Federation of Children’s Book Groups Conference 2017

FCBG Banner

Last weekend I attended the Federation of Children’s Book Groups Conference (FCBG) near Reading, Berkshire.

What is the FCBG?

The FCBG is a UK charity bringing children and books together, encouraging reading for pleasure. Most members are librarians or teachers or ex-librarians or ex-teachers, but whatever their background they are all passionate about children’s books and nurturing a life long love of reading.
You can find out more about the FCBG here.

Authors United

I went with my great friends Anita Loughrey and Miriam Halahmy and we met fellow author Claire Barker along the way.

Anita and Miriam Anita and Claire Barker
Miriam and Anita Anita and Claire Barker

FCBG Conference 2017

The conference has great talks by authors and publishers. A publisher stand where publishers showcase their latest books. A bookshop selling copies of books by authors appearing at the conference. This year the bookshop was my all time favourite Tales on Moon Lane. It was also a great opportunity to hang out with people who love children’s books as much as I do.

Tales on Moon Lane

I particularly enjoyed the talk by the author Cas Lester, the seminar on techie stuff you can use to help get reluctant readers into reading by Bev Humphreys and the small publisher panel featuring Alanna Books, Tiny Owl and Book Island. It was also a great opportunity for me to meet Roy Johnson who is the Sales and Marketing Director of Troika Books, one of my publishers.

A great weekend of bookish awesomeness.

And there might have been one or two cocktails sampled while we were off duty.

Cocktails

 

NaNoWriMo2016 Day 2 – Why I’m doing this now.

By Jo Franklin

Jo Franklin NaNoWriMo Day 2

Day 2 NaNoWriMo dashboard

Once upon a time I didn’t know how to plan a novel. I’d have an idea and next thing I knew I was writing it and I felt euphoric. Then I realised that if I was ever going to be a published writer I had to grow up a bit and learn how to create a satisfactory structure for my readers. I learned to plot. You can read about the process I normally follow here  here.

These days, I spend weeks examining the structure of my novel before beginning writing in earnest. I also clear my outline with my agent to make sure I am onto a commercially viable project. I firmly believe that up front planning is a very important part of writing a good book.

NaNoWriMo isn’t like that. The ethos behind the scheme, as I see it, is to get on and write madly for a month even if you aren’t very sure where you are heading. I guess that’s why I’ve avoided it up until now. I spent years writing like that and it didn’t get me anywhere. Since I’ve been a confirmed planner I have had five books published in seven different countries. Planning works.

But this year I found myself in a funny place at the end of October. I’d had to call a halt to the project I was writing because it wasn’t going to a commercial place in its current incarnation and for once I couldn’t find a solution to the problem. My brain felt empty.

Not writing is like not smoking when you are a smoker. Writing is an addiction and not writing is torture. All writers say the same. They are relieved when they type the end and congratulate themselves while they take a break to recover but before very long they have the antsy itch to write again. Soon that itch takes over and even though they have promised their kids that they will spend the summer focused on them or have taken out a new gym memberships determined to shed the writer’s butt pounds they put on during the last manuscript, they break open a new notebook or open a new file on the computer and start again.

For various reasons I could see that I wasn’t going to be starting a new book his year and I felt bad about it. As October drew to a close, a number of writer friends started talking about doing NaNoWriMo this year. Most of them had done it before. And for the first time I was tempted to join them.

But when I looked at my diary for November, my heart sank. There were so many events lined up. Good meaty author events. The sort that take all day and leave me exhausted for the following three days. The sort of events where I will meet my readers and maybe even sell a few books. Really important events that I have been looking forward to. How could I possibly fit in writing a whole novel in this time?

Then out of the blue on October 20th my dear friend AJ, announced that she was going to do NaNoWriMo this year! AJ is a brilliant but unpublished author who finds it very difficult to make the time to write. If she could give NaNoWriMo a go then so could I. So without thinking much about it I Googled the website and created my very first NaNoWriMo profile.

And now I am committed!

Day 2 = 1650 words

Total wordcount = 4044

Nanowrimo – Day 1 Write a novel in a month? Arghh!

by Jo Franklin

November is traditionally Nanowrimo month which stands for National Novel Writing Month. All over the world people pledge to write a novel in November or at least 50,000 words of a novel.

nanowrimo shield

National Novel Writing Month Motif

Luckily as I am a children’s author, my books are never over 50,000. In fact I’ll struggle to find enough words to fill 50,000.

