Catching Up: A Three-Part Series

In which I cover three book- and/or writing-related things that have been keeping me busy since I last posted.

Part One: The American Library Association Midwinter Meeting.
This fell at a busy time for me, and I almost didn’t go, but I am so glad I did. You might think this ALA event is just for librarians and a select number of published writers and illustrators (I used to think that, anyway), but it’s not. Anyone can purchase a day pass, which is good for the whole weekend, and browse the publisher’s stalls where they have what seemed like their entire current catalog of books on display. They also hand out advance reading copies (ARCs) of upcoming books from their 2009 lists. Initially, I was most excited about the ARCs, but I soon realized the truly beneficial advantage for a writer (and I would think for an illustrator too) is browsing the publisher’s stalls.

Browsing the publisher’s stalls is an excellent way of doing market research. The book displays give you a visual overview of each publishing house. You can quickly assess if their lists are novel-heavy or picture book-heavy or a fairly even mix; the ratio of fiction to non-fiction; the types of books they seem to be interested in—if mysteries or chick lit or historical fiction dominate a collection, for example. You can also quickly note the authors and illustrators who publish with each house. Imprints are grouped together with their larger publishing house, giving you clarification on which imprints go with which house. Representatives from the publisher staff the booths—sometimes marketing people, sometimes editorial—and everyone I spoke with was enthusiastic and interested in talking about their books. You get a sense of each publisher’s personality and how well your work might fit in with them.

Current trends are also very apparent—this didn’t come as a surprise to me, but many publishers had a paranormal romance (Twilightesque) that was front and center or in its own display. (And remember, it’s often said that if you notice a trend in what is currently being published, then you can assume that acquiring editors and agents have moved past that and are looking for the next thing. Although, in any case I try not to think about trends as far as my writing goes, although I do think it’s important to be aware of what’s currently popular.) In addition to noticing who was promoting paranormal romances, I also paid attention to who wasn’t. This may not be an accurate assessment, but it seemed to me that any publisher could jump on the Twilight bandwagon if they wanted to, so the fact that they didn’t told me something about their publishing interests.

This is all research, of course, that you can accomplish on your own with a little extra legwork or mousework (except perhaps the talking one-on-one with marketing and editorial representatives about their work). But if you have the opportunity to attend an ALA meeting, I think it’s really a worthwhile event for any writer or illustrator. Seeing many of the publishers together in one place is impressive and informative, and if you are a keen observer (or even a so-so one) I think you’ll be amazed at the additional information you are able to pick up.

And now, for your Saint Patrick’s Day viewing pleasure, watch Beaker bring it on home with “O Danny Boy”: