Monday, 30 November 2015

How To Be Discovered

By Candy Gourlay

Every year I help organise the highlight of my writing year: the SCBWI Conference for children's writers and illustrators in Winchester.

The irony of course is that I don't actually attend the conference. By being one of the organisers, my experience of the conference is that of sorting out the website, hustling behind the scenes, contributing to the programming, supporting the rest of the team, preparing panels, meeting and greeting on the day. But I get a huge kick out of watching something that was just a bunch of ideas turn into a successful reality.

Here I am emceeing the book launch. Thanks to Teri Terry for the photo. In the background celebrating their new books from left to right: Helen Moss, Tim Collins, Helen Peters, Ruth Fitzgerald, Janet Foxley and parrot.

This year, the title of the conference was: 'New Readers Ahoy! Creating Stories to Treasure' -- but I have to say, whatever name we give the conference, year after year, embedded under whatever we choose for the conference theme, is our true objective: How To Be Discovered.

We are all hoping to be discovered.

The unpublished are hoping to find the inspiration and information that would lead to their first book deal. Even people who have been discovered, already been published, are continuously on the lookout for ways to stand out from all the other books out there. They want to be discovered by new publishers, by people who invite authors to festivals, by journalists, by teachers who might invite them to visit schools. Self-published folk are looking for the same thing but must struggle against bias and access to distribution.

What's the good of creating stories to treasure if nobody can find our work?

Over and over again, we are told: it's no longer enough to just write well (or 'Dance good' as publisher keynote David Fickling put it). We people who make the stories have to help get it out there too. But how?

Here are a few take-aways from the conference on how to be discovered plus some of my own tips:

1. Know the game. Attending a conference will bring home to you the enormity of the journey ahead of you. You will realise that you've got to raise your game. You will meet vast numbers of aspiring authors, just as talented as you, who are also waiting to be discovered. Should you quit or carry on?

2. Discover each other. If you decide not to quit, seize the opportunity to enjoy the company of these like-minded people. No, don't just socialise. Discover each other. The friends I have made at every conference are the ones who have held me up when I've been low and cheered me on whenever I've had a success. You're not just trying to get/stay published. You are opting into a community. Live it.

3. Meet gatekeepers face to face. There are many ways to draw attention to yourself on social media. You can participate in hashtags, tag famous people into interacting with you, retweet, link etc. Unfortunately there are a gazillion other people doing the same thing. So there's nothing like meeting someone face to face. Finding opportunities to meet people in real time teaches you how to conduct yourself in a professional way. You also very quickly discover that agents, publishers and editors are human beings. Seeing people as human is always a good strategy.

4. You've probably already got a platform. How do I build a platform? That's what everyone is asking - whether published, unpublished, self-published. You've probably already got one. Take a sheet of paper and make a list. You have a platform in your immediate family and friends. These are guaranteed sales. You probably have other platforms you haven't thought about before. Professional circles, perhaps. Friends around a special interest. The question is: how do you get these friends and acquaintances to not only buy your book but to persuade others to do so?

5. Know your influencers. Should I build a platform from scratch? Don't. You have better things to do with your time -- like, for example, write another book. Rather than knocking on the doors of strangers (this is what it feels like for non-bloggers who are forced to start a blog so that they can 'build a platform'), it is better to focus on influencers -- in children's books, these are librarians, teachers, booksellers. Can you get influencers to love your book? Can you get them to persuade others to read it?

6.You're not a salesman, you're an author. Promoting your book must be a lot more subtle than shouting 'BUY MY BOOK!' on social media. You're an author. You're shinier than a salesman. What a turn off if Meryl Streep turned up at your door saying, 'Watch my movie!' Don't be that kind of self-promoter. You are about STORY so craft your story ... the story you are going to tell in radio interviews, newspaper articles, festivals, school events. Read my piece Being Human is the Best Kind of Marketing.

7. Engage with communities. Communities are groups driven by shared interests. If your book has a theme or focus that drives a community, this can be a chance to engage in with interested people in a meaningful way. The quality of your participation may lead them to your book. Book promoter Tim Grahl advises authors to be "relentlessly helpful".  People respond when they are rewarded with things they want. So. What do people in your communities want?

