Thursday 29 November 2007

John Green's Advice to Writers (And Some Yada Yada)

So this is John Green's videoblog. If he appears to be talking to someone named Hank it's because ... oh heck, go read about it on his blog. So he will talk a bit about his parents bringing him a box of things from his childhood before he gets to the stuff about writing.

But it's cool. It's funny. We should all be more like John Green. But John Green also wins prizes for his books. He's cooler than us. Life is not fair.

Just so you know, John Green wrote Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines. And won big prizes. But he's more famous for his My Pants forum (as in...hey, see you in My Pants later)

Monday 26 November 2007

Who's Afraid of the World Wide Web - Blog Panel

My talk Who's Afraid of the World Wide Web for Writer's Day went on for so long that we didn't have time to interview a panel of SCBWI bloggers who would have shed light on life in the blogosphere.

The panel was meant to include Sue Eves, Anita Loughrey, Sarah McIntyre and Addy Farmer. I was also going to talk to the author Diana Kimpton about her work with Contact an Author and Wordpool.

To make up for blabbing too long, I'm going to do the panel right here at Notes From the Slush Pile. A blog tour ... except it's a blog panel.

blog panel

First up is Sue Eves, an actor, puppeteer and author of the picture book Hic!, who can tell you a thing or two about how to achieve the networking in social networking!
I joined myspace a year ago and facebook in June. The main reason I joined myspace was to research the children's book market. By adding global contacts focusing on children's authors, book publishers and literary agents, I soon had a small network of 85 'friends' across the globe from San Francisco to Perth. Read more
And here's Anita Loughrey, who has authored many teacher's resources and written articles for publications online and in print:
The worst thing about blogging is feeling like I am wasting time when I should be getting on with other things. The best bit about blogging is when someone leaves me a comment. It makes me feel really good knowing somebody has actually read what I’ve written and taken the time to write back to me. Read more
Uber-illustrator Sarah McIntyre keeps a fully-illustrated, (highly addictive if you love illustration) blog and set up a community blog for members of SCBWI over at LiveJournal (their current wheeze is a describe/draw your own mermaid self-portrait). Here's Sarah on why she blogs:
It's a blessing for the networking, the encouragement people have given me on my work, and the constant motivation to be doing something fresh. I've had commissions from people looking at my blog. And I've learned a great deal about comics and comic artists, since so many comics are only visible online, not in printed form. I like how reading comics online subverts publishers' ideas about what they think we'll read. The curse is that I can spend way too much time on it when I should be doing my work. And I sometimes worry about people nicking my stuff, and I try to label it to make it slightly more difficult. But that concern also motivates me to keep making fresh work. Read More
Addy Farmer has been blogging in the guise of a Science-Museum-mad eight-year-old boy named Wilf for more than two years now. The Wilf blog has fulfilled every blogger's fairy tale aspiration to have their blog discovered and published as a book! Addy's picture books Grandad's Bench (Walker) and Siddharth and Rinki (Tamarind Press) are out in August 2008, and a poem is appearing in Look Out! the Teachers Are Coming: Poems Chosen by Tony Bradman — and here, Addy explains how Wilf the blog led to Wilf the book:
I heard about a publisher called, 'The Friday Project' who publish blogs as books. They are medium sized and independent (bit like me) and importantly, their sales, marketing and distribution is handled by Macmillan. I submitted my blog to the commercial director, Scott Pack. He liked it and made suggestions for how it could be formatted which I liked. Basically, there is a 15,000 word story seamlessly blended with facts and inventions. After a year of slog I signed the contract and 'Wilf and the Big Cat' comes out in August 2008! Read More
Any questions? Go ahead, make our day!

Sunday 25 November 2007

Writer's Day : the Joy of Children's Writers

I’m sitting up in bed at my Bed and Breakfast in Winchester, a pillow on my lap to stop the laptop inflicting third degree burns on my knees.

Yesterday was Writer’s Day, British SCBWI’s yearly inspiration-fest. This is my fifth Writer’s Day and my friend Miriam and I have taken to staying at the same Bed and Breakfast every year. Jackie, our lovely B&B host, asked us how we’d been since the last time we’d stayed exactly a year before to attend Writer’s Day.

Why, looking back, it’s been a great writing year.
I’ve finished another novel. I’ve won a place in the SCBWI anthology Undiscovered Voices. I’ve attended every single event that SCBWI organized and learned so much about the children’s book trade. I now have a critique group of truly dedicated writers – we are so dedicated we are all planning to go away together for a long weekend critiquing and bonding!
This year, I was actually a speaker — though not as a writer but as a web obsessive compulsive (download the free handout I prepared earlier Who's Afraid of the World Wide Web: An Author's Survival Pack )Who would’ve thought that web addiction would lead to this?

