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

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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.

Do Aliens Exist?

By Jo Franklin, children’s author

 I’m always getting asked at my author events whether I think that aliens exist. I guess it’s a natural question given the title of my book – Help I’m an Alien. I suppose the simple answer is ‘Yes’. The universe is so big, it makes my head hurt thinking about it. I can’t believe that in such a massive expanse of stuff, Earth is the only place where some of that stuff is alive.

 What do aliens look like?

No idea! I don’t think there is any reason why aliens should be humanoid. No other life forms on Earth walks upright on two legs and wears clothes, it’s very arrogant of us to assume that aliens will be like us. Aliens might be blobs that slither along the ground or they might be an intelligent life force that doesn’t have a body at all. Or maybe Ridley Scott was right and all aliens have tentacles and acid for blood. I don’t know, but I believe something is out there. 

3 eyed alien

Three Eyed Alien by Nathan B

Alien Malcolm Dassau

Alien by Malcolm in the middle Dassau

Are aliens here on Earth?

I don’t think aliens exist on Earth like in the film Men in Black. Or that they come to Earth regularly to abduct people like the Returners believe (you’ll have to read Help I’m an Alien to get that reference). I expect that aliens are too busy living their lives on their own planets to bother us.

MIB stick aliens

MIB stick aliens hanging out in the kitchen

 Fictional Aliens

Aliens haven’t been around as part of our cultural psyche for very long. I think that The War of the Worlds by HG Wells published in 1897, was the first alien invasion story. Aliens joined the public consciousness and they were totally mean. War of the Worlds opened the door to all sorts of fictional aliens. In books, magazines, films and TV. Not all aliens are aggressive but Star Wars is based around the Empire trying to take control of the Galaxy and many of the Star Trek stories feature aliens at war with each other even if the original Enterprise mission was ‘to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and civilisations’. Phasers (hand held Star Trek weapons) weren’t always on stun.

Uhura with phaser

Lieutenant Uhura

Spock with phaser

First Officer Spock

But aliens don’t have to be bad.

ET

ET

ET wasn’t aggressive and nor were his family. I’m not sure why they came to Earth or why they left baby ET behind but they weren’t a bad species.
I hope that if life does exist on another planet, humans can nurture and develop our relationship with them. I’m hoping that aliens do know how to teleport things from one place to another in a totally eco-friendly way and will share the technology with us, because I am fed up with traffic jams. They might know the cure for cancer. They probably have really interesting alien sweets and some cool gadgets. Or they might just be really fun mates.

I hope that aliens are good, not bad and that we can live in harmony with them if we ever find each other.

 I love aliens. Especially Chewbacca.

Chewbacca

Chewbacca

 Do you have a favourite fictional alien? Let me know.

 

 

Partners in Crime – Andrea Reece

As we all know the road to publication is a long and windy one and right at the end of my journey I had the unexpected bonus of having a publicist. Andrea Reece. Strictly speaking she isn’t mine, she works for Troika Books among others. But as Help I’m an Alien is coming out at the end of May 2016 that means she is working on promoting my book. I can’t believe my luck.

The only downside is that I’m not use to having a publicist so I’m not very good at sharing the load. But I am really enjoying working with her because she has loads of useful contacts, great promotion ideas and is totally fantastic.

Portrait of Andrea Reece

Portrait of Andrea Reece

I caught up with Andrea recently and to find out more about her passion for children’s books.

Tell me about your career path. How did you become a publishing publicist?
It was a very long time ago, and a complete accident! I needed a job and a friend saw an advert in the Guardian for a job with Transworld working on their children’s list.  I had never thought about publishing, but applied, got it, and have never regretted it for a moment.       
What things might appear on your daily To Do list?
Writing press releases; pitching ideas; sending out photos and information; contacting bookshops, schools, libraries about book events; meetings with authors; cover discussions with my publishers; reading books!
What is the best part of your job?
When people say yes to an idea I’ve suggested; when I see people buying books I’m working on; reading books
What books do you read on holiday?
I was a Costa judge last year so took 14 of the nominated titles with me – happy to say I read them all! Don’t know what it will be this year, but suspect I’ll have another suitcase full of children’s books.

I’m not sure what I am going to do when Andrea moves onto another project and I am alone again. But I do have two more books coming out with Troika Books so hopefully we will get the opportunity to work together in the future.

Hooray for publicists!

