Tuesday 30 September 2008

Meg Cabot's World Tour

Meg Cabot has left the UK (Chicklish is running a Meg Cabot week featuring interviews they blagged while Meg was here).

I still think it's unfair that nobody told me she was coming.

Moving on, Meg is now in South Africa.

Meg Cabot at Exclusive Books Capetown. Photo by Nicky Schmidt

Lucky for you, Notes from the Slushpile had spies carefully embedded at Exclusive Books in Capetown where Meg made an appearance.

Nicky Schmidt — aka Atyllah (a chicken from outer space ... but that's another loooong story)— packs her report with some cogent thoughts about authors and marketing.

Noting Meg's powerful online presence, Nicky writes:
I’m amazed at how much of the marketing is electronic – almost the whole customer relationship management side of her marketing is done via the internet – aside from the book tours and books signings. But the key marketing focus, it strikes me, aside from having a decent product, is customer relationship management. It’s interesting that in an increasingly competitive market authors are having to focus less on their product and far more on customer relationships in order to up and sustain sales figures. It’s no longer solely about how good the book is, but it’s also about how accessible you are to your market and how you woo them. That gives authors two full time jobs rolled into one – writer/entertainer and marketer.
Read Nicky's full report here - it's mandatory reading for anyone who is working on their strategy to dominate the world ... er, market their books.

Monday 29 September 2008

Need an agent? Stalking might do the trick ... if you're not arrested first

David Henry Sterry, best-selling author, award winning actor/comic and book doctor, recently lectured on the art of getting an agent. Here's an excerpt from Galley Cat.

Sunday 28 September 2008

Shoo Rayner's Drawing School

Okay, I'm trying to be a good author and ignore all distractions.

However Shoo Rayner is evil and has started a drawing school over on his website. I can't resist watching illustrators draw so now Shoo's new page has seriously set back my plans for world domination.

Here's Shoo teaching us how to draw his archetypal character, the Ginger Ninja.

Saturday 27 September 2008

Brilliant Animation on Meg Rosoff's Blog

The problem with Meg Rosoff's blog is that you can't subscribe to the diary. So you have to keep checking back in case she posts something.

So I checked back today and found this.

I'm so in touch with that emotion.

(If you can't see the animation, click here)

Wednesday 24 September 2008

The Happy Prince on Lookybook

This was on Lookybook in today's post.

Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince, retold by Elissa Grodin and illustrated by Laura Stutzman.

It is so beautiful that words fail me. Click through to view it in larger mode on Lookybook

The Happy Prince on Lookybook

This was on Lookybook in today's post.

Words fail me

Monday 22 September 2008

Meg Cabot in Britain

Nobody told me Meg Cabot was in Britain. How did all those teenagers who turned up in their hundreds for a book signing at Waterstones find out?

It's a conspiracy.

Pictured right: Meg accidentally reveals the end of Princess Diaries 10 while on a school visit in England. Photo MegCabot.com

Anyway, Meg Cabot blogs very entertainingly about turning up in jeans at a black tie affair and measuring up to the wit and wisdom Richard Attenborough AND Anthony Horowitz:

Like I said I’m on my way to Bath now to speak at their 2nd annual book festival which I hope will go well. Or at least better than the speech I had to give last night, which was at a sales conference for some lovely book people who didn’t tell me it was a formal event (the men were in tuxes, the ladies in evening gowns), so of course I wore jeans. They also didn’t tell me the other speaker was Lord Attenborough (you might recall he directed the film Ghandi, among other things, like, oh becoming a lord). He waxed eloquently about his intimate friendship with Princess Diana and the deaths of his daughter and granddaughter in the tsunami whilst I sat at my table thinking, “*&%@! I have to go on after this, and talk about the Princess Diaries? Freaking shoot me now!” Sadly no one obliged.

