Saturday, 28 February 2009

... And now here's Neil Gaiman

These are the best of times and the worst of times.

Continuing on the bitter theme of how authors have to become stand up comics, film makers, actors, performers, self publicists etc etc.

And yet if times were not like these, would we have wonderful videos like this one just released by Neil Gaiman?

If you can't see the video, watch it here

Think what a writer could do with the help of a friendly artist ... and an animator.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

My advice to authors in these hard times: don't go wide, GO DEEP

One quick check of my blog reader before I go to Costa Coffee to avoid Facebook and I find this link to a nice piece about how the recession is going to make it even tougher to sell books.

The author Novella Carpenter is in nail-biting mode, awaiting the release of her book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer in June 2009.
Holiday book sales were abysmal, and most of the major publishing houses have announced job losses in recent months. One publishing behemoth, HarperCollins, lost 75 percent of its operating income during the first six months of 2008. Over all, the publishing industry has struggled as bookstore sales -- and the economy -- have slowed drastically.
My agent told me the other day that things were not as bad as that yet in the UK, but what's going to stop me being miserable anyway?

The point of Carpenter's article is that authors will just have to work that much harder to promote their books (though we can't all be as good at it as John Green). One editor told her:
"The best advice for today, and really in any financial climate, is to be fanatical and motivated to promote your book ... Do as many events as possible. Become a shameless self-promoter."
Note: Carpenter in fact forgot to mention the title of her book in the article. I had to check out her website. And when I checked out her website, her upcoming book wasn't even promoted on the front page. When you clicked on Publications, the book was listed but there was no link to any promotional page or synopsis whatsoever (and the listing on Amazon doesn't tell us anything either). She's obviously a nice person who ain't shameless. I think we should all pre-order her book.

A writer friend asked me yesterday if she should Twitter as well as Facebook to get her name out there.

I found myself giving the same advice I offered to a client for whom I designed a website.

The client wanted to know if they were doing enough to get their site listed by search engines. Someone had told her she should stick a long list of key words into her code to make sure her site could be found.

My advice: when you are trying to market yourself, don't go wide, go deep.

If you are a children's author writing about aliens, you don't want someone searching for "book" to find you. You want someone searching for "children's book about aliens". It's the quality of the traffic that counts, not the number. You don't want to be found by just anyone. You want people who are actually likely to reach into their wallets.

If you are trying to use social networking sites to raise your profile, sure, set up an account with Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and what have you. But it's better to have one social network that really works for you than half a dozen that don't. It's the quality of the network, not the quantity (ie. You don't want to friend 3,000 people who will never buy your book) ...

The caveat is that social networking is not just about marketing. And if you'd like to have a go at Twitter, or blogging, or other kinds of social networking , don't let me stop you. But do it because you want to have some fun not just because you're looking for a database to market to.

And of course, we must not forget, as one bookseller reminded Carpenter in the article: "the most important thing is to write an awesome book. That's the biggest hurdle. Just write an awesome book."


Last night I watched Millions again, the story by Frank Cottrell Boyce about a boy who finds a millions of pounds in a holdall by a railway. I had forgotten that it was directed by Danny Boyle, pre-Slumdog. Later, I read this interview of Boyle talking about what sold the script to him —
Basically, page seven where the kid first uses the excuse of his mum's death to gain an advantage - it's a killer moment. You'd think you would examine scripts and weigh them up, but you don't in fact. You read the American ones and they're good and very impressive, but basically when you have a giddy moment like that in a script, that's it.
— it's the scene where the boys tell a shopkeeper, "Me mam's dead" and the shopkeeper immediately hands over some free sweets.

Made me think of rejections. Have you ever received a rejection from an editor or an agent with the words "I liked your book. But I don't love it."

That means your killer moment didn't slay them enough.

Today I resolve to make my killer scene more killer than it is.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Oh how can we measure up to John Green?

So, if you are an author/soon-to-be author worried about the fact that authors now have to be not only writers but speakers, entertainers, web designers, educators, video editors, voice talents, marketers, etc etc etc and etc ... look away now because this is John Green's latest vlog (as in video blog) and it's relevant, funny, intelligent, touching (and he even manages to quote some ee cummings) and oh how are we to measure up?

If you can't see the video, view it here.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Treasure from Manila: Pieces of Me

MANILA -- On the flight to Manila to visit my mother, I read Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (thanks to Daoud for lending it to me), and it was just as dazzling as one critic described it. A blurb from the Observer said:
“Mister Pip is the first of Jones’ six novels to have travelled from his native New Zealand to the UK. It is so hoped that it won’t be the last.”
Discovering that there are more novels by an author you've just fallen in love with is like winning the bonus question in a game show. How wonderful that Lloyd Jones has more treasure for me to uncover ... IF of course UK publishers deign to bring them over.

