Monday, 30 August 2010

The Formidable SAS

by Savita Kalhan

My first novel, The Long Weekend, was published in October 2008, the contract with my publisher signed almost a year before the publication date. I had no idea then that it took as long as that from signing a contract to seeing my book on the shelf of my local bookshop. I found out later that it could often take much longer than that. That’s just one example of my complete naivety at the time. I stumbled through an alien quagmire of contracts, edits, proof-reading, strap-lines, tag-lines, blurbs, AI sheets, and so many other mysterious things most of which I had never heard of and didn’t know if I had a say in. My agent was good and experienced, but, still, I would have loved to have been able to run a couple of things past another published children’s writer. I had no peer-group support network whatsoever. Even though I had been writing for a number of years, I had not been bold enough to call myself a writer until I was told the publication date for my book. So I was a writer in isolation, and I felt it keenly.

One January, in 2010, I was looking at some writers’ websites, surfing and browsing, and letting the double-click take me where it willed. I had become a little more au fait with the internet and even gone as far as setting up a Facebook and Twitter account, which I had yet to do much with, when I stumbled by pure chance on something called the Scattered Authors’ Society, the SAS. It took me a while to find out what it was. Every time I put SAS into the search engine, you can guess what came up. I knew it wasn’t any of the offerings Google presented me with but a very different elite, crack group. I persevered. I found their entry on page five of my Google search.

I was amazed and excited. I wondered what the criteria was for joining the ‘other’ SAS, and whether they would accept someone like me. On February 8th I contacted Damian Harvey expressing an interest in the SAS and requesting more information about what it was and how to become part of it. This is a small section of what he sent back to me:

What is the SAS?
In 1998 a few children’s authors got together to form a self help group. We had been writing for children and teenagers for a number of years and were experiencing feelings of isolation.

We decided to seek each other out. We advertised and were contacted by about thirty writers who were keen to meet and talk.

We organized a number of lunches across the country. These were purely social events but writers got a chance to talk to others about similar problems; agents, publishers, deadlines, new technology, working routines etc. We had a residential weekend where we had discussions about the world of publishing and the business of being a writer for children. We found shared problems and possible strategies for overcoming them. We gained much needed information from each other. We found working contacts and friends.

I thought – WOW! I had no idea anything like this existed. I had, of course, heard of the Society of Authors, but hadn’t yet sent my application to them, and that was about it. The SAS sounded too good to be true. Damian went on to tell me about the internet chat facility where I could pose questions, queries, share thoughts and ideas, and he also told me about the Awfully Big Blog Adventure, which I started reading every day. I joined the SAS, and within days my name and details were up on the SAS website, and sent out to all SAS members. Within a week I had an email from a local author who had read the new member memo and wondered if I would like to meet for coffee. That was Miriam Halahmy. Within a few months, we tentatively decided to think about forming a local Children’s Authors’ Roadshow, (CAR) and met with a few other authors.

At our next meeting there will be ten children’s writers, poets and illustrators, all interested in talking and perhaps doing a number of different events together. Even if it turns out that we do very little together as a group, the benefits will still have been enormous. We’ve met, shared experiences, shared our books, exchanged ideas, and perhaps forged a few friendships.

Within a few months of joining the SAS, I trepidatiously (my favourite made-up word!) put my name up to do a monthly blog for The Awfully Big Blog Adventure. I had never done a blog, was still not internet savvy, and wondered what I would write about, if I would have enough to say, what other Sassies would make of it, and of me. Now three months on since my first blog, and having done a few, I know I was worrying unnecessarily. Some idea about what to write about has always materialised at the time. The blog is sub-headed “the ramblings of a few scattered authors,” and that’s exactly what it is.

I sent the link to the English teachers who asked their pupils in Year Seven and Year Five for their top reads for my blog in July. The teachers had never heard of it, but were very interested in anything that might be a valuable resource for them and of interest to their pupils. I sent the link to the librarians and schools in south London when I wrote my first blog about the Fabulous Book Award, which The Long Weekend was shortlisted for. They had never heard of it either, but again were very interested. They wanted to read the ramblings of a few scattered authors, and why wouldn’t they? They had read and admired/promoted many of those authors’ books over the years.

The Awfully Big Blog Adventure is a precious thing and far more than “the ramblings of a few scattered authors”. I look forward to its continued development and hope that ultimately it reaches a far wider audience, which it deserves, which we all deserve, but also hope that it retains the essential “rambling” quality that makes it so unique.

I wholeheartedly thank the few writers who met in 1998 and set up the marvellous SAS, and I wish I had known about the group before January 2010. There were many things I could have asked for advice on – how to do a successful book launch, how important the pre-publication and post-publication time is, how to get book reviews and when you have them, how to use them effectively, how to promote my book and give it exposure so that it doesn’t get lost in the time tunnel, so many things that perhaps a long time ago the publisher would have taken care of for you or advised you on, but which is now left in the hands of the author. I wish I had known...

Now I am part of the SAS. I know where to go if I need advice or need to grumble about the essence and pitfalls of being a writer. I know someone will listen, I know someone will help if they can, and I know I’m no longer a writer in isolation. And let’s face it, in today’s environment the business of being a children’s writer needs all the help it can get.

The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan


Mary Hoffman's Newsletter said...

It sounds as if you are doing all the things that the SAS encourages its members to do: making friends, sharing information, promoting your own work and others', starting your own initiatives.

Hope to meet you at Coventry or Charney!

Katherine Roberts said...

Lovely post Savita, and exactly how I felt when I joined (though we were operating far more undercover in those days!)

It would be interesting to have a post here interviewing the original members who started the group. Anybody else think so?

Savita Kalhan said...

@Mary - Hope to meet you at an SAS event, too!
@Katherine - Totally agree. Over to the founders of the SAS...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post, Savita, it is quite encouraging to hear how other writers feel. This is such an enjoyable site particularly because it shares experiences and offers positive advice (instead of emphasizing what not to do, which I'm afraid some sites for writers obsess over). Of course one is always seeking tips but more often than not, just a little inspiration.

Leila said...

It's so very important to know other writers and to have a support network. It keeps me sane to know there are others out there feeling the same as me, interested in the same things as me, facing the same challenges as me. Hooray for the SAS!

Penny Dolan said...

What I really like about the SAS is that, unlike in even the kindliest company, one doesn't have to explain about the importance of the writing work or keep silent for fear of seeming grand & full of ego. And it is full of such great & generous people too.

Excellent post, Savita!

Anne Cassidy said...

The writer who started SAS was Peter Beere. He, myself and Malcolm Rose met in Birmingham and the SAS was born. Never did an off the cuff decision turn out to be so right. Peter Beere stopped writing children's books soon after but Malcolm and myself keep going.

Jan Markley said...

sounds like a great group! I thought this was going to be a post about the SASE (self addressed stamped envelope)! ;-j

karen ball said...

What a lovely blog post. I love the SAS and ABBA too and hope to meet you soon!