Sunday, April 29, 2012

So feel the digital fear and do it anyway...

So we had a day of it on Saturday with Kiwiwrite4kidz running a day long workshop on the eBook journey. I think we kinda hit this one out of the park, even if I do say so myself. We had Australian author of over 200 books Hazel Edwards, successful author and publisher Jill Marshall, Maggie Tarver - Executive Director from NZSA, Paul du Temple from Wheelers, Rhonda Kite from KIWA Media, and authors Maureen Crisp and Phillip W.Simpson.We covered everything from the wider implications of eBook publishing right down to the nitty gritty of how to go about doing it yourself and then promoting it. The final session allowed participants to talk about their own projects and/or needs with the speakers, and other industry professionals like book designers and editors.

Many are suspicious of eBooks feeling that they are the poor relation of print publishing, only utilized by the desperate to self publish but I have come to realise they are just another format to present your book in. Print has been a remarkable vehicle for books for hundreds of years, and for the majority of that time the only way, but technology has suddenly enabled us to enjoy the book in many different forms. If readers are willing to explore these different ways it seems silly for me as an author to stick only with print. More and more people are reading eBooks. I hope and pray that print will never disappear completely. It still offers a great experience and in many situations is the ideal format. Its just not the only one anymore.

It became clear to me as I listened to the speakers that there is never going to be a 'good' time to start. The best time is now. Progress is rapid: more and more technologies are enabling a wider variety of options and opportunities. I figure if I don't learn today there is only going to be twice as much to learn tomorrow. So I'm going to upskill myself. Hazel Edwards talked about learning one new thing a day and that sounds smart to me. The comment was made that the traditional means of making money as an author are changing. Exploring new ways may be the only way to survive in the future, unless you win lotto or marry a rich spouse.

Everyone advised being clear about what percentage of royalties you were receiving and what rights you were giving away. As with any form of publishing this has always been good advice. As long as you know the terms you are signing yourself up for it is your choice to sign. It is not just the format of books that is changing. Methods of distribution, delivery, and discovery are changing too. The better informed you are, the better you will be able to make choices and decisions about how your books are handled from start to finish.

There was a lot more good advice and practical information. You should have been there. We had an amazing day and I have to say I have a whole new appreciation for digital publishing.

This is me just before the panel session that I chaired with panellists Maureen and Phillip. Yes I do have cowboy tassels on my dress, and boots on my feet, but sensibly I left my stetson at home

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Evening with Melinda Szymanik ...

Award-winning author, Melinda Szymanik, writes challenging, layered fiction for all ages, ranging from The Were-Nana picture book (NZ Post Children’s Choice Award 2008) to young adult psychological thriller, The Half Life of Ryan Davis which is garnering rave reviews around the world. Her stories focus on family, relationships and an element of surprise – all with a dash of magic.
On May 9th 2012, Melinda will be at the National Library, Auckland, talking about the joys and challenges of writing for children in the changing world of publishing. It will be the perfect evening for writers, teachers, librarians, parents and kids to hear first hand from an outstanding New Zealand author, with giveaways, books and a special announcement about an exclusive contest which no NZ school will want to miss out on ....
Szymanik’s new picture book, Made With Love (Duck Creek Press) and new YA novel, The Half Life of Ryan Davis (Pear Jam Books) will be on sale along with her other titles and more books from the two publishers – all in time for Mother’s Day, which the author will be celebrating with some of her famous baking.
All welcome. Please contact by May 4th 20112 to confirm your attendance.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I have not forgotten about Jack the Viking: Magnetic North...

It is very exciting when someone responds this way to something I have written. Thank you Brill, over at  Random Acts of Reviewing ( a brilliant name for a book review blog IMHO) for your very nice review of my book The Half Life of Ryan Davis.

I have finished (for the meantime) one project (yay!!) and I'm now at work on the next - the rewrite of Jack the Viking: Magnetic North. Hopefully this won't take me more than a couple of months (fingers crossed). I need to get cracking on my research project for my university paper although I have my topic sorted which in some respects is probably the hardest part of the whole endeavour (yay!!) and what's more my topic revolves around one of my most favourite recent reads (double yay with lashings of whipped things). I also have a new role as a NZ Authors mentor (yay some more!!). I'm really looking forward to working together with my assigned mentee on her writing project. I was a mentee on the scheme back in 2005/6 and it was a huge boost for my writing and for me personally. I am very happy to have the opportunity to pay it forward.

