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INTERVIEW: Beth Bacon and The Book No One Wants to Read

Updated: Jan 30


Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview with Christina Boyd for the Who, What, When, Where, and Why.


I first met Beth Bacon over a decade ago when my husband and I were involved with Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (a salmon habitat restoration non-profit here in Washington State) and Beth and her husband sat with us at the salmon dinner. How amazing to discover both our husbands were United States Naval Academy grads--and that the Bacons were spending the weekend at their family home not three miles from us. When we also learned that she and I were in the book business, a friendship was born! Despite that serendipitous meeting, I will always remember Beth telling me how she had been writing books for young readers for years and struggled to get a book published. Her then grade school age boys said they didn't see the difficulty and said they could write a book. And then they did! And as co-authors, I Hate Reading published and is now the first in her Reluctant Reader series.


CHRISTINA: What do you think makes a good story?


BETH: A simple, plain-spoken story that keeps the reader turning the pages can be very enjoyable. But I think a really good story is complicated. Complicated in that it has many layers. When I say layers, I am talking about the qualities that go beyond plot—form, tone, style, theme, rhythm, and alliteration. Yes, I’m talking about those literary elements you may have moaned about in high school. The thing is, those elements, to me, are what adds richness and delight to stories I read (and the stories I write). I love it when the book’s form matches or opposes its content… for example, it’s awesome when a book with themes about deceitfulness and double-crossing also uses words that have double meanings. The author is playing with the concept of honesty in both form and theme. I love a story about disobeying authority that breaks the 4th wall. When a book about problematic rules deliberately flouts the “literary rules” of not speaking directly to the reader–I totally dig it. That’s what happens in lots of my books.

In my book, The Book No One Wants To Read, the book/narrator makes a deal with the reader: “What if you just sit here and turn my pages, and we just goof off? I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.”

There’s something very personal about the relationship between a reader and a book. Meta-fiction draws attention to this relationship. In my book, I Hate Reading, the narrator talks directly to the reader, telling them it’s okay to skip some parts of the story, or congratulating them for making progress.


Looking down onto a young reader with dark hair reading a book with a large number 20 on the right side of the page

When a book’s structure, format, or content has meaning itself, it’s as if the book is doing more than just telling a story. The reader who sees these things gets to help create the story as they read. I don’t care if it’s a mystery, a non-fiction memoir, a romance, or a science fiction story: I’m going to enjoy reading it.

CHRISTINA: If you could tell your 21-year-old self anything, what would you share?

BETH: I’d tell myself two things:

  1. Write your fiction. Start now.

  2. Get to know other writers. It may feel awkward but go to the conferences and make the effort to stay in touch with the people you meet.

I’d tell myself these things at age 21 because it takes years to do what needs to be done to create a book—and I didn’t really start till I was double that age. Those two things—to write and to make connections—take a long time to grow into usefulness. So, start early.


Obviously, writing is required. The more you write, the more you will understand the craft of writing fiction, learn the expectations of the different genres, and understand the competitive marketplace where your work will find a place.


Just as important as craft skills, though, in order to be a successful author, you also have to build up a large network. Every writer needs a strong community of people who are also serious about writing, people you trust and respect, and people you communicate with regularly.


These people are the one who can provide emotional and personal support during the long, lonely slog of writing your books.


But they also provide professional connections. Your network can inform you of opportunities. For example, one writer friend told me about the Covid children’s book contest that I entered and won. The contest was run by Emory Global Health Institute in Atlanta. This is a medical institution, not a publisher. Since I was living on the West Coast, this contest would never have shown up at all on my radar if I didn’t have a writer in my network living in Georgia who generously shared the information with me.


So, write. And create your own trusted community of writers.

CHRISTINA: What is your current project or latest release?


BETH: I have two releases coming out this summer. One is a holiday book called The Family Santa Almost Forgot. And the other is called Alphabuddies: G Is First. It’s a humorous alphabet story. I’ll talk a little bit about that one.


Alphabuddies: G Is First launches July 4, 2023 from HarperCollins. I co-authored this picture book with my friend Karen Kane who is a great writer with a wonderful sense of humor. It’s illustrated by Eric Barclay.

