Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Promoting a book with gifts: Julie Sykes

(Many thanks to Julie Sykes for this guest post. Julie will join us as a regular contributor on 26th April.)

It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of Ally Carter. Her Gallagher Girls spy school series is top of my list of ‘things to take if ever stranded on a desert island’. I loved Heist Society too. So when I heard about Ally’s new series, Embassy Row, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the first book.

Note the word book!

For reasons to do with space and convenience I’ve turned to the dark side and buy most of my books on an e-reader. Real book buying is a luxury restricted to favourite authors or books with brilliant illustrations.

So, early one Saturday morning, after my weekly trolley dash around Waitrose, I ran into Waterstones with the sole aim of buying a copy of All Fall Down before my frozens melted in the boot of my car. But as I reached out to swipe a copy from the promo table I found myself drawing back.

What was that thing attached to the book with shrink wrap?

A mascara wand. Really?But I only wanted the book. I started to go through the pile to see if I could find a book without added mascara before I realised I was wasting my time. Disgruntled, I took the book (and free mascara) to the check out desk.

Driving home, I thought about the reasons why publishers feel the need to entice readers to buy a book with free gifts. Thousands of new books are published every year. Children and young adults all lead busy lives. There’s a whole other world out there in cyber space competing for their free time. It’s small wonder then that publishers, marketing gurus and authors too, have to be as creative in the promotion of their book as in the actual writing of it.

Then I remembered something! When my own Silver Dolphins series launched my publisher gave away a free silver dolphin necklace with book one, The Magic Charm

Hadn’t I been thrilled at the time, wearing my necklace 24/7 for the first month? Didn’t I almost go into melt down when fans of the new series emailed to tell me how much they loved their free necklace because it made them feel as it they might be a Silver Dolphin too!

Is it so very wrong to entice book readers with free gifts? What do you think? What makes you buy one particular book over another? Do you even buy real books anymore?  

Monday, 30 March 2015

Positive and negative reasons for choosing character names – Lari Don

Yesterday, I asked my daughter to help me choose a name for a (fictional) white cat in a novel, and as we scribbled down various ideas, I realised that I choose character names for a variety of reasons, both positive and negative.

I’ve always loved selecting names that have resonance or meaning for me, in order to help me get to know new characters, though I usually keep that meaning hidden, rather than shouting it out loud in the story.

So that’s a positive reason to say YES to a potential name. And I have those positive reasons for every major character and quite a few minor ones in all my novels so far.

But there are lots of reasons to say NO to a potential name, many of which I said yesterday as my daughter listed possible names for that white cat.

I can’t use the name of a person I know well. (Or indeed a cat I know well, it turns out.)

I can’t use a name (in the case of this cat) that we’re ever likely to use as a name for a future family pet.

I can’t use a name that I’ve used for a character in one of my other books, even if that book is in a different series (though I’m fairly sure I’ve already slipped up and have a minor character in one novel with the same name as the main character in a picture book. Ooops.)

I can’t use a name, for a minor character, that I like so much I might want to use it for a major character in a future novel…

And of course, the one I imagine most writers struggle with: I can’t use names that look too similar on the page. Recently, I wanted to call a new character Roxanne, but I couldn’t because I already have an established character in that book called Rosalind, and two names starting with ‘Ro’ would be too confusing, for me if not for the readers!  So I'll have to return to the baby names books for that character...

All of which leaves me with a rather worrying question. I’ve got at least a dozen novel ideas that I’m keen to write over the next few years. But will I eventually run out of character names that work for all my positive and negative reasons? Will I run out of labels to stick on my characters before I run out of stories to put them in? (Perhaps I’ll have to start writing the sorts of books where I can invent words…)

Just in case you’re wondering, the cat is probably going to be called Poppet. Not a name I’m likely to use for a cat of my own, or indeed for a serious kickass heroine in another series.

