Sunday, 29 June 2008

Jane Friedman on How to Sabotage Your Writing Career

Jane Friedman is editorial director of the publishing company that produces Writer's Digest publications so she should know what she's talking about. She is pictured on the left (not on the right).

Her blog is called There are No Rules - and if you're trying to get published, it's a useful blog to track.

Jane is now up to tip number five on How to Sabotage Your Writing Career.

Here's what she says so far:
Sabotage #1: Attempt to get published too soon. Read more.

Sabotage #2: Look out for yourself too much. Read more.

Sabotage #3: Expect your publisher to market your work. Read more.

Sabotage #4: Treat online and multimedia activities as optional. Read more.

Sabotage #5: Be high maintenance. Read more.
Speaking from experience, sabotaging one's writing career is fairly easy. I think I was a great success at Sabotage #1 in my early days of trying to get published!

In the spirit of this post, I offer one handy sabotage tip (inspired by Jane's Sabotage #4):
If you're really, really determined to crash your career before it's begun, create an online presence that portrays you as amateur, annoying, boring, terrifying (there are those out there who think networking is equivalent to stalking publishers and agents online!) or ___________ (fill in blank with obnoxious or unattractive trait).
By all means, get online - but make sure there is method to your web presence.

I don't think the series is over so be sure to check (or even subscribe!) Jane's blog in the next few days.

Thanks to the Harriet Austin Writers Conference website from which I lifted the above lovely photo of Jane Friedman. The conference is on July 18-19 in Athens, Georgia.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Try not to staple your heart to your manuscript

Rejection scene from Why Writers Need Agents
There has been a sad slew of rejection news on one of the message boards I subscribe to.

And as usual, the rejectees are staring at the rejection letters, analyzing every little turn of phrase, and asking themselves, what does it mean?

I recently found this 2004 post from a blogger who calls herself Slushkiller ( she's slushpile reader) which makes some very useful notes about rejection herewith (I paraphrase):
1. Editors do not use different sized stationery to rate you on how badly your ms sucked.

2. When an editor says your ms is 'didactic, too wordy, and too lengthy' she isn't trying to hurt your feelings, she is telling you how to fix it.

3. An editor doesn't say nice things lightly.

The Slushkiller post was a response to the website, where writers can post rejection letters and say how they felt about them.

The best advice I've read about rejection letters comes from the Editorial Anonymous blog in a piece titled The Eight Rules of Rejection. I've quoted it before but it's always worth saying some things twice:
Most rejection letters mean nothing. Nothing. (Except that you can cross that publisher/agent off the list.) You need to internalize this fact however you can. Chant it in the bathtub. Write it backwards on your forehead. Listen to a tapeloop of it while you sleep. No matter what the editor/agent says, no matter what words they use, rejection letters mean nothing.
So cheer up. It's not personal. Laugh. Watch that video again. Write for the sake of writing. Everything else is a bonus.

(P.S. The write for the sake of writing quote came from author Julia Golding in the latest British SCBWI newsletter but since she's so far published 12 novels without even breaking into sweat, I couldn't quote her outright for fear of sending some people into a suicidal spin.)

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

John Green's Fictive Versions of Himself on Amazon

John Green (An Abundance of Katherines, Looking for Alaska) is a broadcaster as well as a YA author. Which really helps. You can see how much it helps on his Amazon video. **Yes, authors, this is a good time to reflect on what you'd put on your Amazon video**

I particularly like the way he addresses the readers as Amazonians.

Naturally, Amazon doesn't provide embed information that allows me to put the video on my blog (why should they encourage you to leave the site when the longer you stay, the more likely you are to buy?). So you will have to click on this screen grab to view it. It's really good - so you lazy people who can't be bothered, go on, CLICK.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Technology: where I draw the line

I'm always harping on about how we do teenagers down about their use of technology and I really do believe they deserve our respect and that we writers should rise to the challenge of their world.

But this is ridiculous.

New twist on teenager watching TV in bed.
With thanks to my cousin Cornelio, who forwarded the picture.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Living with the New Realities of Children's Publishing

I haven't signed the Philip Pullman led No to Age Banding declaration. I haven't signed even though I agree with much that has been said by that side of the debate and although I am tempted to add my name to the formidable list which includes many of my writing heroes - Malorie Blackman, Michael Morpurgo, Michelle Magorian, David Almond, Neil Gaiman and many more.

Why do I dither?

When I do my talks about how authors can market themselves online, I call on my audiences to face up to the New Realities of publishing - the fact is, they simply have no choice, I declare. If authors don't get real and engage with these new realities, they will be contributing to the slow erosion of the culture of the book. But then my talks are about online marketing.

