Friday, 6 September 2019

Launching Kitty


On Saturday I was in my favourite book shop, Waterstones Milton Keynes, launching a new series from OUP by myself and Jenny Lovelie. It's a highly illustrated series in two colour for young readers from maybe 5+.

Kitty is a girl with cat-like superpowers and she has to learn to use them wisely. She has heightened senses and great agility, so she runs across the rooftop at night with her cat crew. The first book, Kitty and the Midnight Rescue, sees her rescue a stripy ginger kitten called Pumpkin. In the second book, Kitty and the Tiger Treasure, she solves a mystery when a precious artefact is stolen from the city museum.

As a long-time cat lover, this series has been a joy to write. It was also wonderful to launch it in Waterstones MK as they have been supportive towards me for a really long time and for that I am immensely grateful.

I really hope young readers will love this series. I ran a crafty activity making cat masks (just like Kitty's!) on the day and enjoyed seeing everyone getting very creative.



It was also amazing to have the support of friends. I was so so happy to have a few Slushies and other writer pals there looking suitably cat-like!



My four week old baby mostly slept through proceedings in spite of losing one of her kitten socks. I have a suspicion that a few people may have come to see her as much as me!

The third book, Kitty and the Sky Garden Adventure, will be out next year.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Five Top Tips to Prompt a New Writing Idea by Kathryn Evans



It's almost September, the start of a new academic year, so here are some ways to kick start some new ideas.
TOP TIP ONE - What If?


via GIPHY
Ideas come from everywhere.

With an open mind you can pick up ideas like a magpie picks up shiny things.
The ideas behind my book More of Me came from:

1. Looking at old photographs of my daughter and wishing I could have kept all the previous versions of her - toddler Emily, six-year-old Emily, twelve-year-old Emily - maybe not fifteen-year-old Emily, that version was quite hard work.

2. And from observing the weird ways some insects reproduce - notably, aphids - what if that was exploited by science?

3. Remembering what it was like to be sixteen and feeling your life was being controlled by your parents - what if it really was?


These seem like random ideas but they came together to make an award-winning novel that was nominated for the Carnegie medal.

My new novel, Beauty Sleep, came from similar apparently disparate thoughts.

1. What if a girl from the eighties suddenly had to cope in a world where she's inundated with social media?

2. What if homelessness became a crime?

3. What if a great beauty product held a dark secret?


You'll see those two small but important words that are at the heart of every writer's work:

What If?

So that's my first and most important tip - build the question what if into everything you see/do/hear:

What if I'm doing the washing up and the drain expands and sucks me in?

What if I go to bed and when I wake up, I'm in a different century? ( I might write this one!)

What if my puppy gets bigger and BIGGER and BIGGER?

You get the idea. Hopefully.

Top Tip Two- If you're stuck, cheat.


via GIPHY

Use story prompt websites. They aren't really cheating, they're just lighting a match under your ready to burn tinder. Reddit is great :

https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/

But there are dozens of these sites - have a google and find one that works for you.

TOP TIP THREE - Use some Imagination tools.

Okay, this is kind of like Top Tip Two but I just confessed to cheating and you can NEVER trust a writer.

Story Cubes: I've never used them but I know someone who has and got a book deal out of it! Jill Atkins threw a torch, an open book, and a keyhole. She wrote a story called Grandad's Magic Torch and Franklin Watts are publishing it for their Reading Champions series in April 2020. Jill has written over 100 books, so if it's good enough for her, it's good enough for me.

Prompt Cards: I have a stack of cards with about thirty characters, inciting incidents and decisions a character makes to prompt in writing workshops and they ALWAYS spark loads of ideas.  It takes the pressure off to be given a trigger and quite often the writer rejects the card in favour of something else it's sparked off.

Other Writing: Dipping into history books,  guides for tourist sites, science magazines, myth and legend books will all fire something in your brain, guaranteed. Even practical writing books can help, Marie Basting, author of the fabulous debut Princess BMX, says:

When I was unsure where to go with new project, I read 'Stealing Hollywood' by Alex Sokoloff which really got me back on track.

TOP TIP FOUR - Talk to other writers.

Teaming up with other writers is a great source of support, encouragement, and stimulation. I was stuck on a story when I went to my monthly SCBWi writers group and they made a couple of suggestions that turned my story around. Give the girl a friend and give her a magic way out. I tore up the script I'd just finished and started again - it's SO MUCH better.  I haven't followed the advice exactly but their interest in my story kick-started something much more fun and imaginative.

I also asked my writer pals on twitter what they did to fire their story engines.

Mo O'Hara, the author of the Zombie Goldfish books, is a people watcher:

I people watch and listen to snippets of conversation. There is always a story.The other day I saw a really tough looking teenager in a hoodie with a giannormous cuddly toy. He was prob on a call but he looked like he was arguing with the Panda...story!
GR Dix takes himself off for a trip:

I drive around the countryside / look at a map - daft village names = character names = inspiration!

As does Nina Wadcock:

Visit old places or graveyards and wonder whose stories are beneath my feet.


 Top Tip Five - Lower your Crap-o-meter.

This is possibly the most useful tip I've ever been given and it was from our very own award-winning, best selling, Teri Terry. It's okay to write rubbish sometimes.  You can edit later.

Get it writ, then get it right.

Don't hamstring yourself by trying to be perfect from the start. No book is perfect from the off. It's like expecting to chisel out the statue of David with the first couple of hammer taps. It's not going to happen. Take off the pressure and have some fun with your writing.


Happy writing everyone!

via GIPHY


Kathryn Evans latest book, the pacy, gripping thriller ( Sunday Express)  Beauty Sleep, is out now.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Are You Burning Out?

By Nick Cross

Photo by pcorreia

As I write this, it’s Wednesday lunchtime, and I’ve just realised that I need to post this blog on Friday. It’s my lunch hour at work, and I’ve spent the morning in meetings, answering emails and interviewing candidates for a job. This afternoon, I have three hours of back-to-back workshops. In the back of my mind, I’m stressing about the fact that I only have a week and a half to finish the illustration package for my novel, so my agent can start submitting to publishers. On top of that, my house is full of plumbers, on an ever-more-expensive quest to work out what is wrong with our central heating system.

I tell you all this not to gain your sympathy, but to point out that my life is quite busy, as I’m sure yours is too! As writers and/or illustrators in the modern world, the majority of us are either freelance or propping up our creative careers with a day job. But because of this, we need to be extra careful to protect our mental health, especially from the dangers of burnout.

What is burnout? My employer, Oxford Dictionaries, defines it as:

Physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress

Which sounds very dramatic. But in actual fact, burnout tends to come on more gradually. This article suggests burnout typically involves:

Emotional exhaustion, cynicism or detachment, and feeling ineffective

For a long time, burnout was a concept more associated with people working in ultra-high stress environments like financial trading. But this year, there have been a number of much-discussed articles about how the modern gig economy affects workers, and particularly millennials. In fact, when I did a Google search for “millennial,” “millennial burnout” was one of the top suggestions.

It was a Buzzfeed article from January that kicked everything off. In it, millennial Anne Helen Petersen talks about how she found herself unexpectedly paralysed by menial tasks, and her disbelief at the idea of burnout – because she was still getting so much done! But this overwork culture (instilled by parents from an early age), is what drives millennials to feel that they are never achieving enough, even though they are working all the time. Sound familiar to anyone?

Photo by Derek Gavey

I myself have struggled with burnout for a long time, though I didn’t know that was what it was until quite recently. It was first triggered about ten years ago when I was working from home, doing a job I hated. Aside from a couple of high-stress conference calls each day, it felt like no-one was monitoring what I was doing, or even cared what I achieved. I become demotivated and sluggish, doing less and less each day. My writing career seemed like a lifeline, and after I won Undiscovered Voices, I embraced that side of things, excited by the possibilities of leaving my awful day job.

Sadly, it was not to be. Not only did I fail to get published, but I discovered how insidious burnout is, how stealthily it infects every part of your life. Writing – the thing I had loved so much – became a desperate chore, and I struggled to put words on the page, even as my then-agent pressured me to deliver the manuscript. Full-blown depression followed, and I fell into a deep hole that it took several years to claw myself out of. As Anne Helen Petersen says, there is no getting better from burnout – it is a chronic condition. Even though I have since taken a much better day job and found my way back into writing, I regularly feel the demotivating forces pulling at me. I ask myself questions like “what’s the point?” and “why should I bother?” This often causes me to contemplate my own mortality, but rather than that motivating me to get on with stuff, it leads to a gloomy kind of pondering about whether one person can have much of an effect on our crazy world.

The nature of modern culture - and especially social media, with its endless facility for enabling comparisons – has certainly exacerbated the problem of burnout. Suddenly, the things in our lives that are supposed to reduce stress now actually increase it. Keeping fit and healthy has become a chore that fills up our already-overflowing schedules with gym sessions, yoga classes and quack “wellness” remedies. Even watching TV has become an exhausting experience, with a multitude of options and a new “must see” show popping up twice a week. A recent Nielsen report discovered that US adults watching streaming services are paralysed by choice, spending an average of 7 minutes selecting what to watch before every programme. We might mock the concept of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) but it’s a very clear manifestation of the burnout culture, this idea that no matter who you are, no matter what you do, there is always something better you could be doing.

