Monday 26 March 2012

Climbing Mountains with Patrick Ness, Tim Bowler, Sally Nicholls and Moira Young

by Teri Terry

On Saturday I went to the Oxford Literary festival with most of my crit group and a few others along as well. Friends, books, a gorgeous sunny day in Oxford, and promise of a pub after: bliss. But first and foremost, we were there to hear a stellar panel of award-winning YA authors on this topic:
Life, Death and Other Grown up Subjects.
Patrick Ness: author of the acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, the first of which had me glued hour after hour to the pages...then throwing it across the room at the end because book 2 wasn't out yet. He won the 2011 Carnegie medal for book 3, Monsters of Men, and also wrote A Monster Calls, completed from an idea left by the late Siobhan Dowd.

Monday 19 March 2012

Hints for authors from Waterstones' Martin Latham

by Teri Terry
Martin Latham is the longest serving Waterstones Manager, having been appointed by legendary entrepreneur and founder, Tim Waterstone. He has authored 130 entries in the Oxford Guide to English Literature, and regularly features in the Bookseller. If that isn't enough, he somehow found the time to start a highly successful writing group at his Canterbury Branch, and author a few books himself. 
Martin recently came to speak to the Chiltern Writers on getting your book featured in a bookstore and how to promote it. I was there, pen in hand. Slated is out in 44 days, after all...not that I'm counting. So any tricks of the trade I can learn are very welcome! I even broke my usual 'don't sit in the front row' rule in the aid of accurate blogging. More amazingly I not only remembered to take my camera along, I also remembered to use it.

Canterbury Waterstones opened in 1990. Since then employees have included Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell; Hollyoaks script writer and author Matt Evans; James Henry, co-author of scripts for Bob the Builder, Smack the Pony and many othersand an ever growing list of literary notables (more here). 

Neil Gaiman: sigh....
And the building has history: a Roman bathhouse floor and medieval wall in the basement, and what is believed to be the oldest working escalator between London and Paris. Past author events have included Bill Bryson, Nigella Lawson, and Neil Gaiman. I'm sure the authors I picked to name say something about me: more examples are given here and it is quite a list. Children's authors along have been J.K. Rowling (for book 2), Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson, Louis Sachar and Michael Morpugo. WOW.

Looking at the names might make a new author nervous: can we get our foot in a door like this? Should we even try?

Martin's answer is YES. Local authors are particularly welcome. And this is in part due to this:

The biggest change in the book trade in the 20th Century? Publishers aren't in charge anymore. 

Martin says the balance has changed. In years gone by, publishers would tell them what books they were going to stock and how many of them they were going to get in. Not so anymore. 

Top tips for getting yourself and your book in your local bookstore:

  • no stalking allowed: booksellers are stressed and hard-pressed. Email the manager first. Follow it up if you don't hear back, arrange to go in and give them a copy of your book or proof
  • NEVER bother them in December. They're busy
  • don't be too pushy; always be professional
  • manners count: be nice to the staff. Hearing that an author was rude to employees will not make a manager favorably disposed to you or your book
  • make fliers on your book to be placed near the till: they'll generally take them!
Top tips on bookstore events:

  • signing sessions don't work unless you are famous: you need to stage an event. Give a talk, or hold a launch party. Also note that you may not manage to persuade press to come along, but if you send them a report with photos, they may very well report on the event
  • plan at least 2 months in advance: booksellers need that kind of notice
  • readings are not always the best idea: unless the author can read with dramatic flair, they may fall flat
I'd love to tell you some of Martin's author anecdotes, but I couldn't possibly. It would be horribly indiscreet. Suffice it to say that not drinking wine before giving an event sounds like a very, very good idea

Monday 12 March 2012

The Book of Never Letting Go

by Addy Farmer

So here it is. Finished. For some weird reason, I'm almost ashamed to admit that the manuscript for my 12 plus novel has been 9 years in the making and began taking shape soon after my youngest was born. However, before you decide that I must have been carving it out a word at a time, I would point out that, no, I hadn't been working on it the whole time.

I would have exploded after three years give or take.

I did manage to write other stuff and even get stuff published but the kernal of this particular story always stayed with me. So, in the interests of my sanity I thought I'd take you on a condensed journey and maybe follow it as it trundles on its way to publication and massive acclaim or... not.

