Nicola Morgan, the Crabbit Old Bat, is an award-winning author of around 90 books across many genres. For the last few years, she has given crabbitly honest advice to determined writers, here and in her books, WRITE TO BE PUBLISHED, WRITE A GREAT SYNOPSIS, DEAR AGENT and TWEET RIGHT.
Lucy Coats, children’s author and friend of mine, recently
wrote a letter to The Times (of London). They didn’t print it. So
what, you might ask? Except that this letter was signed by c425 (I lost count!) people from the
world of children’s literature, including 16 Carnegie or Greenaway Medal
winners, the current Children’s Laureate of the UK, Malorie Blackman, the
Children's Laureate of Eire, Niamh Sharkey, and recent Children's Laureate,
Julia Donaldson, along with an extraordinary list of names.
We were complaining about the sacking of uber-expert
children’s book reviewer, Amanda Craig, as you’ll see in a minute. We knew this
protest wouldn’t get her reinstated but we wanted to make some important
points. This is not about a reviewer; nor is it even about the number or
quality of reviews that The Times might decide to commission from in-house
staff or elsewhere. It’s about the frequent careless undermining of the
importance of children’s literature; it’s about the need for champions of
children’s books who don’t just review the books with the biggest marketing
budgets but the books they believe children will love. It’s about the fact that
we’ve lost a standard-bearer. Not the only one – and I hope not the last one –
but importantly ours, one whose opinion parents and teachers valued and whom we
trusted to support children’s literature as a whole.
We need to stand up and complain, in a world where
children’s literature is often unthinkingly sneered at. Sometimes, it works, as
this week when The University of Kent had
to back down after a barrage of protest at the disparaging wording of its
creative writing MA blurb. Sometimes, there isn’t a likely benefit other than
the knowledge that one said what needed to be said, as with the indignation
at Martin Amis’s statement, 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well
write a children's book…'
This may be one of the latter situations. Anyway, The Times
didn’t print the letter, but I have, with the names who signed it.
27th November 2013
We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned to hear of the
recent sacking of your children's book reviewer, Amanda Craig.
During her years on your paper, Amanda has gained an
international reputation as an outstanding reviewer, and as a unique advocate
for children's books in general. She is as Neil Gaiman so rightly says,
"a perceptive champion of good children's books", respected by
all who care about readers and reading.
By sacking a reviewer of Amanda Craig's stature, The Times
is sending a very unfortunate message to readers at home and
abroad. The coverage of children's books in the UK print media is
already worryingly thin - and to make this decision is incomprehensible. We
export more books than any other country in the world, and, as the Olympics
last year showed, the UK's children's literature is a national treasure.
Amanda Craig spotted and championed J.K. Rowling, Anthony
Horowitz, Philip Pullman, Francesca Simon, Cressida Cowell and many more of the
UK’s now-prominent authors early on in their careers, inspiring uncountable
numbers of children to become passionate readers. She has never paid
attention to hype, only to what is genuinely good. We need reviewers of her
skill to be given the space to carry on doing the same for the authors and the
readers of the future.
The Times should also realise that their own fate is linked
to the fate of the children's book world. Readers of children's books become
readers of newspapers.
We are all connected.