Normally I don’t bother with it. November is not generally a time when I am buckling down to a new book. That happens in September for me, or sometimes January or anytime when I get a contract. But as I find myself at a loose end this month and know that December is a write off for me for boring medical reasons, I decided to throw caution to the wind and sign up.

Loads of people in my writing community are also writing like mad this month. I don’t exactly know who and I don’t know how to make them my buddies on the Nanowrimo website. In fact I’m still working out how the Nanowrimo website works, but I have done my words today and managed to post them on the official website so that is an achievement.

TODAY’S TOTAL = 2394

Jo Franklin's Nanowrimo total Day 1

Day 1

In order to meet the 50,000 word target you have to write 1666 words a day, every day for the thirty days of November, so I’m ahead. Feel free to cheer now. It probably won’t last because I have a sore throat and a very busy calendar ahead this month, but 2394 is better than zero.

It’s 17.45 and I haven’t done any of the things I have to do today so I’m off now to send a few emails, cook supper and think about what I am going to write tomorrow.

Juggling Children’s Author

by Jo Franklin

Being a children’s author is really hard work. I thought it was going to be all about writing books and living the life of an eccentric recluse in a hobbit hole or writing shack. But I was so wrong. I am juggling so many things and I don’t think I am always successful.

Here are some of the things that I have to do every day :

Write my books – This is the best bit of my author life. I’d love to be doing it all day every day, but that is totally unrealistic. It takes me a year to write most of my books. That is partly because I have to do all the other things listed below, but it is also because the space between actually writing is as important as the writing itself.  I like to leave gaps in between writing my drafts so that I can look at my work with fresh eyes and come up with important improvements to the text. The non-writing spaces in my working day are also important. It’s amazing how I often find the answer to a problem in my writing in a pile of dirty laundry.

me-writing-snipped

Jo Franklin at work

Website Design – In case you didn’t realise, this website was designed by me. I hope you like it. The problem with having a website is that I need to keep it fresh so my visitors (you!) don’t get bored and keep coming back to see what I am up to.
I feel I am failing at this. I have to keep reminding myself that I do more on my website than some authors but not as much as others (Pop over to Candy Gourlay’s website if you want to see some awesome content) . And now someone has emailed me telling me that a link doesn’t work and I don’t know how to fix it. Gah!

School Visits – Not only do I have to develop great school visits, I also have to go out there and deliver them. Yes I do school visits and author appearances at libraries and festivals. Here are the details.  Meeting readers is the second best bit of being a children’s author (after writing the books in the place) but the downside is that it is very tiring and normally wipes me out for a day afterwards which stops.

Author Talks St Alphege

Jo Franklin visiting St Alphege school in Solihull

Provide Extra Content – Either on my website or to schools I have visited or will be visiting soon. This means colouring sheets, wordsearches, teacher’s resources, craft activities to go with my books. I have totally failed at this one but it is on my To Do List – honest.

Twitter – I’m on Twitter – @Jofranklin2 – but I need to be better at it. I think I should be engaging in lively conversations with the right people (authors, publishers, librarians, bookshops and teachers) without engaging with the wrong people (trolls and spammers for certain, but also an sort of time suckers that don’t lead me anywhere) while promoting myself, my book and my author appearances (children’s authors need to do many author events and school visits)  without being a promotion bore which upsets people (especially me).

Acronyms and How to Use Them – SEO, HTML, CSS and probably a hundred more that I don’t even know exist at the moment. I am having a go at this but I’m still an amateur which probably shows. Part of the problem is that SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is such a black art that it is easy to upset Google by mistake.

FYI – I never mean to upset anyone but it does happen sometimes so if that’s you – I’m sorry!

Video Artist – It’s all about YouTube these days. In fact it’s getting to the point that no one is ever going to get a contract for a children’s book ever again unless they have a YouTube channel and a gazillion subscribers. I currently have two videos on my YouTube channel (as of 10th October 2016) and I will make more but they are so time consuming to make and then I have the added responsibility of making sure that I don’t accidentally post them with obscene words in the subtitles. Don’t ask! I leaned this the hard way.

Photographer – So that I have an unlimited stream of visual publicity material. This is one of my latest efforts. In fairness, I had to enlist the help of my daughter Eleanor because taking a selfie while sitting on a grave is very difficult

jo-looking-wistful-snipped

Jo Franklin pretending to be wistful in Nunhead Cemetery

Ideas Factory – I need to be able to come up with new concepts at the drop of a hat so when my agent lets me know about a new opportunity for some commissioned work I am able to respond instantly. I did this the other week and …. yippee! Sorry it’s secret squirrels for now but it seems to have paid off this time.

