Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Back on a Decade of Change -- and, I Dare Say, Character Definition

In some ways I wanted all along and in some ways I never even saw coming, the past ten years have been the years that will define me. This decade saw me through a failed middle school attempt at popularity; a national tragedy; the death of a close friend; red hair dye and arm warmers; my first kiss; a summer on my own in Alaska; my discovery of the publishing world; a definitive week at writers’ camp; my first job; Shakespeare, Kesey and Stoppard; a growing social conscience; AP tests, SATs and college applications; close friendships and moments that tested them; declaring my major and deciding on a career; first love; first heartbreak; Fitzgerald, Flannery O'Connor and Toni Morrison; a semester of traveling in England and Europe; hurting and healing and finally finding myself all over again; graduating from college; moving to a new city without a single friend; meeting and learning from people whose backgrounds and beliefs and classes and cultures are totally different from mine; two fantastic publishing internships; Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins and Meg Rosoff; struggling and job searching and forging a new life for myself -- it was the stuff of a young adult novel, the roots and branches of my own coming-of-age story.

And it seems fitting that, after a decade in which I experienced my young life to the fullest and grew (often painfully and often wonderfully) to adulthood, I’ll be kicking off the next decade with yet another step towards the future I started to dream of at the very beginning of this one. I’ve just moved back to Baltimore, and next week I’ll be starting what I hope is a long career in publishing as an Editorial Assistant at a publishing company down here.

Like any great story, this decade has made me laugh and made me cry, and it constantly challenged me to redefine myself and my values, to learn from and to love those around me, to adapt to change, to grow through struggle and, most of all, to always hang on to hope.

That’s what I’m taking into this new decade. What about you -- what are your stories of the last decade?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Editor Appreciation Day!

Okay, so I'm not an author, but I sure appreciate editors! Heck, I appreciate them so much, I want to be one of them. And, during my journey into publishing, I've been so fortunate to have known and learned from a variety of truly wonderful, insightful editors. These folks have taught me the A-to-Z of bookmaking. In the process, they've inspired me with their brilliance and poise, developed my skills by offering their good examples, and pushed me to grow and succeed.

Today, I'm thinking about and hoping to thank these wonderful editors:

  • Bruce Bortz and Harrison Demchick of Bancroft Press, who took me on as a bright-eyed, opinionated college junior and made it their goal to help me succeed. Bruce enlisted me to tear down the mountain of unsolicited manuscripts towering over the basement floor, and the daunting task forced me to sharpen my reading skills, develop a clear picture of my tastes, and become discerning and decisive. Harrison's editorial letters offered me the model off of which I began basing my interactions with authors, and they taught me to think like an editor and to express myself to authors in a way that's professional, engaging and clear. Finally, Bruce brought me into every editorial discussion at the press and carefully considered my input; he put his own work on hold time and again to explain the publishing process or to help me make contacts and find jobs; and he pointed his clients to me for freelance work and hired me to design the covers of two of his books. The two of them opened the door to the industry for me, and then encouraged me to go through.

  • Emily Clement, Assistant Editor over at Scholastic's Arthur A. Levine Books, who offered me an internship that changed my life. Emily's as sweet and patient as she is sharp, and I could not be more grateful to have had her as a mentor and teacher. Throughout my summer internship, she kept an eye out for projects that would interest me specifically, and she offered me the chance to join her in editorial discussions, production meetings, marketing efforts, imprint meetings, company parties and more; to work with original illustrations and manuscript proofs; and to meet some big players in the industry. What's more, Emily took the time to counsel me through a difficult transition and a trying job search. From Emily I learned more lessons than I can count. She taught me how to write helpful reader's reports and even helpful rejection letters; what qualities to look for in a picture-book manuscript and how a great manuscript gets paired up with the right illustrator; how all of the departments at a large press work together to create and promote a classic; and some of the concepts that are at the heart of all the best children's books.

  • Cheryl Klein, Arthur A. Levine's Senior Editor, who was (and is) an inspiration and a role model for her quirky professionalism, her unbounded enthusiasm and her absolute brilliance when it comes to editing. Cheryl gave me the chance to read hot submissions before anyone else and to look over her shoulder as she went through rounds of revisions with authors. She offered praise and guidance throughout my internship, answered all my questions readily, and taught me through her fantastic example how to be a passionate, professional, unstoppable editor. From Cheryl I learned how to judge a manuscript's and an author's potential, how to take a project through acquisitions, and how to work with an author to make sure that she achieves what she wants to and that her writing becomes the best it can be along the way.

