Thursday 31 January 2008

Book Banners Are At It Again

A book I really liked is being banned - Looking for Alaska by John Green. Here's John ranting very reasonably about the banning:

Even Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries) had a little banning episode recently.
Princess on the Brink was banned on the grounds of it being “immoral” and having “untraditional values.”

It’s true: The Princess Diaries series does encourage young girls to be strong, independent thinkers in today’s society. At one point, one female character in Princess on the Brink directly instructs another not to accept the traditional gender roles that have been thrust upon them for centuries by men.

If that’s what someone considers immoral and embracing untraditional values, ALL my books can be banned for all I care. Hey–I’m PROUD to be BANNED IN THE USA!
If folks want to control what their kids read, I suppose that's up to them. But when these same folks decide to control what the rest of the world reads. Well ...

Wednesday 30 January 2008

The Kindle: What's it All About Amazon?

So is this future? I have to admit it's tempting. Wonder how long before the UK takes this up.

AND if you fancy self-publishing your novel, it's just a matter of click and upload.


How authors can help each other on the net

Today was my concentrate-on-writing-
and-stay-off-the-internet-day. But I had to blog when I heard about author Patry Francis.

Patry Francis was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer just as her debut novel The Liar's Diary was going out in paperback. Which meant she would not be able to do the publicity work that makes or breaks most novels.

In response, author bloggers have rallied to do Francis' publicity for her, naming January 29 as Patry Francis Blog Day, with more than 300 bloggers mentioning and reviewing The Liar's Diary. The creativity and breadth of this effort is mind-blowing and inspiring. Read about it here — and look at the how well things are going on technorati!

Literary Agent Kristin Nelson comments on her blog:
Don’t ever let anyone convince you that publishing is “an every person for him or herself” industry because it’s not. There is a real community of writers and if you haven’t got connected, ask yourself why not?
Indeed. That's the power of the web for you and it's down to us authors to harness its potential.

The Patry Francis situation brings to mind YA author Siobhan Dowd (photo, left by G. Morgan) who died last year and wasn't able to promote her magnificent A Swift Pure Cry (buy it you guys!) as much as she would have liked because she was so ill. A Siobhan Dowd Trust has been set up to help disadvantaged children with their reading skills (donations are welcome here). Siobhan's next book Bog Child - which I hear is a cracker - will be published posthumously in February.

Sunday 27 January 2008

Learning from the Good, the Bad, and the Bloody Brilliant or Why We All Need Critique Groups

In an earlier incarnation as a young playwright, literary editor Sol Stein went on a writing fellowship in which he got to work with American theatre icon Thornton Wilder.
Thornton Wilder taught me ... the necessity of sitting through bad plays, to witness coughing and squirming in the audience, to have ears up like a rabbit to catch what didn't work, to observe how little tolerance an audience has for a mishap, ten seconds of boredom breaking an hour-long spell.
To this day, Stein urges his writing students
Once they have begun to master the craft, to read a few chapters of John Grisham's The Firm, or some other transient bestseller, to see what they can learn from the mistakes of writers who don't heed the precise meanings of the words they use. they also learn to read the work of literary prize-winners to detect the rare uncaught error in craft. What they are doing is perfecting their editorial eye and their self-editing talent, learning to read as a writer.
Critique groups perform this service for us. At critique groups we are learning not just to fix our work but to develop an instinctive ability to edit our own writing, the ability to see our work without the rose-tinted spectacles of a creator. We are "perfecting our editorial eye".

I wish someone told me that six years ago when I started writing. I made the mistake of listening to the advice of a (published) close friend:
Don't show your work to anyone. It will put you off writing.
But knowing what I know now, those two years of not showing my work to anybody was a complete waste of time. The fact is, writers who are put off by criticism are not cut out for publication. One only has to read the reader reviews on Amazon to realise that this writing business is not for the thin-skinned.

As Aussie Fantasy Author Ian Irvine says in his piece The Truth About Publishing:
Anyone who can be discouraged from writing should be.