David Almond, Carnegie Medal winner
Malorie Blackman, Children's Laureate
Tim Bowler, Carnegie Medal winner
Theresa Breslin, Carnegie Medal winner
Melvin Burgess, Carnegie Medal winner
Lauren Child, Kate Greenaway Medal winner
Frank Cottrell Boyce, Carnegie Medal winner
Cressida Cowell, Smarties Prize winner
Gillian Cross, Carnegie Medal winner
Julia Donaldson, former Children's Laureate
Neil Gaiman, Carnegie Medal winner
Sally Gardner, Carnegie Medal winner
Joanne Harris, MBE, Whitbread Prize winner
Anthony Horowitz, Bookseller Association/Nielsen Author of
P.J. Lynch, Kate Greenaway Medal winner
Patrick Ness, Carnegie Medal winner
Garth Nix, Aurealis Award winner
Mal Peet, Carnegie Medal winner
Susan Price, Carnegie Medal winner
Philip Pullman, Carnegie Medal winner
Philip Reeve, Carnegie Medal winner
Meg Rosoff, Carnegie Medal winner
Niamh Sharkey, Children's Laureate, Ireland
Francesca Simon, British Book Award winner
together with the following authors, publishers, literary
agents, booksellers, librarians, teachers, bloggers, parents and readers:
Judy Allen, Whitbread Children's Award winner
Laurence Anholt, Smarties Prize winner
Arcadia Books, Sunday Times Small Publisher of the Year
Philip Ardagh, Roald Dahl Funny Prize winner
Michael Arditti, BBC arts critic, reviewer
Alison Baker, Primary PGCE lecturer, University of East
Barbara Band, Vice-President CILIP, children's librarian
Gili Bar-Hillel, Editor in Chief Utz Books, translator,
Annabel Pitcher, Waterstones Children's Book Award winer
Sally Prue, Smarties Prize winner
Lisa Redmond, children's bookseller
Paul Rees, Lincoln Christ's Hospital School
Susan Reuben, Ultimate Book Guide
Judith Ridge, Australia
Elizabeth Roy, Children's Literary Agent
James Runcie, Head of Literature, Southbank Centre
S.F.Said, Blue Peter Book Award winner
Marcus Sedgwick, Blue Peter Book Award winner
Debbie Sims, Book Walrus blog
Jane Smith, How Publishing Really Works
Dr Shannon Smith
Sarah Stewart, Editor, Usborne Books
Tabitha Suzuma, Young Minds Book Award winner
Melanie Taylor, Little Star Writing
Zoe Toft, Playing By the Book blog
Eleanor Updale, Blue Peter Book Award winner
Miranda Ruth Waterton, children's librarian
Imogen Russell Will, children's reviewer Guardian Online,
(And, by the way, very many more of those names are award-winners than is indicated but it would have been impossible to identify them all. I know, because I was sitting at Lucy's kitchen table as the names came pouring in. A great deal of coffee was required as it was! And then I escaped, leaving Lucy to it.)
Imagine you're a writer or illustrator who one day hopes to be published. Yes, I know: most of you are, so it won't be hard to imagine. Or imagine you're already published, as many of you are.
Imagine that you've created a character, or a world, or whatever, and you're writing about it on your blog or wherever. Imagine you put some text or some pictures, sketches perhaps, on your Facebook page. People like them and give you lovely feedback. You develop the character (or whatever) and keep working at it, sometimes putting bits of material on Facebook.
And imagine you get a book deal out of it! YAY! Fabulous! Because that's what can sometimes happen through social media, isn't it? You put stuff out there and people see it and one thing leads to another and eventually, in your dreams and occasionally in reality, one thing leads to a publishing deal.
And maybe even a film deal.
Doubly yay with sparkly tassells and lots of fizz!
But, hang on. Who owns that content, those pictures, those snippets of text about your created world or characters? You do, don't you?
Really? As that article shows you, yes, but also no. You may "own" it, but Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Instagram/platformasyetnotinvented can use it for their own purposes. Because you said they could.
Now imagine something else. Imagine that the company wanting to offer you a publishing deal or a film deal for your story, with your fabulous illustration/character/world, discovers that you've put the image/whatever on Facebook. And they realise, because they know about silly things like the law, that now Facebook has the right, because you signed the Terms and Conditions giving them that right, to use your image/whatever as it wishes. And even to "transfer or sub-license its rights over a user’s content to another company or organisation if needed."
But you could remove the images/text, couldn't you? Delete the account. Well yes. But "Facebook’s license does not end upon the deactivation or deletion of a user’s account, content is only released from this license once all other users that have interacted with the content have also broken their ties with it (for example, a photo or video shared or tagged with a group of friends)."
If I were that publishing company or film company, I might think twice about offering you a deal. After all, Facebook has the rights to use your images so how can you sell the rights to me?
Not a pretty thought, is it?
Beware the internet, especially when bearing really, really long Terms and Conditions which you're not really going to read, because who does?
Today is publication day for two of my novels, newly packaged in one glorious ebook. I said that oh-so-casually, but, believe me, this is big for me and the culmination of very hard work. *wipes brow* Those of you who have done it know this, but I'm also trying to do it while doing a silly number of events for my other books, as well as writing another book and dealing with "stuff". Put it like this: I almost didn't manage to press the "publish" button at all...
