Search This Blog

Loading...

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

DELICIOUS LINKITY

Hello, oh lovely readers. Today, I beg your forgiveness - it turns out that the final artwork for the BAREFOOT ON THE WIND cover isn't ready to share yet.

SORRY!
Mea culpa! Please don't throw things at me! I promise I'm not toying with you - they really did say I could share it this week. It just hasn't worked out. I promise will post it the moment that my editor lets me, cross my heart and hope to die.

So instead, this week I have various linky things to share. First up is this post by writing idol N.K. Jemisin: Hello! You Just Used the "Damned if you Do/Don't" Fallacy!

As per usual, this is sheer brilliance from the writer, and for a wonder the comments are also of the highest standard - or they were when I read them anyway. I've faced people (quite recently, not to mention virulently) telling me outright that I, as a member of group A, cannot write about people from group B, forever and ever, amen. But the thing about that argument is, as N.K. Jemisin points out, that it's kind of beside the point because it doesn't really make sense. The point is to man up and do the very best you can to write the thing anyway, and then listen to what people say in response to what you've produced with an open mind. Otherwise none of us would ever write about anyone who wasn't exactly the same as us in any way (in which case, you'd be Jonathan Franzen). I intend to bookmark this and link to it freely. Hopefully it will save me some time in future online arguments.

Following that, here's a hilarious and heart-warming interview with the intimidatingly rockstar-like Sarah McCarry on writing honestly about sex and sexuality and girls of all types in YA, which made me feel rather proud of my chosen genre (and maybe even my place in it, which is nice).

Next up a marvelous post on writing YA thrillers from a mate of mine, the wonderful Emma Haughton. Even if you don't or haven't yet been called to write a thriller, this still offers some really solid tips for anyone who wants their work to *be* thrilling, and have that up-put-downable quality.

Finally, this piece from the Guardian about common crimes against modern grammar made me smile: practical advice without any snobby messing around. I only wish I could give it to one of my English teachers from when I was growing up: I knew I was right. In your face, Sir.

I hope you enjoy some or all of these links, muffins. Have a great week - and let's all cross our fingers that next week I can finally reveal some luscious cover art. Here's a new song I've been enjoying lately, just to see you off - I think it's about Snow White, what do you think?

Thursday, 21 April 2016

HURRAY!

Hello, and happy Friday, Dear Readers! And this is indeed a happy Friday for me, because yesterday I had some unbelievably fantastic news: Arts Council England have made me my second Grant for the Arts, which is to buy time to write (in this case, my retelling of the tale of Mulan).

This grant application did not go quite as smoothly as the last one, and was initially rejected back in March. But after I reapplied with more evidence, the Arts Council came through for me with an offer of the full amount that I'd requested. This means I'll be able to continue as a full-time writer long enough, and will have enough money during that period, to complete all the research and revising required to make my Mulan as authentic, nuanced, respectful and above all powerful as they deserve to be. I could not be more delighted.

Honestly, I thought I was being beyond cheeky to ask for another grant only two years after being awarded the first one. But after some research into other successful applicants on the Grants for the Arts webpages I discovered that several other artists (including writers) had been offered more than one grant, and that these were sometimes given within a couple of years of each other. Which makes sense, since when a writer is pushing themselves artistically and trying out new things, that boundary pushing is unlikely to conclude neatly within the one or two year period of a single project.

I feel completely relieved and joyful, and am now absolutely rearing to go on bringing my interpretation of a trans Mulan to life. A huge thank you to the Arts Council for making this possible!

And in other good news, I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be able to share the stunningly gorgeous cover for BAREFOOT ON THE WIND (as well as some other interesting and exciting stuff) with you next week, so look forward to that :)


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

WRITER BUSINESS: FULL POST

Hello, hello, hello lovely readers! After my break last week (which was basically in aid of a few days off for my birthday) I'm back this week with the full post that I wrote for Author Allsorts a couple of weeks ago, both because I know there are readers who are not fans of/don't have the time to click away when I post links to guest posts here, and because I want to be able to add a link to the post to my All About Writing page. It turned out to be pretty popular and a lot of people got in touch to tell me it was helpful, so I'm hoping anyone who missed out on it the first time will get a chance to see it now.
home-office-336378_1920 (2)

Newcomers to the writing scene may perhaps be fooled. When you read the phrase 'writer' and 'business' in the same sentence, it's all too easy to jump to the conclusion that I mean the very important business of which pyjamas to wear into the Writer's Cave today, methods of ensuring the supply of coffee doesn't run out midway through a tricky scene, or even how to convince family and friends that when you're staring fixedly into space for half an hour you are, in fact, still working, and now is not the time to begin telling you all about the disastrous cake at aunt Caroline's charity coffee morning.

It's true that most of us like to maintain an elaborate fantasy in which we're fluffy, flakey creatives who couldn't possibly be expected to keep track of income and expenditure, or understand taxes. But in reality, if and when you become a published writer, you will at some point need to start thinking of yourself as a business (to a certain extent - don't turn into a soulless, faceless, profit-obsessed monomaniac... unless you enjoy it, I suppose). Otherwise you will not only find yourself in all kinds of unpleasant money and legal tangles, but you may miss out on opportunities or entitlements which could be yours.

You see, if you're a business (as well as a creative individual) then you have value. Others may chose to invest in you - which is ultimately what publishers are doing when they offer you a contract. It doesn't mean that you need to transform into Alan Sugar. It does mean you need to get a handle on what your responsibilities and resources are, and the sooner the better.

First of all, when you start turning a profit from your work - that is, when the income you are receiving from your work exceeds the outgoings required to produce it - you will need to register as self-employed. It's not an arduous process, although for anyone whose only dealings with tax so far have been having their money deducted at source through PAYE it can be a little intimidating at first. I'm informed that the service isn't so great now as it was (many long years ago) when I used it, but the HMRC still have a Newly Self Employed Helpline which is supposed to be there to offer you support and guidance.

