Monday, May 30, 2011

How do we know what we don't know...

I had a call from a publisher's publicist this morning to talk about review copies of my new book. Its made me feel a little light headed. This has not happened to me before. Please be aware folks that not all publishers operate in the same way. They are idiosyncratic, and as individual as the people who run them. They have different styles, agendas and structures in place and you can go for years never discovering this if you stay with one publisher. This is yet another reason why it is useful to meet other writers and illustrators and hang out with them chewing the fat about the industry. It is not necessarily bad that they are different but depending on what you are expecting and hoping for it pays to know as much as possible about who you are teaming up with to realise your dreams. Your responsibilities are different with different publishers too.

Several people recently linked to this article on facebook. I confess that I don't expect to make a significant living from writing books. Few writers do. I am realistic about things when I look at a contract. I know what I am likely to be able to change (not much usually). I am still learning what clauses I care most about and what I should ask for to protect myself and my career but it has taken me nearly ten years to know what I know now. But I am disturbed by the new trends in contracts and worried for debut authors signing up now. How do we know what we don't know? How do we ask the right questions? How do we know how far to push for change? How do we plan for future changes in the industry? What will happen when we push? And consider folks that your behaviour may influence contracts of the future. If everyone accepts the new status quo it will become the rule. Don't be afraid to talk to other writers and illustrators about it. Don't be afraid to ask questions. And just remember - lets be careful out there...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

fabostory for 2011 - have you got what it takes?...

Hold on to your hair, the Fabo behemoth is grinding in to action for 2011. Sparklier, tighter, brighter and more surprising than in 2010, we have a brand new challenge for young writers to pit their skills against us and win some super prizes. Are you brave enough, have you got what it takes (a free afternoon and a computer?), will you dare??? Have bucket loads of fun while keeping your teachers happy (or get them to join in the fun) at Be there or be an underarm pimple!

And in other news I have signed up to have my young teen thriller My Sister's Shadow published, more details soon, and I have received my fresh-from-the-printers copy of The House That Went to Sea and I am delighted to report my new baby is beautiful. Launching in July, details also to follow soon. In addition to the launch in Auckland in July I will be reading The House That Went to Sea at the Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie, Wellington on Friday, August 19 at 10.30, and loitering with intent at the Storylines Family Day at the Wellington Town Hall on Sunday 21st.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The game is afoot...

What a week it was last week. Went to the NZ Post Children's Book Awards on Wednesday night and was one of the organisers for an event with Walker Books Australia Publisher Sarah Foster on Thursday night. Both were super events with lots of interesting industry gossip and fun catch ups. Other things happened too and by the end of the week I was so pooped I felt like I could sleep longer than Rip Van Winkle. There are things afoot...which reminds me, I watched Sherlock last night on tv with Benedict Cumberpatch in the title role and Martin 'Bilbo' Freeman as Dr Watson. Its all set in current times with cell phones, texting, surveillance cameras and websites but it retains everything that defines and keeps faith with the original. But all the story telling and smartness aside its just really well done. I love watching people who can act - people who inhabit a different persona with their own mannerisms, tics, inflexions, history and habits. Dr Watson checks his service revolver like an experienced army man should - like its second nature - I can't imagine Martin Freeman has that experience but Dr Watson does. And I believe its Dr Watson. And its intelligent - I can just feel my grey cells getting excited. Yay for something decent on the telly for a change. And thank you to the journalist who pointed out the links between Sherlock Holmes and 'House' (House/Holmes, Wilson/Watson, medical detectivery/criminal detectivery) - I hadn't twigged.

The Fabo gears are slowly grinding back into motion. Watch this space. Its an all new and exciting writing adventure for years 5 and up with loads of fun and heaps of prizes. More on this soon...

So I will keep you posted on any developments that may occur (I can tell you I am in Wellington in August, reading The House That Went to Sea at The Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie at 10.30 on Friday 19th and at Storylines Family Day at the Town Hall on Sunday 21st) - in the meantime I'm off to hang out the washing and have a coffee.

Monday, May 16, 2011

How many publishers does it take...

