Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Event Planning




Alongside my  writing I enjoy arranging events and find this as creative as the writing itself. Here are my tips on the process.

Define your event

What do you actually want to do at this event? What will it look like? How will you define its success? What do you want to achieve? How many people would you like to attend?  Who do you think is likely to attend? 
     

Setting a budget

Do you have a set amount of money to spend? Will you have to charge participants? Do you expect to make more money out of the event e.g. by selling books, charging for catering or asking people to pay what they can afford.
Tip: assume you will make nothing on the event but if you do you can put that into the budget of the next event.  
Possible costs:
  hire of room
  cost of catering
  personnel  - e.g. compeer, book seller, front of house, food server

Some ways that you might save money:
  Some venues may be offered for free for a minimum spend
  Choose somewhere where there is cash bar or servery.  You can still supply a cake or similar so that you look generous. 
  Form a mutual support group where you help each other with events.   

     

Inviting people

You've probably selected your venue according to the number of people you're expecting. Remember some people will drop out nearer the time - illness, weather, family problems, car breaking down etc.  It's wise to overbook by about 15%. You'll get a full room. I once "sold" fifty tickets for an event . Thirty-one people turned up. Ll the "drop-outs" had genuine reasons.
There are three tools that may help:
Facebook events - free to use but if your event is paid for it won't handle money. However, you can use it in connection with the other two listed below and make it point to them.  It's the extra advertising for your event.    
Eventbrite  - for free or paid for events.  There are lots of helpful tools.
Ticket Source - better for paid-for events. Like Eventbrite  it offers a lot of useful tools. It has the look and feel of a theatre box office. 
Tip: charge for an event but include a free book. Folk are more likely to turn up if they have had to pay.             

Organising what happens

Work out a timetable but be prepared for it to change. Factor in setting up and clearing up. Here is an example:
5.30 - set up
6.00 - guests arrive, mingle, serve drinks.
6.30 - intro
6.35 - readings from the book
6.50 - 7.10  Q & A
7.10 - 7.25 serve cake
7.25 - 8.00 sell books, sign copies, more mingling
8.00 - 8.30 clear up   
  

Critical Time Planning

This is a must for any type of event. It's the order in which you do things. For example you don't look at taps for your bath before you have laid the foundations for your house. And yes: even looking at them may be counterproductive - by the time you get the bathroom installed they may not be made anymore. On the other hand you need to be sure of lead times so that you order them in time.

The key is to work backwards. What does the even look like? What do you need to do in order for it to turn out that way?
Here is an example, and note it is set out with the event at the top.

50 people at the International Crumpsall Centre for book launch of Daisy Days 17 April 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 
Pick up cake / wine 17 April  12.00
Plan timings - discuss with helpers 10 April 2020
Order cake and wine 17 March   
Order 35 copies of book 12 March (Why not 50? Experience tells me this number is about right.  Would you be able to sell the further 15 afterwards? And if you do order more don' put them out all at once. Seeing a huge unsold pile puts people off. If it looks as if stocks  are running out people may make the effort to buy.
Find people to help - by 1 March                
Send invites (Invite 60 -writing friends, other friends, people interested in dementia) 1 March 2020.  Keep going until all tickets have gone.      
Book venue by 26 February
Set budget by 20 February 
      

Evaluating your event

This is a really important step and should be completed as soon as possible after the event has finished.
For a simple book launch you will probably not need to survey your participants. Even if your event is one where you have offered a service or a product I urge some caution. Invite people to complain and they will. Even if they are mainly satisfied ask them what could be done better and they'll tell you! And that may feel negative to you. Certainly that element should be there but it should be only one of many. Ask open questions such as:
What have you gained from this course?
What will you do next?
What else could we do for you?
What might we have done better?

For other sorts of events be kind to yourself. Still keep a critical head, though, and ask yourself these focused questions.
What went well?
What went less well?
What else would you do?
What would you do differently next time? 
It's important to record the answers and look at them before you plan the next event.    

Monday, 12 August 2019

Editing: a never-ending process




In a Facebook Group I belong to we recently discussed when you should give up on a short story. Almost everyone said: “Never!” I tend to agree. I’m putting together now collections of my own stories but only where they’ve been published elsewhere and when I have the rights back.
And here’s the thing: I edit them again before I publish them.

In fact, I read through again and often tweak those stories that are rejected before I send them out again.      

Surely, though, shouldn’t every story be the very best it can be before it goes out? Yes of course. But what was “the very best it could be” a couple of months ago may not be today. We all move on as writers and usually become better.  Language changes anyway. New facts creep in. 

On the other hand I very rarely alter stories to make them more suitable for a particular publication.  The story is what it is.  The trick is to find the right publication. I’ll make an exception, though, if I get some concrete feedback from an editor. I’ll often act on that unless it totally compromises what I was trying to achieve. 

I’m not alone either, in editing as I read my work aloud. The text sometimes needs to be a little different if you’re reading it aloud form if the reader is taking it in through her eyes. Also, again, you have moved on as a writer since you wrote the piece. 