Next up - do you have MS Office or some other office software that includes a spreadsheet function? Do you understand how to set up and maintain spreadsheets? If yes, then you have a great advantage on many writers, and you should immediately set up a spreadsheet for income and expenditure related to being a writer.

If NOT - and for the record, although I have MS Office I can't figure out spreadsheets unless someone else sets them up for me - then you will need to set up some kind of document whereby you separate the page into two columns. In the first, faithfully record every payment that you receive related to writing. And that means everything, including £4:50 for selling someone a spare copy of your book. In the second column, equally (if not more!) faithfully record every single expense related to writing, including, you'll be happy to hear, money spent on books, stationery, research, and travel expenses.

Do not wait until the end of the month. Do not tell yourself you'll do it later when things have calmed down a bit. DO IT NOW. This instant. Set it up on your Smartphone if you have one. Perhaps you have an amazing memory and think that it'll be no big deal, in a couple of weeks, to remember to add that £66.30 you were paid for a school creative writing workshop or the £2.80 you spent on postage, but I assure you that when there are a handful of varied, often small amounts coming in and out each month, you will forget something. I promise. Write it down now.

If you're not running a spreadsheet which will tot up totals for you as you go along, this is going to look like a lot of scary numbers. You can help yourself by adding up the totals yourself once a month and noting down the running total right there in the column so that when you come to the end of the tax year you're not having to add up twelve months worth of expenses in one go.
A helpful hint: even if your first profit from writing came in during some other month, like June or even December, it's most convenient to ensure that your records start on April the 5th so that they run parallel to the tax year, and finish on April 4th. You can do this by going back to April and looking at your expenditures for writing from that point and noting them down in the second column. Use your bank statements, Ebay and Amazon order history to jog your memory on what you spent.

Also invest in a file box like this, preferably one with twelve dividers (one for each month of the tax year, from April 5th-April 4th). Label them for each month, and when you're out doing shopping and you buy some pens, or a magazine with an article that might be useful for your new book, or pay for a taxi/bus/train home from a book signing, make sure you get a receipt and tuck it safely into your purse or wallet. Then when you arrive home, put that receipt into this month's section. It's also a great idea to print out Amazon or Ebay or other online invoices and do the same. You're supposed to keep these for five years, believe it or not, to back up your records for the HMRC. If you forget to keep or ask for a receipt, HMRC will accept a 'contemporary note', which means you should write down what you spent, when, and on what, on a piece of paper and sign it, and put it in there instead.

These things are important because once you've registered for self-employment you're going to need to do self-assessment. This is where you fill in a tax return showing the HMRC what you've spent and earned via writing each tax year and then they tell you how much tax you owe them. Nowadays they also collect your extra National Insurance contributions this way as well. For many of us, especially when starting out, this is a tiny or even non-existent amount. However, if you have another job then often this will use up all of your tax-free allowance, which makes it more likely you'll be paying out tax on your writing earnings.

Some writers, perpetually skint and brought up to consider paying other people for a job they can do themselves to be lazy and shameful, will actually do the self-assessment tax return themselves, even if it causes them to lose about a million braincells through stress each year (that's me, for the record). Others, especially those who have a day job or started their careers with a decent advance, will prudently engage the services of an accountant (best to get one who is experienced in dealing with other writers through, since there are a lot of loopholes and codicils related to creative work that the average accountant may be unaware of). In either case, you will need these records of income and expenditure (generally known as your accounts) and receipts so that you or your accountant actually has the information required to fill in the online tax return.

Now for some more cheerful stuff! Public Lending Right is the author's statutory right, within the UK, to receive a small amount (about 6p most years) each time a copy of their book is borrowed in the UK's public libraries. The moment that your book has been officially published you should register for this. Most writers don't receive a huge amount from it, but the more books you publish the more it adds up, so make it a habit to register each new book as they come out, including any large print or reissued editions which have a separate ISBN.

There's also the Authors Liscensing and Collecting Society, which works in a similar way, but gathers up payments for all kinds of other uses for your work - say, teachers photocopying a bit of your book for a class, or quotes from your work that might be used in academia. Again, it's not often a huge amount, but it covers not just UK but also foreign editions of your work. The ALCS does charge to join and they also take a percentage of the money that they collect. However, if you register to become a member of the Society of Authors - which, if you can afford it, I recommend that you do as quickly as possible as soon as you have a publishing contract - then membership to the ALCS becomes free, although they still take their percentage from the money they collect.

On the topic of the Society of Authors: once you're a member you will have access to all kinds of resources, including a series of useful, downloadable guides which offer a lot of detail about all kinds of writing-business-related subjects which I've glanced on here. You're also entitled to free legal advice, such as contract vetting, which can be very helpful. The Society also runs The Author's Foundation, which offers grants to writers who have a publishing contract or a history of published work, in order to help them with research costs, or buying time to write.

The Arts Council also make grants to writers - through the Grants for the Arts programme - of between £1,000 and £15,000. These are for artists who wish to develop their careers or skills, need to buy time to write, or want to do research that they otherwise couldn't afford. You'll find it easiest to access this if you're already published and have a publishing contract in place, but there are exceptions.

If you're a writer in trouble - perhaps you've lost your day job, suddenly become a carer, or had a vital source of writing income unexpectedly fall through - then there is help available to you through the Author's Contingency Fund (again, run through the Society of Authors) and through the Royal Literary Fund, who can make grants to help writers gain a little breathing room or to solve their immediate financial emergency. Again, you usually need to have a publishing history, and not all writers can be successful in applying to these, but it's often worth a try.

Finally, have you ever thought about Tax Credits? They're not just for people with kids - if you're working full-time but your household income is below a certain level then you may be entitled to these (even if, like me, you are happily childless). Work through the Tax Credits Calculator and find out, then phone up for an application form. 

One last piece of advice from me: don't hesitate to apply for things that you may be entitled to, like Tax Credits or grants, based on the (rather British) belief that you shouldn't put yourself forward, or that your 'hobby' isn't worthwhile. So long as you're honest about what you're doing and earning you will not get into trouble for asking, and if you DON'T ask, then you won't ever get. The worst anyone can do is say no. So be brave, be organised, and embrace writing not only as a vocation, but as a career.

