Monday, June 27, 2011

I am the all new improved version of me...

It is easy to become exhausted by this business. The wearying ego question (as per my last post), the struggle to succeed at every step of the process - Do I have talent? Do I have enough talent? Is talent enough? Can I really write? Is my story complete? Is it as good as it can be? Will a publisher accept it? How much editing does it need? Do I like the cover/illustrations? What will I do if I don't? Will the critics like my book? Will bookshops like my book? Will buyers and/or readers like my book? Will other countries want to sell my book? Will it sell enough copies? Can I ever write another book as good as the first one that got accepted? Let me tell you folks, the list goes on and on and when you think you finally feel okay about where you are at you look at what is happening with other peoples books. Why are they selling more? Why did they like his/her book better? How come they seem to have a closer relationship with their agent/publisher/editor/janitor? How come they got shortlisted or recommended or....infinity other questions. And then the playing field changes. My head is now feeling seriously heavy and my comfy bed with the plump pillows is looking jolly nice all of a sudden. It is easy to be overwhelmed and feel a little drowny. Go wallow in some good stuff I say. Re-read some good feedback, look at the fab friends you have made and the wonderful things they have said to you, the work you have completed and how much you have learnt about how the book industry works. Think about the writing skills that now come easier to you. And for any failures you have had, realise how much you learnt from the experience. Boy, I won't do that again, and if I do, at least now I know what the risks are. I am the all new improved version of me.
Maureen Crisp, the nimble internet sleuth, has unearthed another pearl which looks at 5 things more important than talent and I pass it on to you all for your edification. We can't always control the way things are going to go but we can control how we respond. Making sure our goals are really the ones we want, keeping them in our sights, and doing the work required to achieve them are all within our control. Looking after ourselves and refocusing to see that half empty glass as half full are within our control. Its nearly half way through the year people. Time to pat yourselves on the back for surviving 2011 part one, and time to take stock and see the year as still half full. Make sure you plan some fun things for 2011 part two!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How much ego should I wear today?...

This writing, publishing business can do weird-ass things to your ego. Rejections knock you round but you have to toughen up and forge ahead, having faith that what you have written is good enough to be printed, bound and sold for money. But there are thousands of people out there with the same self belief and confidence - can we all be right to feel this way? How many rejections can an ego take? And if we get an acceptance it changes everything. Some one else agrees with our self belief and is willing to bank on us. No longer is it 'I hope I'm good enough'. We can now say "I am good enough'. But we are only as good as our last book, (unless you are some strange literary icon who can dine out forever on the strength of just one book) and if we want to stay writing we have to start the whole process again. Think you have this writing thing in the bag because you've been published? Probably not.
You must have faith in your own talent to keep trying, keep submitting but because the appreciation of writing is such a subjective thing you are guaranteed not to please all of the people all of the time. It is confusing to be loved by some and dismissed by others. In New Zealand I think there is a particular difficulty in balancing your ego as we don't like our poppies too tall. And while we all get that self-promotion is now an expected part of our job descriptions certain quarters frown upon this. We must keep our fingers crossed that others will choose to talk about us and our work in public forums which is a little sad when you consider all the work and effort that has gone in to getting our story published. So if I seem a little split personality sometimes, please excuse me. It just means I'm not sure what percentage of ego to wear.

Friday, June 17, 2011


I am swamped with writery tasks so today's post is some juicy links to keep you up-to-date and well informed and more....

Check out this post on "which rights you should sell" from the How Publishing Really Works Blog. This is good advice. Rights are only worth retaining if you think you can do better with them yourself. Realistically I think very few authors have the time or experience to go sell foreign rights themselves and especially here in New Zealand we have few agents who can take on this job for you. Different publishers here do have different records for overseas sales but we don't always/often/ever get to choose who publishes us so this information won't necessarily help you much. My current thinking on overseas sales is, a failure to sell in foreign markets comes down to five things. 1) They don't want your book because its cheaper and easier to stick with their local stuff. 2) They don't want your book because no one has showed it to them. 3) They don't want your book because they are risk averse. 4) They don't want your book because its not good enough. 5) The moons weren't correctly aligned, and the god/goddess of luck is in a bad mood. I liked what Walker Books Australia Editor Sarah Foster said recently on the subject, 'Overseas sales come from getting published and having sales in your home country first.' Work on getting published here. Work on establishing your brand and your reputation. There are no guarantees that this will give you overseas deals but it won't hurt. Some writery folk do skip this step and go straight to overseas deals with no local action at all. Lady Luck was in a good mood that day. If this doesn't happen to you then perservere with getting published and establishing yourself in the local market. If you do give your publisher foreign rights do, of course, make sure your rates for those foreign rights are within the norms (check out the NZSA, your writer mates and relevant blogs) but don't agonise over it folks.