Be warned as well, when that novel that you’ve slaved over and edited to what you perceive to be perfection, is finally accepted, your editor will proceed to tear it apart. Do not be discouraged: she is on your side. We scrape back the layers. The better it is to start with, the better it will become with more editing. 

Over the next fee posts I’ll be describing the stages of editing I put my novels through – before I release them to a beta reader, let alone send them out to publishers.           

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Night Birds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken



Dido Twite has been shipwrecked but is picked up by a whaling boat.  She sleeps for ten months and  finds herself far away from her home in England whens she wakes, on her way to Nantucket. 

During her continued voyage and a brief stay on Nantucket she befriends the captain’s daughter, unravels a mystery and helps the captain consolidate his relationship with the pink whale. She eventually gets her passage home. 

Dido comes across as a feisty character. She prefers dressing as a boy – denim trousers and cotton shorts are more comfortable than frilly dresses.   She speaks not quite standard English but Joan Aiken does not overload us with dialect.  There is just enough to give her a personality. The words do not hide their meaning.  

The story is full of twists and turns. Some of the characters are larger than life. This novel is perhaps a forerunner of the Lemony Snicket novels except that this one does have a happy ending.
The book is just over 200 pages long.  It is formatted in blocked text and in an adult font.  There are a few line-drawings which illustrate the text.   

Monday, 5 August 2019

Only the Ocean by Natasha Carthew




Kel Crew has lived in the swamps all of her life up until now. More fortunate folk live in the Towers. Kel has a plan: kidnap a Towers girl, ransom her for drugs and sell those to pay for a life-saving operation that she needs. She sets off taking her baby with her. She refers to him as “it” at first. We trace her development as the baby gradually becomes ‘he’, gains a personality and eventually a name. She seems at first not to care for him but we note that she is constantly checking that he is still breathing.
Her relationship with Rose the girl she captures, with the ocean and with life in general is complex. There is no happily ever after in this story and that is of course quite right in a novel written for young adults. There is however a form of survival.  
Natasha Carthew brings us some delightfully refreshing prose: “It was a stupid baby, if it wasn’t it would have put its fist to its mouth and left it there for gumming” (30), “She stepped into the shadows of the low-slung nothing-much sun” (46), “She stood at the door and tried every crack and corner for looking and when she heard footsteps scuffing the stairs down to her she sat backed up on the ground and waited” (134).
It’s difficult to like Kel but Rose’s privilege, her growing fondness for the baby and the demanding trials mainly on the ocean that the two girls face make us more sympathetic towards her.      
        

Thursday, 1 August 2019

News 1 August 2019



 

Playwriting Course

I’ve signed up for a playwriting course at MMU. I hope my friends from the University of Salford will forgive me. It’s two days in October and will involve analysing Hamlet and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. We’ll also be dabbling in virtual reality. There will be some writing during the course. You can find more details about it here.  Care to join me?       
I’m really looking forward to this and I hope it will bring a new dynamic to my writing.
          

News about my writing

My story Grey will soon be published in the Ginoskso literary journal. (Volume 23)
My biggest news is that the third story in my Schellberg Cycle, Girl in a Smart Uniform is now out. This is the most fictional to date.  Some characters, familiar to those who have read the first two books, appear again here. Clara Lehrs, Karl Schubert and Dr Kühn really existed. We have a few, a very few, verifiable facts about them. The rest we have had to find out by repeating some of their experiences and by using the careful writer's imagination.

Gisela adores her brother Bear, her gorgeous BDM uniform, and her little half-brother Jens. She does her best to be a good German citizen, and is keen to help restore Germany to its former glory. She becomes a competent and respected BDM leader. But life begins to turn sour. Her oldest brother Kurt can be violent, she soon realises that she is different from other girls, she feels uncomfortable around her mother’s new lover, and there is something not quite right about Jens. It becomes more and more difficult to be the perfect German young woman.

We know that BDM girls set fire to the house in Schellberg Street but got the children out first. This story seeks to explain what motivated the girls to do that, and what happened to them afterwards.
Find it here.  
At some point I’ll be doing a proper launch though I’m still trying to decide exactly what to do.
I’ve also continued to work on The House of Clementine, 280 x 70 and Not Just Fluffy Bunnies. The latter is proving to be huge and I’m wondering whether I should serialise it.

 

Catalogue of books for children

This month I’ve added :
Tulip TaylorTake Another Look by Anna Mainwaring. Anna is one of my SCBWI friends and I’m very pleased for her. This was published just a few weeks ago. It’s definitely YA and is welcomely different from what has now become the norm.

Perfect by Cecelia Ahern. This is also YA.  It was published in 2017 and is extremely fast-paced.      

The School at the Chalet by Elinor Brent-Dyer This is suitable for fluent readers, Key Stage 2.  It’s quite a classic and was first published in 1925.  It contains many familiar tropes from the school story. I reread it in connection with Not Just Fluffy Bunnies.