Phew. I hope this has been helpful, duckies. If anyone can think of any resources I've missed, please do feel free to toss them in the comments :)

Monday, 28 March 2016

WRITER BUSINESS

Hello and happy Monday, Dear Readers! Especially happy for those enjoying the bank holiday here in the UK, although I hope it's not too bad for everyone in the rest of the world.

Today's post is over on Author Allsorts and is exactly what is says on the tin: a piece about the business of being a writer, from registering as self-employed right at the start to sources of help for writers later on in their careers. Check it out now.

Read you later, my lovelies!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

FRAIL HUMAN HEART COVER REVEAL + OTHER NEWS

Hello and happy Wednesday, lovely reader peeps!

Today I bring you the cover art for the U.S. Candlewick Press hardback edition of FRAIL HUMAN HEART (the final book in The Name of the Blade Trilogy). I've actually had this for a while, but was asked to keep it under my hat until I had official permission from Candlewick Press.

Well, official permission still has not been granted, but since the cover's turned up on Amazon.com and Goodreads anyway, here it is!

*


*


*


*


*


As with the previous Candlewick covers for the series, this is very different from any other cover art I've had - I love the deep green and copper colours, which are all very Art Deco. That is a jellyfish represented there, yes. If you've read the book you'll already know the significance of this; if not, you'll need to get the book, which comes out in November in the U.S., to find out.

Now for some other exciting news - chances for Dear Readers to come and see me! I very much hope that some of you will. I'm going to be participating in two big book events this year.

The first is the Bradford Literature Festival which is a super, super big deal. This festival is huge, with events practically coming out of its ears (most of which I'd love to be an audience member for, even if, as happened rather often when I checked the event details, it turns out that it's meant to be for ages seven and under) and rather stunningly awesome, with days focusing on manga and comics, fairytales, and Harry Potter to name but a few. I'm going to be there for the weekend of the 21-21st of May, taking part in two events with a very interesting mixture of other writers and artists, talking about the difference that comics, manga and graphic novels have made to us as people and creators, and about women's roles in fiction today. Which is super interesting stuff, I must say. I just hope no one is going to be shocked at my massive love for Yaoi/'boy's love' romance manga. I can't help it, OK, bishounen are too pretty.

My first panel will be on the afternoon of Saturday 21st of May, between 3:30-4:45 at the Small Hall at the University of Bradford and is titled We Love Comics. The second one is 21st Century Wonder Women (such a cool title) and is on Sunday the 22nd between 11:00-12:30, at the same venue. After each of these there should be time to sign books and talk to readers. You can get hold of tickets for either or both of these pretty cheaply now. If you're a Northern Dear Reader, please consider coming along to chat and to take part in as many of these fantastic book related activities as you can. You'll definitely have a great time.

The second event I might be even more excited about (because I know and love several of the authors attending and can't wait to spend time with them in real life): YAShot, which will be taking place on the 22nd of October (also a Saturday!) in Uxbridge, London, at at least three venues throughout the borough.
 
This festival is the brainchild of wonderful writer Alexia Casale. YAShot was a massive success last year - everyone was buzzing about it. I was invited, and really bummed when it turned out that I couldn't take part, which is another reason I'm stoked to be able to be there this year.

There'll be loads and loads going on, with children's and YA writers from all over the UK taking part, and I will be there all day, from the start of the event to the finish. So I may be doing more than one event at more than one location, and I will certainly be signing books and chatting to readers and other writers all day long. If you've ever wished that you had more of a chance to have a proper conversation with writers rather than just snatched time while they were in the middle of signing your book, YAShot will be a great place to be.

The final line-up of authors hasn't been fully announced yet, or all the events organised - but I do know that there will be lots of activity, including a blogtour, beforehand. As soon as I have more details, I will dish.

That's it for today, my cupcakes. I'm hoping that I will very soon have BAREFOOT ON THE WIND cover art to share with you - I haven't seen it myself yet, and I'm giving myself a second ulcer in my anticipation - so look forward to that. Next week I'll be posting on the Author Allsorts blog and will put a link to that here, and the following week, if the BAREFOOT art still hasn't come through, I may do a review for Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which I'm going to see at the end of March. That's presuming it's either bad or good enough to need reviewing, of course - fingers crossed!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

RETRO-WEDNESDAY: MY THOUGHTS ON BLOGGERS vs AUTHORS LET ME SHOW YOU THEM

Hello, and happy Wednesday - or should I say, Retro-Wednesday? - my lovely readers. Yes, that's right, it's one of those legendary days when I emerge, bruised, dusty and exhausted, yet triumphant, from the archives of the blog, dragging a well-aged and mature post behind me in the hopes that some of you may not have read it the first time around, or may enjoy reading it a second time.

Here we go! MY THOUGHTS ON BLOGGERS vs AUTHORS LET ME SHOW YOU THEM

Today I'm doing that thing again. You know. The thing where I cast common sense and the wise advice of friends to the wind and venture onto a topic that anyone with half a grain of sense would treat like a canister of highly radioactive material (don't even go near unless there's some kind of life-or-death-Tom-Cruise's-furrowed-brow situation, and even then only while wearing a full hazmat suit and using mechanical pincers instead of your actual hands).

Today, I would like to talk about this whole Authors vs. Bloggers debate.


WHAT did you say?!
Disclaimer: I'm not attempting to be definitive here. I have no ambitions of Saying All The Things and single-handedly producing World Blogger/Author peace. I just have all these...feelings. You know: conflicted, squirmy, put-you-off-your-icecream feelings, churning away inside, and I'll feel better if I spill them out onto the page. If you want clear-sighted wisdom, you might be better off seeking out the Dalai Lama, or perhaps Justine Larbalestier.