I went to Bologna last year to attend the SCBWI Conference that precedes the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. I was stunned by the number of book stores, stuffed with books in Italian. Books I will never read unless I find a way to become proficient in the language.

Makes you think, what a disadvantage it is to have just one tongue and access to just one canon of publishing. All those books waiting to be read out there ...

I count myself lucky to have access to an ‘other’ world of books in my native Philippines –although bookselling sensibilities here definitely deserve the description ‘Developing’ in Developing World.

Charging around Manila visiting bookstores, I was at first disheartened by the thick wallpaper of Stephenie Meyer at shop entrances, the thicket of American titles in front and a puny selection of Filipino books hidden away in a corner. At several shops, I was escorted to the Filipino book section by staff who seemed bemused that anyone should be interested in local writing.

But at one book store, I was excited to find Filipino authors mixed in with Western authors, instead of hidden away in a dusty exotic corner. The display tables that other bookstores reserved for Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling were given over to picture books that starred water buffalos and monkeys instead of fluffy bunnies and red-breasted robins, there were Filipino thrillers and romance novels, and even children’s historical fiction. Bravo, Power Books.

Here is some of the treasure I’ve amassed from trawling the bookstores:

Tiger on the Wall by Annette Flores Garcia, illustrated by Joanne de Leon
Very Good Carabao by Rosario Calma and illustrated by Liza Flores.

I must have read these books a hundred times to my three year old nephew. These are published by the pioneering children's book publisher Adarna Books (someday I hope to become one of their authors!).

The graphic novel scene in Manila is exciting, with ranks of local graphic novels on display everywhere. I picked Martial Law Babies by Arnold Arre - because I was a child during the Martial Law years in the Philippines.

I was so excited to find young fiction by Carla M. Pacis - a middle grade chapter book Owl Friends that described the friendship between two refugees of the Pinatubo volcanic eruption, a tribal boy and a little girl. Enrique El Negro imagines the story of a Filipino boy named Enrique who is recorded by Pigafetta to have travelled with Magellan as a translator before Magellan's death in the Philippines in 1521.

Owl Friends, Illustrations by Yasmin S. Ong
Enrique El Negro, Illustrations by Mel Silvestre

I also found this beautifully designed book about the use of fruits and vegetables in folk medicine - it will be a treasure trove of research for my novels which always have Philippine folk elements.

Medicinal Fruits and Vegetables
by Jaime Z. Galvez Tan and Rebecca Marana-Galvez Tan

And then there was this fantastic fact book about the Aswang, a Filipino vampire monster - another great character to add to my bestiary. The Aswang Inquiry based on a report by Frank Lynch, retold and illustrated by Gilda Cordero-Fernando, one of my favourite Filipino authors. I also acquired collections of Filipino folk stories and legends, books on superstitions, DVDs of classic Filipino movies - all in the name of research ... and fun.

I stocked up on books by Jose Y Dalisay - a fabulous writer who really ought to be writing more short stories intead of newspaper columns. I am at the moment reading Killing Time in a Warm Place and it's brilliant.

In Mister Pip, a girl in Papua New Guinea is read the story of Pip from Great Expectations by her English school teacher:
Mister Watts had given us another piece of the world. I found I could go back to it as often as I liked. Not that I thought of what we were hearing as a story. No. I was hearing someone give an account of themselves
Bringing these books back from the Philippines is just like bringing back pieces of me that I had left behind long ago.

Ten simple pleasures on my visit to Manila

MANILA -- On Facebook, I keep getting invitations to create lists – 25 random thoughts, seven things about me, 10 unusual facts I know etc.

Well here’s a list. And all my online friends can breathe a sigh of relief ... I’m not tagging anyone to do the same.

Watching London engulfed in snow on TV, with the electric fan on full blast.

Drops of water on palm leaves after a tropical rainshower.

The Indonesian print on my mother’s pyjamas.

Seeing this lovely painting of Remedios Circle, a place near the flat where I used to live. It’s become quite rundown now, and I’m glad there’s a memory of its better days here.

Going to a good bookstore. Power Books in SM Megamall.

Stumbling upon an empty restaurant with a piano, late at night, while in the company of musician friends

Having my family go bananas playing bananagrams.

Watching my niece play volleyball for my university.

Enjoying the way Filipinos find their use of English so hilarious. Without Further Adieu illustrated by Elbert Or, published by Tahanan Books

... and PURPLE plants!

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