Friday, 22 June 2018

On Promotional Events, by Dan Metcalf

Ooh, it’s a quandary, isn’t it? Whether or not to ‘launch’ your book or let it slowly slide out into the world like a beached whale getting picked up by the tide once more? Whether to tour around flogging your wares or to concentrate on getting the next thing written and letting the stories do their own marketing?

For my most recent book, Dino Wars: Rise of the Raptors, I had thought long and hard about doing a book launch; a local cafe and caterer had offered their space but frankly my imposter syndrome kicked in and I felt unworthy to hold my own party and blow my own trumpet in this way. I’ve a few books under my belt now but I’m still very much a minnow in the world of kid’s lit, so I felt uneasy launching the book to a great fanfare – and who would come?

No, I felt more comfortable (for some reason) booking a small tour of events in the May half term where I would stand in front of complete strangers and tell jokes, read parts of my book and play silly balloon games with the assembled children. I set about finding places to hold them and soon found a few Dinosaur related venues – I live in Devon, which plays up its tourist destination of the Jurassic Coast well. Soon I had book events at the Dinosaur Museum inDorchester and Torquay's Dinosaur World
Dinosaur Wolrd Torquay, With Thanks to Lyn Jolly

This is where my experiences become a cautionary tale. Yes, my choice to go to dino-related venues was undoubtedly genius, (Okay, first suggested by my wife) but they bring their own challenges. Most are small affairs and have little space in which to hold events; an event in another fossil museum was a no-go due to lack of space. Dorchester had a cinema room which they were willing to hand over to me for my hour sessions, while Torquay had to clear part of their gift shop. Also, if you’re taking up space then it may affect their footfall numbers – we did the Dorchester event while still open during the day, but made the Torquay one a ticketed event for five o’clock when the venue was closed to the public. Another challenge was the fact that museums may not have the same relationships with wholesalers that a bookshop or library might have, so it was touch-and-go whether we would have enough copies to sell.

Both were well attended, largely due to the weather; it rained in Dorchester, driving families into the indoor tourist attractions, and the patchy weather coupled with it being the end of the day and parents being desperate for something to do meant that Torquay, while not packed out, was comfortably attended. Book sales were respectable – not going to bother the New York Times Bestsellers, but the venues were happy, and retained all the stock they had bought to keep in their gift shops. This means that Dino Wars is in two more places that they would have been normally, and places where children are hungry to spend their parent’s money. My evil plan to dominate the earth is coming together. Mwuh-ha-ha-haa!

Two other events in a well-known bookshop chain (beginning with W and rhyming with Porterstones) were weather-dependent – one had a handful of attendees and sales (showers), while the other, on a gloriously hot day when the entire population was at the park, pub or beach, was sloooooow. Again though, the silver lining is that stock remained and is now on the shelf in these High Street vendors, which they would not have been otherwise.

With Thanks to Claire Barker
Another event, organised by a specialist children’s bookshop and local library, had just one attendee. It was another hot day but we had fun nonetheless. I was even told afterwards that the child had only recently gone to live with them, as he was in foster care and it was the first quality time they had spent with them, which made the visit all the more worthwhile.

The half-term events? Tough to judge – I enjoyed doing them, but I’m not sure a spring-summer holiday is the best time to hold an indoor event. You live and learn.

The negligible results of my self-organised, self-promoted week of events was put into sharp contrast when just a fortnight later I was taken ‘on tour’ by my local bookshop, the splendid Crediton Community Bookshop. Arranged by the formidable Cathie, I was picked up at my house by their schools volunteer team and driven to ten schools over four days, speaking to over 800 children in years 2-5. The end of the week was topped off by a creative writing workshop in the bookshop after school for 17 children.

