Category Archives: Anita says…

Virtual networking

Networking is a great tool to help you reach your goals. You can network in person by joining critique groups, going to book fairs, masterclasses and workshops, or by attending book launches and conferences of organisations like SCBWI, FCBG, IBBY, the Bookseller and CWIG. Or you can network virtually through online critique groups, email, YouTube, your own websiteFacebook, a Facebook Author page, Instagram, Twitter and by having a blog.

Virtual networking
One of the most important reasons why should authors have an online presence is that it is an ideal way of publicising your self. Publicity is so important, anything an author can do to help sales and increase familiarity with their name, the better. Having a website and / or blog means prospective publishers and buyers of your books are able to look up more information than they could get off a publicity leaflet.

You can have an online presence at any stage of your writing career. You can promote your articles, short stories, poetry, forthcoming novel, or your column in a magazine or newspaper.

Virtual networking can generate more contacts and interest in your writing. You can meet people you might not have had the opportunity to meet in person, without the huge travel costs. You can refer potential editors to your site so they can see a range of your work and editors who have worked with you in the past can use the site to get in touch.

The net is available 24-hours a day, every day. An online presence will market your work to the whole wide world. It is an excellent marketing forum and should become an ongoing part of your business as a writer. Your blog is a business tool.

The Internet is here to stay as a communication media, so utilise your resources.

An Evening with the Illustrator Axel Scheffler

Many years ago, in 2009, I was lucky enough to go to a talk by Axel Scheffler about his career as an illustrator of children’s picture books, run by the Society of Authors. The meeting was chaired by Ros Asquith.

Axel Scheffler

Axel is one of my favourite all time illustrators. He won his first drawing prize around the age of eight. It was for a picture of a cow. He is originally from Hamburg but, studied at Bath Academy of Art where he got a first class degree.

He told us, the greatest thing about going to art school was having the freedom to draw for three hours and the qualifications opened doors for employment. He has no time to do observational drawings anymore. He has got out of the habit and has been unable to get back into it. Looking and remembering is a skill some people can not do. Picasso and many other artists all used photos. But, Axel claims it is a skill you can train yourself to do. It makes you look more carefully at things. His style he developed himself. But, he is a perfectionist and is not happy with his work on occasions. He divulged how he finds it difficult to draw a succession of events and prefers to tell a story all in one picture.

He showed his portfolio in the mid-80’s to magazines and got regular work for a magazine called Lotus. He would draw anything and would change his drawings when asked. Sometimes he found himself drawing things he did not really understand. He also worked for a German magazine called Zeitmagazin where he did weekly illustrations and illustrated a column for a food writer.

He has also written and illustrated some Pixi Books (or Pixi Bücher) for their 40th Anniversary. He was one of 10 illustrators asked to commemorate the event. They have published over 1,500 identically sized titles, 10x10cm, which are all grouped and numbered in little series with German precision. He likes to do things that are less main stream, but he has less time nowadays. He enjoys illustrating with little pictures on a white background. He still does some work for The Oldie. He thinks as an illustrator he is more popular in Germany than in the UK.

He showed us how when you look at his illustrations over the years you can see his progression from pointy nose characters to softer styles.

The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell was the first book he ever illustrated

Daley B by Jon Blake was the first book he illustrated for Walker Books

Sam: Who Was Swallowed by a Shark by Phyllis Root was the second book he illustrated for Walker Books

In 1994, Julia Donaldson was writing songs for Playdays and Axel Scheffler was recommended as the illustrator. He worked on A Squash and a Squeeze. This was his first book with Macmillan. The next book he did with Julia was The Gruffalo, followed by Room on the Broom, Tiddler and The Stick Man, which was nominated for The Roald Dahl Funny book Prize. These books have been translated into 29 languages.

Publishers often do not have the patience to develop illustrators and authors. But, he has worked with Macmillan a long time now and they have moulded him into what they want. There are many people involved in the publication of a picture book. The final product is very influenced by the editor and art director.

The Gruffalo
Usually when he has an idea he ends up sticking with it. But with The Gruffalo cover his original just had a shadow of The Gruffalo, but the editor wanted the main protagonist on the cover so he redrew it. However, in the US they did not want the main protagonist on the cover so he had to draw another one where he hid The Gruffalo partially behind a shrub. This only appeared on the US first edition, the second edition adopted the UK design.

