Why Do Llamas Wear Pajamas? Good Question.

 © Sally Huss

© Sally Huss

One of our authors, Deborah Katz, just won the 2018 Vine Award in the children’s literature category for her picture book, Rare Is Everywhere, which takes readers on a journey through the animal kingdom, revealing that grasshoppers can be pink, tigers can be white, and lobsters can be blue. Showcasing eleven incredible animals through vibrant illustrations and playful poetry, Deborah’s goal was to blend science with art to encourage children to recognize and accept diversity in themselves and in others. No small feat! As her editors, we knew that if Deborah was going to use science to communicate that uniqueness is something to be celebrated, it had better be right.

Is scientific accuracy really important in children’s books? In award-winning kidlit and YA author Clair Eamer’s recent article, “Storybook Whale Fail,” she argues a resounding yes. Eamer states that scientific inaccuracies in kids’ books “can lead to misinformation that lingers long past childhood.” So why is that? Well, we know from experience that children don't think of characters or settings in picture books as being invented; rather, they accept and take what they read as part of their world. In other words, young children take books at face value, and they place their trust and faith in writers and illustrators as conveyors of truth.

Does that mean kids’ books can only be approached with 100% accuracy? Of course not. There’s plenty of room for playfulness in a book, just as there is in the telling of a good story. Young readers can go along with a little stretching of the truth, as long as they realize they are in on the joke. For example, can llamas wear pajamas? Sure – in a silly story and in our imaginations they can, as long as the pajamas add humour to the situation. But, if you’re an author writing a book about how the people of the Andes use llamas as pack animals like camels, they likely wouldn’t be wearing pajamas, nor would they have humps.

When writing for children, authors have a responsibility to be both engaging and, through careful research, truthful – the story and illustrations should be fundamentally based on scientific accuracy. Honour that principle, and you’ll not only earn happy readers and positive reviews, you just might find yourself on an award podium too!

Carol and Rachelle's Excellent Summer Adventures

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One of our pet peeves is a poorly upkept blog…. Oops, we did it again. We haven’t written a blog post since March, but we’ve got great excuses. We’re happy to report that a busy spring left little time for blogging, as we helped clients self-publish a couple of novels and a memoir. Work also continued on some great books that will be coming out later this fall.

Then, with the arrival of summer and the promise of warmer weather and longer days, came a broken wrist (Carol) and a neck injury (Rachelle). Appointments with cast clinics, orthopedic surgeons, RMTs, and physiotherapists meant a slowed work pace, a cutback on keyboarding and desk time, and yes, a neglected blog.

On the plus side, our collective sore bones meant extra time to take in fun local events like the Parksville sand sculpting competition, Vancouver’s Meowfest, and the Coombs Country Rodeo, and they didn’t stop us from doing some great hikes in the Arrowsmith, Squamish, and Pemberton areas. And, of course, it left us a lot of time for reading. So, without further kvetching, here are a few of our favourite books from this past summer:

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Rachelle)

A big fan of Backman’s Beartown, I was excited to read A Man Called Ove, and it didn’t disappoint. A funny read about the quintessential grumpy old man next door, this is also a heartwarming book about loss, redemption, and reconnection. Filled with Backman’s classic, underlinable insights and observations about humanity that I’ve come to love, this is one of those books you won’t forget.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (Rachelle)

I love dystopian YA fiction, especially by Canadian authors. This book has seen blockbuster sales and an awards sweep, and it’s being developed into a TV series. I can see why. The story of Indigenous people who are hunted for their bone marrow in a world in ruins as a result of our over-consumption and neglect is both riveting and timely. If you’re a fan of the Hunger Games, Divergent, or Chaos Walking series, you’ll definitely want to pick this one up.