Fortunately Anthony Horowitz, whom I didn’t even realize I was sitting next to, went on before (HE got the memo about formalwear, somehow), and gave a brilliant talk with many witticisms. Everyone laughed uproariously. Which just made it worse that I had to go after him because I had no speech prepared other than the one in my head which I’d written BEFORE Lord Attenborough, and so when I got up there I tried to change it around a bit to make it more full of pathos and witticisms, a kind of combination of Anthony’s and Lord Attenborough’s, which was of course a disaster. I found myself wondering, midway through as the lights beamed on me, and I was rambling away about Topshop (it’s a store in England kind of like a high end Express–I’m not joking, that’s really what I found myself talking about) what would happen if I just ran away. Or started to cry.

Since I've been posting a lot of random videos anyway, here's a relevant video, featuring Meg Cabot, dressed as a bride, talking about her book Queen of Babble Gets Hitched. It made me think my friend Fiona Dunbar (author of Pink Chameleon) really ought to do a video like this ... but dressed as a chameleon.

And yes. I'm still procrastinating.

More Catherine Tate Procrastination: Queen At Two O'Clock Sketch

So I'm still taking Catherine Tate's work process advice.

So this is Catherine Tate doing 'Am I Bovvered' for the Queen at a Royal Thingy Performance. Warning though, have a pillow handy to muffle your laughing so nobody else knows you're procrastinating.

Catherine Tate Procrastinates and So Shall I

The Guardian newspaper has yet again decided to produce a series of fab inserts specially designed for me. It's a seven-day How To Write series, which isn't as naff as it sounds. Today's insert is How to Write Comedy with an introduction by Catherine Tate, comedian and one time companion of the Time Lord.

I was supposed to be working on some fresh material for my new novel but I just had to blog about Catherine Tate's working process that incorporates procrastination just because my readers in South Africa are unlikely to be getting the How to Write insert (except of course, this being the digital age, you can read the whole article in the online Guardian).

'Writing" always means "not writing" to me, because I will do anything to put it off.

I think this is mainly because writing anything down and then handing it over to a third party — especially in comedy — is such an exposing act that you naturally want to delay the process.

Also, the control required to get ideas out of my head and into some tangible form that I can present to others doesn't come easily to me. I will quite simply do anything other than sit down in front of a blank screen and begin.

So guys, we procrastinators are in stellar company.

But that is not the point of this article. I will quickly come to the point so that I can get on with procrastinating over my writing.

At the end of the piece, Catherine Tate offers up three bits of advice and I thought, hey, it would be so easy to apply these to writing for children (which I suspect is a lot like writing comedy, but I haven't read the rest of the Comedy insert yet so I can't tell you).
Catherine Tate: Trust yourself. You have to start with what you think is funny before you can have the confidence to write to anyone else's brief.

NFTS: Start with your own idea and then work on it from there. Don't go copying what seems to be hot at the moment (Chick Lit and Vampires according to BrubakerFord, in my previous post), don't do a comic diary just because Diary of a Wimpy Kid has been so successful (although I am sorely tempted), be yourself.

Catherine Tate: Give a gag three chances to work, if after three (separate) attempts they're still not laughing, bin it. It's not them. It's you.

NFTS: Be clear-eyed about reader feedback/critiques. If three trusted readers concur on a problem, well, don't bin it ... but accept that you've got to do something about it. It took me a long time to take my own advice about this and with my first novel, I got stuck in an endless loop of rejection and submission that only ceased when I wrote another book.

Catherine Tate: Don't take criticism personally, take from it what's useful. Apply it and move on to something better. And be brave. No one got anywhere by being too scared to open their mouth in case nobody laughed.

NFTS: Yup. Like I said before. And as for the courage thing: it's hard but no one ever got published by giving up.
Btw: NFTS means Notes from the Slushpile. I got tired typing.

And before I go back to work, here is my favourite Catherine Tate sketch in which teenage scourge Lauren "Am I bovvered?" Cooper quotes Shakespeare to an English teacher (played of course by David Tennant aka Dr Who).

