Let’s talk about luck

Since I finally managed to sell a book, I’ve had a fair few letters asking me how I managed it and what advice can I give a struggling unpublished writer. I also read lots of other writers’s and agents’s blogs and they all get the same question, which boils down to this: No matter how hard I work and how often I submit I cannot get published.

All I can say to that is that I was unpublished for almost 20 years. It sucked. I kept writing but, I admit, sometimes I quit submitting for years at a time because I was sick of being rejected. Rejection is foul. I’ve never gotten used to it.1

It’s true that the surest path to publication is to keep on writing and writing and writing. Then you have to keep submitting. It also helps if you’re talented. Those are the facts.

But there are a small percentage of people who just can’t get a break. (Let me emphasise though that it is a small percentage. Most people not getting published aren’t any good. I’ve seen those slush piles.) Such as the writer who submits a publishable chicklit book at a time when that genre is dead in the water. Had they submitted five years earlier they woulda been published for sure. Then they turn to vampires where there’s a glut and get the same result. Or they’re bought by a house just before there is a major restructuring and their contract is cancelled. Or editors keep falling in love with their books but sales & marketing does not. I’ve seen all of these happen.

Luck has an even bigger part to play in published writers’s lives. Right now there seem to be skads of six-figure deals for YA books; ten years ago there were almost none. But even if your genre is hot, as YA seems to be at the moment, that doesn’t mean you’ll wind up with the big bucks. The vast majority of YA deals I read about on Publisher’s Lunch are “nice” deals. That is, the advances2 are between $0 and $50,000. I’d be willing to bet that most of those deals are no where near $50k. Most surveys I’ve seen peg the average advance in most genres at between $5,000 and $10,000. That’s why our Real World Deal Descriptions make more sense than those of Publishers Lunch.3

My guess is that less than 10% of writers, even in a hot genre, are getting big deals. What separates them from the other 90% of writers?

Luck.

The majority of the teen books that I’ve read and loved over the last few years were paid advances of $20k or less. Sometimes, heaps less.

I know of New York Times and USA Today bestsellers who are still only getting “nice” deals. This is especially true in romance.

I’ve seen horribly written, completely unoriginal books get huge advances and heaps and heaps of promotion and sell like crazy. I’ve seen other bad books get the same treatment and sink like lead balloons. I’ve seen good books get the huge treatment and fail. I’ve seen good books get the full treatment and do really well.4

What makes the difference? Who knows? But luck has a lot to do with it.

Getting a big advance, being well promoted, and generally noised about does not mean you are a great writer; it means you are a really lucky writer.

  1. And the bad news is that even after you get published you still get rejected. []
  2. Go here to learn what an advance is. []
  3. I’m kind of bummed they never really took off. Though Publishers Lunch did change what a “nice” deal is and added the “very nice” category. []
  4. Of course, my notion of what’s a “good” or “bad” book will most likely vary from yours. []

Money advice for writers

John Scalzi has some excellent advice for writers who are trying to make money out of said occupation. Go forth, read, take notes.

While I strongly agree with most of his advice, I have issues with two of his points:

3. Marry (or otherwise shack up with) someone sensible with money, who has a real job.

This is something that worked really well for John. I’ve met his wife, Krissy, and a more formidable, fun, amazing person I have yet to meet. And she knows from money. Seriously smart about it. I wish I had married Krissy.

But, really, this is Scalzi confusing his own excellent good luck with general advice for everyone. Not everyone’s going to meet a Krissy. I suspect there’s only one and she ain’t leaving Scalzi anytime soon. Not everyone has any interest in getting married or shacking up. And, call me a romantic, but taking into account someone’s money management skills is not something I was thinking about when I fell in love.

Not to mention the salient advice my mother gave me which was to never depend on some man1 to look after you. Make your own way in the world. Earn your own money.

8. Unless you have a truly compelling reason to be there, get the hell out of New York/LA/San Francisco.

Rubbish! Big city living can be cheaper than being out in the burbs or the bush. Food is usually much cheaper, clothes too. Pretty much everything, really, except accommodation. That’s a very big except, I admit, but the notion that everything is cheaper outside big cities is rubbish. Sure NYC and Sydney have some of the most expensive restaurants and produce in the world but they also have some of the cheapest.

Living in New York or Sydney or Melbourne or any European city also means you don’t have to have a car. Cars are hugely expensive and they’re only going to get more expensive (price of oil ain’t ever going down, people). You live on your big property in Ohio or wherever and you have to have a car. I am a strong advocate of car-less living.

Cities are where a lot of the writing work is. We are still monkeys and face-to-face interaction is often more effective than emails or letters especially when you are starting out. Obviously, contacts aren’t everything: you have to be talented and hard working. There are many writers who have built careers without ever living anywhere near NYC or Sydney or London or wherever. But contacts can lead to work and there are more of them in cities.

There are more people in cities which means you’re more likely to find people like you. Living someplace where you are the only person of colour/writer/science fiction fan/nudist/australian/sculptor can really really suck. Sure you can find those communities online, but a real life community is pretty wonderful too.

And, lastly, cities are fun. They’re bursting with entertainment and great people and awesome food and all sorts of unexpected joys and pleasures. All of which I find incredibly inspiring for my writing. I’m not even sure I’d be a writer without all that wonderful city stimulation.

Ironically, I write this from a rocking chair in the country watching red-bellied woodpeckers feeding. I don’t hate the country; I just don’t want to live here.

  1. or woman depending on your inclinations []

Genre schmenre

I had a conversation with Holly Black recently where we both admitted that every time we’re told that we can’t do some particular writing thing we are compelled to do it.

“Vampires are played out. There is no new take on vampires left!” someone will tells us.

“Right then,” we’ll think to ourselves. “Challenge! We’ll be writing a vampire story.”

“Avoid adverbs and adjectives,” someone will say.

We will immediately have an attack of the Angela Carters.

David Moles admitted to a similar reaction to definitions of genres. They make him want to write something entirely outside the limits of the genre being defined.1 Holly and me are the same,2 whenever we see a YA definition we find ourselves thinking of the exceptions and thinking of ways we can stretch those boundaries. How can we get away with writing books where the protags aren’t teens? Or have the kind of content everyone is so sure you can’t have in a YA? Or where the story does not have the immediacy everyone associates with the genre?

It’s probably very childish but there’s a level at which all writing rules (never head hop! avoid passive voice!)3 and genre definitions make my back straighten, my nostrils inflate, and leave me with an overwhelming urge to shout, “You are not the boss of me! I’ll write what I bloody well want to write!”

When I was chatting about it with Holly we decided it was a good thing. Definitions be damned!

  1. Well, okay, he said something kind of sort of like that but it’s my paraphrase and I’m sticking to it. []
  2. I also like to defy certain grammar rules: “Holly and me” sounds way better than “Holly and I” which always sounds to me like the British queen saying “My husband and I”. []
  3. Except for always add zombies. That writing rule you should all obey. []

Teenagers? Young Adult? Fiction?

I just received a very lovely fan letter from Brent one of the folks I met at ConFusion. Thank you, Brent!

In his letter he asks:

What makes your books YA? YA is a publisher’s category I understand. But what makes a publisher decide a book is suitable for YA? Do you just say “this is a YA book” when you submit the manuscript? Is it the age of the characters? If Reason, Tom and J.T. were 22, would the books still be YA? I’m a writer myself (not yet an author) and I’m very, very curious about what exactly makes a YA book YA.

I’ve talked about the what-is-YA thing before. And I think the answers are many and varied. Defining any category, any genre, is always tricky. My fave genre definition remains Damon Knight’s that science fiction is what we point to when we say “science fiction.” Young Adult ditto.

And yet that’s a cop out. Part of the problem with defining Young Adult fiction is that it’s a category defined by its audience in a way that “science fiction” or “romance” or “mysteries” or even “literature” is not. In discussions about the genre, I’ve heard many different generalisations about teenagers: Teenagers are smarter, more open, read more, are more adventurous etc. etc. I’ve even made such statements myself. They’re even true—of some teenagers. Pretty much any generalisation is true of someone somewhere, but they never tell you enough because they’re also completely untrue of someone somewhere else.

Defining a genre in terms of its presumed audience is a problem. Especially when that audience is something as nebulous as “teenagers”. According to the OED the term wasn’t even used for the first time until 1941. “Teen age” was first used in 1921. It wasn’t used as one word “teenage” until the 1940s.

Teenagerdom does not have a very long history. Only ninety odd years. Books specifically written for those in that relatively new stage of life “teenagers” weren’t really published as such until the 1960s. If anyone can tell me when the first “YA” or “teen” section of a book shop appeared—I’d be eternally grateful. My guess is the late 70s/early 80s.

YA as a publishing category is recent. YA as a publishing EXPLOSION is even more recent.

The range of books published as YA is extraordinary—setting aside all the different genres (i.e. all of them: romance, mystery, sf, fantasy etc. etc)—there are books as complex and sophisticated as M. T. Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing or Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice (two books that could not be more disimilar) both of which could easily have been published as adult.

Often a book is published as YA because its author has a track record of publishing in YA. That’s definitely the case for M. T. Anderson and Margo Lanagan whose most recent books could have gone either way. Sometimes it’s a matter of the age of the protagonists, but sometimes not. There are a fair few YA novels with protags in their early twenties.

Some books like Margo Rabb’s Cures for Heartbreak were not written as YA, but wound up being published that way.1 I’ve heard tales of lots of other writers who wound up being YA writers even though they thought they were writing for adults.

So, yes, YA is a publishing category and books are published there if that’s where a publisher thinks a book will sell best and attract the most attention. But it’s also a distinctive genre with its own flavour. Which brings me back to Damon Knight’s definition and winds up with my saying I know what YA is when I read it and when I write it.

