My Visit to Saint Patrick School, October 5, 2011

Tammy and Michelle Branco, Librarian at St. Patrick School

Saint Patrick Catholic School in Wentzville, Missouri has been educating students for more than ninety years. Established in 1908, the campus serves about 450 students ranging from Kindergarten through 8th grade. I am very grateful to the school for giving me the opportunity to speak with their students yesterday about the writing, illustrating and publishing process. The librarian, Michelle Branco, did a wonderful job preparing all the students for my visit. Even the upper grades (6th-8th) were familiar with my picture books, and I was pleased to learn that the older students enjoyed them as much as the younger.

K-2nd 8:30 AM – 9:00 AM

3rd – 5th 9:00 AM – 9:45 AM

6th-8th 9:45 AM – 10:30 AM

I rarely have the opportunity to speak with middle school students (6th-8th grades), but since they are old enough to write and publish a book themselves, I take them through the publication process, step by step. Saint Patrick School does NOT use e-books, but many of the students own Kindles, Nooks, or even iPads. I emphasized with older students (6th-8th) that although it is easier and faster than ever to publish a book, the amount of work that goes into creating the story is still the same. Traditional publishers might spend a year or more formating, publishing, and preparing physical books for the bookstore, whereas an e-book can be published and sold directly to customers within a matter of hours!  To further illustrate, consider that in 2010 over 300,000 physical books were published by traditional means, whereas independently produced books (small presses, e-books) numbered over 2.7 million in the same year (http://terrywhalin.com/3.1millionbooksin2010.pdf). Competition is fiercer than ever, so writers and artists who want to excel need to master the fundamentals:

Step 1) You have to be as familiar with your genre as your readers. Your audience will compare your book to others like it, so READ, READ, READ!!! Make sure your book measures up. If your book is not as good or better than the other books like it, you’ll have a hard time finding an audience.

Step 2) Do your research.

Step 3) REVISE, REVISE, REVISE!

Step 4) Test your book on your audience before you publish. If your feedback is not stellar, revise again!

The time it takes to produce a quality book your audience will love AND recommend will stay the same, regardless of how the book is published (a year or more with a traditional publisher or published within minutes as an e-book). In other words, you still have to read, research, and rewrite (or redraw) to produce a book. It is a time-consuming process that may take months or even years to accomplish, but if your audience approves of the final product, it is worth all the effort. When it comes to writing or art, dedication and perseverance will never go out of style!

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Readers Make Books Real

THE TELEGRAPH reported yesterday that Penelope Lively, the Booker Prize-winning author of MOON TIGER, said e-books are for “bloodless nerds” and are no substitute for real books. Responses to Ms. Lively’s statements vary. Sarah Crown, a blogger at the guardian.co.uk, agrees with Ms. Lively (Read Sarah’s Post), but someone needs to speak on behalf of the “bloodless nerds.” I guess that will be me!

I believe Ms. Lively needs to expand her definition of a ‘real book.’ What makes a book ‘REAL?’ My definition of REAL comes from an old picture book entitled, THE VELVETEEN RABBIT:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” 

The Velveteen Rabbit

Image via Wikipedia

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit…

The way a book is made does not determine whether or not the book is REAL. An agent, editor or publishing house does not make a book REAL. Distributors, wholesalers, and bookstores do not make a book REAL. The paper the book is printed on does not make a book REAL. What is a REAL book? A book becomes REAL when it is loved very, very much by a reader. If that is the case, it doesn’t matter how a book comes into the world. If a reader loves it, the book is REAL.

Take care, Ms. Lively. Those “bloodless nerds” will determine the future of your books. If you insult your readers, they might just decide that your books are not REAL after all.

Further Reading:

THE VELVETEEN RABBIT by Margery Williams
(Please note: Both the e-books and print versions are REAL;)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margery_Williams

http://www.penelopelively.net/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/ways-with-words/