Monday, July 18, 2016

Getting through the mid career doldrums, even if you only have a teaspoon to row with...

Woohoo - another short story is to get its moment in the sun. I am so pleased to have something new picked up. It is with an educational publisher and I have no clues about when it will come out - sometimes those things can take some years (my previous record was around 6 years between acceptance and publication). I am doing a little happy dance - it has been a little while since I last had a story (of any kind) accepted. I have had droughts before and they are never fun. As I quoted in my last post - it's a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published. For those of you still trying to break in this can seem counter-intuitive. Surely once you are 'in' you know the secret of how to achieve an acceptance. Except the secret isn't really a secret. It's producing a well enough written story that a publisher can see the merits and the potential profitability of. You don't need an introduction, or to 'know' someone. There's no special handshake or password. In the beginning, I just kept sending my stories in, and working on new ones until one stuck. No secrets. Now, I do the same. Sending stories in, working on new ones, hoping like crazy. Persistence really is a useful quality in this business. And even then, when your story is good and smart and saleable it might still fall into that bottomless crack that exists between 'same, same, but different', 'one out of the box' or 'just before the crest of a trend'. And there is always the publisher's box to be ticked which has no definition, they just know it when the see it, and no they can't explain what that means. No secrets, some magic. Rinse and repeat.

So you've succeeded a few times and you are slowly understanding how things work and getting the hang of this business. How can this make things harder? This seems like an advantage, and of course, to a certain extent it is because it streamlines the process of submission. But it doesn't make them say yes in any different ways, or more often than they did before. In the mean time trends are shifting and changing, and the economies of countries are contracting or contracting. Publishers may want to invest in your next book but their money must be spent as wisely as possible to enable their business to continue and there just may be less of it to spend on everything, because trends, global financial stuff, changing platforms, latest thing, and most probably all of the above. If your last book didn't sell as well as they wanted then that will have an impact on whether they take your next book. Even if they really want your next book. And you've honed your voice and style and that shines through in all of your stories and is that what people want, or don't want, is it tired or is that how the fans you do have know you best and is what they wait impatiently for. And do the publishers want more of that or are they searching for new voices?  And yet in amongst all of this you are changing too. All the things you've written previously have shaped and influenced what you are writing now. And personal things happening in your private life are affecting you too. Books you are reading, world events, life events, aging, families growing or contracting, sadness, happiness, other stuff you do to keep the wolf from the door, or the labrador, cos like you know they eat a lot and are endlessly hungry. You are a long way from your debut you, and you know stuff and that isn't always helpful to your writing.

And of course the fear of never getting published, or not being good enough just surreptitiously transforms into imposter syndrome, or an advanced form of self doubt. It never goes away. It is stubborn and pernicious - damn it.

So, what do you do?

The only thing you can do, if you want to advance from mid careerist to established writer. You utilise all that change and growth and labrador drool and keep banging away at the keyboard. And you stick all of that experience in your stories and your writing. And you smack yourself if you say 'I've reached my peak' or 'I know I'm never going to be better than this' because how the hell do you know (unless you are truly clairvoyant but honestly I still don't think that is the final word). You push, because apparently people who tell themselves they can do better, often do. And you remind yourself that fear is something you have previously successfully overcome or ignored long enough to achieve good shit in the past, so you are clearly capable of doing so again in the future. And if something doesn't work you try something different cos that's what you used to do, and how you got published in the first place. And you remind yourself that good ideas have always arrived at their own pace and there's no reason why that should change now just because you're older and wiser.

And then you realise that it is a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published, and you've been staying published up till now and there's no reason why that shouldn't continue if you give yourself half a chance, and that deserves a bloody good pat on the back and some chocolate and maybe a little bit of confetti. No secret, just magic.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Some magpie behaviour...

A friend recently had some toxic blow-back from a book review she posted. The author took exception to this person's view of the book and got in touch personally several times to express their disapproval. This is incredibly poor form, and behaviour that won't win you any friends long term. People tend to remember when you tore a strip off them, and not in a good way. And if reviewers are trying to get a rise out of you, then rising to the bait is achieving their ends not yours. Truly, the best policy is to never respond. Writer Maggie Stiefvater has a classy attitude to reviews good and bad, that takes the sting out of the one star ones and and demonstrates why getting some negative response can actually be desirable.

And underling Maggie's point, agent Janet Reid (and friend) had this to say

Jessica Snell picked up the thread on book reviews (and how readers find books) with this:
Although many of the books I read are ones I've heard of via word-of-mouth (mostly from my brother and my mom, honestly; I know and trust their taste), I probably find most of my books via book reviews.