With the Magic or Madness trilogy I set out to write YA. It was most influenced by writers like Diana Wynne Jones, Margaret Mahy, Holly Black, Megan Whalen Turner, and many others. All of whom I strongly recommend if you’re interested in reading more fantasy YA. They’re amongst the best in the field.

I hope I’ve answered your questions, Brent.

  1. The original stories that make up the book were all first published in very adult places like The Atlantic Monthly. []

Very Important Question About Book Writing

Hilary! asked the following:

I have a VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION ABOUT BOOK WRITING!!!!!!!!! My Friend Weslie is writing a book and I’ve been helping her, but she won’t exactly tell me what the plot is, but i feel that since I am helping her with it anyway, she SHOULD tell me. What’s your take on it? PLEASE ANSWER PROMPTLY!!!!!

When you say you’re “helping” her I’m assuming you mean you are critiquing her work. Right? If so then, yes, it’s really difficult to make constructive comments when you have no idea where the book is going.

For instance, say she’s writing a vampire love story (judging from my poll opposite my readers are VERY into vampires) but she only slowly reveals that one of her characters is a vampre. You the critiquer need to know that so you can tell her whether her various clues along the way are too obvious or too subtle. It’s very difficult to critque a story when you don’t know where it’s going.

On the other hand, it might be that she wants to see whether you can figure out what’s happening and will rewrite depending on what you say. I don’t think this works that well unless she’s already written the entire story, in which case you’ll know what the plot is because you’ve got the whole story in front of you.

When I critique friends work-in-progress they always tell me where it’s going (if they know). Scott always tells me what the plot of his novels are before he writes them.1 My comments are much more useful when I have a sense of where the novel is going. Otherwise I’m not sure what to say except at a sentence-by-sentence level.

I’m not sure if I have answered your question. Anyone else got a different take?

  1. Things do change in the writing process, however. []

The Non-infringability of Plot and/or Ideas

People’s confusion over what plagiarism is sometimes drives me to loud and angry screamage. Thus I was thrilled to read Candy’s recent post, On Ideas, Repetitiveness and Copyright Infringement over at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books:

There seems to be some confusion regarding the status of ideas in copyright law. You can’t copyright a plot or an idea. You can only copyright the specific expression of that plot or idea as recorded in some sort of tangible form. Think about the nightmare of attempting to nail down and legislate a plot or idea for a story. How specific would you have to be before you could declare something unique enough to copyright?

“An angst-ridden story about a vampire falling in love with a human.”
Dude, if you can copyright that and collect a small fee every time somebody published that story, you could have your own giant pool of gold coins to swim in, Scrooge McDuck-stylee. (Side note: doesn’t that sound like a painful idea to you? Because it always has to me.)

“An angst-ridden story in a contemporary setting about a vampire warrior falling in love with a human woman.”
OK, that’s a little bit more specific, but c’mon. (Also: goddamn, think of all those germs on all those coins. There is a reason why we call it “filthy rich.”)

What. She. Said.

Read it! Memorise it! Tattoo it all over your body!

I am so sick of people thinking that retelling a story is plagiarism. If that were so then we would have, at most, ten novels. All books about vampires, zombies, middle-aged English professors are not the same (well, okay, some of them are). It’s not about the story you tell so much as HOW YOU TELL IT. Why is that so difficult to understand?

Georgette Heyer did not plagiarise Jane Austen. David Eddings didn’t plagiarise J. R. R. Tolkien. Walter Mosley didn’t plagiarise Raymond Chandler. I did not plagiarise C. S. Lewis.

The next person who says to me, “Oh my God! Did you see that Certain Writer’s next book is set in a future world where you have to have your skin removed and replaced with carbon when you turn sixteen? That is just like Scott’s Uglies books! He should sue!” That person will get smacked. HARD.

There are bazillions of science fiction stories where something happens to you at a certain age. Logan’s Run anyone? And many more stories set after the apocalypse. There are even a fair few that deal with physical beauty and its enforcement. Like those two Twilight Zone episodes, “Number 12 Looks Just Like Me” and “Eye of the Beholder” (both based on short stories).

Watch them and read Scott’s books. The only thing they have in common is an idea. The characters, the mood, the texture of the writing, the way they makes you feel is very different. Scott paints an entire world with three-dimensional characters and relationships; those eps can only lightly sketch in world and characters. Given that they’re short and Scott’s books in the Uglies world add up to almost 400,000 words, that’s not surprising.

Same goes for the ridiculous claim that Melissa Marr is ripping of Laurel K. Hamilton’s Merry Gentry books. As if.

Holly Black refutes the claim succinctly:

I can only assume that Ms. Henderson didn’t realize there’s an entire genre of urban fantasy faery books published in the 80s like Terri Windling’s Bordertown anthologies and the the novels of Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Will Shetterly, Ellen Kushner, Midori Snyder and many others.

It is really bizarre to me that she would point to the Merry Gentry series as though it was the first to use faerie folklore in a contemporary setting.

Plagiarism happens when you steal someone else’s words. If that future world book with the carbon skin had the following opening: “The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.” And featured characters called Telly, Shiy, and Daniel who ride hoverboards and wind up starting a revolution and are described with language that is very close to how Scott described Tally, Shay, and David and have very similar dialogue, well, then I might start to be a little more concerned.

But remember Scott’s opening sentence is already a riff on the opening of William Gibson’s Neuromancer: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” It’s a little science fiction joke/homage. Homage is not plagiarism either.

Lots of books echo the words of other books. On purpose. To bring them to mind so that the reader (if they recognise the reference) can remember the earlier book and enjoy the light it casts on the one they have in their hands. Literary echoes done well are cool.

Writers are influenced by the writers who went before them. Every single book they’ve read, movie they’ve seen, place they’ve been, conversation they’ve had creeps into their work. I know that if I hadn’t read Enid Blyton, Angela Carter, Charles Dickens, Isak Dinesen, Raymond Chandler, and Tanith Lee obsessively as a kid my writing would be very different. Without Flowers in the Attic and Alice in Wonderland I might not even be a writer.

Pretty much all writers borrow plots. Even when they’re not aware that that’s what they’re doing. I was not thinking of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when I wrote Magic or Madness. Borrowing a plot is NOT a bad thing. It’s what writers do. Shakespeare did it. Afterall, there aren’t that many plots: Stranger comes to town and changes everything! Person goes on a journey and changes themself! Two people fall in love but their family is against it! Two people meet, hate each other, then gradually realise they were meant to be together!

Think about telling a joke. Some people do it well. Some people are total shite at it. It’s not the joke—it’s the way it’s told.

Here’s a game for you. How many novels, movies or whatever can you think of that fit the following descriptions. The first two are lifted from the Smart Bitches:

  • A woman dares to make the mistake of evincing sexual desire and unconventionality, the punishment for which is death
  • Scrawny, gormless boy enjoys a series of wacky adventures and eventually triumphs over adversity
  • Teen girl discovers she is faery, not human, and becomes entangled with a handsome faery
  • Teen copes with drunk/drug-addicted/loser father/mother and learns own strength

Thus endeth the rant. I must now go back to my idea and plot stealing. Novels don’t write themselves you know.

I am not an expert

I occasionally get letters from beginning writers and newly published authors who are confused by some of my writing advice and observations about the publishing industry. Confused, because they have read exactly the opposite information elsewhere.

This is my disclaimer for everything I say about writing and publishing1: I am not an expert.

I do not know everything there is to know about writing and publishing. What I post here may or may not apply to you. That’s especially true if you’re looking for publishing wisdom. I’ve only been in this game a bit shy of five years.2 There’s still a TONNE I don’t know or understand. I’m constantly bewildered by publishing. Fortunately, I know lots of more experienced publishing folk whom I can turn to for explanations, like my agent. Though sometimes it’s hard to ask because I don’t entirely understand what it is that I don’t understand. The publishing industry is arcane and weird.

As for writing. Well! There are zillions of different ways to write a novel. Me, I’ve only written six. That’s a drop in the ocean compared to folks like George Sand or Joyce Carol Oates. I’m still learning.

The novel I’m writing right now is unlike anything I’ve written. Previously, I’ve started at the beginning and written my way through to the end. Makes sense, right? This new novel I’m writing scene by scene but so far not one of these scenes follows directly from a previous scene. This novel refuses to be written chronologically. It’s making me relearn how to write a novel. It hurts my head!

All writing advice should be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe it’ll work for you, maybe not. There are no hard and fast rules, only guidelines. Do what works, chuck what doesn’t, but stay open to it maybe working for you at a different time or for a different novel.

Well, there is one rule: All novels are improved by the addition of zombies. VASTLY IMPROVED.

  1. or anything else for that matter []
  2. And only if you count from the offer. The actual contract wasn’t signed until late 2003. []

The juvenilia panel

I have returned home to oceanic amounts of work. It is crazed!

But I must tell you briefly about the Juvenilia panel at High Voltage ConFusion before it all fades from my memory.

Short version: Best. Panel. Ever.

Longer version: It were me, Scott and Merrie Haskell. I cheated and read cute stuff from when I was 7 or 8. And some pretentious 10 year old stuff. They were brave and read teenage monstrosities so bad that we wept on account of laughing so hard. WEPT!

John Scalzi moderated and he was so appalled by the pretentious badness of Scott’s writing that he couldn’t look at Scott directly. It was AWESOME.

The best lines were:

Merrie Haskell: “Keeper of Earth Gaia,” the Light One said arrogantly, “I honor you with my manhood.”

Scott Westerfeld: Recognition of the House of Eleven took no long time, and the lady midst the compliment was none other than wench Mary, a liaress whom I had met before in the rank combats of her style, and who had left more than one of the Clan Demonus with garrote between chin and breathless breast.