This is what I think the anti-age-ranging list is all about. Apart from all the other strong arguments about pigeonholing children's reading, it is yet another turning away from the special qualities of books. To label a book the way one would label a DVD or a computer game somehow reduces it to the level of commodity. To which, my practical side whispers, but books are commodities, aren't they?

The age banding debate has carved a rift between supporters and detractors within the publishing community.

Witness the intemperate language of commentators to Adele Geras' recent blog on the issue - with the the antis arguing with emotion and more than a little irony and the pros claiming to be on the side of democracy.

Thing is, the list of New Realities in Children's Publishing is stacking up.

A Times article about how Richard and Judy's Book Club has shaken up publishing gives an interesting assessment of the state of the industry:
(The) British book business is, to a rough approximation, incompetent. Since the abolition of retail price maintenance, power has shifted from the publishers to the bookshops, and they, in turn, have aggregated into a few big chains, primarily the near monopoly of Waterstone’s. This has made publishers absurdly timid in their approach to marketing.

“They have such a primitive idea about marketing,” (the R&J club's creator and book selector Amanda) Ross says. “I knew nothing about publishing. It is an incredible industry, full of really nice people, much nicer than television. But the thing that surprised me is that they all want their products to be exactly the same. I don’t know about you, but I never want to read the same book twice. Their covers were really similar. If there was a successful book, they put the same cover on other books so people would think they were buying the same book twice.” She was also shocked to discover that publishers were made to pay for display slots in shops. If you see top picks in a bookshop, don’t be fooled: the only picking process is money.

The bookshops have also been apeing the record industry by pulling titles the minute they don’t sell. “A few years ago, they stopped giving books enough time in shops,” Ross says. “Books tend to be word-of-mouth. It’s not like buying an album, going home and listening to it in an hour. By the time you found a book you liked and recommended it to your friends, it had been removed from the shops.”

And then of course, there is the brouhaha over celebrity authors, many of whom don't write their own books.

Interestingly, on the same day the Times demonstrated how daytime telly (Richard and Judy) was killing literary snobbishness, the Guardian reported that the brisk success of celebrity fiction made literary snobs look stuffy.

The Times article, titled 'The book wot I wrote', reported:
A burgeoning section of publishing has opened up with the appearance of books in supermarkets, which relies mainly on celebrities and abuse stories ...
Of children's fiction, the article went on to say:
The counter-argument says that using a celebrity's name as a brand is no different from putting the Disney logo on a book, and HarperCollins Children's Books, which publishes (Colin) McLoughlin's Coleen Style Queen series, has been careful not to make claims that won't stand up. "It's very much about Coleen endorsing and inspiring this series," says her publicist, Geraldine Stroud. "She's not in any way trying to claim that she's the sole author."
(To those who've been in a coma for the past few days, Coleen of course, is now Mrs Wayne Rooney.)

So here I am, dithering.

Publishing is in the midst of a big shake-up.

If we resist the inevitable, what is at risk?

If we capitulate, are we guilty of speeding the end of the book as we know it?

How do we engage with these realities and still nurture the culture of the book?

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Illustrator Jimmy Liao in my pocket!

I discovered illustrator Jimmy Liao in the Taiwanese exhibition on my first foray to the Bologna Children's Book Fair (This is his English site, for you non-Taiwanese speakers). His framed illustrations were stacked on the floor by the book display. The image on the right is of a picture book he did with a sightless girl as its narrator - showing the world from her point of view. I was so glad I took the trouble to get on my knees because I have not seen them anywhere else since, nor can I source the picture books. The photos I took using my feeble mobile do not do them justice.

This year at Bologna, the Taiwanese had Jimmy Liao up in lights with a massive hoarding and his work impressively displayed in glass cases.

Yesterday, my Jimmy Liao fandom was rewarded when Martin Gladas, director of leather goods manufacturers Taurus Leather UK, sent me this in the post:

It came in this fab bag:

Martin emailed to tell me he came across the purses at a leather goods exhibition in Hong Kong and is trying to bring them to the UK. He's read all of Jimmy's books and says, "I know they are for children but the illustrations are amazing."

Sadly, my daughter caught me admiring the purse and has cold-bloodedly appropriated it over my violent objections.

Well, if she thinks she can get away with that, she's got another think coming. I shall wait until she's asleep ... tonight ...

Thanks Martin for the kind freebie! Thanks, Jimmy, for your incredible talent! And you folks - go buy the wallets. They're on this page of Martin's site!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Lee Weatherly launches Glitterwings Academy without me

I am sorry to report that I am ill again. The last time I was ill, I dragged myself to my friend Elizabeth's book launch.

Unfortunately the book launch I was going to attend today is in Basingstoke (why do I always get sick on book launch days?) - Lee Weatherly's Glitterwings Academy series. I haven't got enough puff to get to Basingstoke and back, so I'm going to have to miss it.


