The Publishing Truth Shall Set You Free…

It’s interesting once you really start learning about a topic how many things seem to jump up off the page (literal or web related) to show you examples of the truths you have been investigating.  Such as my interest in self-publishing and why it appears to make a lot of sense which  has been gleaned (but not limited to) J.A.  Konrath’s blog, “A Newbies Guide to Publishing”.

Numerous posts are written about publishing houses keeping the truth of  book sales and money being made that are hidden from the author with strange sales tallies and  accounting practises by many different authors.

As a rank outsider of the publishing industry with only a few rejection letters to my name so far, the niggling thought in the back of my mind as I read these blogs has always been… “really? It’s really this bad for writers?”  The allure of having a Big 6 company saying my work is good enough for them to publish is a great enticement to a new writer.

For a long time I’ve wanted to read Ken Follett’s book “The Pillars of the Earth”.  I’ve read so many reviews, heard by word of mouth that it’s a great story and personally the historical blend of the story is right up my alley, but finances just haven’t allowed me to splash out of such a treat.

 

 

The Salvation Army has a special place in my heart for  many reasons, but one area of service from the church that I really appreciate at this point of my life is the Thrift Shop / Sally Ann stores selling all number of second hand goods at very reasonable prices. Especially wonderful are the sale days. Because as a ‘bookaholic’ without the budget to maintain her addiction even at the second hand shop prices, being able to buy books cheaply is bliss, and being able to pick up a copy of Pillars for 99 cents was damn near orgasmic!

 

 

 

I’m sure  you can imagine my surprise to read within the Preface these words penned by Ken Follett himself:

 

 One day I was checking my royalty statement from New American Library, my U.S. paperback publisher.  These statements are carefully designed  to prevent the author from knowing what is really happening to his book,  but after decades of persistence I have learned to read them.  Page 8

 

I’m willing to bet that the publishers were less than amused at having that written in the paperback edition of a best-selling book – but it is yet another confirmation of the truth behind the groundswell of authors, what they are complaining about and why so many are making the move to self-publishing. And suggests that my long term love affair with the idea of a publishing house publishing my books requires some serious reconsidering.

But as my debating teacher once taught me, for every opinion, there is a flip side that makes just as much sense. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, here is a good argument from Nathan Bransford for sticking with the tradition publishing route.

I’m still not sure which way is the right way but I do know I need to keep writing.

Chick Lit in the News Again

I’ve been pushing hard on the newest edition of my ‘shitty first draft’ novel (thank you Anne Lamott for your wisdom.)  Not that I’m entirely convinced that the work is good enough to see the light of day, but I have managed to elicit the promise of a highly educated and well-read lady to read my novel when I’ve completed edit number five to gain her thoughts on whether to keep working on it or let it die a quiet but dignified death on a USB stick in the back of my desk drawer.

Of course, as I read my own work for the umpteenth time  I’m convinced that I am a fool to think that I could ever find people willing to read my imagination on the page.  It’s at those times that I want to pretend that I don’t have to keep going and search for diversions.  When the sheer size of the task ahead leads to a thumping headache, I attempt to get the creative juices flowing by reading newspapers book section and opinion pages.

This article really got me questioning many things within the field of women’s writing.  Truly it isn’t hard to dislike many front covers of countless works of literature done by or written for women. Pink is the overwhelming theme, alongside fluffy and pretty.  And after reading this article, I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to look at the humble cupcake in the same way ever again.

Sometimes it feels like the genre of  Womens Contemporary Literature – Chick Lit -won’t ever be accepted as a true, noble or worthy  form of literary creativity. I have to confess that when I was a member of a now defunct writing group, I was intimidated by the genres that the other women were writing in. Biography. Creative Non Fiction.  Literary Fiction.  And there I was with what I considered to be my ‘chick lit’ efforts. I was apologetic about writing in the genre and called it the comic relief portion of the evening when it came to my turn to edit my work, it felt so undervalued in the literacy scene.  In 2009 I figured out I was writing with one of the literary greats of the Western world who, to all intensive purposes was a chick lit writer.