Oh no, I starts to laugh all over again . . .

Heh hem. In addition to being really really really funny. Sharing our crappy writing from when we were beginning writers has the salutary effect of making it clear to those what aspire to be published writers but aren’t there yet that we published folk didn’t step fully formed from Zeus’s head. There was lots and lots and lots of bad words and phrases and sentences and stories and novels written before we were good enough to be read by anyone other than our doting parents.

Every con should have a juvenilia panel. I’ve been on two. The other one was in Brisbane in 2006 with Kim Wilkins and Sean Williams. It was just as fabulous and funny as the ConFusion one. Better in a way because the audience was much bigger thus more people got to laugh at our stumbling first writing steps.

Juvenilia

Because we’re on a juvenilia panel at ConFusion, Scott is in the next room making strange noises. Some of it is laughter, most of it is groans. He’s reading through stuff he wrote when he was a teenager.

Because all my juvenilia is back in Sydney, my wonderful mother transcribed some of the earliest stuff to send me. Bless you, Jan. I just read through it.

Oh, dear.

Sad to say, but there is not an inkling of genius in either of our earliest writings. Wow. We must have worked pretty hard in the intervening years learning how to, you know, construct a sentence or two that don’t completely suck.

I might put some of it up on our sites to demonstrate that even the most talentless kid can grow up to be a writer.

In the meantime, we’re off to snowy Detroit, for the fun and laughter of ConFusion. Hope to see some of you there. We’re not bringing our computers so blogging is unlikely.

Here’s my favourite sentence from my juvenilia written when I was about 7 or 8:

A long time ago there lived a group of dragons that were called the toughies.

Don’t have too much fun while I’m away!

Another rewriting question

Herenya asked:

One question on rewriting, about when you rewrite. I’ve read things which say you shouldn’t mix writing and rewriting. Write it all first, then rewrite it. I can understand that “creative” and “analytical” hats can be conflicting and that sometimes one has to just write crap first before improving upon it (which is difficult if you’re thinking critically), but I generally find I bounce back and forth between rewriting previous sections and writing more. Is this such a terrible thing to do?

If mixing rewriting and writing works for you then go for it!1

My partner, Scott, spends the first few hours of his writing day rewriting the previous three days work. Once he’s got that under control, and only then, does he move onto fresh writing.

Me, I rewrite (while writing the first draft) only if I’m a stuck on the next bit. On the mornings when I wake up and know exactly what needs to happen next, I dive into it. On the mornings I don’t, I procrastinate endlessly rewrite or go back and fill in the blanks where I have notes to myself like [something should explode here] or [figure out where this conversation's happening] or [what happened to the quokkas?].

For a lot of writers the difference between the “writing” and the “rewriting” can be blurry. If you work according to Scott’s method then your finished first draft is more like a third or fourth draft because every section has been gone over at least three times. You work according to mine then you’ve got lots of actual first draft but also some second, third, fourth, or whatever.

I know some writers who really don’t read over any of what they’ve written until they’ve got a whole draft, but I suspect they’re rare. I know of one writer who burns2 that first draft and then starts over from scratch. Some writers have gone over their work so many times by the time their “first” draft is finished they don’t need to “rewrite” at all, they’re done.

That’s one of the brilliant things about the intramanets: all the writers’ blogs and essays and interviews online means it’s dead easy to see just how widely varied writing practice is and how contradictory all the gobbets of writing advice.

Whatever works for you is the way to re/write.

Just remember that can change from story to story and from day to day. Sometimes Raymond Chandler’s advice of hanging out in the one room and not having to write, but not being allowed to do anything but write will be just the ticket. Frankly, it’s never worked for me unless I have a heinous deadline and the room I’m in has no intramanets or books or telephone or packs of cards or, well, you get the idea.

  1. As a general rule be suspicious of all writing rules. []
  2. figuratively speaking []

Why I don’t like writing groups

In my previous post I mentioned in passing that writing groups don’t work for me. Here’s why:

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in some wonderful groups with fabulous writers, who are brilliant and incisive critics, not to mention heaps of fun to hang out with. Frankly, I don’t think you could find better groups. Yet I did not enjoy them, and found they made me less, not more, confident about my writing. After a year I gave up on writers’ groups forever.

It turns out that sitting in a room with a bunch of people taking turns to tell me what they do and don’t like about what I’ve written is my idea of hell. I hated it for several reasons but mostly because I need time to digest criticism. That’s because my initial reaction is pretty much always:

“You are completely insane and wrong and if it wasn’t illegal I would set your hair on fire!”

It takes me awhile to get from there to,

“Huh? You know I think you may be right: my six hundred thousand-word novel could stand some trimming. I can see as how sixty-three sub-plots is perhaps too many.”

Sitting and listening to criticism is too immediate for me. It makes me feel vulnerable and like I’m back in primary school, getting in trouble yet again.1 I hate it when the critiquer would look up to see how I’m taking the criticism and I’d have to bite my inner cheek to keep from showing what I was feeling.

I’m also uncomfortable with the group-think I’ve seen develop whereby one person says, “This really isn’t a mystery. You should recast it as a mainstream novel.” And pretty much everyone else keeps making the same criticism, adding their own twist on it, even though you know in your gut that they are absolutely wrong. Yet the pile up continues and you start to doubt yourself.

Then afterwards when you ask one of them about it, the person will say, “Oh, well, I didn’t really think that. Not really. I mean it might help, but I doubt it. You probably just need to make it more of a psychological mystery, you know?”

“So why didn’t you say that in there?”

They shrug. “I don’t know.”

Grrr. The group-think thing is especially likely to happen if the rest of the group is in awe of one of the writers (they’re published; everyone else isn’t) and uncomfortable contradicting them. Or if one of the group is very definite and assertive. But I have seen it happen in very well-balanced groups as well. One person will deliver a very witty and eloquent critique and (inadvertently) sway the rest of the writers to their way of thinking. I’ve not only seen this done; I’ve done it myself.

I do not find it healthy or helpful.

Which is why I rely on a group of first readers. When I think my latest novel is ready for feedback I send it off to about a dozen people whose opinions I trust. When they have time they write back with comments and criticisms. I still go through the wanting-to-set-their-hair-on-fire stage but in the privacy of my own room I can yell and stomp and no one’s the wiser. I get to the point where I understand what they’re saying much quicker when the comments are written rather than verbal. It’s less intense and less confronting. Many of these first readers are people I was in those groups with.

This is just my view. I have friends who swear by their writers’ group. I have other friends who don’t let anyone but their editors read early drafts. Each to their own. But if you are one of those people who’s been told by just about everyone that you should really join a writers group2 and then you tried it and didn’t like it. Well, you’re not alone.

  1. Okay, maybe it happened in high school also. []
  2. hey, I just suggested it in my last post []

How to rewrite

I get a lot of beginning writers asking me how to rewrite. This post is aimed squarely at them: the ones who are unsure how to fix a story they have written from beginning to end. Which is my way of saying that any experienced writer is going to find what I am about to say obvious, boring, and un-useful. You folks should go read Samuel R. Delany’s About Writing or, you know, get back to work.

(It’s also a really LONG post. Hence the cut.)

“How can I learn to rewrite?” is an incredibly hard question to answer. It’s sort of like asking a pro tennis player (or coach): “How do I improve my tennis?” Continue reading

Last Day of 2007

The year two thousand and seven was another good year for me personally. My third novel, Magic’s Child, was published in March which completed the Magic or Madness trilogy. The trilogy also finally earned out! That’s right. When the royalty statements come now there’s money attached. Woo hoo! The trilogy also sold in Japan.1 Surely the manga version can’t be too far off?!

I went from never having won a literary award to winning three. The Norton Award for Magic or Madness and the Atheling and Susan Koppelman for Daughters of Earth. So I’m legitimately an award-winning author! Now I just need the best-selling to go with it. :-)

I sold my fifth and sixth books—the fairy novel and an as yet untitled (and largely unwritten) book—to a brand new publisher, Bloomsbury USA.

I love my new house. Everyone I’ve met there—the editors, publishers, sales & marketing, publicity, just everyone—is fabulous. Their excitement about my fairy book makes me very very happy. I am very proud to be a Bloomsbury girl. And hopefully early next year—just a few weeks away—I’ll be able to share all sorts of cool news about the fairy book. Its new title! Cover! Exact date of publication! It’ll be all fairy news all the time!

And to speak of someone else’s success for a second: I’m thrilled to see how well Libba Bray’s The Sweet Far Thing is doing. I saw exactly how much work she put it to that book. Seriously, for a while there I thought she might not survive the experience. But she did and now the book (by far the best of the trilogy) is selling out of control. Yay! Congrats, Libba, you totally deserve it.

Non-professionally, I reckon the best thing that happened all year was the change of government back home. Did that happen only last month? I’ll be coasting on the joy of that for some time to come. Right now it seems that every time I read an article about home something new and fabulous has happened. To which I can only say, “YAY!”

This time last year I said my goal was to finish two novels, which was my goal the year before also. So, um, how’d that go?

Not so much. Time to pick a new goal, methinks.

I rewrote the fairy book many times—so many times that it felt like writing more than one book—but I did not finish any other novel. Le sigh.

I did, however, write two short stories both of which come out in 2008. The first, “Pashin’, Or the Worst Kiss Ever” is in First Kiss (Then Tell) edited by Cylin Busby for Bloomsbury and due for publication in January: i.e. tomorrow. It’s very gross and (I think) funny. The other stories in the anthology are awesome but what would you expect with the likes of Cecil Castellucci, Shannon Hale, David Levithan, Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, Robin Wasserman and Scott Westerfeld contributing?