Photo by Remy Sharp

If any of the above has resonated with you, what can you do to reduce your risk of burnout? As with many misunderstood conditions, opinion on treatment options varies. One of the articles I cited earlier actually found that building resilience made burnout worse, not better! This was possibly because the pressure of trying to be resilient was yet another stress on already over-stressed individuals. Those who are self-critical perfectionists (like me) are particularly at risk of this. As a counterpoint view, I read an article from Psychology Today that claimed writers never really get burned out, because "they have a built-in reserve of mojo to draw from" and a "sense of deeper purpose that can mitigate the frazzle of life no matter what happens with their work out there in the world." Of course, those of us who aren't magical butterflies may wish to seek a more practical solution!

This article offers some good advice on steps you can take. Particularly, it encourages detachment from external validation and criticism (think rejection emails), and being smart in your approach to social media. Focusing on the process rather than the outcome is another recommendation - I am finding it useful recently to think about the work as an end in itself, with no expectations of what it might lead to. The publishing industry is capricious, and I have got myself into trouble in the past by making grand assumptions.

It’s hard not to compare ourselves to other people - I have been frustrated with myself this week, feeling that my illustration skills are not at the level of my peers. At least it has stopped me worrying about my writing abilities, I suppose! The truth is that we are all on a continuum, and there will always be people who we perceive as being happier, more talented or more successful than we are. But these are just perceptions, and dangerous ones too. The road to burnout is paved with distorted thinking and the idea that working really, really, really hard will achieve our life goals. Yes, by all means be persistent in your approach. But try to be kind to yourself too.

Nick.


Nick Cross is a children's writer/illustrator and Undiscovered Voices winner. He received a SCBWI Magazine Merit Award, for his short story The Last Typewriter.
Nick is also the Blog Network Editor for SCBWI Words & Pictures magazine. His Blog Break column appears fortnightly on W&P.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Bed in Summer - a select selection of Summer reading


Bed in Summer

In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candle-light.

In summer, quite the other way,

I have to go to bed by day.



I have to go to bed and see

The birds still hopping on the tree,

Or hear the grown-up people's feet

Still going past me in the street.



And does it not seem hard to you,

When all the sky is clear and blue,

And I should like so much to play,

To have to go to bed by day?

R.L. Stevenson


I remember coming across this poem in an ancient copy of A Child's Garden of Verses. It was actually the Summer holidays and I was at my grandparent's house and yes, it was still light. I was cross about being in bed when it was warm and light and the poem spoke for me about having to do something I didn't want to do and the thing I did want to do, tantalisingly just out of the window, out of reach.

I loved all those night-time adventure stories where children braver than me would explore and discover secrets about others and about themselves. So, here's a selection of Summer night time reading from my past ...


I used to love reading science fiction whereas now I prefer to watch it.

Image result for tom's midnight garden

Tom's Midnight Garden. What a wondrous and delicious adventure for those warm Summer nights; sneaking outside with your PJs on and your eyes wide open to magic.

Related image

Okay, so this fantastic series is more of a Winter read but I think I read it all year round. I think it's akin to reading Alan Garner. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was a special favourite along with, The Owl Service.


Image result for the owl service

 This book of fairy tales is one of my first books and I ADORED it. I read it over and over. I especially loved the story of The Children of Lir from Ireland in which the four children were turned into swans by a wicked stepmother (of course). These stories led me to the brothers Grimm and the story of the brothers cursed to be swans but saved (mostly) by their human sister making nettle shirts before the curse was complete (ouch). So brilliant and brave. I think the boys were grateful.



On the subject of boys, I used to devour short stories of any sort but back in the day, the anthologies for girls were all schools and horses. I wanted stuff to stir!


I don't have any of the boys stories anthologies but the above gives you a flavour.


And yes, The Hardy Boys was a favourite as well. I chomped my way through all the library copies one Summer.

Image result for the three musketeers

Oh, The Three Musketeers! How I longed to join their ranks! And how confused I used to be by the misleading title!

I thought I'd end my brief tour of books from my Summer's past with a quote. What I was looking for when I read was adventure and excitement and a way to really feel what I could not do as a child. Books were my refuge, my joy and a door into my many worlds. 

Did you ever read a sentence you loved the way you love your favorite animal? My favorite animal is a lioness; how she doesn’t have a mane but she always has some blood around her mouth. And how the lionesses work together like good friends when they want to kill something. I’ve never seen a lioness in person or touched one or slept in the same bushes where a lioness lives, but I’ve known since I was a little kid that I love them the most.

