Books Are Just Books – Jacqueline Harvey on the KidLit Gender Debate

Hi all,

back in March, I shared a post from American author Shannon Hale, where she detailed her experience with gendered reading while on her book tour for her mega successful PRINCESS ACADEMY series. If you missed it, you can find it here.

Australian blogger, Megan Daley, recently interviewed Jacqueline Harvey, Australian author of the hugely successful Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose series, and the new Kensy and Max series, about the gender debate in children’s books. You can find Megan’s interview here on her literary wonder of a website, childrensbooksdaily.com.

NSWWCKIDSYA4I first met Jacqueline two years ago at WritingNSW’s Kids and YA Festival in Sydney, where I fangirled her on behalf of my daughter – that’s me with Jacquie on the right 🙂 (and I hope to catch up with her again at the same festival later this month).

Since then, we have connected through social media (which pleases my daughter to no end), and I can honestly say that, not only is Jacquie a wonderful storyteller but she is also a passionate advocate for children’s literary – and a lovely individual!

Anyway, back to Megan’s post…I was struck by the similarities in Shannon and Jacquie’s experiences. Both had visited schools where assumptions had been made by staff that boys would not be interested in their books so were, therefore, denied the opportunity to hear them speak.

As Jacquie says in Megan’s post:

“When I’ve asked where the boys are, I’ve been met with, ‘Well you know we didn’t think they’d enjoy your talk because your books are for girls.’ At which point my head is about to explode.”

This raises the question, so eloquently asked by Jacquie:

“Why do parents (and some teachers and librarians too in my experience) maintain that there are books for boys and books for girls. I tell kids that’s not true – there are just books – lots of them are great, some of them are not so great, some have a female main character and others have males at the heart of the story – lots of them have boys and girls in the cast. So why is it still such an issue?”

Why is that?

And are girls also denied access to school visits by kidlit authors of books with male main characters? I think not to the same extent (the likes of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson come to mind), but maybe I am wrong.

Or does it come down to kidlit books being “gender judged”, to some degree, by the artwork on their covers?

What do you think? I’d love your thoughts,

Rebecca

 

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Charlotte Wood – on Luck, Longevity and Tribes

Hi all,

last week I spoke about my experience listening to the lovely Julie Koh at WritingNSW’s Forest for the Trees publishing industry seminar at this month’s Sydney Writer’s Festival. If you missed my take on Julie’s writerly words of wisdom, you can find it here.

C Wood J Koh
Charlotte and Julie in conversation

Julie followed her quote-packed session with a chat with fellow Australian award-winning author, Charlotte WoodCharlotte is  the author of five novels and two books of non-fiction. Her latest novel, The Natural Way of Things, won the 2016 Stella Prize, the 2016 Indie Book of the Year and Novel of the Year, and was joint winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction (whew!)

And yes, during her chat with Julie, Charlotte was kind enough to share her own (and in some cases, similar) wisdom pearls. Here they are:

  1. Prize culture is good for morale but can be meaningless (it swirls around and may do little for sales –  this one is strangely similar to Julie Koh’s Quote Number 15. Food for thought).
  2. You must learn to hold your nerve (her second book was rejected after the first was published).
  3. The process of writing is all you can control (not whether your work is traditionally published).
  4. People who say luck doesn’t play a part in this industry are deluded (this one drew more than a few chuckles from the audience 🙂 ).
  5. Be prepared for how greedy success can make you (Charlotte confessed that she first heard this quote from Christos Tsiolkas, award-winning author of The Slap. I don’t blame her for “re-using” it – it’s a great reminder that we are all human, susceptible to succumbing to the flaws that plague us).
  6. “Write every day” is bullshit (thank you, Charlotte, for alleviating the pressure many writers feel, that they MUST write very day to be worthy of this craft. Besides, Charlotte confessed that her life is so full of other author commitments – such as festival talks 😉 – that she is unable to write every day anyway).
  7. To sustain longevity in a writing career, you must have curiosity in the work itself (it’s that need to write. Although, in another confession from Charlotte, she admitted that she would probably stop if she wasn’t being published).
  8. Tenacity and perseverance are more important than talent (keep at it, if it is what you want to do. Once again, persistence is key).
  9. You need a tribe at the same writing stage as you (I hadn’t heard this one before but it resonated with me. Find those at similar stages of your writing journey, who read and write in your genre, who GET WHERE YOU ARE AT).

And on that note, I’m out of here – to touch base with my tribe…

Hope your tribe is terrific,

Rebecca

Why Are Self-Published Authors Ignored by Australian Writers’ Festivals?

Hi all,

a question came to me while attending last week’s Sydney Writers’ Festival:

Why are self-published (or indie, for want of another term) authors largely ignored by festivals in Australia?

pexels-photo.jpgAnd it’s not only festivals. Australian book fairs and awards largely ignore this growing sector of the publishing industry.