P.S. Check out this t-shirt in my shop -that- never- makes- any- money- because-the- Spreadshirt- markup- is- so- high.

It says "Done Procrastinating" in front. On the back it says "Later"

Sunday 21 September 2008

Send Your Work to BrubakerFord Ltd - But Only If You are Nice

The FAQ item on Brubaker Ford Ltd's website says it all:
Frequently Asked Question: I am a best-selling and/or award-winning author but I am not a nice person. Will you work with me?

Answer: Absolutely not. We are committed to creating the world's finest books while working only with nice people. Good things come from love.
Brubaker Ford Ltd is a book packager/agent/literary consultancy. Yeah. A bit confusing. But it becomes clearer later on. They've been up and running for two years and last Thursday, founding partners Brett Brubaker and David Ford, as well as senior editor (and author) Dr Roberta Butlert came to meet SCBWI members. Here is a picture of (left to right) Roberta, David and Brett at the SCBWI meeting:

Okay, that's Michael York and other actors in a current production of Camelot.

But I couldn't resist because David really has a striking resemblance to Michael York. I swear, this is what he looks like:

I mentioned this to Brett and Roberta after the illuminating talk (yes, yes, I'll get to that later but this is much more important) and Brett said actually David looked a lot more like Harrison Ford in his youth.

And here is a totally gratuitous picture of Harrison Ford to keep you all going.

Okay, having got the important stuff out of the way, I will tell you about their presentation.

I have to confess that I came to the talk purely with the intention of seeing my SCBWI friends and hanging out. Book Packagers have never been in my radar, having invested all those years on the slushpiles of publishers. Now I thought book packagers develop ideas themselves, then employ authors/illustrators on a work-for-hire (no royalties) basis. The ownership and creativity is all on the packagers side and the authors/illustrators provide a service.

But the moment these guys began to talk about what they did, I became very confused.

Like any book packager they develop books that they sell to publishers.

But they also take picture book and YA submissions.

And then they said they liked to work with authors to turn the author's idea into the best book it could possibly be.

And then they said they don't believe in a flat fee or work for hire.

They then said they put the author's wishes first and will only negotiate a contract with the full agreement of an author. Where some publishers don't involve an author beyond the text "we make sure our authors are involved".

Brett Brubaker, whose scintillating marketing pedigree includes Armani and Prada, puts it this way: "When we are representing an author for a novel, we are like agents. When we are working on a picture book we are more like publishers."

They chose to base themselves in London (with outposts in the US and Canada) because the UK market was small enough so that "here we are able to get together face to face ... we do think it is terribly important to sit around a table". A Publisher's Weekly report described their move thus :
Although Ford and Brubaker are working with authors and illustrators on both sides of the Atlantic, Ford said initially they will spend most of their time in London. "It's far easier to work more intimately with people [in the U.K.], because the country's smaller."
Ford was part of the formative years of Walker Books, spending over ten years as Managing Director before moving to the United States to launch Candlewick Press. He was Candlewick's President and CEO for several years then ran a bookstore in Georgia before returning to publishing via Little, Brown and Co Books for Young Readers as Vice President and Publisher. At Little, Brown he played a part in the launch of the now monster bestseller Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

"We were taught by Sebastian (Walker Books founder Sebastian Walker) that it is the author's name on the cover of the book." Thus whenever there was a disagreement between an editor and a writer, the author inevitably got their way. And what if the editor was right? Says David: "You have to accept failure to get better."

In part, the BrubakerFord collaboration appears to be a reaction to the new realities of publishing, in which the creative control of editors is subsumed to the opinions of accountants in the search for ever bigger profits.

The aim, says Ford, is to do the FUN side of publishing. Distribution and Sales? Boring! Their website explains:
Recent developments in the publishing world have resulted in many authors and illustrators feeling more and more distanced from the creative minds and caring hands within some publishing houses. Working with innovative and imaginative individuals is what we most enjoy, and it is for that reason that we have decided to concentrate on the collaborative development of ideas and leave the business of sales and distribution to others ... Our authors have told us that this personal interaction reminds them of the "good old days" of publishing ...
It made me feel quite sentimental for those good old days.