Loved this link (via facebook from UK writer Tracy Ann Baines who can be found at her blog here) on the Biggest Problem in Publishing. Problems in publishing are a ginormous can of ugly-ass worms so to say there is only one biggest problem is a little presumptious but I do think this is a smart comment. What do y'all think?

Along with the exciting new Pear Jam publishing venture from author Jill Marshall there is another new kid on the block in local publishing. If speculative fiction is your thing go check this out!

And go check out the redoubtable Lily Max here, the splendiferous creation of the wonderful Jane Bloomfield. AND she has printables on the website!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Denial is a rubbish place to grow up in...

Did a school visit yesterday reading the new picture book, The House That Went to Sea. I shared the floor with the book's fabtastic illustrator Gabriella Klepatski. The children were great, keen to know about writing and illustrating and its always a blast for me to read my books aloud and talk about ideas. After, we met up with the publisher and had a look at the I-pad app being produced for the book. It had cool sound effects and looked great and I am excited to see how this goes. Embracing the new technology is thrilling and a little scary as there are still things I don't know yet about how it all works in terms of production, distribution, marketing and sales but its fantastic to be joining the adventure (I feel a bit like Michael Mariner in my story).

I have been reading the debate over this recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the darkness of teen fiction. My teen thriller out in December has a dark edge. Not as dark as some of the books Gurdon references but there are some difficult themes and tragic events in my story. I like this response from award winning author Sherman Alexie, who has himself written about some very challenging themes. I believe we should protect our children as best we can but I don't think we should pretend bad things don't happen. If we do, we divide ourselves. The world can be a harsh place and if we deny this, how are we helping our youngsters to protect themselves in the future. Denial is a rubbish place to grow up in. Isn't it better to share these things so that those who have suffered know they are not alone and see a way to survive and overcome and those who haven't suffered can understand those who have? I'm not saying all teen books should be dark or that all dark books are good, well written or worth reading but there are a lot that are and it would be a travesty to deny them a place in our book shops or on our bookshelves.

I am studying Patterns of Language this year for my Children's Lit Diploma at Canterbury University and am currently reading about the chants and rhymes used by children in primary school playgrounds. Alot of these chants talk about trouser snakes, babies and cruelty. In one of the readings (Grugeon, E. "Underground Knowledge:What the Opies Missed." English in Education, pp9-17) the writer says one of the crucial factors in the survival of these games (some of which are very bawdy and explicit) in the culture of childhood is that they challenge and defy adult conventions, provide ammunition for resistance and permit a shared exploration of areas of experience which are considered to be taboo or irrelevant for young children. Many of the commentators on the topic talk about how these chants and rhymes belong to the children and are performed and passed on without adult knowledge or interference. Even little children are talking about difficult topics when they are left to their own devices. We are kidding ourselves if we think not talking about things is going to protect our children. I would rather have the opportunity to discuss something difficult with my children that they have come across in a book. Excluding a topic does not make my children safe.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The rain will come...

There could be no doubt for people observing my writing career recently that things appear to be going pretty well for me right now. I have a picture book coming out next month, The House That Went to Sea, that has gained some potential overseas attention about which I am cautiously optimistic. I have a young teen thriller, My Sister's Shadow, coming out in December and it is probable I have another picture book coming out next year. There are other possibilities as well and I still intend to put Jack the Viking: Magnetic North out as an e-book before 2011 is over. But folks, objects in your rear view mirror may appear closer than they actually are. Before 2010, my last acceptances (not including anthologised short stories which are quite a different kettle of fish) had been in 2006. Despite winning NZ Post's Childrens Book Awards Children's Choice in 2009 for The Were-Nana - published 2008 and accepted 2006 - (also shortlisted for the Sakura Medal and the BPANZ Book Design Awards, and a 2009 Storylines Notable Book) and actively submitting stories and ideas and having an agent, I walked in the publishing wilderness for four years. The wilderness is peopled with fantastic authors (and I suspect that there are more in the wilderness than out of it) and I appreciate that my time there might have been longer and I have been lucky to leave (at least for now) - I don't watch Bear Grylls for entertainment folks, I am always looking for survival tips. Whether you are in the wilderness or out of it survival tips may be the only thing that keep you going. When no one would take a chance on what I was offering I thought I might go crazy (in fact there are some residual tics and occasional manic outbursts) but in the absence of anything else to do I behaved like the successful writer I wanted to be. I kept writing and submitting and observing the publishing industry. I kept involved with what was going on and finding out all I could about how things worked and the changes that were occuring. I was storing up information I wasn't sure that I was ever going to need because the door was closing pretty hard on the toe I'd poked in the gap. But I was visible as part of the community a) because I wanted to be (this is the home turf that I wanted to belong to) and b) because I wanted to be seen to be part of that community. If you behave like you belong, even when you feel like a rank outsider, then one day you'll find you do. And I kept writing new and complete material even when I thought it pointless so I would have new things to offer as well as any of my earlier work that I thought cut the mustard.