However, the groundswell of discontent is also growing.

As Australian author, Pauline Findlay, says: “Writers’ festivals aren’t just about readers; a large portion of the attendees are writers. These writers need the publishing process to be demystified.”

You can read Pauline’s full post here.

And there’s more here from another self-published author, Robin Elizabeth. As Robin says, “…along with writers, it’s time to make the previously invisible members of book creation visible, the people that people interested in self-publishing want to find and hire but are largely ignored by Australian festivals.”

pexels-photo-356079.jpegI agree with Pauline and Robin. Writer’s festival attendees are not only readers. Many of those that attend are also writers, writers that seek information on EVERY way they can publish.

And speaking of readers, how often does a reader have the chance to meet self-published authors at major festival book signings in Australia?

*silence*

So what do you think? Is it to the detriment of the Australian publishing industry as a whole, including its readers, that self-published authors and the self-publishing process has been largely ignored by writers’ festivals?

Would love your thoughts,

Rebecca

Julie Koh’s Reality Rules for Writers (A.K.A. Koh Quotes)

Hi all,

I spent last Thursday soaking up words at Forest for the Trees, a whole-day seminar conducted by WritingNSW as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Forest for the Trees brings together writers, publishers, and industry representatives to discuss the state of writing and publishing in Australia.

The program commences with a writer describing their journey to being published and how they stay on their path through the forest that is publishing. While the speakers’ pathways to getting published are as interesting as they are diverse (in the three years I have attended, vastly different pathways have been revealed), it’s the quotes speakers use to push their point home that I remember most.

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Lovely Julie Koh in action

So much can be relayed in a few well chosen words, and this year was no exception, with Julie Koh, author of Portable Curiosities and Capital Misfits, and one of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists of 2017, dishing out quotes thick and fast, telling it like it is.

I thought I’d share them, along with my own two cents worth of comment 🙂 :

  1. It’s okay to start late, and it’s okay to fail (something I struggle to remember).
  2. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices (and don’t we know it).
  3. Learn about writing and the industry ie. from festivals, courses, reading, twitter, professional memberships (let’s face it, finding out how the literary world works can be fun, and painful).
  4. Butter your own toast ie. don’t obsess how other writers work (my new favourite writing, make that life, quote. This one’s going up on my office wall).
  5. Book deals can be accidental (don’t you all wish one would accidentally drop into your lap?)
  6. It’s all about connections (you connect with people who understand your crazy need to do something that may not make you much, if any, money).
  7. You gotta have the hunger and the hustle. (Julie also said: “Preparation meets opportunity”, another good line to remember. There’s no shame in approaching key people).
  8. “When the Lord closes a door, he opens a window” (one straight out of The Sound of Music. Julie – Koh – referred to it as the scatter gun approach, spreading your work out wide. I must admit, I had a fleeting picture in my head of Julie – Andrews – fleeing from her hilltop meadow at the sound of gunfire 😉 )
  9. Your first book is probably not a magic bullet (speaking of gunfire…but seriously, don’t we all wish for the first book to strike it big? Yeah, probably not gonna happen).
  10. Know that the joy of writing is in the writing. Everything else is noise (yes, yes, yes! And that’s why I blog, for the sheer joy of it – and to get out of housework).
  11. Say “Yes” until you can say “No” – but preserve your sanity first (in other words, do all you can in the quest for success but don’t run yourself into the ground for it).
  12. Get your financial house in order first (this is something I haven’t heard from many writers. Julie said: “You don’t know how hard it is until you try…I may become super famous or super homeless, or both”. It’s extremely hard to make a living from writing, so it is wise to ask yourself why you are doing it).
  13. Realize that the literary world is no mythic garden of noble unicorns (I wish, you wish, my daughter wishes…)
  14. Be savvy about publishers, agents, and contracts ie. what type of relationship do you want with publishers and agents? (Julie employed a publishing consultant to go through Julie’s first book contract).
  15. Don’t get sucked into the prize culture (it’s important to keep in mind the subjectivity that may come into play when awarding winners – each panelist has their own taste and bias).
  16. If you’re a writer of colour, know it will be harder for you eg. you may be defined by it when asked to appear on panels/as a speaker (and the times are not a-changing fast enough).
  17. Your book can be a business card (it may be the BEST business card for your writing career).
  18. “Writing is like driving at night in the fog.” (Ah, what a great one to end with, that famous quote from American novelist, E.L.Doctorow, the second line being: “You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”)

I’d like to add, and maybe make a career of it that way too.

juliekohtwitterHope you’re driving well,

Rebecca

P.S. Writing quotes that mention food strike a chord with me. For some reason, I’m more likely to remember them. Wonder why 😉

Do you have a favourite writing quote? If so, I’d love to hear it!