This year we had a Night-Before-Writer’s Day critique session attended by 30 good writing folk. We split up into small groups, picture books and chapter books. In my own little group, we had a spider-coming-of-age story that would make a good novelty book (we imagined a spider toy on a silk ribbon attached to an elongated board book), a lyrical re-telling of an Aesope’s fable, a beautifully illustrated tale of a donkey on a journey, an edgy Cat/Arachnide fantasy which seemed better suited for a Varjak Paw style chapter book, an aeroplane story for Thomas the Tank Engine/Bob the Builder readers, and my own Theophilus Prowse, Head Louse text which I had re-written in rhyme.

There is a certain joy that seems to enthuse the children’s writer. And Writer’s Day is wonderful because en masse, that joy is a warm, embracing, amazing force. Fills you with hope, it does.

Through the years, faces have become familiar and interestingly many of the friends I met on Writer’s Day were folks I had first engaged with online. I did many double takes – “Is that you?” – it takes some getting used to, matching flesh and blood with individuals who had previously been words on a computer screen!

Looking back, I have to say that attending my very first of these conferences, with Geraldine McCaughrean as keynote, was a big turning point in my writing journey – and not just because of what I learned about the industry.

For the first time I realized that there were many other writers out there who shared my dream.

I also realized that a lot of them were very, very good – and I had to raise my game.

Clearly, this was going to be a long journey. But at least I was not alone.

Hello to the wonderful Writers' Day community and heartfelt thanks to the organizers for setting up one of the best days of my year

Friday 16 November 2007

How to End Your Novel

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughreanWriting conferences and how-to-get-published guides constantly focus on the first chapter of a novel. When you sign up for a 15 minute critique at a writing workshop, the focus is inevitably on the first line, the first chapter, the first words of your novel. How do you hook that editor/agent with that irresistible beginning that makes it impossible to stop reading?

But what about the end?

Just this past Tuesday, I finally typed 'The End' to my YA novel, Ugly City. Woo hoo and all that.

It's the third time I've managed to finish a novel — and just like the other two, as it became clear that the book was coming to a close, I was stricken with a terrible, crippling feeling that the book was no good, that the words were pedestrian and the characters uninteresting and that I had thrown away precious hours, minutes, MONTHS better spent not neglecting my family.

It doesn't help that writing an ending doesn't have the fresh awakening of writing a beginning, or the thrill of building up to the climax of the story, or the wow of turning the corner to the denouvement.

Wither the end then?

I trawled through my favourite YA books, looking for a way. The greatest difficulty was that, Ugly City being a dystopian fantasy, there was a danger of too much explanation putting the reader to sleep.

In the end (pun unintended) it was Geraldine McCaughrean who gave me the answers. I read and re-read The White Darkness and Not the End of the World. Boy can that woman write. And there was method to her artistry.

She opens her final chapter with a unversal statement. Here's what she writes in Not the End of the World:
The planet tilts, like the eyeball of a sleeper waking. From Space, that is how large it all seems. But of course it is vast really — too vast to comprehend — too vast for the most catastrophic natural disaster to touch all of its blue-green sphere.
In The White Darkness, the last chapter begins like this:
What kind of word is 'big' to describe Antartica? To begin to capture anything here, 'big' would need twenty-seven syllables.

Words can't cope. The space between the letters ought to make them elastic enough, but they aren't. The tails under the g's and y's and q's and j's ought to help them grip, but they slide about helplessly. Cliffs are the length of counties. Icebergs are the size of cities. Prospects run as far as the sky. Parallel lines never meet because there's no disappearing point. Adjectives die on the wing the moment they see Antartica and plummet on to the Plateau. Words are no good.
The universal statement leads to a single kernel of truth. And that single kernel takes us to a short summary of key events that happened offstage while we were in the grip of the heroine's viewpoint and version of events. They are just brief one liners but they fill us in on what the heroine — what WE didn't know. (Note: I won't quote anymore to avoid spoiling the books for you)

Thus having enlightened us, McCaughrean gives us a final scene - and her final scenes, though as final as final can be, continue to thrust us forward, thrust us to the promise of a story that will not end, a life that will continue to be as eventful as ever — but without our participation.

And always, always, we are sorry that the story has come to an end. Because we have been so engaged in the characters that we are flabbergasted that they would have the temerity to leave us behind.

Oh, words can't cope.

