An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘children’

Introducing Evan Jones, Publisher at Together Tales

I’m so pleased that my first interview back after an incredibly hectic few months away from blogging is with Evan Jones of Stitch Media, discussing the new and exciting product Together Tales. This is a really interesting new project and Evan explains how it came about it in this fascinating interview. Welcome, Evan!

Evan-Jones (2)

 

Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background and career.

My name is Evan Jones and I’ve spent my life interested how new technology changes the way we tell stories to each other.

Early in my career I became obsessed with Alternate Reality Games. ARGs are a style of narrative that really couldn’t exist before the internet, because they rely on the audience as investigators who connect different types of media together to make a complete story.  They’re also intensely interactive and the best ones consider the audience as collaborators – their theories and solutions inspire the creative team working behind the scenes.

I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with incredibly talented people on projects across every genre. We’ve worked in comedy, drama, documentary, horror, science fiction, children’s, lifestyle – but always with an interactive point of view. Stitch Media is the company that you call when you want to push the boundaries. I’m always working hard to stay ahead of the curve on new technology but more importantly the media trends that are shifting around us.

Together Tales – what’s the premise?

Together Tales are Adventure Kits that combine physical books and artifacts with interactive challenges. Parents bring these stories to life as an insider working with the author to plant clues and create coincidences.

For kids aged 8-10 reading the adventures, it’s like the whole story surrounds you. You are a character in the books and your actions end up saving the day. We’ve had a lot of feedback that this product is perfect for ‘reluctant readers’ because it’s broken into short chapters that connect with activities both offline and online.

For parents, it’s like having a creative sidekick for those moments where you want to want to play along with your kids but don’t always have the time or energy to make it up. Adventure Kits give you all the tools you need and simple instructions via email to prompt you at the perfect moment. You’re playing alongside your kids with a cheat sheet from the author.

 

togethertales_wordmark

What made you, as a media and TV professional, look at the idea of interactive books? How did the idea and the concept of Together Tales come about?

We didn’t set out to make an interactive book. Our company never starts with the technology first. It’s that old adage “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Instead we started with a question: “How can recreate some of our fondest memories of childhood?” 

We loved reading books of course – books are imagination fireworks where you can do anything at all. We also loved simple games like scavenger hunts and puzzles. But the secret ingredient is the name of our product – it was those moments we spent together.

Together Tales is a platform to combine all of these things.  We rely upon an ‘insider’ who truly knows the reader. We use the shorthand of parents but it could easily be grandparents or that cool uncle or an amazing teacher. The point is that our adventures come to life in through others – they are the ones who personalize a letter online, print it out and tuck it under the child’s pillow because they received an automated email yesterday explaining that the Magician will be answering their dream questions tomorrow. It’s a system to make more of those memorable moments by connecting them together with a story.

What kind of success have you enjoyed so far?

Our first success was convincing a jury to give us the CMF Experimental Fund – it allowed us to build the technology and test the concept until we got it right. The one thing we needed after that was the money to pay for our first print run. We created four Adventure Kits in our first year and launched the concept on Kickstarter – that was really when Together Tales took off. We’ve shipped hundreds of kits out to families now and the response has been incredible. The five-star reviews on Amazon have really inspired us – parents talk about how excited their kids get about reading the stories and their adventures.

It’s also been a huge boost for us to be recognized by our industry. We were nominated for the BookTech prize in the UK this year and for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Interactive Project. These endorsements help a great deal in promoting sales.

Anything that has been particularly challenging?

Our biggest challenge is everyone’s biggest challenge – discoverability. Our target demographic is parents with 8-10 year old kids and I’m one of them. It’s a very busy and distracted group of customers and we don’t have a marketing budget to spend yet. We know that families love the product but we haven’t yet mastered the way we reach that audience.

Why do you think there’s a market for this kind of publishing?

Publishing is not going away. Yes it’s changing but all of the media industries shift when a new paradigm appears. We know this is a crowded market but we feel that Together Tales is something truly new and will strike a chord with the right type of customer.

Together Tales is also built to empower authors to write their own Adventure Kits. Our platform expands with every new book as we build a library of games and technology which are reused in subsequent stories. They’re also not tied to a particular platform. We’re not thinking about the issues of paper vs tablets because we use them all in the way they were intended. Media consumption habits for us aren’t an either/or proposition, they’re all potential for us.

Have you found that you have been able to reach out easily to children who may not be particularly enthusiastic about reading?

Together Tales is very accessible because the story is portioned out. The child never sees a huge book because the story is divided into chapters and interactive moments. The first chapter looks like a comic book, but once you’ve read it you’re hooked. The characters need your help and a game begins. It’s not hard to convince kids to play games but when the game is over you want to see how it affected the story. That’s when the second chapter magically appears (thanks parents!) and the cycle continues.

I would point you to this customer review specifically on this topic:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R6AXQ8UB23B37/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0994861907&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=283155&store=books

What has been your best feedback so far?

