Monday, 21 February 2011

The Ordinary Author : Penny Dolan

Imagine, somewhere, a play on a stage. It may not have been the success hoped for. The people – the actors, the director, the playwright, the producer, the backstage crew and more - can all blame each other, as well as the media. Same for films, other than more names to blame.

Now think about the book and its author. It may not have been entirely the success everyone hoped for. True, there are things like fonts and layouts and covers to grumble about - and how - but it’s the author’s own words that appear naked on the page.

Once a book is done, an author can’t say, “Well, that character really messed up that scene, didn’t they?” Or “Who the hell put that set together?” Or “It’ll probably settle down by the end of the week.”

So when an Ordinary Author starts to feel their beloved book-baby has turned into the most unlisted, un-nominated, un-awarded, un-read title around, they’ll also feel it’s partly their fault. They held up their words for all the world to see, didn’t they? They raised their own particular voice. The author stands out there alone on the wide white page. “It’s all me, me, me!” has a different feel when one’s own words appear on the line.

No wonder Ordinary Authors act needy or easily hurt at times. No wonder some have mightily tetchy days, weeks or months. No wonder that they only recall the unfavourable phrase in a review, or the space where the third-fourth-fifth star should have been.

Nor should it be a great surprise that – just sometimes – Ordinary Authors feel scraped raw sidling past rows of bookshop shelves where their work is not available. Even the slightest jealousy makes for hot iron shoes, not soft comfy slippers. All that’s there – or not – is the Ordinary Author and the book what they wrote.

So, with World Book Day Week coming up, if you have an Ordinary Author booked into your school and all the usual admin is in hand, here are a few thoughts on how to welcome your visiting author, and get a better visit because of it. You probably know all this already, but just in case . . .

Ordinary Author’s Work. Do get hold of a copy or more of the author’s books before the very day. Try and read at least some of the book aloud to the classes. Don’t just hold up the cover in assembly. Authors get used to talking in schools where the children know nothing about their books, but it makes the task that much tougher.

Ordinary Author’s Book Sale – Yes! Please do organise a sale of the author’s books, preferably through your local children’s bookshop, supplier or publisher. Promote the fact their books will be on sale. Collect in orders beforehand so the author can sign the books while they are there. Why is this important? Book sales don’t bring authors great riches. They don’t end up with bags of gold, honest. Each sale brings around 5% of the cover price or less, which probably goes to paying off an advance, but sales tell publishers that their author’s books are worth printing and reading. Surely you wouldn’t have asked the author in if it wasn’t so? In the current climate, those sales might make a publishers take a future title instead of cutting your author abruptly adrift.

Other Author Book Sales – No! Please don’t have your Ordinary Authors book sale in the same fortnight as those huge “Book Fair” crates, even if you use the money to support the visit. What do you think it feels like having the books you’ve just been talking about run fifth place to the reams of semi-remaindered authors, television tie-ins, glittery pen sets and pink pop-star diaries? Fair or unfair?

Ordinary Author Displays. Not essential but nice. Put up a display somewhere about your visiting author. It’s far easier if you know their work and have looked at their website. Believe me, working a session while surrounded by pin-boards full of Famously Treasured Authors (especially Authors With Movies) isn’t comfortable. It feels as if the school is saying “Look! Here are the authors we really wanted. Instead – huh! - we got you.” Find some space to acknowledge your own author, okay?

Ordinary Author as Add-On Extra. Finally – and this may be my own view – please don’t ask your author along on Dress-Up Days, Book Character Days, Red Nose Days or any other day that’s already got its own attraction, events and apparel. I know it can be done, but it’s hard talking entertainingly to people dressed in assorted rustling clothes with added unsafe footwear, awkward hats & helmets, masks, face-paint, weapons, baskets, stuffed toys, dolls and/or tails, especially when they want to Win a Competition or are About To Be Photographed or Admired. Should I add that talking to Dressed-Up Children is even more difficult?

