Once Upon A Nightmare: The Amazon Situation

You may or may not be aware of the battle going on between Hachette Book Group, who owns Little Brown Books For Young Readers who publishes my book "Once Upon A Memory," and discount digital giant Amazon.com. I became aware on May 9th when an email from Little Brown publisher Michael Pietsch explained the "situation," which sent me clicking over to Amazon to see for myself. Lo and behold! There was the sales page for my book, "Once Upon A Memory," which had been selling well after winning the Crystal Kite Award for the West Region, and now it was hardly selling at all. Amazon had removed the usual discount (which people seem to demand) and raised the book to its full cover price. That in itself was not terrible. What was terrible is that they placed a banner over the book touting books that were "similar but lower in price," and they were saying that the book would ship in 3-5 weeks- even though it was available and in stock.

This was Amazon's way of negotiating for lower prices and bigger profit margins from Hachette- in effect using books as collateral. I was furious. I was frustrated. In the dark of night, in my office, by the light of my laptop I typed up a complaint letter and submitted to Customer Service at Amazon, knowing full-well that no one would read it. Sure enough, the next morning I received a "robo reply." However, that did not thwart my efforts. I had copied the letter and I had also decided to share it publicly on Facebook. Little did I know that it would go viral. Here is the letter that I shared on May 16th:

I have supported Amazon for as long as Amazon has existed. I've been published for 20 years now and you have sold so many of my books. I am frankly shocked and angry at what you are doing to my new book "Once Upon A Memory" which has just won the Crystal Kite Award and is published by Little Brown. You are punishing me- the author- because you want a deeper discount from Hachette- this is deplorable. You want authors and illustrators to suffer being used as pawns and we have nothing to do with this. Your actions to raise the prices of our books, place banners touting books that "are similar but lower in price" and saying that our books will ship in 3-5 weeks when they are in stock is not only a disgusting negotiation practice, but it has made me tell my readers to shop elsewhere- and they are and will. Authors and illustrators struggle to make low percentage royalties. We are not "big businesses," yet we are the mainstay of what you sell. Do you really think that this will endear Amazon to us, or do you- does Jeff Bezos- truly not care? It's all about money, I am sure. You make more and we make less. Not a recipe for good will, but perhaps you don't care about that. As a Seattle resident I am doubly upset at you, Amazon for doing this. I am going to share this letter and I hope others will share it, too.
I'm sorry that I've supported you in the past.
You have let me down.
Children's Books Author/Illustrator
Nina Laden

Over 470 people shared it- and it was tweeted. (Not by me, I'm not on Twitter.) Then on May 23rd it was quoted and linked in the New York Times Blog. On the morning of May 24th I had an email from a producer at Bloomberg Tech News. I did an interview with them via Skype and that aired online. Then my agent called and told me that CNN International had contacted her and wanted to send a Town car to take me to their Seattle affiliate to do a live interview with their London correspondent Richard Quest for his show "Quest Means Business." I was so nervous but I kept my wits, even when he baited me with a question about whether the US Government should step in. (This is not my area of expertise and I deflected.) I also did a phone interview with APR Marketplace reporter Sabri Ben-Achour that aired that evening.

The next day, Saturday, I was quoted in the actual New York Times. I still have not seen the paper. I was at our island cottage and our store doesn't sell The NY Times. This morning, May 29th I was on NPR's Morning Edition in a very short clip with Arts Correspondent Mandalit del Barco. Mandalit told me that her daughter loved my book, "Roberto the Insect Architect." I enjoyed talking with her; we talked for about ten minutes, but only ten seconds were used in the actual piece.

The media exposure- a complete shock and surprise to me- has garnered me many new friends and followers on Facebook, most of them fellow writers, illustrators, teachers, book people, and I've had a lot of positive feedback. I have no idea if this will help make up for lost sales from Amazon.com for their tactics against Hachette. What I have also done is to become an "IndieBound" affiliate- a wonderful organization that will find all of the independent bookstores that carry books you are searching for- near you. You can purchase my book "Once Upon A Memory" this way. Many independent bookstores, like the University Bookstore in Seattle, even offer free shipping. Other bookstores: please chime in here in the comments and add your links!

But at this point I've done all that I can do and I just have to re-focus and get back to the business of making books, letting the giant corporations deal with their stalemate... Pawns, such as myself, don't usually get to "Checkmate." I just hope that my next royalty check will not reflect this ugly game.

