Friday, 30 April 2010

I Would Love to Be a Writer But I Have a Proper Job

We've all met this guy.

Video By Caroline Rance, author of Kill Grief ... and be of good cheer, from the reviews on the website it sounds like she's sold more than a hundred books!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The London Book Fair Day Two: on the Subject of Black and Red and White Book Covers ...

Here's the thing:
Of course, this was one of the burning questions at the book cover panel at the London Book Fair. Why do these books want to look alike?

When the audience posed this question, Antonia Pelari, rights director of Scholastic, did not hesitate:
As a publisher you would be mad not to put a book out there with a black and red cover. We did do a black, red and white cover (Shiver) and we did do very well.
Antonia pointed towards market research in which they asked book buyers what influenced their purchase of a book. Was it a review? A poster? A blog? Inevitably the answer was: "I saw it in a bookshop".

But what about all those books for teenagers with headless girls? If covers are supposed to help a book stand out, why make them all look alike? In 2008 I blogged about the trend for headless girls. Here is a sampling of covers (by some mighty fine authors, I might add) that suffer from display the headless syndrome:

Patrick Insole, art director for Walker Books, replied:
In the UK, we are genre-led. I've been responsible for a few closely cropped heads myself. Publishers want to do whatever the publishing conventions in the genre are at the time ... From (the point of view of the publisher) there is a demand for it. When booksellers (tell us), yes it’s just like the one that sold lots and lots of copies. Could (your cover) be a bit more like that one?
But the product doesn't stand out ... why can't publishers try to be different? To this, Insole said ruefully, "It's scary!"
It depends on the willingness of the bookseller to take a chance on a new look. It’s quite hard to take a risk like (designing) a cover that's not like anything in its genre. You might do if you’re bold enough and you put enough effort into the marketing. (But) all too often you try someting different and it just vanishes. Then you have to rejacket it to look like everything else.
Adds Antonia:
We do take risks sometimes. But risks cost. So you have to be very sure of what you are doing.

The London Book Fair Day Two: It's the UK against the world in book cover design

The talk was meant to be about international perspectives on cover design - there were to be two British publishers — Patrick Insole from Walker Books and Jon Lambert from Templar — and Christine Baker from the French publisher, Gallimard Jeunnesse.

But we lost the French publisher due to the transportation chaos - Antonia Pelari, rights director of Scholastic stepped in at the last minute.

Patrick, Antonia and Jon

Despite the exotic sound to her name, Antonia is as British as the other two speakers making the 'international panel' thoroughly UK led. But I thought the resulting event - though not what it said on the tin - was revelatory about the UK market. Illustrator John Shelley blogged very perceptively about it today.

Jon of Templar showed the evolution of this Eragon cover with the author Christopher Paolini very much hands on - changing the key image up to the last minute. But this is an aberration rather than the rule. The author may be consulted but the opinion that counts the most would be "the client". Who's the client? The bookseller.

Patrick of Walker showed the evolution of international covers for The Savage by David Almond and illustrated by Dave McKean. Candlewick, the American arm of Walker, felt that the original cover (on the right) was too "brutal". So McKean came up with the cover on the left which is the US cover.

It just goes to show that violence is in the eye of the beholder.

Here's the French cover - very chic. Said Patrick, "Even though internationally the covers (of The Savage) look different, there’s a family likeness to all the books."

"Sometimes when authors see the covers of their foreign editions, they are a bit taken aback," Antonia said, because the international interpretation may be so far from their own. "What they need to realize is that those international publishers create a cover that will work within their market and nobody knows that market better than they do."

Antonia showed these covers of Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve and illustrated by David Frankland.

On the left is the UK cover by David Frankland and on the right is the Dutch cover. Indeed this Dutch edition didn't do well. The rights have now reverted and been picked up and the cover on the left is now what bookstores are stocking in the Netherlands. "They don't always get it right," Antonia said.

With the British book market contracting slightly in the downturn, overseas sales have become so important to UK publishers that appealing to all markets has become very, very important.