I'm also well aware that there are many bloggers and authors who may read this post with puzzled faces of adorable confusion and say 'Huh? I've never noticed any of this! Where's all this going on?' My post today is a response to things I've seen bloggers and authors talking about on various comment threads and websites all over the place, and to several recent incidents of Internet Drama(TM) that have blown up and then blown out again. If it's all Greek to you? Well done; you've successfully done what the rest of us wished we could and steered well clear of all the angst. Go on your merry way and ignore my convoluted ramblings with a light heart.

So. This debate. Let me break it down a little.

BLOGGERS & REVIEWERS

Right now we have this vibrant, thriving, book blogging community on the internet. It encompasses book-review sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing and people's own personal blogs, and participants  span the whole of the real world and might realistically be any age between eleven and ninety. This community loves to read, loves books, loves authors, and on the surface of things there really seems to be no reason why all of us shouldn't be skipping through fields of daisies together, holding hands and singing Justin Beiber's Greatest Hits (wait - is that kid old enough to have Greatest Hits? If not, we can just sing Kumbaya, I suppose).

But beneath the surface of the community there are deep divisions - essential differences in approach and philosophy which constantly cause dissent and even sometimes acrimony and hatred. In order to make sense of this, I'm going to talk about the two different kinds of bloggers you tend to find in the reviewing world (most reviewers, in reality, fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes - but this is just to illustrate my point).

Some bloggers regard authors and publishers and the whole book blogging world like this:

Let's all eat cake. And be friends!
They love to able to interact with and be taken seriously by people in the publishing industry. They regard it as a privilege to be part of this exciting and heretofore hidden, secretive world. They get excited about ARCs and swag and blog tours, and enjoy talking to authors personally. Generally these reviewers will have a positive attitude to books they review: they'll usually try to find something good to say, even if a certain book wasn't for them. They might only review books that they love and not mention any that they did not like or failed to finish. Or they may publish negative reviews, but view this as a sad, serious duty. They feel it's only right to treat authors and their work with a lot of respect, so they will, rarely if ever, employ snark or humour when they air their opinions.

These are the bloggers who are usually very happy to have an author for a chum, and who don't mind authors popping onto their blog and commenting on the reviews and features.

Bloggers on the other side of the divide look at publishing more like this:

Oooh, this is going to be fuuuun...
While still on the whole respecting authors and publishers, these guys take a more worldly view. They see the relationship between reviewers, authors and publishers not as a privilege but as a pragmatic arrangement, with all sides getting benefit from the exchange of books/swag and reviews/publicity. Some reviewers don't accept ARCs or swag at all because they feel like it encourages a sense of endebtedness that prevents them from being honest. They take their reviews seriously, but that won't stop them from snarking and using humour (including .gifs or photoshopped images) to make a point either in favour of or against of books which aroused strong feelings in them. If they feel that an author or publisher messed up in some way they will call them on it fiercely, and they post negative reviews without a blink. They don't believe it's their job to shelter an author's feelings by finding good things to say about their work: they believe it's their job to be completely honest and give readers their unadulterated, sincere reaction to books, even if they didn't finish them.

Bloggers in this camp tend to be wary of being too friendly with authors, and they feel a bit squinky and uncomfortable if writers pop onto their blogs and comment, even if the comment is positive. The author doesn't really belong there, to their mind.

Sometimes the most extreme of these two types of bloggers will clash because they have such opposing styles and ways of looking at the business they're dealing with. But the real reason why there's such a huge divide these days? Well, it's because of...

AUTHORS

Obviously it's a bit harder for me to be objective here! But I'll do my best.

Basically: writers are now more active online than they've ever been before, and publishers are encouraging us to interact with and form working relationships with bloggers in order to help promote our work.

Quite often writers end up grativating towards bloggers in the first group that I mentioned, just because those guys are the most receptive and the most likely to be happy taking part in blog tours, etc. They can form real friendships with bloggers (the ones that are fine with this) in the course of working with them on, say, an interview feature, and then talking with them at a blogger event, and tweeting and emailing back and forth for a bit. This is hardly surprising, since most writers are avid readers and - look at that! So are bloggers. They already have a lot in common. For an author, getting to know bloggers who like you and your work means that you suddenly have a whole network of new people in your corner.

But not all bloggers can be - or should be - your friend. Not all bloggers can - or should - like your work.

And this, in my purely subjective opinion, is where the crazy starts.

(N.B. I'm aware that there have been authors who had a mental breakdown over a generally positive three star review. But those guys are usually so obviously unbalanced that EVERYONE backs away with wary looks, including other writers. I don't think those people are materially contributing to the Us vs. Them mentality I've noticed - they are outliers. So let's move on).

Authors might be resigned (or tell themselves that they're resigned) to seeing negative reviews of their books. Reviews in which the blogger sadly admits that the story didn't work for them for some reason, that they couldn't empathise with the heroine or that historical fiction/fantasy/Dystopian just isn't the reviewer's bag. Those are the sorts of reviews that our blogger friends do occasionally write, after all. Reviews that the blogger is well aware the author and publisher may read, and which are sensitive to and considerate of the writer and publisher's feelings in consequence. Authors grit their teeth and mumble under their breath, but generally manage to avoid making idiots of themselves over reviews like these.

What writers are really not resigned to seeing, and what normally is the start of The Internet Drama(TM) is a different kind of review. One written by a reviewer who has no interest in what the author or publisher might think if they read it (the review isn't FOR them, after all) and who feels no reluctance about expressing their problems with or outright dislike of the book. A review that may (le gasp) snark, make jokes and outright mock the story. Possibly using .gifs of Tribbles humping.

Writers are not prepared for this. For someone making fun of their book like it doesn't matter. And so, often in a blaze of wild emotion, the author takes to their email or Twitter or Facebook and Says Stuff. They might just say 'Argh! I hate Teh Internetz today!'. They might take it further and make condemning comments about the quality of reviewers on Goodreads. They might go the full cray-cray route and provide a link to the review they didn't like. But in any case, the moment that the author responds to the negative review?