He explained how he had a terrible time getting the skies right because he found it difficult to get the liquid watercolours to do what he wanted. He usually starts his illustrations with liquid watercolours (like ink) drawings a lot smaller than in the book and they get blown up to the right size, which he then works with. He dips a pen into the ink and then colours them with special coloured pencils. He used to do his picture book drawings the same size but, now he does them 90%. He always starts with ink outlines and then colours on top of the inks and rubs in the colours with his fingers. At the end he reinforces the outline with the ink and adds details, such as lines for fur and leaves. Nowadays he is able to ask the publishers to make small alterations in Photoshop but, previously he was only able to change it by hand and then email the new version.

The Smartest Giant in Town
For this book he also drew a totally different front cover, but they wanted something more friendly so he had to rethink.

Rabbit’s Nap (Tales from Acorn Wood)
This is a lift the flap book and Axel loved drawing the little dressed animals

The Gruffalo Song and Other Songs
This was not the first cover design again, as he decided he did not want to metamorphosis the animals. This book is also available as a musical audio CD.

Axel’s advice to aspiring illustrators is to practice hard. He kept a sketch book from the age of about 18 before he started at art college. There is a whole playground of ideas in these sketch books that he has jotted down. Sometimes the sketch books relate to books he is working on. Axel explained how it is nice to look at old sketch books as they bring back memories. But, it is the unpredictability of the whole business that is so lovely about it.

Re-evaluate setting

Today’s blog post is a continuation of evaluating your work in progress. I have talked about re-evaluating your characters and re-evaluating your plot. Today I am concentrating on setting. A lot of work goes into the beginning of the story before the writing begins but sometimes a story can loose its way. What I am proposing is if you feel like you have lost your way stop writing and take a look at what you have written so far. 

edinburgh castle

  • Make sure your facts are accurate, such as if you are using real places you have not got your characters driving the wrong way up a one-way street.
  • Make your own sketch-map of an area it is a good working tool whether, you setting is real or imaginary.
  • Remember the information out at the time may be different form what we know now in hindsight. Pears encyclopaedias give details relevant to the year and can be collected quite cheaply from boot sales.
  • Contemporary stories with flashback in time must be accurate. Double-check everything.
  • Never take one source, do a lot of crosschecking. Where possible use library and university sites, museums and book searches where you can type in a keyword and find a lot of good reference books.
  • The best research is unobtrusive. You don’t need to put everything in to prove you know your subject. Drop things in casually to set the scene and let the reader know a little background. You can paint a picture using the information this way. You have the research in your mind but only have to use a couple of lines.
  • Use research to feed motivation and plot. It is no good your character having a glamorous job if you’re not using the job to move the story forward.
  • Describe clothes and period costume by using action. Use the description and research as part of the action. All the time something should be happening.
  • Check your setting compliments other areas of the plot. If you are trying to create an atmosphere with your research, it must work within the confines of the plot.
  • Can your setting and the research you have done into it be used to create tension, conflict or theme? Could it be used to draw comparisons?
  • If you are going back in history, do not forget to use all your senses. Think taste, smell and sound. Think like a photographer.

living room

A good exercise is to go through your novel and list the settings you use. Consider how many and are they too similar or even too unrealistic. Would your character really live here? Examine their characteristics of the room, street, or forest. This kind of in depth look can help you find the right path back onto the road of completing your novel.

Re-evaluate your plot

Last week I talked about re-evaluating your characters. Take a look here.

forest

Sometimes it is also a good idea to stop what you are writing even if you have not finished the book and re-evaluate your plot.

  • A novel needs an ending but this ending need not be cast in stone. You need to have something to work towards, something to aim for.
  • With plot, you also need to have a sub-plot. The sub-plot moves the reader along.
  • It is very tempting to have another set of characters coming in when the hero needs to learn important information, try to avoid this. Sharpen in the re-write by cutting subsidiary characters.
  • Don’t overcrowd scenes. Does the plot really require lots of people to be together in one place at one particular time? Be economical in the number of cast and scene changes. See action in your sequences. Think like a play-write or film director. You can fast forward and backwards to visualise your plot as frames. This way you can see if it isn’t running smoothly form one scene to the next.
  • Use flashback rather than having a large scene that shows the plot and use it with purpose to move the story on.
  • Imagine conversations to hone dialogue.
  • In the first draft don’t worry about getting it right, just get it out of your mind and onto the paper, then you can edit and mould it into shape. The first draft is the bones – the bar skeleton.
  • Analyse where your peaks and troughs are and always finish each chapter on a cliffhanger.
  • If you use symbolism, it must play a part in the conclusion.
  • End as soon as possible after the dramatic climax of the novel. Open with a bang but don’t go out with a phut.

skeleton

Re-evaluate your characters

Sometimes you need to step back from your writing and take a deeper look into your character’s and their story so they do not appear flat on the page.

