Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The moment of absolute certainty ...

There is always a point in the life of a book when I wonder, what was I thinking, and, everyone is going to hate this. Usually it happens after everything is signed off - words, design, cover, and artwork if it's a picture book. The file has gone off to the printers and we all smiled as we waved goodbye to all that promise. Time passed. And then I am sure - this is the worst book I ever wrote. Every time. It happens every time. And while some small rational part of me knows that this is a normal part of the life-cycle of a new book I feel it just the same. What was I thinking. I shouldn't have eaten all those fruit loops - too much sugar!!! Or stayed up so late, or slept in that long. I should have done this, that or the other instead of what I actually did. Any other intelligent being would have seen that. So obvious. Gah.

Folks, the moment of absolute certainty never arrives. It is a rude and unfeeling fleeting entity that teases you with it's possibility and then stays just out of reach, just like the fastest kid in school in bull-rush. And doubting yourself and your work is a normal part of being creative. You are pulling things out of your own imagination and rinsing them through your rational brain and then giving it to the rest of the world and praying they like it enough to want to part with money to own a copy of it. Yikes - I think that just made me feel worse.

Anyway ... If you are doubting yourself and your work - you are NORMAL. If you feel uncertain, that is how certainty works. If you aren't sure you've got everything perfect in your manuscript, don't worry. It will never be perfect to everyone's satisfaction. Most of all your own.

For myself, I always end up remembering why I wrote the story in the first place and how good I felt about it when I first sent it off. And I always fall in love again.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Some info on getting published in NZ...UPDATED (2014)

UPDATE - You can find a 2016 update on 'Getting Published In New Zealand' here  

I posted some general information on getting published in New Zealand on this blog in 2010 and it would be fair to say that the publishing landscape here has changed somewhat in the intervening years. So I thought it might be helpful to give y'all the 2014 version which is a little different.

So you’ve written 'The End', read your story umpteen times, checked and re-checked it for mistakes, and edited it till it sparkles – what do you do next? 

In the past I've recommended checking out which publishers were publishing what kind of books and then suggested submitting your manuscript to the publishers most interested in your kind. Now, you must first ask yourself - do I want to seek traditional publication of my work or should I self publish? Do you want to go digital only or have your book in print? Go look at sites like Amazon and Smashwords etc... and check out their best-sellers. Some genres sell very well for writers self publishing and it is an excellent option. Some books are best in print. I like picture books this way and would not want to attempt to arrange an illustrator, designer, editor, etc... and the printing of these myself. I want the help of experienced practitioners. On the other hand I am happy to try self publication of a novel, but in most cases I will pursue traditional publishing first. 

So do your homework before you decide anything. 

Then if you've decided to try the traditional route with this manuscript (go look here, here and here if you want to know how I tackled self pubbing a children's novel) start here: - 


1. Re-read your work again. If possible read it aloud – you don’t need an audience for this but it is amazing what reading aloud will show you about your work – repetition, incorrect or missing punctuation, troublesome flow, missing information, or dialogue confusion.

2. Research the market – where should you send it? Who publishes this kind of thing? What are their submission guidelines? (Since the last time I posted on this topic publishers Penguin and Random have merged and Harper Collins and Pearson Education have quit these shores. At the moment of typing Penguin NZ have advertised for a children's editor. Publishers ARE still currently publishing children's fiction and non-fiction in New Zealand and are still looking for good material).

There is general information on 'Writing and Illustrating for Children in New Zealand' here at the Christchurch City Libraries website. This includes submission guidelines for most of the children's publishers in New Zealand

or you could start here and check out the online resources at the PANZ (Publishers Association of New Zealand) website.

And/or take a look at these
-Writers and Artists Yearbook
-Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook
-Writers and Illustrators Market
-Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market

These books are published annually are available to buy from good bookshops and are held in some libraries

3. Do what the submission guidelines say – DO NOT DO ANYTHING ELSE. They supply guidelines because this is how they want to receive your stories. You might think it's a good idea to do something different and stand out from the crowd. But all it does is make you stand out for the wrong reasons. Follow the guidelines.

4. Query/covering letter. You need to include the name of your manuscript, the word count, genre, the intended market, a brief outline of the work, and your publishing credits, if you have some. For fiction you will need a synopsis, and either several chapters or the entire manuscript as per submission guidelines. For non-fiction you generally submit a proposal.

Educational Markets 
The educational market is considerably less robust than it used to be here in New Zealand. Many New Zealand children's writers and illustrators got their start with the School Journal - a New Zealand institution for decades - including me. The School Journal is in the process of changing to a new supplier so keep an eye on their website for submission details. 

School Journals - the contract to produce these is currently held by Lift Education
School Magazine – Australia

Check out the NZSA website and Storylines for details on competitions, fellowships, and awards

The Joy Cowley Award (picture book) and Tom Fitzgibbon Award (children's novel by an unpublished author) are important competitions for children's writers in New Zealand. Scholastic NZ currently have the biggest children's publishing programme in this country but at the moment do not accept manuscripts from unpublished authors. However they do read every single manuscript submitted for these competitions (it is true - I know the people who do it!!) and they publish the winner and sometimes also publish other stories entered for these competitions. Entries for both close on October 31st every year

We don’t have many in New Zealand. You do not necessarily need an agent to get published here. NZ Publishers are used to dealing directly with the author. If you would like to try overseas markets then you would probably benefit from having either a NZ or overseas agent. It’s not impossible to get one. Check out this site for those NZ agents who belong to the NZ Association of Literary Agents. Books such as the Writers Market and Writers Yearbooks mentioned above have contact details for overseas agents.

