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informational books

Doing some casual research on copyright before signing a book contract recently, I found out something really cool, which may be useful to authors who have had a book in print for a while.

In 2003 the US Copyright Office made a change in the 1978 copyright law. Authors can get their copyright back from their publishers (a one-time chance) after 35 years. You need to set the wheels in motion from ten to two years earlier (at 25 to 33 years after you signed the contract). The contract must have been signed after 1978. There is only a five-year window at 35 to 40 years of publication, and, again, only one shot at doing it.

But for some longtime authors who may have signed away rights when they were starting out, or were desperate to publish, it is great – you can get your copyright back, or renegotiate your contract for better terms.

Below are helpful links. I am not a lawyer, so for more information please read the articles, or ask your lawyer, agent, or even your publisher.

At any rate, this is good news for published authors, artists, musicians, and other creative folks who may regret doing a bad deal early on. Rather charmingly, the Supreme Court noted that “authors are congenitally irresponsible, [and] that frequently they are so sorely pressed for funds that they are willing to sell their work for a mere pittance.”

Excellent piece:  http://dearauthor.com/features/reclaiming-your-copyright-after-thirty-five-years/

US Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov/docs/203.html

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries article: https://libraries.mit.edu/news/reclaiming-copyright-2/14404/

NY Times article (if I read the other three links correctly, the NY Times writer is wrong when he says it was in the 1978 law; it was added in 2003): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/11/arts/music/a-copyright-victory-35-years-later.html?_r=0

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I just got an invitation to speak at an international Children’s Media Conference overseas (yay!), and walking to my studio this morning was thinking about the subject, which involves working in and presenting children’s content in new media and multimedia. It occurred to me that many of my children’s author/illustrator colleagues who do print books work in much more media than we think….most of us disseminate content crossmedia whether we realize it or not.

For example, I belong to a group of about three dozen established nonfiction children’s books authors called InkThinkTank. Some of these authors are in a division of the group called Authors on Call – they do live videoconferencing, teaching in schools all over. That’s new media. Some also participate (including me) in The Nonfiction Minute – a neat and very timely idea: a fresh new post with lively engaging content is available on the web free every school day to any school, comprised of a 400-word text piece on a particularly interesting nonfiction subject, an audio recording of the text by the author, and several relevant visuals, available for downloading. Again, multimedia – taking content across several platforms.

Another cool new (less than a year old) project in which many authors, illustrators, librarians, publishers, and others in the children’s book industry talk about their work and distribute content is KidLitTV, which also has a YouTube channel and a robust social media presence. So the author or illustrator not only shows the physical print book, they may read from it, do a sketch or another activity, and talk about and expand upon the book’s subject. They are distributing information via media other than print.

I have some print books adapted to or converted to interactive apps – that’s crossmedia. And I work with a publisher doing giant child-size walk-in and desktop-size fold-out picture books (K.I.W.i. Storybooks), with custom-built apps (as well as curriculum) for each of nine subjects. Again – more than one media.

If you have a blog or a website, or do videos or Skype, in which you share content, ideas, or activities, you are working in multimedia. You are also when you do school visits or lectures using PowerPoint or Keynote. Some authors and illustrators put interesting content from their books on their social media sites…again, multimedia.

So, it’s not just making apps and other fancy electronic (or not) creations. Most of you are more involved in new media and cross-platform content distribution than you may think.

Links:

K.I.W.i. (Kids Walk-in Interactive) Storybooks: http://www.kiwistorybooks.com/
InkThinkTank: http://inkthinktank.com/
Authors on Call: http://inkthinktank.com/authors-on-call/
The Nonfiction Minute: http://www.nonfictionminute.com/
KidLitTV: http://kidlit.tv/
YouTube KidLitTV: https://www.youtube.com/user/KidLitTV

So, kind of like when a person finally gets a diagnosis – a name – for an illness, this is a great relief.

Sometimes I have had moments of doubt when trying to categorize my own books. Usually I call them nonfiction – they’re about real things. My nature/science (birds, bugs, snakes, and dinosaurs) and biography books fit snugly into the basic nonfiction category. But some others, for example the lift-the-flap paper-engineered books, like Go! Go! Go! (about transportation), Circus, Rodeo, and Doors (you learn about what’s in a doctor’s office, horse barn, boat, train, mechanic’s garage, space station, etc), are a little quirky and are occasionally even considered “novelty” books. They don’t fall neatly into the nonfiction category. And books like Market Maze and Ecomazes: 12 Earth Adventures use “gamification” and educational devices not typical of nonfiction books. Some are concept books (for instance, Mazeways: A to Z – an alphabet book that shows real-life things and their environs, like an airport, boatyard, highways, etc). Then there are nonfiction ideas that are wrapped around a finding/counting/naming format, like Desert Days, Desert Nights and Ranch.

Turns out there’s a name for these works… Informational books!

You could call informational books a subset of nonfiction. Nonfiction includes any content or text that is factual. However, not all nonfiction is considered informational. The main purpose of informational texts is to inform or instruct the reader in some way.

Informational text often teaches about the social and natural world (and frequently, in my case, the man-made world). A biography is a classic form of nonfiction; it teaches us about an individual’s life, and certain points in history, but it is not considered “informational.” A procedural or how-to text tells one how to do something; it doesn’t convey information about a particular topic. Other forms of nonfiction may be narrative (like a memoir). Informational text differs from other types of nonfiction in purpose, features, and, often, format.

There are many benefits, besides learning facts, to children when they are exposed to informational books. Understanding new words is one. From So Much More Than the ABCs: The Early Phases of Reading and Writing by Judith A. Schickedanz and Molly F. Collins:  “Because informational books contain many sophisticated technical words and explain them explicitly, reading this kind of book helps children learn higher-level vocabulary.” The illustrations, and sometimes charts and other imagery in informational picture books, enhance learning, thinking, and contribute to increased comprehension… they can be a form of visual cognition for some children.

Informational books often address children’s specific interests and questions about the world. Librarians tell me that these are the books most often asked for; their young patrons want to learn about and understand how things work, are built, what they look like, where they come from. The various ways in which writers and illustrators create these informational works make for some engaging books which enlighten and inform children, often in lively, accessible, and fun formats.

Here’s some more info:

http://www.naeyc.org/books/so_much_more_than_the_abcs/excerpt

http://www.teachersfirst.com/exclusives/moreless/librarian/fuss/q2.cfm

http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/scholasticprofessional/authors/pdfs/duke_sample_pages.pdf