Sometimes when I’m reading a good book and I’m under a blanket and no one’s trying to talk to me, I forget that I’m reading. The tall grass of the story grows up around me, and I’m just another silent creature whose heart beats in that world. If I sit still and keep reading that way, sometimes a sentence stalks by as lovely as a lioness. Blood around its mouth; that fresh, that killer. I read it once, and I know I have to read it again, not look away, watch closely how it moves.

And then I start to notice my eye muscles moving my eyeballs back and forth again, and see the black of the letters on the gray of the page, and I’m just plain reading under a blanket. It’s still fun. But the reason I read is for the lionesses. For the sentences that pull me in with all their teeth.

Farmer, poet, doula, and performer Laura Brown-Lavoie


in we go ...

Friday, 19 July 2019

Making things up: going out of order

by Teri Terry

Part 6 in Marking Things up: a blog series about the creative process
When you are writing, do you start at the beginning and carry on until you get to the end, or do you write scenes out of order? 

Back years ago when I was still learning to write novels, I had a problem. I'd come a long way and could say I had these three elements pretty much in hand: 

1. Idea for the story: one that was big enough to take a whole novel to explore.
2. The beginning: one to drag readers into the world and story
3. The ending: a satisfying end to the character's - dare I say it? - journey. The sort you don't necessarily see coming but once you have it gives you that feeling that says it always had to be that way.

What's missing? the pesky middle

I loved - still do! - writing beginnings and endings. Then I'd rush as quick as I could from one to the other. I didn't have saggy middles; it's more that they were missing. I'd put in the essentials to lead from beginning to end but no more. There were no pauses or beats in the story, no subplots, no breaks for the reader - just a breathless rush from one to the other.

It took me a while to understand this, but once I did, I still struggled to understand what needed to be there. 

When I wrote the Slated trilogy, it was originally going to be a single novel, not a trilogy. I wrote the part of it that would have been the first third if it was a standalone, and realised there was too much of a rush through it, that it needed more, and made the decision to change it to a trilogy. So, I had something less than 20,000 words that needed to grow.

I think this is the first time I made a chapter table: first column, chapter number/word count; second column, a paragraph saying what happened in the chapter; third column blank. The important third column is where I'd add notes of things that were missing, needed to change etc. Doing this helped me see what was missing and where to put it, and is still something I do today, not so much as an initial plotting tool but further along in the process when I'm getting stressed about the missing middle.

Because of the way Slated evolved, I'd written the beginning and ending before I filled in the middle. To be fair I wrote the ending before I'd finished even the shorter version of the novel that I had to begin with. I'm pretty sure this is the first time I did this: write the ending early on in the process.
If I save a scene that is in my head, clear in my thoughts, and don't allow myself to write it until I get there in the plot, once I'm there it's lost what it had before - that urgency the words need to have, that delight in writing it also. 
Writing out of order is something I've done since then whenever I had a scene in my head that won't leave me alone. It might have to change - even drastically - when I get there, but that's ok. I need to get it out when it wants out.

Somewhere along the way I stopped writing out of order: multiple viewpoints tripped me up. Book of Lies, the Dark Matter trilogy (Contagion, Deception, Evolution) and Fated all have multiple viewpoints. I tried different ways of approaching this but I found that writing out of order to any extent didn't work when I was alternating chapters between different character's points of view. I still occasionally would write a few critical scenes - the key scenes that define the character &/or move the plot along - that were niggling at me even though the point of view would end up changing later on once I got there. 

Now I'm writing a Shiny New Thing: I can't tell you much about it yet, but it has a single point of view. I think somewhere along the way I'd forgotten how much fun it can be to do things out of order, and how useful it is to my writing process. 

Writing takes a lot of self-discipline, particularly when you add in deadlines. I used to really push myself to hit word counts or hour counts of how many hours a day I was writing, and it was taking the fun out of it. Being able to daydream my characters and think ahead and backwards and ahead again makes it more fun, but beyond that:
Writing critical scenes first cements the story and key elements in my mind. It makes it obvious what is needed to link these scenes together - and there is my missing middle. 
I still use tables to keep me on track when I need to. At the moment I'm at the stage where I'm approaching the finish line, and there are gaps here and there in my table - missing chapters that need to be written still - that get me from one critical scene to another.

There are no rules on the best way to write a novel: every writer and every story will work in a different way.
But if you've ever felt it is inherently wrong to jump ahead to the fun stuff in your plot, don't punish your muse! They like a bit of freedom.

Making Things Up: previous blogs in this series on the creative process

Part 5: Finding the place for your story
Part 4: The Care and Feeding of Plot Bunnies
Part 3: Writing all the right words: but not necessarily in the right order
Part 2: Getting Started
Part 1: Because I'm a writer, and that's what I do


Friday, 5 July 2019

Good News!

