Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Picture book for sale

Twelve reactions to my latest nonfiction work:

  • “[This] made me quite teary. [I]t’s a beautiful [story], and very nicely told”
  • “A great conversation piece, and I think boys would particularly like it”
  • “I have to say, I think the story is fantastic”
  • “Not only is [the] story an interesting, little-known slice of history, but the writing is quite lovely as well”
  • “We all had very positive reactions to it overall. What we all really loved, and what I am sure appeals to you, is that it is a war story but it’s one about reconciliation. That’s really both a lovely and unusual notion”
  • “I have read the story several times, and it is an unusual one with lots of good themes and excitement”
  • “[A] lovely paean to peace coming out of war”
  • “I was very moved”
  • “Compelling and well told”
  • “I was fascinated by this story of forgiveness and redemption. It’s so touching!”
  • “Haunting”
  • “There’s no question this has some compelling marketing hooks—and it’s a pretty unbelievable story in the first place”

Here is what they’re referring to:

But this is not the cover.

Rather not the only cover.

It’s one of seven covers, all as stellar as this one and all below, courtesy of the following illustrators:

Multiple covers by multiple artists would be unusual for most any book, but particularly for this book.

That’s because this book is not yet a book.

Each reaction above is from a different children’s book editor. Despite the fact that these reactions are positive, no publisher has acquired this picture book manuscript. The most recurring reason I’m told is because nonfiction—especially nonfiction about someone who is not a household name—doesn’t sell.

I understand that concern. I’ve seen the nonfiction picture book section at Barnes & Noble; it can make a grown biographer openly weep.

But I don’t rely primarily on the Last Chain Standing—or anyone else—to promote my books. The person, place, or thing I hold most responsible for that is me. These days, so much of a book’s fate depends on what an author is willing to do to spread the word.

I take very seriously the goal of keeping my books in print so I am in a perpetual state of conversation-starting both online and on stage; most venues that hire me to speak (from schools to conferences to JCCs to business luncheons to the Guam IRA Council) sell my books in conjunction.

I am still promoting books that are several notches past infancy. A recent result: this year, both NBC and PBS requested on-camera interviews about Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman—which came out in 2008.

Somewhat conversely, and also in 2008, I began promoting a book that is coming out in 2012 (but at the time, I did not know when
ifit would come out).

You’ve likely never heard of Nobuo Fujita, the person at the center of Thirty Minutes Over Oregon—which only made me more eager to write about him. As I noted earlier this year, readers who like nonfiction tend to gravitate to stories they do not already know.

I am not a war buff, Japanophile, or Oregon native, yet this is one of the most personal stories
I’ve written. And in terms of stories I feel should be available for younger readers (any readers, really), this is one of the most important I’ve written.

So this summer, in reflecting on the rejections for Thirty Minutes Over Oregon, I found myself wanting a new way to try to assure editors that this project is not only vital but viable.

(Perhaps an omen: shortly after, I stumbled upon this quotation in a Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast interview with Anne Schwartz and Lee Wade: “Who wouldn’t rather be a trendsetter than a trend-follower? It’s way more satisfying, right? And though it’s riskier, all of us in publishing know that the up side is way greater, too.”)

In this transition period we
re in, many are worried about the future of print. Yet in pursuing the idea that struck me to try to turn this manuscript into a book, I would not surrender to the web but rather take advantage of it.

Problem was, that idea would require me to also take advantage of my fellow man, woman, and child. In particular, man, woman, and child illustrators.

How? Well, I shared most of the above with a select group of illustrators. Then I asked if they would create a mock cover for Thirty Minutes Over Oregon.

That’s not a big favor.

That’s a hubigge (a big wrapped in a huge) favor.

And yet—and to my surprise, actually—pro and kid alike graciously answered the call. You saw one pro contribution above. The rest are below, as are the covers created by kids…

...but first…

I gave no parameters, set no firm deadline, needed no preliminary sketches, made no revision requests. I didn’t even expect a polished final piece—I told the artists I would happily welcome whatever kind of draft they could allocate time to.

If I had not received the reactions I did on the manuscript, I would not have entertained this idea. But when people like what you’ve done yet still say no, it can intensify your determination to see the project realized.

Mike Rex wrote, “This idea of doing covers before a sale reminds me of how some low-budget studios would make up movie posters to get investors interested.” (These days all they’d have to do is say “It’s in 3D.” Or “It has penguins.” Preferably both.)

The mother of two of the young artists wrote, “The kids and I both found the story so interesting. [Also], as a special education teacher, this type of story is terrific for my classroom. I teach middle school students with low reading skills. I always love to come across work like yours—compelling, not too long, and easy to read.”