They talked about lots of other things of course - like the cultural differences between UK and US publishing, what works and what doesn't, the currency of chick lit and vampire books, novelty books, YA, Gossip Girl, Maurice Sendak, Helen Oxenbury, pop-up books, what they're looking for, how to submit, and about all their exciting projects and some inside gossip about some other famous people but no, can't report it here. Not because I don't want to but because I can't read my handwriting and I have to tidy the hallway.

Maybe next time!

Sunday 14 September 2008

Feasting on the DFC - How Many Wows Doth a Comic Book Make?

The sun shined on the one day I needed it to shine - yesterday when I had a little barbecue party. And then this morning it shone again as I sat in the conservatory, catching up with my comics reading. I've only just begun to digest the September 5 issue and golly what a visual feast it is.

There's the cover highlighting the start of a new comics serial, Mezolith, story by Ben Haggarty and art by Adam Brockbank:

I mean, wow, really, WOW! It's painterly and yet those beautiful lines just made me itch to pick up a pencil and draw! (Click on the images to see it in full screen) Check out the first page of the comic, the play on angles. And the story moves too!

There's a small animation of this stone age comic on the DFC website.

And here's a frame from Monkey Nuts by the Etherington Brothers. I sat and looked at it for a long time:

Wow, wow, wow!

And then there's this frame from Sneaky, The Cleverest Elephant in the World - art by Laura Howell and story by Peadar O Guilin.

I like! I like!

And of course, always everyone's favourite, Vern and Lettuce by Sarah Macintyre - poor Vern swaps a tuba for a rather large jumper knitted from his own wool.


Thursday 11 September 2008

The Great Thing About Rejection

This from one of my favourite agent bloggers, the Denver-based Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency:
Considering that 90% of the population wants to write a novel but never have the guts to go for it, being in the game is a huge thing. Even though it sucks, rejections are a badge of honor. A rite of passage for when the publishing day finally arrives. Every published writer has a story of a rejection.

You can’t tell a good keynote speech without it! More

Yes that's Hugh Grant starring in the Barbara Cartland film The Lady and the Highwayman. No, it's got nothing to do with anything.

So Rejection is good. It's ammo for that bright, sunshiny day when you deliver the keynote at a writers' conference. Keep a file, paper your walls with them (but use blue tack as you'll need to take them down to wave around during your speech).

Isn't it a long, long process though?

Writing the novel takes ages. Then sending it out and getting rejections takes years. Then maybe you get the agent. And then the agent sends it out and it STILL takes ages.

The longest stage has to be the period between writing it and getting the agent/publisher.

This is not just because it's a tough competitive market yada yada yada.

It's also because it takes a long time for a creative person to develop eyes that see.

When I wrote my first novel, I immediately stuffed it in an envelope and sent it to friends to read. The objective? Not to get critiques but to gain praise. It is a normal part of the creative process to really really think your first crappy effort is art.

One friend bought me a coffee at a Costa and gently pointed out that I'd sent it out with, not only hundreds of typos but non sequiturs, unbelievable plot twists, ridiculous coincidences, and a hopelessly ambitious structure that would give even the most accomplished editor a bad migraine.

It took me months to sit down and start writing again. I had to come to terms with the fact that it would be YEARS before I had anything publishable. (And yes, that was years ago)

But how to EXPEDITE the process?

Joining SCBWI - attending conferences and learning about the craft/trade - was a step in the right direction.

Finding a critique group that fit - not just no-hopers like myself but critiquers who know their stuff - helped too.

