Tag Archives: author

BWF: The Journey of the Book

Session: Australian Writer’s Marketplace Industry Masterclass – Part 1: The Journey of the Book

Panelists: Linda Jaivin (Author), Gaby Naher (Agent), and Shona Martyn (Publishing Director of Harper Collins Australia)

The idea of this session was to look at the process of producing and publishing a book from three viewpoints – how the author writes the book, how it gets to the agent and what she does with it, and then what happens from the publisher’s perspective. It was a fascinating session, and one of my favourite of the Festival.

The first thing that struck me when this session began was, in fact, not what was being said. Instead, it was the overall appearance of the panelists. I’m not someone who generally judges on appearance, so please don’t judge me in return. BUT… Let me describe the scene.

I’m in an auditorium looking at three ladies seated behind a long table. There are no name-cards to indicate who is sitting where, and introductions haven’t yet been made. I don’t know any of the three ladies by name or reputation, and although I’m sure I looked at pictures of them online when I booked the session, I certainly don’t remember who is who. But it takes me about 3.5 seconds to make an educated guess.

The panelist on the left is wearing a knee-length, black dress with stockings and sensible shoes. She’s wearing minimal jewelry (only her watch was obvious from a distance), and no ornamentation in her hair. Her make-up is subdued and professional, and her nails look neatly manicured.

The panelist in the centre is wearing a very stylish grey pant-suit with heels. She’s got a cream-coloured silk scarf around her neck, a long, eye-catching necklace, and a sophisticated hairstyle.

The panelist on the right has bright orange hair which is pinned on top of her head in a messy bun, flamboyant make-up, and dangly earrings. Every item of clothing she’s wearing is a different colour, including purple, orange, green, blue, and pink.

Not surprisingly, panelist #3 is our author, #2 is our agent, and #1 is our publisher. I found the fact that I picked this so easily interesting because I’d never really considered whether I needed to have a “look” as an author. If I’m asked to chair a panel one day (fingers crossed!), what am I supposed to wear? Should I have a style worked out in advance? If I don’t look particularly flamboyant, will people assume I’m a business-oriented publisher rather than a creative author?

What do you think? Is it something you’ve considered?

Moving on to the actual talking bit…

Linda Jaivin got the session started, talking about herself, her books, how she got into the business of writing for a living, and so on. And I can honestly say that she was the most vibrant, enthusiastic and fascinating person I’ve ever heard speak. She was so full of life, I was fairly certain that extra bits were spilling on to the floor around her. (I hoped some would magically find its way to me, but that so far doesn’t seem to be the case.)

She told the story of how she read a book when she was a teenager, and had the sudden revelation that “books are more than just stories”. Words are magical things that can take you away from yourself, put you some place new, let you have an adventure and learn from it, and then take you home again. A novel is a gateway to something greater.

Linda hadn’t really considered being a writer initially. She went to work in a library because “she loved books”, and then decided to study Chinese history and Chinese language. Back then, China’s border were still closed and there was absolutely no point in studying about a closed country. So, why did she pick those subjects? “It was just one of those crazy things you do because it’s really interesting,” she said.

She wound up working in Taiwan, writing book reviews for a newspaper through a series of really unlikely events that could only happen in real life, because no-one would believe them if it was fiction. And from there she started to write.

Her advice to new writers included:

  • There are a lot of places that teach creative writing. Don’t do it. Don’t study creative writing. You can learn how to write on your own. Go and study something real. Study something you’re interested in. You’ll have more to write about and, if you’re lucky, what you study can also get you a job to pay the bills while you’re writing.
  • You have to be serious about every aspect of your career. That includes the boring parts like keeping track of what you’ve spent on writing-related things for tax purposes.
  • It’s the spirit of play that keeps us going. Don’t do a job that eats your brain.

Gaby Naher was next up. She was really interesting, and I found myself falling in love with the idea of an agent all over again. She was passionate, articulate, and talked to and about Linda as a business partner. She clearly loved the creative side of writing, but was very practical and realistic when it came to talking about the business side.

“Anyone who works in the arts community is always wondering where their next paycheck is coming from,” she said, and she clearly meant it. She left a position as a successful editor at a publishing house to work as an agent, and took a pay cut in the process. But she loves the freedom, the flexibility, and the chance to spend time with authors.

Like many agents. her message about self-publishing and indy publishing was a simple “don’t believe all the hype about what they seem to say. It’s too early to tell what the future really holds.” But when talking about traditional publishing, she said, “It’s still no picnic.”

The final statement Gaby made was one that has stayed with me. She was asked about how she chooses the clients she’ll take on, seeing as she doesn’t get paid unless their book sells. Gaby talked briefly about needing to feel passionate about a project, and then said, “But it’s always a risk. I gamble for a living. That’s just what I do.”

