Saturday, February 18, 2017

Rebranding - Ins & Outs

Last week I shared the new outsides of the Sammy Keyes series. This week we look inside.

There's a lot that goes into the interior design of a book. A lot more than you might think. There are decisions regarding font, point size, margins, chapter headings, as well as little style touches.

In the case of the Sammy Keyes series, the interior style is pretty basic. Each of the 18 books begins with the word Prologue, followed by an enlarged point size and offset first sentence. These, as well as each chapter heading, are set in the same font that's used on the book covers: Expose. 

There are bits of art from the cover design inserted sparsely throughout the book--usually to accentuate the beginning or end of a chapter--but the rest of each volume is simply text. 

Those design choices resulted in an integrated look for the hardcovers. When the paperback covers started getting different artwork the designers bridged the looks by continuing to use the Expose font on the covers. Expose was the "Sammy Keyes font."

So the interior chapter headings and opening sentences still made sense, but once they moved away from the original art, the bits of art that echoed the hardcover jackets did not. Readers who'd only seen the paperbacks wouldn't understand the odd squares of different art, so why weren't they removed?

I asked, but the answer was kind of vague, and it didn't seem that crucial, so I just let it go.

But as the series progressed, some of the inserted squares of art in the interiors of new hardcover editions looked murky. Some were almost unrecognizable as art. 

I was told they just weren't printing clearly on the paper that was now being used. That situation coupled with the weirdness of having the squares in the paperback pages led to the logical decision to stop adding them to the interior pages in upcoming titles. That is why, from Wedding Crasher (book 13) on, the bits of art no longer appeared past the Prologue page. 

(The new font is hand lettered.) 
This all relates to the new look in that the new paperback covers do not use Expose. After much discussion about the pros and cons, the design team decided they wanted to rebrand the whole series with a completely fresh look. 

And yet, when I mentioned updating the interiors so that all the old art bits were removed and the chapter headings and opening lines were no longer in Expose, I got some worrisome news: They maybe, probably, couldn't do that.


Nancy (my editor) explained that the first books in the series were originated long enough ago that there were no digital files; the pages were on actual film, like negatives, and so it would be cost-prohibitive (and way too much work) to regenerate the books digitally. 

She gave me a little glimmer of hope, though, saying they would approach a different printer to see if there was any way around the situation.

This maybe-probably-not impacted more than just the style of the interior. It threw a monkey wrench into a decision I've been agonizing over for a couple of years: Should I take this opportunity to gently address text that might make the series seem dated? If interior changes were impossible, that option was off the table.

Fans of the series will recognize how important a decision to-tweak or not-to-tweak the text is. It has been truly agonizing! And I do plan to tell you all about it, but sharing that decision and the rationale behind it will make this post much too long. 

Also, it's an ongoing, evolving situation. 

So I'm afraid I'm leaving you with...

A cliffhanger! 

Sorry, no peeking ahead possible. The story will continue next week. (And I will finish, but bring your flashlight - it may be a long night.)

Until then, thank you for stopping by. See you in the comments!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

New Look for Sammy Keyes!

I am so excited for this week's post! Finally, finally, finally, I have new Sammy Keyes art to show you.

But first! From last weekend's post...our drawing winner is....Ashli B. from Ohio! (Congratulations on your Charmin' good luck. Your box of Lincoln Jones goodies will ship out on Monday.) 

(Did y'all, uh, snicker about the "Charmin' good luck"? No? Well, go read Lincoln Jones--it's magically delicious!)

Okay, okay. I feel like I tapped the mic, read last week's minutes, got sidetracked, and lost my grip. 

But what else is new, right?

Wendelin! FOCUS! 

Right, right! Sorry! I'm just excited!! And honestly, I don't know where to begin. Some of you have been reading this blog since I first started soliciting your input regarding new Sammy Keyes artwork, and you have probably wondered, what the heck ever happened with that? Well, it's a huge thing, redoing the art of 18 books! And in the end, it's a business decision. Do sales--past and future--warrant an investment in new art? And, if so, what is the purpose for the investment, and how will the new art serve that purpose? 