Lari Don is the award-winning author of 22 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.
Lari’s website 
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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Anna's Adventures in Wonderland - Anna Wilson

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Twenty years ago I was working as an editor at Macmillan Children's Books when the 130th anniversary of Alice was marked by Macmillan issuing the beautiful new full-colour editions of both Alice books. They were the first ever full-colour editions featuring Tenniel's illustrations.

In publishing parlance, Alice is a "property" of Macmillan, as the publisher holds the rights to the versions of the books illustrated by Tenniel. Of course, many different illustrators have produced beautiful artwork to accompany other editions of the Alice stories, but it is the Tenniel editions that are widely believed by enthusiasts to be THE Alices. Indeed it is the Tenniel images that most of us conjure up when we think of Alice stuck inside the house or taking tea with the Mad Hatter or standing up to the Red Queen.

Tenniel himself never produced colour illustrations: he created the black and white line drawings only. The first colour versions of his drawings were done by Harry Theaker, and then only eight colour plates were done for each book.

By 1995 colour printing had of course moved on leaps and bounds, so Macmillan felt the time had come to make use of this for Alice. They commissioned artist Diz Wallis to colour the remaining Tenniel black and whites. It was fascinating to see how Diz did this. Macmillan provided her with faint blue outlines of the original illustrations and she then painted them, being very careful to match Harry Theaker's style.

Diz Wallis's beautiful colouring followed Harry Theaker's style 

As the editor I then had to go through the setting of the text with a fine toothcomb to ensure that the resulting text was as close the original hot-metal setting as possible. This meant going so far as to check the spaces in between text and punctuation, as modern computerised setting techniques do not produce the same, airy quality that the old hot-metal work had done.

During that time I also wrote an Alice in Wonderland Party Book, compiled a book of quotations entitled "Curiouser and Curiouser!" and put together a selection of the songs and poems included in the Alice books. By the end of that year I could reel off whole sections of either book at the drop of a hat.

It seems that Alice is a figure who will not leave me alone. Over the years she and I have crossed paths so many times: from my sister-in-law's 21st Alice-themed birthday party where I was consultant Alice-ologist, to my daughter's GCSE Art coursework, Alice seems to pop up time and again. But more importantly, were it not for Alice I might not today be a published author myself. My boss at the time saw how much I enjoyed working on the little side projects mentioned above and as a consequence asked me to try my hand at writing a picture book (wholly unrelated to Alice). My first picture book, Over in the Grasslands, was published in 1999, and I have not looked back since.

Macmillan is still my publisher, 16 years on. I very much doubt anyone will remember me in 150 years time as we do Charles Dodgson and John Tenniel, but I am enjoying my time as a writer in the here and now, and for that I think it only right to say thank you to Alice and for all that she has taught me.

This will be my last ABBA post. I am sad to be leaving as I have thoroughly enjoyed writing for the blog, but family issues that have arisen this year are making it difficult to carve out time to write and so, unfortunately, I have had to take a long hard look at my commitments. If I am going to complete the books I am currently writing, I shall need to follow Alice down the rabbit hole and spend some time finding peace in an enchanted garden for a while. Thank you for having me at ABBA!


Saturday, 28 March 2015

Book Fair Nightmares - Clémentine Beauvais

The Paris Book Fair has just ended and, on the French closed Facebook group for authors that I'm a part of, there's been some nostalgic recollections of cult moments from book fairs.

By 'cult moments', I mean those moments when you'd really like to... not be at the book fair.

Because, of course, book-signing is HUGE FUN, especially the French way (2 days on end, for 3 to 5 hours at a time with a lunch break)... You know that time when you're behind your table and you've been signing for hours and your hand hurts like hell? No? Me neither. 

A Book Fair

Here are the 'classics', that everyone's had to endure:

- 'Hi!'
[You, hopeful]: 'Hi!'
'Where's the toilet?'

- 'Hi!'
[You, still hopeful]: 'Hi!'
'Do you know if [famous author] is coming?'

- 'Can you sign this book for my son?'
'I can't, it's not mine, it's Harry Potter.'
'Oh, it doesn't matter, just sign it, will you?'
(alternative version: 'Oh, don't worry, J.K. Rowling will never know!')