Considering I wrote a nonfiction picture book about Superman and one
on Batman due in 2012, it may seem I am typecasting myself, but I am interested in more than superheroes. In fact, I'm even more partial to real-life heroes.

Except in real life, heroism is not always as easy to classify.

Cue flap copy:

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon

Hiroshima. Dresden. London. Brookings?

Americans know the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii as one of the most infamous events of WWII. However, few on either side know that the next year, the Japanese also bombed mainland America—twice. Navy pilot Nobuo Fujita launched his two-seater seaplane off a submarine and hit the woods outside tiny Brookings, Oregon. He was the first (and still only) wartime enemy to complete an aerial attack on American soil.

None were hurt, but all involved were changed. Twenty years later, amid a blaze of controversy, Brookings invited Nobuo back. Though nervous, he felt an obligation to say yes. He brought his family's 400-year-old samurai sword, the same he had taken on every war mission. Always a man of honor and now a man of peace, he planned to gift it to the town. He would be devastated if his onetime targets did not forgive him...

The New York Times devoted a half-page to his obituary (which is how I learned of him).

Finally, here are all of the covers I’ve received to date.

From pros:

Tim Bush

Ralph Cosentino

Justin LaRocca Hansen

Kevin O’Malley

Mike Rex (on an iPad!)

Julia Sarcone-Roach

Brad Sneed

From kids:

Alex, age 9, CT

Alex, age 13, VA

Coby, age 10, IL

Tommy, age 10, MA (note what forms the zero in “30”)

My favorite is all of them. And of course, all rights to all mock covers remain with the artists. (Mocklifters will be prosecuted!)

Busy established artists would not have humored me with this unless they believed in the story. Kids would not have bothered with this (especially over summer vacation) unless they liked the story.

A parade of thank-yous to this dazzlingly talented group who donated time; people in high demand can be among the most generous. It’s been an honor “working” with each of you. Thank you also to the additional artists, pro and kid, who were game, but for whom the timing wasn’t right.

I make no secret of this: whatever else this public experiment is, ultimately, it’s a pitch. (Also available upon request: Thirty Reasons to Acquire Thirty Minutes

So in closing…

Librarians: Is this a book you can see adding to your collection?

Editors: Is this a book you can see?

10/6/11 addendum: See what happened next.

2/11/14 addendum: I finally sold it.


Tricia said...

I know you haven't asked for a teacher's perspective, but this is a book I would use in the classroom, so I would hope to find it in my school library.

I constantly tell students preparing to be teachers that to successfully interest kids in history the focus can't be on dates and events, but rather needs to be on people. Kids can relate to the stories of others and sometimes, these stories spark a lifelong interest in history.

Part of the romance of history is the stories that emerge from the lives of those who lived through, experienced or created events both large and small. In the classroom we should be focused on telling the stories of all people, not just the big names in the history books.

So, long answer to an easy question. YES! I would use this book and want it in my library.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Tricia! My extreme oversight! I am absolutely interested in a teacher's perspective and, in fact, talk about things like this with teachers quite often. In my mind I was bundling them with librarians as "educators." The message just didn't get to my hands when typing...

I love your input and echo it from the mountaintops. Thank you.

Karen Mo. said...

I am now totally engrossed in this 30 Minutes over Oregon saga. I can't wait to ask my husband and sons (all history majors) if they've ever heard about this story. This whole post (and the different book covers!) would be an excellent topic for a school visit. I can think of making connections to history, art, compassion, forgiveness...just to name a few.

I am a passionate purchaser and reader of nonfiction picture books to K-6 students, —which is how I became such a fan of The Boys of Steel. There's got to be a publisher that recognizes the value of this idea. Good luck!

Ross MacDonald said...

It's an incredible story and I can't think of anyone better to tell it. Hopefully we'll see it in print soon.

The covers are fantastic - sorry I couldn't join the fun

Jane Drabkin said...

The book sounds intriguing and a good one for librarians to booktalk. We buy lots of biographies of people no one has ever or rarely heard about and those are adults. For kids unless it’s Washington, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr, Columbus, and a few others, they know next to nothing about the person on the cover of the book.

They love “What to Do about Alice” (Roosevelt Longworth), "Manfish" (Jacques Cousteau), and the story of Charles Atlas, "Strong Man." They can’t resist the Norman Rockwell cover on "The Story of Ruby Bridges."

Maybe you can remind the publishers about some of these.

We would certainly buy this one.

Jane Drabkin
Chinn Park Regional Library, VA

Ms B said...

