Monday, December 31, 2012

State of the Union League Book Fair

On 12/6/12, I had the honor of participating in my third holiday book fair at the Union League Club in New York City (my first was 2008, second 2009).

This year was especially fun because several friends (Peter Brown, Brian Floca, Shana Corey) were there and also because my latest book is a true story that took place in New York. It did not seem to be a deciding factor for sales but I enjoy historical proximity.

One bummer: Elizabeth and Chris, friends I’d made at the last two I attended, had to back out at the last minute. Since the club does not post participating authors online, about a week earlier, Elizabeth had e-mailed me a copy of the author lineup (with her mom’s must-sees circled). 

Spirits were so high that I failed to take any pictures there. If I’m lucky enough to be invited back, I won’t make that mistake again.

The full lineup (and I feel my book could have just as easily been listed in two other categories):

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bill Finger returns to radio

Thanks to Los Angeles Public Library librarian Mara Alpert (and NPR), Bill Finger recently returned to a medium he wrote for (Nick Carter, Master Detective; Mark Trail) in the 1950s...and I, indirectly, to the city in which I lived from mid-1997 to late 1999. (Tangentially, Bill himself never made it to California.)

On KPCC (89.3 FM), which, according to Wikipedia has “among the widest-reaching broadcast areas of all public radio stations in Southern California” (approximately 600,000 listeners weekly), Mara included Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman on her list of favorite children’s books of 2012.

On the station site, the accompanying imagining of Bob Kane’s red-garbed, stiff-winged, ill-fated Batman is not, for some reason, the one from my book. This is the one from my book, by the illustrious (and illustratorious) Ty Templeton:

Mara’s interview runs almost seven minutes; the Bill portion starts at 2:48 and runs just over a minute. She calls Bill the Boy Wonder a book she is “dying to talk about” and describes it as “really well written and very interesting.”

Thank you, Mara and KPCC!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My night with TED

The summer of 2012 brought two Teds. 

One was Ted, the Seth MacFarlane movie I didn’t see. 

The other was TED, the series of events consisting of compact talks by misfits, madmen, and other geniuses.

On 6/7/12, I spoke on a TED stage. Not the big one. And I was not even in the same school district as my best. But the experience was a nation-builder, that’s for sure.

Here are glimpses I didn’t include in my recap:

Of the 31 impressive people there, I know at least one has been invited to the Big TED in 2013—fellow writer Josh Prager. In 2000, in the Wall Street Journal, he published one of the most compelling articles about publishing I’ve read—he found out what happened to the millions of dollars in royalties the book Goodnight Moon has earned. I am looking forward to scoring my guesses of who else will get the nod.

This is the stage mere hours before we spoke. Seeing the TED letters just sitting there as the props they are was both humanizing (someone just sets them up like a window display?) and mythic.

Friday, December 28, 2012

"Riveting...engrossing" - "Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books" on "Bill the Boy Wonder"

The Bulletin of the Center of Children’s Books penned one of the most colorfully written reviews of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman

Some of my favorite words and phrases in it:


“delightfully laced with ‘bill’ and ‘finger’ puns”

“Engrossing and appropriate as the information in the main text may be for young listeners and readers, a six-page appended author’s note once again saves a heckuva lot of the good stuff for the older readers who will tackle its denser, sparsely photoillustrated prose.”

Among the reviews for this book (as well as all of my others), this is the only known instance of the word “heckuva.”

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Batgirl works at the library

The original version of Batgirl was a librarian. You didn’t know this but many librarians do. Even the American Library Association does, as evidenced by this bookmark and poster:

I couldn’t find larger resolutions of them whole, but here’s a larger shot of just the art:

Thanks to Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, I have now met two real-life Batgirl librarians.

The first is Angela Smith, lower school librarian at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. She didn’t need me to tell her who Batgirl really is, but I did suggest (when I spoke at Sidwell on 9/21/12) that she dress as Batgirl for Halloween. She was game:


The second is Jess Stork, librarian in the Washington DC system, who set the bar high for future bat-themed events. On 9/13/12, she hosted me for an evening presentation at the Palisades Neighborhood Library, and it was instantly obvious how committed she is:

Yes, those Oreos are bat-configured. (Not bat-flavored, however.)

