Monday, March 10, 2014

Write now with Tim Thorne

Five days until the Beaconsfield Festival of Golden Words and today's Q&A is with poet Tim Thorne. He's a multi-award winning poet with more than a dozen collections published.

1.  What is your latest book? Tell us a bit about it.
The Unspeak Poems and other verses, published by Walleah Press. It consists of the title group of poems, based on Stephen Poole's concept of "Unspeak" (a real-life version of Orwell's "Newspeak") along with other poems I've written over the past six years.  It includes some light verse.

2. What is your best time of day for writing? Why is that?
  It used to be very late at night, but as I get older I get tired earlier, so now it tends to be afternoons.

3.  What books would you recommend to a new poet starting out?
Any of the technically great poets, both for enjoyment and to learn from.  Plath and Keats are the first I'd list, but the important thing is to read as widely as possible.

4. What is the strangest question you have been asked by a reader? What was your response?
 "Why did you write about my life?"  This from a complete stranger after I'd read in a pub in Orange.  She'd wandered in from another bar and heard a poem about a homeless teenager.

5. What do you enjoy most about literary festivals?
 Hearing other poets read/perform their work.  I'm not a great fan of panel discussions.  I do have a poem sequence in my new book called "At the Literary Festival" which is pretty much my take on the phenomenon.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Write now with - Christina Booth

The Beaconsfield Festival of Golden Words - never heard of it? That's because it's a brand new literary festival for Tasmania, taking place 14-16 March!

Today's Q&A is with Christina Booth, a children's writer and illustrator, who will be appearing at the festival.
1. What is your latest published book? Tell us a little about it.

My latest book is called Welcome Home.  It is a story about a boy and a whale. Inspired by an event that happened in my home state of Tasmania, the story follows a whale as she swims into a river and tells her stories to a young boy. The stories are both joyful and sad. The young boy learns of the history of whaling and why the whales were driven away. He wonders if he can make amends for the past and encourage her to stay. 'Sorry,' he tells her but she swims away. Then in the early dawn people gather on the shore and watch as she swims and plays in the water, but not on her own. 

I have always wanted to write a book that looks at the issue of whaling. It is a gruesome and violent topic and quite political and very difficult to approach appropriately in a book for young children. When a southern right whale swam into Hobart's Derwent River and had a calf, the first born in what was once a thriving whale nursery in nearly 200 years I knew I had a story. I have approached the effects of whaling from a historical perspective and asked myself, how did the whale know it was safe to come back? Do whales tell their children stories like we do? Can a whale forgive us? I like to start my story writing with a question.

2. What research did you have to do for it? Is research different for illustrators? If so, in what way?

I researched information about southern right whales and the history of whaling during the early European settlement of Australia and New Zealand. I watched a lot of documentaries, read books including journal entries of whalers from the time and looked at a lot of pictures of whales. I collected as many images of whales as I could and researched about their behaviour and anatomy.  I visited a few museums and researched quite a bit online.

My research is very much the same as an illustrator as it is for my writing though I do have to collect and study a lot of visual aspects, not just to have descriptions right in words but to have certain important aspects correct in my illustrations. If you understand the anatomy of the animal you are drawing and painting, even if you are simplifying it or morphing it in some way then you will capture the essence of what makes that animal unique. A lot of my illustration research is spent doing studies and sketches of animals to learn how to make them move and sit, stand etc, in certain environments and situations. I am inspired by the way Beatrix Potter studied to draw her animal characters. She drew them anatomically correct and then she dressed them. My whales aren't dressed though!!

3. What is your best time of day for illustrating? Why is that?

I have a crazy life, lots of people coming and going in my house which is where my studio is. I find that once I have settled into the studio and focused then any time is the best time. Sometimes I go up to turn off computers for the night and find myself distracted and working again. It puts me into a time bubble and before I know it everyone else has gone to sleep and hours can pass by. Because I am a mum the best time to work is any time I can grab to do so.

4. What is the strangest question you've ever been asked by a child reader? How did you respond? 

Not many odd ones but one child wanted to know what language we spoke in Tasmania. I answered with a question that had the group chatting for a bit about what they thought (they were quite young and lived on what I affectionately call the 'Big Island'). 

