Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Manga and the Mainstream: A Tempestuous Affair

A few weeks ago we discussed the collapse of American manga powerhouse Tokyopop, and the lessons spelled out in that end for publishers of both comics and mainstream books. This week, we’ll look at how comic books have interacted with the mainstream print industry, and how the loss of a manga megalith might affect the comics world at large. With the #1 company that primed manga readers (especially female readers, a huge chunk of the trade industry’s market) out of the picture, what will become of the illustrated novel?

The relationship between America’s mainstream trade industry and the world of illustrated novels has been rocky from the start. Censorship under the Comics Code Authority, established in 1954 to protect readers from inappropriate content, pushed the industry underground and spurred widespread prejudice against comic books. For almost fifty years after the code was created, comics were marginalized. “It’s really only in the last decade that the negative impression of comics and graphic novels in the States has changed,” Yen Press Publishing Director Kurt Hassler told Publishing Trends in 2009.

According to Publishing Trends, it wasn’t until 2005 that a large number of trade presses began to attend Comic Con, and finally began to recognize that illustrated novels might offer a piece of the publishing pie worth having. The comic book industry can thank Tokyopop for much of that attention. The teenage girls courted by the company made up one of the few readerships to consistently crossover to trade novels, and their interest in the genre certainly got the attention of mainstream publishers—particularly publishers of Young Adult fiction.

That attention helped comic book creators to emerge from the underground into the mainstream market. In 2006 Tokyopop partnered with HarperCollins to co-produce and distribute graphic novels. “Our partnership with HarperCollins will allow us to take the Manga Revolution to the next level,” Mike Kiley, Publisher of Tokyopop, said in HarperCollins’ press release announcing the partnership. And he was right—kicked off by Meg Cabot’s Avalon High, the comics that Tokyopop and HarperCollins launched together enjoyed great success. Both book-to-manga adaptations and original creations attracted a group of readers manga may never have been able to reach in the hands of independent presses. And though the partnership ended in January 2011, Matt Blind predicts that should HarperCollins ever decide to create an in-house comic book imprint, the company will find ample fodder in what’s left of the partnership’s books.

But despite the success of manga’s many interactions with the mainstream industry, publishers were predicting the death of manga in America as early as 2007. Though the niche market for manga remained and remains strong, it would seem that the growing rift between different types of comics was separating manga from many of the markets only recently opened to it. Graphic novels emerged as the “literary” form of comics most widely embraced by mainstream publishers—and mainstream readers.

So though it seems likely that Tokyopop’s apparent disinterest in its fans’ needs helped spur the company’s demise, it may have been doomed from the start. And if that’s so, then as a female reader and aspiring editor of stories for children and young adults, I can’t help but ask myself where that leaves the readers Tokyopop was so instrumental in winning over to comic books: teen girls. Where does the decline of Tokyopop’s immensely popular series—and manga as a whole—leave young women and the publishers who work to reach them?

Read the rest of the article at Publishing Trendsetter.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How to Lose a Job in Publishing

Sorry for the radio silence of the past two weeks, Writer Friends! And double apologies to my lovely new followers; it was wrong of me to entice you with prizes and then fail to provide new and delicious publishing-related content!

But I've been doing a lot of exciting things that I can report about here, like collecting exciting ARCs at Book Expo America (they may or may not show up on this blog in giveaways; are you intrigued yet?). And interviewing authors for some new blog posts I'm cooking up. And brainstorming marketing ideas in the midst of a conference that pulls out all its stops. And collecting even more tips on how to get a job in publishing. Oh yeah, and meeting...

Tahereh Mafi, author of Shatter Me (also a completely delightful blogger/human being)...

and Little, Brown Editorial Director Alvina Ling, over whom I totally fan-girled like the editorial junkie I am...

and Laini Taylor, whose book, Lips Touch, has been an all-time favorite since my internship at Arthur A. Levine Books (No, really; it's possible that I rooted for it to win the National Book Award in 2009, despite the fact that it was competing with a book published by the company at which I was interning at the time.)

So you can forgive me, right?

There's another really exciting person I met at BEA whose face you might not recognize: my editor for Publishing Trendsetter, Elisabeth Watson.

That's us. Can you tell we're totally ecstatic about our first BEA experiences?

Aside from being one of the most delightful editors in the world (seriously, she used the word "swashbuckling" to describe a good idea), Elisabeth is one of the most put-together and professional people I've ever met. She's a fantastic reporter, a master of detail and organization, and an incredible ally to have in brainstorming, researching, and writing. I can't imagine a better person in her role at Publishing Trends, or at the helm of Publishing Trendsetter.

So perhaps it would surprise you—as it surprised me—to learn that, four months into her first full-time job in publishing, she was fired for "shortcomings too grievous to overcome." Believe me, the Elisabeth I know does not have many shortcomings. But imagine how she felt after losing her job—ashamed, overwhelmed, completely unsure of herself—in short, certain her career in publishing was over before it even started!

And yet her career wasn't over; Elisabeth is absolutely thriving in her current position. And what's more, she loves her job. She's an inspiration to me, and I wanted to share her story with you because I think it's one that's more common than many of us realize.

I’ve spoken to so many assistants in publishing who feel an enormous pressure never to make a mistake. We're all idealists in this field, and for that reason I think it hits us twice as hard when our careers are rocky. And somehow me manage to tell our authors that their setbacks are no big deal (everyone faces rejection, really, even insert famous author's name here) and yet be so, so hard on ourselves for our own setbacks. Heaven forbid we take the time to learn—you know, as entry-level employees do. Instead we put a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves to never miss a comma, never send an email to the wrong address by mistake, never learn that some roles just aren't a good fit for us, never find our weaknesses. It's a competitive industry, we tell ourselves, and we're lucky to have jobs; better not screw them up! We take any small mistake like a bullet, and a larger setback can absolutely shatter us.

But if I've learned anything from graduating college, beginning a career, and watching my friends begin their own careers in other industries, it's this: beginnings are messy. Some starts just don't work out. And you build the path to your perfect job on the foundation of those broken dreams. You patch up your wounds and heal twice as strong, and if you really want it then you learn everything you can from your setbacks and you go after it again. And again. And again.

In publishing, I often feel that we don't talk about our failures, because we don't want anyone to know we can be less than perfect. Or maybe we're just so ashamed, because no one else seems to fail or even falter. Occasionally I look around at the entry-level employees I know and feel terrified. Surely they'd never make a single one of the silly mistakes I made in my first few weeks at my job. Surely they never struggle just to keep abreast of their workload. Surely they have something I lack.

But when I talk to fabulous people like Elisabeth about their paths, invariably I learn that they've sometimes stumbled too. We all do. Because publishing can be absolutely heartbreaking. Just like any career can be heartbreaking. At some point, no matter what we do or who we are, we all face failure.

When you face it, I hope Elisabeth's post helps you.

And remember: Once you heal, you'll love what you do more than ever.

P.S. Today's my birthday! Hooray for what my fellow sci-fi-loving friend calls my "successful completion of another journey around the daystar"!

P.P.S. Name this quote: "'Day' is a vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles. It's not applicable... I didn't get you anything."