Friday, February 24, 2012

Back to books

The best thing about the graduate program in children's literature at Hollins University: the people you meet. I'm not talking about networking. I'm talking about a magical thing I learned in my good Southern upbringing called Being Genuinely Friendly. I've found this works much better than sucking up, and in the end, you make friends instead of assets. I know, we can't be friends with everyone, no matter what Facebook tells us. And some people are really more suited to being colleagues than buddies. But both can be genuine instead of greedy, and one of the things Hollins has in abundance is seriously talented critics and creatives who are genuinely friendly. If you want to get a writing degree and make lifelong friends and colleagues while dealing with the big issues (like Lloyd Alexander said, "I found I could deal with much more serious, much more profound things than I could ever do writing for grown-ups"), then apply to Hollins already. Here, I'll make it easy. Click this: HOLLINS.

If you've read this blog lately, you'll know my recent posts have been quite personal. But for now, it's back to books! This weekend, I'll be meeting a dear Hollins friend at a market conference here in Atlanta. We'll eat a lot, listen to industry pros talk about the market, hear inspiration from published authors and illustrators, get some open invitations to make submissions, and hopefully meet new friends along the way. When it's all over, I'll report back on what I learned and ate and saw. So to get the tone of this blog going in the right direction, another Hollins friend has agreed to do a One-Question Interview!

Erin is one of those lucky people who's brilliant in both creative and critical writing (I can hear her saying something sarcastic in response to that, but it's true!). So it was no surprise to the rest of us when she landed a job we're all intensely jealous of, however proud we are. As Collection Development Specialist for Turtleback Books, she's the person who gets to pick which books Turtleback will carry and which they won't. That means lots of books and lots of reading, two things that keep her current on what's happening with kids books and classics today. My one question for her was about that process:

Erin, what makes a book worthy (or unworthy!) of being bought/distributed by Turtleback?

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I'm the Collection Development Specialist for Turtleback Books, a distributor of library-bound books to wholesellers & retailers who sell to schools & libraries. My title primarily means that I'm in charge of selecting all of the books that the company carries, but we have a really small staff so I wear a lot of hats. I also do marketing, catalog creation, web stuff, buying, trade shows, presentations, customer service, etc.

The kind of books Turtleback carries is primarily fiction for grades K-12. We carry nonfiction to a much lesser extent, & the nonfiction we do carry is high-interest. For example, we carry books on the Titanic & Jungian theory & teaching creative writing to ESL students, but you won't find general nonfiction books about dogs, the solar system, history, etc.

As far as what fiction qualifies for Turtleback, we strike a balance between, as I like to say, the books kids should be reading & the books kids want to read. So we carry classic classroom literature - To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice & Men, Ender's Game - but we also carry the fun, fluffy stuff that's not going to show up on any school reading lists - for example, anything involving vampires, werewolves, mermaids, zombies, teenage love triangles, etc.

So we carry a lot of "good" books & a lot of trendy books because our books end up in classrooms as well as through bookstores & retail sites like Amazon. When I am shopping in publisher catalogs determining what books to carry, I use a lot of things to gauge whether I'll pick it up or not, including reviews (SLJ, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly), popularity of the author/subject, how well the book did in hardcover (we only buy paperbacks), if the book showed up on any award lists, & history (how well that author/series/subject has already performed sales-wise for us).

A priority of mine this year is to expand our adult fiction offerings as well, because the adult titles we carry are awesome sellers. Some of our bestselling adult titles include Atlas Shrugged, The Pillars of the Earth, Chariots of the Gods, & House of Leaves.

That's a really long-winded response for a very short question! Hope that is what you were looking for. I absolutely love my job; I never thought I'd be lucky enough to have a career where my primary responsibility would be to stay on top of what's going on in the book industry. It's awesome.


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To learn more about Turtleback, check out their sleek site here. And to keep up with Erin, follow her here. You'll love her. She's genuine and intelligent and funny, and she doesn't mind saying when a book is total crap. Plus, sometimes she gives away free stuff.

Thanks so much, Erin. Hope to see you somewhere along the kid lit trail soon!