5. What do you like most about literary festivals?

I love festivals, the word itself engages the essence of fun and celebration. I love literary festivals because they celebrate what I love to do and offer the opportunity for everyone to engage with the idea of using words and pictures to tell stories. We hear from the great writers and also from the potentially great and we learn from each other. Humans are naturally designed to tell stories and to gather together so when I attend a writing festival I feel very at home and love listening, telling and doing. I love having the chance to meet new people, my audience (they are not a figment of my imagination, hooray) and to share any skills  I have with others and learn new ones as well. I love to learn.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Write Now with - Tristan Bancks

Next week is the Beaconsfield Festival of Golden Words. Tristan Bancks is one of Australia’s most active children’s authors, and an advocate of the internet as an essential writers tool. In demand at schools and libraries around the country for his exciting writing workshops for youngsters, Tristan is leading two of his story safaris and his popular Imaginarium session at the Festival.

1. What is your latest published book? Tell us a little about it.

TWO WOLVES, out 1 March. It’s a crime-mystery novel about two kids, Ben and Olive Silver, who are ‘kidnapped’ by their own parents. They are told that they’re going on a holiday but, after a couple of run-ins with the police, they realise that their parents have done something wrong. They need to become detectives within their own family and work out what their folks have done and what they are going to do about it.

2. What research did you have to do for it?

I read lots of articles on abducted kids and criminal parents. I learnt how log rafts are built and what rabbit hunting is like and I learnt about Norfolk Pine trees and police car antennas and I re-read My Side of the Mountain and Hatchet and White Fang and other wilderness novels that I love. Lots of details that I tried to get right. I took five years to write it so I take full responsibility for any discrepancies.

3. What is your best time of day for writing? Why is that?Definitely mornings. I am clear-headed and energised and ready for action. Afternoon is much better for logistical stuff. Then a late-night burst of ideas if I allow it. (Often no sleep afterwards.) 

4. What is the strangest question you've ever been asked by a reader? How did you respond?
‘Do you like pie’? I, of course, responded in the affirmative. 

5. What do you like most about literary festivals?Interacting with kids, meeting other writers and illustrators who invariably have an interesting take on the world. Telling stories verbally is fun and bringing them alive with images, video, anecdotes etc. It’s a nice excuse to stand up occasionally, too. Writers sit for waaaay too long each day / month / year.

Thanks, Tristan! I know what you mean about too many hours at the computer. Two Wolves looks great - can't wait to read it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Write now! with Nick Earls

To celebrate the Beaconsfield Festival of Gold Words, which is on in Tasmania (near Launceston) next week, I'm running a series of short blog posts featuring Q&As with some of the writers who will be there.

First up is Nick Earls, whose books have long been on my favourites list.

1. What is your latest book? Tell us a bit about it.

 My latest book for children is the final part of the Word Hunters trilogy. It’s called War of the Word Hunters, and we aimed to create the massive finale every trilogy deserves. In this case, it needed an epic-scale reckoning between our heroes and their enemy, and  it needed to be etymologically satisfying as well. Word Hunters is a time-travel adventure trilogy, with the leaps back in time dictated by the evolution of a particular word, so to finish with we needed a word that would take us to the right place at the right time, in an interesting way. A big ask, but I think we got there.

My latest book for adults is Welcome to Normal, a collection of stories and novellas, each of which look at the idea of ‘normal’ in some way, and at what might lie beneath the surface. My next book for adults, a novel called Analogue Men, will come out in July.

2. What research did you have to do for this book?

The research for Word Hunters was huge, and one of the best bits. I had to test out the etymological paths of literally hundreds of words to see which had interesting stories, or stories that could take the characters to interesting places. Then I had to find out what they’d wear in each place, what it looked like how it smelt, etc.

For Welcome to Normal, a few of the stories involve travel or happen a long way from here, so I took to Google Earth and Google Street View and spent days driving the roads to see precisely what my characters would see (or at least what they would have seen, had they been in the Google car that day).

3. What is your best time of day for writing? Why is that?

My best writing time is after I’ve dropped my son at childcare, bought the groceries and despatched any urgent emails. The decks are close to clear then, and they’re not clear often. Lately, my best shot at writing has come on planes and in hotel rooms, with the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door.

To write a first draft of a novel, though, it’s more about best time of year than best time of day. I have to block out a slab of my diary, say no to events and other requests, and write. I only get a few months a year like that, and those few months need to yield a draft of something.

4. What is the strangest question you've been asked by a reader?

Quite a few of the strange questions are about the writing of He Died With a Felafel in his hand, made extra strange because John Birmingham wrote it, not me. But people talk to him about Zigzag Street regularly, so honours are even.

