Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More on promotion...

So it would seem promotion is something we aren't exactly all keen on but that we do accept is part of the business. If you are not a natural, then fake it. If smiling even when you don't feel like it, can fool your body right down to the basic elements and make you healthier and come full circle to make you happier, then faking confidence and enthusiasm should do the same. However, like blogging (as Ms Morgan so sensibly puts it in her latest blog here), your promotion should fit with your persona - while its smart to fake the smile its not a good idea to fake who you are (unless you're permanently grumpy and a misanthrope in which case - get to it) And if I'm unsure what to say I think of one of my SO's work mantras (he who is in PR, Communications and Marketing) - how can I add value? What can i say or do that might be useful to this group of children or adults. If they are very young and not yet reading and writing on their own, then I'm not too embarrassed to make it all about Sponge Bob - he's very wise for an inanimate object. As the audience gets older I try and add more practical tips about writing and creating. If talk about writing is making them glaze over then I ask lots of questions and get them to talk to me. And if it turns ugly then I know tomorrow is another day. JK Rowling knew what she was doing when she made chocolate the antidote to a happiness sucking attack by the dementors. While its true that children can smell fear I'm not sure if they can detect fake confidence. By the time they do, you could be working with the real thing.

Of course promoting yourself to publishers and booksellers is a different animal. But doing promotional work with your target audience will earn you brownie points with Publishers and booksellers. Keep a note of any thing you have done to promote yourself and include a summary in your writing CV and perhaps a very short note about it on your query/ cover letter, if its relevant.

One of the best things about throwing yourself into promotion and giving it a go, is figuring out what works for you and maybe getting to try on different sizes and styles of event. One of my favourites so far was the Speed Date the Author event I was lucky to participate in recently. Here is a nice write up on the event from the Dominion. The more things you give a go, the more you can edit and rearrange to come up with a presentation that works for you. I cannot play a guitar and sing in public like Julia Donaldson does for her promotional appearances but I don't want to do someone else's presentation and I'm trying to create my own style. I want to do something that fits with me and my persona and my kind of writing.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

To promote or not to promote...

To promote or not to promote that was the other big question...

Shakespeare is probably revolving at a rate of knots in his grave right now - sorry Bill, I'm sure I'm not the first. So the school holidays have arrived and before I get pushed off the computer by the kids I wanted to try and scrape the rest of what I remember from the conference off the floor of my brain before it's gone in holiday programmes, taxi duties and a collection of sorry excuses for movies.

A number of folk at the conference - presenters, publishers and booksellers included were keen on authors/illustrators promoting their books to the public. Especially for publishers and booksellers the bottom line is income - if they don't sell product they don't survive. For authors and illustrators the equation is a lot more murky with a complex bottom line that often includes a fear of public speaking. One prominent author said promotion and marketing are not the job of the writer/illustrator but belong with the publisher. I whined to my writer friend about this on the plane ride home - sorry T. - prominent author could easily say this as they already has excellent reputation to help sell their works (and now that i think about it prominent author already has occasional tv presence too so does do own promotion anyway even if inadvertantly). T suggested that prominent author's comments were designed to give people permission not to promote if they felt it was beyond them. Hmmm. For myself, my fear of obscurity outweighs my fear of public speaking. And if one does get asked to speak I would bet any one they could not/would not say no. Public engagements scare me. Deep down I'm shy (stop laughing - all of you!). But I want to have my stories published. I want my books to sell. I want publishers and booksellers to see my books sell so that they publish and stock me again in the future. I want a career. And there are other benefits to promotion as well. So I promote. I agree that you should not do it against your will, that you should be a willing participant, even if you are rigid with fear. But I also think you should give it a go before you decide against it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Saying hi across the interverse

Just a quick note to say hi to any Blogoffee visitors. Hosted friday (UK) time by Nicola Morgan at her blog Help!I need a publisher - go visit and check out some other blogs. I've been over to Thomas Taylors place, Cat Down Unders and Ebony McKenna's. Its fun to visit overseas :)You never know what you might find and who can say no to making new friends. I keep a list of my recent favs down the right hand side of my blog. I have virtual coffee, chocolate and champers available (sorry I finished all the real stuff). There are few things as good as a chat about writing over a drink (hot or cold). I raise my coffee to you all and wish you good fortune with your writing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

So which is it? - write to the market or write what you feel?

I've had a comment on an earlier post (Hi Judy) which touched on a topic raised by the conference which I am keen to post about. Judy I hope you don't mind that I repeat part of your comment here :)

so there's the conflict. Do you write for yourself or the /a market?; write for popularity ie for money or for prescence?; write what you feel or study the market, genre, word length, and the anomalous one - read what's been published and is in the marketplace. Then write something fresh and new that hits the mark.