Anyhoo, The Passionflower Massacre and Sleepwalking are now available at the very temporary special intro price of under £2 on Amazon, and soon elsewhere.
Friends, wordsmiths, fellow travellers on the arduous writing journey, I need your support! Think of it like this: every purchase is the equivalent of placing your hands beneath the butt of my novel and giving it a mighty shove up the Amazon rankings...
Amazon US (For Amazon links from other countries, please go to Amazon wherever you are and search "Passionflower Massacre and Sleepwalking". Make sure you select the version with this cover.
Epub version (ie for non-Kindle devices) - I'm awaiting the link to this. As soon as possible, it will be available on iBookstore and for Nook, Kobo, etc.
NB YOU DO NOT NEED AN EBOOK READER TO READ AN EBOOK! Ask me if you're not sure what to do.
Please, with sparkly bits on and chocolate sprinkles. I really need your support for this. And I will repay you by carrying on blogging advice for writers.
__________________________________ About the books:
Two YA novels, both originally published by Hodder Children's Books, now republished as an ebook. Two deep, fast-paced, mind-stretching, coming-of-age thrillers, appealing particularly to readers who enjoyed Nicola Morgan's most recent YA novel, Wasted. Sleepwalking won the Scottish Arts Council Children's Book of the Year and both novels attracted great praise from reviewers and readers.
THE PASSIONFLOWER MASSACRE: An 18-year-old girl and a charismatic cult-leader, both damaged by their pasts. A summer of strawberries, freedom, heat, temptation, passionflowers and murder. Twenty-five years later, an old woman with secret reasons for visiting the cult-leader in prison. And a final twist.
SLEEPWALKING: In a cowardly new world, the Citizens are free from suffering and pain, all their decisions made for them by the apparently benevolent Governators. But the Outsiders risk their lives to fight for real freedom, free will and the power of language. When a virus strikes, four chosen teenagers will need courage beyond imagination. If they can’t solve the City’s chilling secret, they will all die, along with Hope.
On Friday, I came across this lovely thing. The writer FC Malby had mentioned my blog in her list of five writing blogs that had inspired her.
As you'll see from that post, the blog Write to Done has launched a search for the Top Blogs for Writers in 2013. That's a huuuuuuge US-based blog and I barely began to read the vast list of nominations in the comments so I've no idea if anyone has nominated me there but it would be such a lovely boost if someone did. It would validate why I re-started this blog a few months ago, as I couldn't hold back my desire to help sensible writers navigate the paths towards publishing success.
So, I'd be thrilled if you could find the time to nominate me, if you feel I deserve it. The deadline is Dec 12th.
I'm doing a social media navigation workshop today for SCBWI at their conference, so I've blogged on Heartsong giving a load of resources, including my powerpoint as a pdf.
There's also a link to a brand new (published today) book called Blogging for Beginners. Emily contacted me about it just in time, because it means I can cut part of my talk today and just tell people to read her very neat book!
Over recent weeks I've interviewed nine published UK children's authors who have also self-published. I asked them to give tips for any of you considering doing the same and they have come up with generous and wide-ranging advice.
The reason I wanted to focus on writers who have already been published in the traditional way is that this is a blog about getting a publishing deal with a high-quality selective publisher, not about self-publishing (which may also be high-quality but is not what I'm here to talk about.) I wanted to highlight the fact that published authors may have an extra understanding of the realities of being published in any form and that they are likely to bring this understanding to their own publishing. I also believe that all writers, whatever their aims and ambitions, would do well to listen to a wide range of views. There are few definitive answers and many grey areas, many things that will work for one writer/book and not for another. The more we know, listen and understand, the better we can curate our words.