Results? Amazing. Cathie had a prediction (based on years of experience) that for every three children we saw, we would sell one book. This ratio worked perfectly: if I spoke to 180 children, we sold 60 books. If I spoke to 30 children, we sold 10. This didn’t quite work out at one book a child; a great deal on my Lottie Lipton Adventures saw many buying three books for £10, but we sold a handsome amount of Dino Wars too. There were a few challenges; miscommunication with the school meant that we weren’t able to stay after school as they wanted, meaning that some children may have been disappointed. This blow was softened by the bookshop handing out a £1 voucher to be used in the shop to every child. Some schools had promoted the visits more than others. Those that had talked the visit up in class and used some learning time to read my books to the children and research me (via my website) got a lot more out of the visit, and we sold a lot more books. Some children however entered the hall with looks of confusion on their faces and no money in hand – the staff insisted they had sent home an email or text to parents to inform them of my visit, but as Cathie put it, ‘Pupil pester power is the best promo tool’.

Lessons learned? Perhaps that I, as solo worker trying to write and promote at the same time, have not got the time to do it all. Visits are far more effective when a) organised and promoted properly and b) when the children have no choice but to turn up (I.E. Schools). The location of the event also has an amazing effect on how the children behave; in schools they are involved, better behaved and more interactive. In a public setting around parents they clam up and will barely say hello!
Now where did I leave that T-Rex?
This may not be news to a lot of you, but I thought it prudent that I note down these observations for myself even if not for anyone else. Anyway, aside from a couple of school visits that was my ‘launch’ event programme for Dino Wars: Rise of the Raptors. Now I can sit back until at least September, when Dino Wars 2: The Trials of Terror is released and the whole thing starts again!

Authors! What’s your experience of school visits / bookshop tours / alternative venues? What works best for you? Let me know in the comments and share with your peers!

Dan Metcalf is a children’s writer from south-west England. His latest book, Dino Wars: Rise of the Raptors is out now from Maverick Children’s Books. He is available for speaking at schools, libraries and literary festivals. See more at

Thursday, 21 June 2018

What can we do? by Anne Booth.

First of all,  I believe that every single children's writer in this group has been looking on at the news these last days with horror and that the spectacle of babies and children being taken away from their parents at the American border is breaking their hearts. The fact that I know that, makes me very proud to be part of of this group and our profession and grateful to have a role within it. It is an honour to write for and about children, and I feel like doing our job helps us be in touch with what really matters. Meeting the children I write for, inspires me every time.

Last week I met this lovely boy who wrote me a letter to say he was my greatest fan! Every writer here will know how lovely such a letter is to receive. The school librarian really wanted me to meet him, and got permission from his mum for me to share his picture. He is 8, and he told me enthusiastically that he loves all the cute animals in the Lucy books. The children at the school are not from a privileged background, like so many prominent politicians doing horrible things. He is bright and open and tender and loving. He is wonderful. I felt so honoured that he took the trouble to write to me and it brought tears to my eyes that meeting me meant so much to him - he had no idea how lucky I was to meet him.   It cheers me up every time I think of him.

The whole school has a wonderful atmosphere and the children are happy and enthusiastic, and I think it is because the school really lives up to the words of the banner you can see in the photograph and supports the pupils but also the parents who love them. The wonderful school librarian is going to organise after school support classes for the parents - this is a community short on money but based on love, and books and reading play a large part. It gives me hope and it was an honour to go there for World Book Day, where they paid me properly. So I went back and did the launch of my latest book there as a thank you. I love being with these children and this school community.

So what on earth is  happening when children turn into hate-full adults? Everyone starts off gorgeous, made to give and receive love. The politicians who do such hateful things, the journalists who smear, the people spouting fear-filled hate online and in phone-ins, were once as innocent and open to love as the little babies and toddlers at the border of America and Mexico or as these children in the picture.  What went wrong and how can we put it right?

I'm sure it all comes down to love. I try to remind myself, when I feel panicked and overwhelmed by all the horrible things going on and my own inability to fix them, that maybe we can't all be politicians or  aid workers or teachers or a librarians or nurses or social workers or any number of other jobs, but what we can do  is do the jobs we love. As writers we can love writing  and hope that that love comes through and out the other side to our readers. Loving readers can take the form of making them laugh, giving them a wonderful world to escape to, as well as educating them or inspiring them. There are many different types of writers and many types of genres  and many different children each of whom may read a variety of books.

I don't know how to fix the world, and I can't spend all my days RT horrific news, although i do feel we do have to share it and make a noise. I am finding that it is so easy to despair, but that getting on with my job gives me peace, and I wish it for each of us today.