If you find it hard to take criticism from your peers, then you can go to professional editors like Cornerstones run by Helen Corner who, when asked if getting published is a tall order, replies:
"It's doable."
Cornerstones also runs workshops like this one on September 29. I was listening to their promotional mp3 (you can download and listen to it yourself with your media player at this link) and thought Helen's tale of rejecting potential gems in the slushpile when she worked at Penguin particularly poignant:
Part of my job was to process the unsolicited pile which are books sent by authors and not by agents. Penguin at the time had an automatic rejection policy, as do most publishers these days and quite often when I was going through my meter-high piles .... I would think what if the author had started in chapter two instead of chapter one, or developed the character more quickly, or written in a more show not tell way ... (Writers) really do need professional feedback and they should make it part of their writer learning curve to know how to look at what they'd written and to know not to submit to an agent or publisher unless they really are presenting the best writing that they possible can.
Which brings me neatly to an inspiring line from author Liz Rettig's often hilarious tips for writers on her website:
Expect rejections. There are many reasons for rejections only one of which is that your writing is rubbish.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

My Friends Are Dragging Me Kicking and Screaming Into Facebook

So you see, though I've got a page on MySpace and a page on Facebook and a page on Bebo and a page on YouTube, and a page on Ning (bet you haven't heard of Ning) I was only doing the social networking lark as RESEARCH.


My main photo-sharing thingy is Multiply, which a lot of people haven't heard of and that's because it mainly populated by my family and friends in the Philippines and frankly, I was happy to keep it that way.

The main thing I've learned from social networking is that the "social" is just as important as the "network". You can network meaninglessly with as many people you don't know as you want on MySpace, on the off chance that someday you will need to tell all these strangers that you've published your book. But there's nothing like a network that actually interacts with you - it takes years of blogging to get more than four comments (unless you join the Nude Blogging Movement, and then you get an instant fan base).

Or not.

I find Multiply the most rewarding because it's where my "social" is ... I only have to put one silly photo up of my husband and within seconds I have 27 pithy comments from my best friend in Washington and 27 comments from my brothers and sisters in Manila (there are many of us), discussing in detail every aspect of my husband's nose, ears, hair, etc.

It's very rewarding (unless you're my husband).

Anyway, my Facebook contacts may have already noticed that I have increased activity on Facebook. This is because my Multiply friends are slowly moving to Facebook. So now I have to go on Facebook to leave insults on their albums. Boo!

Meanwhile, one of my fave YA authors John Green (Abundance of Katherines) posted this fab link imagining HAMLET's newsfeed on Facebook!

This brilliant cartoon by Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle

AND here's an image of VP hopeful Sarah Palin that I took off the facebook page of Maureen Johnson (Suite Scarlet, 13 Little Blue Envelopes). Yup that's a bear. And yup, that's a giant crab. It really focuses the mind on the coming US elections.

THESE are the things that make all that wasted time on Facebook seem worthwhile.

Monday 8 September 2008

Having Sold My Soul to Google Will There Be Anything Left to Sell to Amazon

I lifted these from
Thank you!

It was Google's tenth birthday yesterday and I feel almost nostalgic.

I've pretty much sold my soul to Google ... my browser opens straight onto my iGoogle page so I can check out the latest things on my friends' blogs and my news subscriptions, I search the net with Google, I search my computer with Google Desktop, I keep my calendars on Google Calendars, I use Google Docs for my spreadsheets, I blog on Blogger (which belongs to Google), I even have a Picasa account (Google's photo service).

Google itself says it isn't quite decided when to celebrate

Google opened its doors in September 1998. The exact date when we celebrate our birthday has moved around over the years, depending on when people feel like having cake.
So happy birthday, Google, whenever you decide to have the cake!

Having sold my soul so comprehensively to Google, I wonder if I have a little something left for Amazon. Ebooks have been in the news with the recent launch of the Sony Ereader. The one I've got my sights on is the Amazon Kindle.