So it’s a little frustrating to read opinion pieces that whilst sounding like they are defending Chick Lit and its writers, still feels a little like a backhanded compliment.

 

…the frustration many women {authors} feel because their novels are being marketed as chick-lit when in fact they are aimed at thinking readers.

 

I’m pretty sure it’s this one line that really got up my nose. Apparently as a chick lit reader you’re not considered a thinker. Chick Lit is pink fluffy fun that requires no brain work what-so-ever. Maybe our definition of what makes Womens Contemporary Literature  is where the difference lies.  Perhaps the current list of genres just isn’t expansive enough.

Personally I classify Phillipa Gregory as a chick lit author as she tends to write about female protagonists in historical settings. Kate Holden is another of my newest favourite chick lit writers who writes historical pieces with strange little twists. Im not sure if they would be too pleased to read that, depending upon thier personal stance towards the genre.  I read swathes of female authors who have female lead characters, which fits the definition of chick lit.  I  adore authors like Jennifer Wiener, Erica James and Penny Vincenzi, who make many a hot summer day at the park more pleasurable. And maybe I’ve just lost my ‘street cred’  from any new reader of this blog for admitting I have copies of their work on my bookshelves.  Could it be possible that we just need to be more open to see all literature styles are good ones; even if it’s not a style that particularly appeals to you?

I’m somewhat sick to death of all the chick lit bashing that goes on in the mainstream (and probably not so mainstream) media.  In all honestly  I don’t think that Sydney Smith is actually bashing the genre, rather she is highlighting the laziness of the publishing industry to better categorise literature written by female authors and lump them all together as Chick Lit, losing the male portion of possible readership due to ‘typical’ styles of publicity and marketing.  I just wish that the genre didn’t come out in such a negative manner whenever arguments about women’s literature are discussed.

The reality is, it’s a genre that sells and it sells well. And in a world or rapidly diminishing readership, any genre that sells is a good one for writers.  Right?

Never Judge a Book by it’s Cover

 

Australian Publishers Association's Book Design Awards -childrens winner designed by W.H. Chong and Susan Miller

As a wannabe writer I’m aware of the long odds of getting my story into printed book form. Apparently it’s harder to get an agent (so many wannabe’s throwing themselves at their feet weeping ‘pick me, pick me oh please, pick me’?) than it is to get your book in front of the Publisher with a capital P. Although how this works I’m not entirely sure, because it seems that every publishing house and its dog won’t see your book unless  its presented on a silver platter by an agent cloaked appropriately with terms like extensive social media platform, copious followers etc.

Recently I have found myself trawling through the sea of information that is the Internet and slowly learning more about the field of self-publishing. Reading the success stories  of the self-published; the people who took the risk with their novels and sold over a million books. Wondering if the stigma has lessened or if the 2nd rate work that has been self-published with minor editorial issues (spelling, punctuation, plot and character development anyone?) has given it a reputation that won’t ever be shaken.

But as a writer of picture books, the idea of a DIY picture book is somewhat daunting. Can I do this? Self-publish my book, sell several bazillion copies and be wonderfully successful? YES! I repeat to myself in a mantra that would make Shakti Gawain  proud. I visualise fame, fortune and the pleasure of reading emails from my fan base (well my fans parents) telling me how much they love my stories. And let me tell you, I can work this fantasy a loooong time until I hit the stumbling block. My children’s stories are going to involve incredible artwork to tell half the story and the cost of professional artists is astronomical. I comfort myself with the old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book (or illustrations) by its cover. DIY publication, DIY illustrations, right?  But book buyers are very visual creatures.

Wait…wait… wait… did you even know there is an awards night for book covers? Awards for stories sure.  Illustrations? Of course. But the actual covers?

<The Australian Publishers Associations 60th annual Book Design Awards>

It’s been running for sixty years and over 400 books – including children’s books, were entered this year? Well all I can say is they have done a **brilliant** marketing job. Because everyone judges a book by its cover; inevitably we are drawn to read the blurb because of the ‘cover artwork.’

