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Five learnings from the ABA conference

ABA = Australian Booksellers’ Association – a pretty important group for authors to access.

Thanks to the good offices of my lovely publisher at Odyssey Books and our dynamic distributor Novella, I was able to join the stand at the Sunday afternoon trade exhibition. This is where booksellers meet distributors and publishers. Our task was to interest booksellers (ie the folk who sell books to the reading public) in the books we had on display, so that they would consider stocking Odyssye titles (and titles from other publishers in the Novella stable).

I had a wonderful time and learnt many things about the book trade and about book folk. Here areĀ  five major learnings that could change the way you approach marketing and self-promotion:

1. It’s hard to give away books

Even though all the sample books were free, it is quite difficult to persuade a bookseller that they need to add any specific 500g of brilliance to their luggage for the flight home. They have to be convinced that it’s worth their while. I hadn’t expected this – I mean, put me in a room full of free books and I’ll pay excess baggage any time!

2. About giveaways and gimmicks…

Some of the stands offered all manner of freebies, including champagne, chocolates, cupcakes, pens, notepads, neck massages and canvas bags. The neck massage included a chance to sample an e-book on an iPad. My impression is that the stands with canvas bags gave away most sample books, especially at the start, because folk could put the books in the bag. I wasn’t sure that the other giveaways resulted in more books being taken – but they certainly helped to stop the traffic so that booksellers actually looked at the stand.

3. Being an author counts

I had the best success when I was able to tell the person I had waylaid that the book I was offering had been written by ME (pointing to cover and to name tag so the connection could be made…). Booksellers appeared to be impressed by the fact that I actually had written a book that was being published! Congratulations flowed (more so than the champagne). Giving away review copies of my own soon-to-be-published book was comparatively easy, and indicating that I would be (more than!) happy to visit book stores to do readings/signings created a warm glow that I will definitely follow up šŸ™‚

Being there to sign the actual book also worked for another Novella author who was present, Harrison Craig whose book Harrison’s Song has just been published by Wombat.

4. Folk won’t wait

At other events, I have also experienced this conundrum – either there’s nobody at your stand and you look sad, or else your stand is crowded with people and other potential contacts walk away without a backward glance. This is inevitable at such an occasion, but I wished for an easy (and light-weight) take-away for such people, along the lines of those tear-off contact details you see pinned to notice boards.

5. Books ARE judged by their covers

It’s quite true. Not saying that good books might not dwell inside dodgy covers, but it was definitely the cover art that made folk look at my book. (PS I love the cover art!) Another cover that drew interest on the day was for the children’s book The Whirlpool by Emily Larkin, also published by Wombat. High quality, attractive images that clearly indicate the book’s genre seem to be the way to go.

6. Bonus learning: say YES

OK, I said five learnings, but here’s number six: whenever you are offered a chance to spruik your book, do it! You and your manuscript have already survived the seas of rejection and heartache, so what does it matter if some people think your book is not worth its weight in their suitcases? Someone else will tell you they love the look of it – and just one of those comments is worth any number of ‘no thanks’-es!

That’s a nice shirt

There’s been a hiatus while I attended to large life events, but I’m hoping for more time and discipline now. At least I have a fresh source of stories from my mother’s new neighbourhood. Here’s a little tale she told me this week:

It’s breakfast time again. Marlene stalks across the carpet on her two canes and nudges her usual chair. Across from her, George lifts his eyes from contemplation of his plate of toast.

‘That’s a nice shirt,’ he says.

‘Oh, are you there?’ says Marlene, bending like a paperclip as she inserts herself between the chair and the table. ‘My daughter bought it for me.’

‘Did she visit?’

‘No, she sent it by helicopter.’

‘Huh.’

Marlene frowns at her plate. ‘Toast.’

Pamela approaches, bustling her wheeled chair in stilted lurches through the patterned axminster. ‘Move away!’ she warns the young nurse beside her. The nurse dispenses her characteristic wide smile, and helps Pamela manouever up to the table. ‘There now. I’ll get your coffee.’

‘Wait!’ calls Marlene. ‘Wait! There’s toast on my plate.’

‘Yes, that’s right, Marlene. You always have toast.’

‘And a banana! And a banana!’

‘Yes,’ replies the nurse, ‘but we have no bananas today.’

George lifts his chin, which he does when deeply moved. He sounds a note to get the key, and begins a loud and stirring rendition of ‘Yes, we have no bananas, we have no bananas today!’