Some folk might accuse me of being party to the death of the book, but I'd rather take a cue from the FT Weekend's Jan Dailey:
So is this, finally, the death of the book? If so, it may be a death that heralds a rebirth of reading
Dailey predicts that digital readers will revolutionise not just the way we read books but the way they are published - indeed, we may have to re-invent the agent-writer-publisher relationship:
It’s more likely, though, that these devices will mean a substantial shift in the way books are published. Conventional publishers of treeware will be under pressure to create every title in e-book format at the same time as on paper; they’d be crazy not to. Soon the e-book market may overtake the other. And in that case, who really needs the publisher?

Writer’s agents are the principal quality-filter these days, as well as increasingly responsible for the editing that most British publishers no longer bother with – so what is to stop writers and their agents doing deals directly with (say) Sony/Waterstone’s? And if a few libraries and Luddites and the author’s mum want a paper version, that can be easily arranged in small-run special editions.

But I have no intention of abandoning the purchase of books.

Like Dailey, who writes how she "used to hug one in bed instead of a teddy", my family has a long history of bedding down with books.

Here is picture of my daughter Mia, age 2, sleeping with Jill Murphy's Peace at Last - such a lovely book, I am always giving away copies as presents!

Funnily enough, the thought of books was high on my mind this weekend. Husband has just finished an epic DIY job of installing these book shelves and I've been dusting off the books we've got in storage and putting them up.

The epic DIY job, finished at last.

A lot of these books have been tucked away for ages and suddenly I came face to face with these books from my childhood.

A set of Collier's Junior Classics (1962) and The Children's Classics (1961)

My parents purchased these sets from the Reader's Digest man who used to sell them from door to door in Manila. I smuggled them back to England from the Philippines in my hand carry luggage one year when my bookish brother (who would have nicked them first) wasn't looking.

I could of course, purchase most of the classics in the set from any Borders or even from Amazon. But there is a special something about these books, yellowing and ragged with age and survivors of typhoon flooding and childish ill-use. When I flick through them again, I am transported back to that FIRST time I read them, the thrill of the Prince and the Pauper or Tom Sawyer or Heidi or Robin Hood or Black Beauty unfolding for the first time.

And that's why I will never stop buying books.

Even after I get myself a Kindle.

Thursday 4 September 2008

SCBWI's Agents Party ... How Nobody Was Bitten ... Plus Some Monster News

Last night was a big night for British SCBWI people, the Agents' Party is one of the truly packed events on the SCBWI calendar - an opportunity to look Rejection and/or Success in the eye.

But if there was trepidation in our hearts, we tried not to show it:

In fact some of us looked positively gleeful:

Indeed we were hilariously joyful despite the nerves fizzing all over the room!

On the panel were two artist's agents and two literary agents (there were supposed to be three but one had to drop out because of a personal emergency).

This was my fourth Agents Party - and yes, yes, I have an agent, but who else was going to take the pictures and write up the report ... okay, I admit it, I just love going to SCBWI events and getting together with all the people. Sad I know.

Anyway, though there were some people who didn't make it at the last minute, the pub was absolutely packed!

The agents very kindly didn't bite anybody, and the audience had the restraint not to offer the agents full body massages (yes, some of us are that desperate).

In attendance were:
Illustrator Agents - Edward Burns of Advocate Art and Mark Mills of Plum Pudding.
Author Agents - Daniel Neilson of PFD and Eve White, who is a solo agent.
Edward Burns (right) described his clients as "artists who can look after themselves" - "professionals who are sending their children through school".

Mark Mills (left), who is married to the art director at Little Tiger Press (cozy!), said his agency plan to set up in US and France.

The bad news for illustrators is that editors are becoming more choosy, "The price of oil affects the price of paper and the price of paper affects what publishers do," Mark said. "The net result is we have become more careful of the kind of artist that we take on."

Interesting though that the illustrators' agents take 30% commission while the author agents take 15%.

The author agents had some good news for picture book writers ... PB texts are selling again (hooray) - Daniel said: "PB texts are selling very, very well. We are looking for picture book texts that revolve around ethnic backgrounds such as African and Asian stories." How refreshing after the dire PB is Dead stuff we were hearing all of last year.