I apologise heartily to Ms McCaughrean — I doubt she'll recognise this ... it's just my own interpretation, such is the nature of inspiration.

Thursday 15 November 2007

Egmont to Invade USA

Shaun the Sheep is published by EgmontNews just in:
EGMONT IS TO launch in the US in autumn 2009 with ambitions to become one of the top US children's publishers within five years. It is to set up an office in Manhattan in January, run by Douglas Pocock, currently Group Sales Director, who will become Executive Vice President of Egmont US.

Rob McMenemy, Senior Vice President and MD of Egmont UK, told PN: "This is something we have been planning for two years. It's a huge opportunity - it's the biggest English language publishing market and we're the only top ten children's publisher that isn't in it. The US children's market grew by 8% in 2007 and the same figure is predicted for 2008. I won't say it's easy over there - it has many of the problems that we do - but the growth is ahead of the UK and we're hoping to steal a share of what is an enormous market of some $5.5bn. You don't have to steal a huge share of that to make an impact."

The move represents a multi-million pound investment for the company whose UK book turnover is around £30m. Pocock will head up a team of seven and is currently recruiting. No details are being given on the number of titles yet, but McMenemy added: "We're not going to be a boutique publisher - we're looking at a list that reflects our ambition. The big lesson we've learnt from others who have opened in the US is that it's important to have a list that is generated in the US." Publishing News
O woe for the huddled masses of unpublished writers in the United Kingdom (like me). It's important to have a list that is generated in the US. Darn.

Authors or Agents? Picking the Shortest Queue

The Waiting Room on FacebookSo Sarah Megibow at the online friendly Nelson Literary Agency was carefully explaining manuscript submission rules to a Denver writer's conference when someone asked, "are those rules the same for all agents/editors?"
GULP! No, they aren’t. I’ve been thinking about that question a lot this month. There are so many rules and regulations that writers must feel overwhelmed. I mean, Nelson Agency only accepts email queries (no paper mail whatsoever), but other agents only want snail mail. Some agents want query letters and yet others want a query pitch and a synopsis. Others will want you to include the first ten pages of the work. Then there are the editors. Some will read unsolicited submissions and others won’t even look at them unless submitted by an agent. It’s enough to make any writer’s head spin. So while I don’t have a submission rule that’s true for all agents or editors, I can give this suggestion: Do your research online before submitting. Tips From the Slushpile, November 2007 issue
And sometimes online research doesn't do the trick.

If you checked out the website of Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury, the submission guidelines are clear:
Unfortunately, due to the enormous volume of material sent in to our Children's department, Bloomsbury can no longer accept unsolicited children's manuscripts.
But last week soft-spoken Emma Matthewson, Deputy Editorial Director of Bloomsbury Children's Books told a group of SCBWI authors that yes, submissions will be read.

Cause for celebration? Weeeell. Editors speaking at writer's events (and I can claim to have attended quite a few of these) very kindly always say they will look at your manuscript. My theory is that confronted with the fresh-from-the-garret faces of suffering writers, editors feel they just have to be nice.

And yes, they really do read the manuscripts. Now before you print off another copy of your 1700 page wizard fantasy, beware.

I asked Emma if agents had to wait as long as authors for their submissions to be looked at. She said, no, though agents had to wait a few weeks, they pretty much jumped the queue of direct author submissions. The authors submitting directly have to wait months. And the sad number of books from the slush pile that make it to publication (I think Emma said they published four in the past five years) just isn't funny.

So which queue — Editors or Agents?

At the end of the day, it's only time.
Are you a facebooker? Join our group The Waiting Room - for all writers and illustrators who are waiting, waiting, waiting for that call from a publisher or agent. Published people are welcome to join and mock. But please no spitting.

Monday 12 November 2007

This Blog Can Be Read by Junior High People

Here's a fun widget I found while procrastinating! So this blog apparently uses a junior high vocabulary. Neat!

Junior High

I thought it would be fun to check out how my friends' blogs would rate.

Here's the wonderful fiction blog Wilf's World - told in the voice of an eight year old boy who would like to be Buzz Lightyear:

cash advance

Here's Anita's blog on writing and getting published:

cash advance

Here's Absolute Vanilla's witterings and warblings:

cash advance

Hmm. All these college level vocabularies were giving me an inferiority complex so I inputted my role-model-author/blogger/all-around-genius-on-the-internet Scott Westerfeld's blog and this is what he got:

cash advance

Which just goes to show ... you may be vocabularily challenged and still cool.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

He Giveth Then He Taketh Away - Prince Sues HIs Fans

One moment he is staging 21 amazing nights of affordable concerts at London's O2Arena, giving away his CD to concertgoers and with copies of the Mail On Sunday.

