Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, day 2

June 5, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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So we continue the apparently mammoth task of writing up a few sessions of the writer’s festival. I really am a master at procrastination.

Saturday, May 14

Publishing Panel


This was an interesting session. There were a few people missing, according to what was advertised; the people who were there were Nikki Christer from Random House Australia, Alvina Ling from Little, Brown in the US, Tom Mayer from W.W. Norton in the US (non-fiction) and Alexis Washam from Random House in the US. Of course, the focus was on ebooks for much of the session, which wasn’t a surprise, and generally the panel was reasonably positive about the future, which was a little bit surprising. Nikki Christer started off by pointing out that every time a new, cheaper method of publishing books comes to the fore, there’s an explosion in reading and a change in the breadth and quality of what’s being published. Alvina Ling said that publishers are scrambling to work out the new digital options, and the challenge for them is to figure out how to use all the new tech. Alexis pointed out that embracing change is hard when working for a big corporation, and that what we think of as a book is changing; because of this, publishers need to bring something to authors, since authors can now just produce something themselves.

Tom Mayer suggested that a good thing is that we are now seeing things of different sizes being published. Previously a 20K word story had to be padded out to a novel, but now it doesn’t have to be. Nikki jumped in here to say that speed to market — being able to get something out in 2 days — was also an advantage, and Tom agreed with her, saying that publishing something immediately is attractive, but it has to have value, and publishers have to work out how that works. They discussed the paperback (or hard copy) book vs. ebook issue, saying that in Australia, at least, the hardback market is diminishing, and books are “jostling for space”, with it being difficult to know how any book rises to the top. Alvina said that people do still tend to buy paper books of ebooks they loved, and Alexis pointed out that mystery, crime, genre novels are books that people take to the beach, so it’s these that suit the ebook format.

Self-publishing was discussed, with a warning to be careful about any contracts signed, since there can be hidden clauses that you don’t notice. In this, publishers take on the risk for you. Publishers also provide you some protection against pirating, have an understanding of the market, and maintain editorial standards (with the suggestion that there’s a decrease in standards with self-publishing, since any freelance editor you hire is not as invested in the quality of the product as the publisher, whose job it is to produce the best story, is. They spent a little time talking about Twitter and Facebook, with the prevailing conclusion being that you have to find out what works for you, and if it doesn’t, then don’t do it. Although they did say that the days of an author being able to stay shut up in a cabin in the woods and write without doing any promotion whatsoever are gone. The most important thing is still to write a good book.

The chair at this point asked them to provide some advice for NZ authors (which also applies to Australian authors). Alexis said that authors need a US agent, and an online platform, since you can gain a lot of reach throughout the world this way. Nikki suggested that the best course of action is to write the best book you can, and to get an agent and a passionate publisher. Alvina Ling, who is Karen Healey’s agent, said that Karen submitted Guardian of the Dead at a time when people were looking for something different, which was very lucky. GotD is also paranormal, which made a difference to its marketability, since it made it more generalisable – Alvina said that she finds that a lot of authors write very blinkered books, in that they’re very NZ-focussed, and that means they then don’t travel. She said that the same problem exists for authors who write very US-focussed books, and that it’s best to be less specific, and also write paranormal, sci-fi and fantasy, since those genres are always popular. Tom said that you make your own luck, and that visibility is important. Do the best work you can with a smile on your face, and work hard.

After the publishing panel I went to Auckland Uni, where an extra event was being held, called the Wordy Day Out. This was very YA-focussed, and there were lots of kids there. I found that very cool, since my younger constantly-reading self would have spun right out at having my favourite authors right there and able to answer all my questions.