 

DD Time – Reading Aloud to Kids, to Preteen Years and Beyond

Hi all,

my husband has a ritual. Make that, my husband and my twelve-year-old daughter have a ritual.

Every night before sleep (or every night they can), they snuggle up on my daughter’s bed to read aloud. My husband reads a chapter or two, then my daughter.

It’s DD time, private Dad-Daughter time. Always has been.

Father-child-reading

It’s the time when they share an imaginary world to which no one else has access – me included.

It’s a time where questions are asked and answers explored: What does that word mean? Why did she do that? What do you think will happen next? Did you see that coming?

According to the Read Aloud findings in Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report of 2016, only 17% of parents of kids ages 9–11 read aloud to their children. Yet 83% of kids ages 6–17 say being read to is something they either loved or liked a lot. What a disparity.

While the benefits of reading (enhanced literary skills, expanded world view and understanding of humanity, etc.) are obvious to most, it’s the relationship between the reader and the one being read to, that comes to mind for me as a key reason to read to your children. And while my daughter and I share many special experiences, I love witnessing the beauty and longevity of DD time (even if only by sneaking a look from her bedroom doorway).

pexels-photo-256546.jpegI wonder how long it will last, if my daughter will no longer want DD time once she starts high school in a matter of months. If it will not be cool.

I don’t believe she’ll stop reading novels. It’s in her psyche, part of who she is.

But I hope she’ll continue to be one of those 83% who enjoy being read too.

As much for her, as for her father. And for me.

Rebecca

Do you/did you read to your children? If it has stopped, at what age and why?

Blurring the Relationship – Agents Offering Pay-For-Service Editorial Critiques

Yes, it happens. We know it does.

After setting the first draft of my middle grade manuscript aside to ferment for a while, I’ve stepped up my agent search to find those most suitable to query my completed YA novel. And in this search, I’m discovering more and more agents openly offering to critique queries and manuscript pages. For a fee. pexels-photo-905877.jpeg

This has given me pause, for isn’t this in breach of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) Canon of Ethics? (Note: I am searching US agents, hence the reference to the AAR.)

For those unaware what the Canon of Ethics covers, here’s the link, but basically, #8 states that the AAR, the membership organization of more than 400 professional agents, believes that “the practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works (including outlines, proposals, and partial or complete manuscripts) is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession. For that reason, members may not charge clients or potential clients a fee for reading and evaluating literary works and may not benefit, directly or indirectly, from the charging for such services by any other person or entity.”

More than one of the agents found to be advertising pay-for-service critiques are members of the AAR, yet only one of these AAR members makes it clear that subsequent queries will be refused from authors who have paid this particular agent to critique work.

But regardless of whether an agent is a member or not, isn’t this a case of ethics?

Whatever it is, it managed to leave an unpleasant taste in my mouth and make me wary. Put it this way, I’ve put too much ink, sweat, and tears into my writing career to trust it to an agent I may struggle myself to trust.

“They’re not worth your time,” a prominent US agent advised, when I asked for her opinion on agents who advertise pay-for-editorial/query critiques.

For me at least, it threatens to blur the author/agent relationship and what it entails. I want an agent whose integrity I won’t question, who invests in my career for the long haul. I don’t want an agent who sees me purely as a way to earn a quick dollar or two.

It reminds me of a quote from Janet Reid, literary agent with New Leaf Literary and Media: “Money should flow toward the writer.” In other words, not the other way. (I love Janet’s blog. If you don’t know it, it’s well worth checking out. She says it like it is with a cracking sense of humor. 🙂 )

So to all of you currently in the query trenches, please do your research.

I’m doing mine.

Wishing you every success,

Rebecca

Would love your thoughts. Is this simply a sign of cash-strapped times for the publishing industry? And what about paid-for critique sessions at conferences, workshops, etc? How do they differ? And do paid-for critiques to agents offer an unfair advantage to those most able to pay? That last one could be a whole new post 😉

Hallmarks of (Nearly) Half a Century

“We all have marks on our face,” Isabel tells her son in the big-screen adaptation of R.J.Palacio’s bestselling book, Wonder. “This is the map that shows us where we’ve been.”

Yep, I’ve got quite a few marks of my own. Like the grey hairs, they’re increasing every year. Unlike the grey hairs, they’re not as easy to hide (well, make up can only do so much).

But the lines on my face are not the reason I’m facing away from the camera in the photo on the right. Last weekend, my husband surprised me with an early birthday present, a long weekend away in New Caledonia (for those who are unaware, New Caledonia is a French territory of islands that lie a couple of hours flight time east of Australia). And it was here my husband took this photo, on a near-deserted beach late one afternoon.

