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Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The End of an Era: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

 by Jenny Ramaley

After rereading the last three Harry Potter books (then watching the accompanying films) to get back up to speed, my daughter and I went to see the final Harry Potter film. Author J.K Rowling pulled off the hard task of keep the series engaging and ending Harry’s quest in a satisfying way, while the filmmaking team did a superb job in recreating the story visually.

Despite the dangers Harry faces,
the first book is A-Okay for 10-11 year olds.


Harry’s been a part of our lives since 1997. It took 10 years to publish the books covering the seven years at Hogwarts, and beginning in 2001, it took 10 years to bring the story to the screen.  My girls grew up with Harry and anxiously awaited each new book. Looking back, it was a blessing that they were the right age at the right time to grow with the boy wizard. Each book grew a little darker, the danger levels ticked upward. The main characters of Harry, Ron and Hermione not only had to grapple with the threat of Lord Voldemort, but also with puberty, hormones and snogging – which at times was more terrifying than dark magic – at the same times that my daughters grappled with growing up. Priceless, as that credit card commercial points out.


The last book is not only dark in tone,
but very complicated plot-wise.
Probably not okay for 10-11 year olds.


Plots also grew increasingly complex with each book. The last book was so convoluted that I remember walking away confused. It took a revisit to Year 6 and a reread of Year 7 to really grasp the complicated intertwining storylines of the horcruxes, wand ownership and the three hallows.
So here’s a word of advice to parents whose offspring are ready to begin the series: take your time. Having a book released every year gave readers time to be ready for the ever increasing complications and darkness. My offspring experienced the delicious anticipation of waiting for each new publication release date, one that, unfortunately, new readers can bypass. A child reader who may delight in devouring the Year 1 book, may want to tackle the whole series in one school year, but may not be ready to plow through the entire series. It won’t be easy, but try to slow down your young reader.
Perhaps begin a tradition (ok, a bribe) of buying your reader(s) a hardcover  book as a birthday present every year or half year, maybe along with the film of the last book.  Give them an incentive to wait.  If you can, encourage your young readers to take Harry’s journey slowly, so they are ready to tackle the later books when they have matured (just like Harry) and are truly ready.
         Readers, any suggestions to pass along?

Monday, July 25, 2011

DEAR BEN

This letter is addressed to the main character in my upcoming series of early chapter books:


Dear Ben,

     I thought long and hard about writing this letter to you. However, the events of last week made me realize that the relationship we’ve had over these past six years is about to change and we need to come to an understanding that will be beneficial to both of us.
     Last week I received a phone call from a prominent publisher. It came out of the blue and I must admit I was quite taken aback. This publisher is planning to send me a contract for a total of four books. Of course you are going to be featured as the title character, no problem there. And I know you will continue to be a shining example to other authors of how a main character moves the plot forward, shows learning or growth, and is changed by the events of the story.
     You and I know we’ve had some rocky times together (just ask my writer’s group!) There were the times I cast you aside and said there’s no way you’d ever get published. And how about all those changes I made to the plot? I was constantly tinkering and fixing, revising and editing. I know it drove everyone crazy. But I did stick with you. I was loyal to your character to the very end. I embraced all your little quirks and foibles and never changed who you are: a third grade kid with a talent for doodling and a knack for getting into trouble.
     So here is the heart-wrenching problem you and I must face together. When I sign the contract you will become the property of the publisher. Yes, that’s right. We will legally be divorced. They can market and promote you in any way they feel is necessary to boost sales. They even suggested turning you into an app for an I Pad!
     Ben, I’m so torn my heart is breaking in a million pieces. Yes, the excitement and prestige of finally getting my fiction published is amazing. But to give up control of you is tearing me apart.
     So I’m writing this letter with the hope that you’ll understand I have to do what any struggling writer would do. I’m going to sign on the dotted line and trust that the publisher will take care of you with the same love and devotion I’ve shown you all these years.

All my love,
Judy

Friday, July 22, 2011

For the Benefit of Veterans

Posted by Fran McDowell

Though I consider myself a pacifist, when I think of patriotism my mind immediately pulls up images of World War II. Not that I was there, but I spent many hours as a child looking through photos of my father and uncle on leave, looking so young and dapper in their Navy and Army uniforms. They took any chance they could to go home to their aunt and uncle in southern Indiana. One picture, in particular, of my gently, unworldly father posing with his pet duck tucked under his arm, leaves me no doubt that joining the service in time of war was a harrowing experience.

