By Women, For Women, About Women

My local library recently had a showing of Love Between the Covers, a documentary on the authors behind the booming Goliath that is the romance novel industry. I was excited to see this for a few reasons. 1) I am an aspiring romance novelist (I do have one complete manuscript and have started on my second.) 2) I love to read them. Any romances – paranormal, romantic suspense, young adult, new adult, regency historical. 3) Because, hey! I got to see it for free and it was on something I am interested in (bonus!).

I came in with expectations, and it met and exceeded them. Hands down.

Many of the authors that were interviewed I did know or had heard of. The Queen Bee, Nora Roberts (who also writes as J.D. Robb). Contemporary romance writers such as Jill Shalvis, Kristen Higgins, and Susan Donovan. African-American historical and contemporary author, Beverly Jenkins. Historical romance novelists, Elizabeth Essex and Eloisa James.

I could go on with the cameos, but for now, let’s just say we get a look at many different authors from all over the romance genre.

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They talk about what makes romance such a publishing giant on the one hand, and a genre so frowned upon, on the other.

The plus? The HEA, or Happily Ever After. Beverly Jenkins points this out as being something extremely important to its readers. It’s nice to know that there are such things as happy endings. It doesn’t mean readers don’t understand that it is, and will only ever be, a fiction story. Readers know it’s fiction. They enjoy that it’s fiction. One lady mentions how she turned to reading romance novels as she went through her chemo treatments. Another confesses how unhappy she felt in her marriage so she turned to reading and writing them.
Beverly Jenkins also goes in-depth into being an African-American romance author. That’s something she brought to the table that she saw a lack in, something that brings women to tears when they meet her.

And it’s not only for African-American women. It’s for all women.

Jenkins asks, if you can relate to a story about a paranormal creature (like a werewolf) how can you not find something to relate to with an African-American hero or heroine?

Now, the downside?

The preconceived notions of the romance genre.

They’ve always been there, and they haven’t gone away.

One interviewee summed it up best, why these novels are looked down on: these books are by women, for women, written about women. The “scribbling” women, as Nathaniel Hawthorne was loathe to point out, that have gone on to become bread winners from doing what they love.

Which leads to what the literature that has come before romances and their portrayal of female characters.

Examples such as the “Scarlet Letter” and “Tristan and Isolde” where strong women that go against the grain are punished and brought down. The stories that end in tragedies.  One woman states in the documentary that these stories are “toxic” to women.

Toxic.

Nora Roberts, in particular, classifies “Romeo and Juliet,” as something that has been held and heralded as this timeless love story, but what she says is simply a tragedy. It’s not romance.

It’s not how romance novelists and readers see women, see love.

In romance novels, readers want the women to win, to come out on top. Where it’s okay for them to experience sexuality, to be courageous, to act. Readers value that. The strong heroine as well the hero who comes along for her even when “she has all her shit together.”

So, why does the population look down on romances?

Last year, another librarian and I did a Blind Date with a Book display. We wrapped books and placed a quote from that book on the front cover, hoping patrons would grab it and take it home to read. They also took home a slip of paper asking if they had liked the book.

I’m not sure what book this one patron had chosen, but I remember what he or she had written about the book on that piece of paper.

The patron had not enjoyed it.

“It was a romance, and it proved why I don’t read them. They’re stupid.”

And I wished then, as well as now, that I knew what book that person had read, what he or she did not like about it, and if, perhaps, his or her preconceived notion of the genre had influenced that opinion. Did the patron even finish it?

I’ll never know. But what I do wish? That I could get that person to watch this documentary. Not to get them to read a romance. We all have the right to read what we want to read, and no one should be able to tell you otherwise.

That would be censorship.

No, what I want is everyone to experience what I did. That this romance writing world has become a community – a source of strength. It’s inspiring.

Celeste Bradley and Susan Donovan are highlighted. They were introduced to one another, both having come from difficult marriages, and discovered how much they mutually liked and respected the other. Now, they storyboard together regularly.

Another example? Elizabeth Essex, an established romance novelist, and Joanne Lockyer, an Australian aspiring novelist, that had turned into critiquing partners for each other’s  work.

