Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I don't mind what you say as long as you talk about me...

I have been following this story with interest. The story of how a bad review revealed something very interesting about an author and her fans. It is instructive on how not to behave if you get a bad review. Justine Larbalestier has been writing a series of posts on the topic of handling reviews: good, bad and indifferent, and they are full of good advice. Start here and work forward (there is an earlier post called 'What to do about cranky authors'but it is quite far back - check out the 'recent posts' column).

But author Larbalestier has also explained why bad reviews really ain't that bad. Read that explanation here. I am still too green to feel anything but stung when a reviewer dislikes my writing. After all I am not trying to write bad stuff that someone will hate. But as Larbalestier says, getting reviewed at all means someone is reading your book and feeling strongly enough about it to tell others. That is a good sign. Sometimes when I look at the reviews of the bestsellers (50 Shades anyone??) I am a) amazed that they are all talking about the same book and b) I am struck by the fact that sales don't seem that influenced by the number of stars on the reviews. What seems to count is just the sheer volume of discussion about the book. The more people talking about it the more people want to check it out for themselves. No surprises there really I guess but there are no guaranteed pathways to getting enough people to talk about your book. That is the dilemma that everyone in the book industry wants to crack (like Fermat's Theorem or finding a unified theory for everything in the Universe).

So when people unexpectedly talk about my books, especially in a very public forum I can't help but feel excited. Yesterday on National Radio they were discussing my book/app The House That Went to Sea (at around 3.15pm I think). They were saying some nice things about it and discussing the model of having the book complement the app and vice versa physically and in sales. Colour me happy indeed.

I also received a selection of cover designs from the publisher for the new novel - even though I have been working on this for so long it all feels like its happening so fast now that we are getting to the sharp end of the process. The cover, blurb, tagline decisions are thrilling. Of course now the pressure is on to go through the Editors revisions ASAP. I have also had some roughs (b&w and colour of one spread) for the next picture book. They are completely different to my other books and I can't wait to see more. It is all go in the muppet labs!!

And just in case you need a good laugh go check out this GIF about the business of being a writer over at Nathan Bransford's blog. This is the funniest thing I've seen in ages. That's me running the hurdles!!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Talking about the future of YA...

Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion on "What next for YA literature" with fabulous authors David Hill, Diana Menefy, Rachael King and Tessa Duder at the Storylines Family Day in Auckland (gotta love the Topp Twins). At the moment a wide range of genre are popular in YA including dystopian, fantasy and steampunk, romance, contemporary realism and historical fiction. I liked Rachael's suggestion that the future of YA might be a mash-up of genres. I think what we want to see as the future of YA as writers is at variance with what is actually likely to happen. I think commercial drivers are eyeing up the success of books like 50 Shades of Grey (currently being read by a lot of older teens) and age appropriate watered down versions of this will be encouraged. A number of Romance Publishers have already created YA lines following on from the success of the Twilight books. Movies based on popular books also influence the success of various genres and extend the life of these. David Hill pointed out that the lag time with publishing made trying to follow or anticipate trends difficult if not impossible. Tessa pointed out that despite the popularity of series such as Twilight, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, some of the best YA are the smartly written stand alones like Kate de Goldi's The 10pm Question and Jenny Downham's Before I Die. Good writing is not disappearing under the weight of commercial imperatives.

There was some debate about what constituted a YA. Content reflecting teenage concerns, the age, voice and language of the main protagonists helped define YA. The lines are blurred however with YA being read by a much wider audience (from a large adult audience to much younger children such as 8 and 9 year olds). This is exacerbated by the fact that children develop and mature at different rates. Concern was raised about the fact that some YA literature is being read by much younger readers and content may not be suitable, although it was also noted that children often don't 'get' some of the more mature concepts and are therefore not necessarily affected by them. TV and movies were often felt to contain an equal if not greater amount of contentious material yet parents and other groups commented more on what their children read rather than what they watched. Those working in libraries tried to guide both young readers and their parents towards age appropriate books. Where YA is shelved in both libraries and shops should reflect the content and audience with some books needing to be shelved in both Adult and YA and others needing to be removed from children's shelves. An advanced or mature reading age did not necessarily mean a child was ready for YA content. It was felt to be important for YA books to reflect teenage issues and many acknowledged it was better to read about these issues and their impact in the safe environment of the pages of a book (I'm a firm believer that books covering more contentious issues show readers they are not alone if they are experiencing these things for themselves and help teens empathise with others going through such problems). Concern was expressed about teen books with difficult issues that ended on a hopeless note. Offering hope or a positive outcome in a YA novel seemed a responsible approach. Tessa reminded everyone what a brilliant YA writer Margaret Mahy was with books such as Memory, The Tricksters, The Catalogue of the Universe and The Changeover (some of my personal favourites).

