Help I’m an Alien Arrives on Planet Earth

Help I'm an alien coverHelp I’m an Alien has been published and this week is the beginning of a program of launch events to tell everyone about the book.

I’m having a launch party on Wednesday 8th June. It has been organised by my publisher, Troika Books. Troika have invited bloggers, reviewers and people from the publishing press to the party to create publicity for Help I’m an Alien.  I have invited lots of friends and family to prove to them that I have been working very hard at writing a book, not just chatting on Facebook, staring dreamily out the window or watching dancing dogs on You Tube.


After I have recovered from the shock of everyone knowing about Help I’m an Alien, I am going to visit some schools to talk about reading and writing .

With the help of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG) I am visiting

  • St Alphege Junior School and St George & St Teresa RC Primary School in Solihull
  • Claydon Primary and Whitton Community Primary near Ipswich
  • Dulwich Prep London in South East London

I also have a couple of librarian meetings lined up. One in London and another in Newcastle.

Wow! What an exciting couple of weeks. I can’t wait to get out on the road to talk to book lovers about my book.

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 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 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.


  • 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 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.


  • 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.


Questions. Questions.

I spend my life looking at what I’ve written and striking a line through my words. Writing is all about editing. Inevitably my critical eye transfers to other people’s work, whether published or not. I’m not a punctuation pedant and I barely know the difference between a noun and a verb (and while I’m at it, should that be barely or bearly? I really don’t know.)

But I do have some pet hates in other people’s writing and top of my list is rhetorical questions – questions asked outside of dialogue, that are not immediately answered.

Jessie cropped

Jessie by Aaron Blecha

It is as if the character is asking me, the reader, for my opinion and it takes me out of their viewpoint and the action. I always encourage writers I mentor to find an alternative way of expressing the doubt in a character’s mind. So …
‘What am I going to do about the train that is going to derail any minute?’ 
Could become
‘I didn’t know what I was going to do about the train that was going to derail any minute, but it was going to be messy.’
‘The train was about to derail any minute and I could do nothing about it.’

Sometimes writers bunch their rhetorical questions in a cluster.
‘I didn’t know what was going on. Why was Dad acting weird? Who was the guy with the scarred face? When was the pizza going to arrive?’

Too much uncertainty!

Mickey with questionmarks


I need to know that the character knows what’s going on or at least that the character knows that they don’t know.

It is the character’s problem, not mine. I’m rooting for them to fix the issue. I don’t want to have to do it for them and I don’t want to stop reading and wonder why Dad is acting weird.

Bunched rhetorical questions are often a sign that the author doesn’t know what is going on themselves. Which is okay in first drafts, when the writer is thrashing out the plot, but I think they should be ironed out in subsequent drafts. That’s what editing is all about, writing the story in the most compelling way and I find rhetorical questions take my attention away from the words written on the page.

For me, the very worst crime is posing a rhetorical question on page one. The opening of a novel should be about grabbing the reader’s attention, introducing a character we are going to love in a believable location. The writer needs to drag the reader away from the television and into the book.

The opening page is not the time to plant the seed of doubt in the reader’s mind.

What if the reader decides NOT to read on?
Help I'm An Alien

Artwork by Aaron Blecha

So are rhetorical questions completely banned? Of course not.

I thought I better check out where I used questions in my own work, so I opened my Help I’m an Alien manuscript and searched for ‘?’ There are 314 question marks in 28,000 words. Over three hundred of them appear in dialogue. Which is the best way to have your character raise a question. It’s not left hanging with no one to answer it. Even if the character’s best friend answers ‘I don’t know’, the question is contained within the story not dumped on the reader.

Another great way to use a question is as a cliff hanger at the end of a chapter
‘Was she trying to tell me I was adopted?’

Or when the character is questioning someone else’s motives. When my character is accused of being an alien by his sister he poses the question in his head and provides an immediate answer.
‘What did she mean? Aliens didn’t exist.’
He is doubting her, not himself.Another way I use questions in Help I’m an Alien is to directly ask the reader a question.
‘Who gives out oranges instead of sweets at Halloween?’
‘Did I mention, I always wanted a computer of my own?’
I use these questions because I want to collude with the reader on the unfairness of the world.
I think it’s worth running a search on ‘?’ in your own work. Where are you using questions? Why are you using questions? Could you rewrite that sentence in a more compelling way, rather than dumping the character’s anxiety on the reader?
My advice is to try and keep rhetorical questions to a minimum.
PS my critique group know that rhetorical questions are one of my pet hates. I point them out in their work all the time. I am a rhetorical question pedant.
My lovely critique buddy Alli Jeronimus wanted me to tell you that the other week I made a comment on her work ‘I think you should ask a rhetorical question here.’
She nearly killed me

When is a writer not a writer?

When I first started writing, I had two ambitions.
1) To be published so that others could enjoy my books and think I was a genius (ha!).
2) To become an eccentric recluse and live in my very own writer’s shed with a telepathic butler to deliver exactly the right food to my door at exactly the right time.
My dream writer’s shed would look something like this one designed by John Seely and Paul Page situated at Mottistone Manor, Isle of Wight.
mottisfont manor shed Mottisfont manor shed interior snipped
Oh dear, I really did have a lot to learn.Now that Help I’m an Alien is about to hit the shelves I have had to  :

  • Learn how to build and maintain my own website.
  • Become an accountant so I can prove to HMRC how little money I earn.
  • Get to grips with Twitter. You can follow me on @jofranklin2 to see how unsuccessful I have been.
  • Be even more punctual than usual because I’m often booked on a non-flexible, non-transferable, but very expensive train journey.
  • Become a competent photographer and learn how to edit photos to squeeze them onto social media NB I learnt how this morning and have now forgotten.
  • Try and network professionally. I’m still struggling with this one. If I go to a party I’m more likely to befriend the waitress than the high powered publishing executive.
  • Be able to work eighteen hour days, seven days a week because there is so much to do.
  • Work hard at keeping everyone happy, including my agent, publisher, family and dog.
Help I'm An Alien

Artwork by Aaron Blecha

Luckily, since Help I’m an Alien has moved from being my fantasy to being a reality, I have had some help.

I’m interviewing my critique group, my agent, my publisher, my publicist and my illustrator over the coming weeks to shed some light on what they do and to share with you what role they have played in creating the published version of Help I’m an Alien, because I couldn’t have done it on my own. Do come back and see what they have to say.

Being a published author has nothing to do with being an eccentric recluse, but I love it anyway.