And the thing is, those book reviews don't have to be positive. Sometimes the reviewer doesn't like the book, but if she's a good reviewer, she'll say *why* she doesn't like it, and I'll know whether or not that reason would be a deal-breaker for *me*. Sometimes I know I'd like the book for the very reason the reviewer hated it, and I'll go ahead and pick it up.

So, I guess what I'm saying is: dear authors, don't be too discouraged by bad reviews. Well-written bad reviews might get you just as many readers as the good ones.

Very very true. One of our sayings back in my publicity days was "Get reviews. Good or bad, doesn't matter."

Now it's even more important because any mention of a book increases its discoverability.

Janet Reid has also made a few good comments that resonated with me, on a range of other issues. The first is about marketing your books. It's a long game folks. Of course all authors think their own book is an incredible work of heartbreaking genius, and even if they are making an objective assessment and are right, no self respecting reader is going to take that on face value. They want to hear it from someone they trust who has no vested interest in the sale/purchase of the book.

And then there's the one about when publishers give off warning signals  that the ship isn't quite so ship shape. Number 6 especially gave me pause - Publishing is Broken; We're Going to Fix It.  Confidence is a good quality in a entrepreneur. So is iron clad optimism.  Hubris is not.  Someone who tells you they're going to fix an industry they've never worked in is textbook hubris . I recognized this one...I'd heard it before and that hadn't worked out so well then either. If someone says this to you, wait to see their fix in action before jumping on board. Do your homework people. Ms Reid's blog is a good place to start.

And last but not least this one - perhaps the most sobering of all my links today - which pretty much concludes with  'Bottom line: it's a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published'. That's a hurdle (or dark long corridor of hurdles) that you can't imagine when you are working so hard on breaking in, but it's a reality for a significant proportion of all writers, and an issue that many mid-career writers grapple with. Getting published isn't a lifetime pass in to the publishing world, or a guarantee of future publication. More on this I think next time.....

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fuzzy Doodle is HERE!!...

I have been in the thrilling eye of a school visiting/author event whirlwind for a wee while but this is now quietening down and I seem to have popped out the other side. Big shout outs to the most fabulous Orakei Primary, Parnell District School, Northcote Primary, Mission Heights Primary and Milford Primary Schools who, I have discovered, all love books just as much as I do. I have also spoken with teacher trainees about using NZ children's books in the classroom, launched my new picture book and run a day long picture book writing workshop for adult writers. If you missed out on the Picture Book Writing workshop and would like to attend, I will be conducting another one on November 5th - details are here. Just havin' a lil hibernate now while the winter weather is extra rubbish and the school term runs down to school holidays. I will be back in to the swing of things come August. As always, despite the fact that I am in the teaching role for all these events, I always learn new things about public speaking and author visits.

1) Protect your throat. Talking a lot can put a big strain on it. Gargles, throat lozenges and rest where possible. And keep hydrated folks.

2) Wear layers because visit environments range significantly in warmth, especially in the recent unpredictable Auckland weather. Being too cold or too hot is very distracting.

3) Add ten minutes travel time on to the longest amount of time you think it'll take you to get to your destination. Be ready to hit the ground running.

4) Always pack some chocolate in your lunchbox - best mid visit boost ever. And a serviette or wipes - chocolate smears on your cardy look awkward.

5) My book earrings are worth their weight in gold. I have two or three ice-breaking props or items of clothing/jewellery and always have an ice-breaking opening line or two to warm both me and the children up and get us chatting.

6) Don't forget to take your visitor sticker off afterwards....

Meanwhile I can also report Fuzzy Doodle has had the loveliest delivery into the world. People have been saying some very kind things and you can read some early reviews  here at the My Best Friends Are Books Blog, and  here at the Booksellers NZ blog. I think the launch went well, many thanks to the brilliant Time Out Bookstore who hosted the event and all the wonderful folk who came and celebrated Fuzzy with me, and bought the book. Fuzzy has been feeling the love and loves you all right back. Here I am on signing duties on the day (photo credit - Sue Copsey).

I also made some origami butterflies with young guests (photo credit - Halina Szymanik)

And in an exciting development Fuzzy made the New Zealand Nielsen Bestseller List squeaking in at number ten on the NZ Children's and Teens bestsellers for the week ending June 11, and climbing to No. 8 for the week ending June 18. This is a first for me and I am extremely thrilled. Woohoo!!

Monday, June 6, 2016

and the book give away winner is.......

It is time to announce the winner of my book give-away.

Frogmella, the envelope please......

table top drumroll.............