At the beginning I got a great crit In Public from an editor from Penguin.
Who cares! I've learned to enjoy giving and receiving crit!
Then in the middle I had an exciting squeal-worthy thumbs up from Chicken House...

...before it was turned down.

I still hung on in there because I loved it and a little while later I found Cornerstones. I've been working with the wonderful Kathyrn Robinson for about two years now. Again, NOT all the time because she does have other things to do apparently. The ms had been back and forth three times before the time came to send it out for what felt like a final letting go.

Sometimes it's easier to travel in hope than to arrive
Tricky.  Doubt crept in accompanied by worry and yet more doubt. It wouldn't be good enough - all my love and all that support and all that work, just wouldn't be enough. I didn't want to let this story go without a struggle. It was easier to keep it and look at it again and again and again because writing, 'The End' felt a bit too final. There was always time for just one last look...

The basics - is that story arc working? The End. Well, I like the way it starts, nice and punchy with that big 'T'. It's firm, it's manly and it stomps into the beginning. The 'h', I'm not so sure about. It's wibbles about after that strong beginning and then there's the disaster of the repititious 'e'. Then it ginds to a massive halt until... oh my Lord where did that capital 'E' come from? E! All my rising tension gone! Then jumping down to that teeny rubbish, 'n' that's meant to herald the climax which it doesn't by the way. Then the 'd' which I like.

So perhaps something like this...


Okay, maybe one more teensy look. Yep, thought so, it's too boring now, it's predictable. That ending, there's no real twist. If I just do this...


Is that beginning right for the end now? There's no reflection of my unpredictable ending now in the beginning. So maybe if I just do this...


Oh but now it's all the same! I've flattened everything. I'll just...


It's too long...


too short...


too boring...


Waaaa. Calm down.
Do I love this story? Do I love my characters? Is it the best I can possibly make it? Yes. It's in the hands of someone I trust and now I will wait (and do other stuff).  

The End.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Scattered authors on a murder weekend - but what about the ticking tomato?

By Tim Collins
Guest Blogger

Orton Hall was the scene of the Scattered Authors Society's 25 to 26 Feb conference 

As we approached Orton Hall near Peterborough for the Scattered Authors Society conference, Jacob Sager Weinstein pointed out that the venue looked like the setting for a murder weekend. Fortunately, he meant ‘murder weekend’ in the sense of Agatha Christie rather than Saw or Hostel.

In fact, it soon turned out that a murder had been committed. But who was responsible?

Lee Weatherly
Was it Lee Weatherly? No, though her presentation on editing did provide some gripping revelations. One thing I notice whenever editing is discussed is how many writers say they agree to all their editor’s changes and believe they’re unusual for doing so.

Perhaps we’re all so desperate to avoid the ‘difficult author’ tag we overcompensate. And yet whenever editors are polled, they consistently say they don’t want us to change everything. They might not wish we called them at midnight to talk about semi-colons more often, but neither do they want us to blindly take on their suggestions if they’re going to harm the book. If we unquestioningly alter everything, we could give the impression that we don’t care enough about the finished work.

Interesting stuff. But it got us no closer to finding out the perpetrator of the heinous crime. Could it have been Anne Rooney, Sue Mongredien, Penny Dolan or Karen Ball?

No, they were too busy enlightening us on the various ways children’s authors can earn a living from their craft. As everyone you’ve ever met at a dinner party knows, writing for kids is highly lucrative, so you might not think there was much need for this.

But for those few unfortunate souls who don’t get regular six figure advances, this panel revealed useful information on ghostwriting, book packaging and school visits. These income streams are getting harder to come by, but they can still be a vital part of writing full time.

Neither was the murder committed by anyone on the brilliant panel ‘The Ups and Downs of a Writer’s Life’. These accounts of professional triumphs and drawbacks have become something of a tradition at SAS events, and they’re always hugely popular. The only thing harder than getting published is staying published, and finding out how others have coped with the inevitable challenges is invaluable. From the heartache of getting your beloved series dropped to the sophomore blues, there are writers who’ve been through it before you.

Joy Court
Back to the suspect list. Was it librarian Joy Court, who gave her impassioned take on children’s books and children’s book prizes? Was it elite tweeter Nicola Morgan, who showed us how to build an online platform?

No, the full details of the murder only emerged in Jacob Sager Weinstein’s talk on Sunday morning.

Jacob Sager Weinstein
It turned out that the victim was our productivity and the guilty parties were Twitter, Facebook and blogs like this. That’s right, readers! The killer has been right in front of you all along!

