener is used by undergrads and grad students alike, and the noise is at "preemie baby incubator room" levels. Heaven help you if you left your cell phone on or wore squeaky shoes. It is just as beautiful in person as it is in this picture.

They also renovated Widener (which was a surprisingly difficult thing to do, thanks to an absurd line in the original bequeathing of the library*) and built these hidden inner reading rooms. This one was pretty easy to get to; the other involved a series of staircases and doors and passages out of a Harry Potter book, and finding it was a badge of honor (I managed to find it, once, and then, like Narnia, never could quite get there again...). 

I know this little desk doesn't look like much, and yet it represents the greatest possible achievement a student could manage: earning a carrel at Widener. The carrels lined the walls of the stacks and some of them even had windows. I got a carrel my senior year, after applying during the summer and filling out a packet of paperwork. I spent many hours there poring over books and pulling out my hair over my thesis. It was awesome.

*Campus legend time! Widener Library, the building and books, was donated in honor of Harry Elkins Widener, who died on the Titanic. His mother, who gave the money, had the library built on top of a smaller library and to prevent some future rich donor from doing the same to Widener in the future, she stipulated that the library exterior could never be altered or else the ownership of the building will pass to the city of Cambridge. That means all renovations have to be done without any changes to the structure of the library, so: through windows, underground, within inner courtyards.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Wrap Up: Blueberry Pie Edition

It's pie-baking time! This is my favorite blueberry pie, with the recipe from The New Best Recipe (aka the Cooks Illustrated cookbook). It's seen me through housewarming parties and potluck dinners and is the dessert that converted me to Team Pie (for now...).

But before I go off baking, here are this week's blog posts!

Via Galleycat, publishing house Weldon Owen presents the "How a Book is Born" flow chart (hint: be a celebrity)

From K.M. Weiland, how to tell you're a genre-flipper, and why readers don't appreciate sudden mid-book shifts in genre

Lit Agent Mary Kole is on the lookout for interns! If you're interested, you can check out more info here

Writer Julie Eshaugh talks about how to reveal character through details and gives some great examples of small details that can show a lot

Author Kristin Cashore writes an ode to independent bookstores with some fabulous photos that show just why the indies are so awesome (loved the table of books labeled "Serious girls with floating hair")

Rachelle Gardner discusses how the rise of e-books may very well lead to the demise of book covers

On YA Highway, Veronica Roth (whose Insurgent hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List) gives some background into how bestseller lists operate and what they mean for authors and publishers

Awesome post by Kate Hart breaking down 2011 YA covers based on color, model, race, and sex--a very clear indicator of the lack of diversity and creativity that plagues YA covers

Loved this! Flavorwire presents photos of famous authors in silly poses

Author Leigh Bardugo walks us through the process of choosing a title and gives some background on how she settled on her latest title, Shadow and Bone

I always like reminders that writing is a Serious Occupation that could lead to Bodily Harm. From writer and licensed massage therapist Angela Carlie, tips to avoid back and neck pain while writing and reading

And finally, the children's book community lost a beloved figure this week with the death of author Jean Craighead George. I was a huge fan of her wolf books when I was young. In fact, cleaning out my old laptop, I recently found a sixth grade book report of Julie's Wolf Pack, about which I said this: "I loved it so much because it told about the changing Alaska and survival of the wolves.  It was very descriptive and I liked hearing the Yupik words." Truth.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Memory Book

This post is part of YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday. Today's question is What book brings back memories? Check out the website for more RTW destinations!

I first read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for my seventh grade summer reading. It was a huge book compared to most of what I'd read as a twelve-year-old, and I decided to put it off until the end of the summer. At some point, my great-aunt picked up the book.

"Oh," she said, "I remember this one!"

And that surprised me. I was used to reading books most adults had never heard of (My Teacher Flunked the Planet, the Dear America series...), and I didn't know what to make of a book that was first published when my grandparents were young.

I can absolutely remember reading the first page of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, sitting in the car, in the driveway. By the end of the chapter, I was hooked, completely sucked into Francie's world.

In all of literature, she's the character I most identify with, as far as personality. I can't imagine a more fully-formed character, one who lives and breathes on the page. Francie looked for beauty in every moment of life, in the scales of a tea shop, in a brown bowl at the library, in the faces of the people of her neighborhood. She was brave and courageous in the face of cruelty. She made mistakes but instead of being burdened by guilt, she let her shame and pain shape her into a better person.