By Nick Cross

Image by freepik

I have SO much to write in this blog post - please do excuse me if it goes on a bit. But with that in mind, I won't make you read through the whole thing for the headline news. I (and my illustrated YA novel Riot Boyyy) have an agent! A real live agent, and not just someone who I have conversations with in my head. I’m delighted to introduce Heather Cashman.

Heather is an associate agent with Storm Literary Agency, living in Kansas (yes, in the US of A). Although she has only been a full-time agent since January, Heather is far from inexperienced. She’s been a professional editor for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, interned at various agents and publishers, and is the former Managing Director of mentoring programme Pitch Wars. She’s also really nice (this is important, folks!)

Heather has a small list of clients at the moment, and that’s definitely a bonus for me - as an aspiring debut writer/illustrator I know that my career will need more attention than someone who’s better established. We also have the infrastructure of an established agency to back us up.

Five years ago, I wouldn't have considered looking for a US agent. Now that I've signed with one, the whole process seems very straightforward. All of the tools for remote working (email, Skype, Dropbox) are there to assist us, and even the time difference isn't a big problem. Given that I have a full-time job, the fact that Heather is mostly online during my afternoon and evening is actually pretty convenient.



For the last 6 or 7 years, I’ve had a bottle of vintage champagne in a box. Every so often, I would slide open the box, look at it and then slide the box closed again. Because, you see, I was saving that champagne for something really special - signing with an agent. And yet despite my best efforts, year after year that didn’t happen. After a while, that champagne started to weigh me down, it became another reason to feel bad about myself, that I had somehow failed by not making the (seemingly) impossible happen.

Last weekend, I opened the bottle and my family toasted my success. But although the champagne tasted absolutely fine (in no way guaranteed after 7 years in the bottle) it wasn’t worth waiting that long for. I resolved in future to celebrate the smaller successes along with the larger ones, to ride the ups and downs of the writer’s life with equanimity.

And let me tell you, there have been plenty of ups and downs over the last few months. If you read my earlier post The Thrill of the Chase - My Quest for the Perfect Agent, you’ll know that I hadn’t initially intended to send out Riot Boyyy to agents at all. But when I did, I really went for it. Here are the stats:
  • Agents submitted to: 45
  • Rejections Received (to date): 28
  • Full Manuscript Reads: 4

Despite the large number of submissions, my process was actually highly selective. I leaned heavily on the Manuscript Wish List site, looking for agents who represented YA books as well as:
  • Representing illustrators/graphic novels
and/or
  • Looking for books about feminism

Pro tip: The Manuscript Wish List search can be a bit limited, so for better coverage you can use a Google site search. For instance, searching for “feminism” on manuscriptwishlist.com returns 10 results. But typing “feminism site:manuscriptwishlist.com” into Google returns 90 results!



I can’t honestly say that I looked at Heather’s profile on Manuscript Wish List and cried “She’s the one!” I remember that she looked kind from her photo (some agents’ photos are mildly terrifying), and that her interests aligned with mine. But honestly, I had also sent to lots of other agents who seemed perfect, to no avail. When you are a writer submitting to agents, you have to be careful where you spend your emotional energy, because it’s very easy to burn out - especially when you’re sending a lot of submissions. Of course, I’m an emotional person, so it’s hard for me to stay detached all the time. Although each individual rejection hurt less than it has in the past, there was a period at the beginning of March when I was receiving rejections every day. That was really tough.

I had some notable misses with agents. One rejected me after 42 minutes (with feedback to boot). I found another on Twitter #MSWL, asking for boys’ books set in the 1990s. I thought that one was a slam dunk, but I got rejected after just 5 hours. Both of these were evidence that my pitch was really working, encouraging agents to read my chapters as soon as they received them. I scored a hit with an agent who responded to my initial submission with effusive praise, after less than a day. With great excitement, I immediately sent my full manuscript, but the agent then proceeded to sit on it for five months. This was the very definition of a mixed message (though the message I finally took was that they were too busy to be my agent!)


When you are searching for representation, the whole process is partly one of judgement. The agent is judging whether your writing excites them and has market potential. They are also judging your pitch and your ability to be professional - are you the kind of person they can have a working relationship with? The same should be true of the writer, however much the temptation is to jump up and down waving a banner saying “Like me! Like me!” Signing with an agent is not something to be entered into lightly (believe me, I have history with this), so I unavoidably found myself assessing Heather’s potential to represent me. After I sent her the full manuscript, she replied saying that it would take her three months to read it. Fair enough, I thought - it was good to have a timescale. When she replied a week and a half later, I knew I might be onto something. But then she did something really smart - she asked me to put together a document containing extracts of four to six other projects that I had written. She wanted to look beyond the book that I was submitting, to other potential projects that we might work on.