  • Arthur Levine, publisher at AAL Books and all-around superstar, who not only gave America the chance to read two of my favorite series (for those who don't know, Arthur is J. K. Rowling's American editor and, during his time at Knopf, he helped bring the Golden Compass series to the U.S.), but who also welcomed me into his imprint and offered a third fantastic example of editorial greatness. Arthur is so witty and entertaining that simply talking to him is a pleasure, but learning from him is truly an honor. During weekly imprint meetings with him, I learned about what to look for in illustration submissions, how to fit the pieces of a great picture-book narrative together into a cohesive story, and how to present myself and my ideas professionally.

  • Laura Musich of W. W. Norton, who shares my absolute love of Mary GrandPre and all things designerly and wonderful, and who took a chance on offering me freelance work, thereby giving me the opportunity to learn all about copy-editing and e-media by working directly with it. Laura is funny, open-minded and more than willing to teach and to help newcomers, and my great experiences working with her led me to consider the textbook side of publishing (where the glamor is scaled back a little, but so is the stress).

  • Erica Stern, Laura Romain, Amy Cherry and Angela von der Lippe, all of W. W. Norton's trade division, who gave me a glimpse of the world of trade publishing for adults. The four of them constantly challenged me to broaden my horizons and to learn outside of my field. I worked on a variety of projects for them, and in doing so learned about what makes trade nonfiction captivating and marketable, how rights and permissions work, and how to track a book through its publication process.
I consider myself fortunate to have become a part of such a supportive, inspiring and extraordinary community of book editors. They haven't just made it possible for me to find a job in publishing -- they've taught me, inspired me, and enriched my life by giving me something to aspire to.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How Sad is Too Sad in Children's Books?

I’ve been pondering this topic lately because I finally read Bridge to Terabithia over Thanksgiving (I know, I know, just now!? But I had a bit of a one-track mind as a child, and because of it I missed out on a lot of great books the first time around. Fortunately, I get to relive childhood constantly as an intern, and hopefully one day as an editor). It's something I consider often, because as a teen I gravitated towards dark books, and as an adult I continue to find I admire authors who very truthfully convey sadness. Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now is one of the most devastating books I know, but it nonetheless is one of my very favorites. As a child, I recall crying through Where the Red Fern Grows and parts of Island of the Blue Dolphins. Heck, I even cried as an adult during the last three Harry Potter books.

However, the seeds of this post were actually sown several months ago. I had just spent the greater part of the morning curled up in an armchair, soaking up the perfectly whimsical ninth-floor view of the city and reading a manuscript. My supervisor was out for a few days, but she had left two neatly bound copies of a manuscript for my fellow intern and I to review. The two of us had fallen into a comfortable routine by then, and when 11:00 a.m. came around and I started to feel caffeine withdrawal, Sam was usually rounding the corner, asking if I was ready for a tea run.

Still, I believe the two of us were late for tea that day, too immersed in the story’s gentle lyricism to pull away, and when we finally trekked up to the cafeteria we were bursting with ideas we just had to discuss. We loved the manuscript; we saw so many possibilities; we couldn’t wait for the editorial discussion and for rounds of revisions. Sam and I agreed on many of its finest points, and on many of the places where it needed strengthening.

But while I emptied a packet of sweetener into my empty mug, Sam mentioned something that surprised me: “I wonder,” she said, “if this chapter isn’t too sad for children.”

She had a point; the chapter included some moments that were almost horrifyingly bleak -- moments that showed characters at their worst, with no hope to go on. Of course, I had found the chapter sad -- heartbreaking, even. But I also found it beautifully written and terribly true to life. In fact, I had admired how well the author had captured the many ways in which broken people confront sorrow. I had never thought that it might be too sad for children.

And really, what it comes down to is this: I don’t know if I think “too sad for children” exists. Because in real life, every child deals with sorrow. And some children deal with the sort of breathtaking sorrow that we’d hide from them forever, if there were any way we could.