As a Media Specialist at a K-5 elementary, I would purchase this book for our collection. As one of the editors said, ". . . I think I boys would particularly like it." May this book be picked up by a publisher soon, I wish you all the best in your endeavor.

Anonymous said...

Your talent and ability to persevere is an inspiration! I believe the behind the scenes story behind this story will be an excellent school presentation! It is a great tribute to how our world is changing due to the influence of technology! The creative genius showcased through your journey is an inspiration!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Karen, Ross, Jane, Ms B, and Jenny - I value your input and support immensely. Thank you all and stay tuned...

Marie Girolamo said...

Yes - this story would definitely find a home here.

Marie Girolamo
Library Media Specialist
Ridgefield Academy

Kristen M said...

Hi Marc,

Thanks so much for including me in this discussion! It perplexes me that publishers are not interested in stories like this, particularly with what is to me the constant need for well-written, high interest books for boys and young men. Of course, I would definitely purchase this book for my library, and when it does see the light of day (note that I say "when" rather than "if"), I'm sure others will do the same. You truly have a gift for conveying historical information in a way that tells a story and draws in your readers.

The covers are all stunning in their own way; I had trouble choosing a favorite, but found the Bush, Sarcone-Roach, Sneed and O'Malley ones particularly compelling. I approached a couple of experts, ages 8 and 5 to find out if they would be interested in reading a book about this subject, to which they responded "totally!" And when asked which cover they preferred, both liked the Sneed cover best. Note: It's quite possible 5 was copying 8, but he did so with enthusiasm even after reviewing all illustrations again.

I know you'll find a publisher who appreciates the value of this story--if anyone can it's you! Little boys and I will look forward to news of the impending publication.
Best of luck to you Marc!

Kristen Monroe
Senior Librarian
Denver Public Library

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Kristen - thank you so much for this thoughtful and humbling comment. I am especially impressed with your own market research effort! Your input, and that of your experts, is invaluable.

Linda Williams said...

Would I add this book to my collection? Without hesitation!
I routinely collect and display picture book biographies. I often put them in the picture book section, where I think that they're more likely to be picked up and read to kids.
I'm also a HUGE proponent of using stories like this to teach history.
AND as a matter of fact, after a trip to the Holocaust Museum in DC last weekend, I am beefing my nonfiction collection up in the 940.53 area. This would fit right in there too!
And one more thing. In Connecticut, there is an increased focus on nonfiction for the lower grades. Providing the reading level is low enough, this fits in there too.
So it seems to me that there are several niches this book fits.
I hope it finds a publisher!

Julie Hedlund said...

As a fellow writer struggling to get stories to see the light of day, I so hope this one gets published! I also thank you for your courage in presenting the idea this way and seeking less traditional ways to get it the attention it obviously deserves.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Linda and Julie! Between your comments and a post by Gregory Pincus (http://www.thehappyaccident.net/another-reason-to-have-a-platform-a-picture-book-for-sale/), I am having an even-more-optimistic-than-usual few days.

Julie Musil said...

As a mother of three sons, I HOPE this gets published. I have never heard of this story! How can that be? Nonfiction fascinates me, especially nuggets of history I've never heard about.

I heard about this from Greg Pincus, so let's hope the word gets out there! I'm retweeting now :D

Anonymous said...

Its an interesting story and I have to agree that the 'novelty,' the fact that this story is unknown piques interest. Its like a "you know what..." thing that kids would enjoy. I'm currently working with Gifted Kids who love their mystery and nonfiction and I can see how much they would appreciate it.
Personally, i would read this book and share it with kids. I think publishers underestimate the power of those unknown real life heroes. Lovers of nonfiction and history enjoy that bit of detail that add dimension into the story. And I have recently enjoyed books of a local historian who mentioned little details that very few talk about. So, most definitely this is a bit of japan/american history that is most welcomed in my book shelf anytime.
Wish you luck. I do hope it gets published.

Brian Anderson said...

Having this published simultaneously in Japan and the U.S. would create an interesting marketing angle. I remember when he came back to apologize -- it really is a great story. Good luck with it!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

A continued thank you to all who are kindly posting. Brian - I agree! But I am still trying to interest one country, let alone two! : ) Stay tuned. And I'm amazed you remember this! It was in 1962.

Anonymous said...

I think this is brilliant! You are a true pioneer. I'll bet that we see a lot more books being offered this way. I love the whole idea.

Anonymous said...

Yes yes and yes on adding to a library collection and honestly what a great book to take into a mg (even YA frankly) book club. The conversations we could have. And-this is a book teachers would use, too and certainly one I'd take on school visits.