Of course, had it not been for the war, I wouldn't be here today, as my father met my mother at a USO dance while stationed in New York City. They made quite a couple; Manhattan lady working at the NYC library on 5th and 42nd streets, and country boy who dipped water from a well with a tin cup and used the outhouse at night. He says it was my mom's ankles that caught his eye.

This past February, the last know American WW I veteran, Frank Buckles, passed away at the age of 110. But for me, a true product of WWII love, the quickly diminishing nimber of survivors from
that war touches my heart.

Survivors are now in their 80's and 90's, and, in so many cases, we, their children, are caring for them.
My father lives with us, every day missing his "darling", and ever-so-often mentioning her pretty ankles. Each year that passes becomes more difficult. In fact, each month seems to present a new challenge as his strength seems to seep slowly away through the pores of his tissue paper skin. I am in constant pursuit of ways to make his life not only easier, but also somewhat rewarding, all the while trying to avoid my husband and my lives being consumed by my quest.

Each week, it seems, I have a conversation with someone trying to give care and comfort to an aging parent. They are either providing it themselves or wrestling with the best alternatives that they can find and afford. Though each case is different, similarities in the overriding challenge abound. It helps to talk, to pick each others' brains for ideas and solutions.


My friend, and fellow blogger, Jenny Ramaley, turned me on to something I hadn't realized existed--
Veteran's Benefits. As it turns out, the veteran, or the surviving spouse, may qualify for benefits by submitting an application. It can be a very long wait for approval. But benefits are awarded retroactively from date of application. My father will be eligible for a generous monthly stipend that will allow us to pursue assistance with his care that we might not have taken advantage of, otherwise. Details are available through local VA offices.

Though I don't believe we do enough for so many of our vets who need help, young or old, this benefit is a huge boon for my father. Maybe is could be for the Vet in your life, as well.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

S C Poe Joins Rt19Writers Blog

With varied/mixed emotions*, we introduce Rt19Writers' new contributor, S. C. Poe.

Poe is not actually new to the Route19Writers, qua critique group. But Poe is new to the blog. Indeed, Poe is new to blogging. When it comes to the Internet Tubes, Poe is Miniver Cheevy. Regrettably, Poe has always rather scoffed at blogs. . . .

But Poe has achieved a finished first draft (or, as Poe prefers to spell it, draught) of a middle grade novel. Now, Poe is revising. The time for queries draws near. And nowadays (how Poe hates that word!) with queries comes the requirement that the author establish a platform on the Internet.

So into the (back)light of computer-screen day (at bitter last) comes S. C. Poe.

Setting the Internet aside, we find that Poe has much in common with other Route19Writers. Poe shares a passion for fairy tales and folk lore with Kitty, for history with Susan, for suspense and military stories with Carol H, for the bildungsroman with Marcy and Fran, Jenny and Dave. Poe stands in awe of Andrea's versification, of Judy's craft with comedy, Cynthia's scientific prowess, and of Carol B's versatility.

Poe is a devotee of history, mythology, and the classics of all traditions. In reading and writing, Poe eschews contemporary settings. Indeed, Poe considers Mike Mulligan's steam shovel painfully modern. Poe consents to blog, but Poe will not twitter. And Poe does not cook. If you're waiting for ice cream recipes from Poe, you will wait a long time.

Say something to the nice readers, Poe.

[Poe gulps and mutters something that sounds like "h'llo."]


*Trepidation, relief, indifference, and that special glee that is only stirred up when one is able to say "I told you you'd come to this in the end."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ice Cream Heaven

by Cynthia Light Brown

It’s hot. And even here in normally comfortable Pittsburgh, it’s so humid that my brain can’t think in all this liquid. The gray matter is drowning. I can’t even imagine what it’s like in the middle of the continent. So I’m just putting up an activity from my Kitchen Chemistry book. Mmmm. Ice cream…

