Author Sylvia Vardell answers three questions she has always wanted to be asked in this special CBC Website Feature!
What has most surprised you about the (micro)publishing world?
There have been so many surprises along the way in the seven years Janet and I have been collaborating and creating with our Pomelo Books press. Probably the biggest surprise is how much the success of a book hinges on PROMOTION of a book. From the academic/author side, I have always viewed the writing and creation of the book as the be-all and end-all of the book experience. You work for weeks-months-years on writing the best book you can and then you think you’re DONE. Nope. There’s more work ahead. In today’s world, your next job is getting the word out about your book, helping people understand what your book offers (in a unique way) and finding the right audience for your book (and as many audiences as possible). Honestly, I had no idea. And we’ve learned so much about creating giveaways, making educator materials, and using social media to connect with others. Plus, we’re pretty shameless about being silly for poetry, just to promote the whole genre!
Mainstream publishers must think we’re pretty nuts to focus exclusively on poetry, since it’s one of the toughest genres to sell in the big publishing world. We know that and we knew it from the beginning, but it’s a mission for us. We’ve been trying to go beyond “preaching to the choir” to reach people who’ve never given poetry a second thought. We’re trying to show how much fun you can have with kids and poetry, if you just give it a chance. In fact, I’ve always found that kids LOVE poetry—it’s the grown ups (who buy books) who have the mental blocks about what they think poetry is or should be. And if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, our books have been hard to pigeonhole because they’re half poetry anthology and half teaching methodology. But we persist!
What should educators know about publishing?
Despite many years of working with publishers to coordinate conference presentations and author panels, I am still such a novice about all the things publishers do to get good books in the hands of kids. As I mentioned earlier, producing a good book is just part of the equation. Educators should know that publishers have so many other tasks and variables to consider and there are so many players in the decision making process. So, when you see a book you like (or don’t like), you should realize that there are a lot of people who participated in the creation of that book (beyond the author or illustrator) and who care about its success. No book is produced without a lot of work and care, so whether it’s a book you love or not, that is something to appreciate. Plus, publishers really appreciate it when you give their books a plug—on Amazon, via social media, in school, at conferences, anywhere and everywhere! You might be surprised how much that means to them!
About Sylvia Vardell
Sylvia M. Vardell is Professor at Texas Woman’s University and teaches children’s and young adult literature. She has published five books on literature, plus more than 25 book chapters and 100 journal articles. Her current work focuses on poetry for young people, including a blog, Poetry for Children.