Category: Events
Five Things I Learned at ALA

After a brief and incredibly productive hiatus, I’m back in blogger mode!1  This last week was an exciting one, as it officially marked the debut of Peter Nimble. Well, pre debut.

Every year the American Library Association holds an annual conference wherein a million librarians descend on an unsuspecting town.2  A post about ALA is basically a post about hanging out with amazing authors, librarians, editors, and illustrators.  Instead of name-checking all the swell people I spent time with (save that for Twitter), I’ve decided to write a post about the five things I learned from my time at ALA:

1)  Always Wear a Name Tag

For many years, I have considered myself too cool for name tags.  In the same way that I refuse to run across busy streets (why run when you can walk slow and scowl?), I also refused to wear name tags.  This changed at ALA.  As I was about to pocket my name tag, a woman beside me saw it and exclaimed “You’re taller than I thought you’d be!”3  This woman was author Jo Whittemore, and she promptly introduced me to the Texas Sweethearts author clan.  Within seconds, I was on my way to lunch with a half-dozen YA novelists who had plenty of good advice for a nervous newbie.  That never would have happened without the name tag.

I also noticed that wearing a name tag seems to improve conversation.  I forgot to wear it to a few events, and those were the same events where small talk stayed small — never really moving beyond “Where are you from?” and “Oh, the humidity!”   I realize now that the purpose of a name tag isn’t to help identify yourself on a handshake, but to help five minutes after the handshake.  It allows the person talking to you to casually glance down and remind themselves who you are … and the less time they spend thinking “What’s his name again?” the more time they can spend actually having a real conversation.

 

2)  Ugly Ducklings Abound

I had a chance to to talk with a number of authors and illustrators about how their careers started.  More than a few of them had published in obscurity for years before hitting it big.  Some were trapped on the midlist.  Others had their aquiring editors change jobs, leaving their books orphaned at the house.   A few were even dropped outright.  This really hit home when I heard Brian Selznick talking with Horn Book editor Roger Sutton.  He alluded to a frustrating period during which he could only get hired to draw biographies of dead presidents.  From that dark period came Hugo Cabret — a book that changed both his career and (arguably) children’s literature.  This was but one of probably a dozen stories I heard with the same trajectory.

This is a good reminder for me as I’m about to send a book I love out into the world.  This industry can be a real crap shoot.  Sometimes great books can fall through the cracks.  Sometimes terrible books are huge hits.  The key thing for a writer is to keep believing that the greatest story they will ever tell has yet to be written.

3)  Stay Humble

Related to the above lesson, I noticed how much of an impression it makes when a successful author hasn’t  lost sight of the fact that they were once merely aspiring.  This lesson was perfectly illustrated when I had the privilege of eating dinner with Abrams authors Tom Angleberger and Jeff Kinney.4  Jeff is a HUGE author.  He’s pretty much ruled the publishing industry for the last few years.  When he met both Tom and I, he asked us the same question:  “What was it like when you got the call saying you were going to be published?”  It was clearly a go-to question for him, and one that speaks to his character.  For him to ask other authors about “the call” not only graciously indicates that he considers us his peers, but also acts as a reminder that all the Wimpy Kid success he’s enjoyed is actually just gravy.  The dream-come-true part of his life has nothing to do with bestseller lists, merchandising, or feature films … it is simply that he got to be published at all.

4) Don’t Tell Lauren Myracle Anything

One night at a party, a woman with whom I had been chatting mentioned that she thought I resembled Seth Rogen — not the most flattering comparison I’ve ever gotten.5   Even worse, my wife hates Seth Rogen, and she often uses his name as a sort of shorthand to describe all that is wrong with mankind.  I mentioned this unfortunate comparison to YA author Lauren Myracle at the Newbery Banquet.  Lauren is not one to pass up this sort of information (by “this sort of information,” I mean information that will allow her to mock you), and she promptly brought it up to the whole table — at which point I was forced to sit through a serious debate over whether or not the comparison was apt.  Then she started bringing other people into the mix.  For the rest of the night, I had strangers coming up to tell me I looked like this actor.  The highlight was when an older librarian tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was “Steph Rogaine” …

I have a henceforth enacted a “Don’t tell Lauren Myracle anything” policy;  I would advise you all to do the same.