It's not unusual for books to get a "refreshed" look periodically, and having multiple looks across the life of a series is pretty normal. I've been told that Sammy having the same art/artist for all 18 hardcovers was very unusual.

Here's a post from back in 2014, where I was trying to get a bead on the direction the art should take once the series was complete. The dilemma with Sammy Keyes is that she doesn't fit neatly into "Middle Grade" (8-12 yrs) or "Young Adult" (12 yrs & up, but more realistically, 14 yrs & up). Sammy is edgy, funny, irreverent, and not obsessed with boys. And she deals with stuff like meth labs, buried bodies, gangs, and seriously scary adults. 

I personally wanted the new art to move in a more realistically rendered direction (as proposed in that linked post). And, because her name can confuse the uninitiated, I wanted the new art to make clear that Sammy is a girl. 

So for a good year I gathered input from booksellers and kids at schools and people here and online. One of the crucial questions I posed was, where do you think Sammy should be shelved? YA, or MG? It makes a huge difference in bookstores and in schools. 

The data was pretty evenly divided...which reflects the situation with middle school itself: it's that transitional ground between childhood and near adulthood.

Here's what finally came down as the reality of current trends: Realistic covers are for YA books, and although Sammys are read by a wide range of ages, the books belong on shelves accessible to kids younger than 14. 

Realistic was out.

I was bummed.

And then I was shown some preliminary sketches done by New Zealand artist Craig Phillips.

And I got a whole lot less bummed in a hurry.

The new look still had humor, but there was also an edginess to it. And a girl! I know we all have our own picture of what Sammy looks like, and that was the goal. We wanted readers to picture her their way. 

So after all this time, seeing Sammy on these covers is a little strange. And it may not match the Sammy you see in your head, but give it time. I hope you can adjust and learn to like this new art as much as I do. 

A couple of other quick things: 

One of the many questions I asked when collecting data was...should the books be numbered? Again, the answers were evenly divided. Readers edged toward yes, but booksellers edged toward no. And really, although it's best to read the series in order, I wrote them so you don't have to. So if the title you have in front of you is, say, Hollywood Mummy, don't think you have to find the previous five books before you read it. Open it up, get on that bus to Hollywood, and go!

So, again, the team at Random House concluded: No numbers.

Only this time I countered with an idea that originated in the comments of this blog: 

Hide the numbers in the art. 

And guess what, guys? That's exactly what they're doing! Some of the numbers are easy to spot, some are a little more challenging. (I've seen art for the first 8 books but I can only share 3 at this time.) I think hidden numbers are super fun, and I just love that the idea originated here. (Yes, okay, go find them. Then come back and read the rest of the post.)

The other thing that I'm crazy nutso happy about is the spines. There's a piece of art (to remain unnamed) that will span the width of the series. When you have the (secretly numbered) books on the shelf, spines out in the proper order, an image is created behind the spines' titles and text. It's like putting together a puzzle. Very appropriate for Sammy Keyes! I'm including the full span art of Hotel Thief so you can see its spine and get a taste for it.

There's a ton more to share, but this is probably enough for one post. But I promise to be back next weekend with more!

Meanwhile, thanks so much for checking in, (And for those of you who have been waiting years for this post, thank you for your patience and steadfast loyalty.) I will leave you with a compilation of the first three Sammy paperback covers over time, from the original puzzle-piece art (which was only out in paperback for a short time), to the realistic interim art (lasted about 8 books, after which it was replaced by) the "cartoony" art (which was available up to but not including the very last book), to the upcoming art (to be released beginning May 2nd).

So...what do you think? I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts. See you in the comments!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Story Time!

Story time!

