Saturday, 18 June 2016

Answers to - Are you rich? How long does it take to write a book? - Linda Strachan

A few weeks ago  on ABBA Clementine Beauvais discussed school visits and how to answer that question  how-long-does-it-take-to-write-book?

It does come up almost all the time, no matter how old the audience, tiny children want to know as do young adults in high school. Also the perennial -  'How much money do you make?'  'Are you rich?' 

 I like these better than 'Are you famous?'  What is famous, why does it matter to the person asking, and which answer is the one they want?

How do I answer these questions? The famous one I try to avoid, or side-step and ask if they think I am famous, and if so perhaps I might be.  But more interesting and useful are the questions about how long a book takes and how much money an author makes.

 These questions I can work with and I would like to share with you how I answer them in schools.
First I will encourage the person who asked the question to come up and stand beside me.  Normally I have no problem with this, especially the younger ones who love to come up to the front, but I do recall one tough moment with a 15 yr old lad who was too cool to come out in front of his class.  I always ask their name and get all the audience to applaude them when they come up so with some gentle persuasion, added to a bit of encouragment from his year group, he finally found himself standing beside me. At first he was obviously wishing he was anywhere else but he soon decided it was okay when I told him he was a famous author and that he had written a fabulous book in his favourate film genre! 

But it is all about managing expectations and making sure it is a positive experience for all so usually I start by saying that this is our AUTHOR today and they have written an amazing, wonderful book.   Some look a bit nervous so reassurance that they are not expected to do anything except stand beside
me and smile, usually calms nerves.

So now that the author has written this wonderful story, what do we do with it to make sure everyone can read it?
Hands go up and the little ones eventually say make it into a book, but older ones realise we are talking about wanting to publish it. So that person comes up, to great applause from the audience, and I ask their name and announce they are the PUBLISHER, who thinks the book is amazing and wants to sell loads of copies, making him/her and the author rich.  Forget Harry Potter, Hunger Games or the Gruffallo,  this is fantastic and everyone is going to want a copy!

But the publisher cannot do this all on their own, too much work, so they need someone who is good at constructing a story....  this is our EDITOR.  I talk about how an editor discusses the book with the author, asks for it to be scarier, or funnier, longer or shorter etc etc.

With little ones we go from Author to Illustrator for a picture book, and I tell the story about an editor who demands to know why there is a dog on page 5, when there is no dog in the story, - the illustrator says he/she likes drawing dogs...  But the editor says 'draw it again with NO DOG!'  For some reason it always gets a laugh!
At this point I go back and stand behind the line and ask the audience to remind us what job each person does as I pass them, reinforcing the memory.  They quickly get into the spirit of it reciting the job titles.

Of course I vary this for younger and older classes with the amount of detail about each job, but there can be anything up to 12 people standing in a line by the end, as we have Author, Illustrator, Publisher, Editor, Copy editor, (I show an example of where a mistake ended up in one of my books and how that felt) Designer (talking about covers and different fonts and layout) Publicity/PR (talking about working with the designer for posters or bookmarks etc), speaking about publicity I tell them they will be talking to TV and radio, or the papers about 'This amazing author, illustrator and publishing team'. Book Rep (going into shops etc and getting people excited about the book even before it is published).

At this point I tell them the book is still in someone's computer so we have to get it out of there and next comes the Printer. I ask the printer where they want to live, anywhere in the world because books are printed in many different countries, showing how to look on the imprint page to see where the book has been printed, ( I also show them what can go wrong, an example - a book that has the pages all miixed up in the wrong order.)

 After every one or two additions to the line I go back and ask them to tell me (in chorus) each person's job as I pass them. By now we have done this several times and it becomes like a game to see if they can remember them all.
I tell them about Packaging and Delivery, someone who needs a good knowledge of geography to get these books from wherever in the world the printer is - to the shops and all the places the boxes of books need to be delivered. Finally  I ask where they would go to get a book to read, and we have the Bookshop, and with that person's name (Robert) we have Robert's Bookshop and the Librarian who both know all about the books and can advise us what to read next.

Those still seated are the 'Mums and dads, boys and girls, brothers and sisters, teachers, dinner ladies, janitors, nurses and doctors, lawyers and policemen etc etc - all the people who go to libraries and bookshops to buy or borrow a book.  Because if they don't buy or borrow books to read then none of those standing would have a job to go to! '

I tell them that any of them might be one day doing any of the jobs we have discussed and this brings me back to the first two questions.  How long does it take to write a book?

The answer being shown is that although it can take an author anything from a few months to a year to write their book, and sometimes more, with all these people who have to work on it after that, it can take more than a year to get the story from the writer's head and first manuscript, to the bookshop or library and into the reader's hand. Sometimes even longer. 

 I come back to the other question about money and explain how each person in that line has to be paid for their part of the job, and the author only gets a tiny part of the price on the front of a book as it has to go to pay for all thier work, too. I tell them about one of my books when it was published, how I was paid 1p per book.  That makes a lot of books to sell before I can buy a cup of coffee.

I enjoy this particular part of an event, elaborating on different parts of the process, depending on the age of the audience. It can be a lot of fun for everyone and takes about 20 minutes in all.  It  gives both children, and their teachers, a little bit of a window into our world.


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook - Writing For Children.
Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords


Sue Bursztynski said...

What a charming way to explain the publishing process! I must remember it if I ever get a paying school visit. Mostly, the question I get at my school is, "If you're an author, why are you working here?"

Sue Purkiss said...

What a good idea!

Lynne Benton said...

Fantastic idea, Linda. Must remember to borrow it next time I'm asked to do a school visit. (Last time one boy asked me in awed tones, "Are you a multi-millionaire?" Your idea might give him a slight clue as to why I'm not!)

Linda Strachan said...

That's a great question, Sue, B, and sometimes I wonder that myself except that it keeps me engaged with the audience, in touch with what children are talking about and what they understand, but also in the real world most children's authors rely on school visit and events as part of their income!

Thanks, Sue P

Linda Strachan said...

Lynne, it is amazing how many people, not just children, assume writers are big earners. The JK. effect, I think! It is one reason why I am always interested to see the response from teachers when I do that particular session in their class.

Pippa Goodhart said...

That's wonderful, Linda! The 'are you rich' question often comes in the form of 'Do you have a really big house?'. Thank you for sharing.

Penny Dolan said...

That's a great idea and explanation, Linda.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Um, no, Linda, what the kids mean is "Why do you have a day job?" I work in a school, which is why I very rarely can do "school visits". And when I do, I take one of my five days of sick leave without medical certificate. In Australia, which has a small population, very few people can write full time, which *includes* doing school visits. Those few who can are usually married, so have someone to pay the bills while they build up their profile. I don't. So I work full time as a teacher and librarian - which does give me access to kids and tell me what they read! ;-)

Susan Price said...

Linda, you are brilliant.