The second story is considerably longer and much more romantic. It’s called “Lammas Day” and will be in Love is Hell edited by Farrin Jacobs for Harper Collins and due out around September. The other stories are by Melissa Marr, Laurie Faria Stolarz, Scott Westerfeld and Gabrielle Zevin.2

I also wrote an article for an Australian pearl magazine3, the beginning of several novels, a proposal, an appreciation of John Scalzi, many many emails, comments and blog posts. If I added them all up I reckon it would be as long as a whole other novel . . .

For 2008 I have a novel due in August. I honestly can’t see myself writing another one after that but maybe if I don’t make it a goal to write two novels next year I’ll do it accidentally?

In addition to the August novel—which may or may not be any of these—I have three sekrit projects on the go. All collaborations with sekrit writers. One of these already has a proposal written so I’m very confident it will happen. The other two consist of enthusiasm and late night conversations. I am full of optimism but I wouldn’t lay odds on their completion just yet.

My 2008 publications:

    January: the short story I mentioned above, “Pashin’, Or the Worst Kiss Ever”.

    February: the paperback version of Magic’s Child hits the shelves! Which means the entire trilogy will be available for cheap! Plus there’s a mini-essay on writing the book at the back. Bonus! I am VERY excited about this!

    September (or thereabouts): the fairy novel for Bloomsbury! My first new novel in 18 months! Woo hoo! Dance and sing and party!

    And also the other short story mentioned above, “Lammas Day”.

You should also get hold of Cassandra Clare’s City of Ashes when it comes out. It’s the sequel to City of Bones and is even better. I loved it! Seriously, I read it in one sitting. When can I read the third one, Cassie? I need closure!

Maureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett will be out in May. One of her best. In fact, if it had vampires or demons or zombies in it, I would say it was her very best. But for now I love it second only to Devilish.

E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is total genius. Remember how much I raved about Dramarama? This one’s even better. The only way she could surpass herself would be to throw in some zombies or demons or vampires. I’m just saying, E.

You’ll all be stunned to hear that my favourite book of 2007 was Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger. If you haven’t read it already, why not? Run to your nearest library or bookshop and get it NOW!

And make sure you all go see the Spiderwick movie. I can’t wait! Yay, Holly Black!

I think 2008 is going to be fabulous. But then even when I have really crap years I’m always full of optimism for the next one.

Happy new year, everyone!

  1. Bringing the number of countries the trilogy’s been published in up to nine. []
  2. I’ve only read Scott’s—on account of I don’t think there are ARCs yet—but it’s brilliant and worth the price of the anthology alone. []
  3. don’t ask []

Scrivener (updated)

Many of my writer friends have recently switched from WordToolOfSatan to Scrivener. Since the always trustworthy Holly Black and Lili Wilkinson recommend it so strongly I decided that I would give it a go.

I’m here to tell you that I am in love. Scrivener is the first writing tool for computers that I have ever fallen for.1

Before you race off to get a copy here are two key points about Scrivener:

  1. It’s only available for Macs.
  2. It is not a word-processing program; it’s a program designed specifically for drafting long documents (such as novels).

Continue reading

  1. I’ve had some really beautiful pens. []

The Scalzi, Westerfeld and Me podcast continues

Here’s the

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in which Scott threatens to push Scalzi out a window. Stoush!

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.

Podcast Seriousness

Not!

While we were in Chicago for the Great Lakes Booksellers Association conference in October, me, John Scalzi and Scott Westerfeld recorded a

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in which he purportedly interviews us about our books. Zombies do come up—cause really when writers get together what else are they gonna talk about?

Apparently this is part 1 of the convo. Will keep you posted when the rest of it goes up.

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!

P.S. Scalzi’s pronunciation of my surname is prefectly accurate. I was just teasing him.

Writing = hard

Fellow writers, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re looking at your manuscript covered with line edits by your editor and you come across something like this:

I could feel felt . . .

And you stare it. Really? Really? I wrote “I could feel” when I could simply have written “I felt”? What was I thinking? Why is my editor a better writer than I am? Gah!

And then there’s this:

I could still feel the warmth of where his thumb had been1

I wrote “the warmth of”? I’m, like, the WORST writer ever. I totally deserve all the paper cuts this stupid manuscript is giving me. Every single one. Even the one across my nose. Maybe especially the one across my nose.

  1. On her forehead, okay? Don’t go thinking rude thoughts. My fairy book is very chaste. []

Another reason writing YA is so much fun

is because all the other writers are cool and supportive and wonderful to hang out with.

New-to-the-genre writer Sherman Alexie has been finding that out. He told galleycat that at every bookshop he went to on his YA tour, “two or three big-name YA authors have come to the reading. That never happened on my adult book tours.”

I certainly felt that way last night at the ALAN drinks hanging out with my peeps. Way too many to name. As well as the usual suspects were people like Lauren Myracle, Pete Hautmann, Sara Zarr and Kathleen Duey (who wrote the brilliant Skin Hunger that I raved about earlier—yes I fan girled all over her). All of them fabulous people and wonderful writers. Like so many of my friends. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.

I don’t think it’s just a YA thing, though. It’s a genre thing. Romance writers are very supportive of each other, science fiction and fantasy scribes also, not to mention the crime writers. We genre writers stick together.

I wonder what’s up with the adult writers of Literature?

Not that anyone asked . . .

. . . but I am hundred per cent in favour of the WGA strike. Doris Egan, who’s a writer on House,1 eloquently explains why. And, yes, a lot of it is about dosh. Why the hell shouldn’t writers be adequately compensated for their work? Here’s my favourite bit:

By the way, I’m not at all sure this understanding [about money] goes up to the CEO’s office; how can it, when that CEO can be handed sixty million dollars just for quitting? Someday I must tell you the story of the famous exec who said, “Why not make this character middle-class? Let’s say he makes $300,000 a year—” and the writers all stared at him.

That’s right the folks who are keeping the writers from having a fair cut of the work they create think $300 grand a year for one person is a middle class wage. Words completely fail me. It’s like those people who crap on about the outrageous amount male basketball players earn but don’t say a word about the insane earnings of the people who own and run the teams and leagues. An athlete’s career is short and physically dangerous.2 Execs get to keep on raking it in when they’re old and grey.

You really have to wonder at a world where it’s the executives around the creative folks who make the obscene amounts of money while most of the creatives are grateful to be paid at all.

Now, to be clear I am not referring to the producers or any of the other staff who are currently out of work because of this strike. That’s right, this strike means lots of people, not just writers, are going to be without pay for the duration. And most of those people—unlike the writers—don’t have a strike fund to keep them going. Not that the big bosses up top give a damn about any of them.

I believe I’ve ranted enough.

  1. and also wrote some of my fave fantasy novels of the early 1990s []
  2. The majority of those who become pros rarely have more than ten solid earning years. []

Lunch, darling

A friend will be in town next week to meet her agent and some editors who are interested in her writing. She is very nervous and asked me what to expect. I directed her to agent Kristin Nelson’s blog where a while back she gave the lowdown on the shennanigans that take place at agent-editor lunches. It’s shocking stuff!

They eat food and gossip! Who’d've thunk it?

I then revealed to my friend that the exact same thing happens at editor-author lunches. Food is et and (rarely) wine is drunk, and the publishing industry, family, friends, mutual acquaintances, as well as Ugly Betty, and books just read are discussed and dissected. Much fun is had.

I found this all very puzzling when I had my first lunch with an editor. I was an unpublished wannabe. A writer friend of mine had arranged for me to meet her editor. She’d described me and my writing in very fulsome terms and the editor had asked to meet me even though she hadn’t read my book yet (very unusual).

I was very very very VERY nervous. I spent days practising pitches, figuring out how best to describe my finished novel, and all the other ones I had on the boil. Come the day though, the subject of my writing never even came up. The editor did not ask a single question about my finished manuscript, about what I was working on, where I saw myself in five years, what kind of speech I planned to give when I accepted the Nobel—nothing like that. Instead we talked about the publishing industry, mutual acquaintances (actually our one mutual acquaintance—the writer friend who set us up), as well as Buffy (it was a while ago), and books just read were discussed and dissected. Much fun was had. Hmmm, I thought, What was this lunch about then? Why did we talk about everything under the sun other than my book?

Years later, when I was published and had an actual writing career, a different editor took me out to lunch. I’d been told this editor was a big fan of my work and very interested in publishing me. (I agreed to have lunch because I was curious and because I’m extremely attracted to free lunches especially at really good restaurants.1) However, over lunch the subject of my writing never came up. I was not lavished with praise or wooed, instead we—you guessed it—gossiped about the publishing industry, mutual acquaintances, and books we loved and hated. It was excellently diverting, but not at all what I’d expected.

So what are those lunches about? Kristin Nelson says they’re about creating a connection, getting to know each other, figuring out if there’s any possibility you could work together. The writing stands or falls on its own. If the editor who took you out to lunch reads your ms. and hates it then that’s that. Doesn’t matter how charmed she was by you over lunch. Or that you both share a passion for mushroom hunting, or American Gothic, or the Angelique books, or all three—if she’s not into your book you remain unpublished.

For me it means those lunches are both less and more intimidating. Less because you’re very unlikely to have to pitch your book—something I’m not that good at. But more because what they’re really doing is seeing if they like you. I don’t know about you, dear readers, but that reminds me of my first day at school, hoping that I wouldn’t say or do the wrong thing and that someone would like me. I had many first days of school and it never got less terrifying.

On the other hand, pretty much every lunch I’ve had with an agent or editor has gone really well: editors and agents are my people. We almost always love the same things: not least of which is books and publishing. We have a tonne to say to each other. I cannot remember a dud lunch2. So that nervous-first-day-of-school feeling usually evaporates within a few minutes and is completely gone by the time you find that one book that’s sold millions that you both hate.