5) Librarians Love Free Crap

This weekend marked my first ever Peter Nimble signing event!  Before the big night,  a few experienced authors warned me that signings for debut authors can be humbling — nobody knows you, so why would they want to wait in a line to talk? This is probably true, but none of these authors knew that my publisher had armed me with a secret weapon:  free crap!

The above picture is of the special eyeball tote that Abrams was giving away with copies of Peter Nimble.  Within about thirty seconds of the doors opening, I had a line around the corner  — all eager to get a bag.  Here is a picture of my first ever signature for librarian and blogger @Jenbigheart:

The second day was even better, and we ran out of ARCs after 20 minutes!  Even after the books were gone, people were running up to the booth asking about the eyeball bags.

 

Never again will I doubt the power of SWAG.  Speaking of, for those of you who missed out on scoring a free copy of the book, know that I will be doing a ton of Peter Nimble giveaways this month, so stay posted!


  1. While I cannot promise that I will never take breaks from blogging, I can promise that I will only take breaks in order to write new books for you to read — as was the case this month.
  2. I think the actual number was something under 30,000.  But still, that’s a lot of ladies in glasses.  For a video-look at the weekend, check out Travis Jonker’s post here.
  3. I get this a lot.  Apparently I look short in my headshot.
  4. Tom’s kindness to me on this trip cannot be understated — he is truly a Gentleman among men.
  5. For the record, the most flattering comparison I’ve gotten is “they guy who plays Darth Maul” … which I’ve gotten repeatedly.
LA Times Festival of Books …

This last weekend was the LA Times Festival of Books.  I have somehow managed to live in LA for many years without ever attending.  This year, however, I find myself actual in the publishing industry … so I decided to check it out.

The day got off to a nice start when I met and had lunch with picture book legend Laura “If you Give…” Numeroff, who is absolutely delightful.  Among topics discussed was the story of how she obtained an original piece of art from Stuart Little!1

I also had a chance to meet up with writer and frankenblogger Matt Cunningham, who runs the Literary Asylum.2  Like myself, Matt is a screenwriter transitioning into publishing.  He is also an incredibly nice guy.  After walking the campus a few times, we stopped to watch Lisa Yee’s presentation on the Target Stage3

Today Lisa was reading excerpts from the American Girl books she wrote. Usually I would have no interest in hearing about a girl book, but Lisa’s book also involves an awesome scene with monk seals … and she was kind enough to bring along visual aids:

I very recently became involved with a group called the LAYAs (Los Angeles Young Adult Authors).  While my book is technically middle-grade, they were more than willing to welcome me into the fold.  This included participating in a trivia show on the YA Stage.  The event was moderated by author Cecil Castellucci, who solicited book-related questions from authors earlier in the week.4  There I am in the middle, playing for “Team Holden”:

This is quite literally the finale of the show.  Mike Reisman (Team Holden) is  squaring off with Kami Garcia (Team Scout) in a tie-breaking lightning round. Tragically, our team lost.  Even more tragically, we lost on a question that I wrote:

All of these major children’s authors wrote books set in England. One of them, however, actually grew up in America. Who was it?5

a)    E. Nesbitt
b)   P.L. Travers
c)    Frances Hodgson Burnett
d)   AA. Milne

I’m pretty sure this means my new LAYA friends will never talk to me again.


  1. Garth Williams is a favorite of mine; he was also a major touchstone for the art in Peter Nimble (more on that another day!).
  2. I’ve got an interview coming there soon … you’ve been warned.
  3. Fun fact: Matt is a Batman fanatic, and he acted as Lisa’s resident expert for her newest book, Warp Speed.
  4. I should also mention that she was just last week hired on as the children’s editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books — congrats, Cecil!
  5. The answer is Burnett, by the way … a fact I know only because of my smartypants wife.
Twitterpated

I am not the biggest fan of Twitter.  I can only get work done when my internet is disconnected, and the idea of a “community” that requires constant input is both daunting and distracting.  Still, a few months ago I signed up … and quickly discovered that I am the worst Twitterer in the world.1

Case in point:  last week I wrote the following message —

With hindsight, I can see that this is a bit, shall we say … desperate?  At the time, however, I was simply thinking “Gee, people post these kinds of messages all the time and then get a zillion followers — I want a zillion followers!”  I hit “tweet” and waited for success.

