Friday, 27 March 2015

It's all in the research...Lynn Huggins-Cooper

In last month's post I talked about cheating on my current WIP with a new idea...well, it was one of those delious ideas that 'has legs' - so I have run with it. Despite being in the middle of a huge educational writing project, with proofs arriving every day and demanding my attention, my head has been swimming with ideas. I've been a bit naughty and rather encouraged it by collecting reasearch materials. I revel in this stage of writing.
When I was writing 'Walking With Witches,' I spent a lot of time in situ at The Lit and Phil library and at the castle keep in Newcastle, where part of the story was set. It helped me to soak in the atmosphere, but it also gave me access to all manner of resources such as old documents and artefacts that helped me to get into 'the zone.'
This current WIP (it has become that now; its legs are that strong) is a real departure for me - for a start, it is for the adult market. Up until now, I have only written non-fiction books for adults so that feels rather strange. My postman has realised that a new project is afoot, because we are getting more mail. Odd tomes ordered online; strangely shaped parcel of things I just have to test before I can write about them with any degree of authenticity...bliss.

Does the photo give you any clues about my new idea? It is drawing together so many things I know about, and have lived, that it feels 'right' somehow. I suppose I am finally 'writing what I know' - and on that note, I'd better get back to it!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Did someone ask you to write books? by Cavan Scott

Yesterday, I popped into my youngest daughter's class for the afternoon. They'd been learning about pirates all term, so she'd asked me to go into school and read a chapter of my Angry Birds Treasure Island book.

Afterwards, the class set about asking me questions they'd prepared that morning.

Right at the end of the Q&A session, a girl at the back put up her hand.

"Did someone ask you to become a writer," she asked, "or did you just decide to do it anyway?"

What a brilliant question!

The great thing about being a writer is that you don't need anyone's permission. If you want to write, just write.

Yes, getting something published can be more difficult. There are a lot of gatekeepers out there, from agents to the publishers themselves, but no one can stop you creating.

I realise that this isn't particularly profound or maybe even original point, but its one I needed yesterday, on one of those days when it feels like you're hitting your head against a particularly thick wall.

In future, on days like that, I'm going to remember that question.

And then write.


Cavan Scott is the author of over 70 books and audio dramas including the Sunday Times Bestseller, Who-ology: The Official Doctor Who Miscellany, co-written with Mark Wright.

He's written for Doctor WhoSkylandersAdventure Time, Angry Birds, Penguins of Madagascar and Warhammer 40,000 among others. He also writes Roger the Dodger and Bananaman for The Beano as well as books for reluctant readers of all ages.

Cavan's website
Cavan's facebook fanpage
Cavan's twitterings

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

If Carslberg Did School Events by Tamsyn Murray

OK, OK, so maybe that title isn't the best on to associate with schools but you get the idea: if Carlsberg did school events did, they'd probably be the best school events in the world. And that got me thinking about what constitutes the Perfect Author Visit. Here's what I came up with:

  • Reserved parking space if needed (Desirable)
  • Office Staff are expecting you (Desirable)
  • Offer of (non-alcoholic) drink on arrival (Desirable)
  • Staff member who booked you or their counterpart is available to meet you when you arrive and to guide you to where you need to be. (Essential)
  • Children are expecting you (Essential)
  • Children have been reading your work and looking at your website (Desirable)
  • Someone introduces you to them (Desirable)
  • IT works OK - Powerpoint works (Essential)
  • Pupils as questions (Desirable)
  • Cake in staffroom (Desirable)
  • Regular offers of tea and coffee (Essential)
  • Breaks (Essential)
  • Parents are aware you are coming in - have had letters sent home for WEEKS (Essential)
  • Pupils are aware they can get a personally signed book of their very own (Essential)
  • Someone on the staff thank you to you (Desirable)
  • Pupils listen and say thank you (Desirable)
  • More cake (Desirable)
  • If you're doing workshops, pupils have time to finish the work in subsequent lessons (Essential)
  • Pupils buy all the books you have (Desirable)
  • Pupils get in touch afterwards to say how much they loved the book (Desirable)
  • Prompt payment if not part of book promo (Desirable)
  • Happiness all round! (Desirable)
 And then I woke up and it had all been a dream...