Thanks for your support, dear friends!
With Love, 


Once Upon A Kite: The Crystal Kite Award

On Friday noonish I was sitting on the dock at Gooseberry Point waiting for the ferry to arrive and transport us to Lummi Island. I was listening to our new rescue cat, Marley softly meowing her discontent at being stuffed in a cat carrier for the two hour drive, and I was scrolling through email. When I saw an email from "Lin" with a subject that said "Hooray- Great news!" I squealed with delight as I opened it and read the first line, "Congratulations! Your book ONCE UPON A MEMORY has been awarded the Crystal Kite from your SCBWI region."

This email was copied to illustrator Renata Liwska, editor Connie Hsu and our local SCBWI Regional Advisors, Dana Armin and Brenda Winter Hansen. I also forwarded it to my lovely agent, Laura Rennert. I sat in that ferry line, oblivious to the sun sparkling on the Hales Passage, and emailed back and forth congratulating Renata and Connie, and thanking Lin, our incredible SCBWI President... and wanting to thank all of the West Region of the SCBWI who had voted for our book... but I had to wait until it was announced officially on Monday.

The Crystal Kite Award is a different sort of award- it is not like the Caldecott, which is chosen by a committee of fourteen librarians... it is more like the Oscar®- it is chosen by a large group of your peers, in this case they are the members of the SCBWI from your region. There are fifteen international regions in the SCBWI. The West Region comprises: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Northern Idaho, Montana and North and South Dakota. 

I have won awards before, like the Parent's Choice Gold Award, Smithsonian Notable Book of the Year, a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators in New York... and others. 

When I was a child, I decided by age nine- when I created this book, "The Unbearable Bird," that I wanted to be a children's book author and illustrator. I also dreamt that someday I would win a Caldecott award. After twenty years of having my books published I let go of that dream. I realized that it was a very arbitrary goal, and it was counterproductive. What mattered most to me was that my books were loved, and that they sold and endured. I found much more pleasure in experimentation- both in illustrating and writing. I kept trying to spread my wings and fly.

When I first submitted "Once Upon A Memory" the original title was "Does A Feather Remember?" I still love that as the title, but creating a book is a team effort and I've learned to be a good team player after all these years.

I also had to let go of doing the illustrations, which is very ironic for me. I come from a fine art background. My mother was an abstract expressionist painter. My father is a sculptor/collage artist and retired special-effects make-up artist. I majored in illustration in college, but I've always written: stories, poems, songs, concepts, whatever inspires. However, I thought of myself as "an artist who wrote." Funny how the tides can turn. Now I think of myself as "a writer who is also an artist." The truth is that is is ALL ART.

It was a truly incredible experience to collaborate on "Once Upon A Memory" with Renata Liwska. I think I can safely say that we both respect and love each other. Each of us brought so much to creating this book, and it could not have happened without the brain and vision of our editor, Connie Hsu at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. I also must thank the amazing art director Patti Ann Harris, who I adore and respect. "Does a book remember it once was a word?" has so much meaning to all of us as we worked to fit the pieces together, which wasn't easy, but now looks seamless. Publishing a book requires magic and wizardry and so much talent- and then when the book comes out- you have to let it go- like a kite- and see if it will lift and fly...

I have always loved kites. In 1982 I was twenty years old, and I was a waitress on Martha's Vineyard. I was asked to create an illustration for the t-shirts and posters for the annual Kite Festival held in Oak Bluffs near the famous gazebo.

The SCBWI had called its' Bulletin "The Kite," and I don't know when the actual words, "The Kite" were dropped, but now each issue has a different illustrator who interprets their own idea of a kite for the full-color cover. I was honored and thrilled when SCBWI Presidents Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser asked me to create a Kite Cover for the March-April 2010 issue.

Lin told me she loved my book, "When Pigasso Met Mootisse," so I decided to use them in a creative kite battle scene.

The Crystal Kite Award is just what it sounds like- a beautiful, large crystal kite. It is quite heavy, though, and won't fly.

But that doesn't matter to me because that "Kite" has already made my spirit soar. It is such a magnificent feeling to feel the lift that all of my friends and peers have put under the sails of "Once Upon A Memory." I'm so happy that you have chosen this book to win the award for the West Region. This is one memory that I will never forget, and I send you all deep gratitude and hugs.

With Love,