My eldest is nearing the end of her time away in the US and she is wrapping things up in style. This weekend just past she went to Prom with a good friend Ayla at Ayla's school (so she still has Prom at her own school to come). Here they are - Elora and Ayla - looking absolutely gorgeous.

and lucky Elora also got to go to Key West over Spring Break (we went there for a day during our family East-Coast-of-the-US odyssey back in 2007). Here she is with (almost all of) her host family The Glissons. Thank you Glisson family for taking great care of my daughter.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

If you are not writing, there is no point in knowing what is happening to publishing...

I am hankering for more writing time. It's easy to get sucked in to spending all one's time monitoring the changes occurring in the publishing industry. Can authors earn enough to pursue their writing if book prices decrease? Will Amazon swallow us all? Will e-books take over the world? How can I successfully create a buzz around my new book? All of this will be moot if I don't actually get off my proverbial and write new material. It's no good having a brand if there ain't no product. I have a few events coming up. I'm chairing a discussion at an all day workshop on E-books on Saturday April 28th (see details here) which will be filled with fabulous advice and information. Several of my publishers are conspiring over an 'evening with me' event for May 9th (details on this soon). There will be some interesting prizes on the night - schools especially might want to consider coming to this one. But more than anything I want to spend more time writing. My soul craves it. I have been reading a short story collection (Pretty Monsters) by Kelly Link and feeling both mighty awed by her skill and also inspired by it. In the meantime while I run away and get on with some actual writery stuff, go check out these interesting links. In the writers doing it for themselves corner we have this, (self pubbed author sought by well known agent) and this (a different approach to marketing your books - thank you to this blog for that last link) and in the red  corner, in defence of the other guys, there is this (commercial publishing still has a lot to offer?). I'm just saying no matter how things go I will still be writing. If the bottom falls out, the earth opens up, a flood wipes the earth and all its publishing clean, I still need to go and write some more. Of course I will probably stop long enough to go watch this because there are a lot of smart, witty, handsome people in it. Of course if Daniel Craig was in it, it would be perfect.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Branding at the 'Bar M' Corral...

We were discussing authors as brands today. A recent commentator in the Guardian sniffily dismissed JK Rowling as just a brand having denounced her upcoming debut novel for adults despite not having read the contents. Hey, lets not even judge the book by its cover (does it even have one yet?). I appreciate the concept of branding probably deserves some cynicism as marketing/advertising has ruthlessly and successfully exploited it over the years to sell us things we may or may not need. However I also think of brand as something inevitable if you produce a reasonable body of work. Stick around long enough, write enough books, paint enough pictures, make enough movies and people know what you mean when you say the name. Think Frizzell, Peter Jackson,  Lynley Dodd etc....  It then makes sense to promote this brand to keep moving forward. I didn't mean to be a brand, honest, but I seem to have become one anyway and I'd like to make the most of it in a positive way.

Some brands, despite having a body of work, are mostly aligned with one product (Lionel Shriver perhaps?), some brands 'are' (and will only ever really be) just one product (I'm thinking Harper Lee here). Some brands are thwarted in their attempts to broaden their product range (can't we be grown up enough to give Rowling a chance at least?). Me? I've worried in the past about the diversity of my brand portfolio. Readers like knowing what to expect from a favourite author. If I liked book A then I will also like book B and book C. Fans of Lynley Dodd trust in her products to deliver warm, rollicking rhyming verse. People know to expect brilliant storytelling when they pick up Brian Falkner or Kyle Mewburn. In the past I have fretted over the fact I don't just write one type of story. I write picture books, short stories and novels. I write novels for children and young adults. Adults seem to enjoy my latest novel as much as the teens do. Some of my stories have a fantastical element, some don't. Some are humorous and some are dark. How can I appeal and promote myself to so wide ranging an audience? Should I focus on just one age group?