Flat Stanley

Ask yourself if your readers can relate to your protagonist. You need to consider who will be reading your book. It does not matter how clever, funny and charming your characters are, will the readers truly care about them. What can you do to make them care more?

SC_D11_02752

Often you can relate to your readers by giving your main character a problem they can empathise with. But it is not just the hero you need to consider. You also need an enemy for your hero to battle against. Someone who is blocking their way to achieving their goals.

The antagonist in your story should appear to be everything that your protagonist is not but they must also have some good qualities as well. People are not good or evil. Your characters should have the same character traits, as the rest of humanity to give them depth. Both your hero and antagonist need to have a few bumps in the road. Life isn’t smooth. Let them both make mistakes and figure their way out of their problems.

President Snow.jpg

Begin and end your story with a bang. Remember your hero needs to learn a lesson about themselves. Are they braver than they thought? Did they know more than they thought? Were they in love with the person they thought? Your characters should have some type of self-realisation.

Peeta Mellark

It can be subtle. You do not have to go into a five chapter monologue on it, just give the readers some clues how they have changed.

The job of an editor

In my opinion an editors job is to see the book all the way through not just to edit it. Being an editor is not only about getting the book into a child’s hand, but getting the book noticed by parents, trade, bookstores and libraries.

Getting an editor to love your work is the biggest hurdle of all because what the editor does is become an advocate of your work within the publishing company. If your book fits into the list, it means the editor loves it and has transmitted that enthusiasm to others. There needs to be a shared passion for the book between writer and editor.

daisy

They love me, they love me not…

If an editor likes a book, they will take it to an editorial meeting, if others feel the same way as them it is then taken to an acquisition meeting, at which the editor has to convince the sales force and marketing people that this great book has commercial possibilities. They often spend a lot of money on marketing.

salesology

It is important to keep in mind that it is still your responsibility as the author to promote your book. As an author do not depend on the publisher to do all the work for you. You will need to organise your own book tours, your own school visits and your own merchandise.

The truth is you have to find the publisher that’s looking for the sort of book you’re writing, read my post on The Publishing World last week.  Capture their attention by being an original voice. Remember you are sending your manuscript to someone who reads over 500 a year. Ask yourself:

Would an editor jump off a bridge for this book?

The world of publishing

More and more publishers are saying they no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts or writers can only submit to them through an agent. An agent is essential for the children’s fiction writer. Mainstream publishers will only look at agented work and as we all know, agents are becoming increasingly difficult to find. But don’t despair…

Agents of Shield logo

With the big publishers, what is on the shelves is what was accepted about eighteen months ago. The independent book publishers get things out a lot faster, so their turnaround can often be about six months. A good idea is to find out about these independent publishers. They are often more likely to take on new writers from the slushpile.

If you do decide to go it alone without an agent, it is important to identify the market place you think your book will fit into so you have an idea about who will be publishing your work even before it is finished. Don’t plough on with a book before you know where you are going to send it. Know where your story fits in the market. Take a look at the Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook.

sherlock-holmes

Evaluate who is publishing what. Not only by looking at the publisher of the types of books you like to read, which are the same genre as what you are writing, take a look at what else is out there too. You need to have your finger on the pulse, look at their catalogues and websites for things that are due to come out. Narrow your market down and check out the publishers’ websites for more information and their submission guidelines. Really get a feel for the market place and remember, as mentioned already, if the books are already in print they are two or three years out of date from what the publishers are looking for now.

Think about your elevator pitch too. If you have a problem defining your own book you need to be realistic and consider if it is working for the reader. If you do not have an agent to champion your work it is even more important for you to be able to sell your novel – else what is the point of writing it.