While other college friends would go bar hopping on weekends, my friend Mary Lou and I would go dessert hopping. We’d stop by a restaurant, order a single dessert, split it, walk to the next place, order another dessert…you get the idea. Maybe it was all the sugar, or maybe it was just that we tend to make each other laugh hysterically, but by the end of our tour d’esserts, I'm sure people who saw us staggering down the street laughing thought we were on something stronger than sugar.

This same friend and I would also entertain ourselves by playing a card game called (very appropriately) Nerds.

I don’t remember the rules, exactly, but it’s as physical a card game as there is - at least it is the way we played it.

It involved two decks and was something akin to solitaire, but you could put your cards on the other person’s field. We would fly through our decks, flipping through cards, arms jetting across the table, laughing hysterically. The goal was to unload all your cards (your entire deck). The first player to do that and shout "NERDS!" won.

Our roommates hated Nerds.

Or us nerds playing it, more likely.

Whatever. Cool people have their own code of conduct. I’m sure it makes them happy.

But not as happy as playing Nerds!

This relates to the dessert hopping story in that a king-sized Snickers was involved. We would slice the candy bar into about eight pieces, and the winner of the hand—or scrimmage, as it were—would get to eat one slice. Shuffle, shuffle, switch decks, go! That slice is mine.

You may have noticed that Snickers make cameo appearances in my books. If one of my characters is having  a candy bar, it’s most likely going to be a Snickers. (Or a Reese’s, but the reason for that is a story for another day.) (Although I must digress here to insist that Resee’s are best eaten quartered.) (Like a pie.) (Really.) 

Snickers are my go-to candy bar in stories because, well, authors write what they know, right? But also, Snickers remind me of Friday nights in college with a really good friend. Snickers have the power to make me laugh.

Which is why in The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones, Lincoln has a thing for Snickers. The candy bar makes more than just a cameo appearance. The "Tattletale Toilet" chapter is all about the hazards of sneakin’ a Snickers.

Hey, since it's story time, do you want an excerpt? Oh, how fun. Okay! 

Diving into "Tattletale Toilet"...(h-hm)...


The next morning, Ma sprung my cage. "Lincoln!" she called from the bathroom. "Why are there bits of Snickers wrappers swimmin' around the toilet?"

I was in the middle of a dream, trapped inside the corner market by a decrepit old man who was trying to tase me for sneaking Snickers to homeless folks. His Taser was slick and could shoot from a distance, but his aim was all shaky and he was shufflin' along like a zombie in short red socks, wearing a hospital gown that was gaping wide open in back. "Don't you know it'll kill 'em?" he was shouting as I dodged him. "Send 'em straight into a diabetic coma!"

"Lincoln!" Ma hollered again. "What's a Snickers wrapper doing in the toilet?"

I was glad to shake off the zombie in red socks, but now my mind was dodging around for another escape route. How could there be wrapper left in the toilet? I'd seen it go down! And I'd used the toilet since! Had some pieces stuck to the sides? Had they made their way back up stream? How could this be?

"You sure it's not somethin' else brown?" I called back.

"Lincoln Jones, I know the difference between somethin' else brown and a candy wrapper." Her head popped out of the bathroom. "And I'm guessin' no 'No' means you got some explainin' to do?"


Having just typed this, I realize that it doesn't convey at all why the Bank Street College of Education just gave the book an incredible award. From that excerpt, the book seems like it's light and silly and funny. Which it is in parts...but in other parts it's weighty. And heavy needs a counterbalance. Especially for kids. 

And what also hit me just now is that the "Tattletale Toilet" excerpt is just like taking a break from the serious things in life to play a game of Nerds. Mary Lou and I are actually very introspective people. We have serious philosophical discussions, and help each other focus on what's important in life. But we also cut loose and laugh. Because the heavy stuff by itself can be crushing. All of us need some version of Nerds, some fun escape to fortify us for when we face off with the weightier things in life.

But back to Snickers! Or, more precisely, the reason dessert-hopping and Snickers made an appearance in this post to begin with. I didn't lead with PRIZE! because, hey, if you're just here to win stuff, go away.