So, come on. Be kind to your Ordinary Author’s needs. Give them a bit of respect. They’ll be even more worth it. In fact, just for you, they may reveal themselves to be an Extra-Ordinary Author. Enjoy it.

And if, by more than chance you already do all this for your visiting authors, thank you!

www.pennydolan.com

Out now: A BOY CALLED M.O.U.S.E (Bloomsbury) for 9-12 year old readers.
Coming soon THAT NOISE! and THE WRONG HOUSE! (Franklin Watts)

18 comments:

Joan Lennon said...

I second all this! Ooo, those iron shoes are painful ...

catdownunder said...

Ow! I never had an author come to visit when I was at school (or my short time teaching) but we did go to visit one at his place of work (a teacher training college) and I did make sure that the group had read his work and had more than the "where do you get your ideas from?" to ask him. (He was absolutely marvellous with them and they talked about it for months - indeed years - afterwards.)

Adam said...

Oh Penny that is so true in every single way! xx

Catherine Johnson said...

Penny that last comment was me the computer was logged into my sons account!

Tam said...

One other suggestion, and I mean this in a nice way, please don't view a visiting author as a substitute teacher. We're there to inspire and amaze and we can't do that if we have to keep order while you do your marking :)

adele said...

All spot on as usual, Penny! Good on you....

Lucy Coats said...

Excellent, Penny! I wish it didn't need saying--but sadly, it does. And I'd also add: please don't cancel on your Ordinary Author two weeks before the event unless you have a cast iron reason!

Steve said...

Wonderful post, Penny. :) I'm rarely bothered about negative reviews - because they're virtually always instructive - but I recognised myself in the 'missing star' passage. :D One always thinks: 'If you liked it so muc, why not give it 3, 4 or 5 stars?!?!? Arghhhh it's a worldwide conspiracy of rival authors and critics...I blame Martin Amis etc etc etc!!' :D

Ahem. I apologise for the exclamatory overkill. :)

Steven Jensen,
Author of 'A Load of Old Rubbish' and several award-losing novels.

Penny Dolan said...

Am feeling very glad it's not only me and my occasional paranoia. Thank you, everyone.

Sue Purkiss said...

Spot-on post, Penny - and I love Steve's 'award losing novels'!

Book Maven said...

No. it's not just you, Penny! We have all felt that in schools. And it takes such a small amount of work now to make all the difference between a bad visit and a good one.

Penny Dolan said...

One thing I know is that if I go into a school where some preparation about the author & their books has taken place, the whole day has its place in the context of a wide literacy curriculum, and the staff are involved and interested, it becomes a much better day for everyone involved. In Austerity Speak - assuming there will stil be visits - the visit feels much better value for the school.

Lynda Waterhouse said...

a brilliant and timely post for me. Visited a lovely school last week where I was known as 'The Author' - they kindly deleted the ordinary bit. They had sent a newsletter home about my visit and held a book sale just for my Sand Dancer's series after school. The Head made me a cup of tea and I even got a free school dinner. Bliss.

Leslie Wilson said...

Penny, you have hit the nail right on the head!

Lynne Garner said...

Great post - keeping fingers crossed anyone thinking about booking a visit from an author takes notice.

Nicola Morgan said...

Yes yes yes yes yes. And ouch and ugh. Which is my rather excitable way of saying: I know exactly how you feel.

Savita Kalhan said...

Very well said - I couldn't have put it better. Thanks, Penny!

Meg Harper said...

Oh yes, oh yes - though I've had very few bad experiences, I do relate to the dressed up children phenomenen - I get so tetchy about trying not to say, 'But Woody from Toy Story isn't really from a book, is he? Well, not originally.' I did have a lovely day at the school with the 3 jolly teachers dressed as The Snowman, however, particularly because the deputy head was dressed as Julius Caesar and children kept telling him to Beware The Eyes of March (!) - and he did duly get murdered later in the day. Lovely.