It’s when we bump into a kindred spirit. Some of our feedback from parents was “I’m too busy to spend 15 minutes setting this up.” That’s when we realized that it’s all about perspective. Fifteen minutes is a lot when you’re comparing it to passing an iPad into the back seat. But for some parents, they are already spending 2 hours sewing a tail on an old pair of shorts, or researching crafts for their kids on a rainy weekend. For those parents, we get the opposite reaction – fifteen minutes to look like a hero. They’re in.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

The agenda has been set by our commitment to bring a Year of Adventures to our customers. We’re publishing three more Adventure Kits this year and I’m taking them to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to find some international exposure. We’re going to be selling them at the Toronto Word on the Street Festival and looking for many more ways to reach families.

 

You can find out more about Stitch Media and Together Tales by clicking the hyperlinks in the introduction to this interview.

Follow Stitch Media on Twitter @stitchmedia

Follow Together Tales on Twitter @togethertales and on Facebook 

 

 

Introducing Writer and Playwright Janice Fosse

Today’s interview is with Janice Fosse, a children’s playwright and writer who is a connection of mine on Twitter (never underestimate the power of social media in networking!) Here, in her charming and comic style, she discusses her love of writing, the difficulties of writing for children and her optimism in the face of a very difficult publishing market…

The colourful and lovely Janice Fosse

The colourful and lovely Janice Fosse

Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your career.

I have been telling stories my whole life. From organizing make-believe on the playground to circulating stories in serial format to devoted readers in high school via spiral notebooks, I mistakenly thought my love of telling stories translated into a love of performing, and for many years my educational focus was on acting, with writing stories nothing more than a diversionary hobby.

After completing the requirements for a BFA in Acting from Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, I found myself with one more year of school to go, and decided to pursue a second BA in English with a creative writing concentration. I finished the degree in one year, and found that writing had been the underlying passion all along. While performing is fun, you are always saying someone else’s words. It turned out that I wanted to be the one to make the words, the worlds, and the rules. You could call it creative megalomania, I suppose!

Upon graduation I secured a job in the public access department of a small-town cable company as a producer. I wrote scripts for commercials, did voiceover work, produced television shows, and even helped create and was chief question writer for a local-access game show that gained modest popularity. Writing was always there in the background though.  

After eleven years at the cable company I became an asset, which led to me being liquidated when the cable company sought to purchase a larger media outlet. With eleven weeks of severance pay, I found myself with the free time I needed to finally write a book from beginning to end. I managed it in eleven weeks, completely hated every word and abandoned the work without revising it. During that time I also organized an improvisational comedy troupe and skated with the local roller derby league, where for a time I led the league in ejections for poor sportsmanship. Still, writing was there. By this time I had created the basis of a fantasy realm called Ethia, to which my current series of novels refers. With eleven years of dabbling, I’ve managed to come up with a rich history and mythology for Ethia, which has been an invaluable resource from which to draw. I hope someday to novelize some of the incomplete snippets I’ve written about Ethia’s history into some sort of cohesive work.

The trick is writing a play that the children can understand and appreciate, while still providing something that will be entertaining for the parents to watch.

There are now far more writers than there are places for them in the market. What made you realise that your writing might be commercially successful one day?

A friend of mine sent some of my unpolished science fiction to an editor for critique without my knowledge, and the editor was impressed enough to suggest that, with some tweaking, my story could be quite successful. I’ve been working on that story for the last couple of years (with a rather large hiatus due to the birth of my daughter), and have one novel in the series in revision, and a second over halfway through the first draft.

How did you get into the theatre industry and what is the biggest challenge in writing for children?

I met the owner of Stars of Tomorrow, a company that teaches acting and play production to school-age children, through my work with the improv comedy troupe. I became one of their senior instructors, thanks to my theatre degree, and began writing plays for the classes. To date I have had over a dozen plays performed by students in classes throughout the Northern Illinois area, which have been extremely well-received by their audiences.

For the most part, when children are performing a play the audience is going to be largely comprised of parents and other adult family members. The trick is writing a play that the children can understand and appreciate, while still providing something that will be entertaining for the parents to watch. I write comedies, and I try to find that tricky place where the humor is appropriate and entertaining for both adults and children. Many of the characters I write in my plays are wryly self-aware, and the whole play comes off as a little bit cheeky, which usually fits the bill for all parties involved.

Why do you enjoy writing for children?

I enjoy the opportunity to be silly, to stretch my imagination and sense of humor without having to cater to the inherent cynicism of adulthood. It’s also important to write things for children without pandering to them. Kids will rise to the intellectual level with which they are presented, and I enjoy the opportunity to teach, through writing paired with instruction, various aspects of comedic theory, so that they know why what they’re saying is funny.

Why is it so important for writers and publishers to engage in social media now?

With the current market saturation and the ease of creating an online presence, writers and publishers must engage in social media if they are going to get anywhere with promotion and publicity. Unfortunately, one of the things I’ve noticed happening, particularly with Twitter, is that some authors misunderstand the difference between using social media to build an online following and simply spamming adverts about their book every few hours. Social media is an absolute necessity for writers and publishers because there is no freer and more easily accessible marketplace for your book than the Internet, but it should be used wisely. Sharing blog posts, thoughts about writing, and anything else gives what would otherwise be nothing more than a faceless advertising machine a human feel and more of a sense of connection with potential readers.

How do you maintain confidence and motivation in your efforts to become published, especially if you’re ever rejected by a publisher?