Children’s literature serves so many purposes. Sometimes it constructs elaborate fantasy worlds in which we wrap our children up, protecting them from the evils that we can’t hide in our own world. Sometimes it instructs or encourages children to dream and create, to push the boundaries of their imaginations. Sometimes it offers a safe way for children to experience danger through someone else’s eyes. Sometimes it reassures children that the world is a good and proper place. And sometimes -- in my opinion, some of the most important times -- it shows children that they are not alone, and that no feeling lasts forever.

If there were no children who missed a parent or a sibling or a friend; no children who struggled to gain the love of those who should give it freely; and none who faltered time and time again while trying to find their place in the world, perhaps we would need no sad literature for children. But those children do exist, and they need to be able to find themselves in books. They need to be free to open a book and meet a character who hurts for all the same reasons that they do. And they need to be able to follow that character through the healing process -- to see that they won’t have to hurt forever, that even after all that awful sorrow, there is some joy left in the world.

The manuscript I read that day and Bridge to Terabithia, How I Live Now, Where the Red Fern Grows, and countless other phenomenal books for children and young adults, ultimately tell a story about one of literature’s most powerful emotions: hope. And I applaud them for tackling the depths of sorrow they have to confront in order to tell that story; I hope children experience them deeply and come out of them with a better understanding of life and its many battles.

Let's not aim to keep children from journeying into dark places; rather, let's send them there -- all in order to show them the way out into the sun.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Publishing: Giving Yours Truly a Sense of Purpose Since 2001

Yesterday, while driving back to my family's house after yet another interview (!), I listened to the end of NPR's interview with Jason Reitman, who directed Juno and, more recently, Up in the Air (which he also wrote, in collaboration with Sheldon Turner). I didn't catch much of the interview, but while discussing his latest project Jason mentioned something that had intrigued him -- and which, in turn, really struck me.

Up in the Air features a character who makes his living by firing others. While filming in St. Louis and Detroit, Reitman took the opportunity to put out an open casting call for people who had recently lost their jobs. He interviewed each of the hundred people who responded for ten minutes, and simulated their lay-offs on-camera, asking each of them to respond as they had on the day they were fired. The process was eye-opening, as you can imagine.

And what intrigued me about the interviews Reitman described was this detail: though he asked each of his interviewees what the hardest part of unemployment was, none of them answered the way he expected. He had thought people would say the obvious -- that finding money was tough -- but not a single interviewee mentioned that. Overwhelmingly, the unemployed people to whom he spoke responded that what they struggled with, each day, was finding a sense of purpose. "I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing," they told him.

Okay, so that's not the spot of cheer you were looking for to start your day. But I was really struck by the reality of that comment, and I can't help but draw parallels to my own situation as I look for a way into the publishing industry, and to the situation of those already in the industry as it changes and as it suffers from the economy.

Let's be honest -- none of us are in this for the money. The industry has taken a hit of late, but it's never offered the sort of career that makes many people rich. And that fact, in some ways, really defines the people who enter the industry, whether they do so as writers, editors, publishers, designers, publicists, marketers, or salespeople. The people who come to the industry, knowing it offers long hours and low pay, come to it because they have what everyone is looking for. They have an overwhelming sense of purpose.

When publishing struggles -- when you're worried about your career, or struggling to keep up with its changes, or trying to get your footing and find your way into that elusive first job -- it's more important than ever to take some time to remember that, and to hold on to it. So tell me, writer friends and editor friends and random followers whose presence here may or may not make sense: what makes the industry meaningful to you? What have your struggles been, and what do you do when you need to be reminded of why you keep on going? What triumphs have given you a sense of purpose?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How Book Blogging Can Make a Book Big, or How it Can Change the World

A few weeks ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon at the Children's Literary Cafe at the New York Public Library's new Children's Room. Pam Coughlan, Elizabeth Burns, Susan Thomsen and Anne Boles Levy (co-founder and director of The Cybils, who is unfortunately no longer blogging) led a fascinating panel on the Kidlitosphere and The Cybils. Moderated by SLJ blogger extraordinaire Elizabeth Bird, the four blogging powerhouses talked about everything from the creation of the Cybils to FTC limitations on advertisements in blogs.