I have had to back the truck up. I am a writer. A writer of fiction for children. This is where Ms Rowling has to back up too (or her critics do anyway) - she writes. She can write any length for any audience that fits with the stories that come to her. For me personally, whether I want to or not, I can't write to expectations, I have to write the stories that excite my interest. These are the ones that come out best. What I do try and deliver, 100% of the time, is a great story that will make you think. I am an award-winning children's author of smart, layered fiction for all ages, focusing on the family, the challenging and the unexpected, all with a little dash of magic. And that's what you will get if you read my books.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Books are not milk...

Yay - congratulations to Clare Scott who has won a signed copy of The Half Life of Ryan Davis. As soon as I can wrangle the book into an envelope it will be on its way to you, Clare.

I am not afraid to say I am keen to see my work published. And I understand that other authors are keen for this too. There may be nothing wrong with our stories. In fact there may be plenty right with them. The question we ask as writers is "would readers enjoy this story?" This isn't the question publishers and agents are asking. They're asking "can we make money from this"? And this is where authors and publishers struggle to meet in the middle. If lots of people buy a book it does not necessarily make it a good book from a writer's perspective (or a reader's). And conversely a lack of buyers may not mean a book is bad. But this often is the yardstick that is used in the final analysis. This explains why Pippa Middleton can be paid a significant advance for a book on party planning. Because as we know, no one really knew how to plan a party until Pippa's sister married a Prince. A business is not wrong to want to profit from the sale of its products. There is nothing wrong with publishers and agents asking if they can make money from the product they are considering acquiring, printing and onselling. That is how business works. Authors do not want charity. They too want to benefit from the business model. They want to be paid for their product. However books are not a simple product that everyone needs or wants. One book is not the same as another. Books are not milk. The equation that solves for y if books are x often contains a lot of other unknown values. A lot of publishing decisions are based on educated guesses for those unknown values. We often look to educated guesses that were got wrong (JK Rowling anyone) as examples of how the system is broken but many times the publishers get it right too. What worries me most is where business thinking drives what the reader wants. More money can be made (imagine the profits for The Hunger Games: the books, the movie, the merchandising and tie ins) than ever before and this has a huge influence on how those educated guesses are made. Who can blame them for wanting to generate this kind of income? There are huge rewards to be had if you make the right picks. We never know what happens to the picks that might have been right but were not made. A reader cannot choose something that never makes it into print. The book world is transforming before our eyes. More than ever we are part of a global economy.Technology and social media are carving a new highway through society and culture.  Despite being the author and a creator of product, change is a whirlwind happening around me. Who knows what the landscape will look like when the dust settles. But in the meantime I will keep making product and keep reaching out to readers, because the only question I can ask is "would readers enjoy this story?"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Last chance...

If you have not already entered my fantabulous giveaway of 2 signed copies of The Half Life of Ryan Davis, and you still want to - THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE!!! You have been warned. Here are the instructions again, in case they fell out of your head and broke on the pavement.

 The Half Life of Ryan Davis (was) Book of the Week over at Pear Jam Books and in conjunction we are running a giveaway of two signed copies. To enter the giveaway just tell me (in the comments) which book was the first Pear Jam title to be published (Hint, this super book was created for a very special reason and was published in the record quick time of just one month). All correct answers will go in the draw!!

I will be drawing the winners tomorrow.

I am currently massaging a picture book manuscript into shape and reconfiguring a novel for intermediate readers so today's blog is short and sharp. In the meantime, I am rather liking this post here by Nathan Bransford - a nifty list of ten commandments for editing someone else's book. This is very good advice. In fact I think you should apply it to your own book as well. Standing back from the nitty gritty is necessary to see the global problems, issues and fixes needed before you can get back to fussing over individual words.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My thoughts on public speaking for authors...