You are such a great example of following your passion-good luck with this and thanks for sharing the story, you are going to do those who lived proud-just feeling I have. Cheers!

GatheringBooks said...

This is such a remarkable endeavor that you're doing, and hats off to you. I love historical narratives that bring to life important events without reducing them to dates, facts and figures. You have something beautiful going on here and I admire your tenacity and your sense of purpose. I, myself, am undertaking quite a number of unfunded research projects - and they are the ones that I find to be truly meaningful, worthwhile, relevant, and paradigm-shifting kinds of work.

As the poet Rumi said: "When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

I am sure that this would find a lovely place in our libraries here in Singapore. :)

cleemckenzie said...

This is just the kind of book I'd offer as a gift to the young readers in my family. The history, human interest, and cultural aspects are a powerful combination and would make an exciting read.

Carmela Martino said...

Marc, this sounds like a wonderful, amazing story that young readers deserve to have access to. As a fellow children's author, I've also struggled with the irony of publishers who resist publishing biographies of people "no kid's ever heard of"--isn't that the point? (I've written a picture book biography of a little-known woman of history who I believe would inspire young readers, but I haven't been able to find a publisher either.) I hope that a wise editor soon snatches up your manuscript. I'd definitely buy it, not only to support you, but to share with my young nephew.
P.S. For what it's worth, I've posted a link to this on my Facebook page. :-)

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

My editor, Carolyn Yoder at Calkins Creek Books loves nonfiction and focuses on American history. This feels like the sort of book she would consider.

And me, if there is a story about reconciliation and WWII, I want to read and share it!

Let me know if you want a recommend.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Val - I am more than honored to read this.

Deb - I'm glad you mentioned the discussions such a story could lead to. I like the idea of asking young people if Nobuo was a hero, and if so, to whom (Japanese, Americans, or both)? Also, would the answer change if his bombs had killed anyone?

Myra - What a lovely sentiment and if this book happens, I would love to come to Singapore and elsewhere in Asia.

C. Lee - I agree that the story is an atypical mashup of elements. I also happen to feel that each element is fascinating in and of itself, so when combined, even better!

Carmela - I appreciate your support and wish you luck in placing your manuscript.

Joyce - Recommendations always welcomed!

Thank you all!

Trish Brown said...

Hi Marc,
Don't know if you remember visiting Hooray For Books! in Alexandria, VA, for a signing of Boys of Steel...
This sounds like a compelling story, and we would be proud to carry it in the store, as would most independent bookstores, I feel certain. Keep us posted -- we love good non-fiction!

Trish Brown
Hooray For Books!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Trish - not only do I remember your wonderful store, I am now a neighbor! When you hosted me I was living in CT. Now we are in MD. And I am hoping to come on 11/12 to see Julia Sarcone-Roach, who (as you probably saw) designed one of the mock covers here. Thanks for your most kind comment.

Maggie said...

I would really, really like to read this book. I found out about it from the blog "The Children's War", and was very surprised that I had heard nothing about this incident in our history until now considering how much I read about the Homefront during World War II. If you ever have it privately published ( if there is no other way) , make sure "The Children's War" has a link so that I can get my hands on that book! Thanks.

Sandy Brehl said...

First, congrats on writing what must be a terrific book, judging from the notes you've received about it. In fact, I can see this book/story resonating with kids in a wide age range. I'd also like to use it with the workshops I lead for teachers. The value of complex and compelling stories, well-told, is in their ability to engage and elevate thinking. We could sure use more of that in classrooms squeezed into multiple choice and T/F answers. Fingers crossed that your innovative approach will snag a publisher open to quality material.

S. Mozer said...


This saga, book, and true story are fascinating. Illustrate the rest (let the kids do it), publish it yourself, and get it out to teachers and librarians. I'd buy a copy and I'd bet other teachers and libraries in my district would too.


Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Stacy - you are Awesome. I so appreciate this comment. I don't yet know how but I WILL get this story out, and I will let you know when that happens. Please stand by...

Gail said...

I stumbled on this post when one of the librarians in our local network said she was hoping to lure you to Los Angeles in March before the writing conference in Washington.

I do know of this story! My parents retired to Brookings in 1978, and my father eventually joined the Library Board. They were there, not for his first visit, but for subsequent visits. I had thought they were there when Mr. Fujita stunned the town with the presentation of the samurai sword that belonged to his family, but I'm not sure what year that actually was. My dad used to chuckle about his having tried to bomb a forest that gets about 13 feet of rainfall a year. 'Hard to get much of a firestorm started there.

