Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The digital journey part 3...

You succeeded in transforming your manuscript into digital formats. You have a compelling cover, and an ISBN for every occasion. Your book is available on Smashwords, Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple etc... You are exhausted and would like to pull a Rip Van Winkle and sleep for a very long time. But now you discover the truth about the digital world. It is an endless sea of book titles and you are but a single molecule of water tossed along by an indifferent and relentless tide. It is too easy to become fish pee.

I am unaware of any sure fire method for becoming a best seller (I'm afraid I couldn't guarantee to pass this information along to you if I did know it). But you can expand your horizons.

One of the lovely side effects of joining organisations like Storylines, Kiwiwrite4kidz, NZSA and NZ Book Council, besides making friends with lots of wonderful book addicted people just like yourself, is that you get to know the book reviewers and the publications they review for. Now is the time to utilise this information and ask if the reviewers would like to check out your new book. Always ask and never demand - it is a reviewers prerogative to decline your request. Digital formats do put some reviewers off. They will not review a book not available in print. Fair enough. But some reviewers are happy to take digital books and make sure you get in touch with as many of these people as possible. Both Crissi Blair of Silvertone and Maria Gill at KidsBooksNZ will consider reviewing your e-book. Have you written a press release for your book that shows the cover, says a little bit about the book and you as the author and provides info on the book such as length, price, genre, age range, ISBN and availability, and your contact info? Ideally this should be enticing, fit on one A4 page and be able to be posted or emailed to prospective reviewers. Make sure your book is loaded on Goodreads so that people can find it. Be prepared for the slow build and don't despair if things don't happen straight away.

It can be nerve-wracking to send your own work out for review. If you have been responsible for every aspect of your book it is doubly so. The buck stops with you and any quality issues are your responsibility. But reviews are an important promotional tool. Be brave. Laminate on an extra skin and bite your tongue if criticism comes your way. Even the most beloved authors and books have received the most scathing reviews. Complaining about your reviewer in public (or public forums) will NEVER work in your favour. Being dignified however is always a good look. Wear it well.

Also folks, the NZ Post Book Awards are now open to e-books. You only have one shot at this for each title as you can only submit your book for the award in the year it was published. It will not be eligible for subsequent years. Go check out the rules, take a leap of faith and submit your book. There may be other awards and competitions open to e-books - I don't know of any others yet but I will try let you know if I hear of any. And I reckon more awards will open up to e-books in the future as digital formats become more commonplace.

Last but not least consider other distribution channels like Wheelers and sales through your own website. If you choose to sell your e-book through channels like these you cannot use the conversions provided by Smashwords or Amazon. Well actually, you can, but seeing as those folks converted your book for free it would be biting the hand that feeds you to then sell those conversions without any recompense to them. Do the right thing and produce your own conversions. There are conversion and management software options available for download online. Watch out for anything that requires you to send the file and provide an email address for its return. It is better to do it on your own premises, so to speak.  Look for software with a reputable name. And make sure you have the right ISBN's for the right format at the right time.

Okay I think that's enough for today. I haven't ventured into print for Sally Bangle yet. It is a bigger job than digital publishing and I need to do some information gathering and have a clear plate before I approach this. If you have any questions just ask in the comments.

oh and here is a very helpful view of what self publishing actually means (it means being writer and publisher, both BIG jobs) from the very salty (you have been warned) Chuck Wendig - thanks to the fabulous Ms Tania Hutley for bringing this post to my attention.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Would like the chance to try for a little cultural cringe...

Are we an endangered species? The Kiwi writer? The other day chatting with some folk, one of them asked me what I did for a job and I said I wrote Children's fiction. As we talked on she called what I did a pastime. I don't think she meant anything by it. Certainly it wasn't meant as an insult. But when I consider what I earn from my career and the regard in which I am held by the general populace in New Zealand, most of whom wouldn't know me or know of me, I feel a growing concern. We sometimes talk, as a community (of writers), about wanting to rise above the cultural cringe, as music did when the local industry first started NZ Music Month. But I'm beginning to think we haven't even reached the level of public interest where cultural cringe can be applied. I know there are an intensely passionate group of people who do care; who love, support and encourage local writers and illustrators; who share our work with their children, their pupils, their customers and their friends. Who buy our books. But unfortunately a large sector of New Zealand are indifferent. I don't think they see the value in having a NZ literature, for children or adults. Literature from other countries is more widely available and sells better. We revere visiting authors and illustrators.

