Friday, December 18, 2020

Helping you find your way through the tall-hedged maze...

 Well colour me blush. I talked about some of the reasons why your book might not get to be published overseas and lo and behold I have had news over the past week of some overseas deals for a couple of my books. Unsurprisingly I am happy to feel awkward about this turn of events. While I am not sure I can share all of my news, I am thrilled to say Sharing with Wolf, published by Scholastic NZ, and illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson, will be heading off to Italy. Being published in Europe is a first for me and I am looking forward to the adventure. I guess the bottom line on my previous post was that overseas publication is not a given. If it doesn't happen to you, you are in good company with other good people and other good books. And then when you least expect it, it may happen after all. Honestly, I'm as surprised as the rest of you.

Usually, as we approach Christmas, I do a stocktake of the year that's been, but this year has been like no other. A big bunch of things I signed up for never happened. A bunch of other things still went ahead via zoom, or with masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing. We all became anxious about our wifi dropping out at crucial moments, and the habit of frequently touching our own faces that we never knew we had. And lockdown was the weirdest time of all, full of challenges we'd never had to contemplate before. It hasn't been all bad. I've had books accepted, an award shortlisting and now I can add the latest overseas developments to my 2020 good things. And I'm not alone - I've been hearing some very bright spots of good news across the children's writing community. Maybe because through it all we've been reading as much as we can. Its been fantastic to see books bring other people much needed joy and comfort. In times like these, books are even more essential than usual. 

Next year is slowly beginning to take shape. I have some gigs lined up in March, April, June and August. I'll be teaching my Writing Children's Picture Books course again at Selwyn Community Education, and in 2021 I'll also be taking a half day workshop there on Writing Short Stories. Woohoo! I really enjoy sharing tips, tools, and techniques with you and I'm really looking forward to doing it again next year :-) I have everything crossed that things go ahead way more often in 2021 than they did in 2020.

And I have books coming out. A few days ago I received an advance copy of Moon and Sun illustrated by Malene Laugesen and published by Upstart Press, which launches in February. Squuueeeeeeee!!

And in 2021 I'd really like to provide more blog content that helps you build your craft, find your way through the tall-hedged maze that is getting and staying published, and develop ways to manage everything from the admin of writing and books, to surviving rejections and successes (however, I beg of you, do not ask me about commas). So, to that end, if you have a burning question, or an issue that you can't quite resolve, or topics you'd really like me to tackle (even if I've covered them before), please let me know in the comment section here, or via facebook or twitter.

Possible topics include:

1) What your plot cannot live without.

2) Top qualities of successful picture books deconstructed

3) Imagining the pictures when you can't 'picture' to save yourself (i.e. making sure your story will work as a picture book)

4) The publishers secret handshake

5) The grammar you can't avoid

I will try and address all of these in 2021, but let me know if there are any you are particularly interested in. And if I don't know the answer I will go in search of the person who does. 

Wishing you a safe and happy festive season, and perfect weather for the summer break (with occasional rain cos we really need it in Auckland). See you in 2021...

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

You can't just eat the icing ...

 As progress is made on the picture books I have coming out next year, I am feeling super excited, and impatient to show you what they look like. When a story has made the big leap to become a book, sharing it with readers is the goal. Waiting for the moment to arrive when this can happen is like keeping a big secret, and keeping a secret can be very hard. Still, it's all part of the process and like so very much of the process it requires patience and perseverence. 

In the meantime here is a sneak peek of My Elephant is Blue, to be published by Puffin (Penguin), illustrated by the remarkable Vasanti Unka, and coming out in May 2021. Huzzah! I cannot wait to show you what it looks like inside. And now we can be tortured about it together.

If your work hasn't been published yet, I think there is a fairly common belief that the (print) book will publish across a range of international markets. In my experience, this tends to be the exception rather than the rule. IMHO there are lots of reasons why this is the case. 

1) Lots of children's stories don't translate well, especially if they are rhyming or have internal rhyme or word play that relies on idiom or cultural knowledge. 

2) Some stories don't cross cultures well. They make perfect sense to us here but have no reference points or relevance in a different culture. Sometimes that is the point. We want to share our experience with others so they better understand us. But other countries/cultures must first want to know. Is our story something other cultures want to understand and share? 

[Note: The irony here is that NZ is flooded with books from other countries and I know a lot about boarding school life in the UK, pioneer America, Scandinavian crime and policing, and more, and yet do these places get to (or want to) read about us?]

3) Other countries/cultures may already have enough books just like yours, covering the same themes and topics, with similar ideas, or voice. 

4) It may be culturally inappropriate. Or too sensitive.

5) Books that are particularly kiwi in flavour are less likely to be sold overseas. Books about Kiwi and Kea and Matariki and Kauri. They might be bought here and taken home to grandchildren overseas but an overseas publisher is unlikely to be able to sell sufficient copies in their home country to make it worthwhile.

6) While it is possible to write a book about a place you've never been and a culture you've never experienced, it is difficult to know what we don't know. We may be safer in a fantasy or speculative genre but it may still not cut the mustard with the country/culture we are trying to appeal to. Books like this can make the leap but it is not a given. 

7) Even when books are sold into other territories it is not always a big pay day. And the level of involvement and control you have will be at a distance, and possibly diminished, so it is not always a boost and I guess, it is possible, sometimes not even a good idea. 

Of course, books by New Zealand authors do get sold overseas, in all sorts of territories. But it is not every NZ book, and if it doesn't happen to you, you are in very good company with many other great writers and illustrators whose books haven't left these shores.

This writing business works pretty well if you love writing what you write. If this is the only outcome of what you do, that is a win. Anything else (getting published here, and/or elsewhere, being shortlisted and maybe even winning prizes) will be icing. If you only want the icing it can become a bit unhealthy. Love your writing first. Anything else that happens will be an interesting ride and with a bit of luck, you never know, it might also be rewarding too