Ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce to you our first guest author, Simon Rose, who is taking time out of his busy schedule to spend the day with us on my blog.
His first five novels for children, The Heretic's Tomb, The Emerald Curse, The Alchemist’s Portrait, The Sorcerer’s Letterbox and The Clone Conspiracy, all continue to gather great reviews and The Sorcerer’s Letterbox was nominated for the Silver Birch, Diamond Willow and Golden Eagle Book Awards in 2005. The Doomsday Mask will be published in Spring, 2009.
He offers a variety of creative services designed for both writers and the business community, including editing, critiquing and manuscript evaluation, as well as freelance writing services, including website content and copywriting for businesses.
Like most people, unless they are teachers, I came into contact with very few children's books as an adult, until I had children of my own. The first ones were naturally picture books for very young readers and some were either very impressive and I wished I could have written them, or very poor and I pondered why they had ever been published. Like most of us, I wondered if I could do better, so I enrolled with the Institute for Children’s Literature and took their course. I had younger children at the time and thought I’d be devising picture books or fairy tales for four and five year olds. Then I read the Harry Potter books and realized that was the age range I was looking at writing for. However, I had no desire to write about wizards, dragons or classic fantasy topics and still don’t. Rather, I found myself drawn to what interested me when I was nine or ten years old - science fiction, time travel, history, superheroes, ancient mysteries and so on and the books have been in those genres, at least so far.
Would you share with us the story of how you were able to have your first novel published?
I was fortunate to attract the attention of a publisher quite quickly with my first novel, but had been sending out submissions of short stories and magazine articles for a while before that with no success at all. My first contracts were signed in late 2001 and The Alchemist’s Portrait was published in 2003, followed by The Sorcerer’s Letterbox in 2004
What do you think of the importance of networking in relation to book sales? Which social networks do you think work the best for marketing and why?
I have a website and blog and belong to various professional groups. Some are very useful, while others I get very little out of and reassess my memberships from time to time. I sincerely believe in the value of fellowship with fellow writers, but if there an annual fee for an organization, I like to think I’m getting some tangible benefits. I check my website statistics regularly to see where referrals are coming from, which helps me determine which groups are the most valuable to me. I subscribe to several listservs, where there are a good mixture of published and non published writers and do value groups where there are some great discussion topics or useful information about the writing life, such as taxes, legal stuff and so on. I am a member of SCBWI, for which I am the ARA for Western Canada, and belong to SF Canada, CANSCAIP, the Writer’s Union of Canada and a few others and also meet with writers and illustrators over coffee locally throughout the year.
I do use Facebook all the time, but have never used it for advertising my workshops and services for writers, I don't think. However, I am connected to writers all over the world and created the Children’s Writers and Illustrators on Facebook group at the beginning of 2009 and we now have almost 1000 members. I do have a page on MySpace, but find it much less effective and since it will not allow a feed from my blog, it is usually very out of date. I am on Jacketflap and some other sites too. I have considered Twitter, but decided I simply have no time for it, despite what everyone tells me. I’m at the computer every day, but because of all my marketing, promotion and work with schools, summer camps etc, I have a lot of e mail to manage, as well as trying to actually write the books. Another place to manage online is just too much at this point.
How much marketing does your publisher do and how much do you do on your own?
I do all my own marketing for the schools visits, workshops, conferences, book signings and launches, plus operate my own blog and website. I am always very grateful for any help my publisher has given me in the past, such as for travel and festivals, at least in Canada, will often approach him first.
Anyone who visits your website sees how diversified you are. You give workshops, school talks and author in residence weeks, as well as maintain a strong presence online with the Children’s Authors and Illustrators. In addition if this week is an example, you are being interviewed on several blogs. Do you have a system to keep yourself sane?
I'm not sure. I do try and keep things organized, but the good thing about Blogger, for example, is that you can do a whole series of entries and schedule them to be posted over several months. I started doing that last summer when I knew I would have less time, since it was school vacation time, but I didn’t want to temporarily abandon my presence on the web. I simply don’t have time to write a new blog entry every few days, so scheduling them works very well for me. No system really.. It’s a full time job and somehow I keep on top of things, but it is tougher if I’m traveling, even with remote access to e mail and everything. I find it much easier to keep track if I’m working in the home office for prolonged periods.
