A sheer, ivory dress clings to a mannequin in a corner of the Boston University College of Communication’s writing center. An eerie yet enticing video plays on the black PC’s adorning the student-teacher oasis. Quaint bookmarks and minuscule pins are scattered on a table surrounded by communication teachers and graduate students, eagerly waiting for the reading of a new young-adult novel, Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things.
“I’m bringing lots of swag, to show how books are marketed – along with my trailer,” said Kate Burak, writing professor at the Boston University Collefe of Communication and author of the new literary fiction.
Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things, published by Roaring Brook, centers on a troubled teenage girl, Claire, who accidentally steals Emily Dickinson’s dress from the Amherst museum where it was exhibited. The theft inadvertently serves as inspiration and healing for Claire, who deals with her mother’s suicide and her best friends’ disappearance in the same year.
Burak spoke to a group of colleagues and Boston University graduate students about her new novel; she injected her excitement and connection to the characters in her reading of a chapter. The reading introduced the audience to Claire, an emotional, distressed yet sensitive teenager.
“She’s [Claire] is a real wise ass. It’s hard to be in your 50s and write like an 18-year old,” said Burak. “I ended up going to teach my classes talking in that voice.”
Burak has been writing since she was 7, when a local radio station at Mt.Carmel, PA read her letter to Santa on air. Now she teaches writing at the Boston University College of Communication, where her first book Writing in the Works, a “real-world” writing textbook, is used in the course curriculum. Her work has appeared in Seventeen, Gettysburg Review, Gray Sparrow and more.
What inspired Burak to write a book on Dickinson was an innocent comment from her daughter’s seventh-grade classmate, who described a picture another classmate drew as a vampire Emily Dickinson. Six years later, the novel came to life and that same boy is now a writer and Emerson College student. That same familiar teamwork inspired her book-marketing tactics.
“I decided to make a trailer for the novel. It works just as a book cover in that it captures the essence of the book,” said Burak. “My daughter, who’s a film student, shot the trailer, my husband played the guitar and my son played the violin. The whole village collaborated on it.”
The small group of students and professors listened as Burak shared book-marketing tips: she touched on topics like the importance of utilizing Twitter, opening a website and making a movie-like trailer for the novel.
“Does anyone even do readings at book stores anymore?” asked John Hall, assistant director of the COM writing center.
Burak explained that Young Adult literature doesn’t get much of an audience at book store readings, highlighting the importance of social media marketing in lieu of such.
“You are your own publicity machine – use your strengths and lead,” advised Burak.
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.