5. What do you like most about literary festivals?

 They make me lift my eyes from this keyboard and screen. They bring me back into face-to-face contact with writers and readers, and into conversations.

Thanks, Nick. You will also see on his website that he gives away some of his stories for free, so if you haven't read his work before, here's your chance!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Beginning life as a hybrid publisher, Part 2

The continuing story …

In every publishing venture, especially in self-publishing where you are juggling everything, something is sure to go wrong. Usually it's somewhere in the printing. Deciding to use a local Melbourne printer (just over the Westgate Bridge from me) was worth it, and I think now that dealing with a printer in China or Singapore to save a few hundred dollars would have been a mistake. I had a pretty trouble-free experience with Trojan Press, and they were really helpful.
Publishers who print overseas have a lot more experience than me, and are able to explain exactly what they want and couch it in printing terminology. Whereas to get the book size, I was there with the ruler and counting millimetres!

Having had books traditionally published, though, there were aspects that I understood were vital – the cover design, for one. The correct front and back matter, the imprint page, the ISBN, the barcode (which the printer organized), and then the book data. I had to redo the book data four times in the end because some of it (like the release date) kept mysteriously changing in the online databases. 

Also, because this book had been published in the USA, with a different ISBN, I had to contact a number of online booksellers and library suppliers to make sure they knew the correct ISBN and had information about the book. This particular advice came from a session at the Independent Publishers’ Conference, which happened in Melbourne in November, at just the right time for me.

Another thing that I heard at the conference was the frustration felt by review magazines and editors over people who send books for review the week they come out. A review can take up to 3 months, by the time the book is sent to someone, they read it, write the review and then it’s published. So I had my books in my hot little hand by the end of October and immediately began sending out review copies.

It’s not a simple process because quite a few blogs and journals require you to contact them first. I guess they are tired of being sent every book in existence! But several places I took the time to email were responsive and agreed to take a copy. That doesn’t guarantee a review, though. (Again, I already had reviews from the US publication that I could use in my marketing.)

So here is a list of all the things I embarked upon as part of my marketing:
  • ·        Review copies
  • ·        A special book page on my website where I could link to reviews, as well as provide extra materials
  • ·        Extra materials – teaching notes, an author interview, first chapter to download, links to reviews, a book trailer
  • ·        Facebook page for the book where, instead of just hoping people would buy the book, I wanted to provide images (everyone seems to love images, hence Pinterest) related to the book
  • ·        Tweeting about the book (only a little bit – I hate it when people’s tweets are just one endless sales pitch)
  • ·        Launches – one at a great children’s bookshop, The Little Bookroom
  • ·        The second “launch” is part of me giving a free talk about hybrid publishing at my local library, and I have how-to guides on self-publishing to give away
  • ·        Approaching some schools I had been to previously and offering school book launches (my traditional publisher did this a few years ago with a book of mine and I had done it with a keen local school with another book)
  • ·        Two guest posts on blogs that are read by teachers and librarians, as well as other writers

I’m sure there are other small things I’ve been doing but those are the main ones.
I have also been incredibly lucky in that the son of a friend of mine offered to make me a book trailer, and it was just fantastic. He did an amazing job and even found a German Shepherd dog to star in it. The trailer is very spooky! You can see it here.

Other things? well, I did think about having a German Shepherd at the book launch but the bookshop is small and I started imagining what might happen if someone stood on the poor dog’s foot and … you get the picture! So scrap that idea.

Now the book launch is just a week away, and I have to start thinking about cooking cakes for the celebration, and how I will keep the wine chilled if it’s a hot day, and where to park so I don’t get a parking fine.

And then I will have school visits and more photos to put on the FB page and reviews to brace myself for, and then I have to decide if I am going to enter the book for any awards where it’s eligible. I think I will be busy for a few more weeks, at the very least. Finally, if I am lucky and all of this effort leads to good sales, I might be in that happy position of having to decide on a reprint.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Beginning life as a hybrid publisher

Writers often self-publish because they can’t find a traditional publisher for their book. I found myself in this position in 2013. It wasn’t that I had never been traditionally published – by then I had nearly 60 books published, several of which had won or been shortlisted for awards. So why was I in this position? Had I written a book so awful that no one wanted it? Or so contentious or weird or unmarketable? No. But the book I wanted to see published in Australia had already been published in the USA, and so overseas and e-rights were not available. While a few Australian publishers might have said no because they didn’t like the book, finally one was able to tell me it was the rights issue that led them to turn it down.