The problem for picture book illustration in the UK of course, as pointed out by Sunday Times critic Nicolette Jones, who hosted the panel, is that we might end up in a "generic place".

She cited as an example picture book illustrations which show cars with the steering wheel in the middle. "We could end up with a generic picture book land where things look a particular way and not at all like real life."

All this talk of covers made me wonder if my own book TALL STORY (out in May ...  pre-order here - I am not ashamed to beg but please don't make me do it too often) could jump through all the hoops mentioned by our panel. So here are some things that were said and how my cover stands up to them.
It is incredibly hard to make children not look sinister and disturbing. 
Hmm. The child on my cover is eight feet tall. But he doesn't look too sinister.
Tall Story Cover
Illustration David Dean. Cover design Alison Godsby
A luxury space like the Barns and Noble in New York (would have room to display your book cover). But the majority of bookstores cram them in – a lead title might be face out but everything else will be spine. 
Tall Story spine:
Yay! I love that the girl with the basketball points toward the cover as if saying, "Check out this book!"
For the sake of the international market, we avoid putting things on the cover that might be too specific - like a big red double decker bus.
Tall Story back cover

It's all not necessarily so of course, the panel said. There are really no rules although it might seem like it.

Getting the cover right is - like everything in the book business - all about balancing risk with doing the best you can - Jon Lambert summed it up beautifully:
What we are trying to sell people is a common goal not to exclude anyone from reading a great book. 
An aside about the cover of Tall Story: I LOVE it --  it's so ... 3D! It's so full of story, whether you're looking at the flaps, the spine, the back or the front. And I especially LOVE the big red double decker bus. I'm sure the Philippine Department of Tourism loves it too! Thanks, David and Alison! You rock!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The London Book Fair Day Three: Eoin Colfer

My photos of Eoin Colfer at the event

No amount of note-taking can capture Eoin Colfer in good form. So I shot a video (you can hear me laughing in the background)!

"If you're feeling really down on yourself go to a website that hates you. There is one for all of us." On writing the sequel to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:

"Irish men mostly communicate through headlocks and casual violence"

How to bug your kids and why I am not a comedian:

The Artemis Fowl books are the first to go on the iPad. "You're not going to stop technology so you've got to embrace it."

The London Book Fair Day Two: Guerrilla Authors Storm Empty Stall

The headlines at the London Book Fair on day two. Sad.

The empty stalls were heartbreaking. These were at the pavilion for South Africa, the country chosen for this year's market focus.
On the first day of the fair, Noisy Dog author Sue Eves and I sat in one of the stalls and played stallholder.

Sue Eves

On the second day of the fair, Anne Rooney and Lucy Coats (probably the most prolific authors on Facebook)  went one up and actually took over one of the stalls!

They even managed a volcano theme - Anne having conveniently written a few books about volcanoes!

They called it 'Volcano Squatting'!

A bunch of us piled in enthusiastically and added our stuff to the stall.

Books by Anne Rooney.

Books by Tabitha Suzuma.

Thank goodness I happened to have flyers for my book TALL STORY (out on May 27, pre-order now, now, now, now ... and you can visit my website and you can visit my other blog here). (Apologies for the desperate outburst. I'm a debut author)

Tabitha just happened to have a freshly pressed copy of her new book (not yet in the bookstores) Forbidden. So of course, she had to do a guerrilla book signing - probably the first in the world!
She sat! She signed! She fled!
Guerrilla paparazzi!

Unfortunately by the time we took these photos, Anne Rooney was off to a lugubrious lunch with her agent, but really (in case you LBF authorities are wondering) the whole thing was all her fault inspired by her!

