ARCs and Authors, Bloggers and Blogs! My Oh My!

There have been a lot of posts in the book blogopshere this week about requesting ARCs, cool vs. uncool blogs, emailing bloggers/reviewers, and blog angst.  I’ve been starring posts in my Google reader, drafting posts here on the blog, and thinking a lot of the posts over in my own head.  This is going to be a mish-mosh post of ideas from all over, but I wanted to get my say about some of these topics.  

I feel like I walk a fine line as a blogger sometimes.  TheReadingZone is the blog of a teacher, reader, reviewer, and technophile.  I am middle school language arts teacher who loves, loves, loves to read (and always has!).  When I started blogging I wanted to open a window into my classroom while also helping other teachers and parents find books for their tweens/teens.  Very quickly I realized that my real mission was to spread the joy of reading and reading aloud with kids who aren’t traditionally seen as readers or potential read-aloud audiences.  I’m not always sure which category my blog falls into.  Is this an education blog?  A book blog?  A kidlitosphere blog?  A YA blog?  A teacher blog?  Regardless of the category, I love reviewing books.  With or without the blog, I would be reviewing.  

A Teacher Who Blogs and Reviews….On and Off-line

Being a teacher/blogger puts me in an interesting position as a reviewer.  I don’t get boxes of books everyday, but I do get a decent amount of review copies (and a few ARCs here and there).  I’ve made it clear from the beginning that I do not guarantee a review for every book I read.  I would need 6542 hours in a day to read all the books on my TBR pile, do my school work, go to work, and have a normal life.  But I do promise to read every book I receive.  And I promise to booktalk all books to my classes, as they all end up in my classroom library.  ARCs and review copies move to my classroom library as soon as I finish reading them, where they are shared with my students.  I have between 50-100 students per year and every class reacts to review copies and ARCs the same way- with awe and excitement.  

Teachers are an untapped resource for publishers and authors.  This isn’t saying that all teachers want to read and share books with their students and not all teachers will have the time to devote to it.  But even a few books a year for a teacher will then be shared with their classes.  The anecdotal evidence in my classroom shows over and over that word-of-mouth is the best way to share books with kids and build buzz.  My kids devour books and recommend them to classmates, friends, cousins, online friends, and parents.  Just before spring break a group of my students was passing around Evermore (The Immortals), a book I read and did not get a chance to review. I haven’t seen the book in weeks- my students read it, passed it on to a classmate in a different class, and it’s somewhere down the line now. I’ll get it back before summer break, but I am thrilled that they are reading and sharing the book! I also have a another group of girls who bought the book because they didn’t want to wait for their turn to read it. And they all have the release date of the sequel written in their planners!  One review copy sparked all of this frenzy from kids who otherwise might never have discovered the series or Alyson Noel as an author.

While I sometimes feel guilty that I don’t get to review every.single.book I receive, I feel better when I watch my students read and recommend the books to each other.  And even better when I see them buying books!  Publishers need to reach out to schools and teachers, especially teacher bloggers.  We spend most of our lives in front of an untapped audience.  

But How Do I Get ARCs?  Getting Free Books Sounds Cool!

I get a few emails a week asking me how to get on ARC lists.  To be perfectly honest, I get very few ARCs.  The ARCs I do get usually come directly from authors or from giveaways.  I rarely ask authors for ARCs.  If an author asks for reviewers to contact them and it’s a book I want to read, I shoot off a quick email.  Megan McCafferty recently did this for the release of Perfect Fifths: A Novel. Because this is my favoritest series, I shot her an email and hoped I would get an ARC. I was extremely lucky and did! Do I get a ARC everytime? Heck no! But it’s worth the few minutes to type up an email or enter a comment contest.

