Saturday, March 27, 2010

Changes in Publishing

For the past few years editors, authors, agents, and book retailers have struggled with the changes in the publishing world. As I attended conferences or read industry magazines, I've found many theories about the market. Everyone agrees that selling books has become a less profitable business than it once was. The large publishing houses have worked to merge, streamline, and generally revamp their ccorporate structures. Many small bookstores have gone out of business entirely, and even the chains have suffered. I was personally affected when an editor at one of the biggest houses requested my manuscript and was then laid off about two weeks later. Ah well, such is life. I wonder what ever became of my novel? Maybe it was recycled into scratch pads, I don't know, but as far as I know nobody ever took a look at it.

Some in a position to know believe the economy has affected the public's spending, but even before the current recession, industry professionals worried that consumers were finding their entertainement and information in other forms of media. I don't know if studies have actually shown younger generations to be less interested in reading, but it does seem logical given the amount of time people now spend on computers, video games, and television. Many feel that storytelling must simply adapt to the technology through the e-book phenomenon. And they may be right - e-books are showing significant growth and gradually becoming a more sustantial part of publishing.

A few weeks ago, however, one of my new colleagues at Echelon Press called my attention to a video that deals with a young person's view of books and publishing. I'm not sure the film is any kind of answer to the future of publishing, but it does, at least, present an interesting way of thinking about the field as it may be seen by teens. Just be sure to watch it all the way to the end.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Relearning my lessons

I find that my students give me a lot to think about. This week I had the opportunity to attend an "Open Mic" session at the technical college where I teach. Ten or twelve people read for a group of about twice that many. As I listened, these students taught me a lesson I have learned many times: never underestimate the brains and talent of your students.

Teachers, and no doubt others who work with kids, find it easy to attribute failure to a younger person's lack of gumption. I like that word. Gumption, to me, alludes to willingness, initiative and courage.

My colleagues and I have bemoaned the diminishing quality of education when I have felt work had to be "dumbed down." Instructors have an excuse, of course. Students play their part when they offer a variety of silly excuses students often give for their work being late. You know, like three grandmas' funerals in a single semester or telling you his computer crashed in an e-mail. Lumping them all into that category is way too easy. The perceived laziness or self-serving attitudes of the new generation lets us off the hook for searching out better ways to teach the material.

Not all the students who read poems yesterday were enamored of the process. There were a couple, however, whose eyes lit with energy as they read. They cared if the rest of us liked their work. Teachers can content themselves with motivating even a single student in a class of twenty-five; the trouble is, he or she can never know which student might care about the instructor's opinion. In my first year of teaching I had a high school student so quiet I noticed little about her besides the fact that she was a beautiful girl. After the school year, when I moved on to another state, she tracked me down to thank me for being such a good teacher and for interesting her in French. I learned this lesson way back then. Undervaluing a student by rolling my eyes at a comment or ignoring his progress can easily crush the very enthusiasm you want to nurture. And yesterday it all came back to me through the nervous giggles and rhyming verse.

So, my hat's off to the creative writing teacher, Lane Hudson, who organized and hosted the event. His students taught him well.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Who wants to be a writer?

Anybody can write. Really, it's what it took me most of my life to learn.

When I was a young girl and came to sample the great authors like Faulkner, Steinbeck, Buck, and so many others, I thought these people were the geniuses who came along once in a generation. To me they were superhuman beings who were born with the talent to compose great literature. Okay, maybe acclaimed writers like them have been blessed with special powers. On the other hand, there are hundreds of really good writers who tell compelling stories through their work in newspapers, books, magazines, e-zines, blogs, and every other form of the written and spoken word.

I was reminded by an artist friend of mine that painting demands a lot of hard work. Talent is an important element, of course, for any creative art; learning the craft and working at it is the rest of it. In my teenage years, I loved to play at writing poems and stories. Studying English and French in college allowed me to expand my understanding of language and literature, but I never imagined I might actually write something anyone else would want to read. Until, that is, I found myself able to leave a full-time career and work part-time. I decided I wanted to write. Whether anyone read it or not, writing became important to me. I dove right into that pool, never realizing how much I still had to learn. Now, more than six years later, I have somehow fooled Echelon Press into publishing my young adult novel, Snowstorm.

Snowstorm will come out in 2011, and in the intervening months I will be blogging about it. The journey thusfar has been a brain-stretching, eye-opening, head-pounding struggle, and I have loved every moment. In the next year I expect to chug slowly up the hills and slide wildly down the other side. I just hope I land on my feet.