- 'Can you draw a little something?'
'I can't, I'm a writer.'
'Can't you try?'

Book fairs are stressful and awkward. You're there with your piles of books, and people drift by, and conspicuously avoid looking at you in the eye when they pick up your book and decide that they DEFINITELY do NOT want it. Or, that they do NOT want their child to have it.

'Put that down!!! Can't you tell it's a girls' book?'

I could have killed that woman, but I only had books and books make terrible weapons.

Sometimes they say, 'I'll have a look around and come back'.
--> HA no you won't.

Sometimes you manage to talk to them a bit and try to handsell your own book (epitome of cringe):

'So it's about three teenage girls, it's a road trip but kind of a maturity tale too [dammit, in which pocket of my brain did I put my elevator pitch?]'
The Parent: 'Hmm. Do you have something a bit like Cherub? My daughter only reads things like Cherub. Do you have a saga? Your books aren't very big. She only likes big books.'

Life is just great right then.

Oh and that:

'NOOOOO I don't want the lady to sign the book!!!' 'But my darling, it's the only reason we bought it!'

There's also those book fairs when you're sitting next to Big Name Author so you kind of become the crowd control person for their line. Don't push! Sir, you're skipping the queue. It's that way. Yes, he's here until ten past. No, he's run out of that picturebook, but there's this one too, which is great too.  Wait, why am I promoting his picturebooks? He hasn't even talked to me!

ZOMG Big Name Author is talking to me!
'Hey, Capucine... Clémence... Célestine... whatever your name is, do you have another Sharpie?'

Then there's the times when you're sitting next to a sleazeball of an author in mid-life crisis who spends most of the very empty afternoon giving outfit suggestions.

'You see, Clementine, this morning I was looking at girls in the harbour and I realised I really like nude back tops. Wouldn't you wear a nude back top?'

How many more hours of this again?

The kids who want you to sign their school diary. Their pencil-cases. Their hands. A Post-it note. Because they are 100% cute, you do it, dying a little bit inside. 'Don't you want to buy the book?' you ask feebly. So feebly that they don't hear you at all and go spend their book voucher on a Frozen book of stickers.

'things we sign'

That woman who stared at me for ten seconds. Ten seconds is a long time to be stared at. And then:
'How old are you?'
(With 'tu', not 'vous'. T'as quel âge, toi? Written language can't convey the disdain.)


But then there's...

Those book fairs which are right by Lake Geneva or the Atlantic ocean.

Those book fairs when kids come back to meet you because they've read the books and studied them in class and you went to their school for a visit.
bonus point if their face is actually an emoticon     
Authors you meet and who are NOT huge sleazeballs and who make these long afternoons and mornings seem very short.

Insa Sané
Zad et Didier

And who are talented illustrators, and play the ukulele, and are actually Keith Richards.

François Place

Nathalie Tual

Keith Richards. Maybe.
And people who bring you pastries or coffee purely out of sympathy GOD I LOVE THESE PEOPLE THANK YOU 

There's always an 'end-of-summer-camp' atmosphere when book fairs are over. We say goodbye, thank you for the good times, I still owe you a drink, really nice to have met you, finally, really nice to see you again, looking forward to when that book you were telling me about comes out. See you soon at another book fair, maybe! No doubt. But probably in a year or two. You'll have had that baby by then... yes, hopefully! Will the next book fair be as disastrous? I never want to do another book fair. Will the next book fair be as amazing? I don't want to go home! How many books did you sell? ... Ha, me neither.

It's exhausting, hilarious, terrifying and nightmarish. The next one for me is in less than two weeks' time. Can't wait.


Clementine Beauvais writes in French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia.