BATTLE HAS BEGUN



Straight away, people on the author's side of the divide will flinch from their pain and attempt to soothe them. And because this - authors publicly weeping over bad reviews - has now happened approximately 12,900,670 times before, and there's this sense of Authors vs. Bloggers online (why are bloggers so mean? Why do they have to attack books and rip them up like this?) their responses will usually be something along these lines:

'Oh, honey! It's OK, your book is wonderful! Just ignore that silly hater! Goodreads is full of trolls anyway!'

In their urge to reassure their friend, client, co-worker or fellow author, this person or persons have fired the first canon.

Reviewers, who, not surprisingly, are very active online, will catch wind of this. Word will spread quickly that YET AGAIN an author is dissing reviewers (surely not? Don't writers ever learn?). The link is RT'ed, posted on Goodreads, and suddenly reviewers appear on the scene defending their right to write honest reviews without being attacked and labelled a hater or a troll, thank you very much.

This skirmish will last for a bit. Then someone will attempt to pour oil on the troubled waters by offering some variant of:

'Why can't we all just get along? Why do we have to be mean to each other? Why can't we all just...Be Nice?'

Oh, look, that's not oil. It's lighter fluid. Whoosh!

Sometimes the author will calm down, look at this huge Internet Drama(TM) and apologise. Sometimes the furore will make them even angrier and the war will drag on and on and on until everyone's sick to the back teeth with it. But eventually the battle will finish and both sides will retreat to their own sides feeling bruised and battered and wondering: why does this keep happening?

And everytime, that Bloggers vs. Authors feeling just gets stronger and stronger.

The reviewers angrily ask themselves why writers can't get it through their skulls that reviews are for READERS not WRITERS. Why are they even reading reviews and hanging around on Goodreads to begin with if they hate honest reviews so much? Authors put their books out there for people to read and respond to - they presumably WANT readers to have strong reactions to their work. They don't have the right to just take it back and throw a tantrum when someone's reaction isn't all beatific smiles and gushy five star praise. Reviewers are consumers. They're the audience the writer is trying to win over! Why do so many authors think it's OK to treat their own customers like crap?

Writers angrily ask themselves why it's OK for reviewers to respond to an author's book, but not for an author to respond to the review. After all, reviews are for public consumption just as much as books are! If reviewers are all about honesty and freedom of speech, how come they come boiling out of their anthills to eat writers alive the moment one of them dares to mention their feelings about less than favourable responses to their work? Why do reviewers always automatically take a stance of hostility and hatred towards authors when authors dare to involve themselves in a debates about star ratings, or try to correct a reviewer who might have gotten their facts wrong? Aren't we all supposed to be part of the same community?

Well, OK. Let's tackle some of this stuff, shall we?

REVIEWERS: YOU ARE IN THE RIGHT

You guys are writing for yourselves, your friends, your blog readers. You're being honest, you're being passionate and yeah, you're having a few laughs: why the heck not? You shouldn't have to censor yourselves because you're worrying about the author's/agent's/publishers feelings. This is a business: writers/agents/publishers are supposed to be professional, and no matter how much their feelings are concerned with their work, that's not an excuse to act like a five year old whose best friend said their Play-Doh house was stoopid. It's especially not an excuse to mobilise all the other kids in the playground and wage a hate campaign against anyone who doesn't agree that the Play-Doh house is the best one-level soft sculpted domiciliary ever built.

You read a whole heck of a lot of books. You love books. You usually go in there excited and ready to be pleased. But sometimes you get sick of seeing the same crap repeated over and over in every crop of hyped up would-be-bestsellers. Misogyny disguised as romance. Designated Boyfriends and Passive Heroines. Horrible cliches. Bad writing. Predictable plots. Lack of diversity.

And no one ever admits this! YA writers (and agents and other publishing professionals) just don't seem interested in looking at their category as a whole and admitting that there might be problems there. If it weren't for you guys there would be no antidote to the hype-machine - and on a personal note, there have been times when finding a few snarky, honest reviews of a book that I thought was terrible, but which otherwise garnered only positive reviews, might just have saved my sanity.

All too often, when you guys try to discuss troubling trends or issues seriously, authors either play it off or turn on you. And then those authors hold grudges. Certain authors threatened to remember your name if you reviewed them badly, and do you harm further down the line if they could - and they then somehow tried to label this 'Taking the High Road'! And when you started asking yourselves if there was some kind of YA Mafia, Twitter exploded with YA novelists nearly peeing themselves with laughter and making jokes about horses heads and sleeping wit da fishes - but no one ever really addressed your concerns over the pettiness and sheer meanness of that Be Nice threat.

In fact, it seems like the whole YA industry is so concerned with this idea of Being Nice, of projecting an image of child-friendly harmoniousness, that no one is ever going to tackle the issues that lie beneath unless you do.

REVIEWERS: YOU ARE ALSO IN THE WRONG

But you know that oft-repeated phrase 'reviews are for readers, not writers'? Now, I can see where you're coming from with this, I really can. Unfortunately - I'm sorry, but...it's complete and total bull.

Seriously. Writers are readers. We read reviews all the time when we want to decide what books WE should read. We review books to our friends over dinner, we spontaneously tweet about how everyone should run out and get the book we just read because It. Is. So. Awesome. And let's not forget that bloggers with a different approach to reviewing send us emails of reviews they have written, or @reply us on Twitter with links. They *want* us to read them. Reviews are EVERYWHERE, yo.

There's this sense among certain bloggers (and some writers, even) that the best policy is for writers to put their fingers in their ears and sing 'la la la, I'm not listening!' when it comes to reviews. That we should wilfully pretend to have zero awareness that anyone's talking about us or our work - or anyone else's work! But not everyone wants to completely cut themselves off from critical discussions of books just because they got published. Many of us are able to read even quite snarky reviews of our own or our friends work without freaking out and creating An Internet Drama(TM). So please will you stop repeating 'Reviews are for READERS not WRITERS' all the time? You make me feel like I'm doing something wrong when I go looking for book criticism in order to learn from it. And I'm not. You're not my mommy and you can't tell me to stop hanging around on Goodreads if I don't want to, dammit.