The good the bad and the writerly: Lucy Coats, Kathryn Evans, Candy Gourlay, Tabitha Suzuma. Also guilty involved but not in picture Anne Rooney, Sue Eves, Terry Teri and Jackie Marchant

Now just in case you are suddenly taken with a burning desire to become fans - here are some blog links and Facebook fan pages (listed according to guilt):

Anne Rooney's blog Stroppy Author
Lucy Coats's Scribble City Central blog and Facebook page
Candy Gourlay's Tall Story Facebook page
Tabitha Suzuma's Forbidden Facebook page
Sue Eves's Noisy Dog blog

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The London Book Fair Day One: the Roald Dahl Funny Prize discussion

Philip Ardagh (the tall one) with Alison Green (the other one)

Philip Ardagh, author of Grubtown Tales, says he is incapable of going through a day without finding something funny.

Which is just as well because he is the winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize for 2009,  a prize founded by former Children's laureate Michael Rosen as part of his campaign to put the fun back into reading.
"I have sat on judging panels before and what happens is that the funny books get squeezed out, because somehow or other they don't tackle big issues in the proper way ... They'll get through to the last four or five books, and then historical fiction, or something about death or slavery or new technology will win out. I think it's a great shame, because actually when I think about the books I remember from childhood they are the funny books." Read Guardian piece
The LBF panel was intended to discuss the value of the prize and it's impact on children's publishing but almost descended into a beautiful beard competition between Ardagh, also known as 'Beardy', and illustrator Chris Riddel, who sported an elegantly trimmed two tone stubble.

John O'Farrell  (comedy writer and author of May Contain Nuts and I Have a Bream) opened the proceedings by apologizing for the non-appearance of some panellists due to the UK flight ban. Luckily,  Barack Obama (ha ha) was swiftly replaced by the educator Prue Goodwin of the University of Reading.

Also on the panel was Alison Green (Scholastic's Alison Green Books), now stalked by picture book writers all over the UK after she edited the wildly successful The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.

Surprisingly, despite being the author of books with titles like Stinking Rich and Just Plain Stinky, Ardagh claimed he wasn't a fan of "willy-bum-poo humour" and "unrequited wax - "about earwax and ghastly things like that". He did however wax lyrical about beards, citing Roald Dahl nominee Anne Fine's Eating Things on Sticks which featured a Best Beard on the Island Competition.

"Although there is some poo in certain books I publish we keep it to a minimum," Alison Green responded. She then showed a slide from one of her most popular books Ellyphant Wellyphant by Nick Sharratt, nominated in 2008, in which pulling the elephant's tale released a fart. Although the book utilized many gags, it's the tail-fart gag that has been shown to have the most appeal.

Asked what the difference was between adult books and children's books, Chris Riddell answered, "The big difference between adult and children’s authors  is that adult authors are scary and children’s authors are approachable and beat me in beard competitions."

Audiences expect different things of children's authors though ... especially funny children's authors. At one of Philip Ardagh's publicappearances, organizers decided to hire a clown. "If I were PD James, would they bring out a corpse?" he said.

The Roald Dahl prize came about because it was felt that funny books often didn't make it to the cut in the big book prizes. Says Prue Goodwin, "We tend to imagine that a sense of humour is trivial in our lives – and yet it is a far deeper aspect of what we think and of our personalities."

Prue Goodwin

And yet the popularity of funny books - and their authors - cannot be doubted. Chris Riddell recounts the story of being asked to stand in for Louise Rennison (Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging) at his daughter's school. He invited his co-author in The Edge Chronicles Paul Stewart to appear alongside him.
There we were two middle aged men. We said "What you don’t realize is that Louise Rennison is a pseudonym " – and the row of excited faces fell.
 The Roald Dahl Prize raises the profile of funny books. Says Philip Ardagh: "It does get people thnking about humour and books"

The Funny Prize is named after much loved author Roald Dahl whose funny books never won a prize, possibly, as Ardagh puts it, because it was "not about harrowing and beautiful autistic child soldiers in Angola."

The London Book Fair Day One: the book is dead long live the book!

It's eerily quiet at the London Book Fair this year.

The LBF opens - last year this was a melee of elbows and publishers with heavy suitcases on wheels

The volcanic eruption in Iceland has resulted in a total ban on flights in and out of the UK. Even Tony Blair failed to turn up for his Random House appearance to discuss his memoirs.

 Everywhere there were empty stalls.