Friday 25 January 2008

Marketing Yourself On MySpace

This piece came out in today's Publishing News and since PN only keeps their articles online for a week, I am kindly reprinting it here for future reference:
THE PENGUIN DIGITAL Marketing team has joined forces with MySpace to discuss ways of effectively promoting new authors on the social networking site. The first novelist to be marketed through this medium is Joe Dunthorne, the 26- year-old UEA Creative Writing graduate who caused a bidding war over his debut novel, Submarine, which will be published in hardback by Hamish Hamilton on 7 February.
Dunthorne and Penguin Digital Marketing Director Anna Rafferty met with the MySpace team earlier this month to explore raising his MySpace profile.

Plans include adding film content of Dunthorne reading 'off-cuts' - passages he wrote for the novel that didn't make it in - and video diaries,including footage of the Submarine launch party, along with personal recordings of his thoughts and feelings on becoming a published author. The revamped page, which will run under Dunthorne's name, will be live in time for publication.

Rafferty said Dunthorne had “exactly the right demographic for a project like this; he already had lots of material as well as his own profile, and we'll be building on that. This isn't just a microsite for Submarine or about Oliver [the novel's teenage protagonist], it's about Joe and the story behind the book. MySpace can help us get the message to the right people and amplify it to their audience.”

A spokesperson for MySpace, which has 10 million unique users in the UK alone and 110 million worldwide, said: “We have the potential to specifically promote artists and Joe is the first author we're trying it with. There are editorial areas of MySpace where we can highlight interesting content - we are a social networking site but we're also a content platform, always looking for things that will interest our users. We see ourselves as being a place where things start, so it's a great place for Joe to promote himself.”

Dunthorne has already been hailed a 'Rising Star of 2008' by the Observer despite the novel not yet being published.
It will be interesting to see how MySpace enhances its marketing of authors — many YA authors have already cottoned onto the fact that MySpace is a good place to get close to their readers.

Some in fact have become very good at using MySpace to this end. There's the self-published fantasy author Steven Oliverez who used MySpace to drive sales of his book The Elder Staves to no. 25 on the Amazon bestseller list. Oliverez says:
Buzz creates more buzz. Since there's no marketing or publishing company behind teh book, it really helps to be online, able to connect with readers directly. Being on MySpace makes you seem more approachable, and that makes it a great tool for authors.
Searching MySpace for Joe Dunthorne's page, all I found was a 15 year old with the status tag: "I am very, very bored". Could it be my spelling? You can view Steven's MySpace page here. Warning: if you have sensitive hearing, turn the volume down first.

Thursday 24 January 2008

Agent No Longer Undercover

So many of you guys are asking me who my new agent is. But being an be incredibly kind and thoughtful person, I'm not revealing her ID on the blog to prevent her inbox from immediately being inundated with my fan mail. Not.

Which brings me to Daphne Unfeasible.

Followers of Maureen Johnson's hilarious blog have for years enjoyed Maureen's unfeasible tales about her agent, Daphne Unfeasible - here pictured with MJ, as usual, incognito, hiding behind Free Monkey (Free Monkey is a monkey Maureen acquired, free, on her travels, who is a kind of sidekick, soothsayer, companion and who once kept a travel diary).

Anyway before I digress further, Maureen is currently blogging writer in residence at the wonderful Inside a Dog website ("Outside a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx) and has just revealed Daphne Unfeasible's true identity. Daphne Unfeasible is actually Kate Schafer and Kate Schafer is getting married, moving to Colorado and opening the KT Literary Agency which is now open to submissions from middle grade and YA authors!

And with Daphne unveiled, Kate has also started blogging at Ask Daphne - go ahead, ask her anything you like about agents and getting published!

Monday 21 January 2008


If you get through the door and an agent decides to take you on (Woo hoo!) then here's Johnny Geller's advice about cost, commission, contracts.

Other videos in this series:
Literary Agent Basics
Finding the Right Agent
Approaching An Agent
Following Up With an Agent


Should you return to the agent with a rewrite? What if I can't get an agent? Is it time to give up? How determined do you have to be?

Other videos in this series:
Literary Agent Basics
Finding the Right Agent
Approaching An Agent


With such thorny questions as How can I make myself more attractive to agents? Previous videos were Literary Agent Basics and Finding the Right Agent.