For many years I thought that nothing I wrote would ever matter if it wasn’t picked up by a mainstream publisher, got worldwide distribution and a movie option, possibly a spinoff TV series, a theme park, etc. However, the more I’ve gotten into my story and learned to love the characters and the world in which they reside, I find myself caring less and less about the end result, as long as I get to tell the story. When the story is the most important thing, success comes from within, and no amount of outside rejection can touch it. I hope.

What do you think your writing can offer readers that others might not?

I try to blend emotional honesty in my characters with fantastical situations, while incorporating elements of almost-believable science fiction. I’ve been told my greatest strengths are in my humor and my characters – they are very much alive, and likeable (even the villains, in their own way), and they are, I hope, realistic. Even when the situations surrounding them are anything but. I like to think of my characters as atypical heroes – they are insanely human (even when they aren’t); they’re flawed and not necessarily pretty, a little bit dorky and absolutely relatable. My books are for the kids who read books but never see characters all that much like themselves reflected back in the pages.

I enjoy the opportunity to be silly, to stretch my imagination and sense of humor without having to cater to the inherent cynicism of adulthood. 

What are the biggest differences between playwriting and writing novels? Do you have a preference between the two?

For whatever reason, playwriting comes much more easily for me than novel writing does. I can kick out a final draft of a play in a matter of days, while novels are far more arduous. However, I enjoy novel writing far more than playwriting. In a novel, you get to climb into the characters’ heads and see the world from their perspective. In a play, motivation is implied and not directly discussed, where it is one of the main foci of writing a novel.

What is your personal view on self-publishing?

It’s tempting, for sure. It offers the possibility of total creative control – everything from the story to the cover and all publicity. Which is a double-edged sword, because it means the author is responsible for everything from the story to the cover and all publicity. The more I read about self-publishing, the more tempting it sounds. However, in the YA market, I think it’s a bit more difficult to self-publish, because metrics show that YA readers still prefer print books to ebooks, which presents a larger upfront cost, plus figuring out ways to get your book into the major retailers. They get grouchy when you just stick copies of your book on their shelves!

And finally, what do you like to read?

Right now I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series from the beginning, as well as Parkland by Vincent Bugliosi. I read anything I can get my hands on; science fiction, fantasy, YA of all sorts, histories and philosophies, books on writing and folklore and utter trash. A writer needs to have a deep well from which to draw, including books that are so awful they serve as a reminder that even bad books get published. I do hope that my books don’t end up on that list for anyone. But, hey, if they do, at least they serve as some sort of inspiration.

You can follow Janice on Twitter @JaniceFosse and learn more about her and her work at janicefosse.com

Do you have any questions for Janice? Post in the comments below and I will get your questions answered!

Introducing Digital Publisher Andri Nel

Andri Nel, South African Digital Publisher

Andri Nel, South African Digital Publisher

Please introduce yourself! What is your personal and professional background, and how did you get into publishing?

I am Andri Nel and I live in Pretoria, South Africa. I completed my Publishing honours degree at the University of Pretoria, the only University of South Africa where you can study publishing, at the end of 2014 (our semesters work on full years not half years) and I will be furthering my studies at Oxford Brookes University on September when I start my Masters in Digital Publishing.

Digital Publishing is my passion. I fell in love with it 3 years ago in my final year of my undergraduate degree and have been working in as many fields of digital publishing as I can here in South Africa. During the years in which I completed my honours degree I entered the world of freelance digital publishing, doing both conversions and drawing up digital publishing strategies for publishers. Digital publishing is a very young field and one that is even more daunting to most publishers in South Africa where we are still struggling with a very bad reading culture, poverty and very little access to the internet in the rural areas. My personal goal is to help break the ice in this field and make digital publishing accessible to all publishers and use it to enhance the reading culture in the eleven official languages of South Africa.

Tell us about the company you work for. What type of publishing do you work in?

I am involved in a number of projects in the field of publishing, all focussing on digital publishing. As a freelancer I am currently working on the implementation of a digital publishing strategy for a nature publisher, Briza Publications, as well as the conversion, selling and launching of an independent author’s book on the compilation of prison letters by Ghandi’s son in law during Apartheid South Africa.

To keep the bread on the table I work on projects in educational digital publishing and have perfected the art of editing eBooks on screen. It was a learning curve as this is not a field which has been practiced a lot in South African publishing.

My passion lies with a venture called KliekClick which I started with three other women. KliekClick is an independent digital publisher publishing original short stories for children between the ages of 9 and 15 in Afrikaans (one of South Africa’s national languages and my mother tongue). We have a website and online store where children can buy stories in ePub and mobi format for as little as R5 (£0.25c). We also encourage children to write to us. The bulk of our stories came from a writing competition we launched on Facebook and the response was overwhelming. KliekClick is venturing out into educating learners about digital reading in 2015 with visits to schools and encouraging more children to write in their mother tongue. It is a venture I am extremely passionate. Our site is in Afrikaans, but please give it a look at www.kliekclick.co.za as well as our online shop at www.kliekclick/winkel.co.za

Email_banner02

Who is your target audience?

As a freelancer my target audience is publishing houses looking to venture into digital publishing and independent authors wanting to self-publish in digital format.