By the end of the documentary, I felt as if these women were part of my group. Not only do you get to meet the real people behind the novels, but you meet the real people who have found so much value, so much hope, and so much love in what they do.

And they share it with each person sitting in those chairs watching the show.

It’s personal.

100% personal.

And for once, I don’t need my personal space back.

 

Creative Crafting – A Librarian’s Guide

I don’t know if I’m creative or simply crafty. Although “crafty” wouldn’t be the right word, would it? Let’s just say the negative connotation doesn’t really work for library displays. I wouldn’t say I’m “cunning” about it, ya’ll.

I’m a librarian, but I’m also in charge of updating our book display each month.  I’m constantly checking into any special holidays that month has to incorporate or if that month is designated for something significant.

My next step? Stalking Pinterest.

Halloween was fairly easy. Horror books galore (many Stephen King), and the decorations? Where do I begin?

How about here? I made a hairy spider out of my old shoe box, black construction paper, googly eyes and 1″ pipe cleaners. Ghosts were made from upside down plastic cups that I drew two eyes and a screaming mouth. Then I put a tissue in the cup, punched a hole in the top of the cup, and attached the tissue to a paperclip so it could hang on a string and surround our circulation desk. Then it was pumpkins on paper plates where I glued random bits of orange construction paper to make it more visually interesting.

And then there’s this guy:

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The other librarians loved them, commenting on how creative I was. It got me thinking. If I saw it on Pinterest and replicated it, wouldn’t that just make me a good crafter? Crafting individual? Someone who realizes a good idea, tweaks it a bit, and reintroduces the idea to the public? Sure, the ghosts were my own design on a budget. The spider was my own creation, technically speaking. But did that make me creative?

Being the librarian I am, I looked up the definition:

relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

In essence, anything that comes from your imagination. So, I guess that relates in some aspects. I mean, even if I tweak another idea, how I put together my display as well as what mediums I use, what books I select, how I adapt it to my library, will invariably differ from how someone else takes the same idea.

How about this example?

My February book display. I did “Blind Date with a Book,” a common enough theme on Pinterest for library displays in the month. It wasn’t my original idea, but how I put it together came from my imagination. I saw bits and pieces of the design on various Pinterest boards and combined them to make ours.

I saw someone had wrapped their books with a cover, so I decided to incorporate that with the white wrapper – giving the first line of the book as well as a couple bullet points for the patrons. Another board had cut outs of hearts with messages so I created my own, placing them sporadically around my display. The sign I simply did because I thought it would look better than having nothing else on top.

Again, I replicated and miss-mashed ideas to create my own display.

Creative, perhaps.

But it definitely required more crafting. Especially the wrapping since not everyone enjoys it. (Just ask my husband. It took him an hour to wrap four presents this past year at Christmas.  I listened to him curse the entire time  before he shouted  “forget it” and just stuck a big bow on it.)

So, next step? The definition of crafting:

the activity or hobby of making decorative articles by hand

That, I believe, describes my attempts at library book displays. I’m making things by hand. It isn’t like I print out what I see and follow it straight to to the key or that I can order a handcrafted spider just for me (although, perhaps you can with all that’s yet to be discovered on the internet.

Crafting would explain what I did for my Christmas display. I saw some Pinterest boards where librarians made large drawings of snow or Christmas-related creatures for the end caps.  So, when I was making mine, I ended up doing the Grinch (because, fun!), Santa Clause (with a cotton ball beard), as well as my own version of the snowman. Aren’t they cute? (I’m not proficient at drawing, so let’s not get too critical.)

 

If you’re wondering what this blog post is about, I’m hoping for this. That maybe you’ll also check out all the interesting crafts one can make or do on Pinterest. Give them a try and post it online. Give opportunities to people like me who need ideas! To brainstorm. To think outside the box.

Because I’m both, I think. Creative and craft-oriented. (I know it’s not crafty, even though many times throughout this post, I’ve had to delete “crafty” dozens of times. I looked it up  earlier as well and somehow don’t think I didn’t my crafts with cunning).  But I’ve decided it doesn’t have to be one or the other. I think they can be intertwined. Interconnected?