So what are your must-haves for school visits? All of the above? None of the above? Let me know!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

I'm so excited (and I just can't hide it) - Liz Kessler

I’m very, very excited today (so excited, in fact, that I have saved the blog I was going to post today for another time so I could share this instead!) Here’s why…

Waterstones Hampstead have just – today – made the announcement that they are holding a public launch event for my first YA novel, Read Me Like A Book.

Regular followers of this blog will know what this book means to me. For those who don’t, you could have a quick catch up by checking out this blog…or just read on.

Read Me Like A Book was the first novel I wrote. But somewhere in the middle of writing it, I also started thinking up a children’s story about a girl who becomes a mermaid when she goes in water. The girl was Emily Windsnap, and her series is swimming nicely in waters all around the world. On the other hand, nobody wanted to publish Read Me Like A Book. The book was about a seventeen-year-old girl coming out, and LGBT issues were not de rigueur back then. A nasty little law known as Section 28 was still in place, and many people – publishers, teachers, librarians etc etc – were kept firmly in place by its instruction not to ‘promote homosexuality.’

But let’s not dwell on that right now, because today we’re EXCITED. So let’s skip forward a decade or so and briefly glance at my mobile phone from a day in November 2013. I’ve just had a very special lunch where my wonderful agent has told my lovely publisher that we want to publish the book. Too many things had been happening that had made me want to stop sitting idly by, and instead want be part of the movement that was telling young people it is OK to be whoever you are. 

Following the meeting, my phone beeps. It’s my publisher. The text says: ‘Looking forward to reading the manuscript again. Times have changed and we are ready to move with them.’

That text pretty much kept me warm all winter.

Skip forward again. To early-ish this year. The book is due out in May. Proofs are out and about. People are talking about it. A couple of HUGE names in the book world have read it and given me quotes for the cover. The Bookseller's Charlotte Eyre mentions it in passing on Radio Four's Open Book! People are TALKING ABOUT IT!

Even though this is going to be my fifteenth book to be published, I feel like a debut author. And in a way, I am. Because this was – and always will be – the first novel I wrote. It is also the first YA book I have published. Perhaps it is the first big risk I’ve taken in my career. It’s certainly the first time I have put something out there that feels quite so important and personal for me. See, the mermaids and the fairies and the time travel books – they came from me, they have things in them that are deeply important to me. They are like my babies, all of them. But to write a book about a girl discovering her lesbian identity, when you have recently come out publicly yourself – that takes the excitement, the risk, the nerves to a WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOLE new level!

So let’s get to the point. 

The point is that today, Waterstones in Hampstead have announced the event that they are hosting to launch my special baby out into the world. It is a public event, which means a) it is open to anyone and everyone and b) it is ticketed. Tickets are £5 (or £3 with a Waterstones card). However, I think they’re quite good value, because as well as listening to me talk about the book, you also get a glass of Prosecco and £2 off the book on the night!

And if all of this wasn’t exciting enough (it isn’t. Read on) we have got the most wonderful special guest taking part.

Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of the incredible LGBT campaigning group Stonewall, is my guest speaker!!!

I don’t know about you, but I am practically hyperventilating with excitement about all of this. (OK, some of it is nerves – but mostly excitement. And I am probably more excited than you are, to be fair.)

The date of the launch (and publication of the book) is May 14th. It's at 6.45 pm. And you are ALL INVITED!!!! If you want to come, get in touch with Yael Tishchler from Waterstones, who is organising the event. Here’s how you can do that:

Call her on: 0207 794 1098
Tweet her via @WaterstonesNW3 or @TischforTat
Or use some other old-fangled way of getting in touch with her at Waterstones Hampstead.

Hope to see you there - and thank you for letting me shout about this today. (I might have burst otherwise.)