P.S. - for when we forget about how truly important our jobs are and why - and inspite of ourselves feel a bit depressed or self-doubting  when we don't win awards or sell millions - I thought this might make you smile and also inspire!

Video of the opening song at The Tomy Awards 2018

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

From A (around the houses) to Pineapple by Joan Lennon

I'm going to be a mother-in-law!  Not only that, the wedding's going to happen in Jakarta, where my oldest son and my daughter-in-law-to-be now live.

I've been lucky enough to visit them before, and each time I've gone, friends here have said to me, "What an inspiration it's going to be!  You'll get some great writing ideas!"  But the thing is, for me, inspiration doesn't work like that.  It's not an A to B sort of process.  It's more roundabout and eccentrically connected - more A to, I don't know, Pineapple, by way of a google map of Birmingham.  So when amazing, overwhelming, inspiring Indonesia does filter through to my writing, will you be able to tell?  Will I?

Is your road from inspiration to the words more straightforward, or do you, too, meander something chronic?  Let us know!

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Walking Mountain.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

JM Barrie and An Awfully Big Blog Adventure - Lucy Coats

Before this blog existed, when it was just the germ of an idea, the first thing we needed was a name. So that was the question we asked each other. What should we call this new venture for the Scattered Author’s Society? There were many suggestions, some more whimsical than others, but then somebody suggested An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, a play on the words of Peter Pan: ‘To die will be an awfully big adventure’.

It therefore seems fitting to remember JM Barrie, the man who wrote those words, who died on 19th June, 1937, exactly 81 years ago today. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was published in 1906. However, that story of a ‘Betwixt-and-Between’ half-bird boy is much less well-known than Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, aka Peter and Wendy, first a 1904 play and then, in 1911, a novel, which has been in print in one form or another ever since. My own treasured copy of the former, with the original Rackham illustrations under onion skin paper, belonged to my grandmother as a child, and has been handed down through four generations now.

However old-fashioned the idea of children in nightgowns with nannies might seem to today's tech savvy kids, the story itself, with a boy who never wants to grow up, the ultimate pirate captain and crew, Lost Boys, a ticking crocodile and a dying fairy is still intriguing enough to stand the test of time.
However, some of the elements, such as the ‘native American’ princess Tiger Lily, and her tribe are now rightly regarded as dated stereotypes, and have thankfully been quietly excised from modern versions. Peter Pan has now appeared in the form of films (both of the story and spin offs), the perennial Christmas panto, a musical, and endless book adaptations, as well as TV programmes and associated productions such as the biopic Finding Neverland. The boy who never grew up remains perennially young. I wonder if JM Barrie himself would believe that his creation was still being talked about over a century after Peter first stepped out of a London window and flew down to Kensington Gardens to meet with old Solomon Caw and Queen Mab. I suppose that’s the true memorial every author really wants (if they are honest) — for their work to live on, and themselves through it. So, happy death day, JM Barrie — and thank you for letting us adapt Peter’s words as our name. You definitely live on in our hearts here at ABBA.

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram

Monday, 18 June 2018

How do you confront a giant? - by Lu Hersey

What do you do if Amazon, online giant retailer with more power than most small countries, decides to remove some of your most treasured book reviews? It happened to me just over a year ago, when several of my reviews disappeared overnight. Worse, I had absolutely no idea why it happened and I couldn’t find any way to contest Amazon's decision.

This week there was a piece in the Bookseller on the subject. Apparently publishers and writers are becoming increasingly concerned about Amazon’s heavy-handed policy on removing book reviews, though unsurprisingly, most gave the Bookseller their comments anonymously. (I’m pretty nervous putting my name this post to be honest – hopefully Amazon won’t read it, as no writer can afford to alienate the largest bookseller on the planet...) 

One of the few brave enough to risk the wrath of the giant corporation in the article was HarperCollins’ commercial publisher, Kimberly Young. ‘Writing an honest review of a proof copy of a book is both an established practice and also a very modern tool,' she said. 'Reviews drive word of mouth and help readers find the right books for them. We know algorithms favour well reviewed books and I can’t see how the removal of reviews across so many titles on Amazon can benefit the consumer – it narrows the range and discoverability of books and is another step in Amazon supporting their own books at the expense of others.’