Calypso by David Sedaris (Carol)

I’ve loved every word written by David Sedaris and his latest is no exception. These deeply personal and hilarious stories primarily take place at his beach house on the Carolina coast, where along with his long-time partner Hugh, he plays host to his eccentric siblings and 90-year-old father. With Sedaris’s trademark inner musings and observations, Calypso allows you to take a little vacation from yourself.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (Carol)

I picked this book up off my 16-year-old daughter’s bookshelf. My expectations weren’t super high – how much could Anna Kendrick have to say, really? What a surprise! It turns out the quirky movie choices this young actress makes are for a reason – she really is that quirky. Pretty much an unstoppable force who’s already lived a larger life than most people three times her age, she lets the “crazies” out of her head to share her wry observations and ordinary stories with candour. A great read; recommended for all women, 16 years to 90+.

David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient (Carol)

I’m slipping this one in because once in a while a cookbook comes along that’s so good you read it like a novel – cover to cover. Simple recipes celebrating the bounty of local, fresh market fruits and vegetables with bold flavours and straightforward summer preparations. The writing is engaging and the design and photography are perfect. I’ve had this book on loan from the library all summer; time to go to the bookstore and pick up my own copy so I can start planning next season’s garden!

On a closing note, we promise (again) to get back on the blog. So, stay tuned for posts on the Vancouver Writers’ Festival, libraries, children’s books, and more.

Bookstores: The Holy Grail

 One of our favourites: Munro’s Books, Victoria, BC (photo ©Wayne Templeton)

One of our favourites: Munro’s Books, Victoria, BC (photo ©Wayne Templeton)

The most asked question we get (after "How much will it cost to publish my book?") is "How can I get my book into bookstores?" And we get it. You want your book to sell, and traditional retail seems like the most effective way to do that. But it's important to know the processes that precede this step and that there are other (sometimes better) ways to get your book into readers' hands.

If you're dead set on bookstores, the best way to get into them is with a distributor. Distributors, with their widely circulated catalogues, seasonal book fairs, and teams of sales reps, will get your book into a wide network of stores across the country. In Canada, there are only a handful of reputable distributors that specialize in small press and independently published books, including Sandhill, Red Tuque, and Gordon Soules. Each has a different area of specialization, though, so be sure to check their lists before sending them a sell sheet for your book. Remember that, ideally, you should be lining up a distributor before your book is printed so that they can pre-sell it.

A fairly standard distribution agreement means you get 35% of the list price and they get 65%. To get your book into big retailers, like Chapters, Costco, or Walmart, you'll have  to give up even more. And, these discounts are still on a returnable basis (meaning those books that don't sell in stores will come back to you a few months later). And, caveat emptor: no one should charge you a fee in addition to a percentage of sales for distributing your book, unless they're offering some marketing and publicity support as well.

Think of your relationship with a distributor as a long-term partnership – they want your book to sell as much as you do. Talk to them about your needs, and if it is an exclusive contract, be forthcoming with them about other plans and arrangements you've made. If you don't have any luck finding a distributor for your book (and there's a good chance you won't), many authors work with Canadian book wholesalers and do just fine. Like a distributor, a wholesaler will get your book into bookstores, libraries, and schools, but they don't do any selling; they just fulfill store orders. Telling bookstores how and why to order your book will be your job. As a result, wholesale agreements aren't typically exclusive, and their terms are not as high as a distributor's. If you can't secure a distributor or a wholesaler, many bookstores (especially the indies) will take your book on consignment. Even Chapters has been known to make this arrangement on a store-by-store basis, depending on the community.

At the end of the day, your best return on investment is going to be selling your book yourself, either hand-selling it, one book at a time, or via your website. Even Amazon offers a payment structure of 70% to authors, keeping 30% for themselves (as long as your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99). So, make sure you have a good website set up months before your book comes out, with an eCommerce platform or links to where readers can buy the book online.

And remember, no matter who is selling your book – yourself or a third-party vendor – you're still going to have to promote it to make readers aware of it. After all, getting your book into stores is only the first step; getting readers into those stores, through promotion, is the next (and key) step. But don't let that scare you. Have fun with your promotional efforts, and fortunately, there are tons of resources out there to help you do just that.