Monthly Archives: October 2013

Dragon Loves Penguin

And Bookwitch absolutely loves this book!

Debi Gliori’s latest picture book is the most loveable of them all. Of that I’m sure. I would like to hug it and take it to bed with me. It made me cry. Debi knows a lot about love, and I’m glad. Very young readers need this kind of book.

It’s the traditional plot of the small child who asks for a bedtime story or they just can’t go to sleep. Bib the little penguin knows he wants the one about the dragons.

Debi Gliori, Dragon Loves Penguin

So Bib’s Mummy sits down and reads it to him. It’s about dragons who come to live somewhere that is far too cold for them. Somewhere they don’t belong. There is a dragon with no egg. And an egg with no mummy. Luckily the two find each other.

There is a lot of love.

But this egg, Little One, is different from the other eggs (who are all dragons), and suffers the kind of prejudice that different ones have always suffered.

But there was a lot of love to draw strength and courage from. And good things happen.

There’s more love.

It’s very lovely.

I’m going to have to read this to my own littlest egg.

(On a more technical note, even I could tell that Debi had changed what she uses to ‘make those pretty pictures’ and I gather it’s a combination of charcoal and watercolours. It’s rather lovely.)

Looks dead easy, don’t you think?

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Some ‘sprätting’ necessary

Sorry about that. I’m not really sure what ‘sprätta’ is in English. Unpick was suggested, but feels wrong. It’s what you used to have to do to – some – books in Sweden in the olden days (those olden days include my own past, so really ‘quite recently’).

I was reminded of this interesting pastime when the Guardian television guide came needing some ‘sprätting’ to be usable. I reached across the kitchen and grabbed the old letter opener I had recently remembered I had, and set to work. It was oddly satisfying, sitting there opening page after page.

But to do it to a whole book? And to book after book? Well, it pales after a while.

In my childhood – youth, even – books first came both as a fancy hardback and often as ‘häftad,’ which was cheaper. It would be exactly the same pages, only not cut open, and in a soft binding. Sort of like a rougher version of today’s large format trade paperbacks.

You had the choice of either slitting open every page at once, which took forever. Or, you could read with the letter opener in one hand, slitting as you went. If you tired of either book or slitting, you’d leave behind a half open book.

Apparently there are now people who have never come across this. I googled the term and found various blog posts on the subject, where people felt hard done by, having bought an old book and discovering it was a ‘closed’ book. They thought they’d been cheated (rather like Mr and Mrs School Friend did when they visited a tearoom in Buxton many years ago, and found one pot was full of tea and the other only had water in it…). And many commenters on these blogs said they’d never even heard of this type of book.

I mostly didn’t buy books back then, being a little too young to feel I could actually afford to. But I was struck by how relatively cheap the ‘häftad’ version was, and would definitely have gone for that, had I been buying.

I own a few books like this, either inherited from someone, or bought second hand. I think they look nicely craggy.

But I’m fully aware I wasn’t the one wielding the knife.

Show me your money

I asked, and you did.

Had this been Sweden, I needn’t have asked. Most information about what anyone earns, or any fortune they tell the tax authorities about, is available for anyone to see.

But I’ve been thinking about this for years, and finally plucked up the courage to ask authors what they earn and how well they feel they can live off their book earnings. And if it costs them money, too. Because just like I pay to blog, increasingly I’ve been feeling that some authors are forking out – a fair bit of – money to help their books along.

The survey was not perfect. It was my first ever. But I asked what I wanted to know, and that was annual income (yes, I know there is no such thing, and it fluctuates, widely), primarily from sales (including advances and royalties) of books, but also any other kind of income like PLR, prize money, fees for talks, film rights, etc.

Then there’s the possibility that the author has a(nother) paid job, or that they have partners who support them, or perhaps they are the main breadwinner and need to keep other family members in the style to which they have become accustomed. Can they even live off their book earnings? Are they thinking of giving up writing because of the money?

For people who actually understand that most authors don’t earn millions, it could still come as a surprise that not everyone has a real, liveable on kind of annual salary. Or that you are paid this year, but will have to wait another few years for the next lot of money to come your way.