March, also known as NZ Book Month, was a whirl of events. School visits, speed dates, publisher parties and evening events. I did a lot of talking, which is not a big stretch for me, but the fact that most of it was to strangers always manages to inject an element of fear. As an author you do not have to participate in events like these. I have invested a lot of time over the years in public speaking - talking to children and adults about my books, the techniques of writing and my personal experience and I have observed two results. 1) More people now know who I am. 2) I am much more comfortable with public speaking. If you would like to achieve these two results then I would recommend you get out there and do it too. I have surprised myself many times over the years, with all the things I never thought I would do or could do but gave a go, and I have discovered it does get easier and I have got better at it. I believe you can too. I have blogged about public speaking before. If you check this topic out on the internet there is plenty of advice. But after NZ Book Month I have some new things to say on the subject which might help you if you choose to speak publicly too.

So here is my brand new, road tested and approved, ten flavour list of advice on public speaking for authors.

1) Give plenty of thought to what you wear. First impressions count. Yes I am an author who prefers comfy clothing and yes I invariably joke about how much I like wearing pyjamas to work, but if I am invited to speak publicly I want to appear professional. I want to appear as someone who looks like she can get the job (writing a book, speaking to a group of strangers) done. There will be aspiring authors in both adult and child audiences - would they want to be you? I want to look my best because then I feel good and if I feel good I give a better talk. I don't want to have any internal worries about my appearance because they will distract me from what I am saying. That also means not wearing anything experimental or too tight or that relies on any special engineering or weather conditions. And as a children's author I am always keen to reflect that fact with my choice of clothing. Nothing too out there or weird (unless that is part of your schtick) but I always try to wear accessories that are colourful and a little unexpected.

2) If more people are going to know who I am, what do I want them to remember about me? What is my brand? I am a children's author - I love books, and I love writing them. I am my books but I am other things as well. I know children's books as much as I can. Children especially feel a connection with you if you know about the books they are reading. I'm approachable and willing to share what I know. I can be a little bit naughty or silly. I am a little bit unexpected in a way they might remember. What is your brand? Will they remember it?

3) Why am I there? For the Speed Dates in March I had twenty minutes to talk on developing characters. For the evening events the theme was Stories Over Supper - I focused on what stories were behind my stories. If its book week in a school I'm promoting the benefits and joys of books. If you find a reason for your public event it is not so hard to shape your content. Be generous - it shouldn't just be about selling your own books. People may not always buy my books at these events but they may remember who I am and that they liked what I had to say. This never hurts.

4) I always ask - am I adding value? Will my audience benefit from my talk. What might they learn? What can they take away from it? Will it help them? I try remember what I wanted to know when I was starting out, or things I heard that were most interesting.

5) The only way to get better at it is to do it. I have learned lots of strategies through experience. I aim to be ready for anything. What will I do if that group is twice as big as I expected. Or that group is only made up of one person. There's background noise. There is no chair or table for me. Oops the whiteboard pens don't work. At the Speed Dates I spoke to ten different groups. Nine of them knew the answers to some of the questions I posed at the beginning of the session and were quick to respond which got the discussion on my topic started, but one group stayed silent. I switched my talk around to better fit this group and steer the discussion in the right direction. Be prepared to change what you are saying to accommodate different skill or knowledge sets. The more often I give talks the better I get at adapting what I am saying.

6) It is hard to be talked at the whole time. Try and vary things. If it is appropriate, ask questions of your audience. Visual aids are good.

7) Everyone gets nervous before public speaking. Even the seasoned professionals. Don't panic about nerves, because lets face it, this is unlikely to make them go away. The quicker you accept them, the less likely they are to get in the way. I like to speak without notes because I never mastered the art of making my notes sound conversational (even though I can write this way in other contexts - like now). My nerves make memorising speeches prone to failure. I try remembering the beginning of each segment of what I have planned to say. These beginnings are the triggers that remind me of the rest of my content. Update (thank you to Crissi Blair for reminding me about this) - it is good to have some way of keeping tabs on where you are in your talk (so you don't repeat yourself or miss things out) especially if you don't have your talk written down. If I'm work-shopping/teaching I like to write key points on a whiteboard and this helps me know where I am. If the talk is short I tend to organise it in a linear way so one point leads seamlessly into the next. Find which approach works best for you. Yes it means some talks might go better than others, but if you are always trying to do number 4 your audience will still get something out of it.

8) Audiences want your talk to go well. They are not willing you to fail. They are not the enemy.