When learning to read, kids spend a lot of time thinking about the alphabet. At the same time, these kids are navigating the school environment with all its personalities, friendships, and conflicts. In Alphabuddies, we combine these experiences by giving letters their own personalities, friendships, and conflicts. In this story, the letter “g” wants a go at being first in the alphabet. The letter “a” does not think that’s a good idea. So the conflict in this story has to do with the alphabet and literacy. What’s more, though, is the way the letters behave with each other can easily parallel real issues kids might experience. Personalities clash, assumptions overcome reason… In the end, the letters rally to resolve their disagreement with creativity and kindness.


What’s cool about this book is that it’s created using panels, like a mini-graphic novel. Letting the pictures carry the emotional parts of the storytelling, we don’t have to use as many words, but can still create a rich and complex story. It’s a wonderful way to give new readers an emotionally sophisticated story, even though the reading level is low.


Oh, and yeah, we use meta-storytelling to break the fourth wall…I do love adding that kind of self-referential stuff to my stories.

CHRISTINA: What do you think is your biggest strength, and biggest weakness, as a writer?


BETH: One of my biggest strengths as a writer is that I don’t easily give up when faced with the lack of an opportunity. (Lack of opportunity… yeah, I could have used the word “rejection.”) That said, one of my biggest weaknesses is that I don’t like to promote myself. Neither of those have to do with the craft of writing itself and could apply to any profession. But they are important qualities to have if you want to be a professional author. I’d love to find someone who loves social media and really understands TikTok to partner with me to promote my books. (Volunteers? Anyone?)


CHRISTINA: How has the publishing industry changed since you started?


BETH: When I started writing fiction with serious intentions, around 2011, e-books were the hot new thing. Among new writers like me, there was a lot of excitement about this new format. It seemed like giving more control to authors would open up more opportunities.


I was one of those people who thought ebooks would take over paper books but look back and can’t say that has happened. E-readers have been around for a while. Sony introduced its ereader in 2006 then Amazon followed with the Kindle in 2007. The Words Rated website shows a nice graph of the trajectory of ebook sales over the years.


Looking at the chart, you can see that between 2010 and 2011 e-book sales more than doubled. For the next two years, growth slowed a little, but still increased at a steady rate.


Then something happened in 2014. Sales of e-books started to go down. People were choosing not to read e-books as much. Why? Did it have to do with foot-dragging by the big publishers? The tactile joy that people have when they turn paper pages? The lack of meaningful price differences between e-books and paper books? I do not know.


E-book sales ticked back up in 2020, when people couldn't get to bookstores because of Covid restrictions. Even so, that increase is very slight considering the fact that people were not going into bookstores physically and doing all kinds of things electronically that year. I would have expected a higher bump in e-book sales during the quarantine. I’d love to learn more about this so if we have any e-book experts out there, let us know!


CHRISTINA: Gosh! I wasn't expecting that either about e-books versus print. I remember getting my first kindle about ten years ago as a Christmas gift from my mother and doubting I'd ever use it. I read more e-books than print mostly for convenience of being able to enlarge the print and read at night and not disturb MrB while he sleeps.


Thank you, Beth, for sharing all your great ideas, research, and insight. I always learn from you. And I am so glad we met so many years ago. You have influenced me in such positive ways over the years. Best of luck with the new release and soon-to-be released. The books are gorgeous!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beth Bacon is an author for young readers. She gets her ideas from the many places she’s been, and the interesting people she meets. She has lived in New England, California; St. Louis, Missouri; New York; Japan; and the Pacific Northwest.

Beth volunteers for Open Hearts Big Dreams, an organization dedicated to improving literacy in Ethiopia. She also is a volunteer at her local Humane Society where she walks dogs! Beth has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She also has a MA in Communication Arts from New York University and a BA in Literature from Harvard University. She’s a baseball fan and loves hiking in nature.


Contact Beth via this web form or by reaching out through Twitter @ebooksandkids or Facebook. Beth’s work is represented by literary agent Jennifer Carlson at Dunow, Carlson & Lerner agency. Feel free to contact Jen about writing projects.

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