Friday, November 5, 2010

iPad Goes on Nationwide Book Tour With Author Laurie Halse Anderson To Help Her Promote Her Latest Book: Forge

By Tom Dulaney, Editor

She came to Valley Forge with a load of books to sign and an iPad in her bag.

“This is the first time I've ever gone on tour without my laptop,” Laurie Halse Anderson said with a happy smile on her face. “My back loves it!”

The New York Times bestselling author stopped by Valley Forge National Historic Park this week, part of her 5-week nationwide book tour promoting her latest young adult historical fiction novel, Forge.

For iPad owners, Anderson is a case study in two ways: She's a busy professional using the iPad for work to ease the burdens of a busy schedule;  And, she's creator and reader of books—some available in ebook format for the iPad, and some not.

Planet iPad caught up with Anderson in the fields at a small circle of log huts.  She was standing amidst replicas of cabins just like the shelters patriot soldiers huddled in during Washington's encampment at Valley Forge in the Winter of 1777-1778.

Anderson stood surrounded by some 30 fans eager to hear her talk about her new book.  She told them what it was like over 230 years ago in the camp for the soldiers of an under-fed, under-clothed struggling army trying to win independence from England.

Anderson had followed the “footsteps” of her character, Curzon, to Valley Forge. He's the runaway slave boy readers met in her earlier book, Chains, who was fighting for both the revolution and his freedom. Forge continues Curzon's story, and the author says a third book in the series is on the way.

Though Curzon is but a character in a book, Anderson was also following the footsteps of her real ancestors, many of whom fought in the revolution.

On this brilliant, blue and sunny day in the fields of Valley Forge overlooking the Schuylkill River, Anderson spoke to the group of the hardships of the soldiers.  She detailed some of the trials facing African Americans caught between slavery and war with the British. 

The audience tossed her questions on conditions and life in the encampment and about America's Founding Fathers –including George Washington—who owned slaves.   She answered out of the storehouse of knowledge researched for her books.  

Forge is the latest in a long list of novels for younger readers Anderson has written.  Her author's page on Amazon displays over an arm load of titles, in a broad range from picture books to books about young adults finding their way in life and, with Forge and Chains, more historical fiction.  On her Amazon "shelf," there are 20 hardcovers for sale, 36 paperbacks, but only 10 ebooks in the Kindle Store.

Anderson led the group on foot back the half mile to the Valley Forge Visitor's Center for book signings. Though Forge is written for the young adult audience, roughly in grades from 6 through 10, most in the pack following her inside were adults. A handful of kids tagged along.

Inside, the fans queued up, the author inscribed and signed books, and shared a few words with each fan. She spent extra time encouraging the children gathered around the small signing table, showing them the quill pen resting close to hand.

When the line all but disappeared, Anderson let me pull up a chair for a brief chat. At the name “Planet iPad,” a smile broke wide on her face and she pulled her iPad from her bag.

In this new age where authors are expected to play major roles in their own marketing—such as going cross country on book tours—Anderson's iPad keeps her plugged in. She used to lug a laptop on the road, but left it at home this time and relies solely on the iPad to handle the burdens of keeping in touch with her fans and prospective buyers.

Her iPad has more than enough power to keep her connected to her web site and connected to her extensive internet presence. She's active in social media and other sites such as Goodreads, blogs, her Amazon Author's Page,  LiveJournal, Facebook and, of course, Twitter, ( @halseanderson ).

“I use the iPad to communicate with my publishers, keep up with my social media, and note and contribute to changes in my travel schedule,” she adds.

What the iPad is too light to do for her—contain her full presentation, which she shows in school and libraries—a flash drive handles.

While she uses her iPad in place of a heavy laptop on this road trip, there is one thing she cannot do for now: Buy Forge or Chains from the Kindle Store and read it on her iPad.

Though a number of her books are available in the Kindle Store, neither Forge nor its predecessor, Chains, are there. But they are available on Amazon in hardcover, as audiobooks, and are downloadable at

“Why not an ebook edition on Amazon?” I asked.

“You'll have to ask the publishers about that," she said, smiling brightly and turning the question aside.   However,  she's enthusiastic about ebooks, but wonders at their availability for the less well funded reader.

“It's the wild, wild West in publishing,” she says. “But books will not go away, at least for this generation.

“I worry about a class divide,” she continues. “There are already not enough books available to kids.” She fears the costly ebook readers strand the poor, and wonders how booksellers will handle that problem. “I don't want to leave those kids behind. But it's exciting that there are several vehicles of story delivery” to readers.

Ebooks and the iPad and its similar competitors do open the door for enhanced versions of books, she adds, and floats a novel idea: “I think the traditional book be a little more special.” The printed version, she suggests, will long have a place in such things as gift giving to a young reader, the presentation of a well crafted (physically and in literary terms) printed book.

She does not use her iPad for her book research. The original documents she pursues and reviews would not present as well on an iPad as they do on a computer. And, of course, when she can get close to the real document, so much the better.

Then she spoke of the “community aspect” of a real—not virtual—bookstore, where “kindred spirits come together” to meet in person and have a chance to talk and share their interests in history—or any subject.

The kindred spirits who had trekked to Valley Forge to meet a favorite author trickled away, signed books in hands and smiles on faces, pointing out colonial artifacts on display as they passed toward the exit.

Anderson retrieved her iPad, collected her belongings and headed off to meet more kindred spirits the next day the the Free Library in Philadelphia.  Before then, she'll be on her iPad, connecting with family, publisher, friends and fans spread across America, awaiting her arrival as her tour continues.

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