Now, I'm always interested in thinking about how power shifts and influence is asserted, so when we began to discuss how bloggers have changed not only the book review process but the whole of the publishing process, I was intrigued. Fifteen years ago, the ladies said, publishers would have sent Advanced Reader's Copies (ARCs) of an upcoming title to all the known review sources (The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and so on and so forth), just as they do today. But, for the most part, that would have been it; a whole world of active bloggers didn't yet exist.

These days, bloggers have asserted themselves in a big way, and publicity departments take bloggers who review books more than seriously. The big-name review sources are great for reaching wide general audiences and especially for appealing to librarians. Nonetheless, really good bloggers often have their own groups of hundreds if not thousands of dedicated readers, and no publisher wants to miss the opportunity to reach that book-hungry crowd.

So bloggers can find themselves practically swimming in free review copies (major bonus), and publishers can benefit from the sort of word-of-mouth publicity that turns great books into major hits. The catch for publishers? Reviewers get to say whatever they want.

And so they have, to great effect. What I love about the power bloggers now wield in the book industry is that they can do far more than just trash a book; they can question it. And when enough bloggers question, somebody has to answer.

It was bloggers who first started questioning the review copies of Justine Larbalestier's Liar, wondering why the cover featured a white girl when the main character was clearly African-American. When Justine admitted that she was unhappy with the cover but that the house had refused to change it, posting her own powerful objection to the white-washing of titles in what is still, in many ways, an unequal industry, the battle took off.

Publishers and readers alike began to look for how race was addressed in the books they read. Cheryl Klein of Scholastic's Arthur A. Levine Books immediately posted her encouragement to writers dealing with issues of race, and updated her submission guidelines to encourage racially diverse submissions. Justine suggested that readers show the industry just how well covers featuring minority groups can sell by making an effort to buy at least one book featuring a person of color on its cover, and readers delivered. And everyone in the industry was reminded that book publishing no longer happens in some hidden room filled with the smells of ink and rust and paper where editors lurk and marketers plot their dastardly marketing plans (interns, of course, lurk in an even darker and more hidden room).

Justine's plea for readers to buy books featuring characters of color plays off of the power of the consumer, which is a strong force indeed. But the power of bloggers may even exceed it. Publishers are spending more money and more time attempting to appeal to reviewers -- a look at the flashy covers attached to review copies now but never present twenty years ago can show you that -- and they're looking to early reviewers to do more than generate blurbs. Because they see books before they even hit the market, bloggers can provide feedback that incites change in a book before it's ever released.

The best Justine might have hoped for, after her book's release, would have been a paperback reissue with a different cover. But bloggers saw the book before anyone else and made their opinions known; in response, Bloomsbury changed the cover of Liar.

My guess is that the power of bloggers will only grow as social media and e-publishing become more prominent in the industry. As bloggers test the limits of their power, publishers are beginning to realize that they have no choice but to be up-front about their practices. And the more we talk about what's going on behind publishing-house doors, the more the industry has to take our opinions into account.

So you can consider this an invitation, a wake-up call or a mission statement. What's bothering you right now? Is it the dearth of minority characters in fiction? Is it the infuriating absence of female writers on the Publisher's Weekly Top 10 Books of 2009 list? The antifeminist trend of glorified, disempowered female protagonists? Or perhaps the questionable motives of large publishers experimenting with new divisions and sources of income?

Whether you agree or disagree with those conflicts -- in fact, whatever issue gets you fired up, I hope you're being very vocal about it. What's more, I hope you're being vocal in a way that encourages discussion, sharing and, most of all, change. Because you have more power than you may know.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In Which I Get Overly Excited About Graphic-Designy Things

Thanks to the awesome Mitali Perkins, I have a Wordle:

Wordle: Trac Changes

I do not know if this has a use. But it is pretty, and makes me feel an inflated sense of success in blogging. I repeat the right words! Go me!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled "real" content.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What Can a Job Interview Teach You About Writing?

My apologies, gentle readers, for the long silence! The many, many hours I have spent toiling over cover letters and sending job applications finally paid off in what amounted to an epic (read: long, very busy and absolutely exhilerating) week of interviews. That was enough to drag me (not quite kicking and screaming) away from the computer and my brand new baby of a blog.