Follow Liz on Twitter
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Monday, 23 March 2015

4 pieces of popular advice that I ended up ignoring – Jess Vallance

Last time, I wrote about that old writing adage – ‘never give up’ – and how I gradually realised it was OK to ignore it sometimes. And when I started thinking about it, I realised there were actually quite a few other bits of advice that fall into the same category – tips that popped up everywhere, but when I got down to putting them into practice, I started to think maybe they weren’t all they were cracked up to be. 

To be clear here, I’m not saying that the advice I’m going to cover is never helpful. I’m sure there are lots of people who’ll read this who’d swear by some – or all – of these tips. My point is, when you’re new (like I am), if you read the same advice more than a few times, you start to think maybe you’re doing something wrong if you doubt them. It can be reassuring to find out that they didn’t work for everyone and you’re not going mad. 

So, these are the tips I’m talking about – and how I’d modify them to make them more useful.  

1. The advice said: Write for an hour a day/Set aside your writing time/Write at the same time each day.

I wonder where this preoccupation with time comes from. I think maybe it’s the world of full-time employment where being seen to be at your desk from 9 till 5.30 is the main indication of productivity. But when you’re paid and judged on the words on the page, I think the time it took to get them there isn’t really relevant.

I can see how setting aside an hour (or whatever) a day is a good way to help you build a routine, but the problem is, lots of things can happen (or not happen) in an hour. You might storm it and write two thousand spellbinding words, but you might spend 45 minutes refreshing Twitter and 15 minutes scouring lists of Japanese baby names for the perfect name for a character who appears in one paragraph on page 86. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m well into goals and getting on with things, but I think this kind of advice would be more helpful if it was focused more around output than hours.

So, I’d say: Set a weekly word count goal.

2. The advice said: Cut, cut, cut. Cut everything. Your second draft should be at least twenty percent shorter than your first.
No one wants to waffle on too much and bore people, so this used to worry me. When I’d finished writing something, I’d duly go through and cut anything that could be considered redundant – adjectives, dialogue, observations. The only thing was, it turned out that I have the opposite problem: I am an ‘under-writer'. I don’t explain things enough. I can be terse. 

I’m not saying everything I write is beautiful and people only ever ask for more – of course there were some bits that were crap and had to be ditched – but when I started working with people who know (agents and editors), most of the comments I got were about elaborating on ideas, developing dialogue and clearing up ambiguity - all just as important as cutting out the waffle.

 My book (Birdy) was 3000 words longer post-edit than it had been when I submitted it. 

So, I’d say: Cut the bad stuff, but also make sure the good stuff is on the page, not just in your head.

3. The advice said: Write the book you want to write.

I’ve swayed between both extremes with this one. I tried to write book that I had almost no interest in based on what I thought would be easiest to sell. It didn’t work. 

I also tried following the advice to the letter and started work on a book that I thought would be fun to write. In my case, I started something in the form of instant messages and emails. In truth, it was basically me venting my pet peeves about other people’s online habits. I amused myself writing about ten pages – it was quite cathartic – but I quickly realised this wasn’t a book for readers. 

I suppose it’s about balance. You have to enjoy it enough to have the passion to get to the end, but ultimately, it needs to be something other people want to read or you might as well be keeping a diary. 

So, I’d say: Write the book you'd want to read.

4. The advice said: Have lots of beta readers.

Like all the others items in this post, this advice totally makes sense in theory. It’s impossible to properly critique something you’ve written yourself, so getting other people to take a look is the obvious thing to do. But I think it is possible to take this tip to heart and get it wrong.

When I was about two thirds of my way down my road to getting published, I decided that I could no longer be trusted to know good from bad and that I would put myself in the hands of some readers – all carefully chosen, either for their industry expertise or just because I thought they’d know a good story when they saw it (or didn’t see it as the case may be).