The New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards are the major awards for Children's Literature in New Zealand. There are other awards, prizes, lists and residencies but these are the ones that are most likely to make your name and sell your books. Two years ago my book The Were-Nana was shortlisted and won Children's Choice - an incredible experience. Last night the 2011 Award ceremony was held and I went along. If you are serious about writing for children one of my big recommendations is joining the children's writing community. Actually I recommend joining the writing community at large. I belong to the NZ Society of Authors, Storylines (The Children's Lit Foundation of NZ), SCBWI and Kiwiwrite4kidz. Over the last 8 or 9 years (I've been committed to writing for the last 11 or so years) I've attended meetings and events, conferences, Storylines family days and workshops. I've met a lot of folk in the NZ children's book business, shaken a lot of hands, and stuttered my way through a fair few small talk conversations. And last night I discovered some of the benefits of my efforts over the last 8 or 9 years.

I knew some of the finalists - shout outs to Fleur Beale, Kyle Mewburn, Anna Gowan, Sherryl Jordan, and Diana Menefy. I met a few more last night whose names and books I already knew - hi Sarah Davis and Elizabeth Pulford. And I know of a bunch more - Ken Catran, David Elliot, Leon Davidson, Maurice Gee, Anna McKenzie, and last night's big winner Margaret Mahy.

I spoke last night with publishers, booksellers, illustrators, writers, bookdesigners, librarians and teachers, family and friends of finalists, and a bunch of just-all-round-bookophiles that I have met over the years. We were all there for the same reason - to celebrate children's books. And NZ Post and NZ Booksellers put on a fabulous event to do just that. They made everyone involved in producing children's books in this country feel special and appreciated. They even rolled out the red carpet and because we make books for kids, we got small sparkly squishy red balls as well. And all my earlier efforts to introduce myself into this community, all my earlier moments of feeling awkward and embarrassed have slowly but surely morphed into discussions about my books, other peoples books, where publishing is at, the pros and cons of attending conferences, book promotion, change and the future of books in NZ. I can truly stand behind my recommendation to join the community you want to be a part of, because after a while you do become a part of it. Last night I called it a family. The children's book community in New Zealand is very encouraging, supportive and friendly - everything a good family is. This is something you have to do for yourself - no one can do it for you. But if you can get to the NZ Post Children's Book Awards next year you should go. And if you don't yet know anyone come and talk to me. I would love to talk to you.

Last nights winners
Non-Fiction: Zero Hour by Leon Davidson
Junior Fiction: Finnigan and The Pirates by Sherryl Jordan
Young Adult Fiction: Fierce September by Fleur Beale
Picture Book: The Moon and Farmer McPhee by Margaret Mahy and David Elliot (illus.)
Best First Book: Hollie Chips by Anna Gowan
Children's Choice
Overall: Baa-baa Smart Sheep by Mark Sommerset and Rowan Sommerset
Non-Fiction: Who's Cooking Tonight by Claire and Glenda Gourley
Junior Fiction: Hollie Chips by Anna Gowan
Young Adult Fiction: Smiling Jack by Ken Catran
BOOK of the Year: The Moon and Farmer McPhee

Congratulations to all the finalist and the winners!! May your books prosper.

And because I'm in a very generous mood today here are some juicy links that I'm busting to share with you. I've never seen actual jokes about writers and publishing before - these are excellent, go and have a chuckle.

And this lovely list of what defines Children's literature over at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure is also interesting, thought provoking and maybe a little controversial in places. Go check it out and see whether you agree or have some more definitions to add.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wordy Day Out

Went to the Wordy Day Out at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival yesterday. Started off though by missing Cassandra Clare and Brian Falkner to go hear four overseas editors from large publishing houses talk about the state of publishing. They were nice people saying positive things but there weren't any great revelations and I feel that my internet meanderings and fb gossip trading are keeping me very well informed.

Then my wordy bff Tania and I hoofed it up to Auckland University in time to hear Garth Nix and Sean Williams do a double act on their coauthored series TroubleTwisters, followed by Meg Rosoff and Margo Lanagan talk on their novel novels and then Paula Morris on Ruined and Dark Souls. I reluctantly passed up Mandy Hagar and Bernard Beckett, Karen Healey and David Hair to attend the others which just shows the quality of the Festival's programme. The cost of all this was very reasonable as well. And what did I learn from the speakers? Despite all the doom and gloom, the naysaying and the mystical prognostications (man that was fun to write) from the media, the fundamentals haven't changed. My favourite speaker so far is still Lionel Shriver from last year who didn't teach me something new about writing or getting published but who did say something very intelligent about how we deal with cancer. I still remember it and it has changed my thinking on the subject. I enjoyed the talks this year but now they confirm rather than alter my thinking. They don't inspire me so much as steel my resolve to continue. There were plenty of familiar faces in the audience and I was surprised to see a number of NZ children's publishers from Random, Penguin and Gecko there as well. Things the authors said that stuck in my mind? Garth Nix's comment that books were his mentors when he started out (just like me). Meg Rosoff's comment that she doesn't plan her stories very much before she starts (just like me) and Paula Morris's advice on character development in which you run through a questionnaire (boxers or briefs? showers or baths? etc...) with your characters to get to know them better (may have to borrow this in future). Will I go next year? You betcha! There is nothing better than mingling with other writers. It is a happy place :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

There is something behind the wall, banging...