...All the entries were fabtabulous. I love the heady magic of a good opening line and you all reminded me of some wonderful beginnings, but there can only be one... Maureen I could not help but agree about the game-changing nature of the Harry Potter canon, and that opening line of the first book does indeed draw us in before we are even aware we have been hooked. What deliciousness followed. You are my give away winner. A copy of Fuzzy Doodle will be on its way to you shortly.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Eventually, a reply...

I was pretty shocked and dismayed by a recent article that appeared in The Spinoff, defending the new initiative, the Academy of New Zealand Literature. The Academy seeks to support and promote New Zealand Literature here and overseas. The article was a reaction to some of the 'less than rosy' responses to the launch of the academy. I was shocked that children's authors were deemed 'the worst' of those responding, and dismissed as 'easily ignored.' Maybe it was meant as a joke, although it didn't feel funny at the time. At least the part about us discussing the initiative was true. We weren't happy there were no dedicated children's writers included in the 100 strong membership of the academy. I would have said that was a compliment to the academy - that we saw its value and appreciated what it might do for authors. I would have thought discussing this amongst ourselves where we sought to understand, rationalise and move forward would have been an understandable thing to do. But it came off sounding more like we had been throwing entrails in a cauldron while we concocted some curse against those working hard to create this new endeavour. In truth a large part of our discussion ending up referencing superheroes, capes, masks and wearing our undies on the outside. Someone asked whether you could wear a poncho instead of a cape (the consensus was yes). We're writers and illustrators. We're not new to rejection. We're also human.

In the moment when I read the article there seemed no response I could make that would not reinforce the writer's opinion of our group. I felt hurt and angry and all the words that sprung to mind were fairly loaded. We were exhorted not to 'fight' by others. We often say nothing because of fear. It's a small town. And times are hard. Yet if we always say nothing maybe we are 'easily ignored.' And none of these are 'fighting' words.

Most of all I'm sorry that this might deepen the divide between adult and children's writers. That's a real shame. We're not the enemy.

Now our online group has moved on to discussing the importance of breaking regularly from constant sitting to avoid blood clots - a serious issue for serious writers. We're talking about the LoveOzYa campaign, and about a similar promotional poster campaign that one of our group has been driving here in New Zealand. We talk about a lot of things that might help us. Sometimes we moan and groan, and get a bit feisty. Feel free to throw the first stone at us if you never do this. Anyways, our demonic cabal of cauldron stirrers is now on hiatus as we focus on our key obsessions of writing and illustrating, and the secondary ones of profile, promotion and marketing. I hope the Academy springs forward in leaps and bounds and is able at some near future point to bring children's writers and illustrators on board. In the meantime we will continue to look to each other for support and promotion.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Win a book - Fuzzy Doodle Competition....

Exciting times people, exciting times!! June is but a blink away and with it will come the new book. To that end I think IT IS TIME FOR A COMPETITION!!!

Are you ready? Really? Are you sure? Okay. Quite sure? Just testing. No, no, I can tell you're sure.


By the way...

I got asked to run a workshop on writing picture books. I'm doing it soon at Selwyn College Community Education. It's a day long course 10am to 4pm on Sunday June 19. The fee is $120 inc GST. I'm going to tell people everything I know. Plus some extra stuff. All on picture books. They're so hot right now.

You can find details here.

It'll be fun.

I promise.

Well then.

Till next time.


Sorry, what?

I forgot something?

I forgot to tell you how to win the competition?

The competition.


So. To win a signed copy of Fuzzy Doodle:

One of my favourite first lines is from Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz - 'When the doorbell rings at 3 in the morning, it's never good news.'  I want you to tell me your favourite opening line in a book and why you think it's the best. Post it in the comments here on the blog. I will pick the one I like the best. Competition closes on Friday June 3rd at 5pm.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fuzzy Doodle soon...

It is less than a month to go until my new picture book is released. I am simultaneously excited and terrified. I hope y'all love it as much as I do. I am having a little soiree with illustrious illustrator Donovan Bixley to launch Fuzzy Doodle 3pm on June 12th at Timeout Bookstore in Mt Eden and I would love you all to come! And don't worry - I will remind you all closer to the time. I think I might run a bit of a competition to win a copy here on the blog soon too, so keep an eye out.

It is hard to describe what the book is about but I guess you might be wondering. Whenever I try to imagine what it means for the Universe to be infinite I find it difficult to comprehend. How can something go on forever? And how does a caterpillar transform into a butterfly within the tiny confines of a cocoon? The concept of metamorphosis is understandable on one hand but the practical application seems other-wordly. It's a bit like the process of writing or art. Where do ideas come from? How do we turn them into complex stories or paintings? I sometimes look at things I've written and thought 'where did that come from?'. There is always an element I can't explain. A certain kind of magic that is involved. These things are at the heart of this book. That is what it is about.