Supplies

  • ¨ Measuring cups and spoons
  • ¨ 2, quart-size zippered plastic bags
  • ¨ 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • ¨ 1 ½ cups heavy cream, also called whipping cream
  • ¨ 3 tablespoons sugar
  • ¨ 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • ¨ 1 gallon-size zippered plastic bag (if possible, use a freezer bag)
  • ¨ 3 to 4 cups ice
  • ¨ thermometer (optional)
  • ¨ 1 cup rock salt, or table salt
  • ¨ cloth
  • ¨ sprinkles, fruit, nuts, chocolate sauce, whipped cream (optional)

  1. Pour the milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla into one of the smaller plastic bags and seal. Try not to leave too much air in the bag. Place the bag into the other small bag and seal.
  2. Place one cup of ice into the large bag. If you have a thermometer, take the temperature of the ice, then add ½ cup salt.
  3. Place the small bag in the large bag with the ice. Fill the large bag with the rest of the ice, add the rest of the salt, and seal.
  4. Cover the bag with a cloth to protect your hands from the cold. Gently shake the large bag from side to side for about 15 minutes or until the ice cream is solid.
  5. Open the large bag and if you have a thermometer, take the temperature of the ice/salt/water mixture. Did the temperature change? Wipe off the top of the small bag, open carefully, and…yum! Add any toppings you like. If the ice cream is too soft for your liking, you can put it in the freezer for a few minutes to harden. If you’d like, try this again without the salt. What happens?
Slurp, and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Make Room for ROOM

 posted by Andrea Perry


When I think of patriotic things I am reminded of an old phrase that goes something like this: "...as American as apple pie, motherhood, and the 4th of July..." Or was the third thing fireworks, or the American flag? I'm not sure, but I am sure that when I think of motherhood, I am reminded of a book I read recently that I could not put down from the moment I read the first line, "Today I am five."
ROOM is the story of Jack, now officially five years old, who along with his mother has lived his entire life (!) in Room, an 11" by 11" place with Bath, Wardrobe, Duvet, Table, Skylight, Door, Rocker, Dresser and what turns out to be most ominous, Outside.  Not only does your curiosity about why these two are confined to Room make this book a page turner, but more riveting is Jack's voice, as the book is told entirely from his point of view.
  
     " I cried so my eyes nearly melted off."
     "Ma plays with Tank too long but not too long.  She gets sick of things fast, it's from being an adult."
     "What started Baby Jesus growing in Mary's tummy was an angel zoomed down, like a ghost but a really cool one with feathers.  Mary was all surprised, she said, "How can this be?" and then, "OK, let it be."  When Baby Jesus popped out of her vagina on Christmas she put him in a manger but not for the cows to chew, only warm him up with their blowing because he was magic."

Who among us has not heard time and time again over the years that editors are always looking for that 'voice'?  I can't remember ever hearing a more compelling voice than Jack's.  We learn all about Jack and his Ma's world through Jack's observations and in particular what Ma goes through to make their 11" by 11" life bearable.  How is she able to do it?  And can she continue to do it?

     "Today is one of the days when Ma is Gone.  She won't wake up properly.  She's here but not really.  She stays in Bed with the pillows on her head."

Dare I say this story was 'ripped from the headlines' when we have all just heard about Jaycee Dugard?  Mothers are out there who are driven to do incredible things, and thank goodness for their children.  I encourage you to pick up this book to learn about the power of motherhood, as well as to listen to Jack's voice.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Entrepreneurship. Creativity. The American Way.


