Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Impotence of Proofreading

Kathleen Duey posted this on her Facebook and I almost died laughing.


Sunday, 10 August 2008

Publication: No Immunity to Disappointment

I've become a real fan of Radio 4's wonderful obituaries programme, Last Word. The obituary page has always been a good place to discover undiscovered writers - it is where many a journalist has a chance to show off writing style that is otherwise blunted by dry and dusty news reporting.

Ground-breaking writers like Gay Talese (inventor of New Journalism) cut their teeth on obituaries.

Anyway. I've been away on holiday and the news of Pauline Baines' death on 1 August finally reached me via the Last Word programme (listen to the programme 8 August 2008, the item is in the last quarter of the broadcast).

Like everyone else, I had assumed that Pauline Baynes, who illustrated the books of both Tolkien' and C.S. Lewis, had long ago passed away.

Authors and illustrators alike will enjoy this blog tribute from her friend Brian Sibley (author of Shadowlands: the True Story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidson) which is full of wonderful anecdote about Baynes and the exclusive circle to which she was privy:
"Met C S Lewis. Came home. Made rock cakes." That's how Pauline's diary recorded one of the two meetings she had with the author who's work she so memorably embellished. It tells you exactly how she viewed her contribution to books that, for millions, of us were seminal childhood reading.
Brian Sibley was also interviewed for the Last Word piece and captures the importance of Baynes to the C.S. Lewis canon:
He (C.S. Lewis) often said that The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe had begun as pictures in his mind ... an image of a faun with an umbrella in a snowy wood, carrying a pile of parcels. Which is why when I look at The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe now, I see that image that CS Lewis must have seen in his head, but of course what I'm actually seeing is the interpretation of it by Pauline Baynes.
However, in this business we're in, producing iconic work does not guarantee immunity from rejection. Her friend, novelist Charlotte Cory, recalls:
She laughed a lot about the fact that every day in the post she got letters from aspiring young illustrators asking her for help when she also got letters rejecting her work from publishers.
Repeat after me ... it's not the arriving, it's the travelling that counts ...

Having said that, author Tom Bullough's story in yesterday's FT Weekend was heartbreaking to the extreme.

I wrote a piece last March about the author who got the agent, got the publisher, got the first book of the trilogy out ... then got dumped. Well, Tom Bullough, got the book deal (The Claude Glass is the story of a friendship between two children from very different backgrounds) then got on the shortlist for the Wales Book of the Year Award, was announced as the winner, was about to step onto the stage ... when the compere suddenly said it was all a mistake.
I set off towards the stage, a TV camera following me. I got to the foot of the stage, but there seemed to be some sort of strange hesitancy. I think I even said something like, “Do you want me to come up there or what?” Thomas then said he’d made a mistake. I hadn’t won.

I must have frozen for a couple of seconds. I’d gone from euphoria to absolute heartbreak.
Tom fears that he will be remembered for the awards fiasco and not for the book which he spent four years writing. This must have been soul destroying. I am sure all of us who continue to live with rejection sympathise with Tom - this book, good enough to be published, quality enough to enter the shortlist of three, deserves better.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Here's a New Idea: Sell Shares in Your Novel

I had never heard of the author Tao Lin before but he has managed to paste himself onto my radar screen and I might just buy one of his books as a result.

Tao Lin Eeeee Eee Eeeeeis offering shares in his second novel-in-progress.
Investors can pay $2,000 (£1,000) in return for a 10 per cent share of the royalties of Tao Lin’s as-yet-unfinished second novel.
The Freakonomics blog dubbed Tao Lin a "rogue author" but sounded pretty positive about the idea:
Not only will the scheme defray his financial risk if the book does poorly, but Lin hopes that shareholders will promote his book out of self-interest.
In fact, when I checked Tao Lin's blog, there was only one share left and a waiting list!

The header on Tao Lin's blog (interestingly titled 'Reader of Depressing Books') links directly to his Wikipedia entry which informs us that he has been publishing poetry collections and e-books since 2006, several of which have titles all in lower case like this emotion was a little e-book and you are a little bit happier than i am.