But for you, my faithful bloggettes or bloglodites (or…can I hear a chorus of blogonerds!?), I'm doing a Lincoln Jones giveaway. And because Lincoln loves them, a king-sized Snickers is being added to the box.

This one-winner giveaway will include: one (dare I say very cool) Lincoln Jones T-shirt (made and donated by one exquisitely nerdy librarian who, I’m positive, wants to remain anonymous), one autographed copy of The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones, plus Listening Library's audio version of it (read by the wonderful JB Adkins), and one king-sized Snickers.

If you would like to enter the drawing—anyone in the USA is eligible—all you have to do is go to the Contact tab at my website and send me an email following these guidelines:

1) Put “Snickers!” in the subject line.
2)  In the body of the message include:
  • Your NAME
  • Preferred T-SHIRT SIZE. (There's a limited size selection, I will match as closely as possible.) 
The bonus is, I will stuff the box with other books because my excellent editor gave me the gift of prepaid (domestic-only) boxes for Christmas. (This may sound like an odd gift to you, but she knows how much I hate the hassle that is our local post office, so it's a great gift.)

Anyway,  I'm allowed to stuff in as much as I can in the box for no extra charge, so it'll be Lincoln Jones stuff plus a grab bag (or, you know, box) of other titles.

Get your entry in by Friday (2/10) and I’ll announce the winner right here next weekend.

That's it for this week. Next week I'm planning to do the Sammy Keyes new covers reveal. (I'm so excited to finally be able to share it with you!) 

Meanwhile, if you have some game or activity that you do with a friend that always makes you laugh, please share it with us in the comments. I'm sure we'd all love to hear (or, you know, snicker!).

Thanks for stopping by. See you in the comments! 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Don't Call It Cute!

Images of my upcoming YA novel Wild Bird are starting to appear online. It seems way too early for this. The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones came out only three months ago. Most people haven’t had the chance to read that book yet. And I love Lincoln! I want his story to be heard, to touch readers, to be a source for discussion among kids and teachers and parents. 

Lincoln should have a chance to breathe. 

Plus, I am allergic to people saying or thinking that I “crank ‘em out.” That is the opposite of what I do. I'm productive, yes, but that's because I'm submerged and obsessive and live and breathe and dream whatever book I'm working on.

That, and I've got this increasingly keen (and, yes, morbid) awareness that Death can be capricious. And since there's work to do and finish, I need to get it done today because tomorrow may not come.

But Wild Bird appearing so quickly can definitely give the mistaken impression that I'm sitting at my desk, cranking these books out. It makes that comment/accusation/assumption almost understandable. The vast majority of people in the industry don't actually know me. If they did, they'd almost certainly thank their lucky stars that they didn't live with me. It's a bit much to experience Wendelin in writing mode. And I'm usually in writing mode.

The first time I heard people say I was cranking them out was when the first four Sammy Keyes books were being released. Those people didn't know about the many years of intensive writing while I was in search of a publisher, or that I'd completed all four of those Sammys before I got my "yes." They just knew that (back then) the books were coming out at six month intervals. They assumed the writing was happening in real time; that I was cranking them out.

So I admit to being sensitive about that accusation/assessment/assumption. And while I'm admitting things, let me also address the descriptor 'cute.' Do NOT call my books cute. They are not cute. None of them. Including Flipped. You want to see me flip out? Call Flipped cute.

The Running Dream published in January 2011. The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones came out in October 2016. That’s nearly six years between stand-alone books. And now, boom, Wild Bird is coming out in September 2017. But between 2011 and 2016 a lot happened, much of which contributed to my withdrawing into the research and writing of these two new books. And part of that withdrawing included wanting time to write these stories without the pressure of deadlines…which meant without contracts.

If you don’t have contracts, you’re not in your publisher's book release queue. There’s the whole editorial process to go through, plus, publishers want all their sales and marketing efforts to be in motion before pub date in order to give a book its best chance.  