The drought was painful - man was I thirsty - but I rain danced my ass off. There are no guarantees the drought won't return and I love the taste of water. If you are in a drought now, keep asking for a sip of water. Hang in there, you have to believe the rain will come...

Friday, June 3, 2011

A cautionary tale...

I should be walking the dog but its raining cats out there which means he's keen and I'm dragging my heels. No matter how I dress, my trousers will be soaked through before I'm half way round one of our regular routes, the cold wet fabric slapping at my calves in a most unsavoury way. I am going to suck it up shortly and give him the exercise he needs because he missed out yesterday due to an unexpected trip to the doctor for my son's sore foot (soft tissue injury only - phew) followed by my first writing workshop at the local intermediate school (fabulous bunch of kids that I know I'm going to enjoy working with) and then grocery shopping and then whipping up a variation on beef bourgignon to feed the homeys.

A number of years back I developed a niggly back thing. A lower back/left hip that graunched and clonked. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant. Its mechanical I theorised. "Ah madam," the doctor said looking at an x-ray, "your bones look in tip-top shape". Years passed and I tried the doctor again and I got sent to a physio who said, "I can't see any cause for what you describe" but who managed to prescribe me some exercises and tried some lovely sticky tape - X marks the spot. Then years passed and I tried the doctor again, had a new batch of x-rays where my bones apart from normal wear and tear looked in tip-top shape, and had a chiropracter, and a masseuse recommended. I could try a specialist if I wanted I was advised, but I wasn't sure what I would be telling the specialist and the GP couldn't really tell me either. Despite feeling all the while that the source of my discomfort was mechanical they could see nothing wrong. I ruled the specialist out. Its a lot of money when everything on the x-ray looks in order. The massage benefited me for about ten minutes but left me with bruises. Improvements after the chiropractic sessions (which I found somewhat scary) lasted about 5 minutes. It might take a long time to work out the kinks from such a long standing problem like yours the chiropracter said. Maybe a year?

Then, as strange as this will sound, blessed relief, my daughter had a training accident at cheerleading. A nasty fall that injured her back. We started off at a physio. Her favourite physio had shifted to a different practice so we had to try another practice close by. I made an appointment at one I knew had a back programme. Could we get my daughter better before her overseas trip to compete in the US? We'd better check for fractures the stary physios said and lets send her to a specialist to make sure we know how bad the damage is. So off we went, my daughter and I to visit the specialist they suggested armed with some new x-rays for her. I watched and listened as he asked her questions, made her stand on one leg and then the other and do a few other things. After a CT scan he told us what was going on and she competed in the US (her all girl team came third in the International comp and my daughter got the Sportsmanship award for the trip) and is now on the mend.

I was impressed.

I made myself an appointment to see the specialist. He pulled the 2003 x-ray out of the envelope and in 2 seconds with the naked eye said 'you have a congenital defect in your back which is most likely the cause of all your symptoms. Look,' he said, 'the radiologist mentions it in the report.' Why am I telling you this story? I am telling you this story because too often we give all our power over to other people we trust to have all the information, training and experience to tell us what to do. Okay so I've done the same with the specialist but when he pointed out the wacko doohickey in my lower back I could see for myself what he was talking about. After not trusting my intuition about the mechanical nature of my problem for more than 9 years the specialist explained everything to me and said 'madam, your problem is mechanical. It is unlikely that physio, massage or a chiropracter will have a positive result.' I had an MRI scan and unfortunately over the years the congenital problem has been having a trickle down effect. Surgery is a possibility.

It is too easy to give our power away to other people. Authors do it all the time. We trust that people in the publishing industry have all the answers and will give us the right advice. I'm not saying these people are deliberately misleading us. I don't think the GP's I went to see about my back were deliberately misleading me. But they didn't know what they were looking at and dismissed me. Because they didn't know, there obviously couldn't be anything wrong. They made me doubt myself. Doubt can wear away at you. Yes publishers and booksellers and others in the industry will give you advice, answers and prognostications about your writing and yes often they will be right. All that experience counts for a lot. But sometimes they will be wrong (and yes I'm thinking of all the agents and publishers who turned down JK Rowling). Sometimes they don't know the answer. Sometimes its not that there is anything wrong with your writing or your story, sometimes they don't know how to make the most of it or have too many stories already scheduled to be able to devote time to editing your work or advising you on a rewrite. Sometimes commercial reasons mean they are embracing other genre/writers/trends. Many times it is too hard to tell you all the reasons they are turning down your manuscript. Remember, your work is yours. It belongs to you and you must make the final decisions about what happens to it. If it is good work then it's time will come. First of all believe in yourself. Trust your intuition - you too have experience, information and training. And keep pressing on. Sometimes it takes years to get to the right answer.