So my advice is relax and enjoy. If you can . . .

Oh, and don’t spill water all over the person taking you out. I’ve done that. Not a good look. At least it wasn’t red wine . . .

  1. It was at a really good restaurant. []
  2. well, sometimes the food has sucked. []

A clean desk

Kenina-Chan wanted before and after photos of my desk but sadly it did not occur to me to take a before photo so instead I offer you some statistics:

Hours spent cleaning the desk1: 12

Weight of paper to be recycled: 5 kilos (11 pounds)

Weight of garbage: 0.9 kilos (2 pounds)

Number of dead things discovered: classified

Breaks taken during cleaning: lots2

Time spent working at desk since cleaning: 03

And here is a photo of the recycling and garbage removed from the desk during cleaning:

rubbish1.jpg

And here is the clean desk from two different angles as the sun sets4:

deskclean.jpg

cleandesk.jpg

I may never work again.

  1. The largest amount of time was spent sorting (recyclable, rubbish, or to be filed) and filing the crap on the desk. []
  2. I lost count, okay? []
  3. I’m too afraid of messing it up again. []
  4. At barely five in the afternoon!!! []

In which I commence the cleaning of my desk

It has come to this. I have the final round of edits on the Fairy book. They are in manuscript form. However, there is no room on my desk to put the manuscript. The towering piles of crap cannot stand any further weight, not even one small piece of paper, definitely not 264 manuscript pages. I know because I tried and there was much toppling of crap to the floor. It is now dumped back on the desk.

The desk must be cleaned in order for me to work.

I am afraid of it. It is now more like an archaeological dig than mere cleaning. I fear what I might find: I did clean away all uneaten food, didn’t I? I fear what I won’t find: All those things I’ve been looking for and not found could be buried somewhere in those many layers. But what if they’re not?

And what am I going to do with the stuff on the desk that must be kept? It’s not like there’s anywhere else to put it.

The cleaning of my desk fills my heart with despair.

Perhaps I could work on the floor in the front room? Or on the kitchen table? Or at someone else’s kitchen table?

No. I must be brave. I must delve into those hidden depths and make them go away.

Wish me luck. Pray that I do not get buried alive in an avalanche of old catalogues and magazines and receipts and envelopes and wine labels and dead electronic bits and letters and business cards and books and pens that don’t work and postcards and head phones and empty water bottles and note books and hair clips and lens cloths and post-its and lip balm and all the stuff I can’t actually see. Or eaten by the cockroaches, rats and scorpions that may emerge from the bottom layer.

If I do not post again remember me kindly.

Sherwood Smith on World Building

Because I am very behind on reading blogs—and pretty much everything else in my life—I missed this lovely riposte by Sherwood Smith. She’s responding to M. John Harrison dismissing world building. He’s not, though, he’s dismissing bad world building. Just like all those people who say that omniscient narration is evil and wrong. Nope, only when it’s done badly.

You should go read Sherwood because what she says is exactly so:

My objection is this, that worldbuilding is one of the ways humans play. Just as reading is a form of play.1 Many people don’t even know they are worldbuilding. Children worldbuild all the time. They will establish with a few quick rules what each item in the yard represents, and play at that a while, testing that everyone’s on the same page, and then someone begins a “what if?” “What if we all turned into ponies?” “What if the ponies fly?” “What if race cars had brains?” My son, at four, who never willingly reads a book, had had the living room converted to a world that was internally laid out–he didn’t tell us what was what. We could only guess by the sound effects he made as he motored about; then at one point he got the pots and pans out of the kitchen, laid them carefully out into a man shape, pointed the TV changer at it, expecting it to come to life. He cried, the world crashed down, and we had to explain where his rules and this world’s rules clashed, but it was clear that that giant robot had had a role in his ongoing story.

What she said. Read the whole thing. The comments are pretty fascinating too.

  1. The argument that reading ought not to be play, but ought to be useful and informative and force one to think is, I believe, just another form of the great clomping foot of the puritan ethic. []

Post no. 755

Why is it often such a nightmare trying to come up with the right title? Why can’t I just call my next article “Article no. 25,” my next short story “Short Story no. 3,” and my next novel “Fourth Novel,” and the one after that “Fifth Novel”?

Don’t you think that has a ring to it? Sixth Novel by Justine Larbalestier.

Or, better still: Two Hundredth and Twenty Seventh Novel by Justine Larbalestier.

Or, how about: Just read it, already! by Justine Larbalestier.

Or, It’s a Book, Stupid. What did you think it was? by Justine Larbalestier.

Stupid titles. I kick them all.

Sleep and dreams

I am fascinated by dreams and sleep and how they work and how little we know about them. According to Science Times, the New York Times weekly science section, we know a lot more than we used to.

According to the Benedict Carey reporting for the Times insomnia “makes you more reckless, more emotionally fragile, less able to concentrate and almost certainly more vulnerable to infection.”

I so knew all of those ones too. Though I’m shocked they left out accident prone. I have had much insomnia in my life and way to make the accidents! Sheesh. I’m so glad my insomnia has been cured.

Apparently the whole thing about “sleeping on it” to figure out a problem is totally true. I so knew that one too! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to bed completely freaked out about a plot problem and woken up knowing how to fix it. Or at least how to get to where I can fix it.

I also got gazillions of story ideas from my dreams and nightmares. And when I don’t sleep I’m buggered.

Pretty much all the articles in this week’s Science Times are worth a squiz.

Though sadly there’s no article about how 99% of people should be banned from telling other people their dreams. See, it’s not that dreams are boring; it’s that most people are really boring at relating their dreams. I had a friend—back home in Sydney—who was brilliant at telling her dreams. I looked forward to it!

Do any of you find your dreams useful? And not just for writing. Please to tell. But, no telling of the dreams! Boring dream recounting is verbotten!

The second and subsequent readings

You have all confirmed my suspicion that the majority of readers/viewers are deeply worried by spoilerfication.1 We are as one, my comrades! I’ve always been deeply suspicious of those who read the last few pages first. The horror!

For me—and you my comrades—the pleasures of the first read are all about the surprises of the plot, of the characters, of figuring out what kind of a book we’re reading.

One of the pleasures of the second read is figuring out how the writer managed to do what they did.

Or it would be if I didn’t fall instantly back into the story. I am such a sucker for story. Usually, unless I’m very stern with myself, I only start being able to look at how a novel works after a fourth or fifth read.2

It’s a whole other pleasure from the first reading. One that often gives me ideas for my own writing, not to mention teaching me cool and useful techniques. Here’s an example, though, warning: If you haven’t read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond chronicles avert your eyes!

On my second read (or possibly third) I noticed that the main character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, is (almost) never the view point character. It’s kind of embarrassing that I didn’t notice it on my first read—the Chronicles consists of six hefty novels, many gajillion pages. I told you I am a sucker for story! It blinds me to much else.3

I digress.

Dunnett’s keeping us out of Lymond’s head is a large part of how she made him seem so very charismatic. I felt like I knew him because of seeing him from so many other points of views, yet I never knew what was going on in his head except by inference. She makes Lymond mysterious, but not too distant. It’s dead clever. So clever, in fact, I wrote a whole novel using the same technique.4

To grab a few more examples out of thin air: Jane Austen taught me a tonne about dialogue and omniscient pov, Steinbeck about epic sweep and melodrama (yum!), Diana Wynne-Jones about plotting and funny, and Angela Carter made me unafraid of adjectives and adverbs.

I also like to think I learned a tonne about page-turning-ness from my many many re-reads of Flowers in the Attic and the novels of Howard Fast. But I may just be writing tickets on myself.

Of course, learning more about writing is not the only reason I re-read favourite books—there’s also the lovely comfort of falling into a familiar world and story with people I’ve known for an age. Hmmm, now I really want to crack open Game of Kings . . .

Those of you who re-read what do you get out of it?

  1. What do you mean that’s not a significant sample size?! []
  2. With TV shows and movies it also takes many viewings. When I was writing articles about Buffy the Vampire Slayer I watched almost every episode many, many, many times. []
  3. Oh, okay, part of the reason I re-read so often is that I’m a sloppy reader. []
  4. Which, um, hasn’t sold. I’m still proud of it, but. []

On spoilers

Cedarlibrarian, a major Harry Potter fan, doesn’t care about spoilers. Her arguments are smart and convincing.

And yet.

I’m really not a very evolved consumer of texts cause spoilers bug the crap out of me. I want my first experience of any narrative—be it book, manga, graphic novel, TV show, movie, play, whatever, to be untrammelled by knowing stuff about it. I don’t read reviews unless there of something I’ve already read/seen or it’s something I don’t care about.

Frankly, I’d almost prefer not to know what genre it is.

I don’t want to know if people liked it or not. All the spoilery grumbling about the latest series of TV shows I haven’t seen yet drives me spare.1 Could you put all commentary on Heroes behind a cut? Please. Be your best friend.

How do you lot feel about spoilers? And why? No spoilers in your examples! Thank you!

  1. And I almost always haven’t seen it yet. We travel so much we cannot commit to watching a show at the same time once a week. We tend to catch up with stuff on DVD because we’ve become addicted to watching a whole series over a couple of days. I hate having to wait a week between episodes. Bugger that! []

A drop in the ocean

Several people have been bewildered by my enjoyment of this article about the Frankfurt Book Fair. Don’t you get depressed by how it’s not about the authors? they ask. How it’s about books as product? How there are so many, many, many books?

Nope.

Books are products.

That’s not all they are, but it’s a pretty bloody important aspect, especially for those of us who are trying to make a living writing (or editing or selling) them.