One of the things a publisher does to introduce an upcoming title is print up advance reader's copies (or ARCs) of the book. This is the pre-pub paperback and “uncorrected” version of (what in my case will be) a hardcover book. They send these ARCs to reviewers, bloggers, and people in the industry who might be excited to share the news about it.

To put some perspective on timing and distribution, the Wild Bird ARCs were printed in December. This past week, I returned to my editor corrections to the “first pass galleys” – the next step in the book writing process. So the text that appears in the ARC (which is already printed) is now slightly different than the text that will appear in the finished book. It’s mostly subtle—more of a fine-tuning in this case. But I remember for Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Moustache Mary, the ending had changed in such a substantial way that I felt compelled to paste over the old ending with a printout of the new one before sending out the ARCs I had on hand.

Even with the latest revision, the work on Wild Bird is still not done. In another month or so, I’ll be getting another pass at it. And the fascinating thing is, there will be more changes. A copy editor will have found mistakes. And I know there’ll be passages that I want to improve. There are always corrections. The trick is to do everything you can to find them before the book goes to press. 

Wild Bird research folder
But for now, the news is out: I’ve written a new YA book. I tear up just thinking about Wild Bird. What a journey! It's the story of Wren, a 14 year old girl who's taken a wrong turn in life and gets forced into wilderness therapy camp in the Utah desert. It's about finding yourself after being lost, about forgiveness and honesty and (if you know my work at all you'll not be surprised to hear...) redemption. And in keeping with my commitment to librarians and parents who've come to trust the lines I do not cross, it's gritty but clean. 

And, as you can see from this picture of my research folder, I did not just crank it out!

Back cover of Wild Bird ARC
Thanks for stopping by the blog. I actually have a lot of exciting upcoming news to share, including a new look for the Sammy Keyes series. (Yes, finally!) 

I also haven’t forgotten my promise to give away a box of books here, so I'll figure that out soon!

And if you’re a YA blogger, a kid-lit reviewer, or work with at-risk youth and would like my publisher to send you an ARC of Wild Bird, please send a brief email at the Contact link here with your information.

I hope you’ll stop by again next weekend. ‘Til then (employing a takeaway from Wild Bird), here’s to remembering there are stars above us, even when we cannot see them.. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Invisible Cape

Last year for my birthday, I wore a cape with my age sewn onto it. It was my way of facing off with my new decade. I called it my SuperZero cape. 

Zeroes are hard, especially on women. Time can be tough on us in the appearance arena, and it's a mighty strong woman who can claim to not have that affect them. 

I am not that strong.

But I am willing to fight!

Last year on my birthday, I went for a run in my SuperZero cape. I flew around a restaurant in it. I laughed and pumped my arms and in general acted proud of my new zero, announcing to friends and strangers alike, "It's m'birth-day!"

It was a defiant strategy--the best one I could muster in combating the terrifying truth that Big Zeroes represent: time is ticking out.

This year I did not wear my cape. I thought about adding a "+1" to it, but decided to keep the cape boxed for the remainder of my present decade. I did go for a run (counting every step as a blessing), I did pump my arms at the top of the ridge, I did go to a restaurant...but the cape stayed at home.

Then during my birthday dinner my sister gave me a superhero birthday card with the message "Be your own superhero every single day." It made me laugh, remembering the fun we'd had last year.

It also got me thinking.

"Be your own superhero" can mean several things. There's the Take-Charge-of-Your-Own-Life interpretation. You know, take action. Don't wait for someone else to rescue you. Be fearless in the pursuit of your dreams.

It's a good interpretation!

But there's also the Be-The-Superhero-In-Your-Own-World interpretation that I like even more. After all, superheroes are supposed to help others, not themselves.

I do try to live my life in consideration of other people--I try to tune in to what they're going through and help/support/encourage them however I can. A lot of people do the same, and I'm always grateful for the friends--in person or online--who take the time to say or do something kind. It's amazing how a nice comment or compliment can buoy you through your day. When people swoop in and lift me up, it makes a big difference in my life!