Either way, I have more plans. March is National Women’s History Month and April is Poetry Month. So visit your library. Post a picture of one of their displays. Read. Get involved.

And get back with this librarian (she could always use more ideas).

 

 

 

Publishing Careers in a Nutshell

 

I recently picked up “The Insider’s Guide to a Career in Book Publishing” by Carin Siegfried. Not necessarily because that’s where I’m hoping to branch into, but more so, because (quite simply) I love books. I like the way they feel in my hand. The way they smell (and yes, I totally stick my nose in a new book to smell it. They should make a scented candle, folks). And also, I work at a public library. I stock books and do reader’s advisory. It’s important to keep up-to-date on the trends. So why not understand how the book goes from the author to the stage where it lands on our bookshelves?

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Published by Chickadee Books, 2014. Click on the cover to buy!

That’s where it started, sure. Which folks work together and separately to create a book? Who is involved and for which processes? How long does the process take? That’s where it started, sure. But it quickly became me typing furiously into my notepad so I could remember everything I was learning.

It really was an inside look at every opportunity in publishing. In fact, by the time I was finished reading it, I had my eye on three separate careers to look into. Besides the usual editor, she also points you in the direction of a proofreader (either freelancing or on retainer for a publishing house or company),  a production manager, a sales representative, even the legal assistant dealing with any copyright issues that crop up.

It’s a booming industry that is hard to break into, but with so many parts to explore, why not? Some jobs are geared to those extroverts, such as sales or marketing. If you want to work more one-on-one in behalf of the author you can look into becoming a literary agent. Like a tough, driven atmosphere? How about an editor? (Although she does warn it looks remarkably similar as Sandra Bullock’s character in “The Proposal.” Though those scenes are short, I’ve seen the movie, and I can imagine it would have those types of moments. Plus, I’ll rec it simply because I love the movie.)

Then there are jobs for those who might be shyer, more introverted. Perhaps working behind the scenes in production, making sure the book goes to the correct people for editing and proofreading. They also keep the book’s release and production on schedule. Or perhaps you can be the interior designer of the book, and decide the inner layout of the book.

One aspect that I particularly found useful was how Siegfried broke down a few employment ads in the industry. In the instances she shows, companies might list experience that they wish or would prefer, however,  a lot of that can be learned on the job. Instead, focus on key words that you can relate back to your previous experience.

The examples she gave us seem to imply a certain need for organizational skills as well as customer service skills. Think of any job you’ve had in the past and how you handled any customer service issues. A particular day or project you worked on that required those skills.

Notice those key words. In fact, throughout Siegfried’s book, I found her own key word.

Network.

If you’re interested in a career in publishing, it’s imperative that you network. Even if you’re not living in a publishing hub like New York, you can always network online or with smaller publishers scattered throughout the United States.

That also consists of putting your name in the hat – either through job applications or informational interviews ( a great way to get an insider’s look of a position or the company in general). Either of these ways gives you an opportunity to brush up on your interviewing/interviewer skills. And bonus! By doing the latter informational interview, you introduce yourself as someone that would be interested in a job in the future. You now have a future contact. The beginning of your network, if you will.

Siegfried also scatters links and resources throughout the book. Where to look for jobs. The importance of updating your resume and tailoring to each position you are applying for. And also, if you don’t have the preferred experience, Siegfried goes into what should be in your cover letter and how to expound on your past jobs.

It’s a great book filled to the brink with helpful hints and facts as well as great resources to look into. And, for me, it helped bring to the forefront just how expansive the book industry is.

So, you know those rumors that ebooks are hurting the publishing industry? Yeah, Siegfried has me convinced that isn’t going to happen. Because the industry will always need authors to write the books, literary agents to find the authors, manuscripts to be sent to editors, the finalizing of the book sent to the production manager and the artist and other designers, and then we someone to market the product.

It’s a fascinating industry that shows no sign of stopping. I urge you to pick up the book. Get insider information. Look into all those helpful resources.

Publish on, folks!