Maybe most important of all: please, stop telling us how we should feel about reviews, OK? I understand that seeing newbie bloggers, and your friends (maybe even yourself) get attacked by authors and a hoard of their friends and yes-people over and over has made you feel so wary that now the second an author impinges on your personal space you hit out as hard as you can. But please just stop with that shizz about how 'authors should just get over this!' or 'authors shouldn't pursue publication if they can't take criticism' or 'writers should toughen up and grow a thicker skin', will you? If an author says that 3-star reviews make them sad, that's not them attacking YOU. That is them expressing their own feelings, which they are allowed to have.

When I saw a review trashing my most recent release for daring to feature a transgendered character I got cross and I vented to my writing group. I didn't mention the reviewer's name or link to them, and half an hour later I felt better and got over it. But I needed that half hour to be allowed to be honestly distressed and to get some sympathy, because I'm human. Reviewers don't always have to take every expression of an author's feelings about a bad review as an attack on them and their rights. What's more, you don't have the right to try and silence authors when they express their feelings about getting reviews: we're entitled to free speech too, so long as we're not trying to take yours away.

You don't have to Be Nice with me. You officially have my permission to BE NASTY about my books if you feel they warrant it (not that you need my permission). But don't tell me how to feel about that, please. If I want to read every buggering review ever written about every book I've ever published and then cry myself into a soggy snotty puddle on my teddy bear that is MY BUSINESS.

No, I shouldn't pop up on your blog and try to inflict equal suffering on you. But you shouldn't try to minimise my feelings or my right to have them, either. That's exactly what those authors did to you, so you already know it sucks donkey rear-end. Just stop it.

Did he say 3 Stars? MY LIFE IS OVER!!!
WRITERS: YOU ARE IN THE RIGHT

You guys are dealing with a heck of a lot of pressure when your book comes out, and I know that. You've dedicated hours, days, weeks, months and years of your lives to creating this story. You've more than likely made other sacrifices too - financial ones, ones concerning commitments to your friends and family. Your book is important to you and you know that it's the best you can do - your heart and soul is in there and you're allowed to want to know how people respond to it, and feel emotional about that. You're allowed to get angry when you see someone dismiss your heroine as a Mary-Sue when you are extremely-very-bloody sure she is NOT, thanks very much. Particularly when you look at the reviewer's other reviews and see that she calls EVERY female character this! AND SHE CLAIMS TO BE A FEMINIST!? How come the only books she reviews positively are ones written by men or with male main characters? What the Heck?

Sometimes reviews will even seem to be attacking you personally (maybe because they disagree with your stated religious beliefs, or don't like the other writers you hang around with online) or offering statements about your motives in making certain choices in your writing that are not only utterly unfounded but extremely insulting. You know you're not supposed to respond to this and, just barely, you manage not to.

But you are human, after all. So you go and vent a bit to a friend online, maybe on Twitter - and the next thing you know, everyone's wagging their finger at you like you were a toddler. It wasn't like you linked to the review or tried to call the reviewer out - you just said that sometimes Goodreads gives you a headache and you wish people would stop Mary-Sueing all over the place. Now there's a Goodreads thread about it and they're all putting your book on a Do Not Read list? Gaaah! Why do reviewers treat you like the enemy all the time? Do you really have to watch every single word you say?

You should be given a little more leeway to express yourself online if you want without being labelled A Bad Author. After all, you didn't give up your right to free speech when you signed a publishing contract, and if reviewers are allowed to express their feelings, you are too. Sometimes it's that or just explode in a messy heap of guts. It's funny that reviewers will condemn YA authors for not speaking 'honestly' about the work of other authors in their category (for example, if writers chose to only review books that they liked on their blog) but then get on their case when they're honest...about how bad reviews make them feel.

WRITERS: YOU ARE ALSO IN THE WRONG

Unfortunately, when you signed that publishing contract, you did become a paid professional, and that comes with certain expectations of professional behaviour. It might not seem fair, and often people who should be encouraging you to hold to that standard will act like it doesn't matter (for example, agents who have shown up on blogs or on Goodreads to 'defend' their clients work) but I'm sorry, it DOES. You have to act like a grown-up online. Cry and wail and get upset in private all you want, but don't take that internal upset online and try to hurt a book reviewer with it. Just what do you expect to achieve? They're not going to change their minds because you go and tell them off, are they?

And no, us writers can't complain that a review isn't 'professional'. Even if the writer of that review was unfailingly snarky and used comical .gifs of Tribbles humping to make our story a laughing stock. Because guess what? 99.99% of the time, bloggers are not professionals. They're not getting paid (no, ARCs don't count. They just don't! Look, if you don't get it, I can't explain). Reviewers do this for free, and while many of them take it very seriously, it is, effectively, a hobby. Do you expect Grandma Bessie to 'be polite and professional' when she takes part in her hobby of strip poker on a Wednesday night? I didn't think so.

And here's another truth that is spikey and hard to swallow. Unless a reviewer makes an ad hominem attack on you personally (something which is generally frowned on within all parts of the blogging community)? THEY CANNOT BE WRONG.

Shocking, I know. But think about it for a minute. There's no universe in which you dismissing someone else's feelings as worthless and invalid is OK. If someone reads five pages of your book and it made them so angry and infuriated that they refused to read another page and then wrote a three page long rant against it? They are right. Their feelings are theirs. You're obviously not going to agree with them (and Hell, if they're ranting because you didn't burn the gay character, maybe they're objectively out of their tree too) but that doesn't mean you're allowed to move into their reviewing space and attempt to erase their feelings from the internet. Especially not using a hastily gathered gang of pissed off friends and followers, as some writers have done. I'll put your book on *MY* Do Not Read list if you try and pull that crap.