Juggling all of the above – The hardest thing of all is that I have to juggle everything. Switching between tasks is very bad for my writing. I am trying to be more disciplined about ring fencing my writing time, but it is difficult because if I get an email from my agent or from a librarian trying to organise a school visit, I have to respond immediately.

So next time you ask yourself the question ‘What does an author do all day?’ think of me juggling all these tasks and more.

 

Goodbye Lovely Friend

by Jo Franklin, children’s author

This week I turned my full focus on a new project. It’s one that has been bubbling away in the background for a while, in a couple of different guises, but as I sent my latest wip (work in progress) off to my agent for what will hopefully be her final comments, the time had come to throw myself into something new. I felt totally invincible as I do every time I start something new. The publishing world were going to love this book. What’s not to like? It isn’t even written yet. There can be no bad words in it.  So I began. It was great.

And then I received the terrible news that a lovely friend of mine had died.

Sue Hyams

Sue Hyams

Thank you Sue Eves for this rare photo.

I guess it wasn’t totally unexpected. Cancer is like that. It creeps up silently, screams aggressively right in your face and then dares you to strike back. The doctors have a powerful array of weapons but they are something of a blunt instrument and nearly wipe out the whole person, not just the unwelcome visitor.

Once Sue had come to terms with the diagnosis – Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer – she got on with it. The prognosis wasn’t good, I can’t remember the exact figure she told me but it was something like only a 20% chance of survival. I can do the maths. It meant that there was an 80% chance she wouldn’t make it. But we never talked about the 80% and concentrated on the 20% instead. Grueling treatment followed and some serious surgery followed by more treatment. She also turned to alternative treatments to supplement the traditional and I believe this was a major factor in her being able to reclaim her health for a while.

She was a great friend to me during this time. I was cracking up and she didn’t bat an eyelid about my more bizarre behaviour. In fact she was probably the only person who could see exactly how unbalanced I was. She didn’t judge. We talked about stuff. Old and new and we both got better.

Of course, I wasn’t the only person in her life and she shared with me her excitement for her daughter’s progress through the various ups and downs of being a budding actress. She told me about her sister who lives in Wales with a gaggle of horses. Somewhere in the mix her mother died so there was lots to deal with there. All the time we were both writing. Sometimes the output was better than others. That’s the writer’s lot.

And then the cancer came back. More treatment and I knew my friend was slipping away. On Thursday 8th September 2016 her suffering came to an end. She was 56.

It’s been a tough few days. I had to tell our friends. Share my grief. Hear theirs. I am sad that my lovely friend was taken away too soon. But I am also grateful to have known her. We had a laugh and shared all sorts of knocks and bumps along the way.

My life goes on now and although she isn’t with me physically, she is in my heart and I hold her enthusiasm for my own writing very close. I’m going to go back to my new project with renewed gusto, because I’m writing it for you, Sue. With a massive thank you for being my friend.

Author Visits – What can they bring to schools?

By Jo Franklin, Children’s Author

Author visits can be a great way to give reading and writing a boost in any school. A 2013 survey by the Society of Authors confirmed that author visits can promote reading for pleasure, wider reading for all abilities and inspire creative writing.

Check out the full article here – Author Visits in Schools Survey

I’m an author but I’m not a trained teacher. I don’t know what the restrictions of the literacy curriculum are. I certainly don’t know what a subordinated fronted adverbial preposition is. But I do have a passion for words and stories, especially my own, and I find that my enthusiasm rubs off on classes of confident and reluctant readers.

Author Talks St Alphege

A visit to St Alphege school in Solihull

Children see published authors as celebrities. As someone who has never appeared on television or spoken on the radio. I find it totally amazing that having a name printed on a book cover is enough to give an author kudos in today’s celebrity led culture. Supplement that with a website and maybe even a video or two and any author can be come a celebrity for the day.

Children take notices of celebrities, so listening to an author talk passionately about how they became a writer, were inspired to write a particular book, how many words they write in a day or books they have read in a year or how many unpublished manuscripts they have under their bed will inspire and enthuse their young audience.

In the Society of Authors report above, Malorie Blackman says

Author visits by Malorie Blackman

Malorie Blackman

‘With over two decades of first-hand experience regarding school visits, I have seen and learnt for myself just how much of a difference author and illustrator visits can truly make. Such visits inspire not just reading and writing, but also fire a child’s imagination and lead to previously reluctant readers actively seeking out stories.’

I love to talk to my readers in schools, libraries and festivals. If you would like me to visit your literary community then please get in touch.