As you know, I am a published author who also self-publishes. (See here for my forthcoming double ebook - and don't forget to enter the competition!) I have a great relationship with my main publishers, Walker Books, and have a book coming out with them next year, The Teenage Guide to Stress. Walker Books have done a brilliant job for me, with Blame My Brain in particular, and they have done things I couldn't possibly have done myself. People often say that publishers only focus on your book for the few weeks around publication. To an extent that is inevitably true; however, you should realise that publishers (good ones) behave like excellent business people (as self-publishing writers must, too) and will take opportunities to push books that have been around for much longer. Blame My Brain was first published in 2005, revised slightly in 2007 and revised again this year. And this year, Walker have really pushed the boat out for it, seven years after publication. Why? Simply because they see it doing well and see an opportunity to make it do better. That's sensible. They have chosen to put resources of time into it, which they can't do for every book. (And that's one of the advantages of self-publishing: you, the author, will continue to work hard for your book. But it's also one of the disadvantages: you have to continue to work hard for it to the extent that you will probably have less time to write your next book.)
Why was Blame My Brain doing well? Because Walker did a good job at the start, because I worked hard to keep promoting it and because the nature of the book meant that it became more and more popular, with more and more schools and parents seeing the need for it. So, partly me and partly the book, and partly the fact that the Walker publicity people took the right opportunities, being both reactive and proactive where there was a realistic benefit in being so. AND, crucially, luck. Publishers and authors often do a great job but luck is not with them and the book (most books) disappears, leaving a little tear-stained shape on an author's heart.
It's really important to keep your feet on the ground and be very realistic, hard-working and decent to work with. Attract the fairy dust.
For all the interviews with fellow published self-publishers, see:
Many of you know of the wonderful fund-raising effort in which many authors are raising money for the cyclone disaster in the Philippines, an effort instigated by UK YA author Keren David, along with Keris Stainton, Candy Gourlay and Teri Terry.
Can I draw your attention to the items I'm offering? Do bid!
Lot 1: A professional, in-depth manuscript critique of either the first 3000 words of a novel or a complete picture book text. I run a small and very selective writers’ consultancy, Pen2Publication, and my critiques are known for their enormous detail and complete professional honesty – be warned! Several of my clients have achieved successful publication. The winner will also receive a signed copy of the industry-acclaimed Write to be Published.
Lot 2: The FIRST signed copy of The Teenage Guide to Stress when it is published next year, plus a signed copy of Blame My Brain, PLUS one of the very popular tea-towels I sell on my website, PLUS a personal invitation to the launch party.
Don't forget to use your FOUR chances to enter this competition. Prizes of rare signed editions! Deadline Monday 25th.
The double ebook of the Passionflower Massacre and Sleepwalking has been sent to a very select number of bloggers/reviewers, with exceptionally good reaction. Look out on my Heartsong blog for more comments and reviews, not to mention free chapters and special facts.
A writer emailed me the other day asking for advice about a submission she had just made to a "publisher". She did not tell me (and I did not want to know) the name of the "publisher" but she did mention one thing and that's why I have put the quote marks around "publisher".
She said the "publisher" had said in the "terms and conditions" that writers would be asked to contribute to the costs.
Please read my lips: "Proper" publishers do not ask authors to contribute to any of the costs of publishing, marketing, distributing, or anything. OK? Not ever. Yog's Law states that money flows to the author. Don't forget it.
With self-publishing, the author pays all the costs and receives all the income. With selective trade (which I mean by "proper") publishing, the publisher pays all the costs and pays the author a royalty on each book sold. The publisher works hard to sell as many books as possible because this is how they cover their costs and, with luck and skill, make a profit. The publisher is highly selective (unless stupid) because the publisher needs to make a businesslike decision as to which books he believes he can publish profitably. If a publisher is being supported financially by the author, the publisher carries less risk, is therefore less selective in the first place, and may work less hard to sell the books, because he has less to lose. This is precisely why selective trade/traditional publishers so often turn books down. They take on the number of books they can manage, according to their resources. That is wise behaviour. Anything else is reckless and doomed.
As a writer, you need to know that your publisher will really work to sell your books. Otherwise, you'd be better selling them yourself and keeping all the income. Of course, many published writers complain that their publishers don't work hard enough. That's a topic for another post
The heartache of seeing your book die through lack of expertise, energy and effort is worse than rejection, and the likelihood of this happening is far higher if the publisher is not carrying all the risk and costs.
Aim high, stay strong, become informed and be careful.
