Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thoughts after the day after DBW (Reprinted from my Noodlings Blog)

A Snowy Good Morning from Post DBW

I left the conference yesterday as it ended, with so much information swirling around my brain.  Being from Los Angeles, I was really happy to see snow beginning to fall outside.  Even though it isn't something we have in LA, I know snow and it was comforting to see something familiar floating down around me as I headed towards the subway.  This was a sharp contrast to the last two days of hearing about things I am so unfamiliar about, dropping down, all around me, with much more speed than the snow.

Someone wrote there are three types of people facing the digital publishing wave.  There are those who want to pretend it's not happening.  There are those who want to retire before it takes over.  Then, there is the group who is embracing the change.  When I heard that, I knew I had to embrace the change.  Maybe if I were living in my fantasy farm house with my converted barn studio and wealthy enough to never need to work, I might just play more music and forget about picture books.

But, I work in my converted garage studio in Los Angeles and I frankly don't see ever being able to retire.  Don't get me wrong, I have lived and breathed picture books since 1980.  I will always LOVE picture books.  It's been that way since I first read William Steig's The Amazing Bone.  I wanted to live in the forrest with Pearl, the pig.  Picture books are magical.  I know I'm preaching to the choir, but I want to make it clear, I love picture books and have loved every day I have been lucky enough to wake up and create them.

When I first came to NY to sell my first book, I knew the players.  It was easy to find them.  You looked at your favorite picture book, and there was the name of the publisher.  Harper and Row, the holy grail.  I sold my first picture book there.  Even met Shel Silverstein because I mistakingly took his notes for A Light in the Attic.  He met me at the elevator at Harper in Row, waiting for me to hand him back his book.  (Oh, if I only had stopped along the way to make a few xerox copies!!!)  Green Willow books, Harcourt and Brace, Little Brown, Antheneum, Scribners.  (Now a makeup store) Okay, I'm feeling very old all of a sudden!!!!  The point is, now, there are so many new players on the block hoping to be the publisher of picture books.  These people, for the most part, haven't been editors who have worked their way up by graduating as English Lit majors and finding low paying jobs as assistants and then if they were lucky, to move into becoming an editor.  These are people from the tech world.  Yes, you have to be a story teller to make games, but it's a different type of story.

Maybe that's okay.  Maybe that's part of the shift.  Stories will change in this new age.  They already have.  A Hole to Dig, Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Missing Piece.  There are books that  most likely wouldn't get published these days, as traditional picture books.  Marketing departments would kill them.  How can we sell a book about a boy and a crayon?  We'll have to get Crayola to sponsor it.  Maybe Dreamworks will do a movie.  Then there would be interest with a movie or TV deal in place.  Probably should see if we can make a digital crayon which starts off  purple but can morph into a rainbow of colors while you draw!  It will be a good followup to Charlottes WebSite that we are going viral with.  We'll need the website because kids don't like spiders and maybe we can get them comfortable first on our website after they play a few games.  If  Charlottes WebSite gets a lot of hits, we can greenlight the book.

Am I sounding a bit too cynical?  I suppose.  That's one of the virtues of having seen a few things over the years.  At Digital Book World, I was witnessing a new group of players.  Sure, some won't be here next year for DBW 3.  Some will survive, some will thrive.  Everyone who was in the audience will have a newer  ipad by then.  (Is there an Apple hand-me-down club I can join?)

Nobody knows where this will go, (until the holographic tablets arrive), but it's clear, this is not our fathers Oldsmobile, or whatever that car commercial was for.  If I sound like Clint Eastwood mumbling about the future, I want to make it clear, I bought a Mac in 1984.   In addition to being an author, I am a children's song writer and I record my music with Pro-tools or Garage band, right on my Mac.   I have embraced the tools.  The end products have remained the same.  Even though music changed from analog to digital, you could still play it in your room on a stereo or in the car.  Yes, the players got smaller.  We went from a stereo to something size of a stick of gum, but it still played music.  If you closed your eyes, you wouldn't know the difference, unless you were an adio file.

I have been creating books in photoshop and illustrator, along with continuing to paint and draw.  The end result was a picture book.  Same as it ever was. (to quote David Byrne)  But, this is not my beautiful book.  This is a new device to 'deliver' a book and it's questionable wether it's a 'better' book.  But, it's here!  For those of us who have been blacksmiths, shoeing horses..... Look both ways before you step into the street because there are cars now.  There won't be horse drawn carriages unless you are riding around Central Park.

So, forgive me if my tone might sound cynical.  In spite of all my questions, I am in the group embracing this new technology.  I want picture books to survive and thrive in this new delivery method.  A story is a story is a story.  It might dance when you touch it on the screen, but it will not be looked at more than a few times if the story is missing.  There are only so many times you can hurl a bird at a pig.  Okay, bad analogy.  Apparently one can never do that too many times.  But that's a game.  We are picture book people! So, lets give them the best picture books we can create, regardless of how they are read!  I've got to go back and finish writing my next book!


  1. Validating and encouraging commentary. Sharing similar history in children's books (though having started a few years earlier than you) I am "embracing" the new technology. Getting up to speed slowly but surely..... MORE surely than slowly as I keep going. Interesting, frustrating, elating and the one really good thing (for an Illustrator) no mess to clean up. :~)

  2. Thank you, Barney for this long interesting commentary. It is so hard not to get distracted and sucked into the new wave that is digital publishing. Where will it land? How do I get in on it? Should I change my stories to fit the medium? Right now the water is so churned up it's hard to see clearly. So yes, let's keep writing the best stories we can while we watch and learn and figure out how to ride this newly shod horse called epublishing.

    Oh, and thank you for going to DBW. I definitely got a sense of what was going on there.

    One final thought. Theatre folk were pretty much up in arms when the television landed in everyone's homes. But it survived.

  3. Great blog post! Yes, where is it all going?

    Making art and making books is fun and I'm in the camp that says digital is fun.

    Let's just hope that content creators might start getting a little respect in the world of publishing.

    As a child my favorite toy was a contraption that projected rich colorful images onto a screen. Now I have a Mac Pro & Photoshop!