Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New Zealand writers missing out on publishing support

Don’t give up your day job, says Emma Mildon when asked what advice she would give aspiring authors.

Emma, pictured, provided this assessment during an interview with me during her return to New Zealand from the United States where she has been building a career as an author, columnist and publicist. [Hear more on her thoughts in the BMS PODCAST]

I was interested in her views on getting published in New Zealand, because this is the kind of feedback I receive constantly when I work with writers.

Emma, 26, writes about abandonment for children, particularly around adoption, fostering, and divorce. As she says in her PR message, ‘the Tweenage market is ready for fun, juicy, real young adult self-help material’ and Emma has the books, content and the teen following to prove it.

‘My message is pretty simple – it’s about you don’t have to know your family history in order to make history,’ Emma told me.

However, it’s also a story told from an American perspective rather than the New Zealand one for which it was originally written, something Emma finds disheartening.

Emma says there’s a very good reason why this is and why she took the plunge to head to the US for help in becoming a published author.
‘In New Zealand and Australia the only thing you get back [from publishers] is rejection letters.’

In the US, Emma has worked with editors in California, where her agent, Randy Peyser, is also based. As a result of her new connections, she was invited to New York to meet the CEO of the big self-help publishing group, Hay House, and to attend the kind of workshop she believes is essential for prospective authors and other creative people looking to market themselves and their products.

During the ‘Movers and Shakers’ event, those attending were taught how to build a platform from which to launch themselves and their work.

‘It is really amazing what the workshops give people who want to get into the industry and want to get heard or published. They are giving them knowledge and it’s not just generic knowledge but on a one-on-one basis.

‘This is something New Zealand and Australia need to do and something the publishing professionals should be offering, because we are so innovative.
Kiwi creatives are leading the world in terms of how get ourselves out there, because we are at the bottom of the world; middle earth is a hard place to get your message out from.’

Emma said her road to get where she wanted literally started with Google, and typing in what she wanted and started researching. Once linked with her agent, she was then connected to a writing and editing service, where her work was taken apart and put back together again.

Emma says the lack of similar services in New Zealand, where a rejection letter if you are lucky is the usually the only feedback for budding authors, is damaging for creative talent. She gives the Flight of the Conchords, the New Zealand-based comedy duo composed of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, which went overseas after their television series concept was rejected in New Zealand, only to go on to global success with a TV series.

‘There are companies overseas that are more open to New Zealand creative talent than the New Zealand creative industries. I think the rejection letters from New Zealand aren’t a reflection on the work, or the quality of the work, or the platform of the author. I think it is a reflection on the limits on the number of books published each year.’

It is safer for publishers to go with more established writers rather than take a risk on a ‘nobody’.
‘If I was starting out and wanted to get published, I wouldn’t start in New Zealand. I would start in America and start networking and going to agents to help build a platform.’

However, asked about funding the editing and learning work she has done, Emma recounts what she heard recently from CEO of Hay House: ‘The first thing he said to us was ‘The number one rule in terms of getting published and getting your name out is keep your day job. Don’t quit your job and put all your energy into making this happen, because you need to be able to support this and you need to be able to make money’.

The most cost efficient way was for authors to spend their time building their own platform as a hobby and networking, with any money spent on improving their work rather than publicising themselves.

To hear more details of this conversation, listen to the podcast of our discussion.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I recently made a short address on behalf of the readers of entries for the Rotorua Short Story Competition. Writers and the families and friends gathered at the Rotorua Public Library on 14 June 2012, where Dame Fiona Kidman announced the first and second prize winners. I was asked to help explain the process our group of four readers went through to select the top 10 stories for Dame Fiona.

Hello everyone.

Firstly, I’d just like to thank Bev Emmerson [Community Librarian] for that introduction. It’s great that this story writing competition has been resurrected.

It is important to encourage writing AND reading.

I saw an article recently about publishing…asking…‘are libraries good or bad for booksellers? And are libraries good or bad for authors?

However, the writer said the real competition for booksellers, publishers AND libraries is NOT READING.

More and more people use devices such as smart phones, TV, DVDs, Twitter and Facebook…so just getting people to read your story is becoming increasingly challenging.

It was a real joy to see the number of entries in this competition…eighty two…and the diversity of the topics.

This was a short story competition but we received writing in a number of forms – poems and memoirs included. Just whether a poem qualifies as a short story is a good topic for a discussion at some stage.

Here at the library, Bev received the stories, compiled them into folders of ten at a time and circulated them to the readers.

We read each of the stories…using a sheet to give them marks for performance in various areas.

This included looking at how each story started to how it ended…the dialogue and how this was used in telling the story…and plot and other elements.

Now this might seem rather subjective or even arbitrary… but it was amazing how much we had in common when we came together to select the final 10 stories.

Led by Jackie, we each made a list of our choices for top 10; then grafted those together to see where there was a common thinking.

Each of us had favourites which may not have been selected by other readers…or those we thought might be lacking in some way…but showed sufficient merit to warrant going into the final ten for the attention of the chief judge.

Reading and writing are known as lonely activities…so from a personal viewpoint it was great to have the opportunity to work with Jackie Hall, Heather Foley and Shari Cole from the Rotorua Writers Group.

I enjoyed the process and drew personal satisfaction of seeing writing from a wide spectrum of people in Rotorua.

It is winter and the All Blacks are in full swing with games against the Irish so…
If the readers were like the forward pack…with Bev as our Richie McCaw…then could I suggest that maybe Dame Fiona is our Dan Carter?

Well, thanks to all of you who submitted stories…and please keep writing.