What an opportunity! Like a lot of unpublished writers, I have a bulging bottom drawer full of projects that never quite made it to market. It was honestly such a delight that someone wanted to read all this stuff, the words that I thought might remain undiscovered forever.

Throughout this post, I’ve been talking more from the perspective of a writer than a writer/illustrator. And part of the reason for that is the way that the submission process is set up. Nine times out of ten, an agent will ask to see the words first and the illustrations later (if they ask at all). Perhaps for picture books this is different, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear way to submit older illustrated fiction.

So, right up to the point I had my first Skype call with Heather, I didn’t know if she wanted to represent me as a writer, or an illustrator, or what. I didn’t know, because I hadn’t dared to ask earlier in the process! I tentatively broached the subject of whether she would be pitching the novel as an illustrated book, and she said something like: “Of course I want to present this with your illustrations.” Cue a massive sigh of relief from me! Later, when I received the agency contract, I got very emotional when it said I would be represented as a writer/illustrator. This is an incredible milestone for me, and I truly I believe that the authentic voice of Riot Boyyy comes from the synthesis of words, pictures and presentation.

OK, I need to stop now, before this blog post ends up being longer than the novel it’s celebrating. But I can’t end without a quick round of thank yous:
  • To Heather and the team at Storm Literary for their belief in me
  • To the Notes from the Slushpile crew, for their moral support through difficult times
  • To Sara O'Connor, whose enthusiasm for Riot Boyyy was instrumental in me deciding to approach agents rather than self-publish
  • To Terri Trimble, my "authenticity consultant" who read the whole novel and corrected my slip-ups in language and setting
  • And to all the Scoobies who cheered me on at The Hook. As ever, you rock!

Honestly, I'm still pinching myself about this. But if you go to the Storm Literary website, you can see my author profile, so it must be true!

Nick.


Nick Cross is a children's writer/illustrator and Undiscovered Voices winner. He received a SCBWI Magazine Merit Award, for his short story The Last Typewriter.
Nick is also the Blog Network Editor for SCBWI Words & Pictures magazine. His Blog Break column appears fortnightly on W&P.

Friday, 7 June 2019

TopTips on Social Media for Authors and Illustrators

Insta Post!

Social media - love it or hate it, it's part of our modern lives and a big part of the deal of getting your book to readers.   Not everyone takes naturally to it, and not everyone has an instinct for using the technology.  If that's you, this post aims to give a simple guide of how best to make social media work for you without swamping your life. If you've any questions, pop them in the comments and I'll do my best to help.

Website.


You probably need a website. It doesn't need to be all singing all dancing but it needs to showcase you and your work in an appealing way so that if someone searches for you, they're going to be mildly impressed. This is especially important if you're an illustrator.

Here's mine: www.kathrynevans.ink

Who does it reach? Anyone searching for you - potentially agents, editors, reviewers, readers, librarians.

How to use it?  

1. I've written a brief how to on my own website that you might find useful for the very basics. You'll find it here. 
2. Keep it updated and fresh. Post public appearances, news,  information about event bookings - have a look at other people's websites for inspiration.
3. Put links to booksellers on your posts - make it easy for people to purchase if they want to.
4. Check your website is usable on phones, tablets and desktops. Wordpress has a facility that will allow you to see how it looks across all of these.
5.  Check in so you can answer any comments or have them sent to your email.

Facebook


This is probably the best known of all the western platforms. It's also, possibly,  the most highly visible in terms of ethical issues such as misuse of data and the spreading of fake news. I won't go in to those here but our own Candy Gourlay discusses that here. Aside from those issues,  in terms of promoting yourself to an audience, is it worth being on Facebook?

I get very little traffic to my Facebook Author page - I keep it because there is some traffic and because I don't want to bore my friends and family rigid with all my book news on my personal Facebook page. In truth though, most of my Facebook followers ARE my friends and family. And that is what I find Facebook best for.  I am a member of several private groups and I love the community space they provide. I can see what my wider family are up to and dip in and out when  I want to.

Here's mine: https://www.facebook.com/kathrynevansauthor/

Who does it reach?   Mostly friends and family. Good for chat groups like SCBWI and other writer groups.

How to use it: 
1. Post regularly, aim for at least every other day.
2. Check your messages so you don't miss anything. Block any horrible people without engaging.
3. Interact with comments at least once a day if you can.
4. Don't push your book at people, give them interesting relevant content such as news articles or reviews.
5. Use the cool things Facebook gives you - there's a Book Now link that you can set up to take your readers straight to  your website.
6. Link the account to Instagram if it helps, (so if you upload to Insta it'll automatically post to the face book page you  select).

There are alternatives to Facebook but I'm not hugely familiar with them and so far, adding extra platforms is just a bit too much for me BUT you'll find a few Slushies, including me occasionally, on MeWe.