They were all great. They all sent me careful, insightful comments and suggestions. My problem was, I tried to take them all into account. Lots of them were different – completely opposing in some cases – but I decided to try to work it all in, even when I wasn’t one hundred percent sold on the idea. Of course, this meant I wasn’t one hundred percent sold on the end result. And neither was anyone else. 

I think two handy rules of thumb are:

  1.  If lots of people you trust say the same thing, they’re probably right.
  2. If people pick up on something you already sort of suspected yourself, they’re probably right.
But not every person who reads a book and makes a comment will be right or sensible or helpful. And anyway, for all we know they might just be saying anything at all just to make us shut up and stop bothering them with our amateurish nonsense. 

(As a side note, the most successful of my writing efforts – the one that’s going to be published – didn’t have any readers at all. The only people who’ve read it as far as I know are my agent and my publisher. It’s exactly as I wanted it to be. So if it’s a huge flop I’ll have no one to blame but myself. And them.)

So, I’d say: Follow advice you believe in but don’t let too many cooks spoil the story.


Sunday, 22 March 2015

How writers can earn more - by Nicola Morgan

Most children's writers find it very hard to earn anything like a living from their writing. Most of us carry on anyway, managing however we can, because we love what we do. But there are some ways we can earn more and still love what we do and do what we love.

I did a talk recently for the Scattered Authors Society on how to earn more from doing events and I'm going to be writing that up properly soon. But meanwhile I thought I'd write generally about some ways of increasing your income as a children's writer.

Please don't think I'm all about money. I am so very not. But I find that money is the only currency that mortgage lenders, utility companies and supermarkets will accept. Funnily, when I get to the checkout, the sales assistants don't seem to go for the "but it's good for your profile" line, so I can't afford to do things for profile either, unless it will be really good for profile, which it usually won't. Anyway, profile just doesn't taste that great in a sandwich.

So, here are my suggestions.

A. Make more money from events
  1. Decide your minimum fee for a day away from your desk doing an event and turn down all (or almost all) invitations that can't pay that. Every time you are underpaid, you are also losing time in which you could be writing. I'd rather not do an event and have the time to spend on something else, either writing or doing another income-generating thing. I DO sometimes say yes to underpaid things, because I sometimes really want to do the thing, but I just cannot afford to do many like that. And, when setting your minimum fee, don't forget to factor in prep time, travelling time, and admin. So, if an event is going to take 2-3 days altogether, make sure your fee reflects your earnings needs for 2-3 days. Use this earnings calculator from Andrew Bibby.
  2. Do more events - and I'll be giving lots of ideas about how you get more events when I write up my notes from the SAS talk. (That doc will go to SAS members and I'll put it on my own blog, too.) But doing a large number of "normal" school or library events, which are generally not well paid, means you will be exhausted, so it's hard to envisage actually earning a living doing school events. You wouldn't be able to do it every day or even every week and you'd never have time for writing.
  3. Do better paid events. Again, I'll give more details in that other document but there are two main ways to do this: a) establish your expertise and pitch for events about it, something which gives you a genuine USP. ("Author who writes great books" is not a USP unless there is some reason why your particular books are the only and specific ones a school wants, which is possible if they're studying them in class, but not likely.) And b) think about INSET or other training that you can offer to schools and educational organisations. (This is now almost exclusively what I do and how I can charge something more like a professional/ commercial/ business training rate - and we're talking £1000-£1600 a day for such things. That may sound a lot but there is a lot of preparation and delivering a whole day of training to a bunch of strangers is mentally and physically exhausting..)
  4. Find ways to sell more books at school events. 
(There are many more ideas, but I'll talk about them in that other document.) 