Not only would I enthusiastically buy a copy for our elementary school library, but I would love a second copy for my 97-year-old father!


Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Gail - thanks so much for writing.

1. I would be thrilled if I can get the book out for your father to see!

2. Nobuo first visited Brookings in 1962.

3. I would be thrilled to visit LA before my WA trip so please spread the word to your network!

4. Please send me your email (my email is at top right of my blog) so I can let you know what happens with TMOO.

Michael G-G said...

Dear Marc,

I had heard of the incident you write about--but thought there had been a death related to it. Anyway, as a proud British-Oregonian, I am thrilled you have written about it and certainly think there is an audience for a book like this. (I'd buy it for my Oregonian children!)It's certainly a title I can imagine seeing in my local Indie, Annie Bloom's or at my big kahuna, Powell's City of Books.

All the best,

Ami said...

Well, that explains why I have had this order card sitting here for almost a year, with no ISBN to put on it. Publishers, would you please get with the program! There are librarians out here waiting to buy copies of this book!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Ami - you I love. Thank you. Stay tuned!

Unknown said...

When will publishers realize that there is a huge market for picture books in the upper middle school and high school grades? When will publishers realize that educators need unique and interesting non-fiction(informational) texts to share & read with their students? This text would be a great read for my 7th & 8th graders. One of my colleagues teaches an Honor's level WWII History class to suniors and seniors. This text would even be engaging for these students. The new Common Core standards require all subject area teachers to teach students of all ages how to read informational texts. There are several major problems with trying to find enjoyable non-fiction texts. The first major problem is that the majority of the non-fiction texts are written in an outdated traditional form, which is extremely boring for students to read. Another major issue is that the majority of the texts that do get published are only about a short list of famous human beings. How many times can a student read about MLK Jr, Amelia Earhart, the Ancient Egyptians, George Washington, etc without getting bored? What we need are informational texts like this one, which offer readers an unique and true story that will not only interest the students, but will provide the students with information about events in human history that connect to the frameworks. Here is a link to the Common Core standards:http://www.doe.mass.edu/candi/commoncore/

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Craig, immense thanks for this helpful and reaffirming input.

Anonymous said...

Marc- I work in a busy public library and get asked for books about WWII all the time. This is a story I would love to hand kids who ask! I really want this book in my collection. Thank you for all of the hard work you did to research and tell this poignant story about this honorable man. ~Crystal

Unknown said...

While listening to you speak about this book, I silently ticked off a list of a dozen students at my school who would be thrilled to read this book. They have been jumping out of their skin to read another story by you, as I just finished reading the one about Superman and the one about Batman! Thank you for writing books that even my reluctant readers will read. I can't wait for this book to come out!

Jamey Beckner said...

Wow, I'm hooked, the description and responses already have my intrigue amped. You always manage to bridge the historicity with entertainment in such a way, that not only do the kids readily absorb these subjects, but so do we educators! I can't wait for the future posts and updated on publication progress. There are far too many unsung heroes from the past, and glad that you're broadening our horizons!

Stacey Conrad said...

I want this for my library. What a great addition to my WWII collection. We love the unexpected and unknown stories.

Rebekah said...

Marc –

Home now from IRA and still thinking about 30 Minutes over Oregon. Given the world we live in today, I cannot fathom why publishers are not beating down your door for this book. It is fascinating to discover a story about WWII that is new to me, but so much more important is the idea of a story that shows how people who were at one time deadly enemies can move beyond war and come together to heal old wounds. As a Professor of Children’s Literature, I can promise any publisher I will not only buy this book; I will use it in my classes and strongly encourage my students to use it in their future classrooms. 30 Minutes over Oregon will help the children of today realize peace is possible. As the adults of tomorrow, each of them will have a role in making peace happen. Any smart publisher should be thrilled to be involved.

And remember, I want to buy the first copy. 

Best of luck!

Rebekah Miller-Levy

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thank you Rebekah!So kind of you. I tried to email you as well but can't find an email address for you online. If you can, please email me at the email at top right of the blog. I want to keep you updated. I really appreciate your support.

Cati P. said...

Our students clamor for stories about WWII which is large thematic unit for our 5th graders, as I'm sure it is at many other schools as well. Our whole school also completes a biography unit. Everyone's most enjoyable part of the study is just giving the kids time to read picture book style stories in class. The kids' favorites are always stories that are new to them. They already know about Lincoln, Washington, Helen Keller, etc. They are eager to find a fresh story. 30 Minutes over Oregon is just the kind of book we want to buy!