Why would you want to buy shares? Tao Lin writes:
People who buy shares will also have more meaning in life if they already like and promote my writing, because they can promote my writing and also be making money for themselves, which can be exchanged for "goods" in concrete reality; therefore existential despair due to "having to do what you normally wouldn't be doing if you had a lot of money" can be relieved to some extent. Also it will be "funny" and "interesting" "for everyone" probably if people buy shares. You can call yourself a "producer" of my second novel if you want to do that. This is like a grant or something except it's like the stock market or something. You will be a stockholder in "Tao Lin's Second Novel's U.S. Royalties Corporation." "As people resell their shares the price of each share will go up or down, you will see this conveyed on MSNBC as a number going by on the bottom of the TV screen."
Tao Lin assures the reader that he can be trusted, citing his ebay rating and promising to buy back shares from anyone who is not satisfied - AND that suicide is unlikely, at least for the next five to ten years so investors should be confident he is serious about making his novel work.
I "can be trusted," look at my eBay rating. I will create contracts and have them notarized. You can have my phone number, address, etc., I promise I will not kill myself within 5-10 years. Really I don't think "trust" is an issue, I feel like people can trust me.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

When Reality Suffers in Translation, Try Fantasy

Sweating profusely in the tube the other day, I reached for a copy of the Metro freesheet to use as a fan. An interview with poet Bernardine Evaristo caught my eye. Her debut prose novel Blonde Roots has only just come out. Bernardine uses reversal similar to that employed by my hero Malorie Blackman in Noughts and Crosses. Says Bernardine:
I wanted people to look at the slave trade differently and the reversal was the vehicle for me to do that ... I wondered whether if I turned the slave/master roles around, people would have a different response to the issues ... Read the interview here
The white heroine is a farm girl taken away to be a slave in 'Aphrika'. The cover is very striking and it would be interesting to see how Evaristo builds her world. The Noughts and Crosses franchise is on its fourth book - Double Cross is out in November.

My fascination is partly out of self-interest - last year I started a novel based around some reporting I'd done on children left behind by the migration phenomenon in the Philippines.

The writing was bogged down by the weight and complexity of the reality I was trying to paint and I found myself turning to fantasy. The result was Ugly City, a 9+ novel about a city where parents have to leave and children stay behind.

If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever write a fantasy, I would have said of course not (I haven't even read Lord of the Rings, shock, horror!). But fantasy lends itself to turning unpalatable truths into roaring drama and with the layers pared away, I gained a lot of insight into the immigration situation I was trying to reflect on.

My friend Elizabeth emailed me this Rant-Not-To-Be-Missed by Mark Hurst over at the Good Experience blog. Here are the first two bullet points about "how most - not all - publishers work":

They're not doing it for the love of books. Publishers want something that sells. Similarly, bookstores want something that sells. Publishers and bookstores want a book that sells early, sells often, and sells for a long, long time. If they don't think your book will sell, they won't pay much attention.

• Conversely, if your book will sell, it doesn't matter what you're writing about. You could write something boring, or irrelevant, or nothing at all - just a blank set of pages with a coffee stain on them will work fine, if the book sells. Do you get the picture? It's not about any high-minded ideals of literature, or craft, or changing the world - publishers and bookstores want something that sells. Drop any illusions about spending time with book lovers; this is business.

Read Secrets of Book Publishing I Wish I'd Known

For the record, I am told that it is not really that bad ... but not far off.

Being a rabid member of SCBWI, I'd just like to take this opportunity to point out to members that SCBWI's annual summer conference is now ongoing in Los Angeles. If you want to follow events, Alice Pope, editor of the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, is blogging extensively about it. Thanks, Alice!


I met Mark Robson, uber prolific author of YA fantasy series like Imperial Spy and Dragon Orb, when I appeared before the Scattered Authors Society to tell them the Internet doesn't bite.

Mark was one of the authors who didn't really need my advice, since he already had an excellent website, blogged regularly and spent a lot of time meeting readers at bookstore events. He emailed me today to let me know he'd invested in a game on his website and do I know any youngsters who would like to check it out.

Youngsters (and Oldsters if you so feel the need)! Go slay some dragons! Here's the link to Mark's game page, see how you do.

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