by
Dave Amaditz

Change. Uncertainty. It's a bit daunting for most of us to think about. More so for me it seems, as I age. Daily routines and keeping close to the certainties in life are coping mechanisms I use to get by. Recently though, the stable foundations I crave were somewhat shaken. On second thought, I'd say they weren't just shaken, they were rocked to the core.
After waking from elective surgery, my right arm was in severe pain and paralyzed. This complication was completely unexpected, and in my case, magnified, because use of my legs and hands are already limited because of my spinal cord injury.
Although the details of what I had to go through between then and now aren't the focus of this post, I can say with certainty, that for the last four months, my life has been extremely uncertain. The reality of what I was facing turned out to be much different than what I expected.
I thought I'd be in the hospital for a few days. It turned out to be a month. I thought that following discharge I'd immediately resume my normal activities. Two months with the therapist coming three days a week and one month following that I'm still struggling to achieve my pre-operative functionality.
So what does all this have to do with writing, this month's blog topic of patriotism, or this posts title?
Well, when I finally felt energetic enough to think about writing, one of the first things I did was to check out this blog. We were posting about whether there would be a future for picture books, whether the traditional book would still be around since the advent of e-books, what role publishing houses, editors and agents would have in the acceptance and publication of our writing.
As a writer who's followed the business, these topics weren't completely new to me. However, perhaps because of the complications from my surgery, it seemed so blatantly obvious that change was a-coming and coming fast. It scared me. I felt somewhat lost and frightened. And I found myself wondering, even if only for a short time, if writing was something that would be there for me when I was ready to once again hop onto the writing bus.
The questions foremost in my mind quickly became... How these changes would affect me and what could be done about it? The same two basic questions I faced following my surgery.
In no particular order I settled on doing the following. It was not so much a conscious effort as something I simply did, my way of coping, you might say.
1. Obtain knowledge, since after all, knowledge is power. I read all the material I could find about what was happening in the business (by the way, during rehabilitation I used any spare time to educate myself on what had happened to me during my surgery)
I talked to those with first-hand knowledge about the situation... My doctors and therapists were the primary contacts when it came to rehabilitation. My fellow Route 19 writers were first and foremost regarding industry news. This helped to ease my mind. This let me know how to attack the problem.
2. Don't become complacent.  Just taking the first step instead of hiding in your shell where it is comfortable, where you don't have to face the problems or where you can pretend the problems don't exist seems so simple and obvious, but can be the most difficult. However difficult though, pretend you're in the Nike commercial and "just do it". The problem won't get better, and in some cases, may get worse by doing nothing.
3. Don't let the situation overwhelm you. If you feel this is happening don't look at the whole picture because the task might then seem too large to tackle. (This leads to the next suggestion.)
4. Establish goals. Take life and your problems one step at a time, one day at a time... and on those really bad days one hour or one minute at a time. Don't worry if the goals are too small. Keep in mind where you were so you can get a clearer picture of where you currently are and where you are going.
5. Keep in mind why you do what you do. For me, I write because I love to write. I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I complete a story. I'm happier when I get a story published or a positive critique, but it isn't entirely about that.
I did, and continues to do my therapy because I want to become the best person I could. I want to show my family, especially my children, what can be accomplished through hard work.
6. Keep the faith. Believe in yourself. Believe in those around you. Surround yourself with those who will support you. Surround yourself with those with knowledge that can help you become successful.
I take this one step further. I believe that whatever happens in life is all part of God's plan. I gave up long ago questioning "why" things happen. Instead, I find it much easier to move on and to move on quickly.
7. Find humor in the situation. Even when things seem the worst there's always something to laugh about. It probably won't be at the exact second something bad has happened, but as you reflect, there will certainly be something you will remember. During my most recent problems, I often complained that I was never "so tired or so sore from doing so little." My friends reminded me that that "I was, after all, getting older."
8. Think about others. When I think my situation is bad I put myself in the shoes of others. I quickly realize how fortunate I am. If that doesn't work, I read the newspaper, watch the television or volunteer to help those less fortunate. It doesn't take long to realize there are others whose lives are much worse than mine.
9. Don't let change keep you down. Don't let it frighten you. Look at examples from the past. I was reminded often by my father, through his father, that at the turn of the 19th century Americans were worried about jobs and about their future because of a new invention called the automobile. What would happen to those who made the wagon wheel, wagons, and those who shoed the horses? In the late 1970s the Pittsburgh area, known for its steel mills, saw thousands upon thousands of jobs lost. What would ever take the place of mother steel? Who could have predicted the success of personal computers and a little thing like the Internet?
So today, when you turn on your computer, your Ipad, Nook, or whatever other reading device you use to read the latest about the demise of the publishing industry, the downfall of picture books or the future of the young adult novel, remember it's probably not as bad as it seems. Have faith in your fellow Americans. Have faith in their entrepreneurship. Have faith in their ingenuity. Have faith in their creativity. Count on one of your fellow writers to let their creative minds develop a solution to the problems now facing the publishing industry. After all, change is inevitable and in America it happens quickly.
Who knows, future writers might think the worrying we've recently done is just a bit silly.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Tribute: George T. Doyle, D-Day Veteran

By Susan Chapek


This Independence Day holiday wasn't going to be about books or writing—or so I thought. It would be about Uncle George's funeral.


