Back from ALA…

Here is my stash from ALA. I think I exercised a little more restraint than I did when I went to IRA a couple months ago…and I exercised A LOT more restraint than my roommate/good friend/chauffeur did (but I can cut her some slack because this was her first ALA), so I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

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I came back with: 19 ARCs (in my defense, I do review children’s/YA novels!), 6 books (5 of them were given to me in gift bags or at a party), 3 cards with keys for downloading e-books, 1 publisher catalog (for a publisher I’ve worked with before), 1 ALA exhibit guide book, 2 Albert Whitman bags (if I had known I was going to get two this time, I wouldn’t have begged for the one I got at IRA…BTW, I use that other AW bag ALL THE TIME. I like carrying my own publisher’s bag around town… and now I have two spares if I carry too many library books in one or set it down in the mud or something…), 3 bookmarks, 1 Albert Whitman glass from their 90th anniversary party, 1 CD of the 2009 Newbery/Caldecott/ Wilder award acceptance speeches, 1 program from the 2009 Newbery/Caldecott/ Wilder award banquet, 1 name tag with an official author ribbon on it and 1 Albert Whitman pen (no, I didn’t steal it…it was in a gift bag). Like I said…remarkable restraint! If you’ve ever been to ALA, you know how much more I COULD have come home with!

But you don’t just go to ALA to get stuff…I went to ALA to sign books, get some face-to-face time with my publishers, wander the exhibition hall and see who’s publishing what these days, hang out with friends, and to attend the Newbery/Caldecott banquet (which will require its own separate blog post). I had a fabulous weekend…though I’m a little sleep deprived (it’s okay…it was worth it!). I also went because it was in Chicago, so it was easy to get to…(well, easy for me because I have a friend who is willing to drive downtown Chicago…)

We arrived at the convention center in time for my 3:00 signing with Albert Whitman on Saturday. Things were starting to wind down then, so I didn’t sign a lot of books, but it was okay because I was really happy to see my editor…and several of my friends that I don’t see very often (because they live in Missouri, Michigan and Minnesota) stopped by to say hi (So did a couple of Iowa friends…). Since I had just arrived, I was more into “being social” than I was into signing books anyway.

When my time in the booth was up, I bopped over to the Peachtree booth to say hi and to let them know that I was indeed planning to go to their dinner that night, and to remind them that I would be going to Albert Whitman’s 90th anniversary party first (thus I might arrive just a little bit late). I was really excited about this anniversary party. How cool is that to have a publisher who has been in business for 90 years??? And in those 90 years, Albert Whitman & Co. has only had four different owners, each of whom was a long-time employee with the company before they bought it.

The party was held at the Green in Grant Park, which is an outdoor bar and grill sort of place…with mini golf! (I LOVE mini golf…but I didn’t play) The weather couldn’t have been nicer…the hors d’oeuvres were fabulous, though I only had a couple because I wanted to make sure I was hungry for dinner, and the company was even better. I had a nice conversation with Emma Dryden about the future of the publishing industry (I would’ve loved to talk to her more! I was excited that she shares my views regarding electronic publishing and where that could go…) and then I sat down with people I’ve known online since the days of Fidonet. I think Josepha and I had a little too much fun finger dancing to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (ye gads!) that was blaring through the speakers right next to us (I told everyone at the Peachtree dinner that it was like my 8th grade end-of-the-year dance all over again…one of the editors asked, “And were there BOYS there???” Yes, there were…but no one was dancing…hey, it really WAS like the 8th grade dance!) They also had books on all the tables…ten copies of one title written or illustrated by an Albert Whitman author who was at the party. The idea was to take a book and match it to the author or illustrator…if you could do that, the book was yours. There happened to be a book by one of my editors at the table we were sitting at…and I had my eye on it the entire time I was there. I wasn’t sure it was really cool for the authors to take any of the books, even if it was another author’s book, but then people started to leave…and that book was still sitting there. There was also a book by one of the other Albert Whitman editors on our table…Josepha eventually grabbed that one, so I thought what the heck? I’m taking Kathy’s book! (I did feel a little guilty when I heard some guy ask the marketing director whether there were any other copies of that book…but not guilty enough to surrender it. Hey, he could’ve come and grabbed it ANYTIME during the first hour and a half of the party!) And Kathy wrote a nice little message in it for me. It was a GREAT party; I really had fun!

It couldn’t have been easier to get to the Peachtree dinner from there.

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The dinner was just around the corner at the Park Grill (again, FABULOUS food!). My friend/critique partner from Michigan was there, so we gabbed, gabbed, gabbed! Not just with each other, but with everyone else at our end of the table, too. Great food…great people…great conversation…what more could you ask for?

My roommate was on a nonfiction panel on Sunday, so she wasn’t just sitting by herself in the hotel while I went off to do all this stuff…she met with her nonfiction people Saturday night. And since we hadn’t seen each other since she stopped to see me at the Albert Whitman booth, we ended up staying up late filling each other in on everything we did that night….

…and then I woke up a few hours later (at 5:00 a.m.) for no reason whatsoever and couldn’t get back to sleep. If I had known I wasn’t going to go back to sleep, I would’ve grabbed my jogging clothes (which I did actually bring!) and gone for a jog (which I probably should have done given the amount of chocolate I consumed this weekend!)…but what I really wanted to do was WRITE. I’d been away from my writing quite a bit this late spring/early summer. I just couldn’t focus right before my older son moved out…then we went on vacation…and when we came back I still couldn’t focus because it always takes a while to get back into the swing of things after a vacation…and I was missing my son…and my dog (who had been put to sleep while we were on vacation)…so I forced myself to focus when we were at my in-laws over the 4th of July. I locked myself in their gazebo every day and didn’t come out until I had written a chapter…just so I could get back into the swing of things. I finally started to feel like I’d found the rhythm of the story right before ALA.