The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett  More classics. I’ve included all of the One End Street books here. They were first written in 1937, 1956 and 1962. I read these just out of curiosity. A lot of nostalgia there for me. They would suit the fluent reader Key Stage 2 and maybe early teens.  However I do suspect that the 21st century young reader may find them puzzling. I was looking to see if they were “working class novels”. They’re about the working class, certainly, but Garnett can hardly be classed as working class.    

 

Current reading recommendation

This month I’m recommending one of our own writers. I really enjoyed Gail Aldwin’s String Games. I’m not giving anything away when I say there is an abduction and murder involved. This is mentioned on the back cover blurb.
The story is in three parts and from the point of view of the victim’s sister Nim / Imogen:
  • At the time of the abduction
  • Nim as an adolescent
  • Imogen trying to get closure
It took me out of my editor’s. That’s always a good sign. I also soon forgot that it was written by someone I knew.  Another good sign.
You can read more about it here.      

Giveaway

This month I’m giving away my book on marketing for indies: So now You’re Published, What next?  
The last thing most writers want to do is spend a lot of time on marketing. Yet books don't sell themselves by magic, no matter how good they are. Publishers do what they can but time and money is limited, and inevitably they have to move on to the next project. If you can adapt a few useful routines, especially ones you find palatable and fun, you'll hardly notice you're doing it. There are heaps of useful suggestions here and handy check lists to keep you on track.
Get your free mobi-file and lots of other goodies here.  
Note, that normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £0.99 to £10.99, with most on Kindle being about £2.99 and the average price for paperback being £7.00. We have to allow our writers to make a living. But I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.   
Naturally I welcome reviews.
Many of the giveaways come as a mobi-file that you need to download to your Kindle. Just plug your Kindle into your computer and save the mobi-file to your Kindle. Or you can transfer it across later. If you don’t have a Kindle here are some instructions that may help:

Mobi files:

Amazon make a range of apps that emulate a Kindle device on other platforms:
iPad, iPhone, iPod
Android phone
Android tablet
PC (Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10)
Mac
Windows phone
(Note: not Linux platforms)
  1. Choose which device you would like to read the .mobi file on. (PCs, Macs, iPhones and iPads are good).
  2. Go to https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=GZSM7D8A85WKPYYD and select the device. Follow the instructions to install the app/software.
  3. If your chosen reading platform is not the one on which you received/saved the .mobi file, transfer the file across. For most combinations of source and target this will simply involve connecting the two together with the appropriate cable, or via a USB memory stick. For example, for a PC to an iPhone or iPad, connect using the uPhone/iPad power cable and transfer using iTunes.
If you only have access to a Linux platform, you will need to use one of the many online ebook converters (Google is your friend here) to convert the .mobi file to an .epub file, then install Calibre to read it.

The Schellberg Project

I’ve continued adding to the Discovery Pack, posting the same material on to the web site / blog. I’ve added another page about Käthe Edler, Renate’s mother. Although she was quite a feisty woman she was constrained by the notions of the time of what a wife and mother should be.
The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust.
You can read the posts here.      

 

School visits

I’m still promoting my school visits associated with The House on Schellberg Street project. I’ve now developed a whole workshop for this. It starts off with a board game, includes some role play and creative writing and ends with a discussion.
It is now possible to purchase the kit to work on on your own. Find details here.
Costs for my workshops = travel expenses plus £400 for a full day and £200 for a half day. This includes all materials and some freebies. Two schools near to each other might consider splitting the day and halving the travel expenses and fees. This is open to negotiation in any case.       
I also offer a free half day visit, though you pay my travel expenses, if you allow me to promote my books.      
I’m continuously adding materials for schools to the site that are different from the ones I use for the workshops. I’ve recently added in resources and books to do with the topic. See them here:      
Query for a school visit here.
I’m also happy to tailor a visit for your agreed donation. This can be for either a Schellberg Cycle visit or a creative writing workshop. Any monies raised this way will go specifically to a project I have for a non-fiction book about a journey that will follow the footsteps of Clara Lehrs. I’m hoping to do the whole journey by train, including departing via my nearest Metrolink station. It’s important to feel the rails beneath my feet.       
I offer as well standard author visits which include readings from my books, Q & A sessions and creative writing exercises.
Please remember, with these as well, I’m open to negotiation if you can’t afford the full price.

 

Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.

Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapletown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.

Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.

The Creative Café Project News about the project and CaféLit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   

Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Find it here.   

Opportunities List Remember I keep a full list of vetted opportunities on my writing blog. See them here. New ones are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I go through it and take out all of the out of date ones. At that point I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  


Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  

Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.

A Publisher’s Perspective Here I blog as a publisher. Access this here.   

The Creative Café Project Listings and reviews of creative cafés. See them here.   

CaféLit Stories Find these here

Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.

Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head.   

Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.

The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.

Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.     

Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 

Happy reading and writing.