For me, the scariest thing is the way the company gets its information. Writer Kiltie Jackson wrote a blog post on the subject. She’s convinced her review of a fellow romance writer’s book was taken down because they were in the same online book club.

The bottom line seems to be Amazon mines data from social media sites and eliminates book reviews it judges are written by known contacts. As one publisher (anonymously) said, ‘ The fact that someone follows you on facebook or twitter does not reveal a conflict of interest for their reviews on Amazon and does give the book buyer a really good service.’

Most writers use sites such as Twitter and facebook as writer chat forums. It goes with the territory that we spend a lot of time on our own, and social media is a way of connecting. Like many writers, I haven’t met half of my facebook ‘friends’, and know only a tiny fraction of my followers on twitter. Which makes Amazon’s removal of reviews on the basis they’re written by known contacts incredibly harsh. People take the time and trouble to write a review of a book and give a star rating because (hopefully) they like the book, not because the writer is bribing them to do so. 

So what can the individual writer can do about it? There's no point in going on strike, because no one would notice - frankly we have to be pretty famous for anyone to notice if we die. How can we possibly confront such a powerful giant? 

If you're expecting me to give you the answer, sorry - it was a rhetorical question. But if anyone out there can find a solution, please let us know. They’ll be doing all writers a favour.

Lu Hersey

twitter: @LuWrites

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Book Launch Dilemmas by Tracy Darnton

My YA thriller The Truth About Lies is being published shortly. As a newbie novelist, I worked hard at maintaining suspense, hiding clues, keeping up the subplots and exploring the theme of memory. But it turns out I should also have been thinking ahead to the book launch.

My main comment these days on friends’ finished manuscripts is: ‘Yes it’s a masterpiece but what are you going to eat at the launch?’ Because you need to reference it somewhere in your book from the start. And not just any old food. Preferably food which is quirky, tasty, cheap and not at all greasy to avoid any damage to Waterstones’ stock. Wotsits and kebabs are out. Picture book writers have it much easier than YA authors. Their books are full of pineapples and sandwich tea parties and chocolate.

Memory, on the other hand, is a terrifically rich theme to write about but not visual enough as a good party theme. Brains generally do not appear on T-shirts, napkins, paper plates or indeed (aside from the obvious) food. I know because I have perused strange websites worldwide to no avail. I have finally sourced jellied brains, which I first saw in a jar of replacement body parts at the Wellcome Collection and, er, that’s it so far.

Very boring madeleines
I began to realise my error when I made a list of the food in the book. A noxious green punch with floating jelly eyeballs and a bowl of Monster Munch feature at the party at the pub and later a spag bol that makes someone ill. What was I thinking? No one wants to eat any of that, least of all me. The only sophisticated food reference is to a madeleine cake as a nod to a Proustian moment of remembering. But a) who has actually read Proust? and b) madeleine cakes are pale and boring and need to be dunked in a cup of tea (as even Proust knew).

So, as I was in Scotland at the time, I started planning the next book which I’m writing now. Smoked salmon (ready for delicate cocktail blinis), shortbread and Caramel Wafers have made their appearance along with repeated, yet subtle, references to those lovely chocolate marshmallowy tea cakes wrapped in foil, such as ‘My name’s Steve and I’m a Tunnock’s tea cakes addict’ (chapter 7).
Yummy Scottish treats
However, I was disturbed to hear from author Joanna Cannon at a recent Bath Festival event that she was fed Angel Delight by well-meaning booksellers for 18 months in homage to her book The Trouble with Goats and Sheep set in 1976. (For the young, dessert in the seventies was always synthetic weird blancmange and/or tinned peaches). She is having similar issues with Battenburg cake in relation to Three Things About Elsie.  I’m starting to wonder whether even with Tunnock’s tea cakes you can have too much of a good thing.

Sometimes a cover design can offer a solution. The Truth About Lies cover is marvellously striking but of a mosaic swimming pool. So other than chlorinated water, no major food stuff. My son helpfully suggested I give ‘bazuka that verruca’ samples away with the jellied brains. 