Last year, I wore the SuperZero cape to help me get through that one day. It's bright and red and you sure can't miss it.  But it's the invisible cape I want to put on every day. The one that lets me move around without notice. The one that lets me do things for other people without recognition. The one that makes me feel like I really can fly.

The incredibly cool thing about the invisible cape is that it's not the property of Marvel or DC or Warner Brothers or anyone else. Everyone owns one.

And every one has power.

We just have to remember it's there and use it.

Whatever your interpretation, here's to being your own superhero. Every single day.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Behind the Flipped Iridescent Edition

There's a new, anniversary edition of Flipped. It looks much like the original, but has an "iridescent" cover. Those of you who have read the book will know that this change was inspired by a passage in the book where Bryce Loski's grandfather tries to explain to Bryce why Juli Baker is special:

"Some of us get dipped in flat, some in satin, some in gloss...but every once in a while you find someone who is iridescent, and when you do, nothing will ever compare."

Like the book itself, the cover change is subtle. There's a new edge of orange and the white is more beautiful eggshell than flashy iridescence. Nancy (my editor) told me that it suits the book--that the more time you spend time with it, the more you see and appreciate its beauty. 

This new edition is not just a random repackage. It comes after fifteen years of fan mail demanding a sequel, and after the adaptation of the book to film. There have been a lot of questions over the fifteen years, and the new edition contains an additional 30+ pages where I answer, share, and explain. If you're someone who's been curious about the status of a sequel, or what it was like to ask the Flipped movie director--the revered Rob Reiner--to not stick to the ending of the book, or if you want your heart to swell from the profound words of a fan in China and know what it means to "hold a mighty heart," you will delight in the bonus pages. 

Along with the anniversary edition of the book, there will be a new audio book, produced by Listening Library with voice actors Ryan Gesell doing Bryce's pages, and Tara Sands doing Juli's. Listening Library asked me if I'd be willing to lend my voice to the new bonus pages, since they're written first person--me talking to my readers.

So this week I made the trek to the Listening Library studios in Los Angeles and did my first "voice work." It was interesting and almost fun, but I found myself getting choked up--something that doesn't make for good recording!

What this says, though, is that these pages are personal. They hold little stories that I had never intended to share. Little bits of my life that shaped me, that shaped Flipped. Typing them for the book was one thing, but speaking them? Even alone, inside the darkened room of a vocal booth, saying the words aloud was emotional in a way I find impossible to explain. 

The truth is, that's the same with me for Flipped itself. Don't ask me to read passages aloud. I just can't do it. Maybe fifteen years from now I'll be able to spend time in Bryce and Juli's world and not tear up.

Somehow, I doubt it.

Until then, may you appreciate nature and your neighbor, may the rising sun send streaks of fire through the clouds around you, and, most of all, may you find a love that is iridescent.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Get One, Give One...Pass It On!

It's November, the month where we find ourselves reflecting on things for which we're thankful. 

Don't worry, I'm not going to hit you with my list.

Instead, I'm doing a giveaway for teachers / librarians (or educators of any kind). It'll be a box of books with duplicates of assorted (signed) titles, some paperback, some hardcover--whatever I can cram inside the box. The idea is that the winner keeps one copy of each title for their classroom or library, and gives the duplicate titles away to students at their school. Get one, give one.

Isn't that an awesome idea?

Well, not if you're not a teacher or librarian, right? But how about this--you know one of those don't you? You may see one every day! So tell them about giveaway, with the understanding that you get to keep one of the books if they win. 

The November giveaway is happening on Twitter (where you can find me at @WendelinVanD), and I will do a Book Bouquet Giveaway each week through the end of the month (4 boxes). 

Please note: The random-draw winner's mailing address must be that of a school or library.

I know some of my regular blog readers don't do the social media thing, so to you guys, don't dismay! I promise to also do some sort of giveaway here at the blog in December. 

Meanwhile, tell the teachers you know to join the fun here.

Get one, give one...pass it on!