I was studying the horizon, mentally reliving the map of where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced, following my map’s twisting contours and meandering pathways in my mind’s eye. And wondering where the next five, ten, fifty years will take me. For I’m about to turn fifty (hence the special trip away – hey, this is not normally something we get to do for a birthday 🙂 )

Switzerland hammockBut rather than lament the loss of my youth, although that is tempting, I appreciate that I’ve reached this age.

I know some who have not, as I’m sure you do.

I’ve had many ups and downs, as I’m sure you have.

My scars and blemishes, both visible and not, are hallmarks of my life so far. They are personal, unique.

They have been earned.

They are mine.

As for what else is in store, what other marks may be added?

We’ll see.

 

There’s Nothing Wrong with Princesses

Hi all,

rust-king-iron-bronze.jpgthought I’d share an interesting post on gendered reading from Shannon Hale, author of the hugely successful PRINCESS ACADEMY series. This post highlights her experiences while on tour for the latest book in the series.

While reactions to her book from some parents, librarians, and teachers are interesting (but not surprising), the reactions from some boys (Logan in particular) suggest that young readers are ready for change, a change long overdue.

As Shannon says in her post:

“Adults are the ones with the weird bias. We’re the ones with the hangups, because we were raised to believe thinking that way is normal. And we pass it along to the kids in sometimes  overt (“Put that back! That’s a girl book!”) but usually in subtle ways we barely notice ourselves.”

Food for thought 🙂

Until next time,

Happy writing,

Rebecca

 

When the Dove Flies – the Passing Away of a Friend

I’m in shock after hearing news of the passing away of a writer friend I met at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City in August 2016.

I’m in shock, not only because she was such a beautiful spirit, taken so soon, but also because she was on the cusp of realizing a dream so many writers hold dear.

I first met my friend online, after joining the Facebook group established for the conference. Realizing I was coming all the way from Australia and that I only knew a few attendees, she invited me to a dinner she was organizing for the night before the conference opened. An informal get-to-know-your-fellow-attendees dinner, where we took up four long tables of a bustling Italian-style restaurant and talked, and talked. And talked.

It was a great night at the start of a wonderful conference of learning and laughter.

After I returned to Australia, we continued a long-distance friendship via Twitter and Facebook. Over time, our communication via tweets, comments, and likes became sporadic, yet I managed to stay informed of the progress of her dreams, as I believe she did of mine.

Her last Facebook post I remember reading was one where she excitedly announced that her Kickstarter campaign to fund the publishing of her picture book had raised more than 50% of its target on the first day. I was so happy for her.

Then life got in my way, as it does. The thought of checking in on her campaign slipped from my mind.

Yesterday, I learned from a fellow conference attendee that this lovely person passed away unexpectedly right after the launch of the campaign.

I couldn’t believe it. After twenty-four hours to digest this tragic news, I’m still struggling.

My heart aches for her husband, two children, and greater circle of family and friends.

And it aches for her, that she never lived to see her dream become a reality.

Life is often far too short. I guess that’s what makes it so precious.

Rest in peace, K.

How Many Self Published Books Have You Read over the Last Twelve Months?

How many self published books have you read over the last twelve months?

I was asked this question on the weekend.

pexels-photo-433333.jpeg

My answer, after much deliberation, (after all, I have read a LOT of books over the last twelve months) was:

None.

Yep, none. I’m pretty sure I have not read ANY self published books in the last year. Okay, I’ll hang my head in shame – or try to defend myself by saying there may have been one or two which were self published FIRST, but I only discovered and read them AFTER they were subsequently traditionally published.

And there lies the key word: discovered.

Most writers know that one of the main drawbacks of self publishing is discoverability, getting your literary masterpiece noticed by the masses (readers) when it is only one of the hundreds of thousands of masses (books) clogging the likes of Amazon. Make that, millions clogging the likes of Amazon. I remember a statistic from the Writer’s Digest Conference I attended eighteen months ago, that there are now (well, as of 2016) more than 3.5 million books up on Amazon.

pexels-photo-267447.jpeg

Now I don’t care how refined your search is, you’ll still end up with loads of books to choose from, loads of books all screaming for your attention (and dollar). A self publisher needs to be, or have in their corner, someone who gets their book noticed in among all that screaming.

Anyway, I’m getting off the point, and my point is, I like to read. Whether it’s traditionally published or self published is irrelevant. As long as the book’s premise grabs me, the prose is entertaining, and the quality high, I’ll consider it. But I need to discover it first.

So tell me, how many self published books have you read lately?

Have you read any you would recommend, and why?

And if you’ve self published, how has the experience been for you? (Feel free to plug your work in the comments below!)

However you get your creativity out in the world, I wish you the best of luck,

Rebecca