And yet if you have ever had the opportunity to travel outside New Zealand you quickly discover how different we are culturally from other predominantly English speaking nations. And socially, emotionally and geographically too. Growing up here makes you different. It makes our literature different too. Even if we don't include local landmarks in our books; the way we use language, our idioms, our preoccupations, the things we are parochial about, are recognizably unique. You don't have to be a Kiwi to appreciate them, just like you don't have to be American to get American literature or Irish or Australian, or Swedish, or Indian, or  Afghani etc... But our way of looking at the world is just as important as any other country's. I am interested in other cultures but I don't want to be absorbed by another culture - that we tried to emulate Keeping Up with the Kardashians with our very own Ridges is evidence enough that we should believe in our own strengths, not adopt the weaknesses of somewhere else. Our Kiwi perspective is something we should be proud of, that we should utilise and take advantage of. We do so when it comes to sporting endeavours, wine, music, medical research and a whole bunch of other stuff we applaud as uniquely Kiwi. Our literature is good enough. In fact it's great.

Government funding and support for the PLR and Creative NZ seem fragile. Government funding and support for iconic institutions like Learning Media and the NZ Book Council seem fragile. These are sources of income that help New Zealand authors and illustrators survive. If these sources are compromised, many authors and illustrators will be compromised too. Market forces are being viewed by many as the arbiter of what succeeds and what doesn't, but our marketplace can never be big enough to make this alone the answer. Succeeding overseas would help, but one of the barriers to overseas success is the overseas country's support for its own indigenous literature (perhaps this is the part of an overseas culture I would like us to absorb). Creative pursuits are viewed by many as pastimes, or hobbies or indulgences. I worry that some view us as expendable. I worry that this is the government's position. Our books are good enough people. New Zealand, don't abandon our literary point of view.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

It is not the book's fault...

I have been bleating on too much recently so it's time to go a foraging in the interweb for some juicy links for you'all. This lovely piece in the Guardian by Oliver Jeffers about picture books and influences (thank you to The Children's Bookshop Wellington for the link) makes the very sensible point that picture books are books with pictures. They are not necessarily just for children (although children generally know a good thing when they see it). There are many picture books I have bought myself and enjoyed reading many times without a child involved. The best picture books can work on multiple levels, have twists and revelations and evoke a deeper understanding or emotional response. Or they just make me smile, or laugh or prod at my heart a little. They can enlighten, satisfy and uplift better than many tomes of adult literature. Not every picture book achieves this, but there are plenty that do. People who suggest picture books must be the easiest of all literature to write are people who don't really read picture books. But that is not the books fault.

Of course many writers and readers and the public in general believe children's and young adult's books cannot be as complex or sophisticated as adult books. I have examined this issue on my blog before. Fab writer Jane Bloomfield drew my attention to this blog post by Cathy Butler at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure which discusses what makes books complex and how adult and children's fiction measure up. My biggest question is why there is an 'us and them' kind of attitude in the first place - not Cathy Butler but the adults who like to dismiss children's literature as automatically less complex/inferior in the first place. It is a defensive posture and those adults guilty of this behaviour might like to examine the motives for their arguments. A good book is a good book irrespective of the age of its readers. Dismissing literature read primarily by children as automatically simple and naturally inferior dismisses the readers as well. Some adults don't seem to remember they were ever children, or how complex and smart they were as youngsters. Its kind of funny really. Actually, now I come to think about it, that might make a good picture book.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

As long as a piece of string...