And then at ALA I got to talk to my editor about this project…we didn’t talk about it a lot, but we talked enough. On the way to the anniversary party I realized I was alone in a car with the one person who cares as much about this project as I do! My family and friends are all really good about listening to me talk about it…and any of them would read/comment on it if I asked them to…but it’s not the same kind of enthusiasm as I get from my editor. I could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice…she’s as excited about this as I am! Which just got me more excited about it…and that’s probably why I wanted to get up and write. But I didn’t have my computer with me, so I wrote in my head while I waited for my roommate to wake up.

On Sunday I had two signings with Peachtree and a podcast (also with Peachtree). I was a little nervous about that podcast because I didn’t know what they were going to ask me and I didn’t know if we were going to be able to stop and go back if I didn’t like what I said or if I was going to be stuck with whatever came out of my mouth (or DIDN’T come out of my mouth, as the case may be)…but the podcast went really well. Margaret (the publisher) was really good about asking questions. In fact, it didn’t even feel like she was asking questions; it felt more like a conversation between friends. I was able to completely ignore that huge microphone that kept swinging back and forth between us (there was a person from a Georgia radio station there doing the recording) and just relax and talk. We didn’t even back up and redo anything. (And I ended up being 10 minutes late to my second signing…they called Margaret from the booth and told us what time it was…)

I also had lunch with the marketing director at Albert Whitman. I requested this meeting because…well, it was really obvious to me at IRA that she KNOWS MARKETING. She’s also a real go-getter…I hope Albert Whitman hangs onto her for a good long time! I’m never going to be a get-out-there-and-really-sell-myself sort of person, but I thought maybe she might have some ideas for things I could do that I would feel comfortable with. I’m not sure she really told me anything I didn’t already know on some level, but she certainly reinforced a few ideas that were already in my head…and I came away from the meeting feeling like marketing is really a joint effort between author and publisher. It was a good meeting!

I never even spoke to a marketing person at Albert Whitman the first few years I was publishing with them. There are different marketing people who do different things at Peachtree and I hear from them from time to time via e-mail, but I’m still not real clear on who does what there. Pelican Publishing Company has pretty good marketing (the guy there called me up a month before my first book with them came out and wanted to discuss a “marketing plan” with me…I was shocked…nobody had ever done that before). I have never had any contact whatsoever with a marketing person at Magination Press…until I went over and introduced myself to her at ALA yesterday (they didn’t have any authors signing in their booth…none…zero…I didn’t even know they were at ALA until I walked past them…but clearly they’re doing some marketing because my Grandpa had a Stroke book is doing pretty well).

Speaking of strokes…I also found out this weekend that the former owner of Albert Whitman (who was SO nice to me the last time I was at ALA) had a stroke a few months ago. It sounds like exactly the same kind of stroke my dad had 9 years ago. Kathy said his mind is okay and he can still talk, but his left side is paralyzed…just like what happened to my dad. And he’s only 68 (young to have had a stroke…also just like my dad). He was also an avid golfer and a snowbird to Florida (yet again, just like my dad). In fact, when I met him four years ago, he reminded me a lot of my dad. So I was really sad to hear this. I wish I could send him a card telling him about my dad’s experience, something to give him hope…but, well…my dad ISN’T better. He’s a lot worse. I really feel for his daughter (who I also met at ALA a few years ago)…I know what she’s going through. Maybe Joe’s recovery will go better than my dad’s?

Anyway…I was so in enthralled the last time I was at ALA (all those BOOKS…all those book PEOPLE…together in one big room!), Joe took me upstairs so I could see the view from above. It was pretty amazing. I thought of Joe when I stood up there without him this time and looked down over the entire exhibition hall. This picture is just one small corner of the exhibition hall at ALA this year:

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One more benefit to going to ALA is making connections with librarians who are in a position to bring you in for an author visit. I made several of those…including one with a big mover and shaker in Michigan who does this big week-long children’s book festival where she brings in four authors. I talked to this lady for about 20 minutes after one of my Peachtree signings.

I probably have as much to say about the Newbery/Caldecott banquet as I had to say about ALA in general, so I’ll save that for another post later this week…but overall, it was a GREAT weekend!

3 thoughts on “Back from ALA…

  1. Great post!! I’ve been to ALA twice and each time was soooo impressed. Wish I could have been there! I’d love to hang out with you again (g). I am headed to SCBWI Nationals.

    Thanks for sharing!!!

  2. Wow!

    Dori, I’m filled with a mishmash of feelings after reading your eloquent post. Your visit sounds so fun and wonderful, I’m sorry that it also included dealing with The Truth About Truman School banned from sale. (I LOVE that book, by the way. Soooooo good.)

    I understand a bit about where the librarian is coming from. I haven’t faced censorship myself, but having seen the reaction you received recently was bad enough. And yet it makes me want to fight even harder to protect our American right to read! You’re absolutely right, of course, about the value of class discussion–and this is a PUBLIC school. it should prepare kids to face the world as it is. The US is built upon the ideals of multiculturalism and diversity. If someone doesn’t like that, maybe they shouldn’t have their kids in public school.

    Moreover, one person should not be dictating what an entire class–and subsequent classes and other classes across the school and the district–reads. People need to stand up for books, the right to read, and intellectual freedom. To do so, they need huge amounts of support. I wish this librarian felt that she had that. We all need to stand up for these elemental American values.

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