I am bound to have left some bits out. I hadn't thought about summarising the discussion and was busy thinking of my opinions on the matters raised during the talk so didn't take any notes at the time. If any audience members want to add or amend anything just let me know in the comments section and I will update the post.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What a week it has been...

Well, what a time it has been. I dragged my poor SO out of bed at 5.30am last friday morning so he could drop me at the airport in time for my 6.30am flight to Christchurch (thank you honey, you are a peach). I almost didn't get on as the machine wouldn't accept my e-ticket and the queue to sort things out was impressive. The two gents in front of me had tried to get to Christchurch the night before and failed because of fog. They'd come back via Wellington. Through luck we all got on the plane in time and flew down south to be told just outside of Christchurch that we might not land because of fog and would probably head to Wellington. Mother Nature eh? The power of water vapour over invention, engineering, and sophisticated instrument landing systems.

Well the pilots were good at their job and we landed. Phew. because I had a date with some very cool children from Hammersley School at Shirley Library. I had breakfast with fab book designer Kim Dovey and met up with book-fiend and brilliant blogging librarian Zac Harding. In the afternoon I kept Kim company while she completed her preparations for the Storylines Family Day on Sunday.

I had Saturday to myself. My accommodation was at the north end of the city and I took a wander round to see what nature had done to Christchurch. She'd been pretty mean. I'd seen a lot of images on tv and in the papers but it gives you a deeper level of understanding to see it for yourself. It is broken and I admire and respect all those people who have lived through it all. It made me sad and it would be hard living with that kind of sadness every day.

On Sunday wonderful fellow writer, Jane Bloomfield and I walked down to the Catholic Cathedral College for the Christchurch Storylines Family Day where we met up with our third Kiwiwrite4kidz musketeer, award winning author Leonie Agnew. What an excellent day we had: meeting with keen readers who checked out the books of our kiwiwrite4kidz members, talking with keen writers and meeting other folk from the writing community. It was very exciting for me to meet Trevor Agnew and Bill Nagelkerke and his wife. And its always wonderful to see so many families coming out to support their children's love of books and reading.

On Monday I got to visit two Christchurch schools, Redcliffs and Redwood Primary, both filled with enthusiastic students and teachers. I wished I had more time at both schools. At the end of the day I got the chance to meet my Canterbury University tutor and then it was time for me to catch the plane home.

Tuesday was my first visit as author-in-residence at New Windsor School. I got a fantastic welcome and spent the morning talking with the whole school and then had the chance to chat to some smaller groups and meet with their bookclub who had started with my novel Jack the Viking. What a great school. And wednesday night I got to read some of my books at their Milo Storytime. I dressed up in my jammies, dressing gown and slippers and had a lovely evening. Thank you so much New Windsor. I'm looking forward to my next visit in September.

This coming weekend I am running a writing workshop on plotting for older children at the National Library and Sunday I will be at the Auckland Storylines Family Day. I'm really looking forward to meeting more keen book fans and having the chance to talk about YA books at the panel discussion on Sunday afternoon. I hope I get to meet you there. See you then :)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Salesman was not part of the job description...