I'm sorry presenters/keynote speakers - you didn't make it easy. At least one speaker I listened to urged us to study the market. Another urged us to write what was in us. Both are respected and successful writers for children. So which is it folks? Well, in my many minutes of experience people I believe the answer is yes. Neither guarantees you a publishing contract. As I posted not so long back, publishers want something new and fresh that's exactly like their most successful books. You can study the market extensively and write on a popular theme/genre. You may or may not get published. You can write on what interests you, what gives you brain fever and spins your dials. You may or may not get published. Some people are very good at writing to the market. They look at the elements that are present in the most popular books and can spin a new story on a trusted framework. Other people have fallen in love with a character who just has to go off on this tangent that they can't get out of their heads. They create something thats sends shivers or squeals down their spine. I believe that YOU already know how you want to write. DO NOT look at the other writer doing it the other way who has had a manuscript accepted and think you are doing it the wrong way. There is no wrong way. The answer is yes. Write the best story you can, in the way that you feel most comfortable/happy with. If you do something against the grain chances are this will show. If you write the way that suits you best you will have a much better chance of writing something that works. Nothing guarantees publishing success but trusting yourself will make it more likely. Phew. Thats my two cents worth on the subject.

Juicy snippets on the Interverse

Thank you to Graham Beattie for mentioning my blog on his yesterday. And my two favourite conference co-conveners, Fifi and Maureen too, for mentioning mine on theirs as well. I hope folk visiting have found something of interest in my raves on the conference. I would like to post more on what I heard there but I found a couple of juicy snippets across the Interverse over the last few days that I just have to mention.

Go look at this lovely little post on what kids are really after when they read. It all boils down to this:-

Take this fine advice from young T., a third-grader from Park Slope: "It's like when you think you are going to care about the book, but then no stuff happens, so you get bored and then you read a different book." Or wee L.: "If the people aren't doing anything cool the book is dumb."

Things have to happen. Its about action, man! Thats about as clear as you can get.

And, in the spirit of honesty which I found very refreshing at the conference, here is a great post from Nicola Morgan on why she writes

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pitch Slam Dunk...

I am slowly sifting through some of the information put in my brain last weekend at the conference. Here are some thoughts I have had following this fab event.

1. If you are serious about being a writer and/or illustrator one of the most useful things you can do to help yourself is to join at least one (if not all) of the professional groups available in NZ. Kiwiwrite4kidz or the WCBA (Wellington Childrens Book Assoc.), the NZSA, Storylines, The NZ Book Council and Te Tai Tamariki. When I finally got up the nerve to give the writing thing a shot I joined Storylines and the NZSA. Becoming part of the children's book community is the best way to find out how it all works. If I'd stayed alone in my study tapping away on my computer, sending things out in the post to publishers I would be years behind where I am now. Talking with others who share the same goals is inspiring, motivating and educational. I have since joined Kiwiwrite4kidz and intend to join the NZ Book Council as well. It is an essential part of your development.

2. Martin Baynton gave a stirring keynote speech on the opening night of the Conference where he urged everyone to take control of their intellectual property and exploit it for maximum benefit. He does not automatically assign all rights to publishers who contract his work. Can that publisher actually exploit that right and maximise the income for that work? The publishers panel the following day gave a mixed reply to his advice. Some argued for their ability to make use of these rights. Others stated which rights were non-negotiable (thereby implying that the others were?). Many publishers are part of a global company or are affiliated with overseas publishers, some of whom have the necessary skills and corporate machinery to make use of these rights. I never asked them how often these rights are exploited and how lucrative they were. I appreciate that a small proportion of published work would ever be deemed suitable for film or merchandising (or other similar) rights but I now know I shouldn't forget about them during the contract process. Baynton's vision is broad and his ambitions, global. He borrowed millions to exploit one of his works and it paid off. Of course this kind of investment is a) not for the faint-hearted and b) not suitable for everyone's work. I'm not sure if I'll ever go down that route but his talk certainly opened my eyes.

3. I was extremely honoured to be invited to participate in the Speed Date The Author event held at Island Bay School in Wellington on the morning of the opening day of the conference. I did a 15 minute presentation on tone to 5 different groups of intermediate aged children who rotated round 6 different authors and illustrators each assigned their own topic. I hope the children enjoyed it. I loved the format and once I warmed up I enjoyed it. Congratulations to Sarah Forster from the NZ Book Council who came up with the idea and thanks for including me. This concept could easily be used anywhere in the country.