I had another post planned, but I've got interviews on the brain. So with no further ado I submit, for your approval, what a job interview can teach you about writing:

  1. Practice, practice, practice.
    I spent a lot of time talking to my mirror this week. Really. Yes, I am the resident expert in the subject of my life and times, but that doesn't mean I don't need to practice telling my story in the way that best serves my purpose.

    You should do the same with writing. Write the same story, write different stories, write from different points of view, write your characters' back-stories, write scenes you know you'll never use, write dialogue, write descriptions, write love letters to your characters, write hate mail to your manuscripts, write bad love scenes, write good combat, write until your fingers ache. And then, for Locke's sake, go back and delete or re-write most of it. Concert pianists rehearse every day. Major-league baseball players practice every day. Are you going to let people say those guys are working harder than you?

  2. Hiring decisions are made in the first five minutes of the interview.
    Put your best foot forward right from the get-go. In an interview, this is crucial; it's all about appearance, presentation and engagement. I'm sure that, for an interview, you'd dress professionally, smile and shake hands firmly with your interviewer upon entering her office. And you'd highlight your best traits, using your strongest examples, in response to the first few questions asked.

    Are you doing the same in your writing? If your novel is an action-packed thriller, are you opening with an action scene that demands that your reader turn the page? If your novel is all about beautiful prose, are you opening with your most lyrical writing yet? If your characters are irresistible, are you showing enough of their personalities to make readers fall in love by the end of the first few pages?

    Editors are busy people, and readers are prone to increasingly short attention spans. It's crucial that you start strong and hook them early. Of course, you'll have to maintain that momentum once you build it, but you win half the battle by engaging your readers immediately. For instance, I knew I would let Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games take me anywhere when, by the twentieth page, it had already moved me to proud, fearful tears on the main character's behalf (and I am heartless, gentle readers, and rarely cry).

  3. Tell the truth. Your interviewer knows when you're lying.
    Yes, interviewers have magic powers; if you stretch the truth, you can be sure the real story will always find them. And it's oh-so-tempting to tell your interviewer exactly what you know she wants to hear, but she's much more interested in your honest response to the questions asked.

    So how does that relate to writing? Well, you can write that one story set in a steampunk universe which pits angels against zombies in an epic quest/battle resulting in the angst-ridden teenage vampire confessing his undying passion for the quirky/carefree bisexual heroine with pink hair just before they save the world from the dark overlord... Or, you can stop worrying about what the market is doing right now, and you can write the story you know to be true.

    Yes, vampires are selling right now, and folks have a number of theories about what the Next Big Thing will be. But some of the best books of the year ignored the trends entirely and instead hit readers with deep emotional truths and with powerful, original voices that brought their characters to life. They resonate with readers because they feel true. Books like Marcelo in the Real World and Stitches and more can only come from writers who have spent time examining their thoughts and emotions, their reactions to the world around them, their collected memories and their sense of what is deeply true and universal to mankind: loss, love, heartbreak, heroism, humor. So take the hint from them, writers: know thyself. And know thy world. Which leads us nicely to this next tip:

  4. A good candidate is as much a listener as a talker.
    An interview is as much a chance for you to evaluate the company as it is for them to evaluate you, and the only way to do that is to give your interviewer ample time to tell you about the role. That means talking only half the time, and spending the rest of it paying attention to what the interviewer has to say and asking insightful questions of your own.

    As a writer, you need to approach life the same way: you need to spend as much time listening to the world as you do writing about it. That means both reading voraciously (which of course you already do) and being constantly attuned to the world around you. What does your friend say when she gets good news? Bad news? When she stubs her toe? When she's just woken up in the morning and hasn't had her tea yet? (Yes, tea. Your friend is secretly a Britophile, like me.) How does your mom say those things? How does that woman from next door? And while you're at it, describe how they walk--timidly, like a sparrow hopping a bit closer for a handout, or maybe with a swinging gate and proud shoulders? What might that solitary passerby be thinking when he stops, knocks on the wood of a cafe's table, and then keeps walking?

    Lucky you, you get to do more than just live your life; you get to question everyone and everything you see. The more you do it, the more you'll come to understand the experience of being human, and the closer you'll get to that emotional truth.