 

Back to School – What do you keep in your pencil case?

by Jo Franklin, Children’s Author

It’s back to school week in this household and that means sewing on name tapes – Boo!  and stuffing new pencil cases with new stationery – Yay! But my children are not the only ones to be obsessed with stationery in this house. I am a total stationery addict.

I have my own collection of pencil cases that I use when I leave the house.

This is my favourite. The Kokuyo NeoCritz Transformer Pencil Case

0194c4e3dee6a22117630f5e5c6945a65cba68f3f2

It is neat and practical as it transforms into a pen holder. It’s the perfect size to fit a couple of pens, a pencil, a highlighter, a data stick and a rubber. It also has a small pocket for storing spare ink cartridges and I slip a few paperclips in for good measure, yet it is the right size to fit in a rucksack or workbag.

My lovely friend and Papers Pens Poets co-conspirator, Anita Loughrey, bought me a very posh pen case as a gift to celebrate the launch of Help I’m am Alien. She knows me so well! I now keep the Lamy fountain pen and pencil I bought with my first advance for Help I’m an Alien in it. I stroke it and my special pens regularly when I need to be reminded about how lucky I am to be a published author or how I better get on and write if I am ever to have another book published.

Jo Franklin's posh pen holder

Jo Franklin’s posh pen holder

Jo Franklin's posh pen case 2

Jo Franklin’s posh pen case with posh pens in it

These days I spend a lot of time writing at home and my desk is kitted out with even more stationery. There’s my pen pots which also give away my preference for jasmine tea and Hotel Chocolate Amaretto Soaked Sultanas (something else that Anita introduced me too).

Jo Franklin's pen pots

Recycled Pen Pots

I have one pot for fountain pens, one for highlighters and calligraphy nibbed felt tips and one for my regular Uniball Vision Elite rollerballs.

Then there’s my set of acrylic drawers which my pc monitor sits on.

Jo Franklin's post it note drawer

Post-it note drawer

Jo Franklin's tabs

Tabs in a drawer

Jo Franklin's Misc Stationery

Miscellaneous Stationery in a drawer

And this is the overall effect

Jo Franklin's stationery drawers

Stationery Drawers in Action

As an author who is also a mum, back to school also means back to work for me. My pencil cases and desk are ready. And so am I.

Ebooks and Books – I Love Them Both

by Jo Franklin, Children’s Author

I love books. of course I do, I’m a writer. I am a reader too and my house if full of books. The amount of books in this house causes arguments sometimes as there is not room for them all. I have a clear out occasionally  but it breaks my heart every time. I like to look at them on the shelf. I like to remember how much I enjoyed reading each story. What if I want to read a book again?

Jo Franklin Bookshelf

I do have ebooks too but they are not the same. I miss absorbing the author’s name from the cover every time I pick it up and I miss being able to flick to the end to see what happens when I am not engaged enough to read every word, but am curious enough to find out how the story is resolved. It’s harder to flick through an ebook.

On the other hand I like the fact that my e-reader (an older style kindle) fits neatly into the front pocket of my satchel handbag and it’s good to carry so many books around with me without straining my back. I also love the fact that I can download something instantly instead of having to order it from a bookshop or online.

But the thing that puzzles me is the price of ebooks.

As an author, I am well aware for the need for books to be paid for whether they are in paper or electronic fromat. Ebooks can be a bit cheaper because the publisher doesn’t have to pay for printing, warehousing or distribution costs. It takes the author the same amount of time to write the book and the editor to edit it. With production costs lower, the margins for the publisher are higher. Authors generally get a higher percentage royalty on ebooks but there is a campaign to increase the figure because the Society of Authors don’t think authors currently get a fair share of the higher margin.

Recently I needed to read a book for research purposes. A memoir. Something outside of my usual field but with the same title that I was hoping to use for a new series. I’ll have to come up with a different title but I thought I’d read the book anyway as it might trigger some ideas.

But I was really surprised about the prices of this particular book on Amazon.

Hardback – 17.92
Paperback – 12.25
Kindle – 11.64

The Kindle ebook was only 61p less than the paperback. Why was that? It was published by a major publisher. I don’t have the answer, but the publisher was making a killing on all ebook sales and I hope that the extra margin was being shared fairly with the author.

I decided to look around at other books written by people I know ie children’s authors. In most cases from my random selection, the ebooks were about £2.00 lower in price to their paper equivalent. I think that is a fair differential. For one well established, very famous author, her most famous title was about £4.00 cheaper in ebook format. Maybe high volume sales are influencing the price. I hope this author has a water tight contract in place to protect their income.