Pamela says to Marlene between phrases, ‘That’s a nice shirt.’

 

Image from Wikimedia commons: By Poulsen, Harry – Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15009010

 

Agency models

Here is an essay about the difficulty of locating strong women role models in our cultural narrative history. The featured image is a painting of Judith slaying Holofernes by the 17th century Italian Baroque painter Artemesia Gentileschi, the first woman painter to be accepted into the Florence Academy (yes, there have been novels writter about her!).

Weā€™re taught that all narrative conflicts boil down to one of three stories: man versus man, man versus himself, or man versus nature. So what aboutĀ women?

via Acting With Agency: The Power and Possibility of Heroic Women ā€” Longreads

Diagnosis blues

This week has been quite a difficult one. We discovered that our mother has a brain tumour. While this explains all of the bizarre and inconsistent and unreliable behaviour that we’ve been noticing recently, it’s a bit of a shock.

Did I tell you how Mum was acting more and more strangely and refusing help? Well, one day a couple of weeks ago she took herself off to the doctor in a taxi (at a time when she should have been home for the cleaner – resulting in multiple phone calls with the next step being the police! – because she didn’t tell anyone she was going – but that’s another story). Mum went to ask if she had dementia, so the doctor ordered a CT scan that afternoon. The first I knew about it was a call from Mum saying I had to take her to the hospital for a brain scan. All the way there, she criticised her children as being too managing, too interfering, too nosy, and for sending too many helpers, and making too many phone calls, and ordering the wrong food to be delivered. She was certain that the brain scan would show no dementia and that after the diagnosis we could all just leave her alone, thank us very much. Very Greta Garbo.

The upshot is, after a lengthy scan and a trip back to the GP, that she has a meningioma which is not malignant in itself, but steadily growing and impacting on her brain function. Off we went to the neurosurgeon next day, who ruled out surgery (her bad health and a long recovery time) and any other treatment (tumour too large for radio). And a palliative care team has been allocated to us.

So it’s beenĀ  an interesting time, negotiating all of us siblings and our diverse opinions. Mum, on the other hand, is very stoic and quite serene, and says she’s much happier now that she knows. She is calling everyone in her address book to tell them she has a brain tumour!

Greta Garbo ‘Wild Orchids’ film still from Wikimedia Commons at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Garbo_wild_orchids.jpg?uselang=en-gb

Living on the edge

The older couple wriggled their way through to the front of the crowd. In only a few minutes, the aging rock star of their courting days would pass by in his elevated limo, beaming and waving, flashing the shiny ceramic imposter of his once-famousĀ  smile. The old woman had prepared a small bunch of flowers to throw – nothing too heavy, for their idol was even older than they, and nobody wanted an incident: Aged Groupie’sĀ Gladiolus Tribute Takes Out Star’s Eye. The crowd of younger fans eddied and heaved around them. The old man took her elbow, protecting her somewhat from the metal barrier that lined the roadway as well as the press of people behind.

A rising tide of sound marked where the star’s cavalcade was approaching from the left. As the wave of excitement rolled towards the old couple, a security guard unhitched the metal barrier. The pair suddenly found themselves staggering onto the roadway. As they disappeared under the great wheels of the big black car, the guard re-hitched the barrier.

Another group of fans squeezed their way to the front. Here’s the next lot, thought the guard, carefully folding her wings behind her. She looked over the crowd to the back, where new people joined the throng in an irregular pattern, not unlike the on-and-off disappearance of those at the front. Like lemmings, she thought, so eager for life that they fall right off the edge without even realising it.

She unhitched the barrier again, and waved another few people through.

 

Image: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10587

A creation fable

 

‘Are you sure?’ asked the god.

‘Yes. I can’t face another day of ordinary conversation. I want everyone to know how much I am suffering!’

‘I can’t reverse this process,’ he warned.

‘And I can’t turn back the clock. Just get on with it!’ Marta yelled.

A short while later, she left the god’s garden, looking much the same as usual. Her long hair, pulled back from her face, was the same dull, unwashed brown. Her comely mouth turned down at the corners in the usual way. There was something fierce in her dark eyes, but that was usual too.

Marta tested the god’s work. Deliberately, she walked into the village market place. Her gaze fell upon a young mother, squatting on the cobbles while she helped her toddler with his slice of apple.

