Friday, April 26, 2013

A Winter's Day in 1939 is now an e-book...

So a while back I said I had a wee sekrit. The wee sekrit can now be revealed cos it's on Amazon where everyone can see it!! My latest title with Scholastic, A Winter's Day in 1939, is now available as an e-book. You can go see it here, or even better, you might like to buy it :) It has had some very nice reviews (you can see some here or here). Yay!!

And I have been reading some interesting things on the net over the last few days - Barry Eisler's take (at Joe Konrath's blog) on the choices available to authors in today's publishing environment. This ruffled a lot of agent and traditional publisher feathers after they took exception to his suggestion that the only real advantage traditional (legacy) publishers could offer authors was print distribution. All very interesting stuff. I am not opposed to legacy publishing, agents, or self publishing although I also think none are perfect either. But there are two things I do to help myself - 1) keep informed and 2) try to avoid casting anyone as the enemy. An adversarial approach in publishing is no good for anyone.

Then Nathan Bransford took a closer look at the state of e-book sales and pointed out that these aren't declining as has been reported elsewhere. I always cast a jaundiced eye over statistics and try understanding the agenda behind their use and the people using them. It's a bit like the man showing off his 14 year old McDonald's hamburger, which doesn't look a day over 24 hours old, and saying this is why we shouldn't eat junk food. Does anybody ever try keeping any conventional food or home food with salt and sugar in it and say we shouldn't eat that? What about oil or dried fruit? I bet I could keep a box of weetbix for 14 years or even a homemade scone. And just because its appearance is little altered doesn't mean it is edible. And frankly if my appearance didn't deteriorate over 14 years I would be pretty happy (just don't check out that painting in the attic....). Just saying.... that 14 year old burger is not a particularly robust experiment.

And finally in my little trilogy of internet surfing I give you another treatise by Sara Sheridan on what author's really earn. This topic is a perennial favourite with me, partly because I feel most folk persist in having a mistaken belief that authors earn a good deal of money. I do not yet reach the median figure Ms Sheridan quotes in her article. In fact not even half that and yet I have had at least one new title out every year for the last three years and I have kept busy with school visits, workshops, public appearances and other events. And of the money I do earn most does not come from the sale of books. If we seem desperate for funding, its because, well, we are. And we are not thumb twiddlers resting on our fat laurels. The authors and illustrators I know are hard-working people, usually reliant on some secondary method of supporting themselves.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Brand: organic not manufactured...

I have wittered in the past about branding (see here and here). As more and more authors have become their own pr and marketing managers, the concept of brand has become a goal. Surely the key to selling more books is for prospective buyers to recall your name in association with one of your sterling titles and want more of your sterling titles. I have tried to embrace branding and I have struggled with branding - the key common element in my writing has been my desire to make it as good as it can be, there are even a couple of common themes across my stories, even those for different age groups. But essentially each book is a new independent being. Did Roald Dahl or Margaret Mahy ever see themselves as brands? I guess they didn't have to because the publishers and booksellers and academics and educationists were willingly on the job for two such stars. Their branding happened organically. Yet now it's a required task - part of Build a Writing Career 101.

Then on a recent weekend I read an article in the NZ Herald's Saturday Canvas Magazine. It was about Mark Ellis, sometime All Black, try scorer, business partner, entrepreneur, TV personality and radio DJ. He rejected the notion of trying to be a brand. He wasn't interested in that. Despite his life in the public eye and the value of his name for new projects, being a brand hasn't been his goal. You do what you want and have to do. You try and do it well.

And then yesterday I came across this post by FictionBitch also debating the topic of branding (it's out there in the universal super-conscious folks). She railed against the type of branding imposed by publishers keen to capitalise on a winning book by repeating the formula that had produced it. Successful branding is more about style and voice (which makes perfect sense when we think of Roald Dahl and Margaret Mahy). It's a natural thing.

And me? My writing is the product of my personal style married to my world view and personal interests. The goal is and will always be great writing I am proud of (whether I always achieve it or not). The brand is a happy by-product. Be the best writer you can be folks. If brand is going to happen, I reckon it will come of its own accord. And hey, now I have one less thing to work on or worry about.

And I had another very nice review for A Winter's Day in 1939 here on the Booksellers website.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Accepting the challenge...

