In Defense of The Cursed Child

**Minor Cursed Child spoilers

I’ll be the first to admit that I greatly enjoyed reading The Cursed Child. After all of the hype for this 8th story, it seems as though too many fans are disappointed. I know that it’s difficult to revisit a story with such a cult following and make fans completely happy with the outcome, but I think that HP fans should give J.K. (and Jack Thorne and John Tiffany) some slack here.

First off, I’ve heard many fans say that it was overly dramatic and felt like fan fiction. I’d like to point out that it is a play and is first and foremost meant to be seen and not read. You should have a much different mindset and method when reading a play than when reading a novel. Maybe it’s the English major in me (forever grateful for that Shakespeare class requirement), but a play shouldn’t feel the same as reading a novel. It should be much more visual and overly dramatic because a script is so dialogue-heavy. I also want to point out that J.K. Rowling wrote the story but not the actual script, so the voice should be expected to slightly change because of that.

Some fans have also said that they don’t like Harry in The Cursed Child. I’d have to agree that Harry isn’t the most likeable character in the play. However, I think that it’s a pretty real expectation for him to not be the most stable parent on the planet. He was, after all, partially inhabited by the soul of an extremely dangerous and dark wizard for 17 years of his life. There have been various points in the original books where Harry has been pretty unlikeable as well (*cough*Order of the Phoenix*cough*). Parents in general sometimes find it hard to relate to their kids, especially with such high hopes for them and such a famous family name for them to carry.

With such a huge reputation, any further Harry Potter stories will have big expectations riding on their shoulders. I, for one, am glad at the prospect of having more stories revealed within the wizarding world (like forthcoming Fantastic Beasts). And I’m looking forward to the day that Cursed Child comes to the US in play form so that we can all see the story how it was meant to be performed. Mad props to J.K. for continuing to expand the universe that she so painstakingly and lovingly created.

For the record, I totally ship Scorpius and Albus.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

Thesis time!

To be honest, I’ve been slowly chipping away at my thesis since the summer, but I’m really starting to lock down and make some progress recently. To complete my M.A. in Publishing, I only have this one 60+ page paper left. It has sounded daunting to me ever since I joined the program, but it’s something that I’m trying to take one book and article at a time. The most difficult part is the topic that I chose. So here goes…

I’m writing about how publishing houses use social media (specifically for YA books) and how they should be using it to get the most out of their time and efforts. When I thought about what I wanted to write about, social media was the most intriguing to me. It really always has been. Looking at what types of posts go viral, what things people latch onto and interact with, it seems that “good” social media practices are hard to define. And the research that I’ve done so far tells me just that. Even books written be supposed “experts” in the field of social media don’t have all of the answers. But so far, it seems the most important thing that I’ve taken from my research is that the general public are the ones who decide what is successful on social media. No company can force a post to go viral. They can put thousands of dollars towards advertising and a hashtag still may not start trending.

So how are publishing companies supposed to know what they should be posting? Part of my research is to survey some people within the book industry and some avid readers and see what they think. Does the general public even care about following publishing companies on Instagram and Twitter? Does it affect their buying habits? Personally, I can say that if a book has a huge Twitter campaign and I keep seeing the cover pop up on my feed, I am definitely more likely to buy it. But what about those who don’t even look at the spine or copyright pages of their books to see who published them? Random House may be a household name, but do readers really know what specific books they have in print right now? What books are on their frontlist? Which of their books are on the New York Times’ Best Seller list this week?

All of these questions I’m trying to answer, plus more. What should publishing companies be posting to get followers’ attention? Is anyone doing that already or does someone need to have a talk with the publishing executives at the Big 5?

So anyway, if you’d like to help me out with the looming task of answering some of these questions, I’ve created a little survey. Please check it out!

Book Banning is Good

Banned Book Week is always a really important time for libraries, especially those who have a big Young Adult following. This is a week where they get to bring attention to those books that have been challenged and talk about why they are important. The title of my post may be a little misleading, as I don’t think that it’s good to ban books. I think that the process of challenging books to be banned is good. Without this process, some books would never be discovered. If a parent has a problem with a book, many times it does not have great reasoning behind it. Just the fact that parents challenge books makes librarians, educators, and other supporters work hard to fight against book banning. They also work hard to convince the public that books that are challenged do have value. This whole process can make readers think critically about books as they see them being challenged. I think, from this perspective, children and teens should be kept aware of what is happening in their community with book banning cases.