You can follow Andrea on Twitter @reeceandrea

An author or a polymath?

by Jo Franklin, children’s author

I was talking to someone the other day about all the different things I have been doing in preparation for the launch of Help I’m an Alien and I described myself as a multi-tasking author, but when I looked up multi-tasking I realised that it isn’t a totally accurate description. I do multi-tasking all the time – talking on the phone while typing an email etc. The frenetic activity over the last few weeks has been something on another level. Not only am I doing, but I am also learning as I go along.

I think I am a trainee polymath. I looked up polymath on vocabulary.com and this is what it said

A polymath is a person who knows a lot about a lot of subjects. If your friend is not only a brilliant physics student but has also published a poetry collection and won prizes at political debates, you can describe her as a polymath.

I’m not brilliant at anything, but I am giving it a go. Here are some things I have been doing over the last few weeks.

  • Website designer – I’ve been jazzing up my website in case you hadn’t noticed
  • Illustration consultant – I’m in the lucky position of being consulted on the cover and illustrations for Help I’m an Alien (not all authors are). I can’t draw at all. My stick people look like discarded false eyelashes. But I can imagine what something should look like that and I have been sharing those imaginings with the designer and illustrator for Help I’m an Alien.

Help I'm an Alien

  • Film director – This is my first video. It has three parts : the alien jumping trailer, the main bit of me reading and the credits. Luckily I had some help from my children who have learned camera work at school.
  • Camera operator – I didn’t do much of this but I need to operate the camera myself in future. (And edit the film. So much to learn.)
  • Blogger – I’ve written loads of blog posts, for this site, for www.paperspenspoets.co.uk the stationery site Anita Loughrey and I set up recently, for Girls Heart Books (not only as a guest blogger but now as a regular monthly contributor) and for various other book bloggers including one in America who wanted me to talk about the US edition of Alien which is published by Clarion Books. I find it so boring  when an actor is promoting their new film and tells exactly the same stories to every chat show host. So I have tried to vary my blog posts as much as possible, which makes writing so many, even more challenging.
  • Doing stuff with images  – don’t ask me what. I don’t have Photoshop. I don’t know what I am doing but I am trying to do things with images to make my website, twitter and instagram look interesting. I need to learn more about using images and graphics, I’m stumbling through a the moment and it is all a bit random. Because I am so hopeless I liaised with Lou Millar who designed these for me.

Polymath

  • Travel agent – have you ever tried booking multiple train tickets at a reasonable cost in this country? Total nightmare.
  • Writer – yes I have been doing some of this too because even though I am deep in promotion for Help I’m an Alien, I am also writing another book. No one can publish it if it isn’t finished. It’s not even in the right state to show it to my agent yet. It’s a great book. I want to write it.

So while I’m not an expert at any of these things I am having a jolly good try at all of them and probably a few more that I have forgotten about in the frenzy of my day.

The other thing it says about polymath in vocabulary.com is

You can think of a polymath as a classic “Renaissance man.” Imagine Leonardo da Vinci, for example, who was not only an amazing artist, but also an engineer, inventor, mathematician, and much more. When a person’s knowledge covers many different areas, he or she is a polymath. The Greek word for it is polymathes, “having learned much,” with poly meaning “much,” and manthanein meaning “learn.

Jo Franklin AuthorHere that author friends? We are the modern equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci!

I wonder what he would have made of Help I’m an Alien?

I’d probably have been burned at the stake in the 15th Century for my crazy ideas.

Thank goodness I’m a 21st Century author. I like learning new things. It’s a challenge, but brilliant.

Partners in Crime – Martin West

Needless to say, in order for a book to be published, the author needs a publisher. The author is generally introduced to a publisher by their agent. This part of the agent’s job is similar to an estate agent – matching up wonderful manuscripts looking for a home with awesome publishers willing to give them one.

My publisher for Help I’m an Alien is Troika Books which is the brain child of Martin West.

Troika logo

Troika Books may not be the largest publisher in the UK, but with Martin at the helm I know I am in safe hands.

Martin West  his long career in children’s books at Oxford University Press and Blackie before launching his own list: Happy Cat Books. In 2005 he founded Catnip Publishing Ltd. and in 2006 it was shortlisted for the Independent Children’s Publisher of the Year. Martin later joined Ragged Bears in 2009.

Troika Books was launched in Spring 2013.

Martin kindly took a few minutes away from publishing Help I’m an Alien to answer a few questions for me.

martindaunts

  • Why did you decide to set up Troika Books?