Who did I ask? Well, everyone (children’s authors) that I was able to contact either by email or via facebook. People I ‘know’ and who mostly know me, or of me. That was close to 200. I had 83 replies. A big thank you to all! I know who some of them were, because they wrote and told me that they’d filled in the survey, but I don’t know who the individual results belong to. The Resident IT Consultant sat by his computer and watched in amazement as the answers piled in. But he doesn’t know who I contacted.

Someone suggested that I might know the kind of writer who is better off than average. I’m not sure, because some really don’t earn very much from their writing. And how do you decide what is an OK income? Is it the same as you or more, or are you dissatisfied with what you have?

26 men and 57 women, with a fairly even distribution of how long they’ve been writing. Around a quarter each for less than five years, between five and ten years, 10-20, and over 20 years. 53 of them are the main breadwinner, including two on less than £1000 a year. I’m guessing those two have other jobs. If I’m being sexist about this and assume that all the men are the main breadwinner, that leaves 27 women who are as well, on whatever money they earn.

27 people say the money is definitely not enough to live on, and 27 are considering giving up writing. I wonder if they are the same 27?

‘But how much money do they earn?’ I hear you ask. Well, nine make less than £1000 and twelve between £1K and £5K. 24 authors earned from £5K to £15K, and another 19 £15K to £30K. Eleven lucky ones made £30K to £75K, while nine earned over £75K. (So had JKR been part of this, that’s presumably where she would have been.) As more than one person pointed out, their income varies crazily from one year to the next. One writer said she had been in each category at some time or other. Another mentioned the nightmare of paying tax, based on such unevenly timed earnings.

The Resident IT Consultant played around with the figures a bit, and assuming the range is between £500 and £85,ooo, then the median income is £7K for those who have been published for less than five years. Authors with more than 10 years behind them had a median income of £18K, while those in the middle made £13K. But if the highest earners are considerably wealthier than this assumption, that would obviously change.

I’m half wishing I’d had one more, much higher income option, but I felt that over £75K was an indication of quite an acceptable income, one which many would be very satisfied with, and that excessive success needn’t be measured here. (Although I’m naturally very pleased for anyone so excessive!) All nine who earned over £75K felt they lived comfortably, and so did some of the writers above £15K. This must vary with how many are dependent on their income; whether someone is single or has ten children and as many dogs.

For other income, 37 have partners who earn, and three work full time at something else, and nine do part time non-book work. Only a handful  employ someone else, such as a PA or their own publicist. And along the same lines, 45 people send out up to five review copies of their book themselves, and 17 send out up to 20 copies, while three send out more.

A lot of writers have won awards, whether major (19) or more local (45) book awards. The estimated median income for major (Carnegie, Costa/Whitbread, Guardian, Smarties, etc) award winners is £23K, compared with £15K for others. Does that mean you make more money having won an award, or does award winning ‘qualities’ mean you are likely to sell more books anyway?

Most authors who contacted me privately wanted to give their best year. That’s understandable, because it looks better that way. But it would also indicate that writers on average earn more than they really do. We want authors to make good money, but for any kind of sympathy the real state of affairs needs to be made public.

And those awards that authors get invited to attend? 15 respondents have paid for travel and accommodation themselves, with six paying more than £100 in one year. It’s worth remembering that many awards are more honour than income. Might generate more sales, and thereby higher earnings, but not necessarily.

So there you have it. Things could be worse, but they could certainly be better too. Let’s hope it’s not your favourite author who hangs up their laptop because they quite like feeding their children, or heating their homes. Sometimes even both.

Skulduggery Pleasant – Last Stand of Dead Men

Not all characters die quite as much as others. Being dead is not necessarily a permanent position, nor is being reduced to existing as merely a head. Though not all dead characters return to life, unfortunately.

And I had no idea that Darquesse had a sense of humour!

I can’t believe I missed the arrival of Skulduggery Pleasant’s penultimate outing in Last Stand of Dead Men. Somehow this time of year comes round far too quickly on occasion. A witch shouldn’t have to stand in a bookshop and think ‘Funny, I don’t recognise that Skulduggery cover. Or the title…’

Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant Last Stand of Dead Men

This is war, and it is very bloody indeed. And don’t believe what you see on the cover.