Twitter.

Fast paced and furious Twitter can be a bit bewildering and shouty as well as fun and dynamic.

Here's mine: @KathrynEvansInk

Who does it reach? Librarians, book sellers, bloggers and other authors cross paths. If you want to reach industry professionals, Twitter is the place.

How to use it:
1. Don't shout BUY MY BOOK, no one  will follow you.
2. Be wise, pertinent, funny and sharp. You need to be generous - share good things you've found, help promote others - if someone asks for advice, try and give it.
3. Follow people, interact with them. Be interested and interesting.
4. If you get embroiled in an argument stay calm , block anyone who is outrageously rude to you.
5. You can't retweet a tweet over and over without commenting on it but it's easy for a single tweet to be missed so Retweet with comment - you can use ICYMI ( In Case You Missed It) so you can RT (retweet) again later.
6. Use a service like TweetDeck to organise your tweets - you can create search columns and schedule tweets.
7. Use appropriate hashtags - #amwriting #amediting are really useful ones !
8. Use your author name so people can find you easily.

Instagram. 


I was advised to join Instagram by my publicist. I didn't think I'd like it. Turned out, I LOVE it.

Classic Insta story post!


Here's mine: @KathrynEvansAuthor

Who does it reach? Readers and bloggers and librarians. This is the primary place my readers connect with me - I write YA so that  may skew the figures - do comment if you write for a different age group, I'd love to know where works best for you.

How to use it? 

1. Post regularly without swamping people's feeds. Aim for once or twice a day.
2. Be interesting and relevant but don't be shy - the posts that get most likes on my Instagram are usually pictures of my new hair colour!
3. Think about what you're presenting to the world and try and keep to the same themes - I post about my life so it is a bit eclectic - books, hair, pets and fencing mostly.
3. Use hashtags - that's how people find you- #bookstagram #amreading are good ones.
4. Stories allows you to take a reader on a journey through your day without swamping their feed - they have to choose to look at stories - look at how Juno Dawson and Alwyn Hamilton do it. I find their story threads really fun and engaging.
5. Make your pictures as good as they can be - the edit features in Instagram allow you to turn your pictures the right way around and brighten or sharpen them. Take time to get to know how to use them.
6. Interact with people - this is almost more important than posting - comment, ask questions - aim to do so around 5 times a day.
7. Use an app like Repost to share other people's cool posts - ask permission first, they usually love it.
8. Go to settings and connect your account to twitter and facebook - then you can choose which images to share across all platforms.

YouTube


I am on You Tube but creating content takes such a long time I don't use it enough. Still, it's fun and another place for people to find you. Youngsters search YouTube all the time, they use it like a search engine to locate 'how to's' and information about things they're interested in. It's a platform I should make more use of! Though I don't feel qualified to help you with this one but have a look at my channel if you want to see what I do.




SnapChat

I thought Snapchat would be a great way to connect with my teen readers. I hated it - I got sent a lot of pictures of willies and my son deleted all the people I'd inadvertently befriended.

Here's mine:



Who does it reach? Who knows? I only use it to keep in touch with my son these days!

How to Use it: Sorry, it's still a mystery to me BUT it has really fun filters and you can save the images and videos and post them wherever you like. Here's a snapshot  of a virtual reality video I made with a Snapchat filter and then posted on Instagram.



That's it - there are many other platforms but for promotion purposes, these are the main places to be. My final bit of advice though - if you hate it leave it. Choose the place you feel happiest and make the most of that one.


 Kathryn Evans is the award winning author of More of Me. Her new book, Beauty Sleep, ( Black Mirror meets Sleeping Beauty) is out now.  Kathryn loves faffing about on social media: find her  on Facebook and Instagram @kathrynevansauthor and tweeting @KathrynEvansInk.  

Friday, 31 May 2019

The Writer's 4 Stages of Learning

by Em Lynas
I'm a big fan of the Four Stages of Learning and I apply them to EVERYTHING, Life, Learning, Writing etc. 


They keep me on track, stop any feelings of being overwhelmed, help me keep a balance between the intensity of learning new skills and relaxing with old skills. I've talked about them before on the Slushpile but for those who have never heard of them, here they are:

Stage One
Unconscious Incompetence

I don't know what I don't know but I am going to... Write a book/learn to drive/start a relationship/take up skydiving etc

Stage Two
Conscious Incompetence.

I have had a reality check and I am learning what I don't know (which is taking much longer than I expected) so that I can... Write a book/learn to drive/start a relationship/take up skydiving etc

Stage Three
Conscious Competence

I know what I need to know and now I am going to practise applying it so that I can... Write a book/learn to drive/start a relationship/take up skydiving etc

Stage Four
Unconscious Competence.