If you are interested in ARCs, start up a blog!  But remember, while this is a hobby that I love, it is work.  Check out the blog angst posts the pop up every few months and you’ll see people who are retreating a bit.  There are days (and weeks) when I feel completely overwhelmed.  But I love the community in the blogosphere and I love my blogging colleagues and friends- people I have “met” online like Stacey at Two Writing Teachers, the amazing Kathi Appelt, Karen at Literate Lives, Jen at Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Terri at the Reading Tub, and so many more!  As a professional community, the blogosphere can’t be beat.   I also love having the ability to read books, build buzz, and shout my favorites from the mountaintops.  It’s so much fun!

If you do start a blog, begin with reviews of your own books- whether they come from the library or the bookstore.  Build up a blog, make sure this is something that you want to do, and create a blog that authors and publishers can take a look at when you contact them.  If they see you are reviewing they will be more likely to take your requests seriously.  How many reviews?  How long should you blog?  I don’t think there is one answer to this question.  I blogged for about 6-8 months before I started contacting publishers and publicists.  At about the 1-year mark I was starting to receive review copies.  

Company and Community

If you do start a blog, be proactive!  This isn’t high school- no one is too cool or too uncool.  Leave comments on blogs and posts you read (though I am notoriously awful at doing this myself).  Insert yourself into conversations.  Join blogging groups like the Yahoo Kidlitosphere group.  Put yourself out there!  And go to any events that you can- author readings at your local bookstore, online chats (like those at Readergirlz), industry events (like BEA and ALA), and anything else book-related.  The Kidlit Blogging Conference is awesome (or so I’ve heard…I’ll make it there someday!).  Just make yourself known and connect.  You’ll build a readership.  You’ll learn from other bloggers,  And you will network.  

Author Requests

Another hot topic this week was author requests.  I don’t receive a ton of author emails asking if I will read/review their books.  But I do enjoy receiving emails from authors who have taken the time to read my blog and my About Me page.  Do I care if they call me “TheReadingZone” instead of Sarah?  Nah, because I make it a point to leave my real name out of the blog as much as possible (it’s a teacher thing).  But I do care if they take the time to notice what I read and review.  I don’t read and review adult books, so it’s silly to request I do so for you.  However, if your book is education-related, then I might read it.  Just send a personalized email, not a form letter.  I try to respond to all emails.

As I said before, I don’t email many authors and ask for ARCs.  I hope and pray I get them in the mail or I watch author blogs and websites for giveaways.  And I go to industry events, like ALA and BEA.  You’ve gotta be proactive, baby! ;)

 

 

Like I said at the beginning, this is a long and rambling post.  I just wanted to put some of my thoughts out there because the “hot topics” this week really got under my skin and the words were starting to flow out of my blood vessels!  That’s what happens when I am on spring break and have more time to read blogs and respond to posts.  :)

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman

I don’t know if I will recover from reading Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek anytime soon. This is one scary book! I don’t do scary movies and I rarely read horror books, but the multimedia aspect of Skeleton Creek intrigued me, so I had to give it a shot.  Do not read this one when you are home alone.  I wouldn’t even read it at night!  It’s a fantastic story and I think I would be even more enthusiastic about it if I was a horror reader.  But I can recognize and appreciate a great book, even if it’s my least favorite genre. ;)

The story is told in journal form, with lined pages and handwriting-like font.  The journal writer is Ryan and he has just come home from spending two weeks in the hospital.  Ryan has been forbidden from seeing his best friend, Sarah, after getting into an accident the last time the two were together.  Life in Skeleton Creek is boring and the two had gone to explore a strange gold-mining dredge in the woods where a worker, Joe Bush, had died.  That’s where Ryan falls and ends up in the hospital in a coma for almost 2 days.

Ryan and Sarah are forbidden from seeing or contacting each other, but this is the age of the internet, IMing, blogging, and websites.  Sarah emails video updates of her continued investigation to Ryan.  Readers can access Sarah’s videos through the website listed in the book and the passwords given on each page.

The first video Sarah sends shows her first visit to the dredge and their first evidence that someone else is there. The video immediately creeped me out and I actually jumped at the end.  It reminded me a lot of the cinematography in “The Blair Witch Project”.  SCARY!  The second video shows the night of Ryan’s accident. In late videos Sarah continues to lay out her investigation.  Again- CREEPY.  I had trouble watching some of the videos because they really are scary. 