The weather here is awful at the moment. I do not mind the rain or the cold but when either is incessant I go a little barking mad. Having children exacerbates the problem, especially sporty children with school uniforms. People will soon start to talk about my kids repeatedly turning up in stinky and/or muddy things. I have a dryer but everything that goes in the dryer has a shortened life. All that tumbling would wear me out too. And uniforms for school or sports are expensive so i do not put them in the much as I want much as my hand inches along, creeping closer to the dryer door, itching to press the 'on' button, desperate to be free of the damp of wet clothes hanging on the clothes horse and the dehumidifier that runs day and night. And the wind makes things bang...

There is something behind the wall, banging. There is a high wind buffeting the house. A storm. But I do not think the two are related. The banging in the wall has a rhythm all its own. I wonder who it is. Trying to get in. I wonder what they want with me. I wonder if they know.

In the Weekend Herald's Canvas Magazine (Sat. May 7) there was a lovely article on Michael Morpurgo by Hermione Holby. I have not read anything of his - I read a lot and there are a lot of good books out there, so I refuse to feel bad about this - I am making my way towards his books I am sure. But I love him irrespective of his books, for his comments on literature and children's books.

Morpurgo himself was not a great reader as a child. He came from a literary family and explains that, "literature with the big 'L' was thrust down my throat from a certain age - as it is thrust down many kids' throats.

"I still, to some extent, rebel against that," he says, "because at the heart of every great work of literature, in my view, is a great story. I think at our peril we make literature this rather elite thing. Rather sadly we think of storytelling as writing for young people, and the number of times I've read comments on this play [War Horse] like 'what is remarkable is that it comes only from a children's book'. It reflects the way many people feel still about children's literature. We don't have respect for youth any more than we do for age. I mean the word 'childish' itself," he goes on, "it's not exactly a compliment. And yet if you lose the heart of yourself, if you lose the child in yourself you lose your soul."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

How Much is an Author talk worth?

When your book is published, you quickly realise that there are few people better to promote it than yourself. Maybe a school has asked you to come speak to the children about your book and yourself, maybe a local group have invited you to talk on your writing process. Do you do it for free or should you charge? How do you bring up the potentially sensitive issue of payment? And what exactly should you be paid for your time? A recent brouhaha has arisen over the payment of $45,000US to wunderwriter Neil Gaiman for a four hour talk given at a Minnesota Public Library several years back. (You can start here if you want to read about it). As Neil Gaiman rightly pointed out he has made his public appearances so expensive in part to price himself out of the business to allow him the time to fulfil his writing wishes and obligations. The money he earned for this talk was given to charity. If the Minnesota public library system hadn’t used the money in this fashion it would not be spent at all and have been lost when the budget year ended. But Gaiman was criticised by a republican senator for stealing the money from the state coffers. What is the senator really trying to say?

Arts and Culture are not often seen as valuable recipients of ‘real’ money. Culture is a ‘luxury’ for the arty set and should not be supported by the government?

Artists and Writers time is not valuable enough to be reimbursed/recompensed.

On average writers are not well paid members of society. Advances are typically low in New Zealand and even if you sell well most authors are not paid the equivalent of a living wage through their royalties and the PLR. So not only must we take in to account the need to charge for school visits and workshops to value our craft and the hours/days/weeks we spent developing it without any payment, for many authors it is the only chance they have to supplement their income. But being paid for these events also values what we do and values art and culture for the wider community.

In order to set your fee you need to take several things in to account.

1) How much time you spend preparing

2) How much time you will be talking/visiting for

3) What related institutions/other writers charge?

4) How much can the school/community group afford?

5) How far do you have to travel?