Immediately, the god’s will kicked into action. Across every inch of Marta’s skin, multiple fonts burst into words. Blue as veins, stark as cemetery epitaphs, the moving letters came together. Across her forehead, I am crying inside. On one cheek, I will never see her again. On the other, I hate my life. On her neck, Let me die too. Over her shoulders, I hurt too much. Pulsing from her forearm, Don’t talk to me. Down one thigh, Don’t pretend everything will be fine. Down the other, My heart is broken. Across her feet, My tears will never end. From the ends of her hair, No-no-no-no-no…

The words kept rising to the surface, spilling from Marta’s skin onto the cobbles, into the drains, down to the creeks, the rivers, the seas, and up again through the mists and fogs into the weeping clouds.

Grief is what they called this new creation.

Lost arts of the twentieth century: the rendezvous

Back in the day, there were meeting places where you waited for your family or friends to come find you. Under the clock at the railway station, in front of the department store window (yes, ‘window’ singular), at the corner of the school. Eventually, Dad would come to drive you home from the station, or your friends would show up for your shopping expedition, or your little brothers would mooch up to be walked home.

File:Grenfell, NSW - Railway Station 1.jpg

No mobile phones, so no texts or emails or either, to let you know someone was late, or that they weren’t coming. I guess waiting is a bit of a lost art too. No phone to look at while you stood at the meeting place. (Of course, I always had a book at hand. Always.)

Meetings could be the highlight of your day, or your biggest disappointment. Being stood up by that cute guy I met at school dancing class, who promised to meet me at the bus stop the next week. Such an embarrassing and gauche moment!

On the plus side, at least he didn’t text me saying it was him, not me…

Notions like this complicate the writing process. It can be quite difficult to get into that space, that space where your characters don’t know what’s happening elsewhere, and can’t easily find out. Mind you, writing about the twentieth century is Historical Fiction after all. As a writer, having inhabited a previous era is no guarantee of being able to write it convincingly.

Ah well, back to the typewriter I guess…

Photo: Grenfell Station by Geez-oz from Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grenfell,_NSW_-_Railway_Station_1.jpg

Renovating

Ginger Spoodle barked, as in, BARKED!!!! way too early on a weekend morning. Someone coming! Someone on our patch!

It was our favourite tradies. The builders had returned on Saturday morning to finish our bathroom and kitchen renovation. Their final task was to caulk every crevice and gap in the wall tiles, splashbacks, and on the floor. Within two hours, we were all systems go.

Time for our work to begin. Every box, drawer, shelf and cupboard in the place has to be unpacked, every item has to be cleaned and put in its new-or-old place.

Problem is that I have found too many things that I haven’t even missed during the weeks of renovation. Why do I have all these cups and spoons? That tray? This jug? The other thingy?

File:2503 - Athens - Temple of Athena Nike being restored - Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Nov 11 2009.jpg

Time for a strict household EDIT (yep, it’s an anagram of diet!). Sure, it’s going to take a few days, but the end result will be worthwhile. The house will work better without the excess, unnecessary items.

And so will my writing. A lot of what I’ve written is scaffolding around the core story, scaffolding which has performed its task and can now be taken away. A few days’ housework may help me identify the flabby words when I get back to the manuscript.

Maybe I’ve been renovating my brain as well as my house.

Image by Giovanni Dall’Orto, via wikimedia commons atĀ  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2503_-_Athens_-_Temple_of_Athena_Nike_being_restored_-_Photo_by_Giovanni_Dall%27Orto,_Nov_11_2009.jpg

 

In the city

I just pushed my way in.

That’s the first sentence I heard as I strode across the bridge over the Yarra on my way to a watercolour class. I’ve read about a writing exercise where you put together randomly heard phrases and create a story.

I just pushed my way in.

You can’t wear that.

Are you happy now? She’s crying.

Fifteen.

No, the next one.

wood.jpg

Maybe it’s a poem, or a flash fiction. I liked the words so much I almost walked against the traffic lights. I tried not to see the speakers. I’m imagining how those words would sound, how they would carry meaning, in different settings. When they are not on the bridge over the Yarra.

How would they sound in a snow-bound forest? On an ocean liner? On top of a mountain? In a derelict house? Outside the classroom? In the foyer of a bank? At the kitchen table? In a cafe? At the beach? On a train? In a waiting room? In the Tardis? While Vesuvius is erupting? At the Queen’s coronation? In a container full of refugees?

Perennial problem. Too many stories to tell. Stacked like logs in a pile. Which one to choose? I can’t tell them all šŸ˜¦