And we were all going to wear fairy wings to mark the occasion.

I was planning to wear bat wings just to be different.


Sorry I can't come, Lee er Titania Woods (cool pseudonym!). I hope you all have a brilliant, brilliant time! And I hope you sell gazillions of books and write gazillions more!

If I had gone to the launch, I would have dressed up like this:

Nothing like a goth fairy to spice things up.

Monday, 9 June 2008

In Search of Voice

There has been a fascinating and wide ranging discussion over at the British SCBWI list serve about VOICE.

How many editor/agent panels have I attended in which the Holy Grail to publishing, apparently, is Voice.
I am looking for a fresh Voice that draws me in immediately.
Last year's SCBWI (UK) anthology competition focused on voice - hence the anthology's title UNDISCOVERED VOICES. And yet when I search the mountain of How to Write books I've accumulated through the years, I am hard pressed to find one with a clear guide to finding your Voice.

What is Voice anyway?

It's not point of view, although the list serve discussion swung in and out of the merits of third person, first person, omniscient etc etc.

I can cite examples of novels with clear, compelling voices - Anthony McGowan's boy with a wisecracking brain tumor in Henry Tumour, Meg Rosoff's anorexic leading lady in How I Live Now, Geraldine McCaughrean's hearing-impaired teenager who has an Arctic explorer for an imaginary friend in White Darkness.

I've been re-reading Geraldine McCaughrean's earlier novels, A Pack of Lies, The Stones Are Hatching and A Little Lower than Angels. And although the quality of writing is formidable, clearly, McCaughrean had not yet found the Voice that makes White Darkness such a triumph.

I would venture to guess that a unique Voice is something one develops over time.I would also guess that though every novel is unique to itself, each author has a particular, unmistakable voice.

If you checked out the very earliest posts on this blog (see this piece in 2004 on multicultural writing), you will find a completely different voice. When I started out, I had imagined myself reporting in the manner of a journalist. But personality will out and the journalism is now buried under... well, I've found my Voice.

Newbie bloggers often experience that same groping and searching suffered by authors seeking their Voice.

Comes the modern reality of an over-publishing, over-crowded children's market.

We don't have the luxury of time to discover that Voice. There are no publishers willing to publish two or three books so that an author can discover that fresh, unput-downable Voice.

Interestingly, there are some who are up to the challenge.

It's a bit sad that my social life revolves around critique groups. But at various critique groups I've attended, I heard some fine unpublished examples: Anita Loughrey's tough-talking (and hilarious!) teenage blogger, Miriam Halahmy's island girl who finds herself hiding an illegal immigrant, Angela Cerrito's grieving heroine trying to understand her sister's suicide. At the reading of Anita's newly penned chapters, we just wanted her to read on and on, the voice was so extraordinary.

It was clear to me that for these talented writers, getting an agent/publisher was probably only a matter of time (or finishing their manuscripts!).

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Why Writers Need Agents

It was half term last week. We didn't manage to go away because the teenagers had exams coming. Bored children took root in my shed. Here is the result.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Teens Do Read - Take That, Anti-Hoody People!

As the mother of two hoodies, I take exception to frequent put-downs of teenagers - the sort that reduce their complexity to 'feral thugs who live on advertising jingles and drugs'.

So you can imagine my urge to say I TOLD YEW SO when Newsweek declared that teen writing is the 'one bright spot' in a flat children's publishing market.
Contrary to the depressing proclamations that American teens aren't reading, the surprising truth is they are reading novels in unprecedented numbers. Young-adult fiction (ages 12-18) is enjoying a bona fide boom with sales up more than 25 percent in the past few years, according to a Children's Book Council sales survey. Virtually every major publishing house now has a teen imprint, many bookstores and libraries have created teen reading groups and an infusion of talented new authors has energized the genre.
Libraries and booksellers are taking teenage books out of the kiddy section and putting them in their own spaces.

YA Author (and executive editorial director of Scholastic Inc) David Leviathan goes so far as to call it a 'second golden age'. This, he says, is the "most exciting time for young-adult literature since the late 1960s and 1970s when 'The Chocolate War' [by Robert Cormier] and 'Forever' [by Judy Blume] were published."


Leviathan and others point to the increased sophistication and emotional maturity of teenagers as well as the fact that:
... young-adult books are simply better and more diverse than ever, and readers are responding.
I guess it's a double edged sword.

On the one hand, the books are better, the kids are reading more. On the other hand, kids are turning to books partly to escape the fact that contemporary teenage life is more challenging and more stressful.

What can we do?

Write better. Write well. They so deserve it.

(Important Question: Will the good news trickle across the Atlantic to the UK?)

Thanks to Achockablog for the heads-up.

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