KliekClick’s target audience is children between the ages of 9 and 15, but also their parents as they are the ones with the money (of course).

What excites you most about digital publishing?

The possibilities digital publishing holds for publishing and especially publishing in South Africa. It is still a challenge for publishers in South Africa to understand that eBooks are not a replacement for print book (especially not in South Africa’s economic climate), but rather an extension. What excited me about working with publishers is teaching them new skills and seeing them get excited about the new ventures. What excited me about KliekClick is the opportunity we are giving short story authors, who are mostly turned down by big publishers, to have their stories published and the positive response we receive from both parents and children about the stories and the new experience they are having by buying and reading digitally.

KliekClick, the independent digital publishing company started by Andri Nel and three colleagues.

KliekClick, the independent digital publishing company started by Andri Nel and three colleagues.

How well received is digital publishing in South Africa? Is there a large publishing industry and a lot of publishers where you live?

Publishing in South Africa is mainly monopolised by the group NB Publishers, who own most of the smaller publishers, and then a lot of international publishers with branches here such as Penguin Random House, Oxford University Press and Pearson. Smaller publishers in South Africa focus on the niche markets such as language or nature. The industry itself is very small in South Africa though and is very female dominant, it really seems everyone knows everyone.

Digital publishing is still very new to South African publishing and many publishers are reluctant to venture into it. There are almost no South African publishers that publish in digital first format or even bring out a digital edition along with their print edition. Most eBooks are only backlist titles. Educational publishing has been more willing to enter into digital publishing as the Department of Education is pushing for digital learning in schools. The reluctance of most publishers is understandable as there are not real publishers with the necessary skills in digital publishing here yet (the digital publishing program was only added to the publishing curriculum 4 years ago) and because of the lack of internet infrastructure we have in the country. Most people cannot afford eReaders and tablets and despite internet connection being relatively good in the cities, some rural areas do not have any internet connection. Some publishers have started the transition, but there are still many obstacles to overcome for digital publishing.

Do you agree with the view point that is being widely discussed at the moment, about how all publishing professionals will soon need digital publishing skills to stay ahead in the game?

I think all publishers should have an understanding of all skills and fields in publishing. For example any publisher should have at least a minimal understanding of copy editing and proofreading. I think the same goes for digital publishing. Everyone in publishing should understand how it works and understand the “lingo” but not everyone needs to be a developer, not everyone needs to know how to code and create the eBook from scratch. It is a matter of understanding the field and how it fits in with your field of publishing.

eBooks are not a replacement for the print book, but rather an extension.

What do you feel are the advantages of digital publishing?

There are many generic advantages such as lower environmental impact, lower production costs (sometimes) and readers always being able to have their books with them. However I think the biggest advantage of digital publishing is the enhancement it can give to publishing. Not all books should be eBooks, I truly believe that, but those that are should not simply be a print book in digital format, what is the use. eBooks, in my opinion, should be advanced with media overlays, videos, links inside the book and outside the books. For publishers I think the biggest advantage of digital publishing is that for the first time in a long time, we can be completely creative, almost crazy, again and think outside the box. It makes for an exciting new chapter for publishing in general.

I think all publishers should have an understanding of all skills and fields in publishing.

What are the challenges facing digital publishing at the moment?

I think one of the biggest challenges is the platforms we are currently reading eBooks on. There is such a variety, but at the same time no real standard. Not only does this confuse readers and in many cases make them turn from eBooks all together, but it also makes the publisher’s job very difficult. Each platform it seems uses its own format and own DRM (which is a challenge in its own right) and it is becoming increasingly difficult to create one file which can work on all platforms. Even though productions costs might not be as high as print, they are pushed up because compatibility tests now need to be done on all different readers. Maybe it will never happen, but ultimately I think it would be best if there was one true standard for all eBooks which could allow easy reading and even sharing amongst readers.

Cartoon of Andri and her publishing colleagues.

Cartoon of Andri and her publishing colleagues.

In your point of view, will digital make print obsolete, or compliment it?

I don’t think digital will replace print, but rather enhance it. Some people will always read print books (no matter their age) others will prefer digital. Some books will always be better in print, others in digital. I compare it to paperback and hardcover, the one enhanced the other, neither one overshadows the other.

What do you read in your spare time?

I love reading classics (over and over again), biographies and Afrikaans novels, as I still love the way the Afrikaans language has evolved on the writing front.

You can follow Andri on Twitter @An3nel

Introducing Bookshop Owner Joanna De Guia


Victoria Park Books
174 Victoria Park Road
London, E9 7HD

@VictoriaParkBks

joanna@victoriaparkbooks.co.uk
www.victoriaparkbooks.co.uk

I am so pleased to be able to feature an interview with a bookshop owner; it’s always been kind of a quiet dream of mine to work in a bookshop. Today’s interviewee is a children’s book store owner who is located in London and who is very passionate about books, children’s literature, and the world of publishing. A vital cog within the publishing machine, the bookseller is one of the most important and influential people in inciting passion and enthusiasm for reading. To be able to do that for children must be a wonderful thing – if I am an example of how childhood reading can play a part in a person’s future career, then encouraging children to read, and to love to read, is essential.

