Saturday, December 31, 2011

I'll have a plate of achievement please, hold the side order of stress

Wow, it's a New Year; all shiny, fresh and trembly with anticipation. For a fleeting moment I thought that this year I would try and achieve more than I did last year. Must work harder, more efficiently, exercise more (if only bits of me would stop hurting), eat less (only in my dreams), stop procrastinating and find more hours in the day. But really if I just achieve this year what I did last year I would actually be pretty darn pleased. The only thing I would change is the stress levels. People tell me its useful. If we had no stress we might not achieve anything. But then if i thought about the stress involved I would NEVER sign up for anything. Like the pain of childbirth, the memory of stress fades. Of course I will organise that conference, run that workshop, entertain those forty under-5's, tame that tiger, perform brain surgery with a teaspoon - it'll be a cinch. And then I reach that moment when I slap myself upside the head and say 'what was I thinking?' but its too late. So this year I intend to do a little more of what I fancy when I can (watch movies, read books, hang with the famdamily, blog, loll about in an incredibly indulgent fashion). And the rest of the time I will do the stuff I always do - some study, some writing, some editing, some work-shopping, the after-school taxi'ing and juggling, the homework cajoling and the usual domestic chores - and I will remind myself I'm not half bad at these things. And when I've slapped myself and the stress is kicking in I will remind myself that the last time I did the thing I'm about to do, it worked out pretty well.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Keep being the kind of writer you want to be...

Borders on Queen Street in Auckland City is gasping its last. My daughter and I had a little time to kill before going to see Tintin at the movies on my birthday on Boxing Day so we wandered in and took a look. I stared at the children's novel by someone I know marked down to $2.00 a copy. I felt relief that only one of my books was in the sale and the price wasn't too hideously low. Then I went and bought a YA novel by another NZ author marked down to half price. I am a lowly paid author and a reader too and I guess I'm not apologising for buying a book at reduced prices. I can't and wouldn't stop folk buying my books at reduced prices. I would be a fool to think this might never happen to my books, and there always remains the chance that I find a new fan this way. When I can, I buy books from my local booksellers. Sometimes I buy from Amazon for my kindle or from Mighty Ape (they offered me a discount for my birthday and they had one of the books I couldn't find elsewhere - it was a no-brainer), today I downloaded a free e-book off Amazon which I didn't feel too bad about - I think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his estate have done well out of me over the years, and done exceedingly will in general. I try to spread the love around, and sometimes I am the recipient.

The Boxing Day Sales in general saw a positive increase in spending - a good day for retailers. But I couldn't help thinking how tight their margins might have been to lure customers in. Once all their bills are paid I hope they have enough to keep going. As has been said recently in the blogo-sphere (e.g. via Beattie's Blog) bookshops (and other retailers) can survive if they are smart/innovative about how they sell books (and other products) compared with the Amazons of this world. I'm rooting for them. Amazon has its place but it doesn't do everything a customer might want.

What can you do? Keep being the kind of writer you want to be. If your manuscript is rejected, it didn't fit with the publisher's programme or didn't quite make it through every hoop they needed it to jump through. If your book tanks, is remaindered or goes swiftly out of print, that's business. Sometimes business sucks. Perhaps you might be a bestseller or sell overseas, be reprinted or win an award. Yay!!! If you have written the stories that matter to you, in a way you feel proud of, then whatever 'life' your story has, you know you wrote the stories you wanted to write. Trends, fads, and publishers might come and go but your stories will always have your name on them.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Your chances are as good as ever...

In response to my last post, Kath lamented that getting published in NZ today as a newcomer seems impossible. What are the chances?

From where I sit Kath I have to say the chances seem as good as ever. Chances were never good, but newcomers still do get published every year. In the wake of the recession, publishing lists were cut and several boutique publishers (Mallinson Rendel, Longacre) were absorbed by a couple of the big international publishing names (Penguin and Random respectively). Publishers across the board were tightening purse strings and Scholastic NZ, the biggest children's-only publisher here closed to unsolicited submissions, an uncommon position in this country. And it certainly may appear that the same names are turning up on the covers of the books in the bookshops.

However if you know your local authors well you can spot the new ones too. Anna Gowan and Leonie Agnew are new faces in the junior novel area. Juliette MacIver is new in picture books as is Chris Gurney and Belynda Smith. I'm sure there are others that have slipped my mind.

Several avenues exist for new writers such as the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon and Tessa Duder Awards for junior and YA fiction. You cannot enter for these awards if you are previously published. While the Joy Cowley Award for a picture book is open to the previously published, this is how many new writers are noticed by Scholastic who participate in judging the entries and publish the winners of the Joy Cowley and Tom Fitzgibbon (Harper Collins publish the winner of the Tessa Duder Award). Scholastic have published the books of other finalists as well. I was twice a finalist in the Joy Cowley Award and while this didn't result directly in publication of my entries at the time, it was a huge boost for me as a writer and resulted in some fantastic feedback which has seen both stories being published more recently. Entries close on October 31st for these Awards every year.

And we now have new boutique publishers springing up. David Ling's Duck Creek Press  has taken on a new picture book writer and new illustrators in the last few years and Pear Jam Books, just launched by author Jill Marshall, is publishing 14 titles this year of which 5 are by previously unpublished authors and another couple are by newish authors.

