Friday 27 May 2011

Lots of Books

I’m feeling a tad prolific, a trifle gob-smacked, if not somewhat overwhelmed and even a little inert.
I have four books just out and a fifth out any minute now.
Babel is out as a paperback, it and The Prophecy are now available on Kindle. Hipp-O-Dee-Doo-Dah, the anthology which I’ve edited and in which my story The Gargoyle appears, is available now.
Shortly, my novel for 9-11, Kiters comes out with Tabby Cat Press.
I’m doing a special offer on signed copies until 30 June. Sign up for my newsletter if you want to know more.
It’s all good, I guess, but I’m so busy, I can’t get my head round launching properly.      

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Your Identity as a Writer

The Sharing Skills session for writers who work in school, held last Saturday in Birmingham, was very useful. As usual, much of the usefulness came from the contact it gave you with colleagues. All the sessions were interesting, though none of them were quite what I thought they would be. One that stood out, though, was about maintaining our identity as writers.
So often on school visits we end up teaching. As a former teacher I don’t find that onerous – I even quite enjoy it – but I do question what value the school and the students are getting from that. By teaching them creative writing, I’m only doing something their own teachers could do better. Yes, granted, many teachers are afraid of writing and don’t write themselves. Even so, a more practical model might be for us to teach the teachers how to write and let them pass that skill on to the students. They are the best people to teach their students.
We must remember too that not every student will go on to be a writer and will only need to write as much as they need to show their knowledge in other areas. It’s just like the fact that although a visit form the local fire service may be extremely interesting, not every student is going to become a fire-fighter. Now and then, however, it may be appropriate to work with a small group of students who have writing ambitions.   
Maybe the traditional author visit is no bad thing – read a little from your work, ask the students questions, let them ask you questions. Let them read or hear some quality literature.
Yes, probably we are expected to entertain. But it may be our writing that engages. We must bring something the teachers can’t and something that we bring because of the type of writers we are. And maybe it’s fine to let students try out some of the things we do.
One delegate said that he always tried to make the workshop in school bring him something as well. Perhaps we might research with our students.
We were asked to think of our tag line and logo in the session. I couldn’t get mine. It kept coming out too long. But I have it now. “Writing for and with young people.” I write primarily for young adults, but do also write for younger children and enjoy working with them. I also work with university students, many of them still relatively young. Hence, “young people”.  Writing with students rather than just getting them to write also seems appropriate.
The logo is yet to arrive. But I’m thinking butterflies or something similar that represents the young at heart.
I’ve also made some decisions about the type of workshop I am prepared to offer in schools, based on what we talked about in that session.                            

Friday 20 May 2011

The Rewards of Self-promotion

I am a great fan of Twitter. Those of you who follow my Opportunities list are offered so many ideas because many of them come to me this list. I also use this wonderful social networking platform as a means of giving myself a treat; after every chunk of work is finished, usually about an hour’s worth, I reward myself with looking at the Tweets and posting one of my own.
I follow about 500 people and some are more present than others. I consider these to be my friends and worry if I’ve not heard from them. Many of them self-promote, and I’m happy with that because that’s not all they do. Besides, as we’re in the same game they just might be promoting something I’d be interested in.
Take my mate Trevor Belshaw aka Trevor Forest. I’m about a centimetre away from buying Peggy Larkin’s War. It appeals because I’m a sucker anything to do with the war – especially as I’m about to embark on my own rather unusual take on World War II. I write for children and this is a children’s novel. I love the name. Peggy Larkin. Fantastic. The cover appeals. So what if it’s self-published? I’ve read some brilliant self-published material and some absolute dire mainstream published writing.
But there are lots of other books that appeal as well. Goodness, I stopped keeping a wish list on Amazon because I realised I’d never live long enough to read all of those books. And I’ve got three shelves full of bought books and ten library books waiting for my attention. So why Peggy Larkin’s War? Because Trevor keeps mentioning it. I’m sort of thinking “Go on then. I’d better see what that is all about.”              
We need to be exposed to adverts at least three times before we act. The first time sows the idea. The second time confirms the possibility. The third time calls us to action. The bombardment thereafter pricks our conscience until we submit. We have to have an interest anyway, or the bombardment just becomes a background noise.  However, the background  noise still serves if the interest arises later. Just imagine, if I had no interest in Peggy Larkin but my kids were having to do a project on children during the war,  Ah yes, I might think, Peggy Larkin’s War, and I wonder what Trevor did for his research.      
So, friends, self-promote like mad. We are fortunate that these days we have many tools to help us.    

