Author Archives: Kim Zachman

MG Review – Loot by Jude Watson

loot

Twelve-year-old March lives a different life. He’s the son of Alfie McQuin, a notorious jewel thief. One night in Amsterdam, a heist goes horribly wrong and March watches his father fall from a rooftop. Before he dies, Alfie manages to say a few words to March: “Find jewels.” Or did he say, “Find Jules”?

March discovers that he has a twin sister named Jules. The two of them are offered a job to steal back seven precious moonstones for seven million dollars. With the help of two more misfit kids, they plan a series of robberies staying just ahead of the law and the other thieves that want the stones too. The moonstones are believed to be jinxed. Their mother died trying to steal them ten years ago and now their father is dead too. Will the moonstones claim March and Jules as their next victims?

When I started reading this book, I wasn’t sure if I thought it was appropriate for kids to be cast as thieves and that lifestyle glamorized, but Jude Watson handles it well by giving it a Robin Hood feel. She also shows how that lifestyle is not glamorous at all and how March and Jules wishes they had a normal life with a normal family. The kids vs. bad adults is done well too.

Young readers will love the fast-paced action and the edge-of-your-seat excitement as the kids barely avoid capture over and over again. They will also love how the March, Jules and their friends decipher the clues.

As for MG writers, I think you should read LOOT for a plotting and pacing lesson. Watson’s chapters are very, very short. Each chapter is basically one scene and the scenes fit together like waves in a tidal pool. First is a calm scene as the kids plan their next heist. The tension builds in the next scene as they prepare to strike and then one or two scenes of high-action during the robbery. This pattern takes place within the bigger story arc as March learns to trust his sister and the mystery unfolds. The short chapters also create a sense of urgency because time seems to pass too fast for the kids to make their do-or-die deadline.

LOOT is a wonderful page-turner with the added bonus of character depth and development as well. And it has a great ending.

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Inside Look: Scholastic Book Fair Selection Process

When I was hired by Scholastic Book Fairs to be a field merchandiser, I was thrilled at the thought of employee discounts and summers off. What I hadn’t thought of was how valuable my new job would be to my writing career. I visit schools and help them with their book fair which has given me a new perspective of the book-selling business and the whole publishing process. From what I’ve learned, it all boils down to one question- “Will it sell?”

Scholastic Book Fairs works on a slightly different business model than other book retailers. Unlike traditional book stores which might order a dozen books and then reorder from the publisher as needed, Scholastic purchases large quantities of a particular title to stock their fairs all over the country. By doing so Scholastic can negotiate special prices and exclusive covers and in turn, pass those savings on to their customers. If a book doesn’t sell well at Barnes & Noble, you might see a dozen copies on their 60% off table. If a book doesn’t sell well for Scholastic, they’ll have a warehouse full of it. (By the way, get to a Scholastic warehouse sale if you can. They’re fantastic. http://www.scholastic.com/bookfairs/warehouse.)

Considering the enormous investment Scholastic makes in a title, the selection process is critical. So how does Scholastic pick the books they will carry on their fairs?

They have a book selection committee formed from all levels of the company including the sales team, inventory, category managers, merchandising, supply chain, and field reviewers. The committee reads thousands of book each year that have been submitted from publishing companies. They are judging the books based on the following criteria: attention-grabbing cover; catchy, kid-friendly title; age-appropriate content and text; quality illustrations; topic of interest; and author/character recognition factor. Because their customers are not just kids, but teachers, parents and media specialists as well, they give a priority to books with high educational value.

I’d like to say that the best book always wins, but it doesn’t. There are some really wonderful books that aren’t selected because the content might be too edgy or not timely or there are already too many titles with the same subject matter.

 

This insight into the publishing industry has helped me as a writer because I don’t take rejections as personally as I used to. I know that when an agent reads my query, she’s asking herself, “Can I sell it to a publisher?” The publisher is asking, “Can we sell it to the retailers?” And the retailers, like Scholastic Book Fairs, are asking, “Can we sell it to our customers?” “Will it sell?” is a very tough question and it’s not surprising that very few manuscripts get a “yes.”

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