I was spending a lot of time helping authors with self-publishing their writing. To this end I set up a company to provide distribution and sales. As I had the infrastructure in place I later felt it was time to join in with publishing my own list, with authors and illustrators of my choice

  • How many titles do you aim to publish a year?

As many as my budget allows. That was the plan. But it became clear that I needed to give writers space to develop their ideas rather than to rush into publication, that you have to work at the illustrations to get them right and be constantly checking text – time spent copy editing and proofreading is vital. And a good typesetter is invaluable. Cutting corners is a waste of effort. So publish less and do it well.

  • What is the greatest challenge facing a small publisher like yourself?

Finding time for everyone. Finding money to fund what I want to do. Finding new, non-traditional ways of selling. How to promote my list and get the books bought.

  • What are the qualities that make a great book?

The way a story is put together – plot, pace, dialogue. Are you desperate to pick it up and continue reading? Does it make you sob, or laugh. Don’t want it to end? And think of those things that will stay with you for ever – Alfie’s special stone, Bonting, that gets lost on the beach, Rosemary Wells’ Noisy Nora slamming doors, from picture books I adored sharing with my family because these were like things happening in our lives too.
Help I'm An Alien

When I wrote Help I’m an Alien, I had no idea if anyone would publish it or if they did, who would be my publishing partner in crime. I’m thrilled that it turned out to be Martin West.

I feel very privileged that of all the manuscripts in the world, Troika Books have chosen to publish mine. Help I’m an Alien is out now and there are two more books in the series to follow.

Head on over to the Troika Books website to find out about the rest of their amazing books.

My first video

Jo Franklin reading from Help I'm an Alien YouTube play

I’ve never made a video before. Luckily other members of my family have. Here is the result. Me reading an excerpt from Help I’m an Alien.

The reading part took three takes. The trailer was another matter altogether! Never work with children, animals or aliens.

Now all I need to do is

  • work out how to do it myself
  • get a proper microphone for the video camera
  • lose three stone.

Hopping About

It’s very hard to explain to non-writers how horrible it is for a writer to be not-writing. There are loads of reasons why writers might be not-writing today and even if those things are important they don’t make us feel better.

Reasons why a writer might not be writing today:

  • They are earning money at another job (not me)

  • They are looking after their family (my family would say this never happens, which isn’t true).

  • There is nothing we can do about this one, other than get better. It’s boring and frustrating.

  • 50 Shades of Writer’s Block. I guess I will have to write about this one day

  • Promoting another book. That’s me at the moment.

Help I’m an Alien comes out at the end of the month which is very exciting and I am trying to give it a helping hand in the world by adding to the work that my amazing publicist Andrea Reece is doing on my behalf.

This means a lot of hopping about.

frog jumping snipped

I am writing blog posts here and for other bloggers who have kindly taken an interest in my book. I’m trying to keep my blog posts fresh and interesting which means hopping from one thought to another to develop ideas I haven’t expressed before. Blog posts take a couple of hours to perfect. That’s a lot of hopping.

Kangaroo hopping snipped

I am also organising author talks and school visits which means lots of phone calls and emails as we thrash out arrangements. I have to investigate travel options and make sure there is someone to feed my children and walk my dog while I’m away. So more hopping about

 

Hopping about is the very worst thing a writer can do when they are working on a new book. Hopping about is the complete opposite of immersing yourself in your writing. Hopping about is why writers want a writer’s shack and sometimes have to go on writer’s retreat to clear their mind of all those hopping things so they can get on with their book.

Cricket jumping snipped

 

I suspected that promoting Alien would mess up my writing so I worked hard to get the first draft finished for 29th February. We had an extra day for leap year and I wanted to make the most of it. I met my deadline and felt very good about it.

I set myself a new target for completing the second draft and even though it looked like I had plenty of time, I’m not sure I am going to make that date.

Too much hopping about!

hare jumping snipped

I’m cross about this because I don’t miss deadlines, even self-imposed ones. And I’m fed up because writing is so important to me. I love the book I’m writing and I’m pleased with how it is going. I think other people might like it too. So not writing makes me feel horrible.

But good news! I have started working on my wip (Work in Progress) again. I sorted out some chapters and written lots of fresh words. I’m at the mid-way point and it feels great.

So from now on, I am absolutely determined to keep my hopping about to the afternoons until this draft is finished. Sorry if you need to get hold of me urgently, I am not answering emails or phone calls in the morning. I will be in my writer’s shack. Even though I don’t have one.