People often ask (especially children during school visits) how long it took to write a particular book. I wish I knew how many minutes and hours I spent tapping away at the keyboard on a specific story. But the creation of a story, a manuscript, a book is so often not a linear process that it is impossible to know. When do you start counting? The moment you first felt that spark of an idea? The moment things started to coalesce in your mind into something resembling (no matter how distantly) the final product? The moment you started writing it - is that those hastily scrawled words on a scrap of used envelope, or the first time you saved the document on your desk top, or lap top or i-phone or i-pad or whatever you choose to write most on? Do you include all the minutes your mind cogitates, consciously and subconsciously, on the plot and the characters or is it just the time you spend writing? And when you start writing, you don't necessarily write day in, day out until done. Sometimes the first draft is done in fits, and starts, or dribbles. Sometimes a story cannot progress because you are still too raw/ fresh/newbie as a writer. Sometimes other projects demand centre stage or just, take over. And then when you are finished you start again with editing. Sometimes the editing is an interminable grind (try countin' them minutes). Sometimes the edit is a complete rethink, or rewrite. Sometimes you throw it all away and start afresh.

I am thinking of all of this because a publisher would like to publish a manuscript I sent them recently. It is a new story. But already that moniker is a misnomer. What, really, makes it new?

People sometimes comment on my output. I am fortunate that I can devote all sorts of time to my writing (although in truth I am incredibly lazy and easily distracted - oo, look at the shiny thing on facebook, how pretty, must comment). But, like the question about how long it takes to write a book, the situation is deceptive. And is probably compounded by the fact that at times, even though I am a terrible gossip and blabbermouth, I am also very secretive. Confused? You should be! - I am a girl who can read maps (I was always navigator in our plane flying games as a child). Anyway I digress, in an easily distracted kind of way. My output, like the process of writing a book, is not always linear. So the truth is, although this story is new, it all started years and years ago. We (my sterling SO and I) went to see a movie at some time in the past I can't quite pinpoint. I don't remember which movie. What I do remember is the animated short before the main feature. It was about a tree. It included an arresting image which got my gears turning and I even remember, as we left the theatre, saying to my SO that I thought that would make a good picture book story. Some time after seeing the movie and its terrific short, I started playing around with the idea and trying to shoehorn it into a more traditional kind of format, like a fairytale. I wrote maybe 75% of a story. I still liked the idea but the result was kinda ugly. So with a minor twinge of disappointment I abandoned this new baby and went and worked on other projects. Years passed. I occasionally revisited the story but it was still wrong despite my efforts. I studied a university paper on Fairytale, Myths and Legends in 2010 as part of my Diploma in Children's Literature. Then the Goethe Institute ran a competition last year for a story in the style of a fairytale, myth or legend, from any kind of culture. I'd already written a fairytale style story for Fabostory a while back which I thought was all right but unfortunately it was ineligible as it had appeared online (and you can see it here). So I had another stab at my other fairytale, completed it and sent it in. It did not win, place or rate a mention. I had thought it had actually scrubbed up pretty well in the refit but obviously the judge(s) didn't agree. My spirits sank. Maybe it wasn't ever really going to work. Then a month ago I pulled it out again and had another go. It felt different this time. It actually looked rather fetching when I'd finished. It had a kind of poetic feel to it. Before I could change my mind I submitted it to a publisher. The day after, I wished I could take it back. And then, because I know these things can take forever I tried to forget about it. And then last Friday...

So how long does it take me to write a book? The answer is 42. And that new story? Was a lifetime in the making.

Update: When I think about it I probably spent around a week maybe two, on writing and rewriting this particular story - maybe 60 to 80 hours for around 850 words. It doesn't sound like much when put like that but those hours don't reflect the time I spent thinking about the story and its themes, time experiencing and studying examples of traditional myths and legends, or the time spent on the development of my writing skills over the years that were necessary to me finally completing the manuscript. So if I gave the answer 'a week or two' to the question 'how long did it take you to write that story' people might get the wrong idea about what it takes, and what's involved. It doesn't account for all the unquantifiables and the intangibles. So its hard to know what to say. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Not the gospel according to me...