8. Make a plan. Quoting Grahl again: "Successful  (book) launches are not random events. Authors don’t throw together a few Facebook updates and blog posts the night before, then watch their rankings skyrocket the next day." Think things through. Don't just set up a blog tour without understanding how these things work because your publisher told you to. Ask yourself, why am I doing this? What is my pay off? Can I measure it? How sustainable is this plan? Authors are notorious procrastinators ... if anything, a plan will help you keep things in proportion and remember what your real job is.

8. Be findable. It still surprises me to discover authors who haven't set up websites or at least got a presence on social media. Yes, the internet and social media can be all pervasive and time-sucking. But we are LUCKY to live in a world where we have the power to put ourselves into the public eye without depending on the vagaries of fame. Are you findable? Maintaining your own presence on the web means you control your story. If you don't have a website or run your own social media accounts, you are in danger of handing your story to others to tell. And you will have no control over what they say.

9. Be useful. The truth is people are just interested in themselves and in their own needs. They're not particularly interested in you (unless you are famous, and then they want to know everything about you - but that's for their own entertainment not so you can sell more books). People only find you if they need something from you. If you're a children's author, you will have child readers trawling your website if you can help them with their homework. Teachers will be looking for teaching resources. Librarians might be looking for reading lists. If people find you, will they get what they're looking for? Be useful.

10. Be amazing. Ultimately of course, you've got to make something amazing to be discovered. Something people really really want. Nobody was ever discovered that did nothing. So make sure you do that. Write the best book you can. Be the best author you can be. Be amazing.

Candy's books are Shine and Tall Story. It's Christmas soon. Hint. Hint.

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Fellowship of Writing

by Addy Farmer

Friends celebrate at the SCBWI conference!
A friend is a comrade, chum, compatriot, crony, advocate, ally, a confrere ( I like that word). The bond of friendship is forged by many and varied things - common opinions and values, humour, food, shared experience, even disagreement can bring us together as friends. Friendship can be lifelong or fleeting. We remember friends from when we were little - when everything was supposed to be a great deal less complicated but often was not. Then there's the primary playground where we fell in and out of love with our friends as quickly as the cloud moves across the sun. Then, in a teenage time of change we longed for or adored or hated our friends and most probably all at once.

And now? Well, I'll return to now at the end of this blog.

friend - noun
a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard. orig. present participle of frēogan, cognate with Gothic frijōn to love
See how dark and gloomy the world looks when you're friendless.
Harry - in a place of isolation
The world can seem big and cold ...
Croc is looking for a friend at Christmas
 You might be lost and sad ...

I loved the brother sister friendship in I'll Give you the Sun, how it broke down, how each made new friends, before finding each other again. I also loved, as a child, the sibling friendship in Linnets and Valerians. Perhaps it has something to do with not having silblings that this type of friendship always catches me. Nicky Schmidt

Nobody understands you like a friends does ...
“Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other good.' Aristotle
Wise words, Aristotle. In other words, you don't need stuff to make you happy. One of my favourite picture books about friendship is this one ...

Crispin has everything or does he?
Crispin has every expensive present he could possibly wish for at Christmas but he finds no joy in them until he has friends to play with as well. At the simplest level friendship makes us happy and the lack of it makes us sad. Friendship can be profound and it can be frivolous. It can make us laugh, it can make us cry, it can make us really cross, it can support us in our hour of need, it can save our lives. It is the stuff of stories.
I would not wish
Any companion in the world but you.
(The Tempest 3.1.60-1), Miranda to Ferdinand

For me, friends are the thrumming heart of stories. On her own, our hero is alone in the woods with only the wolves for company. She spends her time scrabbling for berries to eat and scurrying to the makeshift hut to escape being eaten. By the light of the makeshift fire, she knows that this is quite a boring and dodgy way to live. Eventually hunger drives her out of the woods (hers and the wolves) and she meets a small boy who gives her a three course meal. She discovers the joy of having a proper chat with someone who is not a tree and who also has the power to hypnotise wolves. Plus, he tells the best jokes. And we're off.