Uncle George first saw combat on the beach at Normandy. He was wounded that day, and four more times during his year in Europe. He came home with three Bronze Stars, four Purple Hearts, and a metal plate in his skull.


At the funeral Mass, the priest summed up that part of my uncle's life with picture-book simplicity and clarity: George Doyle made the world what it is today.


Yet I was almost twenty before I even learned exactly where and when Uncle George served. (He didn't avoid the subject—or the memories. He and Aunt Kay visited Normandy a number of times after he retired. And he was active in several Veterans' groups. But he didn't jaw about it, either.)


No, the Uncle George I knew as a kid was a union printer at the World Publishing Company's Cleveland shop. World published many beautiful children's books; occasionally, Uncle George was able to snag a carton of "imperfects," and some of them came to me!


My favorites were part of the Rainbow Classics series—Twain, Alcott, Swift, Hans Christian Andersen, Johanna Spyri. Each was generously illustrated with drawings and colored plates by artists like Louis Slobodkin, Nettie Weber, and Cleveland muralist James Daugherty. I devoured them. Since I owned few books, I returned to the Rainbows over and over again—and they stood up to repeated reading. They taught me the joy, not only of reading, and of reading the stuff that has endured through centuries, but of re-reading.


These were books I would never have possessed, but for him. Maybe I would never have discovered them. They were beautiful, unabridged editions. Some of them were a lot to chew. The illustrations matched each writer's voice and were the opposite of kidlike—Howard Simon's scrawls for The Prince and the Pauper looked rough and raw as Twain's England; Jean O'Neill's fairies were dark and light, sly and innocent all at once—like Andersen's tales. And R. M. Powers' Gulliver scenes repelled and puzzled me as much as Swift's cynicism. But if World Publishing thought a book should interest me, then by golly I would figure out why, if it took me my whole life.


(Was it my dogged determination to find something to love about Jonathan Swift that made me relish Uncle George's own sharp, sarcasm-based sense of humor—something that my sibs often found intimidating? Maybe. Certainly Swift helped kindle my lifelong delight in reading and writing satires.)


So as the Mass went on I found myself thinking about books after all, about Uncle George and books. And by the time the bagpipes played him out of church, I had realized for the first time that by connecting me with the classics, Uncle George made me what I am today.


Ave atque vale, Uncle George!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Freedom, what type of word is it?




Look at this picture and what do you see?
An adorable cover illustration by Garth Williams (The Rabbits' Wedding, New York: Harper & Row, 1958).

There were people who looked at this very picture an saw something so terrible that they wanted to burn the book. Just because of the cover.
Can you guess?

One rabbit is black and the other is white and that scared the beejeeeebers out of some folks because for them they saw black and white and the word wedding and that meant BURN THIS BOOK lest an innocent child see it!

Insane.

But then, when the word police (or image police) are on the lookout, well little bunny books, you'd best beware, you'd best take care.

The recent arrival of movie-making people and equipment has heralded the arrival of the crew filming "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" (by Pittsburgh native, Stephen Chbosky). Well that arrival, along with the Fourth of July got me thinking about this Freedom word. Freedom vs censorship. Because, as far as I'm concerned if we aren't free to read, then we are not free. And what did we declare ourselves free from?

It really irks me when I hear of a teacher leaving a book off a reading list because someone might find (MIGHT FIND) it offensive for their child, well, darn it, that offends me!

Here is a list of ten books that were frequently challenged from 2000-2009
(http://childrensbooks.about.com/cs/censorship/a/challenged.htm)

1. Harry Potter (series) by JK Rowling
2. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parness
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl, ttfn, 18r, g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Why these books frighten anyone...well, sticks and stones.
Some of them have SEX! Some are SCARY! Some have drug use! Some dwell in other worlds.

There is one that is a very true story about two penguins and they adopt and egg and the egg hatches and the two penguins love the baby penguin. It just happens that the two penguins are male, so obviously their love for the baby isn't real, it's DANGEROUS! It will warp a child's mind!
Just like the image of the black rabbit falling in love with the white rabbit.