Joanna De Guia, owner of Victoria Park Books in London, has very kindly conducted this interview with me and gives a fascinating and illuminating look into the world of book selling and how the publishing industry has changed things massively for the bookseller over the years..

When you convert a child to reading you know you are potentially having an effect that could improve the quality of their life and job opportunities.

I notice you used to work for Waterstones. What would say are the main differences between working for a chain bookshop and your own, independent bookshop?

When I worked for Waterstones it was still a small personal chain owned by Tim so it felt like a local bookshop.  I was in the High St Ken branch and we bought stock with our local customers in mind.  There wasn’t a core stock list then or centralised buying.  That all came in much later.  The main difference then was that we weren’t set up for customer orders as we were so big the idea was that people came in and would find something that would fit their requirements in the shop.  As a small independent we can’t do that as we don’t have the room or the capital.  So our customer ordering is key.

You first worked for Waterstones in the 80’s. How would you say things have changed in the industry between now and then?

It has changed beyond all recognition. The number of books published has increased exponentially so it is now necessary to return stock.  This wasn’t necessary when I worked at Waterstones and in my Mum’s shop, or indeed allowed. Once a book became old stock you put it in the reduced section as there just wasn’t that much in the way of new titles to keep up with.  There were several high street chains then (Smiths, Ottakers, Dillons, Books etc).  Now there is really only one, which is Waterstones.  There was a NET Book Agreement which meant that no retailer could undercut on price except if they were prepared to take a hit on their own profit margins.  There was no Amazon; no online.  The High Street was King.  Books were proportionately more expensive but people didn’t expect them to be rock bottom prices.  There were several bookdata providers so all retailers had equal access to a list of books in print (on a microfiche!).  Now there is a monopoly of provision –  Neilsen – and small retailers can’t afford to purchase that online access except through a wholesaler which means that information can’t be put onto their websites to indicate their ability to provide any book in print.  There were no e-books so there wasn’t the huge discrepancy between the offer from indies (unable to make much of a profit on e-books as there is no satisfactory scheme for selling e-books available to us) and that from chains and Amazon.  In short the playing field was much more level and the main difference between walking into an indie and a big provider was that you might have to wait 24 hours for a specific title from an indie if they didn’t hold it in stock.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Undoubtedly it is effecting an introduction between a reader and a marvellous book.  This is especially satisfying when one is dealing with kids as there is now so much competition for their free time and when you make a convert to reading you know you are potentially having an effect that could improve the quality of their life and job opportunities. I love inventing and running reading festivals and events and reminding children of how much fun reading can be.

Have you found that having your own children allowed you to understand the demands for quality children’s books?

Without a doubt! It is like working in a sweetshop when you have kids and if something especially delicious is shown there is always “one for us” added to the order.  Plus I know how deadly dull the process of learning to read is now in schools with everybody required to teach phonics and only phonics.  Being able to show children that books are actually a source of pleasure and not just something you have to do to pass an exam ensures lifelong reading and opens up a whole world of enjoyment. 

You have recently branched out into selling e-books. When did this begin and has this been successful so far? (If it’s too soon to tell, how successful do you expect it to be?)

I don’t think we have sold a single e-book!  The e-book market has been completely cornered by the cut-price big players (Amazon beyond everything and then Waterstone’s and Foyles and Blackwells – all online).  Indies get a laughable cut of profits – between 5 and 15% – and so even if you offer the opportunity to buy on your website (and we do) why would anybody do that when they could buy it from one of the others for so much less?

How important is it for your business that the customer trusts your staff’s advice? Do you find it has a big impact on sales?

My staff read a lot and have opinions about what they like and don’t like and they recommend titles happily.  Recommendations are crucial for indies.  A customer may come in for something specific which we are very likely not to have (given the number of books published and the amount of space and money we have). We can suggest other similar (possibly better) things and thus ensure a sale.  The people who use us best are those who are happy to be open to something new and unexpected rather than somebody coming for something specific which is immediately available.

How do you measure your bookshop’s success? Hard sales, or customer satisfaction and loyalty? How do ensure you continue to be successful?

Both hard sales and customer satisfaction are crucial yardsticks. However without hard sales it doesn’t matter how satisfied customers are; we cannot continue.  So the final measure is whether we make a profit.  I don’t know if I would describe us as successful yet. Our customers definitely love us and so do “our” authors.  And some of our publishers love us too.  And we have a legacy already of reading events and children who without us would not have developed a love of reading.  But it is such a struggle and the industry is so clueless about how to deal with its independent sector.  And high street shopping appears to be dying a slow and painful death right now.  There is very little help out there for small businesses.  The banks are sitting on our money and refusing to lend it to ensure survival.  It is quite hard to see where the future lies. 

In what ways would you say your bookshop is unique? How do you go above and beyond for your customers?