Publishing is an industry. Part of what it’s about—and has always been about—is making money. For most of its history most of that money has been made by people other than writers.1 That’s still the case. Sure, some writers do just fine. As it happens—at this moment in time—I’m one of them. I don’t make a tonne of money, but I’m finally making more than I did as a research fellow.2

But the fact that my career’s toddling along okay (right now) is not why I read articles about “books as product” without blanching. That’s not why it doesn’t bother me to walk into a hall big enough for a city of dinosaurs that’s entirely full of books. I love books! I’m thrilled there are so many of them. And that there are so many people busily bringing them into existence.

Long before I sold so much as a haiku I was fascinated by the industry. By how it operates from the booksellers to the sales reps to the publicists to the editors and agents and writers right through to the execs at the top of the multi-media conglomerates that own most of the big publishing companies in the world. I’m fascinated by the economics of small presses and medium-sized presses too. I want to know everything there is to know. One of the coolest parts of going with Scott on his book tour was meeting so many sales reps and booksellers and media escorts and gossiping about the industry and learning new stuff I hadn’t known.3

I subscribe to Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch. I read a tonne of different publishing and bookish blogs by agents and editors and booksellers and librarians. Most of the conversations I have with fellow writers and with agents and editors and sales reps and other publishing types quickly turns into gossip about the industry. Who’s making the big deals? Which house is going after what kinds of books and why? Are the Twilight books the new Harry Potter?

I’m not saying I think publishing today is all roses. It’s not. But it never was. I spent more than a year of my life reading through the letters of Judith Merril and other science fiction writers of the 40s and 50s. Their struggles to make a living are very familiar.

Like Carole Cadwalladr I’m depressed by how few foreign-language titles are translated into English. By the books I think are hideously bad that do incredibly well4. But I remind myself that it was ever thus. The Pilgrim’s Progress is possibly the most boring book ever written. Twas a bestseller in its day. Crappy books have done well in the past; they’ll do well in the future. But there are always wonderful books flying off the shelves too.

There are more books being published than ever before. There are more readers than ever before. I think that’s fabulous.

I’d be depressed if we could no longer fill the halls of the Frankfurt Book Fair. If people weren’t excited about the latest books or by Doris Lessing winning the Nobel or by the latest crazy book deal.

I guess I’m a publishing geek.

  1. Most editors and publicists and sales reps and booksellers don’t make much either. Seriously if you go into any aspect of the publishing industry trying to make your fortune you’re delusional. []
  2. Barely. And only as of this year. It could change. []
  3. For instance I had no idea media escorts even existed. []
  4. that dreadful YA I mentioned recently better flop! []

Book fair horror

Carole Cadwalladr writes very entertainingly about the Frankfurt book fair. Especially about all the gossip. One of my favourite bits is her glancing mention of inflated print runs.1 Apparently this goes back much further than I’d realised:

For as long as people have written books, people have sold them too, and this involves a certain amount of talking things up. Erasmus, in the 15th century, is said to have drummed up business here (the fair’s been going for 800-odd years) by claiming the first print run of his Colloquies was 24,000. And this in an age when the average number of copies produced was around 50.

That wily Erasmus, eh? Though I don’t know what he expected to achieve when it was going to become clear that he was a bit of a fibber almost as soon as the words left his mouth.

Publishing is a strange business. Read the whole article. It’s my favourite on publishing in ages.

  1. For those who don’t know publishers almost never release the true print run. They always exaggarrate the number. Sometimes by margins almost as crazy as Erasmus. []

A rant begins to brew

So I just stopped reading an ARC I was given a few book shops ago. It’s a YA by an author who’s only written for adults previously—it sucks. I’m sorry that’s as polite as I can get. The writer seems never to have read any other YA or ever met a teenager. The main character is very like this writer’s other main characters only dumber and way more obvious.1 I did not believe in this character. The book is patronising, annoying, and, frankly, boring.

Why do so many adults assume that writing for teens or children is going to be a doddle and turn off nine tenths of their brain to do it? What is that about? Why do they assume teenagers are stupid?

I hasten to add that there are adult writers who are a natural fit for YA. Alice Hoffman is one. Joyce Carol Oates and Elizabeth Knox are also splendid. But the vast majority of YA by adult authors makes me very very cross indeed. If I were not in a mad hurry I would write a long detailed rant about it.

  1. The character is so dumb and obvious that if they were meant to be a five year old it would still be insulting. []

Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson and other famous persons

One of the fabulous things about this tour is seeing how popular so many of my friends are.

At a book shop on the outskirts of Chicago I saw this:

City of Bones

I pointed it out to Scott. “Look! Someone here loves Cassie’s book. And they have a tonne of copies!” (There were more in piles above and below this book shelf.)

The bookseller who wrote that shelf talker overheard me:

“You know Cassie Clare?! Oh. My. God. I LOVED that book so much!!! She is a genius! I have loved her ever since I read her Secret Diaries!”

At a school in Walnut Creek, California lots of the kids had painted posters of their favourite books. The room was full of them:

schoollibrary.jpg

I checked each one, looking for a book by one of my friends, and lo and behold what did I find?

13lbe.jpg
Maureen Johnson’s Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes.

During tonight’s fabulous event at Copperfield books in Petaluma praise was heaped on Holly Black, Libba Bray, Cecil Castellucci, Cassie, Maureen, and Garth Nix. It was joyous to hear. And, yes, I was bad, I boasted about knowing them all!

Book tours are fun!

Sitting

Maureen Johnson ones again reveals the truth of what it is to be a writer:

Sitting plays a bigger role in writing than you would think. I mean, a lot of people say, “Oh yeah, I want to write a book one day.” And I smile and nod. Some of them will—but a lot of them can’t sit still for more than fifteen minutes if the TV isn’t on.

You have to sit like a champion when you write. Oh, you’re laughing. You think you can sit like a pro. But when it starts to all go rocky, when your characters don’t behave, when the wolf is at the door and the plot is starting to quake like a jello mold on a trampoline . . . . I defy you to keep sitting.

The sitting thing is why I rarely join my writer compadres in coffee shops. I’m only there if I absolutely have to get out of the house.1 My back is so destroyed by the whole sitting thing that I need an entirely ergonomic set up. I’ve got my ergie chair, my ergie desk, my ergie keyboard. All of it the right amount of heights and distances and blah blah blah. Even with all of that the end of every book I’ve ever written has seen me spending considerable time and money at the chiropractor’s. Oh joy.

Except this last book. I started going to the gym four times a week with a trainer—oh, yes, I’m now one of those wankers—and working mostly on my back and tummy muscles. Result: I finished a book without having to go into traction. I could achieve the same thing by swimming every day but there’s not a 50 metre pool within coo-ee. Buggered if I’ll swim in one of those annoying short course pools. Aargh. Yoga’s good too. But I’ve never found a yoga teacher as good as the one I had back in Sydney. Le sigh.

Anyways, writing = sitting. And sitting can get very bloody ouchy. I’ll never understand why people think being a writer is glamorous. Hah!

  1. So I don’t wind up climbing the walls and rending my hair with writerly frustration and madness. []

Series

A warning: this is one of those stumbly thinking out loud posts.

I just read a dead interesting essay by Jim Huang reflecting on twenty years of selling books. Most of his comments have to do with mystery books but a lot of it applies to other genres. I’ve been thinking about this comment:

When I think about the center of gravity of the mystery genre, I still believe that it lies in series. Seventy percent of the titles on the bestsellers lists of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association in 2007 year to date are part of a series. Seventy percent of these series titles belong to long-running series of five or more books. Sales in IMBA member stores are not necessarily representative of the marketplace in general, but they are the best indication we have of what the most devoted mystery lovers are looking for. Yet you can in fact generalize from these numbers. When you look at the BookScan mystery bestseller list for the week of 8/12/07, representing sales throughout the industry, you see that over 70%—closer to 80%, actually—of these bestselling titles also belong to series.

While not to that extent, Young Adult, is also dominated by series books: from Nancy Drew to Harry Potter through to the Gossip Girls. There’s a great deal of pleasure to be had from following the adventures of the same characters over multiple books and huge sales prove that I’m not alone in thinking so.

I know I have whinged about the trickiness of writing a trilogy, which is just a shorter series, but as a devourer of story I am all about the arc plot. In fact, lately I’ve kind of lost interest in movies and am much more into television precisely because it’s all arc. Right now we’re working our way through Homicide: Life on the Streets (which Scott had never seen!) and the first season of Heroes (anyone spoils me I kill them) having already screamed through American Gothic and the first three series of The Wire, there being no more Rome or Deadwood to be had.

I’m also gobbling manga by the truckload—my current obsession being Hikaru no go and Hellsing. I love them! But it’s also frustrating. Like right now I’m missing volume 6 of Hikaru. I have 7-10 waiting for me but no 6. And when I have all of the available volumes, I’m waiting on the next ones. Where is Nana 7? Emma 5? ES (Eternal Sabbath) 6? Hellsing 9? Her Majesty’s Dog 7? Monster 11? Mushishi 3? Waaaah!!!

But that’s nothing compared to the kinds of problems readers of mysteries have. Huang writes:

Series matter, and what publishers do with them tells you a lot about their inclinations and abilities. I write a lot about series and the bad job that the most publishers do with them: not keeping books in print (especially the first book which is where readers want to start), not clearly indicating the order of books in series, not identifying books as part of a series, not packaging series titles with a common look to make it easier to find them on new releases tables, not timing publication of new hardcovers and paperbacks to maximize sales, not indicating for the benefit of buyers for stores a new title’s place in the series, not soliciting orders for series backlist and frontlist together, not waiting months (if not years) between UK and US publication, etc.

I’ve definitely seen this happening a lot in sf and fantasy publishing but less so in YA. I wonder if that’s because YA books tend to stay on the shelves longer? Or maybe my anecdotal evidence is dodgy and it happens in YA too. Whatever. I will never understand how publishers allow book 1 of a series to go out of print while books 2, 3, 4 etc are still in print.