I want you to think about the Fourth of July and that word FREEDOM. I want you to ask yourself as a writer, just how much freedom do you really have?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Red, White & BLUE

by Marcy Collier

Happy Independence Day!


I have spent most of the holiday weekend (28 hours and counting) putting down hardwood floor in my family room. When our family moved in eight years ago, almost every room contained some shade of blue. From the bright, blue carpet in the family room to the striped blue wallpaper in the kitchen to the blue linoleum in the bathroom. Not that I have anything against blue, but when you buy a home, you want the d├ęcor to reflect your tastes, not the previous homeowners.

This long and timely job reminds me a bit about writing and how we all have to persevere to get the job done.

Every writer starts with a blank screen that you have to fill with words. After my husband and I ripped out all of the blue carpeting, padding and thousands of staples, we had a blank floor space.

Those first few pages and chapters are daunting, just like the first few rows of laying hardwood. But then you get in to a rhythm. You can go faster. Finding the right words just as piecing together the correct sizes and shades of wood becomes a little easier.

But then you might find a snag: Some splintered pieces of wood or a major plot problem. Those without the drive might give up. Many do. But if you give up, you’ll have a half finished floor or a half finished manuscript.

You’ll have other problems along the way. Maybe you’ll smash your thumb or realize your main character sounds flat. You're romantic subplot isn't working. But with practice and perseverance, you’ll fix the problems.

Every one of you has a unique style and voice. Use it in your home improvement projects and when you write, and you will be sure to have success.

And if you're looking for a fun craft to do with your kids this holiday, try making this patriotic wind song. http://www.enchantedlearning.com/crafts/windsock/

Have a safe and fun fourth of July!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Looking for Hot Tipping Point Tips: Musings on Authors, Illustrators and Book Promotion

By Carol Baicker-McKee

A friend recently mentioned Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

And because I'm already thinking about what I'll do to promote my next book as I work on illustrating it, the mention got me thinking about identifying the tipping points in selling children's books.

Even after writing and/or illustrating eight traditionally published books, and even after reading a bazillion books and articles about "how to promote your book" (and trying at least a zillion of the suggestions), I still don't have a clue what is the most effective use of my time, energy and money. If anything, as the social media environment evolves at the speed of twitter, I feel like I have less of an idea than ever. I suspect I'm not alone.  

Make no mistake: book promotion is very, very expensive. Not only in terms of cash, which can add up alarmingly if you're traveling to events you're doing for free, paying annual fees for a website, printing promotional materials, or doling out giveaways. But promotion is especially costly in terms of time and energy - and when you're using your time and energy resources to promote your book, you're not using them to create new ones. And that matters because having a new book ready to go may be one of the most effective things you do to build your overall career and sales.

Here, in no particular order, are some issues that drive me crazy:

Lack of an effective, timely, comprehensive feedback loop.
In the past, when I've invested money and effort into some type of promotion, whether printing and mailing postcard announcements, speaking to a literacy group, or doing a local radio interview, it's been hard to tell if it had an impact. For example, if I relied on my royalty statements, I had no idea what mattered - the statements come so long after sales occur and are affected by so many variables (like withholding against possible future returns and "special sales") that it can be tricky to tell how many copies have sold, let alone exactly when or where or why they sold.

There is a glimmer of change though! Well, maybe even better than a glimmer. In December, 2010, Amazon added a cool feature to Author Central that lets you see BookScan sales data for your books if you have an author account. It isn't perfect - it doesn't include all sales outlets including some important ones like Walmart, libraries and presales, and so far I have been unable to get data for books I illustrated but didn't author - but it does at least let you see how many books you've sold recently through a bunch of outlets and even where they've sold and the history of your Amazon rankings. You can read about it here.

This feature can't of course enable you to figure out the impact of ongoing, slow-building efforts, like setting up and maintaining a blog - but it's way, way better than nothing.