All indies are unique.  That is what is great and what is annoying about them.  They reflect their community and the personality of the owners and staff.  We reflect this specifically in the stock we sell and the books which interest us.  We stock books which would never sell outside London or a big city; showing diverse communities and liberal lifestyles.  The events we run are very realistic in their aims, understanding that most of our potential customers come from very poor families (Hackney is the second poorest borough and Tower Hamlets is the poorest borough in the country – and we border both) and/or from non-English speaking families.  Therefore we need to evangelise about reading and ensure it is the most exciting thing those children encounter – more exciting than their Xbox or the latest Pixar movie!  We go above and beyond what is expected of a corporate bookshop which only needs to show a profit.  We feel we should be selling children quality and not the latest pap.  But the quality has to be fun to read and sometimes pap is necessary to entice children into reading something better.  We have a great responsibility to our young customers.  We know them all and have watched many of them grow from primary school to A Level students and make their move out into the real world.

Your bookshop is based in London. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this?

The advantages are that reps still visit London bookshops regularly so we are more up-to-date on new titles; and we have a significant population.  However we are not on a high street as such.  Very few indies can afford to be placed so well now.  We are in a (lovely) backwater of boutique-y shops.  But this means we don’t get the footfall you would get on a high street, even one outside of a big city.  We don’t have the disadvantages of leasing our building – London rents are extortionate and I have no idea how anybody keeps going having to pay those – but our business rates are affected by the relatively high cost of renting and so we pay more rates. We didn’t have the problems of having to contend with out of town shopping centres…until they built Westfield 20 minutes away in Stratford.  Now we have a Foyles right on our doorstep, alongside a Primark and a John Lewis, etc, etc. So the attractions of mall shopping are becoming apparent. Mostly the advantages of being in London are personal; I can’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else!

What are your goals for the future?

Our goals are to survive.  And to continue to produce our reading festival at Shoreditch Town Hall – Town Hall Tales – and to make a success of our bookstall at the Half Moon Theatre in Limehouse.  And eventually to be able to pay myself a reasonable salary; nothing greedy mind, just enough to make a proper contribution to the household bills which are not particularly high!

What do you and your partner most enjoy reading? What do your children most enjoy reading?

I read anything at all.  But the things I have read recently which I loved are the new Michel Faber – The Book of Strange New Things – and a new book unpublished ‘til May called The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger.  I guess I especially like literary novels with a great plot.  And I love graphics – Fun Home by Alison Bechdel being one I read last year which blew me away. And then I love reading anything by Shaun Tan and good gritty kids’ fiction like Sally Gardner and E Lockhart.

Cris likes crime fiction and has just finished the Gold Finch by Donna Tartt.

Tilly and I are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird and she loves graphics – Jane, the Fox and Me, for example. She gets the Phoenix comic every week – and she reads absolutely anything from picture books to teen novels to poetry.  She is obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars and the Divergent trilogy and the Hunger Games.  And we are especially fond of Carol Anne Duffy. 

Which would you say has been your most rewarding job/career so far and why?

I have had many careers(!) and even more jobs.  I am quite old!  I have probably found the bookshop my most rewarding so far but also my most stressful because it is my thing.  I created it from scratch so its successes are all mine.  But so are its failures.  Mostly I am proud of every child we convert to reading for pleasure and every book we recommend which we get a positive report on!

1223

Have you shopped here before? What did you think of your experience? Or perhaps you know of a similar book store that you would like to recommend and publicize? Please, let’s get discussing and as always leave a comment below!

Introducing Children’s Author Annie Dalton

I was extremely excited to conduct this particular Q&A. Today’s interview is with a children’s author Annie Dalton, a woman who can I say with complete confidence is probably the reason I am who I am today: a book lover, passionate about publishing and writing.

I first came across Annie’s books in my local library when I was eleven years old. I can still picture it now; I know people have always said you should never judge a book by its cover, but I was eleven, and that’s exactly what I did. What child doesn’t? The bright, vibrant, happy, colourful front cover called out to me the moment I set eyes on it. It was the first book in the Angels Unlimited Series: Winging It. From that point onwards, I was hooked.

winging it

The beautiful artwork on the Angels Unlimited Winging It book. Here is my (well-worn and read!) copy that I’ve had for 13 years.

Growing up in high school was an extremely difficult time for me. My triplet sisters and I were heavily bullied; it was one of those situations where, if you were different or stood out like a sore thumb as we did, you were either destined to be very popular or the victims of bullying. Sadly, we were the latter. Identical triplets could have been ‘cool’, but we were far too obedient and hard-working and we stayed true to ourselves, rather than changing to fit in. And in a rough, working-class, badly-performing school, that was a recipe for disaster. (It turned out to be the best thing later in life, but kids can be very cruel.)

Annie’s books were the absolute perfect form of escapism for me. That may sound cliché, but clichés exist for a reason. I was immediately drawn to Melanie Beeby, the time-travelling angel. I identified with her because despite the fact that she was an angel in the most sublime place in the universe (Heaven itself, in fact!) she still often felt insecure, isolated, and inferior. All emotions which I felt on a daily basis. But the fact that she could become something so special – and surrounded by people so special – gave me some kind of hope for myself. It was the promise of something special for me, a girl who felt ordinary, mistreated and inadequate, that drew me back to the Angels Unlimited world over and over again.

My collection of (first edition) Angels books. For later novels, the covers were re-designed and renamed Agent Angel.)

My collection of (first edition) Angels books. For later novels, the covers were re-designed and renamed Agent Angel.)