Lastly, Shona Martyn, publishing director of Harper Collins, had her chance to talk. She talked about how, with limited budgets that publishers have these days, the marketing department often has a bigger say in whether a book will be published than the acquisitions team. If marketing doesn’t think they can sell the book, the publisher won’t offer a contract. Her point was that, from the moment a book is written to the moment it’s published, “It’s a long process of persuasion.”

In saying that, Shona made it clear that the books that really break out and make a lot of money are always the ones that no one expects. So don’t try to write for a market. Write something you really care about.

Shona’s parting words were also quite interesting from a business point of view, and something that I (and probably a lot of other authors) hadn’t really considered. She said, “If we give an opportunity to a book we don’t think will work, it means we’re turning down another book that might.”

Overall, this session was a fascinating insight into three different perspectives on the publishing industry, and a great introduction to the Brisbane Writer’s Festival.

Rated: 5/5

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Writer vs Author – Part 2

Back in July, I wrote a post titled Writer vs Author. In that post, I considered the difference between a writer and an author, and questioned how it’s possible to move from one state (writer) to the other (author). If you don’t want to go back and read the original post, let me give you the cliff-notes: I had no idea. I was really just working through my thoughts in an effort to come to some kind of conclusion and hoping that someone would comment with the Real, True, and Undeniable Answer.

While I did get lots of comments, they didn’t necessarily help.

  • Emerald agreed with me when I said:  You’re an author when you feel like you’re an author, and not one moment before.
  • Leanne said: A writer is an author when other people voluntarily recognize him or her as such.
  • Merilee said: I qualified as an author when I got paid for my first story.
  • But Merilee also said: To maintain my author tag, I need to keep writing.
  • Jody said: I guess my honest opinion would be that you are an ‘author’ when other people consider you to be one.

The thing is… I agreed with everyone. The definition of an author was still out of reach. But making that distinction between writer and author was still important to me. And, judging by the number of people every week who find my blog with the search term “writer vs author”, it’s important to other people as well.

Fortunately for me, my time at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival has given me the answer. Fortunately for you, I’m prepared to share my epiphany.

In thinking back on the BWF, the one thing that stuck in my head was that every presenter referred to us, the hopeful writers-in-attendance, as Artists. Sometimes jokingly (I know you artist-types need plenty of coffee), sometimes seriously (As artists, it’s your job to connect with your readers) and sometimes something in between (Trust me, even though you’re artists, you’ll still need to understand something about business and contracts).

It didn’t really register at the time, but a few days later, it hit me.

An artist is “someone who creates art”. Literature is art. Fiction is art. Poetry is art. Even some non-fiction is art.

An author is not just a writer, an author is an artist.

With that in mind, the difference between Writer and Author just got easier to define.

Writer: 1. One who writes. 2. One whose occupation involves writing, such as a journalist or author.

Author: 1. The composer of a work of literature. 2. A writer who creates art in the form of poetry or prose. 3. The creator of word-based art.*

(You will note that although all authors are writers, not all writers are authors.)

So, how do you know if you’ve progressed from Writer to Author? Simple. Are you an Artist?

To make that question easier to answer, let’s look at a semi-official definition of an Artist in Australia.

 An Artist:

  1. Creates works of art, AND
  2. Thinks of him/herself as an artist and behaves accordingly (ie. in a professional manner), AND
  3. Is recognised as an artist by his/her peers and/or the general public.

So, an Author:

  1. Creates finished written works. (Length is irrelevant — novels and haiku both count — but the keyword is finished. If you’ve got 37 different first paragraphs, you haven’t got a “work of art”. You’ve just got a lot of ideas and not a lot of stick-to-it-iveness), AND
  2. Thinks of him/herself as a professional writer and acts accordingly, AND
  3. Is recognised as an author by other professional writers, authors, and/or industry specialists. This recognition can come in many ways, including (but not limited to) having your work published (trad pub, magazine,  etc), good sales of self-published work, reviews on websites, short-listed in competitions, positive feedback from industry insiders, etc.

* Note 1: This definition of an author is from my head, and probably shouldn’t be quoted anywhere else.
** Note 2: Apparently the word ‘author’ is simply a term used in copyright law to refer to the creator of the work. This definition is way less mystical and romantic than my definition, so I vote we completely disregard it.

What do you think of this definition? Do you agree? Disagree? Does this change your mind/reaffirm your own thoughts?