Disincentives for self promotion in how authors are compensated.
Many if not most children's books for major publishers never earn back their advances. (I tried to find actual figures for this statement which I hear all the time, but to no avail. If anyone knows, chime in please!) This is particularly true for illustrators who typically get larger advances but the same 5% royalty as authors (so they have to sell many more copies before they start getting royalty checks). Thus whatever money (or time or energy) a creator invests in promotion may help the publisher recoup costs or make a profit, but there's a good chance the author or illustrator will never reap personal financial benefits from her efforts, except maybe having an easier time selling future manuscripts (not that that is insignificant).  Knowing that makes hard, for example, to agree to spend your whole Saturday afternoon at a library event where you might sell ten copies, amassing, at 5% of the $15 cover price for each copy, a grand total of $7.50 for your efforts (and not even getting that in your pocket to defray the cost of gas to get there because it goes toward earning back your advance). I'm not sure what the solution is to this problem, but it would seem that there must be some way to increase the financial incentives for authors to promote their books.

One other policy that has always puzzled me is that typically copies the author buys at his author discount don't "count" as sales. Not even when the author discount is the same as what booksellers get! It seems wise to encourage authors to sell copies of their own books, and having their purchases count would go a long way in that direction. The only argument I've heard against changing this policy is that publishers can sometimes get better deals with booksellers if they have a "no-compete" agreement with their authors.

Disconnects Between Promotion and Product Availability
I cannot tell you how many times this has been an issue for me - and every time I think I've figured out how to circumvent a particular problem, I discover it's beyond my influence or a new issue crops up. For example, the buying formulas used by some of the largest brick and mortar booksellers may prevent them from stocking additional copies of your book, even if you forewarn them of an upcoming demand in the wake of a planned newspaper article or school visit or something (in-store signings are usually the one exception). I've had managers at some of these stores characterize the buyers or policies as "stupid" - but their hands are tied. So the stores lose sales to online sellers, and I probably lose some sales altogether.

I've also encountered incomprehensible problems with distribution: for example, a holiday book so sparsely stocked (by the distributor?) that when it sold out at every major online seller shortly after release, there was no way to get new copies in stock for quite some time and several sites had even listed it as not available until after the holiday (despite phone calls and emails to everyone I could think of). And once I had school officials try to preorder copies from the publisher before a school visit only to be told (mistakenly) that the book had sold out and was awaiting reprinting. By the time I learned of the problem, it was too late to get copies without having to add expensive rush shipping charges. So I sold the copies I had on hand and returned to sign more copies later -- but I missed out on lots of potential sales and hurt the feelings of kids who couldn't get copies on the day I was there. And I know lots of other authors who've had similar experiences. Again, I don't know how to solve these problems, but I'd sure appreciate any tips anyone has to offer.
Determining Who to Target - and How to Reach Them 
Let's say you have a new picture book coming out. Should you concentrate on promoting your book to parents? Librarians? Three year olds? All of the above? You need different approaches for different audiences which multiplies the time and effort you spend. Since authors generally don't know who most influences purchasing decisions, and how those buyers go about making decisions, it's hard for them to figure out who best to target and how. I don't know to what extent publishers already know this information and just need to share it with us or to what extent it's a question in need of research, but I'd love to find out.

Connecting with Some Readers Can Make Others Disconnect
Being a real person to your readers can entice some to pick up your books or help them enjoy them in a deeper way. But whatever personal details you reveal to make that connection may also alienate other existing or potential readers - because no matter how benign or inoffensive you consider some trait or group membership or experience you've had, it will offend someone.

Even if you don't offend anyone, knowing details about the author can change how readers view her work. For example, a huge proportion of children's book writers are middle-aged white women (if you doubt this, try attending any kids'  book conference); I know several writers who have gone to considerable lengths to disguise their identities because they fear that kids will be turned off if they learn that their favorite book was written by someone old or white or female. But so many of the social media platforms that publishers urge authors to use make it impossible to remain a shadowy background figure. And that can be a shame. Because sometimes the book should just be about the story and characters, and not about the person who created them.

Don't get me wrong. I always work hard to promote my books; I've put a lot into them and so have lots of other people. Our efforts would be wasted if we don't get the books in the hands of readers. And many of the promotional efforts I've undertaken, I'd do again even if they didn't help my sales because I feel like I'm giving back or paying it forward in some way through them. I genuinely enjoy meeting readers and making friends and just generally being a contributing member of the book community. But I'd like to channel my resources where they'll do the most good toward those ends so I'm also free to keep creating new books.

So what has worked for you? Are there other issues that frustrate you? Do you have ideas for improving interactions between writers and readers?

And if you're someone who buys kids' books, what's the tipping point for you in deciding what to get?