What had Granma Mary Rommely said? 'To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.'

Excuse me while I go weep over the truth and beauty of those words.

I can remember exactly how thrilling this book was to read for the first time. How I cried when Francie's father died, how my heart ached when she was taken advantage of by a young sailor, how exciting it was to see Francie grown, confident, proud of her life and who she was. And every time I pick up this book, I discover something new to love.

Everyone has a book that sits inside of them, shapes who they are are and how they think, grows and changes with them. And ever since I first picked it up as a twelve-year-old getting my summer reading done, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has been that book for me.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Writing Spaces: Going Steampunk

I was wasting time on Wikipedia today (as I like to do), when I discovered that one of my favorite authors, Scott Westerfeld, just had a birthday! This was great news, in part because I love his books and his terrific, inventive worlds and captivating, fully-realized characters, and also because it gave me an opportunity to post some totally awesome steampunk writing spaces.

Steampunk is one of those things that can be a little hard to get. I know, when I first picked up the great Leviathan, my immediate response was a big ole "Huh?" But the more I saw (and Googled), the more I fell in love with the supercool melding of modern and Victorian technology and art. And I am way impressed by people whose commitment to steampunk involves making over their entire homes, like this bright blue, beautifully lit dining room:

The seahorse shaped picture frame! The sliding brass ladder! The faux submarine-style window with projected underwater life! I need this person to redecorate.

And, of course, since this is a spotlight on writing spaces, here is the coolest thing on the planet: a steampunkified desk.

Yes, those are organ pipes behind the desk and yes, the speakers are those giant Victorian-style record player cones. Fully rebuilt keyboard, gorgeous wood-paneled desk--the only bizarre thing in this entire photo is the electrical outlet (where's Mr. Tesla when you need him?).

My favorite part of the desk? This wee steampunked USB drive:

You can check out more photos of the desk and learn more about how it got built here

And since I couldn't find an image of Scott Westerfeld at work, I'll leave you with an image from Leviathan of the cozy captain's quarters:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wrap Up: Mom Edition

Today's Friday Wrap Up is brought to you in honor of the most faithful reader of this blog: my mom. This is one of my favorite pictures of us, taken on my wedding right before we left for the church (you can't really see how awesome my mom's dress is, suffice to say, it ain't your typical mother-of-the-bride get up).

On to this week's posts!

Vanessa DiGregorio has a helpful list of some great new YA hitting the bookshelves this month

A helpful hint from Mary Kole about how to write scenes that will stick in your readers' heads

Another great take-down from Elizabeth Fama about great covers gone bad

Rachelle Gardner looks at one of the downsides to the self-pub bubble: books hitting the market before they're ready

Super-helpful post from YA Highway about how to build your own series bible

This post is a must-read from Nathan Bransford: how to keep writing when your personal life is in turmoil. He also has another excellent overview of how this new technological world will impact publishing, from editors to houses to writers

K.M. Weiland gives some helpful pointers on the difference between talking down to your readers versus confusing them with too much ambiguity

Author G.G. Vandagriff suggests diving into character development when your writing gets stalled

Writer Vahini Naidoo talks a closer look at strong female characters--what do they mean and why they're important

Have a great weekend and Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Music to Write By

I’ve talked before on the blog about how much music can impact writing. It’s a wonderful tool for getting in the right vibe or head space, aside from being much better background noise that the hum of the washer or the traffic outside.

And thanks to programs like Spotify and websites like Pandora, it’s super easy to make your own power playlists and discover even more inspiring music.

Right now, my go-to band is the Decemberists. I have always been a fan, and it’s the music I most associate with my dreamy college years (summer days and warm grass and “Angels and Angles” playing into my headphones…). I just love the songs—they are incredibly smart and witty with pitch-perfect black humor that somehow still manages to be sincere and touching.

When I tried to describe the tone of my latest WIP, at first I would say something like, “Well, the main character isn’t snarky but she has a sort of biting humor but she’s not like mean, she’s just kind of insightful and sometimes her insights can be sort of…dark.” Now I just say, “I’m shooting for a Decemberists song in book form.”

Here's a little sampling of my writing playlist:

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Do you listen to music while writing? What’s the musical equivalent to your work?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Writing Spaces: Bossypants

I'm a bit early, but today's writing space is in celebration of the birthday of one of my favorite writers, Tina Fey (also an excuse for me to rifle through Bossypants).