Recently I posted a link to an article that appeared in the Guardian that sought to debunk the suggested benefits of social media for raising your profile and selling your books. All very interesting stuff and there has been plenty of debate on this topic across the intramaweb - Ms Crisp has some links to the debate at her blog here. I like this comment by frequent blogger, and writer Nicola Morgan which kind of touches on some of the issues here. Like it or not social media is here now (and staying forever I reckon) and is a part of the authors promotional arsenal. I am reasonably active on social media, but the bottom line is I must write the material that forms the foundations of my writing career first. Then do what I feel comfortable doing to promote myself and my books. I like a mixture of social media and personal appearances. Social media is less effective in the children's market I think. Picture book and junior novel buyers aren't hanging around on the internet, they are chasing after the readers or are a little too young to be trawling blogs and facebook looking for authors. Teachers and librarians do use social media but its also brilliant to go meet them in person. It is different for teens but I think they drive the connection more than the authors do. I could probably do more to promote myself and my books but there is a corresponding rise in my feelings of awkwardness, embarrassment and discomfort if I try. There is a tipping point and I aim for just this side of it. I am always looking for ways to work smarter not harder, with a lower embarrassment/discomfort quotient. These are the things I will do - but it is always a love of books and the written word that will dominate my approach. I do want my books to sell. I understand the direct correlation between sales and continuing interest from publishers but there must also be some understanding of the underlying truth that I am a writer and not a salesperson/social dynamo. If a lack of sales skills was the factor that stymied my writing career, I don't think its me that needs to change.

In other news: I pounded the keyboards and finally got to the end. There are still more edity bits to go but hopefully nothing too major. Now it is finessing all the twiddly bits like a glossary and a note on pronunciation and a map and acknowledgements and things like that. After living, eating, breathing this story day in and day out for so long, I am finding the current phase fairly weird. Part of me has a distinct urge to go write another book straight away. I REALLY want to. But realistically I have other things that need doing. Things that I have pushed further and further down the to-do list because they are hard and tricky and less pleasant. Sometimes you have to go there and that sometime is now. Wish me luck

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Just a little bit proud...

Well, what a week (or two). Lots of Olympy stuff. People exceeding expectations, others falling short, folk with extraordinarily long legs or fingers and toes or bigger biceps, triceps and trigeminals, and great guts and determination winning stuff. Good for them. As far as I'm concerned everyone who makes it through to the games after years of hard work, mental and physical discipline should receive a medal. I've been entertained and even swelled a little on occasion (mostly with national pride). There's been some sad things too though, muck ups, stuff ups and the occasional bit of rule over-application. Why can't Usain keep the relay baton with which the Jamaican team just won gold and broke a world record? Maybe the officials were grumpy because the competitors broke something - of course that's it, silly me (yay, I think they were allowed to keep the baton). All in all a riveting watch and it is hard to pick my favourite bit. Right up there is NZ's first gold at Eton Dorney where the double rowery blokes came from the back, right up to the front where the gold is. They had a lot of style. More swelling (with pride). All very smashing.

There have been other things too. My middle child had her first school ball. I went with her to the pre-ball and she looked like this. That's her on the right (with Joanna and Georgia) looking gorgeous. They all did. Gosh our kids do scrub up well. I am overdosed on pride.

Somehow (I can't quite believe it myself yet) I have managed to finish (mostly because, as all you writers will know, we never really truly finish) the latest novel. It is like dough through a pasta machine where you keep feeding it through to make the fettucine smoother and finer and yummier. I think my novel is now edible. Watch this space for more news on this particular book.

Yesterday I dressed up in wig and hat

and stripey trou's and long black boots, and piratey accoutrement and read Margaret Mahy stories at the Central City Library in Auckland with fab librarian Anne Coppell, as part of a nationwide read in Margaret's honour. Afterwards I attended a memorial for her at the Town Hall and sat listening in wonder to her stories and other peoples stories about her and felt even more starstruck. I felt moved then and I feel inspired now.

And my tale of adventure on the high seas, The House That Went to Sea, is an app!!!!!!!!!! Yay :) This is a fun story about stepping out of your shell and embracing life. Sailing out in to the unknown can be the best thing you ever did. It is currently at a tantalisingly affordable price - go check it out here

Monday, August 6, 2012

From somewhere on page 121...