Art work is a vital part of the book buying process. And just try reading a picture book to a class of children who aren’t attracted to the illustrations! So for the timely reminder in my meanderings of self-publishing education, I understand that if I do go the self-publishing route for my children’s picture books, one way or another, I am going to have to get an artist to do the illustrations. Because I know for a fact it’s not just children who judge a book by its cover.

Sendak a Real Wild Thing and Political Honesty Obama Style

 

The news has reverberated around more than just the world of literature. Maurice Sendak has died at the age of 83 and many people are lamenting the loss of the writer of a favourite childhood book.

Now what I’m about to admit is likely to brand me as a heretic. I didn’t think ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ was the greatest book of my childhood. To be honest, it wouldn’t even make the top 50 of my favourite stories.  Sure, I’ve had it read to me a dozen times by well-meaning school librarians (remember when education systems had the money to pay for such extravagant members of staff?)  and as a teacher I’ve read it to classes of my own, but it wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. Please don’t stone me!

It seems odd in this day and age when the Big News Story of the day is that  Barak Obama  has publically come out and said that he personally supports gay marriage that we forget how ground breaking Sendak’s book was. Of course every child has dark moments in their lives. Many a parent who has had a sleepless night when their child has had a nightmare and wanted to crawl into bed with them for security can vouch for that. And for the record, have you asked a child what their nightmare was about…? Scary stuff.  But to write about it, in a book aimed at children themselves?

“Well Duh!” we think to ourselves in the oh so enlightened times of 2012. But as a Children’s Literature Major at university, I know that it broke a lot of barriers for the genre when it was published in the 1960’s. Before Sendak, it was deemed inappropriate for children to roar back at their parents in anger, because that wasn’t ‘nice’ for children to even have an emotion like anger much less express it.  It was never politically correct to write about the fears or the darkness that children experience. And it’s for this reason that I salute Maurice Sendak, that I thank him for being daring in his writing. Honest. Willing to stand against tradition and do what he knew in his heart was right and truthful.

As a wannabe children’s writer, I can only hope that now that he has moved on and out of this world, there might be room for new voices in the overly difficult,  seemingly impossible to break into literary segment of the book world.  I hope that other writers can more honestly reflect the reality of children’s experiences so succinctly and entertainingly as they see them in today’s world. It’s time for some barrier breakers to swoop in and change the literary scene again.

Just as Obama appears to have broken a political taboo, daring to tell people how he honestly views an issue. Although if you want an entertaining and insightful view on what the difference between a Civil Union and Marriage (which is at the crux of this issue and has legalistic people up in arms on *either* side of the arguement) feel free to pop on over to Mary Beards blog (A Dons Life) and enjoy!

Daniel Radcliffe is his own toughest critic

 

envious of his inside edge.. maybe!

I know that Alan Radcliffe was a literary agent before he took on the responsibility of being the full time chaperone to his young son Daniel,  as he in turn took on the role of a lifetime as Harry Potter. So it might be a tad snarky of me to suggest that Daniel Radcliffe might have an easier road to hoe than most when it comes to getting anything he writes, be it poetry or novels before an agent or publisher for assessment.

But oh thank goodness Daniel too struggles with the ‘gremlins’ in his head (otherwise known as the itty bitty shitty committee) that compel him to believe that what he writes shouldn’t see the light of day.

“I try and write at the moment. I don’t know if I’m any good, as, normally,   when I write I’m so self critical that it’s not long before I have to throw  away what I write.”

It’s encouraging to know that other wannabe authors struggle with believing that they can produce works that other people are willing plunk down hard earned money to own something we have produced. Welcome to the club dude, welcome to the club!

The Writers Journey

its hard work

 

There are times when I wish that I had been kinda sassy and brave enough to stand against what I was being told to do when I was a younger woman and started attempting to write before life became complicated, like adult life generally is.

Instead of going to teachers college I wish I had tried to write novels like the ones I would lose myself in for hours at a time instead of doing my assignments. I wish I hadn’t listened to the university lecturer who told me point blank that writing for children was the hardest form of writing, that only the very best should ever attempt it and decide there and then that it wasn’t for me.

