Wednesday 29 February 2012

Over at History Girls... Writing the (un)dead

I'm over at the History Girls blog today, explaining how those vampires got out of history to rampage around the 21st century.

Come and find out what Elvis Presley and Jack the Ripper have in common!

Tuesday 28 February 2012

The Thingishness of a finished book

"Sometimes ...a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it."
Winne the Pooh

Isn't that always true of a book? The finished book never matches up to the Platonic ideal that you had in mind at the start.

I'm close to signing off pdfs for some books that have been an important part of my life for the best part of a year. At the start, the ideas for the books were shiny and bright. Then as they put on layers of plot, characters, voices, style, getting ready to go outside, the shine was dulled. Now they look quite respectably dressed - thanks to an editor who pointed out the odd fraying sleeve and missing button - but they are still not those glittering gods I wanted them to be. But they never are, are they? As soon as you choose one set of words over another, some of the potential is sloughed away.

Perhaps it's inevitable - before you choose the words, characters, plot twists and so on, the image of the book you hold in your head has the advantages conferred by all choices. Then when you shut off some choices, you lose their potential benefits.

 I shall start to think of it the way I think of presents. I love choosing presents for people, finding exactly the right thing. But choosing can be hard - what if I buy A and they would have preferred F? But they never know about F, so they will (I hope) be delighted with A. That's how it should be with books.

Those vampires could have been different, but not necessarily better. Different would still have missed the ideal, and some of the things I really like about them would have been sacrificed in order to get Something Else, and different kind of Thingishness.


Tuesday 14 February 2012

License to steal - Just say NO

On Sunday, I blogged on Awfully Big Blog Adventure about how proposed changes to ALCS threaten to cut the income of writers to such an extent that some will stop writing books for use in schools. You need to read that post before this one, as it was some of the comments, particularly from catdownunder, that prompted this continuation. (ALCS is the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society; it distributes to writers the money collected by the Copyright Licensing Agency.)

Many people, catdownunder said, assume all authors are rich. This seems laughable to real authors, but if that's the case the only way to persuade them otherwise is to show them why we are not. I suggested in the comments to that post that books should come with a declaration of how much the author was paid as a fee or advance. Then perhaps teachers and others - who get more per month than a writer gets from writing a book - might understand why it matters that we get paid for use of our work. It wasn't an entirely serious suggestion when I made it. But it has become one. Here are some of the fees/advances I've been paid for writing books that are likely to be photocopied in school classrooms. These books were all commissioned in the last two years:


(There's more than one book in each category; books that are unlikely to be used much in schools and that paid more are not included.)

See that one at the bottom? All my income from these (seven) books will come from royalties, ALCS and PLR. If a school can make any number of copies of the book without paying a license to ALCS there will be no royalties - because why would they buy them if they can use them for free? These books with zero advance have taken the best part of eight months to write. Would YOU (non-writers) work for eight months, to be paid up to 18 months later? And how would you feel if the government then legislated away a portion of your income by saying people can steal it?

Money from copying of our books is NOT a bonus, a bit of extra cash - it's yet another part of the complex jigsaw of writers' income. It is a legitimate part: payment for the work that we have done and that someone wants to use. If the work is rubbish, and no one wants it, there is no payment from PLR, royalties or ALCS. That's a far more brutally meritocratic and commercial system than most people - including politicians - are likely to encounter in their workplace. There can be no legitimate defence for withholding the payment if the work IS good enough for people to want it.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

All hyped out - the push-me-pull-you of book promotion

A fine book I didn't write
This is a bit of a grumble, so if you came here for something uplifting, you might want to go and look at funny videos on YouTube instead. Maybe you can find some nice book trailers.

A few years ago, writers needed a lot of bullying even to get a website. The thought of promoting themselves online was anathema to most of them. Even those who were happy to go into schools, go to festivals, and do readings (ie not hermits) didn't like the idea of engaging with the online world. I've had a website since, I think, 1998. I got a Facebook page in the first weeks that it opened up outside universities, and a twitter account in 2007. I'm not against anything digital. Perhaps because I had these things long before anyone I might want to promote my work to had them, I've never been big on online promotion. I have a presence; I don't (in Nicola Morgan's words) bug the pants off people.

But plenty do.

There's been an explosion of writers, publishers, agents - and readers - on twitter, Facebook and blogging. This is lovely - we're a community and we can finally get to talk to each other, even though we live far apart. This is what I was waiting for when I joined up in 2007 and it was wall-to-wall geeks discussing Gnu and the arguments you could use with various HTML tags. But some writers have taken their publishers' injunctions to promote themselves online rather too seriously. They promote their books to death. [I am NOT suggesting any of the books pictured here were/are overpromoted - I just chose books I like so I could promote something I didn't write!]

Another I didn't write...
In the last couple of days, I've unfollowed two people on twitter because I am *so* sick of those authors tweeting nothing but promotional lines about their latest books. Fine, you've got a book out - that's nice. Now you've told me about it. If I want to buy it, I will. If you keep bugging me, I won't buy it even if I had previously intended to do so. And now I've unfollowed you, so I won't even know if you have another book out.

What is the right amount of promotion? I send a few tweets if I have a book out (if I remember), and I tell my Facebook friends once (ditto). I very, very rarely mention it in any of the online groups I'm part of. I know I do too little promotion, and my publishers probably grumble. I don't like it. I don't do school visits, either, or readings. At the other end of the spectrum are the couple of (male) writers I unfollowed the other day. They send several tweets a day about their latest book. And at least one of these books has been out for *weeks*. Get over it, guys! Write another book - that will take your mind off it and keep your fingers busy.

...and another
I have a series coming out in March. I've not arranged a blog tour, and I'm really not at all sure I want to. I don't imagine a blog tour will generate many sales, and I don't want to bore people. Indeed, you only need to say 'vampires' to see eyes glaze over, so perhaps I won't mention it at all. Or perhaps I'll do an anti-blog tour - I can do guest posts on lots of blogs and I *won't mention the war*, I mean, the books. Anyone want to host a vampire-free blog post in March? No, I don't know the publication date. No, I don't expect you to buy the books - they're for kids, for goodness sake, and you're not kids, are you? 

A really good book - I didn't write it
Now, I'm not against blog tours, and there are some wonderful book trailers, and of course promotion has to be done. But I don't like to be on the receiving end of someone banging on about the same book so relentlessly.

In the end, it comes down to the difference between push and pull media. Twitter is a 'push' medium - that means it forces stuff at you. A trailer on YouTube is a 'pull' medium - you choose to go to YouTube and watch it. Blogs are a pull medium - you choose to go to a blog and read what it has to say. Facebook is a push medium. I suppose the guideline I'm moving towards is - do as much promotion on pull media as you like, as no one will get annoyed (they don't have to go there), but limit what you do on push media or you'll push people away.

The very fine books featured here are Bog Child, by Siobhan Dowd; My Sword Hand is Singing, by Marcus Sedgwick (but it has vampires in); David, by Mary Hoffman; and Egg Drop by Mini Grey - buy them, they're good!