She is not only a librarian but also an engineering genius. She rigged a laser obstacle course; kids had to reach through to get a book without getting zapped:

Speaking of zapped, a highlight of the evening was a comment from a girl who was about 10 years old: “If Bob Kane was alive, he’d be really mad at you.”

More librarians as Batgirl:

Chrissie Morrison, NY; photo credit John Aiello

Grace Shellenbarger, PA

Laura Ward and family, PA

Krystle Tiedeman, PA (in her Batgirl-decorated office)

Tangential P.S.: It appears many librarians are finding this post. If you are one of them, please also see this post...and if you are convinced by it, comment under it. (Some would argue that it, too, is about a hero, though not one with a cape.) The post has already generated one of the most overwhelming response rates this blog has seen, but I want and need more. The more positive feedback I get, the more likely that book will  happen...[1/6/14 addendum: I sold the book!]

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why I don’t ask family and friends to review my books online

The New York Times ran a fascinating and freaky article about Amazon’s evolving policy in policing book reviews.

Apparently, if a family member and/or friend of an author posts a review of said author’s book, Amazon will remove the review.

Unless I missed this, the article does not explain how Amazon knows who a person’s family and friends are. This is not the first time we’ve heard that our online activity often reveals more to sites than we may realize, yet it never stops being creepy.

I don’t believe the article specifies if Amazon removes all reviews by people an author knows. Seems like algorithms can’t do all the heavy lifting here, and manually culling certain reviews would be time-consuming. 

Also unaddressed: unlikely as it seems, what if a loved one writes a negative review? (Looking at you, frenemies.) Would Amazon delete that, too?

I found one comment perplexing and perhaps paradoxical. An Amazon spokesman: ‘We do not require people to have experienced the product in order to review.’”

So Amazon will remove reviews by people who have read a book and know the author but not ones by people who have not read the book. This does not have the best interest of the consumer in mind.

A review is, by unverified definition, commentary on an item with which the reviewer has engaged. And the definition does not place any conditions on the reviewer—it could be anybody.

Just because your mom or first grade teacher or secret crush reviews your book does not automatically mean I will disregard it. If it’s not just a gushing review but a well-observed gushing review, I don’t care who wrote it. I would take that over a poorly written review by someone the author has never met.

This brings me to the policy announced in the post title: I do not to ask my inner circle to review my books.

I do brazenly e-mail family and friends (and status update, and tweet) about my new releases, signings, and speaking engagements—but I feel that is less ethically questionable and it’s certainly more private. Whether or not a person responds to such an e-mail remains between that person and me.

However, asking a confidante to post a review ultimately involves others. It is a form of mass, if mild, deception.

I want all user reviews to come from people who are users, not used. When an author asks relatives and friends to post a review, some who liked the book oblige not because they feel they have something distinct to add to the conversation but simply because they want to help a person they care about. Some who did not like the book might oblige for the same reason. And some might do so out of guilt.

None of it leads to organic feedback. I wouldn’t want to put a loved one in any of these awkward positions. 

But if a friend voluntarily posts a review, I’ll welcome it because it has a sincere origin.

The last question: what about asking strangers—for example, readers of one’s blog—to review your book?

You see how easily this gets murky?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Jingle Bill Rock

And so concludes the longest content lapse I have allowed since launching this blog in early 2008. To those who noticed, I apologize. To trot out that old chestnut on a day when chestnuts are especially apropos, the radio silence was due to circumstances beyond my control.

To resume, I’m honored to share that Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman has been named to multiple “best of 2012” lists and holiday gift guides. (Hey, there are still ten more shopping hours till the end of Christmas!) 

USA Today 12/14/12

holiday gift guide to the best graphic novels of the year 

“Deeply researched…revelatory” 

Special thanks to David Colton, who also put Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman on the front page of the Life section of USA Today.

I’m not only thrilled but also relieved that my book got ink in USA Today. This is because, in August, I was told that the paper would cover the book somehow. Of course, I didn’t take that as a guarantee, but did feel confident it would probably happen…so when I designed Bill the Boy Wonder promotional postcards, in August, I included USA Today on the “as seen in” list.

