Sunday, July 19, 2009

On Quiet Books, Blue Moons, and Your Milestones

Brain Boggle de Jour
What exactly is a quiet book?  Robin and I have been chatting this up big-time in recent weeks, and had a really fascinating discussion with our writer's group on Friday. 

What makes a book quiet and what makes a book commercial?  Are those two things always mutually exclusive?  Is it something that authors can even control? Is it voice that drives commercial success? Is it story?  Might it be what the film industry, and now publishing, refer to as "high concept?"  Is it the degree in which your publisher's marketing team gets behind you?  Can the right promotional campaign take a quiet book and lead it to more commercial success?  As you can see, I'm still struggling in my mind with the definition.  Does quiet = less sales? And commercial = cha-ching?  We would love to hear what you think!   

About YOU
I'm calling a Milestone Monday right now!  Between our weeks devoted to indie bookstores, then our month on Twitter, and our change to once-per-week posting, we miss hearing from you!  What's the haps? Please post a comment telling us about something you've accomplished lately that you're excited about.  Finish drafting/writing something? Sell something?  Get a good review?  An agent?  A super-friendly rejection letter?  Do let us know! As always, if you post in our MM celebration, you are automatically entered into our drawing for a prize! 


Lastly But Not Leastly
It has come to my attention that my long-standing date to Not-Attend the SCBWI Annual Ball can't accompany me (shrieking here)! Rest assured Robin will be at the LA National Conference in August, but she has a scheduling conflict that won't allow her to Not-Attend this year's Blue Moon Ball with me.  I don't have date!  And I desperately need one--it's tradition! But not just anyone, I need an especially stealthy date that can skulk away with me, artfully dodging all the super-excited Blue People in tall, wide, sparkly, shiny, pokey costumes.  If they find out you're not attending, they get super bummed out and want to make you change your mind. They get the very same face that I'm sure they look at pound puppies with, god love them. They try very hard to get you to come, and will even offer you their extra boas, leis, or body paint. It really is best to keep the lowest profile possible that night.  As you can see, I have a lot of experience in the Not-Attending business.

And may I say that the SCBWI team does such a FABULOUS job of putting this event on ... it seems to get grander each year!  Least from my view as I creep around the edges to get back to my room.  I would attend if only I could find my Invisibility Cloak and Supersonic Earplugs so that I could float around and ogle the outfits and fanfare. Not-Attending is absolutely not a dish or boycott of the ball in any way at ALL! It truly is a highlight for so many people. I'm glad they do it for all the excitement and joy it creates. Now if they ever hold a Silent Ball where there are fabulous desserts, no talking, a reading competition, and blindfolded dancing-- I want to order my tickets NOW.  

Until then, I'll keep my tradition of sneaking away to the movies and/or the quietest restaurant possible.  Because even after just two days of Nationals, my skin starts turning itself inside out and I need to get away from the masses, if only for a couple of hours. I become in desperate need of psycho-spiritual dialysis.

If YOU would like to be my date to Not-Attend the Blue Moon Ball at Nationals, please email me here at or leave a comment telling me why you'd be the Perfect (platonic) Date.   Robin and I will announce the selectee next week! If you are chosen to be my date, you will be my guest at the movies.  Snacks included!  I'm a pretty fun date (right, Robin?), love to laugh, and hardly ever talk during the movie.   

Hope you all are having a marvelous summer, full of adventure and renewal--

Mary Hershey


Jenna Alexander said...

I am an extremely shy person and large social events are torture to me. On the flip side, I am a conference planner.


I find that when I work an event I have an excuse not to stand around and chit chat, I can run to the back room, stand in the shadows just to make sure everything is going well, etc. I’ve met tons of people and made a lot of contacts (in the building industry) but I was able to do this because I was working, not dancing.

It's worked well for me so far - but I haven't been invited to any writer’s conferences yet.

If I go to one of these in the future I will ask if they need any help in the coat check area.


marce merrell said...

I led an "author's" camp for young writers- grades 4 to 6- last week. I was the morning instructor and they had an artist in the afternoon. I thought I'd come home at noon each day and get in at least a couple of hours of writing. Ha! I was exhausted. I took a nap every day.

However, I found when I was working with the kids all other thoughts or worries slipped away. I was so present to them- one girl was such a fabulous writer I felt honored to be a mentor for the week.

And the ideas! I spent the weekend filling pages of a notebook with snatches of dialogue for an upcoming short story I'll write.

My love/hate relationship with presentations and teaching continues. I don't say no to these opportunities because, like beets and asparagus, I know they're good for me. I also know that eventually I'll love to do them under the right circumstances and with lots of butter, salt and pepper.

tanita davis said...

How funny - I, too, can manage events when I'm working. Nothing like a uniform or an apron to give people the message that I Am Busy -- I have a purpose, and it's not to have to chat or make eye contact, except in the most superficial, Big Smile, Everyone kind of way.