But then I looked at a certain internet sensation turned ‘author’. The kindle edition was more expensive than the paperback. What is going on?

My head is spinning. I don’t understand it at all. Surely books should have one price. Ebooks can be a bit cheaper (but not selling for 20p), authors should be able to make a living and publishers are entitled to make a profit.

But one thing is certain – I am not buying a book which I consider to be overpriced – whatever the format. The title I wanted was available at a cheaper price second hand. So I ordered that instead. That means the author will not get anything from the sale. Nor will the publisher.  If the publisher had set a reasonable price in the first place, I probably would have chosen differently.

I wish publishers would agree a strategy for pricing books and ebooks that satisfies everyone.

Meanwhile I will continue to be choosy about which books I buy and in which format.

All About the Girls Heart Books Blog

by Jo Franklin, Children’s Author

I was recently asked to guest blog on Girls Heart Books. I was thrilled because I knew it was one of the original bookish websites that was aimed at children and had been running for a long time. So I asked Jo Cotterill and Julie Sykes more about it.

Girls Heart Books

Why did you set up Girls Heart Books?

Jo CotterillJo: Back in 2011, I was publishing my Sweet Hearts series with Random House. It was a lovely, feelgood series about girls with contemporary issues and a little light romance thrown in. They weren’t the kinds of books that got reviews or a lot of attention, mainly because a lot of people saw them as ‘chicklit for kids’. I was frustrated, and I knew a lot of other authors who were also writing the same kinds of books (Fiona Dunbar, Cathy Cassidy, Liz Kessler) who were really connecting with their readers and had amazing feedback from schools and visits, and yet they didn’t really have a platform from which to shout about their books. And so Girls Heart Books was born – initially a site aimed at girls who loved reading and who perhaps loved the kinds of books that we were writing but wouldn’t discover through traditional publicity.

Julie SykesJulie: I’d just finished writing both my Silver Dolphins and Fairy Bears series when Jo started looking for authors to join Girls Heart Books. I’d written 20 books in almost as many months and hadn’t had time to build an on-line presence. Girls Heart Books felt like a gift. Not only was it a way to connect with readers but it was exactly the sort of thing I’d have wanted to be a part of, if the technology had allowed it when I was a kid.

How long has Girls Heart Books being going and how many blog posts have you featured on your site?

Jo: It started on 1st May 2011 and as of today (5th May 2016) there have been 2,663 blog posts. In the first couple of years, I was very ably assisted by Susie Day and Keris Stainton, and when they left Julie Sykes stepped into the breach, for which I was most grateful!

How do you cope with the demands of posting regularly?

Jo: I don’t post regularly any more – I discovered that having a regular slot on the site plus managing the running of it was too much, especially as I have my own blog site too – jocotterill.com. We have a team of 31 bloggers who each blog on one day per month. We’re always over-subscribed and never have to look far to fill any spaces.

Julie: As well as posting the guest blogs, I also have a regular blogging spot on GHB on the 5th day of every month. I rarely know what I’m going to write about until a few days before my post is due. Then I look at the photos I’ve taken on my phone, listen to what’s going on around me and see what turns up.

Are boys interested in your site too?

Jo: Yes! We used to have a very prolific male commenter who was a total sweetie and very enthusiastic! I think he grew out of the site – but I know that many school librarians encourage their classes to use our site – and one told me that during ‘silent reading’ Girls Heart Books was one of only two websites pupils were allowed to access in her library.

What are you both up to at the moment? New books or books in progress.

Library of LemonsJo: I have a brand new book out called A LIBRARY OF LEMONS, which I’m very proud of. It’s a story of family and grief and the importance of friendship and reaching out to other people for help. It’s been a long time in the making (and rewriting!) but I’m thrilled it’s finally out there. My next book will be the second in my superhero series – ELECTRIGIRL AND THE DEADLY SWARM – and will be published by OUP in August 2016

Princess Ponies

Julie: I’ve been working on several collaborations but the only one I can talk about is the Princess Ponies series. I write Princess Ponies with the awesome Jeff Norton. Our American publisher has just commissioned us to write four books which will publish in 2017. Each book links to a special event and right now I’m writing a Christmas story. It’s hard to think about Christmas and presents under the tree when here in the UK spring is springing. But the ponies are great fun so it’s definitely worth it.

 

Well done, Jo and Julie! GHB is a fantastic achievement and thank you for taking time out to talk to me.

I have now been asked to join the GHB. My GHB posts will be going out on 7th of every month.