And yet,  if I’m honest with myself, when I look back to the works I wrote, they lacked depth, understanding and mostly it lacked soul. If I hadn’t travelled the journey that has brought me to this place in my life, I think that my dream of becoming a published author would be nothing but a pipe dream, or maybe not a dream at all.

What truly matters is that I think the dream is worth striving for even now. Even when I think it’s beyond reach; that I’ve lost the chance to be what I believe God has designed me to be, I believe it’s worth continuing to try.

I just wish that there were more hours in the day to devote to the striving. More hours…? Or more productive hours? Hmm… not sure I like what that line of thought is suggesting.

Oh that imaging the stories and putting them down on paper didn’t cause me to struggle and work as they do. I long for the day that the writing comes effortlessly. I wish that I didn’t need outside validation as much as I still do. That when I read a piece of work created a few years ago I didn’t cringe and think… “Oh, that’s baaaad!” but rather that I saw the talent that is within me.

But it’s OK. Even when rather than sassy self belief, there are  long weeks of self-doubt, when the writing just doesn’t come at all, its all part of the journey.

Remember the USB Drive

 

Life has taken a lot of twists and turns during the past year for me. Writing, I must confess, has not even made onto a top 40 list of things to do. But as the downward spiral has started to even out to a more regular pattern of life I have felt the stirring of creativity again. Until one day it didn’t seem overwhelming to think of pulling out 90,000+ word novel and starting the editing process. But this creative inkling has led to a much more important awareness.

I thought for sure I owned at least two copies of my almost completed novel. I had two external hard drives, so it made sense I would have two copies of my work, right?  I plugged in external hard drive number one… ‘oh! It must be on the other one’ I thought. I really didn’t keep a close track of what I had stored on those modern marvels of extra data space; I just assumed that everything I wanted and had worked on would be there. I mean, honestly. Why would anyone be dumb enough to not make a copy of something they have worked on so hard?

Only when I went to plug in external hard drive number two I was faced with a horrifying possibility. There wasn’t a copy on that drive. Quickly I switched back to the first drive… maybe I had over looked it as I tend to glance at things rather than look carefully I rebuked myself. Nope; nothing there. I double checked the second drive again too. Just in case. Because scanning and rescanning the list of documents three times just isn’t enough. Maybe if I opened the hard drive often enough the right document would magically reappear.  Apparently not. I don’t mind admitting that after years of working, the idea of not having a copy of the work anywhere had me in a right royal tizz. Freak out might be a better, although somewhat less academically superior manner of description.

After hours of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth that years of my creative work had gone down the drain (well at least 20 minutes worth), I dimly recalled a rather doleful little USB drive that I had thrown into my drawer of my desk.  At the time I was certain that I had transferred all of the documents from it to one of the larger external hard drives, but threw it back into my desk out the of the sheer want of a nearby rubbish bin. Now it held all my hopes. It was the only piece of modern technology left that could possibly hold a copy of this most precious manuscript.

Even now as I relieve the memory, I can hear the heavenly angelic choir singing as up on the screen appeared a copy of my novel. Only another person who has feared the loss of work so important to them will understand the incredible sense of relief at seeing the document in the list. And now a warning to all wannabe writers; learn from my stupidity. Back up your work in more than one place and know what is on each of your hard drives or memory sticks. Because you never really know what the future holds, but you should know what your external hard drives do.

The journey towards creativity

This morning it seemed that everything in the universe fell into place and I was able to chat with a dear friend back home in Australia. Katie  is one of those people who I have walked along side in a common journey towards fulfilment and creativity in everything. For a long time we were pretty much at the same place in our journey. We talked about the same fears, the same confusion and shared the same hope. Then something happened (I guess you could say life?) and Katie just exploded into forward motion and action. After trying several different creative outlets, she realised the one true desire of her heart was photography and focused wholly upon it. She entered her work into major competitions – and what’s more, won some of them. She worked out a marketing strategy, designed and developed a wonderfully professional looking website and even started booking clients.
 