The second of a series. The first was Johnny Geller on the Basics of Getting an Agent

Johnny Geller on the Thorny Question of Agents: THE BASICS

Johnny Geller of Curtis Brown Literary Agency appears in a series of videos answering FAQs about getting and keeping an agent. There are five videos and this is the first - on Literary Agent Basics:

Tuesday 15 January 2008

The White Darkness Wins the Printz Award!

Yesterday, I went over to Amazon and bought a new copy of The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean (pictured here with her other amazing book Peter Pan in Scarlet).

All this time, you see, I've been reading a copy that my friend Miriam lent me which is getting rather battered because it's my book of choice while pounding the treadmill at the gym, and I've been carrying it everywhere to get quick fixes of McCaughrean's prose when I need inspiration. Yes. Sad, aren't I?

So yesterday, I decided to buy a pristine new copy, because I think I will be reading and re-reading this book for time to come.

This morning, checking my Google Reader for updates to the blogs I read, I discover that Geraldine McCaughrean has won the Printz Award - the equivalent of an Oscar for YA writers.
The White Darkness, by Geraldine McCaughrean, published by HarperTempest, an imprint of HarperCollins has won the 2008 Michael L. Printz Award. The award announcement was made during the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia, January 11-16.

Fourteen-year-old Symone's exciting vacation to Antarctica turns into a desperate struggle for survival when her uncleĆ­s obsessive quest leads them across the frozen wilderness into danger.

McCaughrean has won numerous awards for children's literature in her native England. Celebrated for her novels, picture books and folklore adaptations, The White Darkness is her first contemporary young adult novel.

"Symone's unforgettable voice propels this journey of discovery in a book that is intricately plotted, richly imaged and brings new meaning to the term unreliable narrator," said Printz Award Committee Chair Lynn Rutan. "Readers will need to hang onto their snow goggles in this compelling book in which nothing is as it seems at first glance."
John Green, who won the 2006 Printz for Looking for Alaska, commented on his blog:
When it comes to awards, I don't think we should make broad statements about trends. There will be some discussion about how all five awards went to women this year, and about how two went to novels with fantastical elements, and so on. But the Printz really only reflects one trend: Good books getting published for teenagers. And the fact that there was no overlap between the National Book Awards and the Printz Awards shows again that there are a lot of books being published for teenagers that deserve to be taken seriously.
The runner-ups were Dreamquake: Book Two of the Dreamhunter Duet by Elizabeth Knox, One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clark, Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins, Your Own Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill.

Congratulations all!

Monday 14 January 2008

Rewriting Your Novel (Or Moving the Deck Chairs While the Titanic Sinks)

At the moment, my thoughts are on revision because I'm revising my two novels, Ugly City and Volcano Child.

Revising, revising, revising.

I've been working so hard I'm beginning to see double. Are those two laptops I see before me?

(Magic or Madness) has wise words about revising a novel in a long, special post:
There are two basic kinds of rewriting: structural and sentence level. Most beginner writers get caught up in sentence level changes. They go over their manuscripts deleting and switching words around (what’s called line editing in the biz). They do this before they’ve learned how to fix the structure. The result is lots of shifting around of deck chairs while the Titanic sinks.
Maureen (Devilish) spiced up her blog post on rewriting with plenty of pictures of Cary Grant. She says:

It’s a good thing that the Writer doesn’t design houses—because he would move the kitchen around seventeen times, rip out all the bathrooms, add six more stories, and set fire to the roof.
Unfortunately she fails to answer a burning question: where does she get all those pictures of Cary Grant?

Scott Westerfeld (Scott is Justine's squeeze. The YA universe is a cozy one) has an even more alarming blog post on rewriting a novel (this one was Extras).

Apparently he had to face up to the fact that his ms wasn't working:
there I was, 16,000 words (65 pages) into my shiny wonderful new book. Except it wasn’t wonderful; something was deeply, deeply wrong. The voice, the plot, the structure all seemed to be sucking! No matter how much I edited the writing, smoothed the transitions, caffeinated the plot, or voicified the characters, it all just came out flat.
In the end he threw out most of it and completely rewrote it from scratch.