Sager Weinstein’s session started as an entertaining look at ways to beat procrastination and ended as an encounter group on web addiction. I was amazed at how many authors have taken to disabling their wi-fi connection or using a net-blocking app like Freedom or Anti-Social.

Some have even dabbled in the Pomodoro Technique, a severe time management method involving a ticking tomato.

Not to be confused with the Ludovico Technique, a much gentler form of therapy involving a clockwork orange.

Ludovico Technique

But someone must be getting something done, because the publications table was buckling under the weight of all the picture books, series fiction, middle grade, teen and YA that SAS members have produced in the past year.

The table will no doubt strain once more when the SAS return to Peterborough next year. For now, our thanks go out to Linda Chapman and Julie Sykes for organising an enjoyably packed conference.

Tim Collins
Tim Collins won the 2011 Manchester City Fiction Award for his book Diary of a Wimpy Vampire: The Undead Have Feelings Too. His latest book is Adventures of a Wimpy Werewolf: Hairy But Not Scary

Monday 5 March 2012

Roles in Publishing: Hachette's Naomi Cartwright, Senior Rights Executive

Naomi Cartwright has always loved stories (although she’s often tempted to read endings first). It was no surprise to her family that she did an English Studies degree at the University of Nottingham before moving to London to work in Children’s Publishing. Naomi is now a Senior Rights Executive at Hachette Children’s Books and has previously worked at Puffin and Orion. She also writes short stories, blogs at and is working on a debut YA novel. Naomi loves travelling and among her other adventures once spent a month living with Navajo Indians in America.

What exactly does a Rights person do?

Well, in between tea breaks, we work towards licensing the subsidiary Rights we have for all our picture books, fiction and non-fiction. The exact subsidiary Rights we have vary from book to book but they can include everything from Audio to Film.

Which matters because…

Subsidiary Rights deals raise an author’s profile and help make their book profitable. Any income the author earns from a Rights deal goes against their advance. This either helps earn it out quicker, meaning the author receives royalties faster, or if that’s already happened it goes straight into their pocket (minus their agent’s commission of course).
On a daily basis
I really do drink a lot of tea. I also work closely with pretty much everyone else in the company; Design, Marketing, Production, Finance and Contracts. No day is ever the same and that’s one of the things I love about my job. I could be planning a sales trip abroad, submitting titles to international publishers, negotiating deals or speaking to an Editor about a book they want to acquire. 
A large part of my role is working on Translation Rights and it’s really important to have an idea of what different customers and markets want. For example if an Editor proposes a new fiction title we’ll consider the word length - translators often charge per word so a very long book will obviously increase an International Publisher’s own costs and make it less desirable. 
We’ll also think about where a book might sell abroad. So we’ll feedback to the Editor that a rhyming alphabet picture book, (the ones that go; A is for apple, B is for banana…) isn’t likely to sell anywhere other than America. Why? Well even if an international publisher had exactly the same alphabet as us, there’s no guarantee their word for apple would also begin with the letter A. Verse is also notoriously difficult to translate. Art style is really important for picture books too, for example whilst the French prefer quirky, distinctive illustration, the Spanish favour more commercial artwork. As the old saying goes, you can’t please everyone all of the time, so instead we always think realistically about where a book is likely to sell before we acquire it.
Who knew?
That they don’t have jelly in Denmark? I’ve always loved to travel and I really enjoy working closely with international publishers, not just because of all the weird and wonderful things that I’ve learnt along the way. Good working relationships with international publishers is key and allows us to ensure we’re able to match the right books with the right Publishing House so that they will market, grow and build our authors. 
I am in daily email contact with most of the foreign publishers I work with, but nothing compares with meeting people face to face. It’s also nice to finally meet someone you’ve been in regular virtual contact with, even if on occasion I’ve been surprised at their gender: who knew ‘Erle’ would be female?! 
In addition to the three main trade books fairs a year (Bologna, London, Frankfurt) that my department attends, we also go on a couple of sales trips a year to visit customers in their own countries. Trips are a fantastic opportunity to have longer meetings with publishers, pitching titles to them and learning more about what books they want and why. Of course, trips are also an amazing chance to visit a country you’ve never been to before. They do have a down side though and for me it’s not the early morning flights, it’s trying to conquer my appalling sense of direction in a new city when I don’t want to be late for my meetings!
So what really happens at Book Fairs?
Bologna book fair is mere days away: March 19-22
Meetings. Lots of them. And in the case of Bologna at the end of March, the occasional glass of prosecco. Primarily these trade fairs are an opportunity to meet all the International Editors we work with. We’ll pitch a selection of our newest and most exciting titles, show mocked up picture books that we’ll publish in 18 months time, discuss industry news and find out how the books we’ve already sold have done in their markets. If it sounds like a lot to cram into a half hour meeting, that’s because it is and we don’t just have one or two meetings. Most Fairs are 3-4 days long and it’s fairly common to have a full schedule and to meet a different publisher every half hour from 9am to 6pm, maybe with one break to grab some lunch if you’re lucky. I really enjoy these meetings though; after all, I’m effectively being paid to talk about children’s books all day, which I love! It’s not just Rights teams and foreign Publishers who go to Book Fairs; Art Directors, Agents and Editors all attend which makes Book Fairs an amazing opportunity to showcase new talent, in turn creating a real buzz if there ends up being a title ‘everyone is talking about’.
So what is the next big thing?
Oh Crystal Ball, please tell us!
Good question. Rights people, Agents, Editors, we all keep our eyes peeled. It might be a debut author or a genre that suddenly explodes, but it’s something everyone, including all our international partners, is looking for. 
There are trends of course, patterns in the books Publishers buy or reject. Following the success of Twilight, the YA genre expanded and there was a huge rise in the popularity of paranormal romance, which is now waning. At Frankfurt last year I was repeatedly asked for strong middle grade fiction for 8-10 year olds and real life, girl fiction that wasn’t chick lit. But of course the real trick is being ahead of the curve, which for us means having books to sell that will be bang on trend in 18 months time…
A Right good job
I’ve always loved stories, especially children’s books and knew that I wanted to work in Children’s Publishing when I left University but I’ll confess that a career in Rights was initially more luck that judgment. Now though I can’t imagine being in any other department. I love working so closely with people from all over the world, I love the opportunities I have to travel and that I’m constantly learning new things but most of all I love that no day is ever the same.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Procrastination Tools for Writers #1: Recycling Your Old Manuscripts