Talk to your writer friends about what they charge. Where possible I charge a fee usually based on the fees paid by the New Zealand Book Council and this is what I start with when discussing doing a visit, workshop or talk with a school or group, but I am happy to negotiate and I will talk for free when the circumstances warrant it. There will always be times when charging is not appropriate or possible. Sometimes if a group cannot pay you, having your petrol costs reimbursed is a good way to go. Remember too that there are other ways to have talks and workshops funded – one half-day workshop I ran last year was funded by a grant from Creative New Zealand. A library talk I gave this March was funded by New Zealand Book Month. And charging a lower fee might pay off if you get repeat business. I used to hate bringing up the money side of things (one of the reasons that author talks organised by the NZ Book Councils Writers in Schools Programme are so nice as they manage the payment) but I can say from experience that it does become easier with practice. Remember this money can be used to enable you to keep writing in the future. And we want to encourage groups, institutions and the audience to value what we do and recognize that we work hard to produce our books. Be prepared to negotiate but don’t forget if you don’t value yourself and your writing time then those you come in contact with won’t value it either. Its not just about you (although you should never be thinking you are not worth being paid for your time and knowledge/expertise), its not even about just writers, its about how society views creative folks. We do matter.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Just the facts ma'am...

On the tv news last night I watched a report on an exploding laptop. A woman had her computer on her lap and was, I guess, just using it in an idle fashion. It hadn't been on long according to her. There was a bang and the laptop tumbled forward on to the floor, flames shooting up from its underside. Its a melty write-off, the battery a frazzled wreck. I have used my laptop extensively recently either perched on a desk, table or my lap to work on my latest novel. On the news report the Computer Studies talking head from AUT or The U. of Auckland (sorry I was too distracted by what she was saying to notice the source of her genius) suggested these computers shouldn't be used on your lap. Air needs to circulate. What? I mean WHAT? No surface they are placed on allows air to circulate. Do we need lap top trivets now to go with all the other accessories? And um, aren't they called laptops for a reason? Its a LAPTOP madam, where should I place it when I use it?????

I am generally interested in the news. I like to know what is happening in the world I live in and am always alert for possible story ideas. Everything that goes in my facial ports becomes grist to the story mill and, I believe, nothing is wasted. But my most common reaction to listening, watching or reading the news is increasingly becoming one of frustration, not at the news but at the way it is reported. Too often these days the media seems to 'make' the news. Everything is put on high rotate until the next juicy disaster hits. We have this skewed perception that our lives move from one disaster, drama or crisis to the next when really we still live in conventional fashion, driving the kids to their sports practices, grumbling about the price of petrol and wishing we didn't have to wash, vacuum, cook or pick up all the same things we did the day before. Does the news blur the line between fact and fiction by combining entertainment, and editorial with the facts? And if it does what effect does this have on us? Do we become immune to the horrors of war and devastation? Do we feel constantly stressed by all the bad things happening and worry whether we are doing enough to make the world a better place? Are we suffocating under the weight of all the opinions we feel obliged to form over every issue ever faced by modern man? I don't know about you but I feel exhausted by it all. I don't want to stop knowing whats going on in the world but could the media get over themselves and just dial it back a notch or three? You know you are in trouble when the media are the news they report!!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

the honeymoon phase of writing The End...

I wrote around 2,000 words yesterday (bit of a record for me over the writing of this novel), two of which were The End. Did some tinkering today and the ms ended up just over 45,000 words in total. I know it still needs a bit more editing but I think it is in near-final draft shape. I have just submitted it to the publisher and once I have had a breather (and done the company GST and filed it and completed my first university assignment and sent it in) I will go back over the ms and rub off the rough edges. It is hard to believe I have reached the end. On the weekend I felt like this about the novel so I'm proud I pulled myself together and got it done. Putting the cart before the horse (completing the story after the contract has been signed) has been a new experience for me and I have to say its a little tricky to drive with things coupled in this manner. More sweating is involved when you have been paid/signed up for something you have not yet written. I guess I find it easier the other way around but I would never say never to doing things this way again. Hopefully having been through the experience once I will be better prepared if there is a next time.

As is often the way at times like these (the honeymoon phase of writing The End) I'm momentarily feeling rather sanguine about everything to do with my writing career. I realise that a writing career is a very stressful thing. There is so little that can be controlled and we are at the mercy of so many variables, not all of which are just or reasonable. Success can be an elusive and sometimes mythical seeming beastie. Today however I can understand Nathan Bransford's post on fate and be weirdly happy along with all the commenters. I cannot say that I will ever love that this is how the writing world is, but it is my world and I am a card carrying member and today I can truly say I will happily accept it, warts and all.

Here for your delectation is a link on the reality of self promotion for authors. We may not like it but it too is just 'how our world works'.