Even if the book ultimately did not make it in, it would still not be a lie per se—or so I rationalized—because Boys of Steel had been in USA Today. If anyone asked, I would claim that “as seen in” referred not specifically to the Batman book but rather to me as an author. I’m glad this didn’t come to pass because no one would have believed me. 

Washington Post 12/23/12

comics gift guide: 12 favorite reads of 2012 

Number one, baby! (Disclaimer: They are not ranked qualitatively.)

“Deftly, with care, give[s] Finger his due”

Thank you again to Michael Cavna, who also covered the book earlier this year.

MTV Geek

best graphic novels of 2012

Ditto thanks to Valerie Gallaher (and company), who ran perhaps the funniest Bill-related headline of the year.

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

2012 Guide Book to Gift Books

“Meticulously researched” 


best kids’ books of 2012


Lastly, I’m flattered that the trailer for Bill the Boy Wonder made the list of “best Batman-themed picture book trailers of 2012.” (Disclaimer: this is a list of one, and self-generated.)

Thank you again, kind reviewers. And thank you also to readers, young and young at heart, who have privately given me equally humbling reviews of a book that has been so very special to me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Book trailer conventions worth breaking

Are book trailers new enough that my making a single one qualifies me to dispense advice about them? Probably not, but then again, most of us sling opinions about things we’ve never done and never will do (play pro football, sing at the American Idol finals, be the leader of the free world).

And for what it’s worth, I did put in twice as much time on my trailer than I'd planned.

So…the following list of book trailer conventions worth breaking is not comprehensive, not ranked, and not likely to shatter the core of what you thought you knew, but will hopefully be helpful nonetheless:

#1 – keep it watchable (no matter the length)

Generally speaking, I think shorter is more strategic. But when someone says “It was too long,” what he probably means is “It’s not interesting enough.” Something longer and engaging is better than something short and forgettable. So rather than focusing on keeping it short, focus on keeping it watchable. (Book people tend to have longer attention spans anyway.)

#2 – show book interiors (picture books only)

If you have a clever way to do so, by all means. But if it will be just a pan-and-scan variation of the same samples that will be on Amazon, why bother? As with your book itself, take the trailer as an opportunity to give readers/viewers something they haven’t seen before…and won’t see elsewhere again. If you do include interiors, I encourage you to include something else as well.

#3 – explain the premise in detail

Surely your book is resplendent, but sell it with a tease, not a torrent. Think back cover, not inside front flap.

#4 – (related) use intertitles plentifully

Yes, books are read—but book trailers don’t have to be. Every project should take ample advantage of its medium. Therefore, in making a trailer, pay attention to words, yes, but also to sound, pacing, composition, and other aspects of filmmaking. In fact, a good challenge: use as few intertitles as you can.

#5 – avoid material that is not in the book

What for? You’re not studying for a test! Actually, an interesting tidbit that for whatever reason did not make it into your book could be the hinge of a good trailer! In ‘80s TV parlance, such a tidbit was often called a “blooper.” On DVDs and downloads, it is called a “deleted scene.” And in this case “deleted” is a positive; “deleted” = “I want.”

#6 – do not have Batman in your trailer

No, do. If your book allows for it, and you stick to fair use, and you can bribe someone to don the costume, you will confirm what Gotham City has known for 70+ years: it’s nice to have the Dark Knight on your side.

If you want to see examples of each of the above in action, here is my trailer.

You want your book to stand out so be sure your book trailer does, too. Good luck, multi-hyphenates!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Calling all gays and lesbians of 1980s New York

While researching Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, I went to nutty lengths to find people who knew Bill Finger or his family. Given that Bill had died in 1974 and left less trace than you would believe, I had little choice.

His first wife Portia died in 1990, so I felt I had a shot of finding friends of hers, many of whom were gay. There is a gay and lesbian center near where she was living when she died, so I made this flyer and posted it there:

Since that didn’t work, I’m posting it here. (By the way, the phone number is old and inactive.)