And all I could do was look on in envy. My life wasn’t exactly in the same place as hers was. Although, when I think about it, I start to think, I am in the same place; a place of creative frustration, desire, hope and desperation. All through our conversation Katie kept telling me that we are basically the same people. That despite the differences in our current voyages, really, we are on the same pathway.

She suggested that when you get to a place when you have experienced hurt so much your whole world has been destroyed then nothing more can be fearful enough to stop you. That entering a competition or putting my work out to places for publication cannot possibly be any worse than the first few hours that walking into a strange place called a women’s shelter and admitting there was abuse in the one relationship I should have been the safest in was. Seriously; how bad can a rejection letter from a stranger feel like after living through and surviving that kind of experience?

Hazel, a writer friend shared her understanding that faith and fear are really the same thing; that they will inspire a reaction of one kind or another according to what I allow to rule my behaviour. If I allow the fear of rejection slips to overrule my desire to seek publication, then the reaction will be a life lived in the ‘could have beens’ and the ‘I wonders.’ I don’t have to emotionally deal with rejection if I don’t send my work out for others to judge. But if I act in faith and send out my work, then somewhere, somehow, despite a million rejections, eventually someone is going to like what I write and I will collect my first ‘by line’.   By acting in faith, I will be opening the doors for Divinity to start working and reveal a gift of telling stories.

So this is my challenge and my inspiration. Start writing every day again. Start off with something as simple as my morning pages (a la Julia Cameron) and let the words start to flow. Not only search out but actually enter writing competitions. Everywhere; even if they do cost money. Because I must trust that the work I create is good enough. I have to have the conviction that, as before, I don’t have to wait for the so called muse will to come to me…. That if I am faithful in my writing time, the words will come to be no matter what I feel.  That if I start to move forward, everything else will follow – in the same direction.

Thomas Keneally’s Library – and mine

 

As the end of your life started to come into clearer focus with age, what would you do with a personal library collected over the period of a lifetime? The books that you fawned over and then paid for at a favourite bookshop, gifts given for birthdays and Christmas, books borrowed from friends on pains of death to return and then never given back, or dare I even suggest, the occasionally lost library tomes that got lost in the shuffle of life.

Tom Keneally, celebrated Australian author askedhimself the same question of his personal 2500 book library and after judicious advice, decided to donate it all to the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts.  What a wonderful idea. Give the books lovingly collected over the years to a school so that the precious resource of literature isn’t lost to the rubbish dump or broken apart into meaningless little chunks.

But I wonder if Thomas Keneally wasn’t Thomas Keneally, Australian Living Treasure, if his collection would have been treated with such respect and care. I know that many people donate books to the Ottawa Public Library, and they are sold off at bargain prices (sometimes as low as $0.25 a book) rather than being added to the main collection. Often I wonder if it isn’t an insult to the deceased who left their book collections behind, hoping that the books would become part of the city collection. Although anyone who bequests the library with their collection must surely know that their precious collection will be torn apart, don’t they?  Perhaps the best idea, if you aren’t a famous, prize winning author that is, and you have a sizable assortment to share with other book lovers, is to find a small school library in which to place your collection. 

Obviously I think the best plan is to hurry up and get published, win  a few prestigious writing awards and make sure that someone, somewhere will want my collection of books when I eventually go to meet my Maker. So tell me, what are your plans for your collection? Or are you like me, and haven’t actually given it much thought – until now!

Returning with a Book List

 

 

Yes. Its recently been Canada Day. Kate and Will popped in for scones with jam and cream, and because I was moving in, (and even though I begged them not to,) a huge firework display was put on in the neighbourhood. And in honour of this country that I live in, I will be attempting to read Canadian authors more widely.
Which is the perfect segue to talking about the Random House Inc Book Challenge. Life hasn’t really lent itself to reading very much over the last couple of months. Living in a house with nine families and 15 children tends to make silence – or even just peace and quiet – a hard commodity to come by, and the lack of books to write about will reveal just how very different my life has been from earlier in the year. Joyfully I am moving into my own home soon and when everything is settled, the pleasure of reading will once again be mine.
So for better or worse, here is a combined reading list for April, May and June.

