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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's Next?

Not since Gutenberg has literacy and the written word gotten so much press. An academy in Massachusetts is throwing out 200,000 books, and replacing them with a coffee shop. A church in North Carolina is burning books, most of them Bibles. The country’s two largest retail chains are waged in a price war over hardcovers. Not electronics, not Tickle-me-Elmo, but books! More digital readers are suddenly on the market. Rupert Murdoch is proposing setting up paywalls to keep Google from “ripping off” his news agency’s content. And Brett Favre is quarterbacking for the Vikings! I know, that last one has nothing to do with publishing, but it’s too cool not to mention. And what’s with all the apocalyptic movies lately? Is this one mass, subconscious metaphor for the revolution that’s taking place in front of our Lasik-reengineered eyeballs? The old world is making way for the new? Burn the Library of Alexandria so we can implant a microchip in your head and thereby save all that real estate for more important things like football stadiums! The point is that the media, like a ship caught in a whirlpool, is circling around the future of print. What will become of books? What will we be reading? Who will be reading?

We are all caught up in the conversation. Here at Stone Arch Books the digital challenge stuck us like a thunderbolt. Which is a good thing. What if -- we wondered -- we put a brand new book, focused on a timely topic, on the web, free of charge? Would this help it get to our readers faster? Beth mentioned yesterday our new Finn Reader, Flu Fighter, a hilarious story told in journal format about a teenager swept up in the H1N1 epidemic. We know kids would love this story. And we know they are curious about H1N1. Running this book through the usual printing channels would take time. Kids want to know now!

What do you think? As lovers of literature, as experts in children’s books, as librarians and media specialists, do you think this is a good method for reaching readers quickly? Have you ever downloaded a free book off the web? Did it give you the same reading experience as reading a bound manuscript? Did it matter? Did you love the story so much that you went back and purchased a hardcopy version to put on your shelves?

As an omnivorous bibliophile myself, I would love to hear what people think. A few times a week I gaze longingly at Amazon’s ads for Kindle, but I still haven’t hit the Buy Now button. My finger is itching. I can’t help it. I love to read, and anything that gets a story into my hands faster can’t be a bad thing. Can it?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Excuses, exclusives...

Here's the reason I haven't been doing much blogging. (Go ahead and click that link if you want to skip to the good stuff.)

A couple months ago, I was basically done with my work for Spring 2010. I was blissfully contracting away for Spring 2011, in fact. But then we decided to do something a little crazy: throw a rush book in the mix. We wanted a book about the H1N1 pandemic, in our usual Stone Arch style: something different, something interesting, something cool and fresh.

Thus, Finn Reeder, Flu Fighter, was born.

Finn Reeder thought it was just a dumb assignment when a sub told his English class that they had to start keeping a journal. Little did he know that his journal would turn into the record of a major flu pandemic.

Somehow, he survives infection. As their class size dwindles, Finn and his friend Amy face down the school bully, draw comics, catch the principal ordering pizza, and even manage to study once in a while. And when finally, Finn is the lone student remaining in school, he manages to win—and lose—the most intense game of solo dodge ball ever.

By the time the month is over, he’s made it through the epidemic, gotten vaccinated, and might even have found himself a girlfriend if he plays his cards right.

I quickly contracted an author, drew up a concept and outline, and we were off. The author, Eric Stevens, wrote the book in about two weeks. Kay Fraser, one of our uber-talented art directors, took the concept and ran with it, creating an awesome cover in the blink of an eye. Once the manuscript was edited, Kay and I worked together to mock up the illustration suggestions, and she spent a couple of weekends holed up in her cubicle, illustrating the entire book in full color. Just as some comparison, it usually takes us between 6 months and a year to complete a book, from concept to finished copies. In this case, it's about six weeks. We really wanted to respond to the pandemic and get this book out there ASAP.

Coolest of all, you can download this book for free, in PDF form, for a limited time from our website. You can also sign up for a special 10 percent discount off the hardcover book. The download will be free online until January 1, when the printed book is available for purchase.