I have to admit that I chickened out on the whole SCBWI thing this year. It just exhausts me. I went faithfully for years, but I'm giving myself a few years off. On another positive note (because I do consider that to be positive, although I am sorry not to be your non-date!) I saw an hilarious of my book, Mare's War. Posting on someone else's blog, the (adult) reviewer said, "If she hadn't put all of those "Now" chapters in there, it would rate right up there with The Color Purple!"

Well, I'll take an "almost," with pride.

Anonymous said...

I would SO be your date if I I were going, Mary. Just the idea of those balls terrifies me. :)

Quiet. A VERY nice agent called my mystery quiet in a very nice way. And I'm serious about the nice. But it was a minus. And I saw her point. In the back of my mind, while I work on other stuff, I mull how I could make it less quiet and whether I'd want to.

I've read a couple of YA novels lately that are probably quiet. And, honestly, I loved them. They seemed to me to rest STRONGLY on character development and beautiful prose and dynamics and growth and all those things. They were not "in my face" at all, and they were heaven to curl up with and disappear into.

I'm not putting down the other kind of book. I've also read a few YAs this year that are NOT quiet, but are also brilliant with the way they make my brain and heart clench and my knuckles turn white where they're holding the book. They're great.

I do, though, sometimes wish those less quiet books didn't seem to take over from the others in the market. I think we, at least I, need both.

Lisa said...

Oh god, I am so *tired* of the word "quiet"! It has shown up in so many of my rejection letters. "The voice is great... but it's too quiet." "The story's interesting... but it's too quiet." Yada yada. So my personal definition of "quiet" is based partly on my own writing which is, apparently, on the quiet side.

A quiet book is character-driven rather than plot-driven. It probably isn't high-concept / doesn't have that snazzy hook. It's probably on the literary side. The events of the book are things that we can imagine happening to ourselves or people we know in everyday life. If big/bad/sad things happen, it's not necessarily right on the page.

Not that any of those things can't be true of a commercial book, but taken together... you've got quiet.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE your tradition of not-attending. Way to take care of yourself!

Since the last time I commented on a Milestone Monday, I've signed with an agent (Miche11e Ande1man) and am currently deep in revisions of my contemp YA. So yay! :)

Solvang Sherrie said...

I just registered to attend SCBWI over the weekend and I'm terrified of the whole thing, but especially the ball.

As for quiet books, I would hope that there's room for all kinds of books in the marketplace. I think there are quiet books that find commercial success and some very popular, commercial books that I can't even finish reading! So I don't think it has to do with sales really.

Of course, I could be completely opinionated and totally wrong ;)

Beth said...

My contribution for Milestone Monday is that my story placed first in the Crossed Genres Flash Fiction Contest earlier this month. This is the first time I've ever won anything resembling a popularity contest. (I'm the wallflower who, at college years ago, was asked in April, "Are you new here?" and I had attended since August. Yeah.)

And have a lovely time not-attending the ball!

Emily Wing Smith said...

I'll be at the conference, and I WILL be attending the ball with a group of more outgoing, super-hot friends. But can I catch up with you anyway, Mary? I'd love to meet you in person!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Lisa's definition of quiet. My smart-alecky definition of quiet is "no explosions or car chases." But quiet can be commercial--wouldn't you call Bridges of Madison County rather quiet than not? How about Garrison Keillor's work?

I suppose my milestone is finishing a draft of a project. I'll need to do some more work on it, but for now it is resting while I can work on something else!

Mary Hershey said...

Thanks, everyone, for all the great input and thoughts you've shared! Robin just pointed out a fabulous post by Nathan Bransford on this from last February. Worth a read! Very much in line with your definition, Lisa!

Jennifer, yes, Bridges of Madison County very quiet and yet exploded in the marketplace! Robin and I were talking about Tuesdays with Morrie today, too. And, hey, congrats on getting a project drafted.

Kudos to you, Tani, on your review of Mare's War-- a comparison to Color Purple works with any qualifiers.

Shari, yeah, on your new agent! That's HUGE! So happy for you.

Sherrie, so glad you signed up for Nationals. You're going to have a blast. Can't wait to see you there!

Beth, strong work on your First Place in the Flash Fiction Contest. Here's to many more.

Emily, yes, would LOVE to meet you, and any other Violets/Vinnies that are attending!

Great stuff happening-- thanks for sharing it.


Kimberly Lynn said...

I think of “quiet” books as having a smaller market. However, increasing the budget for packaging and promotion could broaden commercial appeal. For instance, a debut author paired with a high profile illustrator will certainly command media attention. This doesn’t always happen, though. Authors can get the word out by making book trailers for their blogs, YouTube, and Facebook. This is an exciting time to be a children’s book author. There are so many ways to promote one’s work.

On another note . . .

Mary, costume events are the bomb. I dressed as a clown at our last SCBWI Florida conference and danced ALL night long. I’ve even got a school presentation plan that includes wearing a costume and building a stage set. Give me something to hide behind and this little introvert transforms into an extrovert lickety-split!


I have a bit of Milestone Monday news. My regional advisor, Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld, nominated me for the SCBWI Member of the Year Award. I didn’t win but what an honor! I'm so thankful to be a part of this organization. Love, love my Florida peeps!

(I’m awful chatty this morning.)