In fact, don’t believe what you thought as the last book ended. It’s not going to be quite like that. That’s how Derek Landy keeps his Minions on their toes. Besides, I know of no other books where the characters change sides so often you don’t even remember what side they’ve just changed from. Or how many times.

Someone you like will die. Not everyone, though, because there will be one more book, and it will want a few people in it.

I am not twelve and I don’t look like Valkyrie, but that doesn’t prevent me from loving these books. They are exciting and they are funny. I’d like to quote a bit, but there are too many potential quotes for it to be possible to pick just the one.

Valkyrie – or perhaps I mean Stephanie – has just left school with excellent results. She needs to decide what to do. Valkyrie wants to continue doing what she does with Skulduggery. The reflection wants to live Valkyrie’s perfect life at home.

And then a lot of hells break lose all over the place.

As for the surprise traitor, I had been expecting it, because there was such a heavy hint (more than a hint, actually) a few books ago that it didn’t seem like a surprise.

Did I mention that Darquesse has a sense of humour? Who’d have thought?

Dublin Express

I suppose authors know best. They probably go round thinking that there are certain shorter pieces they have written, which really could do with being published. And sometimes the world, or publishers, don’t agree. So you do it yourself.

Bateman, Dublin Express

That’s what Colin Bateman did with his Dublin Express collection, albeit with a little help from his friends, through a kickstarter crowd funding campaign. This is the book he sold from under the table at Bloody Scotland, and I believe it went the same way as hot cakes traditionally do.

Colin read The Prize to us, and it’s everything that you want from Bateman; very witty and a little rude and offering surprises here and there. Simple, but no one wrote it before him, so…

I’d come across some of the stories, or bits of them, before. It’s good to have them collected in one volume. Still not sure what the characters mean about those uncomfortable leather trousers, but I refuse to ask. It might prove embarrassing.

And then there is National Anthem, Colin’s play for the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival 2010. It’s Irish. I understand it was a sell-out. He’s good.

Goodbye Norm

Norm Geras died yesterday morning. He’d been ill for some time, and earlier this year when I asked Adèle how he was, her reply wasn’t the one I’d hoped for. So I knew what to expect, but you still feel sad when it happens.

He was such a widely respected man, and I was extremely flattered when asked to contribute to his Normblog profile early on in my blogging career. That someone like Norm would consider me ‘grown-up’ enough to contribute felt astounding.

I didn’t read his blog every day, but as his facebook friend I caught most of his daily comments about ‘everything.’ When I acquired a new fb friend some years ago, the thing that really impressed her was that I was friends with Norman Geras!

The first thing I ever heard about Norm was about his room, filled with books on cricket. He had a lot, though I understand he actually parted with some of his collection before he and Adèle moved from Manchester three years ago. I admire him for that, now that I am facing a cull in my collection of not-cricket books.

Norm and Adèle Geras with grapes and strawberries

We met when Daughter and I came to their house to interview Adèle four years ago. Not wanting to eat with us girls – or perhaps not being allowed to – his salad was brought to his office, but he came down for cake and strawberries later.

Norm kept blogging and generally staying in touch with the online world until last week. I kept checking, always hoping he’d be there.

(People have been collecting tributes and links on this new blog.)

The Teri Terry interview

Facebook is useful for, well, quite a few things. You meet people on there. People who haven’t yet published books. And then they go on to be published authors. You find out they are coming to Manchester, even if it is to speak to librarians and not to me. That’s the kind of thing that can soon be altered. Added to, rather. I didn’t prevent Teri Terry from seeing her librarians. I just made sure she saw me too.

We met over fruit juices. (Because it was still, technically, morning.) We had our borrowed photographer, Marnie Riches. And there was my list of ‘things I wanted to know.’

Teri speaks with an interesting accent, which I would probably label as American. It is ‘Canadian, actually.’ With bits of several other accents thrown in. But she has that confidence when speaking that I recognise from other Amer… I mean, people from North America.

So here she is, the author who collects degrees, careers and accents the way the rest of us hoard stamps. Teri Terry, the cheerful dystopia writer who doesn’t mind running.