B. Write more books
Obvs. Now, of course, you can't write/publish many full-length novels or some other sorts of "big" books a year and obviously it takes a while for advances and royalties (if ever) to kick in, but writers should remember these things:
  1. If we don't write books because we're doing too many events or blogposts, we will soon not have a platform of books about which to be asked to do events.
  2. We can't do events forever, so if we want an income of any sort after we've finished doing events, we need to write books and those books need to stay in print.
  3. There are books that we write because our heart cries out to write them and there are books that we write because they pay the bills and because we are writers with a skill and a job to do. You only have to look at the incredible hard-working professionalism of our own über-prolific Anne Rooney to see what a writer can do when she turns her mind to making a career out of saying yes to books and no to events.
  4. If self-publishing, it's a well-known "rule" that you need to keep producing books and that doing so generates more sales for each.
C. Create some other things to sell
I don't mean start a home-baking stall! To sell the following things, you can either get your web designer to build in a shop element to your website - I did this and it wasn't expensive, even though mine is not the simplest and sells ebooks as well as physical items, and allows me to create discount codes - or you can just create a page on your site with details of what you're selling and get people to email you an order and pay via Paypal. 

Here are some suggestions:
  1. Create teaching notes and lesson plans for one of your books and sell them as pdfs or ebooks. It requires a substantial amount of work to create the materials, set them up and market them, but once that's done it's very simple and every sale is money to you. And you can garner more events like this, too, and/or offer a free one to any school booking you for an event. (Creating add-ons is a good way to attract schools to invite you.) It doesn't matter if your book isn't fantastically well known. Find the teaching points it offers and create some materials around that. Teachers love things that are ready to use in the classroom.
  2. Create teaching materials in your area of expertise (link them explicitly to the curriculum, which you can discover online or through a teacher friend) and sell them as pdfs or ebooks on your website. I've gone further than this and created a huge and therefore high value set of materials (called Brain Sticks) about brain health and wellbeing, linked to PSHE and Wellbeing elements of the curriculum, and these are selling very nicely.
  3. Or/and do the above and sell them on Amazon as ebooks. It's a lot easier to sell non-fiction than fiction and you stand a decent chance of making it financially worthwhile if you do it right.
  4. If you've got a shop set up on your website, sell your published books on it. (Your contract with your publisher may say you can't, but you can if you negotiate a seller's account with them.) This is not going to boost your income very much, though, and you need to spend quite a bit of time packing and posting.
  5. Tea-towels! Or other merchandise, but tea-towels are great because they don't break or perish and are cheap to post. OK, so you have to be a bit creative and imaginative, but you are! I've made a nice bit of extra money doing tea-towels for two of my books. (Tea-towels need to appeal to adults, not children or teenagers, who are not known to appreciate such things...)
D. Critique manuscripts
Something else I do. I don't advertise this service except that it's surreptitiously mentioned on my website, because I actually don't want to do much of this work, but one client a month is about right for me and that comes without my advertising myself. You could do a lot more if you promoted your service. See here for details of what I offer. Feel free to copy me or even undercut me!

Some tips/warnings: 
a) It's time-consuming, eye-straining and tiring - and it's screen work, which you may feel you do enough of already.
b) There's a substantial risk (if you don't manage this in advance) that you will find yourself with a client who simply cannot take the constructive criticism which you must give. I have never once had a bad experience but I think that's because I vet clients first by rigorously ensuring that they know they are not going to be lathered with praise but that they are going to be blown away by the level of detailed criticism in my report.

You might also consider applying to become a tutor/expert reader for one of the big consultancies such as The Literary Consultancy, Writers' Workshop or Cornerstones.

E. RLF Fellowships 
Not something I've applied for but I certainly would if I wanted to: details here. I know several people who have done and enjoyed them.

F. Retreats
Ideally teaming up with a writer friend, why not organise and set up a retreat weekend and do the tutoring yourselves? There are so many ways this might work. It would be complicated the first time but much easier after that. Ask amongst your writer friends to find out what they'd like and what they wouldn't like. Talk to people who've been on retreats, if you haven't yourself. 

G. Online tuition
Again, lots of work to organise it but once you'd set up all the materials it would be a manageable way of increasing your income. You could use Skype or a webinar set-up - there are several organisations that facilitate webinars.

H. Get a part-time job
I don't think any writer should view this as a negative step to take. Whatever that job is, it brings new experiences, it may bring new people to talk to and new ideas. All of which could fuel your writing.