The next he is threatening to sue his biggest fans for breach of copyright.
His lawyers have forced his three biggest internet fansites to remove all photographs, images, lyrics, album covers and anything linked to the artist's likeness. A legal letter asks the fansites to provide "substantive details of the means by which you propose to compensate our clients [Paisley Park Entertainment Group, NPG Records and AEG] for damages".
The cease and desist notice went as far as calling for fans to take down pictures of their Prince tatoos and Prince-inspired licence plates.

Now like anybody who was a young person in the eighties, Prince is part of the sountrack of my youth - but this just goes against the grain of the social web.

The new reality of the social web is giving artists and authors headaches galore across the world

What is fair use? What is theft? Should an author's work be digitised forever and ever thus blurring the any boundaries in terms of rights?

Fans on social sites play a massive role in the virus-like word-of-mouth relay of good books and music. In the field of YA fiction where readers are particularly skilled, fans produce videos, music, even countdown counters in honour of their favourite authors.

Here's a countdown widget (right) that a fan created for Scott Westerfeld's new book, Extras.

And here's a YouTube video in homage to The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Should authors and artists resist such flashes of inspiration in the name of copyright?

Or would it save time to just shoot one's self in the foot?

Friday 2 November 2007

Let Them Print Money - Some Authors Have All the Luck (And Readers)

So maybe I will blog more if I go for brevity, the punchy thought, the poignant comment.

And maybe I'll get more of my novel written.

So here's a punchy piece from ShelfTalker, the Children's Bookseller blog over at Publisher's Weekly.

I propose a moment of silent sympathy for the writers of the world, in the face of what's been a rather humbling, reality-bending month in the world of children's book sales. First, J.K. Rowling witnesses (by proxy) the sale of more than 72 million copies of HP7 within the first 24 hours of its release. Last week Scholastic announced that their initial print run of 12 million copies doesn't look like it's quite going to cut the mustard, so they're headed back to press to print another two million. Ah, yes, business as usual. Just going to print another TWO MILLION books to satisfy American readers.
We can only dream.

Thursday 1 November 2007

Oh Richard and Judy!

Do you know, I'm being a very good novelist and working hard every spare minute of the day on the last five (!) chapters of Ugly City! That's why I've been a very, very bad blogger, with little to say and nothing to show ...

But just so you don't consign Notes from the Slush Pile to your must NOT read blogroll, here's a humble but very interesting post excerpting the latest Publishing News - about Richard and Judy's golden touch:

THERE HAS BEEN an instantaneous and dramatic effect on all the books featured by Richard and Judy on their children's books special, which aired last Thursday. “Sales have been going extremely well for all the titles, with a 250% average uplift across the board,” said Waterstone's Jon Howells. “The stand-outs for us have been Andrew Cope's Spy Dog [Puffin], which has seen an 800% increase, week on week, and Claire Freedman and Ben Cort's Aliens Love Underpants [Simon & Schuster] which has had a 370% increase - a four-figure number in sales terms - which is particularly impressive as it has been out for a while and been a consistent seller. It just proves how many new people the show brings in.”

At Borders, Children's Buyer Becky Stradwick was equally enthusiastic about the programme's impact. “It's been very significant so far, particularly for Aliens Love Underpants, which has crashed back into our Top Ten, and for Robert Muchamore's The Recruit [Hodder], Sophie McKenzie's Girl Missing [Simon & Schuster] Betty G Birney's The World According to Humphrey [Faber] and Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant [HarperCollins]. It's proved that last year wasn't a flash in the pan and that Richard & Judy has a very consistent influence.”

While both Waterstone's and Borders have seen a marked upturn in sales, and will be promoting the R&J list right up to Christmas as part of their festive offering, the programme's effect seems to have been more muted in independents. “I think the programme is wonderful and popularises the act of reading,” says Joanna de Guia of Victoria Park Books in Hackney. “But we haven't seen a lot of movement, although Skulduggery Pleasant has definitely been affected positively.” At Tales on Moon Lane in Herne Hill, south London, Georgia Hanratty noted that “a few people did come in on Friday, asking for recommendations from the list, but we haven't seen a hugely noticeable increase in sales”.

Certainly, Simon & Schuster is celebrating. Nielsen figures revealed this week that Aliens Love Underpants is the number one best-selling picture book and the number ten best-selling paperback children's book, outselling the other titles among the R&J children's winners.

Does this mean that we wannabes should quit stalking our traditional targets - editors and agents - and head for Richard and Judy's? Ah the publishing life.

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