A small taste of my current efforts
(Located somewhere in the Southern States of the Soviet Union in 1941)
“We need drinking water,” Mama said, holding up the empty glass flagon. The train had pulled in to a railway station surrounded by a small but busy town, an oasis of colour and life. Everyone grabbed bags and containers, laced up shoes and buttoned jackets. I hopped down onto the platform and Mama passed the flagon to me. She stepped down and turned back to look up at Sophia.
“I need you to stay here,” she said.
“I don’t want to be alone,” Sophia whimpered.
“You are not alone...Pani Dorota will look after you,” Mama said. She pulled her shawl tight around her shoulders and rushed away into the crowd before Sophia could cry.
I wandered around the streets for a little while worried that I wouldn’t be able to do this one simple task. In the end I found fresh water back at the train station. On the other side of the station building from the train, at the far end next to the Station Master’s office a boy stood filling his container at a tap. A few others lined up behind him and I joined the queue. Before long a snake of people had formed. Then it was my turn. I fitted the flagon under the tap and turned it hard, the water soon overflowing. And then I heard the worst possible noise. It had become so familiar; the mundane hooting voice of the train signalling the stops and starts of our travels. Now it struck fear in me. The train was leaving.
Everyone scattered. I wanted to run but the flagon felt awkward and heavy. I hobbled round the corner with my load and saw the locomotive pulling away. Why was it leaving? Wagon doors still gaped open. People on the train leaned out and pulled their friends and relatives on board. My heart fluttered in panic. I ran after the wagons sliding away along the platform, the flagon knocking at me. I wasn’t fast enough to catch up and climb on. My only chance was to grab the hand rail. I had no choice. The flagon dropped, smashing, the water gushing away as I threw myself at the train, my hand reaching out to grasp the metal bar. Others were doing the same. Taking frantic leaps and grabbing on as tightly as possible. The train accelerated. For five minutes it raced through the countryside, people clinging, pressed hard by fear against the speeding locomotive. A few kilometres from the town it slowed and came to a complete stop in an open field. I didn’t wait to see what happened next. I jumped down and ran beside the track as if the devil himself was after me. Others ran too. I saw Mama running, a bunch of her skirt in one hand to free her legs. I caught her up as we reached our wagon. Sophia stood at the open door sobbing hysterically. We clambered on. Mama clutched Sophia to her.
“I hold of a...hand rail,” she gasped. “I saw you...I saw you up ahead. I thought...I thought I might have lost you.”
I grinned at her, wiping sweat from my eyes.
“The water?” she asked.
The grin fell off my face. I shook my head. She shrugged. “I have nothing either.”
For several hours the train stayed in the field as if daring someone to try getting off again. But no one did. We’d had a lucky escape. Mama didn’t ask after the missing flagon and it was never mentioned again. I knew now wherever Mama went Sophia and I had to go too.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Still here ...

I am still head down, rear in the air, working on a few things, so sadly I am neglecting you all horribly. I feel bad. It has turned August and August is full of busyness as well so I am going to be even more distracted. The Storylines Festival is coming up and I am in Christchurch for the family day on the 19th and will be giving a workshop on 'Plotting' in Auckland on the 25th and will be at the Auckland Family Day on the 26th.  Come and say hello as that is the funnest part of the Family Day's. We really do have the most wonderful Children's Book Community and there is nothing quite like celebrating it. It will be a little strange without Margaret Mahy this year but the children's book community in New Zealand has been colluding and we are having a nationwide read of Margaret's work in libraries all round the country on the morning of August 11th. Check out if your local library is involved. Take a look at the link above if you want to take part. It is lovely to read tributes to Margaret such as these from the writing community around the world. Did we ever really truly know how lucky we were to have her?

In the meantime I am still trying to keep an eye on the book world and monitor changes and developments to pass these on to you. Things aren't changing so much as they are being chewed, digested and reformed. These two posts caught my eye. The first (thank you to Graham Beattie for the link), an article by Ewan Morrison in The Guardian, dishes on why social media doesn't extend your reach as far as you think it does when you are promoting yourself. The cynical bottom line is that all these social media tools have a bottom line and it invariably isn't about the users or the consumers, it is about the business owners. More on this topic soon I hope. The other post is from the notable Mr Nathan Bransford on how the sands are shifting under our feet.

Now I am going to hop into bed with my trusty laptop and knock off some more pages :) Oh and take a look at this - one of my books is an app

and this, a new book just out by my fabulous author friend Tania Hutley. It is VERY good!