Several years ago at the Spinning Gold Children's Writers and Illustrators Conference in Wellington (2009 to be exact) a visiting Australian Agent said that taking an author to a Book Fair was like taking a cow to an abattoir. I thought, at first, that she was witty and clever and believed her. But even then I was suspicious. Why should Book Fairs be that unwelcoming to authors? And to suggest authors are like cows, unsuspecting of their fate, and too dull to act on their own behalf is demeaning. Of course the comment wasn't original either. And then yesterday I read this. Of course, I don't need another excuse to want to go to a major overseas book fair - but if nothing else I want to thumb my nose at that cheap throwaway statement. Guess I better start saving now.

 Some years ago I began a fantasy YA story with medieval, feudal undertones and a love triangle - the crown prince, his bastard brother and the enigmatic village girl with secrets. And then The Hunger Games taught me that love triangles are guaranteed to piss off 50% of your audience when the hero/heroine finally decides who they will pair up with (no one has been progressive enough to conclude with a menage a trois yet). Or it will end badly as in Ketchup Clouds (although I so love this book). This thought was a tad off-putting. Alienating half your readers is not a good aim. It seemed like the kiss of death (pun intended). But today it occurred to me that there is a challenge here: a challenge to make the triangle believable and then still make the majority of the audience agree with the hero/heroine's pick. Is it possible? It's certainly worth a try.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ideas are cats...

After my first picture book was published (Clever Moo in 2006) I suffered what I think is typical of all newbie authors - the dread fear of pirate Roberts being a one hit wonder (assuming that your first book is some kind of hit ... but that's another story). We've finally submitted something that ticked all the boxes and got the nod. It wasn't one hurdle, it was the 110metre hurdle race and we jumped every one and crossed the finish line. Could I repeat that feat? Thankfully I graduated past that fear. But fear, along with a good dose of insecurity and guilt, is the norm for writers (and I believe, illustrators). We just seem to graduate through a series of them. We are only as good as our last book. Folk seem a little taken with my last book (for which I am extremely grateful). and I have a new title out in Augustish (hmmm, waiting on illustrations) and another new title out July next year (so close and yet so far). But I have no ideas for new projects. If you want to apply for anything - funding grants, residencies etc... you need to show them your flash, shiny, must-happen, brand-spanking, new never-seen-before project. And knowing, as I do, the lead time from idea to writing, to editing, to submission, to rejection/acceptance, to editing and proofing and approval, to publication; a new idea soon would be handy. But my brain is an empty vessel. As I have discovered, you can't hurry ideas. They are like cats. They stand at the back door to go out...and come in...and go out... Cats have their own view of time. They have their own agenda and their agenda will always be more important than your agenda. They grace us with their presence. They only come when they are not called. You get the cat idea.

So I'm sitting here patiently waiting for the cat to come curl up on my lap.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The wilderness...

Sometimes being a writer looks like this

He scrabbled for a hand hold, but the earth crumbled and  

He reached out

Sweat ran down

If your writing looks like this, don't worry, you are not alone. The wilderness is not as empty as you would think. It is full of creative folk who are confused or stuck or waiting. We should be calling out to each other rather than hiding behind the trees. I'm thinking of building a cafe in the wilderness where we can all hang out.  This guy says it well (thanks to super writer Tania Roxborogh for the link).

Monday, April 8, 2013

This happened...

So my last post was a love letter to the children's literature community. Then this happened yesterday ...

... my amazing and most talented friend Fifi Colston drew this while waiting for her son to come out of surgery (it went well I believe folks). This captures a scene in my book so beautifully. I almost cried when I saw it. Imagine having artwork like this scattered through the book, graceful surprises to counterpoint the harshness of the family's circumstances.

On Friday I fly to Wellington for the weekend for the launch of A Winter's Day in 1939 (or AWD as it is affectionately becoming known) at The Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie - 3pm Saturday April 13th - everyone welcome. And I am being put up by writing luminary Fleur Beale.

I am feeling very lucky

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The most paltry of chicken...

I have an assignment due, a ship load of reading to do for it and a book to finish writing so I have been to see a movie this morning with my daughter (Oz the Great and Powerful) and I am now updating my blog. Hell is reserving a place for me as I write this :)

Yesterday I went to the Storylines Margaret Mahy Day. On this day every year Storylines hold their AGM, present their annual awards and there is the lecture by the most recent recipient of the Margaret Mahy Medal. This year it was Bill Nagelkerke - life changing librarian, author, sometime prestidigitator and several time Hans Christian Andersen Medal Judge, and very smart, erudite and lovely man - amongst other things. I have been going to the Margaret Mahy Day off and on (but more on) for the past ... um ... (excuse me trying out some ellipses use here - we were discussing this along with em and en dashes at lunch after the meeting yesterday) thirteen years. Yup, thirteen - my first MM Day was in 2001 with Sherryl Jordan the MM Medal winner. Joining Storylines was one of the first things I did when I decided to take this writing ambition thing a bit more seriously. After all it helped to be a member if you wanted to submit a story for one of their awards. And I did.