Friday, 27 March 2015

It's all in the research...Lynn Huggins-Cooper

In last month's post I talked about cheating on my current WIP with a new idea...well, it was one of those delious ideas that 'has legs' - so I have run with it. Despite being in the middle of a huge educational writing project, with proofs arriving every day and demanding my attention, my head has been swimming with ideas. I've been a bit naughty and rather encouraged it by collecting reasearch materials. I revel in this stage of writing.
When I was writing 'Walking With Witches,' I spent a lot of time in situ at The Lit and Phil library and at the castle keep in Newcastle, where part of the story was set. It helped me to soak in the atmosphere, but it also gave me access to all manner of resources such as old documents and artefacts that helped me to get into 'the zone.'
This current WIP (it has become that now; its legs are that strong) is a real departure for me - for a start, it is for the adult market. Up until now, I have only written non-fiction books for adults so that feels rather strange. My postman has realised that a new project is afoot, because we are getting more mail. Odd tomes ordered online; strangely shaped parcel of things I just have to test before I can write about them with any degree of authenticity...bliss.

Does the photo give you any clues about my new idea? It is drawing together so many things I know about, and have lived, that it feels 'right' somehow. I suppose I am finally 'writing what I know' - and on that note, I'd better get back to it!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Did someone ask you to write books? by Cavan Scott

Yesterday, I popped into my youngest daughter's class for the afternoon. They'd been learning about pirates all term, so she'd asked me to go into school and read a chapter of my Angry Birds Treasure Island book.

Afterwards, the class set about asking me questions they'd prepared that morning.

Right at the end of the Q&A session, a girl at the back put up her hand.

"Did someone ask you to become a writer," she asked, "or did you just decide to do it anyway?"

What a brilliant question!

The great thing about being a writer is that you don't need anyone's permission. If you want to write, just write.

Yes, getting something published can be more difficult. There are a lot of gatekeepers out there, from agents to the publishers themselves, but no one can stop you creating.

I realise that this isn't particularly profound or maybe even original point, but its one I needed yesterday, on one of those days when it feels like you're hitting your head against a particularly thick wall.

In future, on days like that, I'm going to remember that question.

And then write.


Cavan Scott is the author of over 70 books and audio dramas including the Sunday Times Bestseller, Who-ology: The Official Doctor Who Miscellany, co-written with Mark Wright.

He's written for Doctor WhoSkylandersAdventure Time, Angry Birds, Penguins of Madagascar and Warhammer 40,000 among others. He also writes Roger the Dodger and Bananaman for The Beano as well as books for reluctant readers of all ages.

Cavan's website
Cavan's facebook fanpage
Cavan's twitterings

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

If Carslberg Did School Events by Tamsyn Murray

OK, OK, so maybe that title isn't the best on to associate with schools but you get the idea: if Carlsberg did school events did, they'd probably be the best school events in the world. And that got me thinking about what constitutes the Perfect Author Visit. Here's what I came up with:

  • Reserved parking space if needed (Desirable)
  • Office Staff are expecting you (Desirable)
  • Offer of (non-alcoholic) drink on arrival (Desirable)
  • Staff member who booked you or their counterpart is available to meet you when you arrive and to guide you to where you need to be. (Essential)
  • Children are expecting you (Essential)
  • Children have been reading your work and looking at your website (Desirable)
  • Someone introduces you to them (Desirable)
  • IT works OK - Powerpoint works (Essential)
  • Pupils as questions (Desirable)
  • Cake in staffroom (Desirable)
  • Regular offers of tea and coffee (Essential)
  • Breaks (Essential)
  • Parents are aware you are coming in - have had letters sent home for WEEKS (Essential)
  • Pupils are aware they can get a personally signed book of their very own (Essential)
  • Someone on the staff thank you to you (Desirable)
  • Pupils listen and say thank you (Desirable)
  • More cake (Desirable)
  • If you're doing workshops, pupils have time to finish the work in subsequent lessons (Essential)
  • Pupils buy all the books you have (Desirable)
  • Pupils get in touch afterwards to say how much they loved the book (Desirable)
  • Prompt payment if not part of book promo (Desirable)
  • Happiness all round! (Desirable)
 And then I woke up and it had all been a dream...

So what are your must-haves for school visits? All of the above? None of the above? Let me know!