So how many new followers did I get?

Zero.  None.  Not even a spambot.  In fact, I lost a follower.2  If  there’s a moral to this story, it’s something about how I should never again be allowed near a computer.

Despite the shattering of my fragile ego, there has been one big upside to using Twitter:  I’ve made connections with a number of interesting people in the children’s book world — people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  For example, Deer Hill Elementary teacher Mike Lewis reached out and invited me to contribute a video to his school’s annual Read Your Heart Out Day (warning: contains me in pajamas).

Another example is Share a Story – Shape a Future 2011.  This is an annual literacy event hosted by a variety of children’s book bloggers.  My involvement was slightly accidental.  A few weeks back I answered a call for photos of writers’ notebooks from teacher-blogger Sarah Mulhern.  I sent her a few photos of my old journals.  Little did I know what I was getting into.  You see, Sarah’s “author notebook” post is a part of a massive event that includes dozens of teachers/librarians/writers/book lovers all over the world.   The theme this year is “Unwrapping the Gift of Literacy,” and each day will tackle a different topic:

MONDAY – The Power of a Book

TUESDAY: The Gift of Reading

WEDNESDAY: Unwrapping Literacy 2.0

THURSDAY: Keeping School from Interfering with the Gift of Literacy

FRIDAY: Literacy: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Once I figured out (through Twitter, of course) what this event was, I asked if I could join the fun.  The coordinators are nice people and said “dive in!”  I’ll be posting related pieces this Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  In the meantime, check out posts about “the power of a book” at The Book Whisperer and Reading is Fundamental.


  1. Of course, Charlie Sheen has since won this title out from under me
  2. It was a Thai restaurant from Minnesota … why they were following me in the first place, I’ll never know.
ALA Midwinter: Awesome Jokes and Free Books

As some of you know, I attended my first ever American Library Association (ALA) conference this weekend in San Diego. I’d been warned that the Midwinter conference  is more about closed-door awards deliberations than hobnobbing. Still, there was some hobnobbing.

Abrams brought out a few authors with forthcoming books1 and were kind enough to let me join the fun. We ate a bunch of food at a bunch of restaurants with a bunch of librarians and booksellers — all of whom were  delightful people. Even better, I learned a brand new joke from blogging librarian Stacy Dillon:

Another highlight included getting drinks with Travis Jonker and John Schu, both of whom were kind enough to meet with a total stranger and give sage advice about how to run a book blog. The other thing they did was talk about all the exciting free books they had gotten while wandering around the floor. This led to me spending several hours, shuffling between booths, trying to figure out the difference between a free book (called an “ARC”) and a not free book (called a “Stop, thief!”).

At the end of the day I had collected exactly zero ARCs. Why? Because I am a big chicken. During an event titled “A Special Afternoon with Neil Gaiman and Nancy Pearl,” Mr. Gaiman spoke of the English as having “a pathological fear of public embarrassment.”2 I’m pretty sure that characterization extends to Canadians as well. At least it applies to me, which explains how I spent five hours in the Land of Free Books without getting so much as a brochure.

On the following day, I forced Mary to join me so she could gather ARCs on my behalf. Not my proudest hour as a husband. But hey! Free books!

The last big event of ALA Midwinter was the Youth Media Awards ceremony, which began very early Monday morning. Sadly, I was unable to attend. I’m told it was a rollicking good time. For a list of winners and honorees, you can check the ALA’s twitter feed, or better yet Betsy Bird’s lively rundown.

Now go away. I’ve got reading to do.

  1. 1. David Ward and Lauren Myracle were especially great about making me feel welcome. Thanks, guys!
  2. 2. In this same conversation Mr. Gaiman said a number of interesting things about his novel The Graveyard Book, which I plan to address in a future post
ALA Midwinter . . .

This weekend I’m off to the San Diego Convention Center for the 2011 ALA Midwinter Meeting! I know the location well from years of attending Comic Con. This time instead of nerdy comics fans, the place will be full of nerdy librarians. I expect to see lots of people dressed up as Nancy Pearl, Melvil Dewey, and Rupert Giles.

Newer posts