I. Make sure you're claiming everything you can against tax.
If you don't have an accountant, here's the link to the HMRC list of things you can claim - keep all receipts, of course.

Of course, you can't possibly do all of these things. There aren't enough hours in the day. Some of them, I admit, don't bring in a great deal of money (selling things from your website, for example, is really only going to be a drop in the ocean) but others do, such as finding a way to do higher paid events. But pick a few that appeal to you and that you think you could make work, and look forward to watching your income grow.

Good luck!

Talking of luck, have you entered the Great #UKYAEggHunt yet? Or, if you don't want the HUGE prize of DOZENS of books yourself, I bet you know someone who does! There are over 30 authors involved and you can start you egghunt here.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Deadlines and roses

I had a feeling that I wasn't doing something I should be. I woke up at 5.15 and thought about getting up to do something, but couldn't think of anything urgent. I work up at 8.14, then, finally at 9.10.

Then I knew.

It was the 21st February and I was supposed to have posted my 2nd post on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure.

I was very proud to have been asked to be a contributor, and now I had messed it up.

I rushed downstairs like Corporal Jones from 'Dad's Army'.

First I couldn't find my glasses.

My daughter found them.

Then I got onto the website but couldn't see how to post.

So I went to my emails to see if I could find my past instructions, all the time doing this:

I had a kind email from Sue asking if I had forgotten to post, and sent her a desperate one back asking how to do it.

Then I remembered. It was on blogger. And sure enough it was easy.

But by the time I had sorted myself out Sue had stepped into the breach and had quickly posted a v interesting post about ice pick books which melt the frozen seas within us as readers.

So here I am. I've not missed this deadline because I have done what I should have done before and written it in advance and scheduled it in to automatically post on the 21st March.

So here is a cute video of a kitten waking up by way of apology and thanks to Sue. It's about as far away from the way I woke up on the 21st February as it could be.

Now for my proper post.

I was really sorry I missed last month because I knew what I wanted to say and it was linked with the 22nd February. Then I thought, it's always a good time to talk about this, so I will.

I want to talk about Sophie Schöll, a young 22 year old German student during the Second World War.

On the 22nd February 1943 she was killed by the Nazis for being a member of the White Rose Movement. Originally I had lots about her in 'Girl with a White Dog', but it ended up (wisely) being edited out. I did try to put everything I knew about Nazi Germany into one book - I am one of those people who DEFINITELY need editors!!! In the end then, I was able to put my thoughts about Sophie Schöll into the afterword, so readers could still find out about her, and in the actual story I had white roses in Jessie's grandmother's garden as a hidden tribute.

I went to Munich and visited the university where she and her brother distributed the leaflets condemning the Nazi Government for their treatment of the Jews, and I saw a wonderful artistic tribute embedded in the pavement there. It was particularly moving as I had noticed a group of students standing chatting together, and I had thought what a shame it was that nobody was noticing the litter at their feet. When I realised that it was in fact facsimiles of the original leaflets, plus photographs of the members of the White Rose Movement, I felt very struck.

I missed my deadline to post in February, but nobody in this country will miss the deadline of 7th May 2015. We are so lucky that we are not living in Nazi Germany and that we don't have to risk our lives when we question those in power. But although we live in a democracy it is not perfect, and we do still, like Sophie, have to be aware of what is happening to people in our society and what sort of political atmosphere is dangerous for some more than others. This is what I wanted to get across in 'Girl with a White Dog'.  We must make sure our politicians know what we value. We must point out, when canvassers stand on our doorsteps, that we, like Sophie, oppose anti-semitism, any forms of racism, the stigmatising of the unemployed and the withdrawal of rights to and support of the disabled, and whoever wins the election must share our values. We don't have to risk our lives publishing clandestine leaflets to do this - we are writers and we are so lucky that we can write without fear - so let's write stories which inspire and remember that brave student and her brother and friends who used words so bravely and so well.