Writers Organisations
NZSA (New Zealand Society of Authors)
Kiwiwrite4kidz (an online community of local children's writers on facebook)
Storylines (the Children's Literature Foundation of New Zealand)
NZ Book Council

If you are serious about writing there are a lot of benefits in belonging to writer’s organisations and joining critique groups. I have learnt more from my fellow writers than I ever could have learnt on my own.

Handy things to have: -

An up-to-date, reputable Dictionary
A Roget’s Thesaurus
Reference books – Baby names
Dictionary of Classical Mythology
Dictionary of Phrase and fable
Biographical Dictionary
‘How to’ Books
Books on Grammar (The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B.White, Longman)

And the most important thing you can do to help yourself in your quest to create publishable material? - read more books, especially contemporary ones, in the genre you are choosing to write in

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On display...

Oi competition judging is haaarrrrdddddddddddd. There was nothing to pick between the entries. Like really. Everyone was inspired and moved by the books they chose. Yay!! But there can be only one. The entry that seemed to most suggest some kind of personal transformation was Dawn Grant talking about 'I Am David' by Anne Holm which gave her the sense that she too could write stories like this. Dawn, you are my winner. I will be in touch to discuss your prize.

In other news, my book While You Are Sleeping features in my exhibit as part of the What Lies Beneath Exhibition at the National Library in Parnell, Auckland. My display will be there from now until February 20th with an accompanying teacher resource (available on this blog - see below the blog title). My exhibit looks like this:

Sweet, huh?

There are four other exhibits along with mine, covering picture books, non-fiction, junior fiction and YA (mine is for poetry). You can go and see them at the National Library (8 Stanley Street, Parnell) or have a sneak peek here at the What Lies Beneath Exhibition blog. You can also download all available teaching resources there as well. There will be five new exhibits every month till April 20th. You should check them out.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A competition - make me a better person

My preparations for Dunedin so far? I am breaking my Docs in. I am (mentally) putting aside DVDs and books I want to take with me. It is going well.

Recently I passed my 700th post (I think this is post 702). I fancy having another competition. More on that later.

Meantime I am working on a few other more imminent things - principally an exhibit about my book While You Are Sleeping for the What Lies Beneath Exhibition at the National Library in Parnell, Auckland starting next Monday January 20th.

And thinking, always, about how I can raise the reputation of children's literature. Folk sometimes recognize the importance of children's books and probably do understand the value in switching children on to being readers. But there is a persistent refusal to believe that a children's book might be literary, like an adult book can be literary. That it might be clever, challenging, thought provoking and capable of making you a better person. This article has been doing the rounds on facebook. It is interesting. I have read a few of the books. I'm not sure they all changed me. I have read other books not on the list that 'have' changed me. But that's always the way with lists. I never agree with everything included, or not included - they are subjective entities. That's okay. But this isn't okay. The one children's book on the list of 50 life changing books is introduced by way of an apology. Sorry for including a children's book. I hope it doesn't offend you reader. Ya know its a children's book, but it somehow actually manages to still have a message that might be of interest/be beneficial to an adult. Maybe it was an accident. Okay - I apologise for my sarcastic tone (lowest form of wit, yada yada, yada), but the tone they have adopted encourages the continued subordination of children's literature to adult literature. This is the common consensus. And if it is never challenged it will never change. Children's books can be transformative for both child readers and adult readers.

So for my competition, to win a copy of one of my books (your choice of any of my books except Clever Moo which are now like hen's teeth or any short story anthologies I am included in as I don't have copies of these), tell me the name of a children's book that changed you (you can comment here or on facebook or Goodreads). I will pick my favourite - judges decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. One winner only - competition closes this Sunday 19th at 8pm. Examples for me would be The Earthsea Trilogy, The Outsiders, The Little Prince, The Changeover, The Lion in the Meadow, Where the Wild Things Are (...'and it was still hot'), to name a few... So get cracking!!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Getting ready...

Now 2014 has arrived, suddenly my trip south is looming large like a charging elephant in the rear view mirror.  Someone asked me the other day if I'd started packing yet. No? Will I need 6 and a half weeks? What if I pack all my undies now? I bought some Doc Martens today - my feet are ready.

I thought I'd start the year off with some juicy links to feed the mind and fuel the soul. I like agent Janet Reid's suggestion here on what to say when someone asks you how book sales are going. Her reasoning is sound I think.

Blog reader and starry librarian, Angela Soutar, suggested I check out this lady. Good call Angela. This post seemed especially pertinent (although it's all good). 'Make it urgent' seems like a good philosophy. You can be Donna Tartt and have ten years between novels but there probably aren't that many writers who can sustain the level of interest Ms Tartt is managing. And while her publishing/marketing machine is VERY switched on and does all the smart things to keep the audiences interest current I can't help thinking that its also just partly that the stars are lined up and things are hanging just right for Donna. We can't all be Donna. I'm going to assume it's urgent.

Along with the cool stuff, there will always be the irksome. The opening statement to this piece says that Kate Atkinson's award win (for her book Life After Life) shows that great writing can also be entertaining. I didn't realise that 'challenging' or 'great' writing had previously been mutually exclusive of 'entertainment'. Why is 'entertainment' an unimportant and/or undesired quality in a book?? And its lack, somehow a measure of greatness? If it is not entertainment, then I can't help thinking of a book as the text of a subject I don't wish to learn, or perhaps a punishment, or maybe, worthy: none of which is great.

And lastly, (but not leastly) I had a nice mention of one of my books in the Listener - A Winter's Day in 1939 was one of children's author Kyle Mewburn's reads in 2013.