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.

Brian Henry Workshops and Clinging to Undoubtedly

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I made the drive out to Kingston, Ontario to partake in a workshop led by Brian Henry on writing for children. Can I just say that if you have to travel 170kms each way for anything, its best done with a great friend, a fully charged i-pod and a driver with a lead foot. Oh! And the ability to understand freeway numbers according to Google maps might also prove helpful.

Brian took us through many aspects of children”s publishing. Explaining the different styles of juvenile fiction, when its worth getting an agent – and when its not! – and all manner of other helpful hints. With 25 years experience in editing and teaching creative writing, you get the impression that Brian Henry knows what he is talking about. In manner and appearance, Brian resembles a teddy bear. Quietly spoken,  its quite obvious the pleasure and pride he takes in encouraging and discovering new talent. Graciously, over the course of the workshop he spent time with each of the 16+ participants going through sample chapters and completed picture  book manuscripts.

The beginnings of a story book began to form in my mind back in 2007. It sat on my computer hard drive for years. Years in which I thought that my dream of ever writing a book and having it published seemed more impossible than finding a pot of gold a the end of the rainbow. If you have every done any research on writing for children, you know that it’s apparently even harder than it is writing fiction for adults. So the idea of ever producing a story good enough for a published picture book was put away in the ‘nevah gunna happen’ file I have in my mind.

Over the past year as I grown in confidence in my abilities from being involved in my writing group (Publish or Die – PoD) I started working on the piece again. Edit after edit after edit happened until I got to the point of being brave enough to share the draft with the other PoD members. With their encouragement I kept working the piece and took a copy to the workshop to show Brian. I can still recall Brian’s face as he read my piece several times, smiling with enjoyment. I also recall his words;

“You should enter this in the children’s competition with the Writers Union of  Canada .  Undoubtedly when you make the top ten of the competition it will be sent to three different publishers…”

“Uh…sorry… what did you say?”

“Undoubtedly when you make top ten. UNDOUBTEDLY.” He repeated the word, tapping the table with each syllable  as he took in my look of confusion and disbelief.

Truly I hope that I don’t disappoint Brian and bomb out, not even making the second round of cuts by the judges, because on average there are 500 to 600 entries every year. Truly I hope that this isn’t the year to have the most brilliant writers for children come out of the woodwork and enter their new works. Truly I hope that Brian will be able to gloat that he picked another great book in my piece. I’m not sure when the top ten is even announced.  Perhaps as I write this blog piece the top ten are already receiving phone calls and I will make a total fool of myself even putting this ‘out there’ when I don’t receive a call. But I entered the competition despite my nerves. I entered my first ever serious competition for writing. If I got nothing else from the workshop from Brian Henry, it was the confidence to  put my work out there and have a go. And that in itself made the workshop invaluable to me.

And the other great piece of news?

Brian Henry and PoD are working on creating a writing workshop for writers here in Ottawa, Canada later in the year.  More news as the pieces of the workshop fall into place. And it goes without saying, if I get a phone call from the Writers Union you will be the first to know.

Stranger than Fiction is my Red Letter Day

If I’m serious about becoming a writer, it means putting my writing out there in competitions, literary magazines and the like and come what may.

Easy, right?

Well in fact, it’s been something I’ve reeeeeally struggled with.

But now March 10th 2011 is a red letter day in my writing career. I found an online competition with CBC Books and thought,  “Yeah…. I can do that.” I can write 250 words and enter it into a competition that has a Sony Digital Reader as the lure/prize. 

I kept my story to 226 words, asked my writing group friends to give it a look-see and then sent it off via the mysterious ways of cyberspace before I could second guess myself. 

So finding the next competition to enter is sure to be a cinch… ha!

Dating Disaster

We were the yin and yang of relationships.  People couldn’t help but comment on the symmetry of our being.

Our ideals, ambitions, hopes and future career paths all meshed together flawlessly. A match made in heaven.

Slate blue eyed, honey blonde hair, just right against my twinkling green eyes and dark auburn tresses that blended together in a soft mess of curls.

Even the age gap was text book.

But the church Leadership did not agree with his choice of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. “She’ll pull you away from your God-given calling.  You’ll never reach your true potential,” they warned.