As it is every year, books for boys are much in demand - "For me, humour goes a long way," Daniel said.

Eve White (pictured below) tells the story of Andy Stanton who was working his way from A to Z in the Writers and Artists Yearbook with little success. After five or six rejections, he gave up on A to Z and started working his way through the list from Z to A, eventually finding Eve's agency.

"He phoned me and said what do you think of this book? I said it sounded wacky and probably very difficult to get published," Eve said. "But I loved it and he sent me the rest of the mansucritp and I said, don't talk to any other agents until I have finished it."

The result was the award-winning You're a Bad Man Mister Gum.

And that is definitely NOT You're a Bad Man Mister Gum, in the picture but From Where I Stand by Tabitha Suzuma.

There is more of course but I've got to rush through this blog post so I can bake a chicken. Sorry. Hopefully Anita Loughrey, who was spotted taking copious notes will blog about the rest! Sue Hyams blogged about it hours before I wrote this on her excellent new website - in a post interestingly titled 'Too Busy To Write' ... she should add: 'But Not Too Busy to Blog' ... Sue organised the Agents Party - thank you, Sue!

On another note, how serendipitous that last night's Agents' Party happened the night before the formal launch of Authonomy - Harper Collins' social networking site designed to spot the gems in the slushpile. It's been in beta for three months and now it's live ... it works on the basis of aspiring writers reviewing each other on the site and supposedly will save editors the need to actually read their slushpile.

Former slushpile reader Aida Edemariam wrote a piece in the Guardian with the cute title File it in the Bin (hollow laughter) and describes the business of spotting talent from a stack of submissions as a "deeply fallible system":
The slush pile is the great awkward albatross of the publishing industry. Writing must come from someone, and go to somewhere, and not everyone has a friend whose boyfriend happens to be editor of a literary imprint: every day someone decides that there's nothing for it but to post their precious manuscript to someone they've never met, at a company that is receiving stuff from people like them all the time. And even in the best-case scenario - where every word of every submission is read - it is a deeply fallible system.
Rebecca Swift of The Literary Consultancy pointed out that
I think to leave it completely to peer management might be fantastically chaotic.
Which pretty much evens out the score:
No less chaotic, some would argue, than taking pot luck with a student on work experience, or an overworked editor who might be having an off day. Publishing is, in the end, a triumph of hope over logistics.
And now, having done my duty and reported on the Agents' Party, I must bring you the incredible and much more important news that my friend, Fiona Dunbar (The Truth Cookie, Toonhead) has this summer been seen with the Loch Ness Monster!

Tuesday 2 September 2008

What's In a Website?

a quick note: friends, please visit my Volcano Child blog (yes, yes, I know, obsessive compulsive me etc etc) - help me make a good impression with ahem! The Powers That Be ...
There is a bit of a discussion at the British SCBWI message board about author websites.

Do you need one?

Where do you start?

Can you cope?

When I first started trying to get published, I set up my homepage CandyGourlay.com. It was 2001, and I was only just beginning to get to grips with code. Blogs were not yet in flavour nor were connection speeds terribly good and Web 2.0 was a twinkle in someone's eye. So my website was really, just a leaflet about me, an online CV.

I started up this blog in 2004 after emerging from SCBWI's conference in Madrid with piles of notes and nowhere to publish them. At the time, I thought I would use my journalistic skills and dash off feature length reports on the writing events I attended.

Well, the blog evolved and developed a voice of its own, it's funnier now, more personal, more frequently updated. It probably helps that I've also acquired the skills and tools to work faster online.

Then the world started to spin a little bit faster. Publishing was changing before our very eyes. Technology was changing. Children were changing.

I heard Scott Westerfeld (Uglies) give the keynote at the SCBWI conference in Bologna in 2005 and I was struck at how with-it he was about technology, about his fans and visiting his website, I realised that his blog had engendered a kind of connectedness with his readership that other authors would do well to emulate.