Options for procrastination are endless. And yet, there's always time to find some new and exciting ways to put off doing anything useful with your time. Sally Poyton is here to show how you too can put off writing for a whole day longer...

1 Find any loose sweets/nuts/anything else edible in the house and make some attractive boxes for them. Then you can feel less guilty for eating them, because they will look like an extremely expensive and well-presented gift.

2 Try to think of anybody you know who might have a birthday in the next few months and get ahead with your wrapping. Depending how many manuscripts you have lying around, you could even play one-man pass the parcel.

3 Alone in the house? A paper aeroplane can keep you occupied for hours.

4 Not alone in the house? Try making a nice pinata, then arm your child with something to hit it with and watch whilst your manuscript gets beaten into submission.

5 Look around the house. You never know, there may be something that could use a fresh coat of paint. Your manuscript can provide a handy protective layer for your carpet whilst you hone your DIY skills.

6 If there are any small animals around, you may feel they deserve some home-made bedding. It turns out you can spend hours cutting paper into small strips.

7 Spring is on the way. It's time to make sure your plants are well-contained. Don't bother driving to your nearest garden centre - your manuscripts can provide you with something both sturdy and easy on the eye.

8 It's so annoying when you sit down to write and find that the table is wonky. Well, make sure it's stable before sitting down. If you're in desperate need of procrastination, try adding the paper one sheet at a time.

9 Writing can distract you from housework for long periods of time, and mug stains can get out of control fast. You may find you are in need of new drinks mats.

10 Try brightening up the house with some paper chains and bunting. You can never have enough paper chains and bunting. Not even when you've covered every square inch of the walls, your husband and as many children as you can locate at the time. Honest.

11 A bit of fancy dress can make your day. Wedding, anyone?

12 Before sitting down to write, procrastinate a little longer by making sure everyone in the house knows how hard you're about to work.

13 Insects can be a irritating distraction. Before you get going writing anything, it's worth going around the house a few times to take any out with this easily-accessible and lightweight baton.

14 Well you can't write when you're cold, can you?

15 Last but not least, when it all becomes a bit much, you can always dig yourself a little manuscript-burrow and curl up for the winter.

And remember, this isn't exclusive to manuscripts. It can extend to rejection letters, too...

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