Note that Write to be Published is often described as a bible for writers. It is recommended by people in all areas of the industry as being a great way to understand every aspect of the publishing and writing businesses. If you read it, you will understand far more than I can say in one blogpost. I wrote it for you!
Second, I'm going to the dentist for nasty things.
And third, I'm announcing a new ebook, to be published three weeks today!
Actually, TWO novels in ONE ebook. The Passionflower Massacre and Sleepwalking will be available in a single ebook three weeks today, December 2nd. I'm very excited about this and have wanted to do it for ages but struggled to find the time.
Both novels were originally published by Hodder and got great reviews and reader response. Both were read often in school book groups and between them they were shortlisted or nominated for various awards, with Sleepwalking winning the Scottish Arts Council Children's Book of the Year. I still receive lovely emails and letters - particularly about The Passionflower Massacre - and I'm delighted that they will be available again.
Why both novels in one book? To make it better value for you and because they appeal to similar readers. Both books are emotional, thrilling, and explore big ideas. They appeal to older teenagers (the target readership) as well as adults and deep-thinking younger teenagers.
I LOVE the new cover! Designed, of course, by Andrew Brown of Design for Writers. I don't think he'll mind me saying that this one was not an easy task... He had to come up with something that would express both books, and some interesting conversations were had while he tried to understand the complexities of my thinking!
And the giveaway/competition? Starting now and finishing at midday on Mon 25th November, a "pick me" competition with a Very Exciting Prize to a UK address.
The Very Exciting Prize? A package containing all of these:
An original print version of Sleepwalking - now very rare. I only have a small number of copies but I'm releasing one of them.
An original print version of The Passionflower Massacre. Equally rare.
An original print version of Mondays are Red. EVEN rarer! I've thought long and hard about giving away my precious print copies up but I think it's right that I should for this. I hope they go to a good home!
A hessian Blame My Brain bag.
One other book of mine - you choose.
Three runners-up will win a Blame My Brain bag.
What is Sleepwalking about? Language, life, passion and pain, choice, ambition, risk.
150 years in the future, and the Citizens drift contentedly in a world without wonder, where every emotion is regulated. There is no pain, no suffering, no evil. And no freedom. Just safety and drug-induced happiness. But a small group, the Outsiders, crave real emotion, real freedom, even suffering. To them, the power of ideas and language cannot die – or there is no point in being human. And they have a plan. For years, a group of young people have been raised to have the strength and knowledge to overthrow the system. Now, when a deadly virus strikes, four of these teenagers, Livia, Cassandra, Marcus and Tavius, must act quickly to infiltrate the sinister headquarters of the Governators and corrupt the system. But their plan carries enormous risk. If they can’t discover the chilling secret behind this saccharine dystopia, and overcome it, they will surely die.
What is The Passionflower Massacre about? Learning who to trust; retribution; forgiveness - or not. And an evil religious cult.
Matilda longs for freedom, to escape a painful childhood. Working on a Devon fruit farm after leaving school seems to offer the perfect opportunity. Heaven, in fact. Heat, strawberries, and the gorgeous Matt – what more could she want?
The super-friendly people who run the farm draw Matilda into their group, feeding her delicious cake and tea, seducing her with loving concern. These people seem to understand her and she lets herself be wrapped in their warmth. So when they want her to join them in the big house on the hill and meet their charismatic leader, Peter, she is ready and willing. She doesn't want to question, think or worry. But Peter and the Beautiful People have a shocking plan. By the time Matilda wakes up, and before she realises that Matt’s disappearance is suspicious and that she’s mixed up in a sinister cult, the passionflowers have bled their intoxicating juice and the plan is under way.
Entwined through the story, we see glimpses of Peter about to be released from prison twenty-five years later. An old woman has been visiting him. She has her own ideas of God's will, faith and justice. Who is stronger? Who is right? Who will win?
I'll serialise free chapters over the next few days, here on my blog. And I'll give you insights into the ideas behind the books or aspects of writing them.
So, for the chance to win those RARE prizes, please comment below. I'm running the same comp on Twitter and on my FB Author page, AND on my Heartsong blog - all entries will go in one random generator together. One comment per person on each of the four places - in other words, you can each have up to four entries altogether.