Technically this photo is from an American Express ad that Tina Fey did a few years ago, but I can't imagine it's too far from the truth. Papers, corkboards, lots of Post Its, harried looks, and hiding under your desk--stars! They're just like us!

Here's a blurry photo of her office in Silvercup Studios, in Queens

And another from her SNL head writer days. Gotta love a lady with an appreciation for sweatshirts...

“Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.”

Friday, May 4, 2012

Wrap Up: It's Definitely Friday Edition

Phew--what a looooong week! A heat wave and some crazy lightning storms (the thunder set off car alarms...) meant that sleep was limited in quantities, and I feel very zombie-like, lurching towards the weekend. But before I call it a week and go take an air-conditioned nap, here are this week's blog posts.

Two highly-anticipated sequels hit bookshelves this week, Kristin Cashore's Bitterblue and Veronica Roth's Insurgent. Kristin gives some tidbits about the book, and Veronica does an interview with Lord Voldemort himself.

Mary Kole at Kidlit discusses one of the biggest problems authors face: starting the story in the wrong place

Tiana Smith compares international book covers to their US versions and discusses what works and what doesn't

This week, Rachelle Gardner answered readers' questions. She talks a little about what life is like for an author, and gives her thoughts on how agents are preparing for changes in the industry. She also reminded debut authors that before they write their break out novel, they need to write a break in novel

Love this poster from the Denver library: "These are Your Kids on Books"

K.M. Weiland covers scene breaks, how to use them properly, and what not to put in breaks

Fun post at YA Confidential looking at the buzz words in this spring's YA releases

Author Marie Lu talks about villains in YA and how to flesh them out and make them memorable

Mary Keeley goes over the process of turning a manuscript into a real-life book (and, now, e-book!)

It's the start of the spring sales conference season and sales rep Vanessa DiGregorio gives a behind-the-scenes look at what she and other reps are up to

Great piece by Sara Hockler about the lack of diversity in YA and what authors can do to change that

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Writer Paper Doll, Now With Accessories!

Sometimes, when I clearly have too much to do, I like to "waste" "time" by drawing silly stuff. Today as I sat down to get some work done, I thought "I wonder what I would look like as a paper doll?" And thus, the day was wasted...
UPDATE: I dressed the writer doll in the outfits. Why? Because it's cuter? (and also because there was more day to waste...)

Let's start with your basic, everyday writer. Sports bra, American Apparel shorts--this is pretty much what I look like 90% of the time (minus the hair down, usually it's up in a bun, but I couldn't figure out how to draw it without it looking weird). But of course, you can't have a naked writer doll (because sometimes the doll needs to sign for UPS packages or see people not her husband). So, to clothing!

Here's the "typical writing from home" set: fuzzy bright blue bathrobe, sweatpants, cozy LL Bean slippers, basically the definition of comfortable. I considered swapping out the slippers for sneakers, which I wear when I want to stand up while working, but to be honest, even then I usually start out in slippers...

And what if the doll needs to actually go out of the house?
Writer doll goes to ballet! This outfit features footless tights, my favorite t-shirt, bright yellow sunnies, and my ballet slippers. Thank goodness for ballet, because it's pretty much the only social event I can count on every week. Other than ballet, there are only a few reasons why your writer doll would leave the apartment, including...

Grocery shopping! This set comes with bright red hoodie, converse sneakers, reusable shopping bag (it's green!), and iPod+headphones.

Okay, here's where things got tricky. I figured, only three outfits? That's not enough! But guys, I literally could not think of anything else that I wore regularly (and even the ballet outfit is a stretch). This made me think of a couple things: 1) I need to get out of the house more, 2) that black sports bra gets a lot of play...

But since every now and then I do actually, like, socialize (I saw Cabin in the Woods last weekend! Sooo good...), I included an extra bonus "going out" outfit:

Notice the gray skirt from ballet makes another appearance (I swear I have an actual closet full of clothing), with my favorite green striped sweater. And because this is "going out" wear, I switched out my Converses for fancy black knee-high boots.

And what writer doll would be complete without some fun accessories?! You can pretend to write down plot lines or get some research done on Wikipedia! Don't forget to pour your writer doll a cup of hot tea! And if your writer doll gets lonely, there's a little plant companion to talk to!

Have fun with your writer doll!