Plus, I now have something new to fret about: my editor made it very clear at the cover reveal that she will not be coming in a swimsuit. I confess I now worry whether anyone attending the launch will be disappointed if I’m not decked out in at least a frilly swimming hat, nose clips and goggles. But maybe that’s why they’re coming...

What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever seen at a launch or book event?
Tracy Darnton’s The Truth About Lies will be published by Stripes on 12th July 2018. 
Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton #thetruthaboutlies

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Changing Genres, by Claire Fayers

This afternoon I will be in Cardiff, celebrating the launch of Mirror Magic, also know as The Book That Nearly Killed Me.

My first two books were fantasy adventures and they were easy to write. (If the plot starts to flag, just throw in another giant octopus.) But after my second book, my publisher wanted something new, and my agent mentioned she’d love to read a middle-grade take on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I, with more optimism than sense, declared that I was just the author to write it.

All went well for a while. I set about researching the Victorian period with gusto – mainly by watching costume dramas and reading gothic novels, but this was going to be a very alternative history. I sent in my first draft and sat back, reasonably satisfied.

Then I got a call from my editor.

“First question,” she said, “is this book supposed to be a mystery or an adventure?”

I hadn’t even considered it – or even considered that I ought to consider it. Weren’t they both the same thing?

“Does it make any difference?” I asked.

Yes, actually, it turned out, it made a huge difference. Because, while adventures can swing blithely from one crisis to the next, a mystery is an altogether different kettle of fiction. The plot must twist and turn, you must have clues, moments of danger, clues, a formidable villain, clues, red herrings and wrong avenues, clues… Did I mention clues?

“The pacing is a little erratic,” my editor said with monumental understatement. “You need to go back to the start and plan out how the information will unfold.”

That didn’t sound too hard. I made a spreadsheet. By chapter thirteen, for example, I decided my characters needed to have learned x,y, and z.

I added a kindly vicar to chapter thirteen. “Hello, characters,” he said. “By the way, x, y, and z.”

“Um, this is getting better,” my editor said after I proudly presented my second draft. “But now you need to remove the kindly vicar and plant clues so the readers can work out what’s going on for themselves. Your readers will enjoy feeling clever.”

I thought of all the times I’d gloated over working out a whodunnit, and I didn’t feel so clever any more. I cut the kindly vicar and planted clues the size of giant octopuses all over the first twelve chapters.

“It’s almost there,” my editor sighed, shuffling the tear-stained pages of draft three. “Now you just need to make it a little more subtle. Maybe a lot more subtle. And, by the way, the last four chapters of the book don’t make sense.”

Of course they didn’t, because I’d spent all my time planting clues in the first twelve chapters. I wondered if I could use my new-found knowledge of crime to murder my editor. Given the clumsiness of my plotting, though, I'd probably be found out immediately. I sat down to rewrite yet again.

I think we did four drafts altogether. Maybe five – or five and a half. The whole experience was like learning to play a new instrument. Thinking that because I could play the cello, the flute would be easy. Some adventure elements crept into the mystery, of course. Giant octopuses were out, but ghastly skeletons from the Unworld were a pretty good substitute. And, because I have to have at least one sarcastic character in every book (if it’s not written into my contract, it should be) I invented The Book – a magical tome with an erratic ability to see the future and a huge attitude problem.

I finished my last draft with a whole new appreciation of different genres and the difficulties that must be inherent in each one. And also a huge respect for my editor’s patience and persistence, her refusal to let me get away with sloppy plotting or clumsy clues.

Mirror Magic and I had a difficult relationship but I’m rather proud of my wayward offspring. I think if we met in the street we’d tip our hats, nod and smile knowingly, acknowledging that the journey was worth it in the end.

That’s the joy and challenge of writing. You’re always learning, always pushing yourself, always trying new things. My fourth book is well underway and it’s a bit of an oddity. After that, who knows? Romance? Thriller? A ghost story? Or maybe I’ll really push my limits and try a different age group. But today I’m raising my glass to Mirror Magic – the book that made me write better.