Category Archives: Anita says…

Electronic Piracy in Publishing

Following on from the pirate theme at John Condon’s book launch and blogging about the launch last week see: John Condon’s book launch, I was reminded of a very informative and fascinating talk I went to a while back at the Society of Authors. It was all about the online piracy of books. This mainly concerns educational books but, I did see some fiction up there too.


At the meeting I found out there are three types of sites that will put up digital copies of books for download. These are peer-to-peer sites, document sharing sites and file hosting sites. At the risk of boring you, I will go into a little more detail.

This is not a Playstation site. P2P stands for peer-to-peer. The books, pdf’s, etc are not physically on a website but on somebody else’s computer and are distributed via email, or such like. It is difficult to stop this type of piracy. The websites will list files they have available. To find a more detailed explanation of what P2P is, check out wikipedia Peer-to-peer.

It is a very similar system to the music website Spotify, which allows users to share their favourite tunes for free. Some sites which index a lot of torrent educational book files include: and You can check if your books are featured on these sites by using the search function.

Nicholas Tims warned us to be careful of false positive hits (sponsored links) on some P2P sites, such as and


These again are all legal, law-abiding websites. They also react promptly to requests to have your work removed. Such sites include: and

They describe themselves as having:

“Millions of documents and books at your fingertips! Read, print, download, and send them to your mobile devices instantly. Or upload your PDF, Word, and PowerPoint docs to share them with the world’s largest community of readers.”

These sites are different from P2P websites as, it is possible to view and read the books available on the site.

File hosting
Again, these are legal websites. they normally react quickly to takedown requests. You must provide them with correct and detailed informationa dn they do not engage in correspondence.

Some of the biggest include: and They are different from the other two in that the files are hosted by the Interent service and are specifically designed to store static content.

What can you do?
To find out if your books appearing on such sites, you can set up a ‘Google Alert’ on your book titles and on your name. I have talked about this before in my post: Can’t find it but, it will appear here when I do!!! Honest!

You can also check if your publishers are a member of the Publisher’s Association where it is possible to check on the copy right infringement portal to see sites which respond well to take down requests and those that don’t.


Social Publishing sites

There are also websites such as Scribd that scan and make textbooks available on the world wide web. Scribd is a social publishing site, where tens of millions of people share original writings and documents. They do not ask the author’s permission to put their books online. For authors who write for royalties from the amount of books they have sold, this means they are losing money. This is not just a concern for Eduational Publishing but for fiction as well.

These sites eventually remove unlicensed content from the web but they have to be petitioned to do so. There is a Copyright Infringement Takedown Notification on the Scribd website and they provide a Takedown Notification Template for authors.

But, surely they should have not put the books available for free download on line in the first place. They should be the ones seeking permissions and paying for licenses not teh authors having to fight for the right to get paid for their hard work.

Advice from the Society of Authors is to be vigiliant and to search for titles online on a regualr basis. If you find anything suspicious it should be reported to the publishers. The Publishers Association has set up a Piracy Portal to share information about copyright infringement. There is also a Copyright Infringement Portal, which targets websites offering infringing copies for free download, and will soon evolve to also target peer-to-peer sharing via torrents.

Writers’ forums

As you all know by now I write for Writers’ Forum a national writing magazine. I have two columns each month, one about authors and their research and the other about writing for children. Each is approximately 1200-1500 words.

Today on my blog though I thought I would write about my thoughts on writers’ forums that is somewhere where people can get together online to discuss writing. There are hundreds of professional and aspiring writers out there and basically we are all in the same boat submitting our manuscripts to agents and editors, with similar wishes and desires for success.

Forums bring people together to chat and talk about their writing. There are different forums for different types of writing. I used to belong to a lot of yahoo Groups when I first started out but I found I outgrew them and Yahoo groups do not not run in the same way anymore, if at all. Nowadays most forums seem to be on Facebook, or run through a society’s websites such as SCBWI and NIBWEB. It is part of your virtual network. I have posted about Virtual networking before, See: Virtual networking


I try to limit myself to three forums so I do not get too many distractions from my work. On these forums, people often asked the same sort of questions But, these were sometimes questions that I may have been pondering over for weeks and just wasn’t brave enough to ask myself.