I can not wait to share this with my students and I can already predict a rush to buy the book, because no one is going to want to wait on a waiting list for this one.  The multimedia concept is really cool and I think it’s going to hook a lot of my more reluctant readers (especially boys).  Because the two main characters are male and female, this is an equal opportunity horror book that both boys and girls will enjoy, though.  

I love the video+text combination, but I do wonder how to handle it sometimes.  Not every kid is going to have access to the internet when they are reading the book.  The videos are interspersed throughout the book, sometimes only a few pages apart.  While you can certainly read it without watching the videos, you will lose a lot of the story and atmosphere.  Kids can’t always get to a computer while reading, especially if we are encouraging kids to read anywhere they can.  If you are reading at your brother or sister’s soccer game, you aren’t going to jump online to watch the videos.  Instead, you will be pulled out of “the zone” and might not continue reading until you can get online.  Also, what if the website is down a few years from now but the book is still in libraries.  Is it then useless?  Interesting dilemmas.

There are definitely some issues with the idea of tying books to the internet.  However, Skeleton Creek is a fantastic read and my horror fans are going to eat this one up.  And I know they will be thrilled that there is going to be a sequel in the fall.  Definitely pick this one up for your tween/YA horror fans.  

 

To get an idea of how creepy the videos are, check out this video from skeletoncreekisreal.com

Savvy by Ingrid Law

 OK, I admit it- I let this one sit on my TBR pile for way too long.  During spring break I have finally had time to sort through my piles and when Savvy surfaced at the top, I picked it up and brought it out to the porch to read. Boy am I glad I did! Well deserving of the Newbery Honor it took home in January, Savvy is fantasy for those who think they don’t like fantasy.  

Mibs is about to turn thirteen which is a big deal in the Beaumont family.  See, they aren’t exactly a normal family.  Each member of Mib’s family possesses a magical ability or a ‘savvy’, as they call it. When a member of her family turns thirteen, their supernatural gift manifests itself. For her older brother Fish, he discovered he could cause hurricanes.  Another brother, Rocket, can create and control electricity.   Once a savvy makes itself known, the Beaumont’s begin home-schooling so that they can learn to control their power before living out the rest of their life. 

A few days before Mibs’s thirteenth birthday, her poppa is involved in a terrible car accident on the interstate. When Mibs awakens on her birthday to find her brother’s turtle alive again (after a very long “hibernation” that the rest of the family knew was death), she is convinced her savvy is to awaken living things.   She decides that she must get to her father’s bedside immediately.  Unfortunately, he is in a hospital almost 100 miles away.  Never one to give up, Mib manages to sneak onto a bus belonging to a bible salesman.  What she doesn’t count on is the adventure that begins the moment she steps onto the pink bus.   Before she can get to her father, Mib, her brothers, and the preacher’s kids are entangled in the bible salesman’s life as they take off on an overnight adventure.  During the journey Mib’s discovers a lot about herself and realizes that she might not be the only one with a secret.

Savvy is tween-perfect fantasy.  The world-building is minimal and the setting is in the midwest.  The characters are regular kids with regular kid problems- compounded by the fact that they have a savvy.  The savvys are a little like super-powers, so I think Savvy will appeal to some of my super-hero fans.  I also think it will appeal to my realistic fiction readers because Mib is a pretty typical tween.  She is dealing with her first crush, family issues, frienships, and growing up in general.  The fantasy aspect isn’t overwhelming but her savvy is pretty cool.  In fact, I bet more than one of my students has wished for a

similar ability at some point in the past few years!  Highly recommended, this is a book that will stand the test of time and will appeal to a variety of readers.

 

 

(On a side note, I am fan of the original cover.  The paperback has a different cover, on the right, and I just don’t like it as much!)

Why I Let My Hair Grow Out by Maryrose Wood

When Morgan is dumped by her boyfriend on the last day of school, she reacts in typical teen girl fashion- by shaving her head and fighting with her family.  Her parents, upset with her new attitude, decide she needs a change of scenery.  Before she realizes what is happened, Morgan is shipped off to Ireland for a two-week bike tour.  