  5. It's all about the follow-through!
    Maybe your week, like mine, has been completely insane, and you've had to dash from interviews to work and then home to study and try to get a little sleep before doing it again. Sadly, that doesn't mean you get to slack off on following up with an email and hand-written thank you note. Whether you like it or not, nobody's putting in the effort to keep you at the front of your interviewer's mind but you. Job-searching is a full-time job and, like in an office environment, if you slack off you let somebody else down--in this case, yourself.

    Writing is a full-time job, too, and nobody else is looking for ways to give you more time to write. Life certainly isn't going to hand you a ticket to the mountain/beach/woodland/alternate universe where you can get your creative juices flowing and write to your heart's content. And if you let yourself use the excuse that you don't have time to write, then you will most likely never find the time. So find a way to make it. Personally, I love Johanna Harness's dedication: she wakes up before 5:00 am every morning to write before the day can get in her way.

    However you have to do it, find yourself some time to write and consider it non-negotiable. If you'd just interviewed for the perfect job, you wouldn't risk losing it by ignoring that vital thank you note, would you? You'd make time, somehow. So offer your writing that same importance. (But if you have a job, maybe try to hang on to it, at least until you sell a book that becomes a big hit. Unless you're Justine Larbalestier.)
Speaking of which, it's high time I get back to that full-time job-searching I've been doing. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Quick Hit: Reading Text vs. Reading Images

It's been a pleasure to learn from all the insightful responses to my last post; you're all right that, despite my concerns about the potential for graphic novels to be marginalized if we focus on their differences from traditional books, there are many good reasons to consider what sets them apart. I particularly like the point made by wordweaver06:

I think that graphic novels would actually benefit from being in their own category. It would allow them to be judged not only on the effectiveness of the writing, but also on the effectiveness of the art. And how well the two elements work together to tell the story. If they're simply being thrust into the same category as conventional novels, the recognition of how those elements interact runs the risk of going unnoticed.
Kristy Valenti recently covered a panel on graphic novels held at the Seattle Bookfest on October 24th. Gary Groth, Megan Kelso, Ellen Forney and Leigh Walton took questions on a myriad of topics at the event, but they kick-started the whole shebang with some information that was fascinating and completely relevent:

Forney kicked things off by explaining that she had taught a studio graphic novel class, which was composed of art and design students; however, she recently began teaching a graphic-novel lit class, which focuses on reading and discussing comics with students from different majors. She said it was a different experience: that the students weren't as versed in the language of comics. Groth said that they weren't acculturated to comics, and since they weren't habituated, they didn't have the skill to know how to read them.

...Kelso, who did not grow up reading comics, commented that she used to read the words and forget to read the pictures. She noted that comics are like a foreign language: when one sees words that are familiar, one tends to neglect the rest. Absorbing pictures is a skill, she explicated: and, again like a foreign language, children learn it more easily, and it becomes natural.... [Kelso also said] that research suggested that reading comics taps into more parts of the brain that [sic] simply reading text alone.
Perhaps what's most important, if we are going to wrap graphic novels up into their own separate category, is that we consider the change an opportunity to educate readers. I hope the fans of graphic novels (and it seems there are many!) will make themselves heard over those who might undermine the form. I hope that they keep talking about what makes the marriage of images with words so rich and meaningful. And I hope that, as the popularity of graphic novels spreads, they teach readers to read images as well as words, and in doing so offer us a new way to experience the wonderful, imaginative act of reading.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Are Graphic Novels Really in a Category All Their Own?

Two weeks ago today, when the National Book Award finalists were announced, one title in particular caused quite a stir: David Small's Stitches. The memoir in graphic novel form received a nod, alongside four other phenomenal books, in the Young Adult category. Publishers, authors, booksellers and readers alike were thrilled - and confused. On Twitter, in blogs and even in Publishers Weekly, the resounding question was: Why YA?

NBA judges don't choose the categories to assign nominations - publishers do. And on the day that the finalists were announced, the internet was alive with theories as to why W. W. Norton submitted Stitches in the YA category. Publishers Weekly quoted Heather Doss, Bookazine's children's merchandise manager, guessing that its publishers were wary of pitting the book against strong competition in the adult nonfiction category, where the memoir might more obviously have fit. It's possible; after all, the nonfiction category saw more nominations than any other (481 versus YA's 251 nominations) and boasted a myriad of strong literary and academic titles. But other readers thought the nomination had more to do with the book's format as a graphic novel: "The cynical side of me," @chasingray Tweeted, "says Stitches was nominated as YA because a gn [graphic novel] has a better shot there than in the adult category."