4. Pitching. Huge kudos to Maureen and Fifi for including this in the conference. Pitching has, as I understand it, been a part of writing conferences for some time in the US. A writer or illustrator makes an appointment to pitch their book idea/completed novel/pb to a publisher or agent. It has never been formally done in New Zealand before. There were 7 publishers and 2 agents (one Kiwi, one from Oz) available at Spinning Gold. Appointments were 3 minutes long with 2 minutes for the pitchee to recover before the next appointment started. I applaud the publishers and agents for agreeing to do this. It would not be easy to listen to up to 12 individuals trying to sell you their idea/book. We were all newbies at pitching and everyone looked terrified. Rescue remedy was being passed around. Some faces were a worrying shade of pale. There was a lot of nervous joking in the stairwell before we were let through for our appointments. I had three appointments and through sheer luck (and being completely brazen) I managed to get myself a fourth. Some publishers would be ideal poker players. Some were probably overwhelmed by the all the things I thrust at them and were wishing they were better at poker. I was grateful for the opportunity to just meet these people face to face. I think my pitching needs an awful lot of polishing. Although one is talking about one's own work which we theoretically should know intimately, it is easy to forget the salient points and go heavy on the waffle. I think I did better at talking about my shorter works - lets face it - its a lot easier to summarise a 700 word pb then it is to summarise something in excess of 45,000 words. Thank you to the Spinning Gold team who organised this and who, on the day, despite a huge chance of mayhem had it all running like well oiled clockwork. Thank you to the publishers and agents who gave up their time to participate. I am hoping, like dating agencies that publicise any resulting unions, that Spinning Gold will mention any successful deals struck as a result of their inaugural Pitch Slam.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Warts and all...

I think it will take me weeks to process everything I heard and discussed at the Spinning Gold Conference. I'm still trying to catch up on sleep even though I went to bed early and rose late while I was there. When everything on offer at a conference is so good and you listen so intently at each session and there are no free periods and the sessions that clash with the ones that you selected are also so good and you try and pick the brains of friends who attended those ones - well - its just plain exhausting. But the thing I liked best about the whole thing (apart from the socialising which was wonderful) was the honesty of it all.

I've been a bit troubled by the fact that some speakers disagreed directly with other speakers on how writers and illustrators should be approaching this crazy business. Some said focus on promotion, marketing, making use of new technologies and work to the market. Others said it is not the creatives job to promote or market (that is the job of the publisher), having an internet presence is unnecessary and create what is important to you, not what the market suggests. Then it dawned on me this morning that that is the nature of the business. Even the experts don't agree on how things are best created, published and sold. What works for me, may not work for you. Both ways may work or both may fail miserably. I'm sorry if this is all sounding a bit oblique. That is essentially what the publishing industry is like. The publishers panel during the conference was brutally honest and everyone looked a little pale and shaken after that session but I came away thinking that we were fortunate that the publishers were willing to tell it how it is. Even they disagreed at times on some fundamental issues, and I do believe some topics were avoided, but the undeniable impression for me at the end was how much all of these publishers loved childrens books and how much they fought for them and wanted good books to do well. A huge thank you to the publishing people who came and spoke to us, who braved the pitch slam and who showed where the heart is in the Childrens' Publishing business. And I am the better for all the speakers' willingness to say what they really think, to share what works for them and to not gloss over the less savoury aspects. I think these are the things that made the conference so great.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Wow, the WCBA really knows how to put on a conference. I returned from Wellington last night after the weekend Spinning Gold Conference having had my brain poked, prodded, broadened, enlightened and occasionally pickled. Maureen and Fifi, and your amazing helpers, I hope you all realise how brilliant you are. Organisers with more resources (but way less talent) have not been able to achieve what you did. And folks, Children's writers and illustrators truly are the nicest bunch of people you could hope to meet. My only regret is that I did not meet and talk with every one there. We discussed creativity, promotion, marketing, publishing, bookselling, taxes, poetry, being monsters and more, and I plan to blog some more about the things I learned later this week. If you want to know more about what it was like and whether it is something you would like to attend in future I believe there will be some material going up on the Spinning Gold Blog when the organisers have sufficiently recovered (and they are truly deserving of a long break).

In the meantime ponder this:-

From the Herald On Sunday, September 20th - "the book chains are setting aside almost their entire Christmas contingency budgets to buy in more copies (of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol), should it - as they expect - go lunar."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Peace at last...