Morgan isn’t thrilled to be in Ireland, though she does perk up a bit when she meets Colin, the very-easy-on-the-eyes tour guide.  While she tries to come up with ways to hook-up with him she pushes her fellow tour riders away with her oh so pleasant attitude.  However, a bump on the head suddenly transports her to a mythical  dream world of faeries and Irish mythology.

Why I Let My Hair Grow Out is a fantastic and fun read that I can’t wait to share with my students. I am constantly on the lookout for books that fit with our mythology unit and I think this series will be perfect (the sequel is already on my wishlist) for many of my students!  The story is full of romance and humor, and the Irish mythology is awesome.  I love the Irish mythology angle because it’s a set of myths that most kids aren’t familiar with.  I absolutely recommend this book and can not wait to read the second and third book.  (And take a look at the gorgeous cover!)

Coffee with Kathi Appelt

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with Kathi Appelt, author of the amazing Newbery Award-winning The Underneath. Kathi is here for a few days doing a school visit and I was happy that we got to spend some time together. She is a wonderful woman and a pleasure to talk to. We chatted in a local coffee shop for almost two hours and the time just flew by.  It is so nice to be able put a face with the name finally!  The Underneath was one of my favorite books last year and meeting Kathi was a wonderful way to spend a Wednesday.  :)

We discussed some of our current favorite books, my sometime-desire to do some of my own writing, the large children’s lit community in and around Austin, Texas, and our own various travels.  If you ever get the chance to hear Kathi speak, I highly recommend it!

Castration Celebration by Jake Wizner

Olivia is “off boys” for the summer, as she says  After literally walking into her father’s affair with a much younger grad student, she has sworn off the opposite sex while spending the summer at Yale for an arts summer camp.  Instead, she plans to work through her issues by writing a play called Castration Celebration.  Plus, she’s become an expert on eunuchs and castration- she enjoys whipping out random facts about both to freak out her friends and new room mates.  Her play is written as a story-within-a-story and is completely enjoyable on it’s own.  Wizner is a pretty good playwright along with being a great YA author.

What Olivia doesn’t count on is meeting Max, a player extraordinaire, who will do everything in his power to win her over.  Max hasn’t had a relationship that lasted more than two months (and really, the girl had mono for three of those weeks) and plans to hone his acting craft and hook up with tons of girls over the summer.  But when he meets Olivia, he falls head over heels for her.  Her biting wit is actually a match for his and she doesn’t back down like most girls he knows.  Has he finally met his match?  The only problem is that she wants nothing to do with him and makes that quite clear.  Max has never had to fight for the girl he wants and isn’t sure how to handle Olivia.  And Olivia certainly didn’t plan on falling for Max when she swore off guys.  Before the end of their summer arts camp, they will perform Olivia’s play both on and off-stage.  But will they stay true to the ending on the page?

Jake Wizner’s Castration Celebration is a deliciously lewd look at high schoolers left on their own at a college campus over the summer. Wizner captures the voice of high school perfectly and I felt like I knew some of the characters he was creating. Having spent more than my fair share of summers at arts and academic camps, I can attest to the brutally honest characterization that Wizner creates. This is a young adult book at its best (definitely not a middle grade book!) and one I would highly recommend. I just don’t know how comfortable I would feel actually handing it to a young adult. I can already imagine myself blushing.  However, Wizner is a fantastic author and I can’t wait to go back and read Spanking Shakespeare!

Spring Break Wonderfulness

I am on spring break this week and thoroughly enjoying myself.  Lots of time to read, watch Law & Order reruns (my guilty, guilty pleasure), cook, and shop!  Hopefully I can get a lot of books and reviews knocked out this week.  Should be a relaxing week!  

 

And maybe I should knock some of that stuff off my to-do list.  I made an appointment for an oil change tomorrow!  And I finished my APR.  I just have a lot more to cross off.  ;)

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