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?

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!

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!

Mem Fox’s Possum Magic Indeed

 

I guess there really is some possum magic happening in the Fox household…..OK.. that was in poor taste. But I wonder, does the revelations of authors lives change how you see the books that they write?

I know that after the news that Robert Munsch was recovering from an alcohol and cocaine addiction, I considered his books in a whole different light. I think that it must be a Canadian thing that I just dont get….. I dont understand why his childrens books are so popular and that people think they are funny. Nor does my six year old understand it either.  Then I sarcastically considered the possibility that you had to be drunk or high to see the humour.

And the acknowledgement that Marian Keyes is struggling with depression and it currently unable to write anything new gave me a better understanding of the struggle to keep developing story lines that will excite and tempt a reader into handing over heard earned cash to buy a new book. Truly, they dont call it the Black Dog for nothing; it can rule or even destroy a life.

So the revelation in the news today of Mem Fox’s husband denying a sexual relationship with a 17 year old boy and her standing by him alters how I see her. I cant help it. I read things like that and it says a lot about the people involved according to my filter of the world.

Am I the only person who is this way? Can you hear about a persons life and hold their work separate from the work that they create? Or does it make authors – these people who I am guiltly of idolising at times – more human. More reachable. More like myself? Or would I prefer to keep my writing idols on the pedestal?  What about you?

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.

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!

A New Enid Blyton…..

Enid Blyton.

I’m fairly certain that every child in the UK or Australia has read at least some of her works.  Apparently she was an author of some repute throughout the Commonwealth, but I hesitate to say for sure in Canada (nothing about this new country of mine is quite the same….) but with books translated into 90 different languages, you would be forgiven for thinking that almost the entire world has read at least one Blyton book in their younger days: The Magic Faraway Tree anyone?

My special love was the series ‘Famous Five’.  When I was younger I was crazy about them, and any time Mum went into the city for the day she would come home having visited the book shop with a new book or two (sometimes three!) for me to add to my collection. Sadly the books  are all back home in Australia right now, and I will either have to ship them out for Bronwen (or more likely if I’m still in Canada get them on e-reader) when the time is right so that I can share a part of my literary heritage with her.

Blyton wrote almost 800 books over the course of a 40 year career (take that Nora Roberts,) is apparently the fifth most translated author in the world and there are at least 600 million copies of her books scattered around the globe. *phew*

So one can  imagine the shock  someone had when they initially discovered in a pile of old manuscripts  an unpublished story  after buying the box of manuscripts at auction. Imagine that amongst the drafts of Famous Five, Secret Seven, Noddy and Malory Towers, a new story….a  Mr Tumpy’s Caravan  suddenly came to your attention.  Quite possibly an early attempt at a novel….  just … imagine.

One cant help but wonder, will the publishing house that bought the box of manuscripts publish the book now for old times sake, or the money making potential that is undoubtedly has with Blyton devotees – even if the story is really poorly written?  Think Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl” series and the reputed forth novel he was writing before his death, the debate over that being published one day or not, according to who wins out in the Swedish courts over the rights to his property.  Anything is possible.

Amy Bourret – Mothers and Other Liars

There was one book that I read in January that affected me emotionally enough that I did something that I have never, in all my years of being a book lover, ever done. I sat down and wrote an email to the author telling her how her novel impacted me. Oh yeah… I really did.

How far will a mother go to save her child?
Ten years ago, Ruby Leander was a drifting nineteen-year-old who made a split-second decision at an Oklahoma rest stop. Fast forward nine years: Ruby and her daughter Lark live in New Mexico. Lark is a precocious, animal loving imp, and Ruby has built a family for them with a wonderful community of friends and her boyfriend of three years. Life is good. Until the day Ruby reads a magazine article about parents searching for an infant kidnapped by car-jackers. Then Ruby faces a choice no mother should have to make. A choice that will change both her and Lark’s lives forever.

January 28th 2011

Dear Amy,
I feel like I can call you by your first name because I assume I already know you, having just finished reading “Mothers and Other Liars.”  Authors always give away a part of themselves when they tell a story; they reveal a part of who they are.  Open themselves up to outsiders who assume to see a glimpse of the author from what they write.  It’s impossible, I think, to not do so.  Otherwise, how can an author write a story that has any emotional power?   But that means you get emails from complete strangers who seem to think they can call you by your first name.
I started your novel last night and finished it not long after 2pm.  The power of your work has actually brought me to my computer to write to you; something I never do.  But I knew as the image of Ruby watching Lark and Charlie at the beach danced in my imagination I was going to have to write to you.
Because you managed to make me cry, not once, but twice.
Last night I cried as I read of the separation of mother and daughter when Lark was to be ‘returned’ to the Tinsdales care.  Lark’s mouth opens, forms one silent word, “Mama!” Then she disappears behind the shutting door.  I think that maybe my heart split in two at that scene.   And today, as I was looking after my own daughter (who turns six next month and is home sick from school,) I cried once again as I read the baptism/goodbye ceremony for Charlie before the social worked pried Ruby’s fingers one by one off her son to take him away.  Cried perhaps isn’t strong enough a word. Maybe sobbed would be a better, more honest description of my reaction. The tears rolled down my cheeks and no matter how many times I reminded myself “it’s only a story” like I do when my daughter gets upset over things in books or on television, the pain I felt for the situation was real. And that, Amy, is when I knew you were a story teller with a rare but precious skill.
So I just wanted to write and say thank you for sharing your story with me.  Truly it was a lucky last minute grab off the bookshelf.  I loved it so much and can’t wait to read your next novel!
Courtney

I didn’t stop to edit what I wrote three or four times like I normally would. Because I knew that if I took too long contemplating about what I was writing I would have contemplated myself right out of writing to Amy Bourret at all. And I must confess that as a wannabe writer, I like the idea of telling someone else when they had got it right by me. Of telling someone that the hard work of sitting behind a desk, or in front of a blank piece of paper had been worth it, because someone else saw and valued the vision. So imagine my surprise when I received this back the very next day….

 

Thank you so much Courtney! Writing happens in such a vacuum that feedback like yours really means a lot to me.
 
always,
Amy

Obviously I’m so inspired by this success ( getting a reply) that I may very well take the risk of writing to another author whose book I truly adore again because WOW. A real life published author who writes back to fan mail.  Cool.