Sometimes little debates linked to writing go on with everyone adding their point of view. These can be fascinating. Sometimes I listen in or add my own snippet. It is important to contribute to forums to get the most out of them, although I am sure there are plenty of ‘lurkers’. One thing for certain is they definitely counteract the feeling of being alone.

forum 2

It is also important to keep it positive. If someone says something controversial my advice is – keep quiet. Remember some of the members may be very highly-regarded authors or editors and you want to make a good impression.

And probably most importantly, when you post to a forum every single member gets to read what you have written so keep it relevant. If you want to ask a specific person a question it might be a good idea to do it more privately through email.

If you belong to any forums, which are different to the ones, mentioned above, whether they are for children’s writers or writing for adults why not add a comment. I’d be interested to know a little about them and how they have helped you.

What makes me want to keep reading?

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking increasingly about this question. I am the type of person that if I get bored with a book I will not carry on. I have a very short attention span and my mind wanders very easily into my own little worlds. I have read several books where I have been told, if you get past chapter five it is great you can’t put it down, because I have stopped reading during chapter two.

Room by Emma Donoghue and Timeline by Michael Crichton are two of these books. I have started again with these books and forced myself to read on and consequently really enjoyed the books and have since, read them again. So did I give up too soon? Why did I stop reading in the first place (especially as both of these books have such brilliant concepts)?

After a lot of thought, I think that there was too much backstory for me from the onset. I know as authors we should release the thread slowly, but these books for me, in the first few chapters, were too slow. The stories felt as if they were going nowhere. Even the dialogue did not seem to me to propel the story forward. In fact, dare I say it of two best-selling authors but the beginnings were rather self-indulgent. I didn’t get the cliff-hanger or unanswered question at the end of the chapter to make me want to read on. I have posted about writing cliff-hangers before: End Each Chapter With a Cliffhanger

I’ve heard it a thousand times on creative writing courses and I know I’ve said it myself and have more than likely written it in one of my blogs before but honestly if it doesn’t move the story forward, leave it out. I will block quote that:

If it doesn’t move the story forward, leave it out.

When I come to edit a chapter book, I always re-read each chapter (which is usually a scene) separately and ask myself these questions at the end:

  • Does the chapter trigger my curiosity?
  • Has the chapter developed the characters and/or the plot?
  • Is this something I would read if I only had a few minutes to spare?
  • Would it effect the story if the whole scene was cut?

These questions really help me to focus my mind.

I love reading books, which make me want to skip parts to find out the answers before I carry on from where I left off. It is frustrating when a book ends and it says… to be continued. I actually feel really cross at the author. This is what happened to me with Teri Terry’s first book in her Slated series.

But this technique did make me buy the next book in the trilogy as soon as it was released and they are still one of my favourite all-time series of books. I have also bought and read every other book she has written – so they’ve got to be good. I think Teri Terry’s books really hits it on nail – so here is my epiphany I wanted to share with you all:

To make me want to keep reading you have to make me care about the characters from the start and keep on making me want to find out what happens to them.

It really is that simple. I hope this helps you when writing and editing your own books.

Do we need Celebrity Authors?

In May, 2017 I went to a very interesting Children’s Book Circle Event discussing the increase in the amount of celebrities writing children’s books. The panel consisted of:

  • Children’s reading consultant, freelance editor and blogger, Clare Zinkin
  • Award-winning picture book author, Michelle Robinson
  • YA author and ghost-writer, Siobhan Curham

CBC May panel

Children’s editor of the Bookseller magazine, Charlotte Eyre was the chair. She explained publishers are actively seeking out celebrities to write books and this is not isolated to only books for children. She told us that if a publishing house has success with a gimmick such as a celebrity author the trend is for the others to follow as it brings in the money. It was quite significant that there were no celebrities or publishers on the panel.

We must never forget that publishing is a business and all businesses want to make money. Although, whether they make money is dependent on age-group and who the celebrity is. David Walliams’ books sold over 56 million books last year whereas Chris Hoy did not even sell 5000 copies. As authors we should want our publishing houses to do well as it means there is more money to spend on debut authors.