I became such a huge fan of these books that I did a little digging and found Annie’s email address on the HarperCollins website. I emailed her, telling her of my love of her books and Melanie’s world. To my astonishment, she replied! We began talking and BOOM! Ever since then I have had a strong friendship with my most favourite author on the planet. This woman got me and my sisters through some dark days. She then did the most amazing thing – she based some characters in one of her books on the three of us! In the sixth book of the Angels Unlimited series, Fighting Fit, a set of identical triplets based in Ancient Rome were separated at birth, and now lead completely different lives. Mel Beeby’s job is to reunite them or the future of the human race will be in grave danger!

2014-08-10 18.23.23

A form of me finally lived within the pages of my favourite books in the world! I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy as a child.

Throughout my teenaged years, into adulthood and the real, scary, world, Annie has been a true friend and a constant support to me. I’m extremely happy to share her story with you in this Q&A.

At what point did you realise that you wanted to write professionally?

Some people have more than one string to their bow, but I am not one of those people. The only thing I have ever known how to do is to write stories and it took me thirty plus years to get up the courage to do that! Writing for me has always seemed like a natural extension of reading but also of being a compulsive talker and daydreamer. I was always getting in trouble for talking, day-dreaming, or not concentrating at school. I never secretly dreamed of being a published writer when I was a child, as some writers apparently did, simply because (and this is rather embarrassing) I had absolutely no idea that books were written by people! To me, books and the stories inside them were some kind of glorious natural phenomenon that I never thought to question; like apples and clouds, they just were. I did however have an immediate and intense feeling of connection with the world of children’s fiction. Something inside me said, ‘Oh, yes!’ And like a struck tuning fork this childhood ‘Yes’ carried on reverberating over the years, sometimes louder, sometimes pushed into the background, until one day, when my youngest daughter was at school, I sat down at the kitchen table and finally gave into an increasingly powerful impulse to attempt to write a book of my own. 2014-08-10 18.22.59

How did you get into writing, and how did your first book deal come about? How did you feel?

Becoming a writer was a gradual process. There wasn’t any one big epiphany, more like an accumulation of moments and influences. I grew up in 1950s Britain when few families owned a TV, and entertainment was commonly via the radio. After school, I listened to Children’s Hour on the Home Service, particularly dramatisations of popular children’s books like John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk and Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth. At bedtime my mum read to me from our book of Grimm’s Fairytales. To be honest, she did mostly out of duty and stopped reading to me just as soon as I learned how to read for myself! But I didn’t care about her motivation, I just soaked it all up, the magic dog with eyes like cartwheels, the little boy who was murdered by his evil stepmother slamming down a chest lid on his head, everything! And during the short time he lived with us, my father actually made up stories in which I starred as the main character. So before I became a reader I was a listener, simultaneously creating the story in my imagination as I listened. Then I learned to read and my imagination was fired in other new and wonderful ways.

My first effort turned out to be a rather baggy fantasy for older children/teens called Out of the Ordinary and was rewarded with serious beginner’s luck. I immediately found an agent who sent my manuscript to Miriam Hodgson, the now legendary children’s editor, who saw some potential in my writing despite its flaws, and persuaded Methuen, as it then was, to publish it. I have been lucky enough to earn my living from my writing ever since.

I was not a clever or academic child. I failed my eleven plus and went to a secondary modern school where our teachers seemed irritated and resigned at the thought of having to teach us. It wasn’t an environment that was very conducive to love of learning. We basically just endured, teachers and pupils alike. Any education that I managed to glean, I owe almost entirely to my local library. But by the mid 60s, change was in the air. It was the totally opposite process of what is happening to young people today when so many doors are closing. A fresh breeze was blowing in the 60s and new opportunities were becoming available for educational misfits like me who would never have ticked all the old boxes. Despite my uneven A Level results, I managed to talk myself into the English department at the University of Warwick. When I handed in my first essay, my tutor commented, as school teachers had commented before him, ‘You write so well, but you never answer the question!’ I wasn’t being deliberately subversive. I just always felt that I would rather write about something that excited me and usually the set questions didn’t! I eventually left with a degree but my three years at Warwick had actually driven my vague longings to write even further underground. It was only once I had children of my own and discovered exciting new children’s writers like Diana Wynne Jones and Margaret Mahy, that I suddenly felt compelled to try to write my own. I always feel slightly embarrassed that my first book deal came about with virtually no effort on my part. A neighbour’s photographer son had recently written a children’s book using his own photographs as illustrations and had acquired an agent at Curtis Brown. When I told him that I was writing a book for children he offered to introduce us and did. That was it! It’s over twenty years ago now but I will never ever forget the feeling when my agent phoned me to tell me that Methuen were taking my book. The joy! Followed by rather less joy when the manuscript came back and I saw all the dozens of red scribbles – every scribble representing a crucial change that my editor wanted me to make!

Did you always set out to become a children’s writer?