The simple fact is that books are written to be reviewed. That's what Goodreads and LibraryThing are for. But reviews are not like books. Reviews are not written to be reviewed in their turn. Yes, they're put out there for public consumption, just like a novel, but bloggers don't ask you or anyone to pay to consume them. As you're an author, they'd probably rather you DIDN'T consume them. Just because there's a comment trail on that blog post or Goodreads review, that's not an invitation from the reviewer for people (including you) to come along and tell them they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Why are you intruding on this place, their place for reviews, with your not-a-review comments?

Go away and cry yourself into a soggy puddle of snot on your teddy bear if that's how you feel. You have that right. Ask for sympathy in non-specific terms - you have that right too. But don't be yet another author who starts a flamewar because they couldn't respond to criticism any other way than with public meltdown. Don't be yet another author who persecutes and devalues the very readers - the passionate, dedicated, searching for excellence readers - we should all be supporting and valuing the most.

Passionate readers are our friends! Snuggle them!

So what it comes down to is that I think we all need to ease our trigger fingers OFF our derringers and stop trying to make each other shut up all the time.

WRITERS: If you can't stand to read a negative review without going into public meltdown then stop reading reviews. If you can, and you want to, then do; but confine any comments you make in response to YOUR space and YOUR feelings, and never, ever, ever name reviewers or link to negative reviews or make obvious references to comments in reviews that will allow your friends or readers to figure out who you're talking about. Reviewers that get attacked because you called them out directly or indirectly will have every right to get a wee bit cross with you.

REVIEWERS: If you can't stand to see authors bitch about how bad reviews make them feel, unfollow them on Twitter or stop checking out their blogs. Writers are human too, and they are allowed to have and express their feelings in their own spaces on the internet, just like you. Unless they call you or a friend out either by name or in such a way that it's clear they're giving the reviewer's indentity away in order to cause a backlash against them, or they write darn stupid posts urging reviewers to stop being honest and start being 'nice'. Then you're free to go to war.

Other than that? Keep up the good work.

And those are my thoughts.

(Why yes, I have illustrated this entire post with images from Ouran High School Host Club. I thought it might lighten the mood.)

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

WHAT'S GOING ON: YA FANTASY 2007-2016

Hello, Dear Readers! Welcome to Tuesday - I hope the week is shaping up well for you so far.

First up, in the grand tradition of this blog, I share some hair news! This was me last week:

 

With thigh-length hair, easily long enough to sit on (which, by the way, hurts quite a lot if you do it accidentally), and which had been driving me up the wall for quite some time. Not because I really bothered to *do* much with said hair, I hasten to add, but just because when you have that much hair even the super basic stuff like washing, conditioning and air-drying before putting it into a plait is laborious and time-consuming and I had slowly become very bored of it. So I headed off to the hair place on Friday and this is me now:


Realistically, I know this is still pretty long, but to me it feels incredibly different, and is so much quicker to wash and dry. They cut off over a foot of hair (I had to stand up to have the first cuts made, since otherwise the hairdresser said she would have to lie on the floor to get to the ends) and I have donated the cut-off tresses to The Little Princess Trust, which is almost ridiculously easy to do. If you're losing more than about 8 inches of hair in the near future you should consider doing the same, and making difference to a sick little girl somewhere.

OK, onto the main topic of today's blog, which was inspired by a chance encounter with a guest post I did for PewterWolf (otherwise known as Andrew - hi Andrew!) for the FrostFire Blogtour in 2012. The post was simply entitled YA FANTASY and was me talking about how things had changed since I came into the business in 2007. Reading it again in 2016, made my eyes bulge a bit, so I'm going to reproduce it below, and then talk about what's changed in the four years since it was originally written and what that means for YA fantasy, and my books now.
I'm a relatively young author. Young enough that when I attended the Lancashire Book of the Year Awards recently, some of the other authors were amusing themselves by placing bets on how old I was (the answer? Not as young as they thought. But nearly!). I was first published in 2007, which means I've only actually been part of the professional publishing community for five years. I cannot claim to have seen or done it all - and I certainly don't have the t-shirt.

Publishing is generally considered to be an extremely slow moving industry. It certainly feels that way when you're waiting for your edit letter, waiting for your cover design, waiting for your book to come out. But in other ways publishing moves lightning fast, and in the five years that I've been calling myself a writer, I've seen our entire community undergo metamorphosis, seen the profile of children's and young adult writers shoot sky-high, seen the birth of a whole society of adult readers who defiantly and proudly read YA novels in their YA covers, and seen the kind of books that fill the shops sweep from one extreme (brightly coloured middle grade novels chasing Harry Potter) to the other (black and scarlet toned dark fantasies and romances trailing after Twilight). 

Back in late 2005 I finished a fairytale retelling that I titled 'The Wild Swans' after the Hans Christian Anderson story it was based on. I submitted it to an editor who had offered me encouragement after liking but ultimately rejecting my previous manuscript. He told me he thought it was very good, and invited me down to London to meet him and his boss. But, he warned me, although his boss liked my voice and thought I had potential, she wasn't really sold on the book itself.

You see, it was a lyrical, romantic novel. It was clearly the sort of thing that ought to be marketed at girls. And it was a fantasy. The loose framework of the fairytale had been reworked to follow a magically gifted heroine on a quest to save her Kingdom and her brothers, and the plot encompassed magical battles, and shapeshifters and mortal peril. And it was for readers twelve and above, as it had some very dark themes and some extremely scary scenes.

These things, the editor told me sadly, were a hard sell. It was believed that girls didn't like fantasy and wouldn't buy it. Plus, all the recent publishing success stories (like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials) had proved that the 8-12 market was where the real growth was. Young Adult novels were a bit of a poor relation, unless you could gradually shade into YA with later novels of your series as Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling had done. No one at the publisher was really sure where my book would fit into their list. It wasn't like anything that had come their way before. He explained that his boss would probably ask me to write something else for them instead, maybe a novel for younger readers to fit into one of their established imprints.