A lot of writing advice is predicated on general truths about the writing and publishing business. But for every truth, there is an exception. And for every bit of advice it pays to remember that this advice is generally the product of someone's experience. Anything I say on this blog is based on my experience over the years. The more time that passes, the more experience I gain. I'm active in the writing and publishing world here in New Zealand and network with others who do the same. I read blogs written by folk doing the same in other countries. Where possible I try to pool the experience and give you a range of information, or give you links to check out for yourselves and make up your own mind about. No one has all the answers and anyone who says they do is worthy of your suspicion. And ultimately I can only tell you what worked and didn't work for me. Please don't think that anything I say here is the final word. Keep an open mind. Do some research. Read widely. And then make informed decisions and do what you feel is right for you. The things I always do are trust my intuition, and know the world is not irreparably broken if I make a mistake. Politeness and professionalism are my mantra (and no I don't always get these right, but I do try to). You've read that here before. You'll probably read those words here again. As time passes and I gain more experience I continually revise my understanding of the writing and publishing world, how it works and my place in it. I am  still surprised by things that happen. Just when I feel like I have a handle on the rules and know how things work something happens to prove me wrong. I should learn not to say 'that'll never happen to me'. You shouldn't say it either. Its good to have a little faith. And its embarrassing when you say 'that'll never happen to me' and then it does (although that's not always a bad thing to be embarrassed about).   But being polite and professional will always be the right thing to do.

and if you are wondering what I am going on about, after my blog post last week about my life being the result of the unexpected, I got a pleasant surprise on Friday which hopefully will result in a new book by me out next year. But it didn't seem to follow the usual rules I have become familiar with. When details are sorted and confirmed I will tell you all about it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A misplaced darling...

Sometimes nothing happens. For days. You plod along, writing, writing, writing. Maybe just fifty words here, twenty words there, and sometimes going backwards, wielding the delete key decisively, telling yourself this is progress because your story will be better without that bit in it. A misplaced darling. Darlings have a habit of being where, really, they are not needed. Truthfully the road to publication is littered with dead darlings. Lots of them. Ghostly, blue and lost.

So the plodding goes on and it can make everything feel like a plod and, when you consider that onomatopoeically, that is not a good thing (I am sorry if I spelt that word wrong but honestly I tried about 15 different spellings and spell check didn't like any of them so if I have just invented a word I can spell it as I choose). Anyways I have been infected with plod. Even while part of me likes the slow, even pace of doing my own thing, I yearn for the excitement of results. Sales, reviews, mentions, requests for my involvement in exciting things. And it has come to my attention that the things I dream of and hope for are not the things that come true. The things that happen are the unexpected. This is a bit head-messery and I would like to point out that dealing with the disappointment of hoped for things not coming to pass, while responding to the unanticipated requirements of the unexpected is at times rather challenging. No wonder my blood pressure is misbehaving.

Friday, February 1, 2013

New Zealand Book Month - are you ready?...

So apparently the year started without me and raced off to February before I could even blink. Jeepers. Before you know it, it'll be March and New Zealand Book Month will be upon us. I will be launching my historical novel A Winter's Day in 1939 (released March 1st -  launch March 24th - details to come) published by Scholastic. I have been thinking a lot about this book and how I approached the writing of it. When March rolls around I will be ready to tell you all about it. I think I'm doing something with an Auckland based library for Book Month as well, although arrangements haven't been pinned down yet. And last but by no means least I am part of a fabulous event thought up by the amazing Maria Gill, an exhibition to be hosted by the National Library and Takapuna Library, kicking off with a gala opening on the 4th, followed by a speed date of some of the participating authors and illustrators with school students on the 5th, and then maybe some school visits as well. The exhibition 'What Lies Beneath' will run all month long, shared across the two venues. I will be exhibiting the materials  that inspired and informed my new novel. There are lots of starry, fabulous people involved.

New Zealand Book month is a wonderful opportunity to trumpet the virtues of books in general and of New Zealand books in particular. If you have not read any local product recently, make March the month you do! And if you read one you REALLY enjoyed, March is the month to tell all your friends about it.