9) Take some time to pack a bag. I brought a set of collapsible airport wheels so I don't have to carry bags around. I always have my own whiteboard pens, ball point pens and a pencil. I have copies of all my books. Depending on the event I may have an extra copy of my latest as a giveaway. If I'm talking on particular writing skills I make sure I have an example of whatever I'm discussing. Mark up your books if you are doing a reading. Some things that are fine to be read silently don't work as well out loud. I have visual aids even if I don't end up using them. If its a long event have a bottle of water. Wear a watch. Wear layers because some venues are too hot and others too cold. Have the phone number and name of the event organiser written down in case you are running late or get lost. Smile.

10. Whether your audience is one person or 100, they deserve your professionalism, preparation and attention.

Like going for a run or doing a hundred sit ups, it can be hard to push yourself to give talks. But just like exercise you are likely to (be sweaty and red in the face) feel very good afterwards. Children will ask for your autograph, or tell you, you are their favourite. People will buy your books or tell others about you who get in touch to ask if you can speak at their event, or school, or writing group. Some crowds are harder than others. Maybe only one child in that class secretly dreams of being an author (just like you when you were that age). Maybe the others have no interest whatsoever. You only need one - aim your talk at them. Maybe no one will come and talk to you after, or buy any of your books. But you will be one more talk the wiser, and next time you will be even better and more experienced.

Here I am in action reading from Made with Love, at Paper Plus at Meadowbank Mall (thanks to my niece Mia Szymanik for the photo).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What if your daughter wants to be an author Campbell Newman?

Today this news turned up on my facebook page. The Queensland Premier is axing literary awards to save taxpayer money. My heart sank. Then I read the comments following the article and my heart bled a little in the pit of my stomach. Apparently the only people not wanting these awards to end were the authors and according to one commentor they are  "leeches on society. Arts are not essential to life believe it or not."  I work hard to write material that will challenge and encourage children to pick up more books. The ability to read, the ability to understand and gain something from the content that is read contributes positively to an individual's success in society. If you can read you can teach yourself something new, empathise with the world around you and follow instructions. Reading enables people to provide balanced meals for their families. Reading can provide comfort and joy. It enables people to relax. It enables people to find solace when things are going wrong. It enables them to find solutions to problems. It enables people to prepare for new events like the birth of a child, or some other change in circumstances. The more we understand about the circumstances of others, the better our society functions. The arts have a crucial role in civilized societies. When controlling governments crack down on society, artists (including authors) sacrifice freedom and safety to express the truth. They are willing to risk their lives for their art. To dismiss art so easily is reckless.  

I earn very, very little from my books - significantly less than the average wage. I am not signed up for the unemployment benefit or any other benefit. I don't receive government funding. I do receive the public lending right which acknowledges that less of my books may be sold as people borrow them from the library. I am not a leech on society. I am a contributor. I pay tax. Authors might justifiably express concern about the loss of such awards because there is little enough money coming their way as it is.  Publishers as far as I know are not rolling in an excess of dosh that they can afford to present as prizes. It would be awkward to expect them to be unbiased toward books published by other companies. In any event they tend to spend their money on publishing more books which is their primary function.

There are awards for sports people - are those being axed?  Even though sports players in the top division can already earn enough to fund a myriad of bad personal habits? Or what about music awards for rock album of the year? Or any other album or top single? Or concert pianists or violinists. Are awards for league players being slashed?  Do league players awards actually result in more kids getting off the couch and becoming active? Is there a funding body supporting athletes to go to the Olympics? Is supporting that individual heading off to London to compete over just several days a better use of that $244,475? What happens if they don't place in the top three? Is that money well spent? Personally I think it is. If everyone in their chosen field strives for excellence the whole of society benefits. 

Why am I so concerned about something happening across the ditch? Its not like I could have ever won these awards. I'm concerned because societies learn from other societies, and often follow the same path. Because I am interested in the lives of others. Because I support authors everywhere who care about their craft. Because we are close neighbours who are already similar in so many ways. Because I want to learn about what happens there so I can fight against it happening here. Authors aren't ripping off the system, they are just trying to do what they do best. Shouldn't we all be striving for excellence rather than mediocrity?