Its not a good sign when the organic life form you can relate to best is a chicken with its head cut off. I'm off to Wellington tomorrow afternoon for a couple of events and the Spinning Gold Conference. My SO asked me to do something for him this morning and I warned him there was so much in my brain I couldn't guarantee this little task wouldn't fall out - best not to rely on me right now to do any extra errands. I've been trying to finish an assignment (just put it in the envelope to post - 58 pages in total), still have to do this month's PAYE, answer some interview questions, write talk for tomorrow night, talk for Friday morning, get head round pitching to two publishers and do exercise for workshop (plus check school uniforms will be available for next Monday, food available while I away and someone will feed the pets). Oh, and pack bags. Oops - too late, brain just gone squidge onto floor :) I'd laugh at it but I don't think i understand anymore....peace at last...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The 'must write' gene...

If you are a writer hoping to be published or a published writer hoping to be published again, go read this!. There is nothing simple or easy about this business. Sometimes it gives me hives. Sometimes it forces me to eat large amounts of chocolate. And the recession adds an extra degree of difficulty. The thing is I can't seem to stop myself writing. If I'm not thinking about what needs to go in the washing, or what I'm going to make to feed 5 people with widely varying tastes for dinner, or that I must get on to the accounts so I can do next months GST, I am thinking about story ideas. I am mulling them over, twisting and turning them this way and that to see if they give the right fit - are the darts in the right place and is the zip long enough. It would be handy to stop because life would be so much simpler. I sometimes wish I was wired for a different profession, but every bit of me is coded with the 'must write' gene. And when I sit down and write it feeds my soul. I have been a bit deprived of writing recently and I feel hungry.

I attended the Auckland Reading Association's celebration of National Literacy Day as a guest speaker yesterday. Highlight? Meeting a teacher and three pupils from my old primary school. I don't know who was more excited. All five of us were grinning happily. Another highlight? Children coming up and saying Did you write this? I love this book? There were a number of Jack the Viking fans, and Were-Nana ones as well. I was stoked. Of course there is no better reward than seeing a reader delighted with your book. And that is the other reason i write. Can I write a book that has the same impact on a reader that some books have had on me? How can you say no to that?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I want to know everything about everything....but knowing how to make a tiara out of an egg carton will do for today

I visited a primary school today together with the illustrator of The Were-Nana. I tried a different approach with my talk and it seemed to go okay. Tomorrow I am off to Te Papapa School for the Reading Association's National Literacy Day event. Next week I'm off to Wellington for a Meet the Author event, A Speed Date the Author Event and The Spinning Gold Conference. I have two assignments due. I must say my brain is a little fatigued. It's only a week away and I can't even contemplate the Conference yet. And writing? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ah the irony.

I realised last night that writing for me isn't about finding ideas. Its about being curious. I want to know why things happen, why people do the things they do, how they work things out (in fact i want to know everything about everything but this takes a very long time). Its also a lot about problems. Not all of my stories contain a character facing a problem but most of them do. All my longer works do. I spend most of my time thinking about problems. I think this is the lot of a writer. We dwell on people's problems. Thankfully we also dwell a lot on solutions. Especially when writing for children.

Check out Fifi Colston's blog today. She has made the coolest tiara out of an egg carton and is contemplating producing a book full of clever things that can be made out of this everyday domestic product. I would buy this book if it only contained the instructions for making the tiara but it would be chock full of other clever things so would be even better to own.

I'm going to go ride 25 kms on my bike now and then do sudoku and order takeaways. So there.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

You are being watched...

I am having one of those days where the bread keeps insisting on falling butter side down on the carpet. I am doing my best to not get caught up in the possible downward spiral of this kind of event but it keeps happening. As much as I am tempted I am not going back to bed to wait out the day but instead am soldiering on in the hope that this will pass.

Anyway - I digress :)

I checked in at Janet Reid's blog today and several of her recent posts caught my eye and poked at the old grey matter. The first was a link to an article on confidence by Toni McGee Causey which was an inspiring read. Confidence is not something that magically comes along when you have earned it. Its something you must try on and practice, so you will have it when you need it. I don't know if I agreed with everything in Ms McGee Causey's article but I love the key message. There is no person on this earth who does not deserve to have confidence. And some well placed confidence can work wonders.

The other post was this one . I found this one a wee bit worrying. If you are a writer with a presence somewhere on the internet, whether via facebook, twitter, a website or blog, or through some other forum, or you have ever commented on someone else's facebook, twitter, a website, blog or some other forum, give a thought to who is checking you out and what they might be thinking. These days prospective agents and publishers can look you up on line. Do they like what they see? Will it affect their decisions regarding us? Like all our writing, we must always be conscious of our audience and adjust our content accordingly. As Nicola Morgan wrote on her blog recently (her old one, not her new one) being nice is always the best policy. But everyone has bad days, and crazy ones as well. And rotten grammar days too. And what amuses one reader might offend another. I almost wish I hadn't read this particular post. Its tying my brain in knots. Update - of course there may be nothing to worry about - heh.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I think the mad woman in Jane Eyre was based on me

I have turned up in the NZ Book Council's latest publication School Library Issue 3 .