Actually I started out writing really bad poetry! And I wrote a lot of first chapters for novels, some of them for adults and all fairly hopeless, though maybe not as bad as the poetry! But the first book I ever finished and had published was for children. My first love as a child was fantasy, though I never thought of fantasy as a genre when I was small. But I instinctively gravitated to books with some kind of magic in them – I’d include time slip stories in my personal magical category – so my initial instinct was to write the kind of novels for children that I had loved to read. I never really believed that I’d become a professional writer of any kind to be honest. With my first book I thought more in terms of giving something back, having been given so much. Like you I was pretty much saved by reading as a child. I thought of myself as just adding my small contribution to this already existing sea of stories. I didn’t think there would necessarily be any more where that came from! But over the years I have written in different genres and for different age groups of children. I was blessed with some wonderful reviews early on and have been shortlisted for various prizes including the Carnegie and the Nottingham Oak. But it wasn’t until I was asked to write a short story for a HarperCollins anthology to celebrate the millennium that I stumbled on the elusive holy grail of commercial success. The anthology was called Centuries of Stories and my contribution featured a thirteen-year-old time travelling angel called Melanie Beeby. HarperCollins loved the character and decided she deserved her own series. The series ran for twelve titles, became an international best seller, and was optioned for a feature film by Disney. As so often happens with options, this film was never made, and the books eventually slipped out of print – but, thanks to my daughter, they have recently been given new life as ebooks.

What would you say is your favourite of your books/work?

I think it’s probably true to say that whichever book I am writing, at the time of writing, is my favourite! This is because writing a book takes huge commitment and energy, or, to put it in simpler terms, love. While you’re writing and experiencing the inevitable ups and downs, frustrations and downright terror that go with writing, it’s that love, that totally irrational belief that this book is worth writing, that gets you through; just as love for your child will get you up in the night even when you are bug-eyed with exhaustion and can barely put one foot in front of the other. At different times I have been in love with all of my books. Then time passes and I tend to see only the flaws. Then more time passes and I fall back in love! I recently wrote a book for Barrington Stoke called Cherry Green, Story Queen, a kind of remix of Scheherazade, set in a foster home. I still love it. I once wrote three books about a small girl called Tilly Beany whose ungovernable imagination innocently causes havoc at school and home. I am still proud of that book. I am still very fond of some of my angel books. But I am also looking forward to falling in love with future books that I hope will be completely different to anything I have previously written.

How would you say, from your perception and point of view, the publishing world has changed from when you began writing to the present day? Anything changed for the better, or worse, in your opinion?

My perception is that today it tends to be sales departments that call the shots, where publishers were once more editorially led. When I started out, my editor Miriam would listen patiently as I talked through an incoherent tangle of ideas for new books, before carefully tweezing out the single tiny seedling of an idea that struck her as having most potential. ‘Just put a few words down on paper,’ she’d say cheerfully when we’d finished, ‘so I can run it by Acquisitions.’ And a week or two later I’d have a contract! This would never happen today. In those days, editors would often take a chance on an unknown writer, nurturing him or her along, investing time and energy that might or might not pay off. But children’s books were not such big business then, and there were fewer children’s writers trying to make a living than there are today. I don’t want to get into things being ‘better’ or ‘worse’. The changes are here now as our current reality. We’ll have to learn to adapt, to reinvent ourselves, possibly several times over, in order to survive. It’s no use being precious about it – no one asked us to be writers after all! – but I sometimes feel like a bit of a dimwit for not sufficiently appreciating my good fortune, for not realising that it was just a passing era, rather than a life-long magic ticket for being an author.

Can you describe the challenges and benefits of being a full-time author?

I have had times of feeling stuck in a writing desert or no-man’s land; wanting and needing fundamental changes in the way I work but not knowing how to bring this about. It’s a hideously familiar rerun of all those initial doubts and fears that paralysed me when I first started out, doubts and fears that I had foolishly imagined to be gone forever! People assume that with several published books under your belt, you must have acquired an unshakeable level of confidence. Sadly creativity doesn’t work like that. Rowan Colman, a hugely successful novelist, talks about a phenomenon she names ‘The Fear,’ a creativity-sucking terror, which is all the more terrifying obviously if writing is also how you feed and clothe your family.

On the other side of the scales is that incomparable excitement which comes with finally breaking into new writing territory; or the thrill of those rare but glorious days when both sides of your brain are suddenly joyously in synch and you feel as if you’re flying; or, yes, an unexpected film deal; or receiving a letter from a thirteen-year old girl confiding that reading your book is helping her to heal from the death of a sibling. On the benefits side of the scales I would also include being sent a bright pink working clock (complete with sparkly winged angel logo) made by eleven-year old triplet girls, now grown up, one of whom is hosting this blog!

You’ve recently re-released your Angels Unlimited books as ebooks, with new cover artwork and under the name of Angel Academy. Can you describe the challenges and benefits of republishing your Angels books as ebooks?

Republishing the Angels series has just been win-win all round. The first four books particularly were written to very strict deadlines, and often I was writing other books alongside. This meant that the writing wasn’t always as tight as I’d have liked. As part of the process of converting them to e-books I’ve been able to re-read and re-edit, taking out any extraneous fluff and also bringing them up to date. My daughter designed new covers, giving these books a more contemporary – and I hope more powerful and grownup – look. It makes me very happy to know that Mel’s cosmic adventures are being read by a new generation of readers.

 

To find out more about Annie, visit www.anniedaltonwriter.co.uk

 

 

Tag Cloud