What concerns me, in all this controversy, is not the implications of this nomination for the field of YA literature, but the questions highlighted by these comments: where, in the literary world, do graphic novels belong? And can they hold their own against mainstream fiction and nonfiction titles?

The well-known manager of WORD, a popular bookstore in Brooklyn, noted the Stitches controversy on her Twitter. "Maybe that's a sign," she said, that "graphic novels and comics should be getting their own NBAs? Long overdue, I think." And it seems that, in large part, the mainstream publishing world agrees with her. Publishers Weekly has announced a new Children's Comics review section, which might mean that we're closer to creating a new category than we might think.

Given the growing popularity of graphic novels (not to mention film adaptations of graphic novels and comics), readers might be thrilled to see the category finally recognized. But as for me - I'm concerned.

Sure, a separate, recognized category for graphic novels would in some way offer the popular, artistic form an official statement of validation from the mainstream book world. On some level, it would be read as an acknowledgment that graphic novels can be art and literature on par with the more traditional books that have been recognized and enjoyed for centuries. But on another level, the creation of a separate category for graphic novels would give the genre a "separate but equal" status, if you'll excuse my phrasing there, in the book world.

If you've spent any amount of time with me in real life, you'll know that I am an avid photographer as well as a reader and baby publisher. As such, I approach this discussion with a mind to the history of photography, and some aspects of the debate are giving me déjà vu.

When photography first became accessible to the average person and began to gain widespread popularity, it was shunned by the art world. Compared to painting, the most recognized and applauded art form at the time, photography was quick and too true-to-life. What's more, it was too popular; photographs found their first fans among families that could never have afforded to commission a painting, but now found family portraits and keepsake images available to them. Artists, for the most part, viewed the rising interest in photography as anything between frivolous and vulgar. Of course, some artists went against the grain and accepted photography as an art, but it was years before mainstream galleries and literary publishers began to showcase photographs at all (The New Yorker, for instance, was extremely slow in incorporating photographs alongside illustrations). And when they did, they most often housed photographs in entirely separate galleries from the more accepted works of drawing, painting and sculpture.

While photographers celebrated being recognized as artists at all, the distinction drawn between photography and other forms of art had negative implications for the art. The separation said, effectively, that photography might be art, but it certainly wasn't the same as other art. And, given the art world's strong resistance to photography, the underlying implication was that photography was not just a different art, but a lesser one. The dominant opinion in the art world seemed to be that photography required some skill, but the skill was at best different from and at worst inferior to the skill of a painter.

See the similarities? Though graphic novels cannot always be called comics and often share little, plot-wise, with their cousins in the publishing world, they do find their roots there. Comics have long faced strong biases in the world of publishing. They are the book world's photography: relatively quick reads that aren't seen as throwing a lot of literary punches. But after years of resistance, the mainstream publishing world has begun to see the merit of the genre that has come out of the marriage of comics to literature: the graphic novel. They still have their naysayers, but the many literary merits of graphic novels like Stitches, Alan Moore's Watchmen series and Art Spiegelman's Maus (to name just a few) are finally beginning to be understood.

And I would argue that putting graphic novels into their own category will only limit our ability to see those merits. Separate graphic novels often have less in common with each other than they do with other, more traditional books; does a graphic fantasy series like Neil Gaiman's Sandman share more with Stitches or with David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas? Is Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis more like Frank Miller's Sin City or Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran? And shouldn't those comparisons be made based on the marriage of form and content, rather than on one or the other?

Today photography is much more accepted in the mainstream world of art (and most experts would argue that it has usurped painting's place as the dominant art form) but it had to overcome a lot of bias to get there, including bias that stemmed from what initially seemed like a nod of recognition for the art form. That's certainly not what I hope to see happen with graphic novels.

What about you all? What do you think - should graphic novels be compared based on their form, or their content? How do you expect the opinion of the mainstream publishing world regarding graphic novels to change over the next several years?