However, the marketing can be frustrating. It is disheartening when celebrities are higher in the charts because they are getting bigger budgets and higher billing at events and festivals. In a way it is cheating because the stars are being given a head start. Authors like David Walliams are always in the review round-ups regardless. It is sad that even the Summer Reading Challenge book sorter mostly recommends celebrity books and traditional best sellers like Roald Dahl and Jaqueline Wilson. In the same way, large book shops like WH Smith and Waterstones tend to stock only the big name authors. But Michelle is proud she has got to where she is ‘the hard way’.

Frank Lampard

On the whole, books by sports people and other celebrities are a good thing because it gets children reading; many who may never have picked up a book before. Celebrity books tend to be light-hearted middle grade with a great illustrator. The children do not care that it is a celebrity without a background in writing all they want is a great story with amazing characters to read.

We are getting to a stage where there may be a saturation of the market with celebrity books and some are not making out their large advances. There has been a tendency for publishers to depend too much on celebrity authors. There is also a fear that because a gold medallist can also write a book in their spare time it makes writing seem easy and not hard work at all. Claire compared it to being like the celebrities creating a perfume. We need to remember Literature is a craft and we should see it as a craft. It is true many celebrities are actually writers with a proven track record and those who are not tend to have a ghost writer. As a ghost writer Siobhan sees her role as helping the celebrities tell their story.


Many authors in the audience felt that if a book had been written by a ghost writer they should put the ghost writers name on the books to make it clear who has written them. Siobhan explained ghost writers do not care if their name is not on the book, it is the nature of the job and anything that gets a book into a child’s hands is a good thing.

There was an overall feeling from the audience that celebrities should do more to get involved in the industry. They should make an effort to mix with other children’s book authors. It was suggested that in the same way as there are ghost writers, celebrities could advice authors on performing at events or make book recommendations to increase sales of all books and not just their own.

So my answer to the heading of this post, do we need celebrity authors, is…

…NO …we do not need celebrity authors. What we do need is great stories for children no matter who has written them.

Narrative Style and Pace

Your style is unique. Do not change it. If you try to write in the style of someone else, you are changing your individuality.

street style

The pace is governed by the time frame of the story. In long stories, such as sagas, you need to find the level of the story, which has the greatest continuation of plot and have the rest in flashback. In this way, it is possible to condense three generations into a weekend. If writing thrillers, narrow it down to a week or a year. If writing a children’s book all the action could happen in a day.


Get the reader feeling they are on a roller coaster, if you drag it out too much the reader will get confused. Dialogue is a good way for bridging time. Your characters could easily pick the phone up and ask someone.


Avoid lengthy description. It slows the pace. Take a look at the colour supplements in the newspapers because they have good examples of brief descriptions of rooms, people and moods. They sum it all up in a thumbnail. A good exercise is to go through these supplements with a highlighter pen.


The picture should be created by character and dialogue, not by lengthy description.

What is the theme of your book?

The theme of a book is an ‘abstract idea’ such as friendship, loyalty or a quest for identity. It is important to understand what the theme of your book is. Often the theme does not become apparent until you have finished writing the book. Themes in children’s picture books can often be identified by three categories: daily life, family and feelings. The Baby who wouldn’t go to bed by Helen Cooper has a theme of bedtime routines, which are part of daily life.

The Baby who wouldn’t go to bed by Helen Cooper

Themes are different to morals. A good rule of thumb is to avoid preaching. Children’s stories should be explorations of life—not Sunday school lessons. The theme should be subtle and will strengthen the story, as it adds depth and meaning.

Behind a very simple structure, brief text and beautiful illustrations lay truths that are timeless. The story should leave readers with a residual feeling. There has to be something deeply felt that stays with the reader afterwards. You should be able to sum up your theme in one or two words. The theme of Not now Bernard by David McKee is busy parents, which is something all children can identify with.

Not now Bernard by David McKee

Your characters will always carry the theme but don’t confuse theme with the story’s plot. The plot is  what happens in the story and the order of the story’s events. A theme is an insight or viewpoint or concept that a story conveys. If an editor says your story is ‘slight,’ this may mean you have no significant theme.The theme of Where the Wild things are by Maurice Sendak is dealing with the feeling of anger. 