Which brings us to Scott's ultimate rewriting advice:
Sometimes tossing out vast quantities of words is better than letting a whole book bleed slowly to death. Don’t give up, just start over.
Could you bear to do it?

Friday 11 January 2008

Don't Write Anything That Doesn't Fit In Your Mouth

They are so funny! Nobody said you had to be funny to become a YA writer! And whatever happened to dignity?

Here's a sample from YA authors Maureen Johnson (Devilish, Suite Scarlet) and Libba Bray (The Sweet Far Thing) in a hilarious pow-wow about writing for teenagers -
MJ: But there does come a very ugly phase, that very very unattractive break before the dawn where the book actually gets written. The book actually getting written is not pretty.

LB:It's sort of like transition in childbirth. That's the period where all of a sudden you rise up out of the stirrups and you grab the labor nurse by her throat and you're like, I can't have this baby! You have to have this baby for me!
Watch it here:

Thursday 10 January 2008

How to Rewrite Your Novel

The most famous rewrite scene in history: Jack Nicholson rewriting his novel in The ShiningRight now, I am rewriting my YA novel Volcano Child.

I edit heavily as I write so though technically this is the first time I've given the thing a total overhall, it's had layers and layers of editing over the time it took me to write it.

And what a joy it is to rewrite! The story is there, from beginning to end, and although I am writing new scenes and tweaking plot and strengthening characters, I do so with knowledge. When I was writing the novel from scratch, I was constantly consumed with fear - fear that I wouldn't finish, fear that I wouldn't be able to control all the plot lines spidering out of the story, fear that I'm writing too much or too little or too straight or too pretentiously.

There are no rules of course, about rewrites, though writers, like evangelists, often promote one way over another. Justine Larbalestier recently blogged about rewriting:
My partner, Scott, spends the first few hours of his writing day rewriting the previous three days work. Once he’s got that under control, and only then, does he move onto fresh writing.

Me, I rewrite (while writing the first draft) only if I’m a stuck on the next bit. On the mornings when I wake up and know exactly what needs to happen next, I dive into it. On the mornings I don’t, I procrastinate endlessly rewrite or go back and fill in the blanks where I have notes to myself like [something should explode here] or [figure out where this conversation’s happening] or [what happened to the quokkas?].

I thought I should come up with some ideas about rewriting for the blog but it's difficult - every author is different, every manuscript is different, and different things inspire different people.
What seems to work for me at the moment is this:
  • Avoiding my main computer. I turn off the big computer where I do my normal work (web design) and sneak into a dark corner of my bedroom, writing on my laptop. If I used my normal space I would, well, work. I'd do all the admin and invoicing and bits that I've been avoiding for weeks. So I hide from my normal routine.
  • I surround myself with books by my current muse. At one point it was Scott Westerfeld. Boy does he know how to make a plot go. At the moment it's Geraldine McCaughrean. I'm hoping her gift would somehow insinuate itself into my fingers. But I'm fickle. On another day, say, when I working on voice, I might have Meg Rosoff tucked into my armpit.
  • I morph into a merciless, unfeeling, writing machine and go from chapter to chapter slashing and burning unnecesary text. This might sound like an obvious part of rewriting but believe you me, it's not easy to harden your heart against a thing you created. But you gotta do what you gotta do. In previous rewrites, I've given my characters sex changes, I've turned an ugly man into handsome man, I've looked at the miserable life of one character and devised ways to make her life even more miserable. You have to be a brute.
  • I finish everything I start. If on one day I started rewriting a chapter, I don't go to bed until I've finished. If I've given a character a makeover, I don't retire until the last eyelash is curled and the final sinew is flexed. Tomorrow, my resolve might not be as strong.
  • And finally, when I am rewriting, I have to reread. And with every change, I have to reread from the beginning. Over and over again.
That's how I rewrite. At least at the moment.

As Justine says:
Whatever works for you is the way to re/write.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Stephen Potts' Adaptation of Pulllman's Butterfly Tattoo

I've been following Stephen Potts' running commentary on the British SCBWI listserv about his screen adaptation of Philip Pullman's Butterfly Tattoo. He's just shared this YouTube behind the scenes video of it (and nope, he hasn't seen the final version yet). I thought it would be a treat for slushpilers to see the making of the making of.

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