I wrote a piece on why competition from the internet meant authors needed to become more web savvy.

Then I decided to take my own advice and began to blog about my manuscript in progress. I saw my blog VolcanoChild.co.uk not as a leaflet about my book but more like a behind the scenes magazine. I wanted it to evolve as my book evolved.

Knowing that I was still some way towards sellling the manuscript, I could take my time, blogging on themes that run through the novel, such as: Children who Work, Mothers who Have to Leave, Real Witches and Living with Calamity. (Pictured right is a child circus performer in Shanghai).

Instead of building a website from scratch, I used Blogger, changed the template using my Photoshop and coding skills, and used Blogger's powerful tagging tool which put posts of a similar theme together on one page.

The ultimate objective of a blog is to create a conversation between the writer and the reader. However, I also saw the website as an easy way to build a website of substance to support my book - if ever and whenever it gets taken on by a publisher ... a bit like the online production diary that director Peter Jackson kept while making King Kong. The website gets noticed now and then, but ultimately, I am building up a strong archive for the IF and WHEN.

I have started another blog on a theme that I intend to explore in a future novel about climate change, I haven't been blogging extensively because I don't want to fill it with off-the-cuff stuff but with pieces that will someday be the beef to my future novel's bone.

Last year, i kept a comic blog on the building of my writing shed.

Blogs are not just diaries - they are conversations with the outside world, extended essays, online magazines on themes that you would never find on a newstand!

We have at our fingertips these powerful tools to support our craft - and they're FREE.

Here are three bits of unsolicited advice to those who still resist the onward march of the internet:
1) Computers don't explode when you get something wrong.

2) Any mistakes can be undone by pressing Control-Z (for PCs) . You can restore the deletion by pressing Control-Y

3) If your blog looks like crap, delete it and try again.

Monday 1 September 2008

A Long Wet Summer of Hannah Montana

So the Met Office informs us that September will be better than this long wet August we've been having - not an Indian summer, mind you, just a wee bit dryer.

Which is comforting. This past summer's wet weather drove my household into the arms of Hannah Montana and her other sitcom cohorts on the Disney Channel (courtesy of an ill-conceived cable TV upgrade).

Watching the Disney Channel (incessantly) has it's educational side to a wannabe children's writer. I suppose one could view Disney Channel content as competition.

I mean, the programme ideas are not far off the stuff we try to think up for our own books - the list reads like SCBWI story pitching competition:
Hannah Montana - superstar goes undercover as girl next door

That's So Raven - teenage psychic who always jumps to the wrong conclusions

The Suite Life - identical twins live in hotel where their mom works with a resident millionaire teenager thrown in

Wizards of Waverley Place - teenage wizards-in-training ... in New York

Camp Rock - High School Musical redux ... except it's rock not pop and it's a camp not a school.

Cory in the House - teenager moves into White House with his chef dad and must cope with life in the capitol plus the president's smart-aleck little daughter
I remember in my childhood that the Disney factory spun out film after film, using actors from the same stable in the same way that these sitcoms seem to swap actors back and forth.

Kurt Russell, now a proper actor, used to be in the Disney stable, starring in such badly made films as The Strongest Man in the World (1975), Superdad (1972), and Now You See Him Now You Don't (1972). I watched them all.

Now, Disney's doing the same thing using the internet and TV - my daughter is this minute watching Wendy Wu Homecoming Warrior - Wendy's destiny is to save the world but all Wendy wants is to become homecoming queen (nice idea!) - stars Brenda Song, who plays the airhead millionaire teenager from The Suite Life. Jeez, Disney works its actors hard ... I found out that Brenda Song also maintains this video blog on the Disney site.

School totally re-opens tomorrow. I haven't written a single word since the holidays began so though I will miss my little people, I CAN'T WAIT!

Meanwhile, here's a wistful look back at the summer that wasn't quite:

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