Where the Wild things are by Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak does not to blurt out his theme. He lets it emerge from the story. If you must come out and say it, do it in dialogue, not narration. Keep the theme positive. If writing about a social problem, offer constructive ways for your readers to deal with it.

Children’s non-fiction

Over the last few years there have been many changes in children’s non-fiction and how it is presented and used in the classroom. Today teachers use a more interactive model of non-fiction, which in my opinion makes learning more exciting and fun.

“The Internet changes the way we think about information. The fact that we do not know something that exists in the extant expansive commons of human knowledge can no longer intimidate us into reticence. If we do not know something, someone else does, and there are enough ways around the commons of the Internet that enable us to get to sources of the known.” Raqs Media Collective (

New technology has allowed multi-media texts to be used with moving images to enhance children’s learning. So, we can actually see a digestive system working or what the night sky would look like on a specific day at a specific time. The non-fiction information is often embedded into a story with diverse characters solving problems that keep the children engaged.

But, does this advancing technology mean parents are less likely to buy their children a non-fiction book, preferring them to do their research on the Internet? This is a worry for the children’s non-fiction writer and many new books have appeared on the market to make the non-fiction books more appealing.

Print books have started to become more spectacular themselves not only do they include links to downloads to compliment the printed text but the illustrations are active and visually stimulating bleeding to the edges of the page. There are puzzles and games in the books so children can discover new concepts and reinforce their learning such as in my Colour and Shape books.


There has been a rise in children’s biographical accounts told in a more creative and stimulating way than simple text and portrait picture and a move to more comic book style, such as Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women series.

“Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women series (Bloomsbury Children’s), including Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World and Fantastically Great Women Who Changed History, have sold a combined 92,634 copies since the start of 2018.” The Bookseller

But, what is the next step? What non-fiction books are going to survive the electronic age?

Children Using Non-Fiction Books

As you may all know, I write a column for Writers’ Forum on the types of research authors do for their books. I was also a primary school teacher for seventeen long years and have written many children’s illustrated non-fiction books and teacher resources for primary school. So children, using non-fiction books for their own research and writing is something that fascinates me.

Margaret Mallett has written extensively about children using non-fiction for researching their own writing. She has written such books as:

  • Choosing and Using Fiction and Non-Fiction 3-11: A Comprehensive Guide for Teachers and Student Teachers
  • Early Years Non-fiction: A Guide to Helping Young Researchers Use and Enjoy Information Texts
  • Young Researchers: Informational Reading and Writing in the Early and Primary Years

These books are aimed at primary school teachers with an aim of teaching children how to use non-fiction books and list suitable non-fiction books to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum and Literacy Strategy.

It is true there are new, fun interactive ways to find information via the Internet and downloads. These interactive models work and provide variation. But, in my experience, children do still enjoy looking at non-fiction books to satisfy their curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Non-fiction books need to be widely available in the classroom to support other things they are doing.

nonfiction books

Making non-fiction reading and writing exciting and relevant helps advance children’s thinking and understanding. Young children require literacy activities that are embedded in practical activities, drama, role-play and outings. These connect children’s experiences in school with wider society and provide opportunities to use and talk about texts.


Time should be made during the school day (OK! Don’t laugh – I’ve been there!) for the children to talk about specifically non-fiction books. As writers and teachers we ultimately want children to learn to be independent readers by looking at both fiction and non-fiction books. Listening to others and their interpretations of the books helps with internal reasoning and encourages a quest to find out more. The children’s hypothesis can be supported and reinforced by looking at more books.

Teachers should also read non-fiction books to the class and show the illustrations. Seeing the pictures and hearing the text triggers reflection and help the children by giving knowledge.

illustrated non-fiction

Using illustrated non-fiction in the classroom is a highly successful way to engage children’s interest, helping them to establish a personal foothold and provide a reference against which to check what they have found from other information sources.

Story sacks don’t have to be confined to KS1 they can be for any age and contain non-fiction books. Drama does not have to be solely linked to fiction but can be used to support what is happening in non-fiction texts too.

In my opinion, to foster a love of children’s non-fiction books we need to think about the way it is being used with the children in the classroom and also at home.

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.