The first volume is always the biggest seller of a series because every time a new volume comes out it kickstarts fresh sales for the first volume. I’ve had several people write me to say that they bought Magic or Madness when Magic Lessons or Magic’s Child came out because the appearance of the later books reminded them about the series and also meant they could by the first book in paperback. My sales figures show the sales of Magic or Madness going up on the publication of the other two books.

On a much bigger scale that’s what happened with each book in Scott’s Uglies series. So much so that books two and three made it on to the New York Times bestseller list more than a year after first publcation. It will be interesting to see what happens when the fourth book comes out next month.

Obviously, the first volume of a bestselling series like Scott’s won’t be allowed to go out of print, but why publish the third book in a lesser selling series if the first one is no longer available? It minimises sales of all volumes in the series.

I have no idea where I’m going with any of this. Read Jim Huang’s essay!

To freelance or not to freelance . . .

A friend of mine is thinking of quitting their day job. They’ve had a novel published, which is doing very well indeed thank you very much. Their publisher is solidly behind them and eager for more books. The friend has turned to me for advice. On account of how I’m already a freelancer.

However, their situation is very different from mine when I went freelance. I had come to the end of a fellowship so instead of seeking employment or another fellowship I opted to try my hand at writing full time. My friend would be leaving a job which has a clear path of promotion in a secure industry with great health insurance and all sorts of other perks. Also the friend likes the job, but they love writing. And the job is so full on that it’s very difficult to make the time to write novels.

My first impulse is to say, “Keep the job!” But the friend is a brilliant writer. Keeping the job means a book every three or four years. Tops. At the moment the money is about the same between the two options.

What to do?

Here’s my list of pros and cons of freelancing.

Cons Pros
very irregular pay
have to provide your own health insurance
your own super (savings for retirement—dunno what they call that in the US of A)
can be very isolating working long hours on your own
stationery no longer free
life ruled by deadlines
concentrate on writing
your time is your own
work uniform is pyjamas
no boss
can work wherever you want
can work whenever you want
travel is easy
its fun
no office politics
if you need to get out and go for a walk/swim/ice cream you can

I’m a bit stupid today so I’m sure I’ve forgotten heaps and some of them are a bit repetitive. Please chime in with your own pros and cons to the freelance life. What would you do in this situation? What’s your advice for my friend?

Money writing advice

Someone wrote to Victoria Strauss over at Writers Beware asking for advice on pursuing writing as a career. Namely will it make me money?

Strauss was honest about what a hit-and-miss career writing is and how the vast majority of pro writers do not make a lot of money. Her respondee did not take kindly to the truth and wrote to Strauss to tell her that he was

not worried about your discouragement. I understand, the history of the human race is but a brief spot in time, and its first lesson is modesty, but some people are better than others. I wouldn’t discourage anybody from having high ambitions, because the good of their success outweighs the bad of their failure. The successful ones always tell everybody to be more ambitious, which is why I think you’re biased and your judgement cannot altogether be respected.

Aside from this being a breathtakingly rude response to someone who’s gone out of their way to give an honest answer the layers of delusions are breathtaking. How is telling someone the truth discouraging someone from being ambitious? If you want to be a writer the odds are that you will not make much money. Best to know that straight away because if that’s your main motivation then you’d be better off playing the stock market or getting a law degree or becoming a plumber or finding a rich spouse.

I’ve been asked the money question by aspiring writers many times during my brief career (I’ve been a full-time writer only four years) and like Victoria Strauss’s correspondent they really don’t want to hear the truth. They want success stories. They want to be told that they will sell their first novel for six figures.

They might. I know one first timer who did. But the vast majority of first-novel advances I’ve heard of have been under twenty grand. Way under. Mine was. Scott’s was. Garth Nix’s was. So was J. K. Rowling’s.

If you don’t believe me subscribe to Publisher’s Lunch. Start counting how many of those debut novel deals are anything other than “nice” deals ($1-$49,000). Make sure to check how many books are in the deal. A “good” deal ($100,000 – $250,000) sounds fabulous but often those deals are for at least three books. I’ve seen a six-book “nice” deal which means the author got at most $8,000 a book.

Strauss’s questioner ends by telling her:

And if you don’t get it, maybe that’s why you’re not very successful. Write until your words bleed. I don’t see that color in your prose.

His notion of success is all tied up with money and he has the hide to hell Strauss that she’s not a success? He hasn’t sold a book; she’s published many. The only thing Strauss is not a success at is telling him what he wants to hear: you, sir, are the chosen one who will earn gazillions.

Hard work has a lot to do with success (though bleeding really isn’t necessary) but I know plenty of hardworking writers who don’t earn enough to support themselves, not to mention all the hard workers who’ve never made it into print. Talent and hard work are very necessary, but to make the big bucks luck is essential.

You can be a very successful writer—well reviewed, award winning, decent sales—and earn only 30 thou or less a year. The majority of pro writers would be over the moon to be earning that much year in and year out. Money for writers is low and erratic. It’s August and I’ve been paid about $4,000 for my writing this year. I’m owed more but who knows when it will come? That’s the writer’s life right there. Just like any other freelancer.

Besides what is a successful writer? There are many genius writers who made bugger-all writing during their lifetimes. You can’t tell me that Joseph Conrad and Emily Dickinson and Philip K. Dick weren’t successes. They’re still in print and they’re still read unlike gazillions of best sellers over the years. Who’s reading Coningsby Dawson and Warwick Deeping now?

An unanswerable question

Someone just wrote to ask me what to do when the writing is not going well. Fortunately, Diana Peterfreund has just written on this because I have no useful answer.

I suspect my own struggles with sentences that crumble as I type, with plot and character and meaning twisting out of my control, are at least partly because I’m very early on in my career. Old timers are much smarter about this stuff. Fer instance, my parents heard Thomas Kenneally interviewed the other day and he said that the writing got easier as he got older. After having written for more than forty years and having produced a bazillion gazillion novels (or, you know, thirty odd) he knows his own process and what to expect.

I don’t.

Not really. I’ve only written six novels and the writing of each one was different. I’ve been a freelancer writer for four years. I still have no idea how long it takes me to write a book. I can tell you how long the last one took, but not how long the next one will.

When you’re starting out you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what you’re capable of. When the crappy writing days hit you—it’s a shock and you don’t know how to handle them.

Even super disciplined writers, like my old man, have days of words dissolving into puddles of putrescence, when they can’t focuss, and can barely squeeze out five words let alone a thousand.

What he does is keep writing. That’s where the discipline comes in. The act of getting yourself into the chair and typing—even if the words you’re producing make William McGonagall look like a genius—can be enough to get you past the crap and into the good.

Or not.

Sometimes people just need a break.

And only the writer can figure out which it is.

Personally, I’m pretty much always convinced that I need a break. Preferably in a place where there’s plentiful cricket coverage (alas, poor England), the food is fabulous, and the wine even better.

Sadly, my deadlines say otherwise . . .

Email bankruptcy, or, attempting to cope

I am in crunch time. I am in crunchy crunch time. The busyness I have been complaining about has rebounded on itself and leapt to a whole new level of busy. In a word: Aaaarggghh!!!!

I’m going to keep blogging. I made a little bet with myself to see if I could blog every day of July and so far so good. I hate to lose bets with myself. Especially fun ones. Also blogging kind of clears my head. Dunno why but when I’m deep in writing, blogging really helps me to unwind—that and a glass of wine.

However, I’ll no longer be replying to comments as much as I have been (which I know has been down on what it used to be)—Sorry! The UFB has to be rewritten and that’s my top priority.

Then there’s the email problem. A while back John Green declared email bankruptcy. I think I may have to do the same. I have more than five hundred unanswered emails, which I know is nothing compared to Cory Doctorow who gets, like, two thousand a day, but, well, I ain’t coping. Important emails are getting lost in the shuffle. So I’m going to put them all in a folder to be dealt with after crunch time. I hope that if it was important folks will resend.

I’m very sorry for not replying. I suck.

So from now until I’ve finished the rewrites and made solid inroads into the new novel, I’ll be very bad about answering email and your comments here. And if I am responding to comments here in the next few months—that means I’m being an evil procrastinator and you have my full permission to hassle me about it.

Now I return to the UFB.

Zombies, of course (updated)

For research purposes, I am going to drastically increase my zombie culture consumption.

Thus far I’ve been reading and loving The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman. (I read the trades not the skinnies—so no spoilers for the latest issues!)

I also plan to read World War Z, An Oral History Of The Zombie War by Max Brooks. So no spoilers, people!

Update: Forgot to mention I have read the entire and very excellent Kelly Link zombie oeuvre.

What other zombie books and graphic novels should I be reading?

And there’s the movies—because really the whole zombie thing is very movie driven.

Obviously I’ve seen and loved all the George Romero zombie films. Yum. My faves. Yes, even the recent Land of the Dead that I’ve heard quite a few people bagging. The only one of his I think is a bit sub-par is Day of the Dead and even it is totally worth watching.

I’ve seen The Dawn of the Dead remake. Very disappointing.

And obv. there’s 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks.

Not to mention Shaun of the Dead. Very droll.

There’s also Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie. Yes, that’s right I’m open to non-Romero voudun-style zombies.

Update: Also forgot to mention that, yes, I have seen the Resident Evil films. I love ‘em.

So what are the best zombie movies that I haven’t seen? And if you could sell ‘em to me and not just list titles. I’m trusting youse lot to be my zombie entertainment quality control.