Book banning brings good publicity to books that are really important for teens to be reading. Controversial issues are often the most important, because parents may not be comfortable talking to their kids about them. Or, kids and teens may not want to bring issues up to their parents. They can find solace and comfort in books. For instance, there are many books that are challenged because they have gay characters. If parents in a school district or community are concerned because they don’t want their children to be reading about homosexuality, it’s probably an issue that needs to be addressed. Teens with homophobic parents need a place where they feel safe, and books can be a good way to have role models and nonjudgmental exploration.

Challenged book cases can also bring national attention to books that really deserve it. A book like Speak deserves to be read and known by a widespread audience. The people who challenged Speak really didn’t know what they were talking about. Some of those against it said that it was sexually explicit, but the scene where the rape is revealed is quite the opposite. It’s a very important book for anyone who has been sexually assaulted, especially for teenagers. Because the book received so many complaints from parents, it gained national attention and is very often read in classes today.

Authors also usually get a lot of support when one of their books gets challenged. Readers will write letters telling them how much their book means. Support from educators, librarians, readers, and parents is always widespread as they band together to try and fight against the challenge of the book. Walter Dean Meyers is quoted as saying, “When I write a book that is liable to be challenged it is because I have detected a change in what is advertised as the accepted norm.” This is a brilliant way of looking at it. Those who challenge books do so because they are uncomfortable with the way that things are being presented differently in them. In order to progress in society, we need adolescents to become comfortable with the changes that are happening against accepted norms in society.

What it Feels Like to Have a Post Go Viral

About a week ago I gave BuzzFeed content from one of my assigned books to put in an article. I’ve given BuzzFeed content before and the articles get a couple hundred or a couple thousand views. It might not do a whole lot for book sales, but it looks good to get a spot on a national website that will continue to generate interest. The post went up on BuzzFeed on a Wednesday evening. By the middle of Thursday, I got an email from the writer saying that the post went viral. At that point, there were about 500,000 views on the post, and it was trending in that day’s top articles. I started to get requests from other websites wanting to feature the same content and interview the author of the book. Emails started pouring in asking for images and quotes to use. As I continued to check the original article, it just got more and more popular. The sales rankings on Amazon and B&N went up into the top 100 (from a lowly spot somewhere in the 100,000s). Amazon went out of stock very early, probably because they were not anticipating such widespread sales.

I went home from work on Thursday and people were seeing the article on Facebook and other social media sites. When I would tell my friends about it, they would say that they had seen the article circulating already. Another publicist saw it all over Facebook before I told her about the viral post. On Friday morning, I got an email from the author saying that she didn’t sleep because she was up all night writing answers to interview questions. In another office, publishers were panicking because they would have to reprint the book quickly as our stock was dwindling. I read through the thousands of comments on the article and found that readers thought the post was hilarious (it was a humor book) and they would want to give the book to their friends. The post was continuing to gain speed and went up to 1.7 million views by the time I left work on Friday.

It was an incredibly exhilarating experience to have a post (originating from me) go viral. I’ve only experience something like it one other time, when a celebrity author retweeted a tweet from the company. The tweet gained a lot of traction and the page was gaining followers by the second. But that was nothing compared to this. Requests from major sites were pouring in, all trying to jump on the trend and get their readers to interact with their websites. The visible spike in sales was also very encouraging and actually just pretty amazing. Many times, when there is an article, blog post, or social media post about one of our books, it’s hard to tell whether it made a difference in sales. With this, we can say that it definitely made a difference. All this being said, I will definitely start to think differently about the importance of BuzzFeed articles from now on.

A Note About Book Publicists

It’s been a very stressful week for the publicity department. Between excerpt requests, looming fall titles, social media queues, and backlist press, my colleagues and I definitely need a staycation. There are a lot of things that I love about being a publicist. The main thing: I get to talk to people about books and bring attention to the ones that really deserve it. I have fun creating content for social media platforms. Making spreadsheets gives me a rush. Figuring out how to write effective releases and pitches is both a challenge and a joy. But, out of all of those things, there are some really really hard parts to being a publicist. Especially a book publicist.

A lot of people (including those in the industry) don’t seem to really understand what a publicist does, or they don’t appreciate it. There are numerous questions and requests that I receive on a daily basis that I have to redirect to another person or department. Publicists get criticized by many different arms of the publishing world for not doing enough, not doing things correctly, and being difficult to work with. This is probably no one’s fault specifically, but the fault of the industry as a whole for not being wholly educated on all steps of publishing a book. Being in a Master’s in Publishing program has helped me greatly understand the different parts of publishing, what they are each responsible for, and what their motives are. I think that this type of education should be more of a standard in the industry. A whole degree isn’t necessary, but education to at least understand the people who you may have to work with would be helpful.