Garth Nix and Sean Williams

These men have written about a million books between them. They’ve just written a book together — called the Troubletwisters — are good Aussie blokes, and also clearly very good friends; the whole session was basically the Nix and Williams comedy hour. This was the second time the “write what you love” theme came up. They also said that you just need to keep going, that every new book is an opportunity, which I thought was interesting. Another thing I found interesting, and a little bizarre, frankly, was their co-writing method – Garth wrote the first chapter and then sent it off to Sean, who wrote the rest of it. He then sent it back to Garth, who rewrote it and sent it back to Sean, who then rewrote it himself, and so on. I find that odd, even knowing that they had a fairly detailed outline to begin with, and had spent a lot of time pre-planning and talking about it. I know there’s lots of different ways to co-write, but I tend to think that the method where you each take certain characters and write them all at the same time makes sense. I suppose that’s my role-playing background showing, but…still. Odd. Although if that works for them, then that’s good I suppose.

Karen Healey and David Hair

I kind of love Karen Healey after seeing her at the festival, and Guardian of the Dead is a great book. She said that she set out to turn some of the paranormal tropes on their head: the tough heroine who’s not supposed to be pretty and thin but actually is; the hero who’s so alpha and so incredibly good-looking that it hurts, and who’s also an expert fighter; the heroine who stumbles into things but saves the day anyway. Ellie is a tall, chubby girl who know karate and thinks she’s not pretty and she’s actually not, and Mark, her love interest, is incredibly pretty but he can’t fight for shit, and when Ellie punches him (long story), he can’t fight back because he doesn’t know how to. And Ellie is not the one who saves the day in the end. It’s a great book, if you like YA you should read it.

David Hair was interesting too, even if just for the fact that he’s got one deeply-Maori series and one series set in India, where he lived with his wife for 4 years. Both Karen and David talked about writing “other”, because neither of them are Maori and David’s not Indian; they both said that the best idea is to read lots, get someone who knows the culture you’re trying to write about to read it, and listen to them when they tell you where you’re wrong.

Paula Morris

Paula Morris is another charming woman. She’s been a university lecturer for many years, and it shows. Despite having lived abroad for many years, she’s still very Kiwi in attitude, which I like. She’s recently crossed over from adult into YA fiction, with a book called Ruined, which is about a young girl who can see a ghost in a New Orleans cemetery. Paula said she was inspired to write YA fiction because of her niece, and that she wrote a paranormal because she didn’t want to write another book that was about kissing and/or shopping, because there are plenty of books for girls about kissing and shopping, and she wanted to girls to know that there’s more to life about kissing and shopping. She got the idea for the book when she lived in New Orleans: she went into a voodoo shop after Katrina and had her future read on a whim, and the clairvoyant said to her that he didn’t like going outside anymore, because all he saw were the ghosts who were displaced by Katrina roaming the streets, and that there were ghosts everywhere. I like this story, because the first time I went to New Orleans a tarot reader tried to sweet talk me into sitting down with him. I didn’t do it (because I was there for work and doubted I could get “tarot reading” approved on my expense form, LOL), but now I wish I had.

Paula talked a bit about crossing over from adult into YA, saying that because she’d done some ghostwriting (which I was all like !!! at, because while I had heard that it went on I only half believed it, but there she was saying that she’d written several books for people too lazy to write their own), publishers knew of her and knew that she could finish a book, so they were more inclined to take a chance on her. Having said that, the synopsis she had to submit was pages and pages long; since then, they’ve gotten shorter. She dropped into creative writing teacher-mode a few times, which was fine by me, since a couple of things she said really struck me as useful – one was that her students’ characters are often really 1-dimensional, not much more than a name and a couple of characteristics, so she often gets them to write down what’s in their character’s bag/purse/backpack, the things they carry around with them every day. This forces them to start thinking of their characters as real people. The other trick she uses herself if she’s struggling with secondary characters is to write a little from their POV, which often sorts out their motivations for her. Anyway, whether those things are useful or not, she’s a very interesting woman and a charismatic speaker, and the fact that I missed Claire Keegan for her is not really a wrench at all.

So there’s Saturday. One more day to go, which I’ll hopefully get written up before the 1-month anniversary of the festival taking place, sigh.

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