The Italian Matchmaker – Santa Montefiore
I loved it. Pure and simple. The imagery. The story line , whilst I don’t hold to the ideas about the afterlife sprouted by the author in her spiel about her inspiration, was perfect in its execution.

Sarahs Key – Tatiana de Rosney
One scene, where the author writes about the mothers and children being separated brutally had me weeping. I could feel the mothers panic, desperation and despair. I could sense the children’s fear. Gut wrenching and an eye opener for many I’m sure about the involvement and behaviour of many French people during WW2 .

Mini Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella
Same old same old. I had hoped that the character might have started to grow up and stop being so utterly daft, but it appears I am the only reader who is hoping for character development and growth. The whole series appears to have become little more than a formulaic cash cow for writer and publisher.

Eternal on the Water – Joseph Manning
I don’t often read books by men – not sure why that is, but I am grateful that I picked up this one. Although the end of the story felt a little rushed, perhaps forced to fit into a predetermined word count set by a publisher, the characters felt real and the sadness at the obvious demise still left me hurting.

Plain Truth – Jodi Picoult
OK. So I didn’t see the twist in the tail/tale, but once again, Picoult has written a book that was entertaining and easy to spend time dwelling on. I think I would have liked more about the life of the Amish people, but that could be because I’ve had a lifelong fetish with Amish people and love peeking into their world.

Dreaming in English – Laura Fitzgerald
I had to look up this book on the library webpage to read what it was about, so I guess you can read into that what you will. It was a little too perfectly wrapped up at the end for me, and totally unrealistic. Keep in mind that I am friends with a woman who is currently battling Immigration right now. She is more than capable of being a productive member of society, educated, willing and eager to study and work and still faces deportation in four months. I wish everything was as happily ever after as this book suggests.

Aprons on a Clothesline – Traci Depree
Book three in a series about an apparently ‘Any Town USA’, I didn’t realise that it was technically part of the ‘inspirational’ genre of books – code for Christian novels. Not that I have an issue with that at all. And I actually appreciated that it wasn’t ‘preachy preachy’, but overall the book hasn’t stayed in my memory over the past few months, so I have nothing more to write about it.

The Other Family – Joanna Trollope
An entertaining cautionary tale revealing the truth in the idiom “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”   Some of the characters were annoying – they could have done with a slap or two – but overall, I could read this book to the end without wondering when the ending was ever going to come.

 

The Wishing Chair Collection – Enid Blyton
Read this series of books to Bronwen as her first foray into chapter books. The adult in me sniggered at how totally judgemental, class oriented Blyton was in her writing, but the pleasure of a little girl asking for ‘just one more chapter Mummah’ is timeless.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
This particularly interesting book was somehow twisted into something a little bizarre in the end… but was still an absorbing read.

Home Truths – Jill McLean
Interesting to read the build up and explosion of violence in a domestic situation. Would be nice if society did step in when they gained the knowledge of abuse and did something about it. But then, that would require people to look beyond themselves, take a risk in getting to know their neighbours and saying something in a particularly awkward situation.

The Prairie Bridesmaid – Daria Salamon
So much of the insights of this character reveal much of what has occurred in my life of late. Painfully personal for me to read and impossible to write about.

The Girls – Lori Lansens
Such an unexpected story topic… craniopagus twins! It was interesting to see the change in strength between the two sisters over the course of the story. No real surprise in the end – the twists and turns come inside the novel itself.

The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton
Glorious. The perfect overlapping of several characters, one mystery and history blended with current day life. Cannot wait for this authors other book to land in my ‘inbox’ at the library. Absorbing, well written and utterly believable. The twist is one you always knew was coming in the back of your head; actually I thought there was something even more sinister than what was revealed, but satisfying in the end.

 
 I hope that as soon as I get settled and find my way to the local library I can resume my reading habit!