There are as many different types of friends as there are characters
I love the way Oliver Jeffers explores friendship in his boy and penguin books (Lost and Found, Up and Down etc). The misunderstandings and problem solving are handled beautifully .Katherine Lynas

A short-lived but bright-burning friendship between a pig and a spider

Max is called stupid and Freak is called Dwarf but together they are unstoppable
Pippa Wilson Flora And Ulysses is an absolutely brilliant one to look at.
A friend is somebody to understand you when nobody else seems to

In Juliet Clare Bell and Dave Gray's, 'The Unstoppable Maggie Magee', the friendship between Maggie and Sol is unusual in that Sol cannot speak and has limited communication but Maggie is his friend and they find their own way to communicate because it's important to them. Their friendship takes them to the places that they dream of. 

An important story of an unstoppable friendship
In Jeanne Willis', 'Dumb Creatures', Tom's got plenty to say but it's all caged up inside him. Then he meets Zanzi the gorilla who changes everything. Like Tom, she too can sign and it makes for an unusual and touching friendship.
Not so dumb creatures
In 'Siddharth and Rinki' when Siddharth moves to England he feels that the only friend who understands him is his toy elephant, Rinki. But slowly Siddharth understands that friendship can come through gestures and smiles and adventure.  

You don't have to speak the same language to make friends
School Friends - The first rule of children's books is Kill The Parents/Adults, that leaves your character only one option - make friends. It's a brilliant story arc that works everytime. New school, everyone hates me, make friends. I'm all alone with no one to help me, turn to another child for solidarity. I use this theme again and again. Oh! My secret is out! Jo Franklin 
Friendship can go beyond boundaries.

Wonderful, quirky friendships in a wonderful quirky world suggested by Pippa Wilson
Friendship does not recognise fences
Huckleberry Finn chose to be with friends with Tom Sawyer, "the best fighter and the smartest kid in town".He thought himself lucky to have such a friend and in 1884 America, such a friendship was also brave.

Stephanie Cuthbertson pointed out the friendship in Huck Finn as unconditional with no agenda and no prejudice.
Friendship can be stronger than death
Keith Gray has written a brilliantly unsentimental odyssey, Ostrich Boys. Three friends steal the ashes of their dead friend and set out to give him one last adventure.

"You know, yesterday and today have been amazing. All the stuff we've been through? And it's all been because of him. I'm telling you: we've got the best story ever. But he missed out. He's never gonna be able to tell it." His shoulders shook as he wept.

But they did it - Kenny, Sim and Blake. They braved authority and defied common sense for the sake of friendship. 

It's as good as picking up a sword. Remember Neville in Harry Potter?

Friends will go to the ends of the world to save you

Someone can overcome incredible odds to rescue their friend. In The Snow Queen, small, young, Gerda risks her life and soul to recover her friend, Kay from the Snow Queen.

A wonderful illustration by the illustrator Amy Chipping
"I can give her no greater power than she has already, said the woman; don't you see how strong that is? How men and animals are obliged to serve her, and how well she has got through the world, barefooted as she is. She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has ... If she cannot herself obtain access to the Snow Queen, and remove the glass fragments from little Kay, we can do nothing to help her.”
Hans Christian Andersen, The Snow Queen

In the end, friends will not give up on you

"To find out where Jonah had gone, he would have to go there too. One day it would come. He would hear something or see something, and he would know that this was the day. It might be only hours from now, it might be years. But he would know it when it came ... And then, he knew, he would find him."

When everyone else despairs of finding him, Joe never gives up on his best friend, Jonah

Story or real-life
A friend will fight for us
Rescue us
Stick up for us
Find us when we are lost
Support us when we are unsure
Tell us the truth
Or close their eyes to our faults ...
Pooh will keep you safe, Piglet!

Thanks to all our SCBWI friends who contributed to this blog. Catherine Friess also wrote a lovely post in Story Snug about fictional best friends - take a look for more ideas!

So back to the beginning and friend now; here are a few photos of friends or confrere at the conference!

Pirate Pals



Aye, aye, Cap'n!

Pirates have seldom looked better

Pirate lovelies


Monday, 16 November 2015

Notes from the Critique Group - The Gap

by Maureen Lynas

This was a very interesting discussion at the SCBWI BI York critique group involving:
The space that's left for the reader when we SHOW rather than TELL

Leaving THE GAP gives the reader a role to play in the story as they infer and interpret the text. There's a balance to be had between showing and telling depending on the genre, age group, and experience of the reader.

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