I was so sad to see all the empty stalls. At some stalls they had slotted boxes with this message:

Click on the image to enlarge if your eyes can't cope with the small size

There were so many stalls that at one point Noisy Dog author Sue Eves and I played LBF stallholder - setting up shop in one of the empty stalls.
Sue playing stallholder - check out our samples on the shelf in the background

Well. Not for long. We were just resting our aching feet.

But it was exciting too - this year, the buzz at the London Book Fair had to do with the promise of digital.

In fact the first seminar to do with children's books was a Booktrust sponsored panel titled Children's Bookfuture: Children's Literature and Digital Imagination.

It was a sign of how much things have moved on in the publishing world that the event began with Twitterers synchronizing hashes - Kate Wilson, managing director of Nosy Crow, the new, extremely right-on children's publisher, tried to encourage tweeters to use #LBFK (LBF for Kids) as well as #LBFDC (LBF Digital Conference). What a contrast from last year's LBF when, at a talk about online marketing, very few people knew what Twitter was all about!

I arrived at the book fair all set to do some fancy tweeting. But alas, I was one of the dinosaurs. I discovered I could not tweet fast enough AND take notes for the blog at the same time. I left the tweeting to Sue, who managed very well indeed!

The panel featured Amanda Wood (pictured left), managing director of Templar known for its all-squeaking, all-dancing, interactive books without a screen in sight. She said Templar's experience in novelty books made it easier for them to look at digital opportunities.
"The thinking is essentially the same ... is there a real purpose for the end user in that gimmick? Is it just a gimmick? Or can you give it some real worth? ... what’s the point in taking an existing book and squashing something into an iPhone? We have to protect the value of books because we are publishers."
On the other end of the panel was Neal Hoskins of Winged Chariot Press, the first publishers to put a picture book app on the iphone.
"It’s always going to be about the pictures and the stories ... and that was a real focus for us in our work ... not to cover them with interface –  buttons,  instructions –  but to really let the story and the pictures shine through."
Neal Hoskins of Winged Chariot demonstrating a picture book iPad app that they are due to launch at the fair. And yes, there was a ripple of excitement when he pulled the iPad out.

Author Naomi Alderman (her second book The Lessons is just out and is Radio 4's Book at Bedtime)  - not a children's book writer but a digital writer for such as games was there to envision how narrative for digital forms would have to change. With digital creator Jey Biddulph. Naomi wrote The Winter  House - an online novel with digital enhancements funded by Booktrust. She described the process as having to do with a bit of crafting story around what the technology could do (I'd love to do it!)

Nosy Crow's Kate Wilson asked the final question:
"Is there a place for publishers between the author and the reader?"
And the consensus was - the traditional publishing novel is on the brink of a revolution due to digital pressures. But one thing is for sure, though the book as object may be under threat, the book as story is alive and well.

So here's what I took away from the panel for my fellow authors: you have nothing to fear — our profession ain't dead yet. It's just that the message we craft will soon be using other mediums (media?).

As panel chair Chris Meade of The Future of the Book (which calls itself the "think and do tank for reading") said:
We spend so much time promoting the book on the page, on the paper and undervaluing the experience... The book is what happens inside you. The book is just the souvenir of that visit.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Tweeting from the London Book Fair: Day One

What is it about book fairs and fate? When I went to the Bologna Book Fair, an airline strike threatened publisher flights. Now it's the London Book Fair ... and Iceland has erupted!

I am tweeting from the London Book Fair from Monday 19 April until Wednesday 21 April.

I'm not totally sold on Twitter and this is an experiment on its usefulness - last year, there was so much happening that I found myself wishing I had set up a facility by which I could tweet as things moved along.

This year, I am making a big effort. (It's an experiment - I hope it works)

So ... watch the twitter feed on the right which I've set up purposely for the London Book Fair!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Alice in Wonderland iPad app: the future?

Saw it on Nathan Bransford's blog

It's so cool ... but does anyone remember the excitement of the first CD Rom with all its hyperlinks and clicks and noise?

