Saturday, 4 April 2015

How We Live Now

By Candy Gourlay

Last week, my friend Nick Cross waxed nostalgic over on the SCBWI Blog Network, looking up the early days of long time bloggers like me.

It was fun checking out those early versions of ourselves that we presented to the outside world. For example: Sarah McIntyre, then an art student, posted just four times in May 2004 with brief captions like this:

Today, of course, Sarah is a multi-published rockstar of the children's book world, famous for her almost daily blogging.

Nick's article also linked to the Notes from the Slushpile's very, very first month in existence.

I blogged FIVE times! Reading again those pieces I wrote as a rather desperate to be published newbie in November 2004, I was struck by how much the publishing landscape has changed.


In What JK Rowling did (and didn't do) for us, I wrote:

Aspiring writers who think JK Rowling has opened the doors of the children’s book world to the big league should take a cold shower. The blip in children’s book sales is totally Harry Potter’s fault

I was quoting the late Rosemary Canter, literary agent. Rosemary said until 1997, children's books was a 'backwater' - and 'now our tiny world has been shaken awake' by the success of JK Rowling, suddenly the industry was seeing bank notes between the pages of children books.

Canter warned us that the rise in book sales were all down to Harry Potter - but she also predicted that attitudes towards children's books would change (for the better) and that authors were going to command higher advances.

In the years after Canter's speech, the high advances did come true, and several other books climbed similar heights. But every boom comes with its bust. Well the bust happened to the economy.

Confidence became shakier and advances shrank. There are many woeful anecdotes of third books in trilogies left unpublished, authors dropped when book's sales disappointed, and publishers pouring all their marketing spend on the sure things rather than on untested authors.

Now that the economy is on the up again, who knows what is coming next.

Perhaps we children's book people need someone to write another hit novel so that we can all benefit from the resultant rise in publishing confidence and advances.

(In case you're a total newbie like I was 10 years ago, here's a great article by Nosy Crow about how authors are paid)


One of the pieces I posted was a bullet point list of tips from Anne Fine (soon after she completed her 2001 to 2003 reign as Children's Laureate) Anne Fine on Writing. Reading them again -- tips like

Never show your work to a family member.

-- I suddenly remembered something Anne said that I didn't include in the piece.

She said if you wanted to write books for children you should marry someone who could support you, like a solicitor.

At the time she said it, with publication prospects still in the dim future, it was just cute author humour. Now that I'm published ... well ...  I don't know how authors who don't have a day job make ends meet.


Then there was The Making of the Gruffalo, which I wrote after attending a break-out session with Julia Donaldson at the SCBWI conference.  I wrote:

Thus was a children’s classic born – through the exigencies of rhyme. This despite the fact that children’s book publishers in the UK actively discourage rhyming texts to increase a book’s chances of translation.

At the time, I honestly believed I would soon be the recipient of a picture book deal.

In fact, the opposite was true. Today, I am still an unpublished picture book author. But unlike then, I have far more knowhow about getting published in picture books.

What have I learned? It's competitive, the less words there are the tougher it is to write. I learned that it might be easier to write a novel. Which is what I did. Which is how I got published.


My last two posts for that first month of blogging was about multiculturalism in children's books. One quotes Farrukh Dhondy, author of the short story collection East End At Your Feet, which he said was published for the wrong reason:

... the book came out of the liberal impulse of British people wanting to know who the people in their midst were … It was born of an anti-racist impulse; of a let’s-find-out-about-these-strange-creatures-they-might-become-troublesome impulse.

But he was not troubled by the good intentions that led to his book's publication - “I think these misguided impulses were perhaps the motivation for the great writers of multi-cultural literature.”

Today, multicultural has become something of a dirty word in politics -- seen to emphasise difference rather than getting along.

DIVERSITY is the word we use now. Indeed, I am referred to as a 'diverse author' by virtue of being from somewhere else.

I do not object - diverse is a more all embracing word than multicultural . 

And we've come a long way from the early days of my blogging life, with books like The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson about a transgender child, and Sarah McIntyre urging other artists to design non-identikit characters, and recently, Seven Stories assembled a team of experts to pick the Fifty Best Diverse Children's Books Since 1950 (which includes Tall Story, woo hoo!).

Having said all that, there are many more miles to go in this journey to truly diverse publishing, as evidenced by the We Need Diverse Books campaign to change the publishing industry to create literature that reflects the lives of all young people.


I started blogging in 2004, the year that Blogger was invented. At the time  I realised that I didn't have the authority to dispense writing advice but as an ex journalist, I could use my reporting skills to record all the knowledge I was accumulating in my feverish campaign to get published.

(In fact, it took me nine years to get published -- I guess I was a slow learner).

My biggest epiphany?  Publishing is a business! It was not just about love and craft, it was about money!

My blogging went on to cover the rise of Young Adult publishing, graphic novels, celebrities joining in the children's book fray, the coming of digital, self publishing, the spread of social media as the primary authorial marketing tool ... and oh all that rejection.

I realise  now that I'd been recording not just my own journey to publication but the story of an industry that is constantly evolving and always fascinating.

Candy Gourlay also blogs on her author site Her most recent post was on Writing Dual Narratives.


  1. Sound guidance & information that I will take to my writing desk

  2. Long time eh, Candy! Thanks for all you guys' time spent connecting newbies to the realities of the industry. Reading Slushpile was an important step to me understanding things. Happy Easter x

    1. Aw thanks for saying that. Happy Easter to you too!

  3. Ditto what Emma just said, Candy. Your journey has been an inspiration to a lot of us, I'm sure, and Notes from the Slushpile an invaluable window on the long & complex business of getting published. Happy Easter to all.

    1. Thanks, Rowen. Reading the early posts brought me back. I still attend a lot of events but I don't report as much now that writing the next novel is my full time job. My brains get too distracted by the blogging otherwise.

    2. brains? have you got more than one?

    3. One in each ear, Teri. But they're very small. What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be writing?


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