Vampire elves

Holly Black is making me giggle (via Gwenda). Now all I can think about is vampire elves and zombie unicorns and werewolf-griffins and pirate-orcs and . . . and which of all of those would win in battle and what they’d look like and what they’d eat. Would vampire elves still not like steel and not tell lies? And what would a novel with all these creatures in it be like?

Oh, hush, Justine. You have stories to write! Novels to unbuggerize! Admin to adminerate! Stop procrastinating.

The Tour

Marrije asked over on insideadog if I’ll be following the Tour de France this year. Sadly, I will not.

This year has gotten out of control. I cannot afford to spend hours every day watching the Tour and following it online. I am incapable of following the Tour non-obsessively. So for the first time in years I’m not following it at all. (No spousal pressure was brought to bear in the making of this decision. Well, okay, just a little bit. I am not husband-beaten! I am not!)

Waaaahh!!!!!

The New York Liberty (10-8) will have to sustain my sport-following needs this northern summer.

And now I go back to the myriad tasks that confront me. At this point it’s so bad I’m resorting to triage. “Which of these tasks will most blow up in my face if I don’t do it?”

But, you know, Vive Le Tour!

Oz GLBT YA books (updated)

David Levithan’s speech at Reading Matters inspired me to put together a list of Australian gay and lesbian young adult books.

I could not do this on my own. Thank you Lynndy Bennett, Kate Constable, Susannah Chambers, Pamela Freeman, Simmone Howell, Judith Ridge, Penni Russon and Ron Serdiuk for all your help and suggestions.

This list is definitely not complete and is not annotated. It’s just a start. If you can think of any more titles, please let me know! And if you’ve read any of the books on the list and can say a bit more about them that’d be great too.

Lili Wilkinson has said that the Centre for Youth Literature will give the list a permanent home.

So here it is:

    Novels

    Will by Maria Boyd 2006
    Settling Storms by Charlotte Calder 2000
    The Rage of Sheep by Michelle Cooper 2007 (It will be released in August—so soon that I figured no need to stick it in the forthcoming list.)
    The Tiger Project by Susanna van Essen 2003
    A Trick of the Light by Susanna van Essen 2004 (Lili Wilkinson says “two dads”.)
    The Other Madonna by Scot Gardner 2003
    White Ute Dreaming by Scot Gardner 2002
    Square Pegs by Nette Hilton 1991
    Out of the Shadows by Sue Hines 1998 (Lynndy Bennett says, “From memory—it’s years since I read this—it is not the teenage characters but some of the parents who are gay or lesbian.” Update: I’ve now heard from a few people that there are gay teenagers as well.)
    A Charm of Powerful Trouble by Joanne Horniman 2002
    Obsession by Julia Lawrinson 2001
    Suburban Freak Show by Julia Lawrinson 2006
    Tumble Turn by Doug Macleod 2003 (Lynndy says “there is the assumption the protagonist is gay”.)
    Hot Hits: The Remix by Bernie Monagle 2003
    Thriller and Me by Merrilee Moss 1994 (Lynndy says, “From memory—it’s years since I read the book–it is not the teenage characters but some of the parents who are gay or lesbian.)
    Mr Enigmatic by Jenny Pausacker 1995
    What are ya? by Jenny Pausacker 1987
    Sky Legs by Irini Savvides 2003
    A Candle for St Antony by Eleanor Spence 1977 (Penni Russon says “a friend said it was a memorable book about an intimate relationship between two boys, though I think the homosexuality is very understated. It’s more about love than sex, I think the boys actually tell each other that they love each other and then kind of have to deal with the intensity of their emotions in the face of their peer groups.”)
    Peter by Kate Walker 1991
    Camphor Laurel by Sarah Walker 1999
    The Year of Freaking Out 1997 by Sarah Walker
    Loose Lips by Chris Wheat 1998

    Forthcoming novels
    Truly Mackenzie by Kate Constable 2008

    Collections
    Clouded Edges by Nette Hilton 1997

    Anthologies

    Ready or Not: Stories of YA Sexuality edited by Mark MacLeod 1996
    Hide and Seek edited by Jenny Pausacker 1996

    Memoir

    Holding the Man by Tim Conigrave 1995 (Penni Russon says “it wasn’t published as YA, it’s also not strictly fiction I think. But it is about two young men (a lot of it is about the relationship they have at school) and it’s such a beautiful beautiful weepy wonderful book.”)

    Inside Out: Australian Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered People Write About Their Lives edited by Erin Shale 1999

Memory

I have a terrible memory. Especially for people. My memory for names is non-existent unless I’ve met that person many times. My face memory is a little better, but I struggle to place faces. If I see someone I’ve met several times at Young Adult Lit events in a totally different context I often cannot figure out who they are. But usuallly I don’t even recognise the face of the person beaming at me and saying, “Hi, Justine.”

Once the person I’m not remembering starts to recount how we met and describes the conversation I start to figure out who they are. But sometimes even that doesn’t help.

I know I am not alone in this. Almost every writer I know complains about it because we’re often in situations where we’re meeting someone who remembers us because we met at an event, which is a rarity for them, but common for us.

It’s not just a writer problem. Any profession where you’re likely to meet lots of people: retail, teaching, performing etc etc is going to run up against this problem.

I was horrible at remembering my students when I was an academic. To be honest I’ve always been bad at remembering stuff. I sucked at Memory games as a child. Still do.

How do politicians cope? I know Bill Clinton is famous for remembering every single person he’s ever met. But not all politicians are like that. How do they deal with so many different faces?

It could be worse. I know someone who has a condition which means they cannot remember faces. All faces look the same to them. Without name tags or someone prompting them they are lost. They are constantly giving offence.

So, I’m not that bad. And I’m better at faces than Scott is. Though sadly he’s about the same as me on names.

I have gotten better at simply asking the person to tell me how I know them. But often I’m too embarrassed. It feels rude.

Having a bad memory feels rude.

I really hate not remembering people. I know that I’m a wee bit miffed when people don’t remember me (which happens often) and yet here I am constantly doing it to everyone else. So much of the time I act like I know the person and keep the conversation going in the hopes that I can figure it out. Fortunately I usually can. Though there are the horrible moments when I decide they’re someone they’re not. Erk.

Seems to me that there’s only so much space in most (non-Bill Clinton) people’s heads for remembering. So the average person can at most remember, say, a thousand people. Once you meet more than that your brain starts deleting, or pushing them to a less easily accessed part of the hard drive. And creating trouble for you. Stupid brain.

I’m sure there are all these tricks for getting around the limited hard drive space. Hell, I know there are. Friends have taught them to me. But I keep forgetting to try them out.

How do you lot cope?

David Levithan: Vampire Slayer

The wonderful speech that David Levithan gave at Reading Matters is now available as a podcast. You all should listen to this passionate, galvanising call to arms that left most everyone wanting to go out and slay vampires right that very minute. Or, you know, get the books that kids need into their hands.

I’m still mulling over my response to David’s call to arms. On the one hand, I think he’s totally right. On the other, it’s so annoying to have a foreignor come in, spend a few minutes in the country, and then tell us Aussies what to do! We hates it, we do. Especially when they’re right . . .

Waiting

Someone just asked me what the worst thing about being a writer is. Took me less than a second to answer:

Waiting.

I’m always waiting for my editors, or agents, or publicists, or someone to get back to me. Yes, all of mine are miraculously fast. Yes, I’ve never had to wait more than a week for notes on any of my books. But when you’re waiting for notes a week is an eternity! Sadly, my middle name is not patience.

But the wait for money to show up is genuinely interminable, and the wait for my books to finally come out already? Ditto. I finish the bugger in, say June, and it doesn’t come out until March of the following year—if I’m lucky! In publishing land, that’s fast. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

One of the longest waits is between finishing a book and getting reader responses, finding out if people other than Scott and my editors think it’s unchunderiffic. That’s partly why I send out my early drafts to so many first readers. Otherwise I don’t find out till the end of time what people think of it. But most of them don’t get back to me, or they do much later than they said they would. And because I do exactly the same thing to them I can’t get cranky. Not fair! (Well, okay totally fair, but bloody annoying!)

The following true stories have random pronouns attributed to them in order not to reveal who the waiting writers are:

Right now I have one friend waiting on an editorial letter. He was supposed to have it weeks and weeks ago. He’s going insane, unable to concentrate on other tasks because he knows the minute the ed letter comes in he’ll be thrown into convulsions because he’ll only have ten minutes to do the rewrite and it will probably involve having to throw out the whole thing and start from scratch. Editors can be cruel that way.

Another friend has a proposal out for a series of book completely unlike anything she’s written before. She loves this project more than anything else she’s ever worked on. She’s in paroxysms waiting to see if it sells. What if it doesn’t? Will she be stuck writing books like the ones she’s been writing and is now bored of? Will it torpedo her entire career if this new series doesn’t sell? Aaaarghhhh!! She is in a total state and the proposal’s only been out a few days . . .

And then there’s the waiting when you get given fabulous news and you’re not allowed to say a thing about it. That’s kind of a delicious yet frustrating waiting.

I am waiting on one of those right now. It’s doing my head in. I know the trick is to put the waiting out of my mind and keep writing, but that is so so so much easier said than done.

I am a much more patient person than I was ten years ago. And massively more patient than twenty years ago. But I’m still not patient. Gah!

It’s snowing

What is wrong with this benighted country? It’s snowing! It’s April. Spring in this poxy hemisphere. It’s warmer back home in Sydney where it’s Autumn. I hates it! Snow!!! Aaaargghh!!!!!!

In other news John Green is silly with his friends over here. I knew they didn’t get any actual writing done when they got together. Now there’s proof.

I’m interviewed by E. Lockhart and reveal that I cannot write song lyrics.

And, um, it’s still snowing. I’m going back to bed. Wake me when the snow’s gone.