This is way cooler - but will it work with an audience as hip and desensitized to techno-dazzle? And what about READING?

Questions, questions, questions.

Someone commenting on the video said, "The Bible needs a version of this!" Now that I wanna see!

Can't wait to see the new digi-technologies for publishing at the London Book Fair - I'll be tweeting live to the blog btw - connected my mobile to Twitter, but only for this purpose.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Formulaic Trailer 101

I am currently working on my book trailer with (it just so happens) my brother who is a motion graphics person and a director (useful).

The trailer is going to be less than two minutes (possibley less than one) and already I've learned huge amount about reveals and sound and visual impact ... which I will share with you when we're done.

Meanwhile, I saw this hilarious take on the indisputably formulaic nature of trailers on Sarah McIntyre's twitter feed!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

My Not Quite Bologna Fair Report: meeting friends old and new

This (Ryanair's bag scales) is where it all began.

I only went to Bologna because I got a cheap ticket from Ryanair - the reason it was cheap because the return ticket left on the morning of the Bologna Fair's first day.So no fair for me. (Check out illustrator John Shelley's blog post about the Bologna fair)

But I figured the one day SCBWI Symposium was worth the trip.

Publishers of course tend to be too posh to fly Ryanair, except there was a BA strike so they were forced to travel with commoners like me or take long, long train journeys from other parts of Europe. So on the morning of my flight, Ryanair had a field day, stopping editors and publishers trying to sneak books by the ton into their cabin baggage.

Bologna Airport is one of the easiest airports to arrive in. You land, you get your bag, walk out the door, turn right and get on the bus. The bus takes you into the centre of town for ten euros. Sometimes the bus driver forgets to collect your fare. Just saying.

Last year, at the SCBWI conference in Winchester, author Meg Rossoff said once she got published, it became clear to her that she seemed to have a strange power. Everyone she met in the publishing world got pregnant. A warning to all. Indeed, waiting in the queue for baggage, I could hear small groups of publishers chatting away. Their topic? Pregnancy and maternity leave. I looked around but there was no sign of Meg.

I stayed at the I Portici hotel which had a minimalist bed ...

And a not so minimimalist shower.

It didn't beam me anywhere but one of the nozzles did fall off, mid flow.

This trip to Bologna was all by my lonesome. But Bologna is the land of serendipity.

Totally by chance, my friend Susan (above), who I first met at a previous conference 
in Bologna was one door away.

We wandered joyfully around Bologna together.

Then, another bit of serendipity.

I texted Canadian author Jan Markley to meet me at Neptune's statue at half past six. 

The rather shapely figure of Neptune cast 
an attractive shadow at the Piazza Maggiore.

I met Jan the week before in London at the Royal Festival Hall. Except Jan went to the Royal Albert Hall by mistake. So you can imagine, I wasn't hopeful. But at 6.30 sharp, there she was!
Jan Markley

Except she never got my text message. 

It was just that special Bologna vibe, pulling people together everywhere!

It was great to see SCBWI friends who I usually only see at international events.

(based in France, Taiwan, Germany, respectively)

Linda Lodding (congrats on the book contract!), manning the brag table where SCBWI members can show their latest work

Laura Watkinson at the SCBWI Netherlands showcase. Photo by Angela Cerrito

Children's book historian and critic Leonard Marcus,
Erzsi Deak, John Shelley at the Egmont party. Photo by Elizabeth Law 

Here's a close up of the brag table at the conference (I put my book Tall Story in the foreground!)

This is the little display about British SCBWI's Undiscovered Voices
competition including a photo of this year's winners. 

The display highlighted the books that have emerged out of the UV competition.

Later at the SCBWI party, I met SCBWI Queensland RA Peter Taylor, Rhiannon Lassiter (Bad Blood) and Mary Hoffman (Stravaganza series). Thanks to John Shelley for the pic.

John Shelley manned the British SCBWI showcase
And here's are shots of the display for all who sent their stuff.

Hooray for us!

More on the symposium soon (ish)!

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