Strongarmed, church Leadership challenged me to reconsider my affection. Called it impure for not putting his obvious calling at the forefront of my choice.

A choice never acted upon.

We drove to the picturesque village of Sassafras to share a meal of stone scones and salty tea.  The word ‘date’ technically forbidden.  Across the table we held hands but never said the word goodbye. 

He married a girl from the ‘right’ kind of family. Left his calling nonetheless and never reached his expected potential.

I married a man who knocked me on my arse and knocked my tooth out.  I made the choice to flee;   to survive.  Audaciously began to thrive. 

Yet my heart still longs for what should have been.

Ranting that Writing is an Art Form….

writers paradise?

I have been told by other writers that Ireland reveres its writers so much, that they allow them to live tax free in the Emerald Isle. Now I’m not sure if this is true or not, and perhaps some investigation is in order, but if that rumour  isn’t reason enough to love the country, I don’t know what is!

It seems to me that often than not, if you are an art-tist  in almost any field of creativity, you are given special treatment by the people around you.  Fashion – especially haute-couture is seen (by its loyal followers) as art.   In fact, it takes something as drastic and hideous such as an anti-Semitic  rant to push society, who has forgiven your foibles such as rudeness and temper tantrums over the collective edge and tell you your behaviour is totally unacceptable, because, well, as an art-tist you are highly strung.   Although, as an aside, if Natalie Portman hadn’t been the shoo-in for the Academy Award this year, garnering her so much media attention, would her statement of shock and disgust, that appeared to be the nail in the coffin for Mr Galliano’s career at Dior, have had as much strength behind it? And, just for the record, where is the news coverage of all the other shocked and outraged Jewish actors and actresses? What is the truth behind this story? Has this drunken, slurry rant, that allegedly occurred not long after Galliano’s lover had died, been around on a mobile phone for several months and only now just released at such an appropriate time as to best get rid of a designer that a fashion house had been struggling to set itself free from? Or am I just seeing conspiracies behind even hedge?

                                          

Visual modern art works, (Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire  or  Jackson Pollock  Blue Poles) even if the work looks, to my obviously uneducated eyes, like paint splatters or vaguely of a war medal, that my six year old can do and it is considered high art. Misogynistic or bimboette music stars are considered artists and paid millions for their work. As are people in Hollywood for pretending to be people  they really are not, doing things they really cannot.

 But ask the average punter what a writer is, and the term ‘artist’ is one that they will more than likely not be the one to out with. In fact, whilst reading of the demise of a favourite book store back home  I was stunned to read in the comments that some people hold the opinion that books were not works of art. They were simply blocks of bound paper printed in the tens of thousands for the making of a profit.

Contrary to Corrie Perkins, I don’t see books being “works of art”. Art is a one-off creation; books are printed in their tens of thousands, by companies, for profit. They are indeed commodities. Authors such as Bryce Courtney, Wilbur Smith, Jackie Collins, etc are not artists, they write for a living, and often to a formula.  au contraire | nsw – February 23, 2011, 8:09AM 

 

I’m sorry….? Stories aren’t works of art? Excuuuuuuuuuse me?  Unless you have spent hours in front of the computer researching, writing, editing, and sweating the small stuff such as word counts; if you have not poured over books and websites researching how to get an agent interested in your work (much less a publisher,) you have no idea of how hard a writer has worked for that piece of ‘non art’ you read for enjoyment or learning. Even the formula ones.  And is there no greater sin in the book reading world than to be a profitable, commercial writer? Must all writers be starving, wondering when their next paying six month column gig in a local news rag will come along? Have a look at how much actors, actresses, music stars, reality television stars are commanding for their ‘art’ and see if there isn’t a hint of profiteering in there. And don’t get me started on the whole profiteering of artist’s such as Monet or Van Gogh with jigsaw puzzles, paint by numbers, bags, tea towels and whathaveyou!

All this ranting from reading one innocent article in the Irish newspaper,  The Independent?  Well thank goodness somewhere out there a nation sees writers as artists and worthy of being treasured.  And  phew –    just imagine if I had planned to get up on a soap box and preach!