I got my break with Learning Media and Australia's School Journal who first published several short stories I had written during a Writing for Children paper I did at Massey University as part of my English Degree. One of the most important things I did to help myself along was join several writer's organisations (Storylines, NZSA, Kiwiwrite4kidz) which introduced me to other people experiencing the same difficulties and challenges that I was on my quest for publication. We share triumphs, disappointments and tales of survival. We also share tips and information that make our journey easier.

So don't despair. A blog I follow in the UK by the much published author Nicola Morgan recently featured a post in which she spoke about her twenty year journey to publication. She was first published well before the global recession but it still took her twenty years to reach that first contract. It is very tough to get published. Sometimes it takes a while to find your niche, your voice, your style. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right story for the right time - the one that starts you off. If you are serious about being published as a children's author then you have to hang in there. Keep writing. Take heart. Join with the rest of us and we can hang in there together.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gaze into my crystal (rejectomancy) ball...

Some days should just not be allowed. At the moment it is days with a 'y' in them.  Despite my mood I have managed to find some more juicy links for you. There is this lovely run down on 25 things every writer should know about rejection from terrible minds (via janet reid ). I have wittered on about the subtle art of rejectomancy in the past. Here Mr Wendig explains how time and multiple rejections hone our rejectomancy skills (No. 24). The more you read, the more you know about the writing business, the more able you are to recognise what different types of rejection are actually telling you. Here, finally, is a plus in having received many rejections. There are differences and they do have different meanings. Some are indeed positive and encouraging and manage to give you hope and faith about your writing even though they are still saying 'no'. I think it is also important to note that editors/agents do not always get it right and one rejection should not be seen as the final word on a manuscript.

My other lovely link is uplifting and disheartening all at once - Sandra, in her post on Bad Reviews, reminds us that relying on the praise of others is ultimately futile. There is a wonderful logic to this that cheers me up, however having had some nice reviews recently I am now wondering if I must regard these with the same eye with which I would regard a poor review. Perhaps it is futile to rely on the praise of others but what I will cling on to is the idea that people are reading my book.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I got lost on the way to my happy place...

It has been a week of menial tasks and attending to the needs of others. A week of to'ing and fro'ing, ferrying, and sitting in parked cars. On Friday I sat in a hot, airless car in a featureless carpark in an industrial area for two hours, waiting. Sometimes it is what you have to do. I read a lot but conditions were not conducive to writing. It is hard to create when you feel like your brain is melting and your hungry stomach is about to turn on you and eat you from the inside out. Navman could not give me directions to my happy place. But then last night I understood how to bring the hero in one of my three projects back from an impossible place. Man did that feel good. I hope I get the chance soon to put that thought into words in my manuscript. Solutions come when you least expect them. The important thing is to know that the solutions will arrive. I keep the faith. It is my job as a writer. And sometimes it is the time away from the computer and the writing that yields the best results.

I am a fan of epiphanies. Sometimes they arrive close together and it leaves you wondering if they are not as important and starry as you think they are. Or perhaps they are and it is just part and parcel of the creative life to have as many as I do. Yesterday I had two. One when I realised how to rescue my hero, the other when I read this. Nicola Morgan knows how to explain things. It is clever and enlightening stuff. Go read it, it will improve your writing.

My next picture book Made with Love will be out next April (yay!!).

And over at Tall Tales and Short Stories you can read a review of my young teen novel The Half Life of Ryan Davis.

On the surface the story seems fairly straightforward, but boy is there a twist that I didn't see coming.  With any good thriller you try to work it out and, yes, with hindsight the clues are there, but the denouement took me by surprise and I loved the dark, rather disturbing twist and psychological sting in this tale.

This book is currently available as an e-book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and I-tunes and should be available for the Sony e-reader soon. The print version is currently available from and should be in bookshops and on amazon soon. If you want a copy and are having trouble getting it let me know.

Monday, December 5, 2011

We are all lemmings...

Christmas is a season of immense joy and intense stress. Suddenly the end of the year is upon us and despite the fact that this happens EVERY YEAR we still act like a pack of lemmings (who should also know better by now) and throw ourselves off the cliff in a frenzy of what on earth should I get for all these people half of whom I barely know (secret Santa may very well be synonymous with bad Santa) and how much food and beverage can I get through toasting a season that is really all about the birth of the baby cheeses not a festival of shopping. January is the month of regret. And knowing what I know I am still able to be smug about the fact that my Christmas shopping is almost done (although I still have a boat load of food to buy, prepare and consume). I was stressed out a week ago but I'm feeling much more zen now.

As it is a time of giving, my gift to you today is some lovely links. The first is sometime agent/author/blogger Nathan Bransford talking about networking, or more to the point, networking without networking. This is kind of my philosophy too and one I didn't appreciate until the friendships I had made for the sake of friendship and kindred-spiritedness had unexpected and lovely repercussions. The beauty of this accidental networking is knowing that these relationships have been founded on mutual respect and interests, without a thought for personal gain and that the benefits go both (or multiple) ways. Oh, that more of the way the world works was founded on principles such as these.

And if you have ever loved the movie The Lost Boys I give you this lovely and most encouraging post by the Rejectionist - its a little bit uplifting, feisty, retrospective, introspective and heartwarming all at once.

Whatever the other purists say (I am a long time fan) I am looking forward to seeing Tintin on the big screen.