Can you imagine an editor saying NOW that girls don't like and won't buy fantasy? That YA is a hard sell? But back then, that was the way things were. So I went into my terrifying and exciting first meeting with real life publishing people fully prepared to fight my corner. I talked about Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley, perpetual bestsellers and award winners. I talked about Meg Cabot's '1800-Missing' series and Doctor Who. I talked about the girls who loved Harry Potter as ten year olds turning into twelve year olds and wanting fantasy FOR THEM, fantasy with girl protagonists and strong romantic subplots. 'YA Fantasy,' I said confidently, 'Is due for a huge boom'.
  
Somehow - and I'm still not sure how - my persuasions worked. After listening to me babble on for about forty minutes, the editor's boss said, 'OK. I'm convinced. Let's do some revisions and go for it'. Whooo! Success! 

Of course the book got a very small advance and had no marketing or PR budget. It was given a beautiful, unique cover, retitled The Swan Kingdom and flung into the marketplace quite ruthlessly to see if it would sink or swim. If it had sunk I'm not sure what would have happened to my career. But it didn't. It floated aimlessly for a bit, then developed a slow but strong backstroke that allows it to keep selling to this day. So in a way I was right. There was a market for The Swan Kingdom.

But that big huge YA fantasy boom that I had promised my editor and his boss would arrive?

It never quite did.

Twilight came out in the U.K. the very year of my first chat at the publishers office (the UK paperback had an...unusual cover very unlike its iconic US jacket art) bombed, and then exploded worldwide, bringing an overwhelming tsunami of dark paranormal romances and then ripples of urban fantasy which washed up every variety of unearthly boyfriend (vampire, werewolf, demon, angel, elf, pixie, fairy and god). Then The Hunger Games arrived and threw another grenade, opening the way for a Dystopian novels invasion. Science fiction is starting to make a resurgence too.  

All these genres are, in fact, varieties of fantasy. Speculative fiction. Books which embrace the unknown. Some of them focus more on romance, others are gritty in the extreme. Some of them are beautiful works of literature, others more pulpy reads. But what none of them are is high fantasy - what the average reader would point at when they say the word 'fantasy'. The burgeoning success of the Game of Thrones series in the U.S. and the intense anticipation for the Snow White and the Huntsman and Hobbit films seems to hint that there's a demand there for classic fantasy taking place in secondary worlds. But the book that can do for YA fantasy what Twilight did for paranormal romance or Hunger Games for Dystopian, or even what Harry Potter did for the entire middle grade category? It doesn't seem to have been written yet.

I'm waiting for it eagerly. 

In the meantime, I'm left to look around me at the extraordinary landscape of YA fantasy - and if you want to argue with me about whether Hunger Games or Twilight count as fantasy, feel free in the comments - and wonder... is publishing for children and young people always like this? Does it renew itself completely every seven years as the human body is said to do? Or have I, as a young fantasy writer just starting out in 2007 and just hitting her stride in 2012, been been privileged to witness an extraordinary era of change for my category and my industry?

And most important of all... what's in store for us next?
I think you can probably see why looking back at this now makes me sputter. Because I was right!  YA high fantasy WAS due for a massive boom, and it was literally right about to happen as I was typing those words back in 2012.

August of that year gave us Sarah J. Maas' THRONE OF GLASS which took readers by storm. The first of Leigh Bardugo's now legendary Grisha Trilogy, SHADOW AND BONE - originally entitled The Gathering Dark and given a different cover in the UK, but swiftly brought into line with the US version when it took off like a bottle rocket - was out in June! And Rachel Hartman's world-beating SERAPHINA hit the shelves in May of 2012. I even reviewed it, here. Laini Taylor's genre redefining DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE was there before all of them, making it's entrance on the scene in September 2011.

Having waited so long and so eagerly for this explosion in YA high fantasy, you'd think I'd have noticed it happening - but I didn't. I missed it completely, because when I finished writing FrostFire in 2010, I threw myself wholeheartedly into my new idea, my very first piece of urban fantasy and my very first series, THE NAME OF THE BLADE. I spent four years of my life focusing on a completely different area of the fantasy genre. So while, looking back, I can now see what was going on? At the time I was oblivious. I just wanted to write the idea I was in love with.

This sudden drop of interest in the previously bullet-proof genre of urban fantasy/paranormal romance, and the surge towards high fantasy, may have been why, just between you and me, Dear Readers, my beloved trilogy did not do as well as anyone (me, my agent, or my publisher) had hoped it would, or believed it deserved to. As well as I believe now that it might have done, had it only been published two or three years earlier.

High fantasy has a place in mainstream culture now that it was only barely beginning to glimpse back in 2012. Game of Thrones is everyone's favourite guilty pleasure, The Hobbit trilogy (controversial though it may have been) made billions at the box office, Frozen is the cartoon that launched a thousand merchanising deals, Into the Woods was nominated for three Oscars, the average Netflix account or DVD shelf is strewn with live-action fairytale retellings and Snow White and the Huntsman is getting a sequel with added Snow Queen and extra magic.

And the YA publishing industry has been a big part of this change. Not merely following the trend but actually anticipating and *driving* it.

I haven't had a high fantasy novel out since FrostFire in 2012. I effectively missed all of this in my own career. If I'm honest, the thought leaves me a little depressed. It seems that if anyone can be counted on to miss a growing trend, even when she's been sitting right on the crest of it for years, it must be me.

But it's cheering to realise that I'm back in the high fantasy and fairytale saddle in September this year, with BAREFOOT ON THE WIND. I love my Japanese-influenced Beauty and the Beast story. It's dark, and lush, and weird, and it has shapeshifters, talking trees, mazes made of ice and bone, and the undead, and Feminism. While copy editing it I was moved to tears by a piece of writing that I could hardly believe had come from my pen. I think it's a good book. I'm also hoping that it is, for once, the right book at the right time.

Again, Dear Readers, anyone who intends to read this book and thinks they'll have the cash to cover it in September can do me a huge favour by pre-ordering it now. And with any luck there will be more lush, dark, weird fantasies from me for you to enjoy in the future.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...