Thursday 12 May 2011

Why We Should Treasure Rejections

The pain of getting a rejection never goes away, even if we have a good publication record. Rejections come, of course, for all sorts of reasons, not always for poor writing and we’re often rejected even if our writing is good or even brilliant.
“This doesn’t fit our lists, we’re not taking on any new writers at the moment, and we have just published something similar to this.” Even a more encouraging “This isn’t quite what we’re looking for but it you do not manage to place this with an agent, do send us your next one,” is still a rejection.
But think of this. If you are seriously being a writer and writing every day, as well as reading some good quality writing, you will be improving all the time. A little look at your work even after the blandest, most impersonal of rejections, can often leave you thinking “Thank goodness they did reject it.” This may be alarming, as when you sent the work out, you thought it was the best you could ever do. Thank goodness we move on, or we’d never be able to work with editors once our work was accepted.
If we get a more positive rejection, we may have something concrete to work on. Remember, though, although editors are often right about what is wrong with a piece, they are rarely right about how to fix it. That skill belongs to the writer. We have to find a third way.
This is partly what makes me nervous about self-publishing. I have self-published, and I am about to self-publish again. I am, however, going to employ the services of an editor.
We should treasure every rejection. Statistically every rejection brings us one step nearer to being published. It probably stops us from making fools of ourselves as well.       

Tuesday 10 May 2011

The Truth about the Dream

Sometimes we can be so carried away with the dream about being a writer that we forget to be a writer.
We open our emails or Twitter eagerly, looking for that one break or that one promotion opportunity that will make our books sell millions. We are often so worried about whether our book is selling or not, or indeed whether it is even accepted or not, and what the critics are saying, that we forget to write or don’t find the time or the brain space.
Many writers, after becoming published, mourn their former easy routines. They no longer find the hours of solitude they used to carve for themselves with so much discipline. They learn a new routine of forcing the muse and writing on the train or in the hotel room.
It would be great, wouldn’t it, to be in demand at literary festivals? Except that you have to travel around a lot. They might forget to feed you or give you a drink or allow you a loo break.  But you get to sign lots of books, right?  Sure. But you might worry about how short your queue is compared to the one over there. Don’t stop to work out the royalties you’d be earning for this. Even with a really long queue - especially with a very long queue - it’s very little per hour. The same often applies to school visits.
But you’re published. You get to work with an editor. You get to see your work in print. Yes, but think of this: before you sent your book off you made it the very best it could possibly be and now they want even more. Can you find the extra? And what if once the book’s printed you want to change it again? Ha!
What if they don’t like it? The people who buy the books…  
There may be some explanation here about why some very good writers are not published. They are so dedicated to their writing that they don’t even find time to send their work out, and if it should become published, they don’t find the time or the inclination to join in the promotional activities. They have to rely on luck for the book to get noticed. Once it is noticed, if it’s good, it will still fly. But it is a risk.
On the other hand, a reasonably good and reasonably proactive writer can get so sucked into a round of “writerly” activity that they can lose the power to write. The mind becomes agitated and it is far easier to complete the other little activities – create an email shot about school visits, tart up your website or put up a notice on Twitter – than devote the concentration needed to something more creative.     
If you are already accepted your next step has got to be to write something even better. You can only do that if you keep at the writing. You have to cut everything else off and go for it. Just look at a few writers who plodded for years then suddenly had a breakthrough: Louisa May Alcott, David Almond, Philip Pullman.
We have to preserve our ability to write. That is a task and not a dream Dreaming does not produce.
This is one reason the first two hours of my working day is always devoted to my writing. And sometimes it’s very hard.