At this stage I may have the impression that I'm an expert. I've reached the top of the learning curve and embedded the learning so I can... Write a book/learn to drive/start a relationship/take up skydiving etc
  
When I began writing I was obviously at Stage One. I had no idea what I needed to learn (lots). I also had no idea where to go for help. (SCBWI BI). I had no idea how steep (or how long) the learning curve was going to be but I went through the stages and, eventually, published a series of books with Nosy Crow.

So now I am at the beginning again. Writing a brand new thrill a minute, surprise a second, series. And I started thinking about the Four Stages and where I was with this new work because I feel I am right back down at Unconscious Incompetence in everything.

But that can't be right. I'm an author. I can write. I have proof! Look!



So, I've made a list to get a sense of perspective and hopefully a bit of confidence in the new stuff.

Things I am Unconsciously Incompetent at:

  • This new plot.
  • This Story.
  • Who the characters are.
  • Their motivations.
  • Their voices.
I still don't know what I don't know but as the story develops I will discover this and need to research the things I don't know such as the world I set my book in. Currently reading:


So there's a clue as to what's coming next, hopefully.

Things I am Consciously Incompetent at:

Writing the synopsis
Urgh! Yuck! Please no. Don't make me do it!

Verbally pitching
I recently attempted a verbal pitch to my agent, Amber Caraveo.
Me: blah blah blah
Agent Amber: Er ? Er.
Me: I'll write it down and send it.
Agent Amber: I think that's best.

The marketability triangle.

Nailing age group plus length plus subject matter is easier said than done and there are lots of rules about different lengths re- chapter books and middle grade books.

Time management.

  • Should I have a daily word counts and stick to it?
  • Should I have a time slot and stick to it?
  • Should I sit in the sunshine with my 'thinking face' on and tell everyone - this is WORK people - WORK!

Scrivener.
I can't get the hang of formatting when compiling and switching to Word. The width doesn't match and the text disappears off the right hand side.

Ignoring the REAL BIG WORLD that is going crazy at the moment. I struggle to hide in my story away from the harm that is being done to the world.

Things I am Consciously Competent at:

Plotting using plotting cards.

Structure

  • Using the Hero's Journey as a base and (hopefully) disguising it.
  • Kicking the protagonist into Act 2.
  • Escalating the plot and story
  • Planning from the midpoint.
  • Kicking the protagonist into Act 3

Characterisation

  • Creating personalities.
  • Creating relationships.
  • Using idiolect.

Pitching
I may be weird but I love writing the short pitch.
Em wants to write a book but her incompetence gets in the way. Can she crawl up the learning curve in time to meet the deadline? Of course she can!

Things I am Unconsciously Competent at:

The tools of the trade

  • Grammar
  • Punctuation.
  • Syntax

Analysis: I LOVE analysing mentor texts looking for:

  • Structure
  • Voice.
  • Characterisation.
  • Openings
  • Endings
  • Midpoints
Editing: I LOVE editing.

  • The big edit for structure.
  • The big edit for consistency of character and motivation.
  • The close edit for clarification.
  • Then the proof-reading - picking up those little things like - Twink Toadspit has six brothers and I've listed seven! That was a close call.

Technology
It's been a huge learning curve but luckily it was one step at a time over a few years so now I know, among lots of other stuff:

  • The norm for submitting
    • Font - Arial or Times New Roman, 12 p double spaced.
    • Layout - Don't indent first paragraph, indent the rest at .5cm
    • Write THE END so agent/editor knows for certain - that's it.
  • To BACK UP!
    • Whether that's on Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Memory Stick (Beware -some can deteriorate), emailing to myself, printing off.
  • How to create a website and blog.

So - are we always In Stage One: Unconscious Incompetence?
I think so. I'm published but I still devour the How To Books, I go to kidlit conferences, I sign up for courses, I attend critique groups.

Why? 

Because I still don't know what I don't know and the authors, course leaders, conference keynotes, fellow critiquers might know what I don't know and the great thing about Kidlit authors is they will share what they DO know. Then I'll know it too. What a fabulous profession to be in.


Em Lynas is the author of The Witch School Series staring Daisy Wart aka Twinkle Toadspit and published by Nosy Crow.

*Reference from Wikipedia
Management trainer Martin M. Broadwell described the model as "the four levels of teaching" in February 1969.[1] Paul R. Curtiss and Phillip W. Warren mentioned the model in their 1973 book The Dynamics of Life Skills Coaching.[2] The model was used at Gordon Training International by its employee Noel Burch in the 1970s; there it was called the "four stages for learning any new skill".[3] Later the model was frequently (but incorrectly) attributed to Abraham Maslow, although the model does not appear in his major works.[4]

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