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Five Influential Authors

I was supposed to be writing a book review for today’s post, but with everything else happening this week, I didn’t have a chance to finish reading one. Okay, that’s not exactly true. I could have. I got about 100 pages into a book. But then I made the not-unmomentous decision to stop reading it. (This isn’t the first book I’ve stopped reading, as I mentioned here, but it’s still not something I do lightly.)

This book, which will remain nameless, suffered from my largest pet peeve of a first person narrative: the reticent host. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a first person narrator, and you’re experiencing something that you understand, then you should explain it to the reader. You don’t keep it to yourself in order to have a “grand reveal” midway through the book. Anyway, enough of that.

I uhmmmed and ahhhed about what to put in today’s post. I even considered not writing one today. (Shock! Horror!) But then something that had been percolating around in my brain for a while floated to the surface.

Whenever you read an interview with a new-ish band, one of the questions they’re asked is something along the lines of “Who are your influences?” And every musician can (and is allowed to) name a few other musicians who have influenced their style. But it’s not something you often hear asked of an author. Surely an author has just as many influences as a musician, though. I know I do.

As a child, I wrote a lot. Sadly, none of the stories I wrote survived to this day. But I remember some of the “best” ones.

There was the amazing tale of Basketballhead the Monster. He was a monster with a basketball for a head. He went around terrorising villagers and living in a smelly cave, but was soundly defeated by a troupe of travelling basketball players.

There was an alien abduction, where the protagonist had to complete a series of three missions in order to be allowed to return to Earth. He won by relying on his superior intelligence to navigate his way through a maze with the use of only a super-large piece of string. And then, in classic fashion, he woke up and discovered it was all a dream. BUT – shock twist – he still had some string in his pocket. So… where did it come from???

Those early stories were, by and large, horrendous. But they taught me how to string sentences together to form a basic narrative structure. Then I read books, and my writing world expanded. So, without further adieu (or any more general waffling), here are the top 5 authors who have influenced my writing style.

Douglas Adams

When I read H2G2 as a young teenager, I had a revelation. Books could be funny. And not just joke books – actual, real, story-oriented books, with characters and a plot, could be funny. You were allowed to take perfectly normal, serious, and stand-up words and use them in a funny way. All of a sudden, Basketballhead developed one-liners, and the description of his cave became less earnest and more sarcastic.

 

Clive Barker 

I was first introduced to Clive Barker through Weaveworld, which I read when I was about 12. I fell in love with his style, and the idea of an entire world contained within the threads of a carpet, and promptly asked my parents to buy me a Clive Barker book for Christmas. They bought me Imajica, which is the single most amazing book I’ve ever read. Of course, if they’d known how much (often gratuitous) sex and violence is in there, they never would have let me get anywhere near it. This book is…. I don’t even have the words. It is master storytelling at its best. It’s a beautifully crafted world full of interesting and odd characters that inspired me to feel emotions that I’d never before experienced at the tender age of 12. And even now, when I reread my old, dog-eared copy of Imajica (being careful not to turn the pages too quickly and risk more of them coming unglued from the spine), I feel those same senses of wonder, enticement, fear, sadness, and the ultimate tragedy that permeate the very pages. Clive Barker taught me that there is beauty in horror, horror in beauty, sadness in joy, happiness in death, and tragedy in a happy ending. He taught me that wholly unlikeable characters have redeeming features, that wholly likeable characters are probably trying to sell you something, and that the interaction between those characters is what makes them both loveable and memorable.

Terry Pratchett

Much like Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett taught me that stories could be funny. Even not-funny plots could be funny. His early books were straight parodies of fantasy clichés, but in his later books, there was often a serious storyline. If you look at books like The Fifth Elephant, or Thud! you’ve got serious situations that mirror, in some way, situations in the real world. They deal with serious issues like war, racism, and tradition. But when you’re reading these books, you barely notice all that serious stuff, because you’re so wrapped up in the characters and the humour. Characters who are clearly written as jokes (possibly as punes or plays on words) have a serious role to play in the unfolding story, and characters who are part of the serious side of the novel are written irreverently. What I learned from this was that humour doesn’t have to be used as a battering ram. It can be the chocolate topping on a ice cream sundae. You can still have dessert without it, but it adds a delicious, irresistible sweetness.

Raymond Chandler

I don’t write mystery stories, but I firmly believe that, much as all good tales have some romantic element, all good stories have a sense of mystery about them. Raymond Chandler is a master mystery storyteller. What I learned from him is that you can take a boring, dark, seedy, or dangerous situation and still write about it with beauty. He’s renowned for his use of metaphor, and there isn’t a single page of his writing that isn’t dripping with them. He was a man who loved the english language, and could spin words into gold. Without the need to trade favours with a bad-tempered dwarf.

Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files were the first urban fantasy books I ever read. They have humour, magic, mystery, and characters that are real enough you could invite them to sleep on your couch. But these books taught me two things. (1) Urban fantasy rocks, and is the genre I want to write in. Before this, I was struggling to write high fantasy. I loved the setting and plot options, but hate extensive world building. Urban fantasy gives me everything I need. (2) First person is not a dirty word. Two words. Whatever. These were the first books that I read and enjoyed that were written in first person, and I found myself wanting to practice and emulate that style.

 

 

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Interview with author Dawn Alice

Last week, I was fortunate enough to meet Dawn Alice, author of the book LIFE LOVE TAROT. She was a guest speaker at my writing group, and I immediately touched by her passion and enthusiasm for her book, the journey of writing, and her experiences with self-publishing. She wasn’t a writer when she first conceived of the idea for her book, but she set herself the task of writing it and learned a lot along the way. Considering that LIFE LOVE TAROT is a book dealing with the journey of life, from birth to death, her experiences in writing itself seemed particularly fitting.

Dawn comes from a background as a Tarot reader, Numerologist, Reiki master, Crystal therapist, and workshop facilitator. She has used her experiences with the Tarot as a prompt for stories about everything from discrimination, fear and ignorance to spirituality, religion and affirmation. 

 

Welcome, Dawn. How would you describe LIFE LOVE TAROT? What’s it all about?

I see my book as a tool, stimulating thought and action towards a more positive attitude and reaction to life’s challenges. There are no delusions or false promises of complete bliss; the reader receives guidance in a grounded and fun manner through creative exercises, affirmations and meditations. LIFE LOVE TAROTcan be used as both a book to read and enjoy, or as a workbook without the need for a set of Tarot cards, as the Tarot was simply a prop for me. Targeting all those interested in motivation, self-help and inspiration, this book is also just a good read relating to everyday life for all of society.

Several years of reading and teaching the Tarot has taught me – people have been looking for quick fix solutions from outside influences without acknowledging their own inner power. LIFE LOVE TAROT hands the responsibility over to the reader, giving them the opportunity to be illustrators of their own lives as they go through a doorway to understanding life’s journey.

What inspired you to write LIFE LOVE TAROT?

I would have to give credit to my students of Tarot and spiritual development for prompting me to write a book on learning the Tarot. Originally I began to put all of my teaching notes from my Tarot and spiritual classes together for a learn the Tarot book, but became disheartened at a growing number of people coming along for a Tarot reading for the quick fix to life. I then abandoned the Tarot learning book and began LIFE LOVE TAROT, which leans more towards a book of encouragement.

I understand that you’ve had some negative reactions from people because of the word ‘Tarot’ in the title. How do you deal with that? Do you need to understand, or be interested in, the Tarot to enjoy this book?

I had not realized how true the old saying ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ was until I came up against these negative reactions. I simply explain to people that this is a book of life and love written for anybody with an open mind and heart. You do not need to understand the Tarot, nor do you need Tarot cards.

Did you have a particular kind of reader in mind while you were writing Life Love Tarot? Who does it appeal to?

My objective was to have a book that could be enjoyed by anyone and everyone. My main readers would be those who are growing spiritually and emotionally or seeking answers to life’s mysteries. If I could quote a burly truck driver who happened to pick up a copy belonging to his daughter: “Your book touched my heart, it made me cry and laugh.” My aspiration was achieved!

You chose to self-publish this book rather than going through a traditional publisher. Why and how did you decide to do so? Would you do the same again? Did the fact that LIFE LOVE TAROT is a book with a niche market impact on your decision?

After some research I came to the conclusion that self-publishing would be the way to go for a book with a niche market. Although I didn’t send a manuscript to any traditional publishers, I felt that this was my baby, and I wanted to nurture it.

Are you writing another book at the moment?

Yes, I have a few on the back burner. LIFE LOVE TAROT is the first book in the series of ‘This One is to Keep’. I have also adapted the Tarot learning book to Internet Tarot and Numerology classes through my website.

I love the cover art for LIFE LOVE TAROT. Did you design it yourself? Does it have any special significance?

Thank you, yes it has a lot of special significance. The book is dedicated to my daughter, Melanie, who passed away from cancer. Rainbows are a special memento of her. A star speckled sky reminds us of hopes and wishes. I also wanted a road to represent the journey we are all on, and a doorway to illustrate the subtitle: A Doorway to Understanding Life’s Journey. You will notice the grass along the side of the road is patchy indicating that the journey is not always easy.

Where can people learn more about Life Love Tarot and your other work? Do you have a sample chapter/s available to read online?

Yes, I have samples to read on my website. My website is also the best place to order a copy of LIFE LOVE TAROT at this stage.

Thank you, Dawn.

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