Stephen, many children's and YA writers are concerned as we watch bookstores closing in our towns and digital publishing becoming more and more popular. Yet I have heard you speak of this new era as just another opportunity, another change in a long line of changes you've seen over the years during your life as an author and President of SCBWI. Will you share with us your thoughts on this new world of publishing, and why you have hope as we enter 2013?
"Certainly! There is no doubt that in the last few years the children’s book business has been shaken by the rise of digital publishing. You would have thought the industry might have seen this coming after witnessing the upending of the music business, but most publishers, I think, never thought books would be impacted so quickly. Now they are scrambling to adjust, some starting e book lines, others laying off staff, a few others jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon by starting what I believe are dubious divisions not that much different from a vanity press.
What does this all portend for the children’s book author and illustrator? I believe it offers a lot of new opportunities and possibilities. No one is quite sure where this is all going, but one thing is clear, we are in on the ground floor. That’s a fortunate position because those already familiar with the creation of children’s books are far ahead of anyone coming in with nothing but digital knowledge. Like anything in this world, what counts is having something unique that people—adults and kids—will want to read, and pay for."
Stephen, you have your finger on the pulse of the children's/YA publishing industry. Can you give us any examples of what you think have been some of the more interesting digital publishing experiments or advances in the children's market this past year?
Yes. While we're speaking of digital expertise, there are now literally thousands of apps, some of them free, some of them for sale, that can make your book or website interactive and fun to visit. So you don’t have to be a techno-whiz—and for those parts of your ebook or website you can’t do yourself, find a 12 year old to help.
Do you own the rights to your out of print books? If so be aware it takes very little time and money to scan in the text and make them available as ebook or print on demand titles. You might not sell very many, but it will be more than you are selling now, which is most likely close to zero. And, if you want to put some time and effort into promotion you might actually find an audience.
If any of your titles have a hook or an angle—touch on a childhood problem, cover the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, or lend themselves to a game then you’ve got a marketing angle by using the internet and social media you can probably reach a lot of potential readers.
I’ve published more than 60 books over the last 35 years. Most of them are now out of print, but I plan to have them scanned and made available on my website as well as online booksellers such as Amazon, Create Space and Barnes and Noble.
Those are great suggestions, Stephen! Not only do you give us hope that the digital era will not spell the death of authors and stories, but I hear that in addition to the plans to scan and e-sell your out-of-print books you have already jumped into this new era with both feet, introducing a fun interactive website as a way to connect with your readers. Can you tell us about that, and about how we can go check it out ourselves?
My latest book, Class Clown Academy, failed to find a traditional publisher. As a former Class Clown I had a great time writing it, thought it was worthy of a wider audience, and, most important, it was a concept that lent itself to an interactive website. So over the last three years the Academy has been under construction and is ready to open.
You can visit it at http://www.classclownacademy.com/ (for now it won’t open on an Ipad) but will on any other device or computer.
It is a virtual school with a Theater. There you can see a short film made by my son-in-law. The film is called Farts and You and won’t win an Academy Award but will win laughs. There's a cafeteria where you can have a food fight, a music room where you can record a song made by playing whoopee cushions, a library with books on jokes, and much more including a link to purchase my ebook, and a student store where you can buy everything from Class Clown Academy t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers (MY CHILD WAS GOOFBALL OF THE MONTH AT CLASS CLOWN ACADEMY) and even a free Diploma Mill where you can make up your own PhD degree in Practical Jokes or make up an All-American Award for your skills on the baseball diamond with the CCA team, The Fightin’ Spitwads.
I would not have gone to the time and expense to do this with any of my other books because they just didn’t have enough going to keep a child interested.
(One) Just putting up a book on Amazon(there are 30 million books there) or building a website (millions of those too) is not enough. You have to be able to drive people to that book or site. If you can’t do that you won’t succeed.
(Two) you have to have something that people want
to visit or read.
Hee hee hee, ah, well, hee hee hee, ahahaha, ehem, so cool! I love the class clown academy website, Stephen, especially the music room with it's coughing Beethoven statue, sqeeky bench, and all the playable instruments, not to mention the "octofly" I managed to create in the science lab - before I got electrocuted that is! The rubber chicken was great too! And I didn't even have time to watch the movie yet! Plus I love the way you sneekily and brilliantly stuck your e-book for purchase right there on the front row in the "school store" with a nice joke-filled teaser. Brilliant! I'll be referring all the 8 year old boys I know straight over there because kids will love it! Thanks for setting us all such a great example of how to bring our books and stories in the digital age!
Here's one final question. As an author, and as the Co-president of SCBWI, what encouragement, tips, or suggestions would you give to published and pre-published children's authors as we set our writing and publishing goals and hope to work toward achieving them in 2013?
The digital world is no different that the print world. Competition is intense. Come up with something that no one has ever seen before, something that makes people go WOW! What a great concept, incredible character, terrific idea---or all three if you can. Do that and you will be a success. It’s not easy to do, but it is what it takes and, as I said we are in on the ground floor. You already are ahead of 99% of the people who think they have some great idea but have no idea what to do next—not to mention no talent—Your competition is that the last one percent is smart, talented and creative and those are the ones you’ve got to top.
Do it and you will succeed—I can just about guarantee it.
Thank you, Stephen - perfectly said! Onward and upward -- It's 2013!
Thank you, Stephen - perfectly said! Onward and upward -- It's 2013!