Now, with some of my books I might have thought – I had it published in the US so I’ll be happy with that. But this book was different. It wouldn’t leave me alone. I just felt in my heart that it was worth pursuing here, hence my constant nudging of my agent to try another publisher. But when I finally realised it wasn’t going to happen, I woke up one morning and decided to try it alone. My first option was to import a large number of copies from the US publisher, but the discount wasn’t enough to allow me to distribute it here without incurring big losses. Also I would have to pay high freight costs. The other option was to self-publish the book. Which, I discovered, would make me a hybrid publisher - one who is both traditionally and self-published.

I think the crucial difference at this point for me was my track record. If I’d only had a few books out, and wasn’t reasonably well known already, I might not have bothered. Or I might have printed 100 copies (as I have done with two of my out-of-print titles) and just sold them during school visits. This “reputation” turned out to be crucial indeed. It meant the distributor, Dennis Jones, immediately agreed to take at least 1200 copies with a team of sales reps to back this up. I had been considering using Lightning Source as a printer, having heard someone from there talk at a small press conference, but Dennis recommended a printer not far from where I live. A quote from Trojan Press showed they could match Lightning Source, and their proximity would make things easier for communication. Trojan also were happy to amend the cover for me. I negotiated with the US publisher, KaneMiller, to buy the cover files as Dennis Jones thought the original cover was excellent and worth using.

From my earlier reprints I already had a block of ISBNs and could immediately allocate one to Dying to Tell Me’s Australian edition. It also helped that I have been self-publishing for years. Initially it was a series of community publications, including two oral histories, then a women’s poetry magazine for 20 years. I’d also written a book on self-publishing (1997) and taught classes, and kept up with changes in technology. All the same, I was looking at a 1500-2000 print run, which filled me with fear. That was a lot of money to risk! The turning point was when my agent contacted Australian Standing Orders on my behalf, and after looking at the book and the teacher’s notes I had written, they agreed to take a firm order of 700 copies. Again, my reputation and track record of previous books was a vital element. (Standing Orders companies have schools as “subscribers” and supply a selected box of books every month of the school year.)

Ultimately, distributors and standing orders companies take your books at a high discount. With a distributor I will have to deal with returns, like any publisher, so I wasn’t out of deep water yet! But it was looking hopeful for maybe covering my costs. And that was what I went into this with – the aim of covering my costs, or not making too big a loss.

Then came work on the actual book. Much as it would have been convenient to use the US text, when I read through it again, I realised that there were too many words that had been changed. Strangely, they hadn’t changed Mum to Mom, but most of the spelling was American, and many other words had been altered, e.g. all measurements were in yards, feet and inches instead of our metres and centimetres. So my task then was to go back to the original Word file and change everything. I also made the decision to change the double speech marks to singles. Some things were able to be fixed with global changes, others not. And this is where I almost came undone. Or sent myself and my interior designer/typesetter, Daniel, crazy!

 Because I proofread the novel on screen. In hindsight, I was probably trying to save paper and time, but it was a mistake. I ended up proofreading the text four times, and every time I found more errors. In fact, I found errors that the original US publisher missed (the dad’s name changed between Chapter 2 and Chapter 16!). Each time I found more errors, Daniel had to go back and change them on the Word file, then re-convert into PDF to check pages and formatting. We also had a preferred page limit, and a last-ditch-final page limit (because books print in multiples of pages and if you can stay within a multiple, you save money), and Daniel managed to keep the book under the preferred page limit, even though at the last minute we had to change the font size for readability. Daniel is my hero!

By the end of September, I was waiting on proofs from the printer and a decision from another standing orders supplier before committing to final figures for the print run. Meanwhile I was making lists of places to send the book for review, ways to publicise the book before and after publication date, and working on some new marketing ideas. All of this was going to take time and more money, but this is what a self-publisher has to take on board.

You can see part of my marketing efforts on the Facebook page for Dying to Tell Me. The book trailer is on YouTube here - more about all that in the next post.

And the book is up as a giveaway on GoodReads for the month of February - put in an entry!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Dying to Tell Me by Sherryl Clark

Dying to Tell Me

by Sherryl Clark

Giveaway ends February 28, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win