When you start a novel what is most important to you, character development or plot development? Please tell the readers why you work this way.
Plot for me, not sure why, although the nature of the stories, the subject matter and the age group they are written for are most likely the main factors there. I work on a detailed outline of the storyline before I even start with the actual text, dialogue and so on. Character development often comes at the same time, sometimes later. That being said, I usually have at least the main characters in mind as soon as I get the idea. I just need to know where the story is going, if the project is going to actually become a full-length novel.
How important do you think critique groups are for writers and do you have one?
I have never had a critique group, but acknowledge that it is important for some people, either in person or online. Writing is by nature a solitary occupation and can be a lonely business, without the benefit of hordes of cheering fans on the sidelines. A critique group is a place where you can ask questions and receive constructive feedback to help you with your writing as you try to build your career as a professional author. A group can also help you conquer a stumbling block, help you to regain momentum and get back to your writing or make a start on a new project.
Do you have any advice for someone who is beginning to write for children?
Read lots of kid’s books of course to get a feel for what is being published at the moment, but also just to get really into the genre. It’s also a good idea to take a writing course, either in person at a local college, by correspondence with someone like the Institute for Children’s Literature or online with someone like myself. Writing is in some ways the easy part. It can be a very long process not only to write a book, but also to get it published. A book is a marathon measured in years rather than weeks or months. Don’t be afraid to revise and revise over and over again. Most authors go through many revisions before their work reaches its final format. Remember too that your book will never be to everyone’s taste, so don’t be discouraged. A firm belief in your own success is often what’s necessary. After all, if you don’t believe in your book, how can you expect other people to? Read as much as you can and write as often as you can. Keep an ideas file, even if it’s only a name, title, sentence or an entire outline for a novel. You never know when you might get another piece of the puzzle, perhaps years later. You also mustn’t forget the marketing. You may produce the greatest book ever written. However, no one else is going to see it if your book doesn’t become known to potential readers. Be visible as an author. Do as many readings, signings and personal appearances as you can. Get your name out there and hopefully the rest will follow. Especially for newly published authors, books don’t sell themselves and need a lot of help.
When do you think a writer needs an agent? How helpful is an agent both before and after publication?
I have contacted agents on numerous occasion and met them in person at conferences and other events, but no one has ever showed an interest in representing me, I’m not sure why. You would think that they’d jump at the chance to be involved with a writer who has already published six books, is all over the internet and does so much promotion himself, but there is no interest, very odd. Of course, many of the larger publishing houses will only take manuscripts through an agent, so literary agents remain very useful for writers. I think agents have been very good for some authors and there are some great agents out there. However, I have talked to just as many writers who have had agents who did nothing for them at all, despite their reputation with other authors. Of course, this could be the fault of the author’s material, but to sum up, a really good agent with all the right connections is probably worth his or her weight in gold.
What do you think of e-books and e-book readers such as Kindle? Are any of your books in e-book form?
None of my books are in Kindle format yet, as far as I know. However, I think these things, or at least what follows on from them, are here to stay. People from older generations may like to think that everyone will always want a real book, but although I used to think the same way, I’m not so sure these days. After all, even older people have iPods, Blackberries and all the rest and have become used to looking at text on a small screen. Why could you not get used to buying a book as a pdf, read some of it on your desktop computer, take it on a laptop to another part of the house, then read more on a handheld device on the bus or train on your way to work? It’s not that much different than taking a real book along with you, is it really?
Technology is changing many aspects of the way we live, and the pace is increasing all the time, it seems, with products becoming obsolete so much faster. Decades ago, it was said that TV would kill newspapers, but newspapers survived. Yet now, the Internet is seriously damaging newspapers as we speak, mostly from an advertising revenue aspect, but also because people have become so accustomed to seeing news items online. People no doubt thought tapes, vinyl and even CD's were a fixture in our lives, but the music industry changed dramatically and compact disks in particular had a very short life span, when you think about it. The Kindle certainly isn’t the end of this, and I’m sure other products will come along, but I think it’s the start of something that will change the way we look at books in the future. Not sure how this will play out with picture books, but I guess we’ll wait and see.
Graphic novels are becoming very popular. Do you have any plans to write a graphic novel?
No, I don’t think so. I have seen them and appreciate their quality and popularity, but I guess I shouldn’t rule it out, as long as I would have an illustrator to work with.