Publicists also have to face a ton of rejection and, even worse, silence. I’m pitching books to media outlets a couple times a week, and there are a very small percentage of contacts that actually get back to me. I send out e-blasts of letters, advance copies and ARCs, follow up emails, and press releases and usually less than 10% of the pitching that I do actually results in something. There are constant rejection emails and editors saying that something isn’t quite right. I understand why. The market is saturated with too many things to write about and not enough outlets to cover them. You have to have a really standout book in order for places to be interested in talking about them.

Finally, we all have SO many titles that we work on every season. It takes finely tuned organization skills (which is great because I love spreadsheets) and, believe it or not, patience. All of these frustrating and difficult things about my job don’t make me love it less, though. Facing rejection, people not understanding my job, and busyness make me just want to work harder to reach success. The difficulties in my job give me the motivation that I need to reach my ultimate goal. All of the pros and cons aside, that’s probably the best part about my job.

[If you have any questions about what a book publicist does, feel free to ask in the comments!]

Book Trailer Premiere: My Life in Dioramas by Tara Altebrando

This is a wonderful book trailer made by middle school students. Amazing!

Nerdy Book Club

The trailer for my book, My Life in Dioramasis no ordinary trailer. It was created entirely by Teeny Tiny Filmworks, a group of middle school age filmmakers. I think, once you see it, you’ll agree with me that they absolutely hit it out of the park!

So without further ado, here’s what they created:

Amazing, right? Those dioramas! That fancy camera work! As you can tell from watching, the girls put a lot of hard work and heart into this project. I asked them a few questions about it.
What was the biggest challenge you faced making the trailer for My Life in Dioramas?

Jocelyn: I think trying not to look up at the camera when it was going over my head probably.
Olivia: Editing the trailer was really difficult.
Jill: Making the proportions right in the dioramas.

Which is your favorite diorama in the trailer and why?

Jill: My…

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Intelligent YA is Causing a Problem

I was discussing YA trends with a colleague earlier, as I often do, and we came across an issue that I haven’t thought much about before today. Witty and intelligent realistic YA fiction is becoming very, very popular. This is not necessarily an issue in and of itself as it is causing a secondary problem in the teen reader community. In high school, I was fascinated and enthralled with the footnotes in John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines. Books like The Book Thief and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing have captured my attention and my intellectual side as an adult. These types of books with elements like hyper-intelligent teenagers, witty banter between characters, and high-level vocabulary are very present in today’s YA front lists. I love this trend. I love that teenagers (and adults) want to read about smart characters, aspire to be like these characters, and relate to these characters. However, I’m afraid that it may be leading to a downward trend in books for reluctant readers.

In my publishing classes, books for reluctant readers are discussed with importance because many of us believe that it is important for children to read, no matter what. Reluctant readers are paid a lot of attention to at an early age, with many early readers, chapter books, and middle grade novels aimed towards the group. But as children grow into adolescence, fewer and fewer books are being published for the benefit of those who still don’t like to read, or haven’t found it in their interests. The novels that are written for this group of teens are often predictable, easy to read, and trope-heavy. Adults may see this as a bad thing, especially the ones that love to read YA. Something that we must keep in mind, however, is that not all YA books have to be good crossover books. While I agree that sometimes books find a place with a different audience, and sometimes writers are compelled to write a story and it’s a sort of accidental teen book, there is still a place for books that are mainly for adolescents.

I make this argument not because I think that there should be more formulaic, dumbed down books in the market, but because I think that all types of readers need books that appeal to them. Books for reluctant readers are simply an easier gateway to the world of reading, and as long as kids are reading them, I think that they are important. Say a 14-year-old girl reads a lower level YA book featuring a female main character who has divorced parents and is angry and closed off from her friends. This reader might relate to the specific character, and might go looking for more books about kids with divorced parents, kids who are having trouble with their friends, or kids who are dealing with anger issues. That one book has opened up a world of possibilities for that reader, and is a valuable resource for whatever she might be dealing with in her own life. Reluctant readers may not pick up a book with advanced vocabulary and concepts right away, but if they start with books of their interest, it might lead them to eventually read those witty and intelligent novels.

Overall, I think that it’s great that kids are reading intelligent books. I think that it’s equally as great that adults are reading (and enjoying) them, too. But I think that it is still incredibly important to remember that YA books are for all teens, not just the ones who already enjoy reading. We can’t forget about the teens who are reluctant to pick up a book and need a starting point. After all, none of us started swimming in the deep end of the pool.