I'm really proud of the team effort that created this book. It takes a lot of people to make one book, especially in such a short period of time. Here's a list, but I'm sure I'm forgetting someone: our president, Joan Berge; Michael Dahl, our editorial director; Heather Kindseth, our creative director; Shannon Zigmund, our marketing manager; Krista Monyhan, head of our planning department; proofreaders Ali Deering (product planning intern), Sean Tulien (associate editor), and Donnie Lemke (senior editor); web marketing manager Michaela DeLong; production specialist Michelle Biedschied; production manager Blake Hoena; technology project manager Jeff Ruley. And Kay and me.

I hope you love it as much as we do. Let me know what you think. Enjoy!

More soon,

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Comic books = learning

In a recent article, the Telegraph declared, “Comic books are good for children's learning,” citing scientists (yes, SCIENTISTS!) at the University of Illinois. But don’t take their word for it! Test out some of the award-winning comics from Stone Arch books, and draw your own conclusions. No safety goggles required . . . because all our comics are SAFE!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Illustrators, take note!

A comment on a post about our writers' guidelines asked about illustration submissions. I asked art director Bob Lentz to weigh in. Here's what he had to say.

We typically steer prospective illustrators to our illustrator submission inbox by asking them to send jpeg samples of their best work to il.sub@stonearchbooks.com. Some things to keep in mind before sending samples:

  • Please send only your best work. Often times we’ll receive a sample from an artist that they created this year, and something that they created 5 or even 10 years ago. Although it may seem like a good idea to show progression in your work, we only want to see what you are creating today.
  • Please send a maximum of 5 samples. Some illustrators will send more than 10 (and sometimes in excess of 20) samples, and that not only bogs down our email system, it becomes tedious to look through all of them. We often have a limited time to review portfolios, and we can easily lose interest if there are a lot of samples to wade through.
  • Show range. Often times an illustrator works in two or more different styles, and we want to see them all. Remember: we publish books that range from early childhood to picture books to graphic novels and beyond. There’s something for almost any style if the illustrator fits.
  • Only professionals need apply. Have you worked with a publishing house before? Have you dealt with demanding schedules and hard deadlines? Do you communicate well with art directors and designers? If you answered “yes” to all of these, then we want to hear from you. The ability to display professionalism and solid communication skills is just as important as the illustrations your create. In the end, the book is jeopardized if it doesn’t get to the printer on time.
  • Be unique. We tend to look for styles that are rarely seen in the library and even trade markets. If your style or work makes us say “wow, that’s different!”, then chances are we’ll find the right fit for you somehow.

Buy local, read global

This Saturday, November 7th, is “National Bookstore Day.” This is part of Publishers Weekly's “Read Locally” campaign, which I believe is a brilliant idea. And in the spirit of the campaign, our books are receiving some attention at one of the Midwest’s premiere comic-book stores – the Source in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here’s a sample of what they are saying:

Stone Arch Books, the fiction imprint of Capstone Publishers, a family-owned business based in Minneapolis, has churned out more award-winning comics than, perhaps, any local publisher. Until now, their books — which include hundreds of original titles and major partnerships with DC Comics and Sports Illustrated — could only be checked out at libraries or purchased online. But, for the first time ever, several of these locally made comics are available at The Source! Want a twist on an old classic? Check out Stone Arch’s stunning adaptations of “Hansel and Gretel” and the “Three Little Pigs.” If you’re looking for action, enter the Recon Academy — four high-school heroes fighting high-tech crimes. Or, set down that Simpsons comic and get your monthly dose of whacked-out humor with the characters Zinc Alloy and Eek and Ack.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Posters in action

Amy, one of the lucky winners of our poster contests, sent me this picture of the Katie Woo and Mysteries posters in her homeschool classroom. Too cute! Thanks, Amy!

Left to right, the girls are Kassidy, Delaney, and Mara. It's always really nice to put faces and names to our readers--if anyone else has pictures of Stone Arch products in action, please, send them along!