I have been feeling a little crazy recently. I don't seem to be fitting in all the things I want to fit in, or indeed, need to get done. Yikes. And my overwhelming urge right now is to do nothing. Double yikes. My writing brain is all over the place - I can't settle to one story. Maybe its because its Spring. Yes you can have some lovely warm weather, BUT ONLY AT A PRICE. And I think those loved up tuis in my back garden have now become prospective parent kamikaze tuis. Result! (for them) but a bit of a worry when one wants to hang out the washing. I hope they don't take their protective zeal out on my freshly cleaned towels.

In the meantime here is something I started in a different lifetime that I one day hope to finish, if I can ever get my 'a' into 'g'. It is the start to The Snow Raven. It is not one of the three novels I have been working on most recently.

You couldn’t tell. You couldn’t tell from the way the leaves fell or the way the apples rusted away to red on the trees that the winter was going to be special. There should have been some sign, for what came after changed everything.
For weeks the weather slowly turned and the twins haunted the forest. The watery sun smiled down on them, barely making an impression on the chilly air. The drifts of leaves were thick and dry, crackling and collapsing when the twins jumped on them. Round and round the trees they went, forest-combing for the treasures that washed up on those beechy shores.
Forever on the hunt for shiny, sparkly things, Meddlesome was always looking down. ‘Finders, keepers,’ was her favourite saying of all time and ‘I saw it first’ was a close runner-up. Winsome didn’t mind. She was the quieter twin, the one who didn’t mind having second pickings, the one who came after; there were fewer fights that way.
So on this day, as every other, Meddlesome was looking down, hoping for a great find. And she got her wish. In the big dip in the forest where the ground sloped down to a point in the centre, a huge old kauri tree grew. Rounder than the two girls could reach and hold each others hands and tall enough to hurt their necks when they looked up, the tree rose above everything else in the forest. It was a special tree.
Meddlesome and Winsome danced around it twice, and walked around it backwards once, as they always did to ward off bad things. But something seemed different this day. Meddlesome’s fingers tingled and the hair on her head itched as she searched the ground. Then she spied it. In the long grass at the base of the tree she could see something. The twins knew this forest very well. They knew this tree and every centimetre of the ground around it very, very well. There were never any rocks at the bottom of this tree. Now a large, smooth, white stone nestled in the foliage. It looked like an enormous opal, a large shiny egg almost white but not, with many colours shimmering on its surface like oil patches in the rain. But the colours passed and as it settled down to a dull bone colour Meddlesome reached her hand out and picked it up. The sky cracked like a thunder clap and for a second the dull blue blistered with lightning.

“What is it?” Winsome asked peering forward to see the object cradled in Meddlesome’s hands.
“It’s an egg you nelly.”
“I know that. I mean what kind of egg is it.”
“Nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s quite big isn’t it? And the colour is really strange. Maybe its rotten inside,” and Meddlesome put the egg to her nose and gave it a quick sniff. “Smell’s okay. In fact it’s got quite a nice smell,” and she held the egg out for Winsome to sniff.
“Gosh it’s quite fresh isn’t it? Not like a smell at all really but a…a…it reminds me of something.”
“Yes,” Meddlesome couldn’t help but agree. “It’s like snow…snow at Christmas,” she said vaguely.
“Don’t be stupid. You don’t know snow. Especially not at Christmas silly.”
“Well, it’s like I imagine snow smells at Christmas,” Meddlesome pouted.
Winsome about to make another smart remark bit her lip, because the second she thought about it she realised her sister had almost found the answer she’d been grasping at when the egg smell reminded her of something. It wasn’t quite right but it felt very close. But this annoyed her, like Meddlsome finding the egg first somehow annoyed her. “You watch too much T-Box,” she said.
Meddlesome sniffed indignantly.
“I guess its not going to hatch now is it? Sitting in the cold like that,” Winsome went on, something prodding at a small germ of unkindness buried deep inside her.
“I guess not,” her sister replied. “Still we could take it home and keep it warm for a little bit. See if anything happens?”

Its a lot of narrative to begin with which some writers believe can be a problem, but other writers get away with it. I guess if its ever complete I can make a decision about the beginning then :)