I didn't know anyone. I went on my own, generally awe struck and sponge like, wishing I had the guts to speak to Joy Cowley and Margaret Mahy, Tessa Duder, Sherryl Jordan, and Vince Ford. I didn't of course, I am the most paltry of chicken. But I was there, soaking it up, trying to learn as much as I could about what it takes to be a published writer and getting acquainted with the local children's literary community. There were folk like David Hill, and Maurice Gee, Robyn Belton and Pamela Allen, Brian Falkner and Tania Roxborogh. I loved the lectures and tried to get as close as possible to my idols without looking like a stalker. It was easier in those days because less people knew what a stalker was.

But I digress. Lets jump forward thirteen years - yesterday Tessa Duder and Brian Falkner greeted me with a hug. I chatted with Bill Nagelkerke after his speech. He's read and reviewed my latest book. I hung out with the most fabulous writery and library and book people. You don't know how happy this makes me. I am still awestruck, I am still keen to learn. But now these are my people. Folks, you can do this on your own, but why would you when this is the crowd you get to hang out with.

And as I am in a good mood (despite the deadlines) here are some interesting things for you to check out - Justine Larbalestier's most recent post, some great art, thanks to super illustrator Fifi Colston, and this one about The Writer and Money, thanks to Johanna Knox

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

And the award goes to...

So the finalists for the NZ Post Children's Book Awards for 2013 were announced yesterday. You can see them here. There are a lot of great titles on the lists, a couple I disagree with and several, to my mind, omissions. The omissions I'm thinking of are not my books although I wouldn't have complained if either my junior novel Sally Bangle: Unexpected Detective or picture book Made With Love had made it in. But knowing of some of the beautiful, thoughtful and thought provoking books that missed out makes me feel a little better about missing out myself. There can only be up to 5 in each category so deserving books will always miss out. A bit like Bradley Cooper doing a fantastic performance in The Silver Linings Playbook but missing out on the Oscar because Daniel Day Lewis made a movie the same year. You do not want Daniel Day Lewis acting the same year as you.  I don't know how you organise it to shine in a year without the heavy hitters. Especially when timing is so much at the mercy of so many other factors. You takes your chances and hopes for the best. It pays to remember however that whether or not Daniel Day Lewis turned out another masterpiece performance the same year as you, your own efforts are no less worthy (like how DDL got an Oscar for My Left Foot and yet Leonardo de Caprio missed out for his fantastic acting in What's Eating Gilbert Grape). Of course this is easy to say. Especially when we know that listings and awards do make a difference. And we want to believe in their power should it ever be our turn. People look to these lists to make their book choices and appreciate the guidance of these experienced judges. In any given year it seems like a lottery who the competition might be and what the judges might like. I think the judges do their best and aim to be fair. My response? I'm going to remember that folk are still publishing my work. Then I'm going to go and dig up some old good news and wallow in that for a while. Probably with some chocolate. And then I'm going to keep writing.

Oh and actually there is some new good news, although unrelated to awards, but I can't say what it is yet cos its sekrit. Don't imagine anything too big though, cos it isn't.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Selfish Giant...

I thought Nathan Bransford's post on the Goodreads acquirement by Amazon was interesting. He might be a little optimistic about Amazon and it's intentions but he seems more rational than some other folk who believe this signals the end of the world as we know it. We are all selfish creatures at heart and if Amazon's ownership of Goodreads might affect your business bottom line then I guess you might spit the dummy somewhat. Those people however who suggest that readers and/or authors are somehow stupid, responsible or likely to suffer horribly as a result aren't necessarily thinking about the interests or welfare of authors or readers at all. Hugh Howey of Wool fame had this to say. He's biased I guess but I don't think any commentator isn't, one way or another.   Either way you see it, fighting against it seems futile. Authors have been finding ways to work within systems not of their making for years (centuries even) - and we will keep doing so. As writing is not a choice but a compulsion, being able to adapt seems wise.

I had another nice review for A Winter's Day in 1939 here which made me happy. And there was this one in the Magpies Magazine a few weeks back which was also rather nice.

And in less than two weeks I will be launching the book in Wellington at The Children's Bookshop Saturday April 13th at 3pm. I'm feeling pretty excited about this. Love Wellington. Love the Wellington Children's Book crowd. Love The Children's Bookshop.