Thursday, November 30, 2017

Mapping a life well lived

By Michael Smith
A recent article in the London Review of Books talking about the connection between writing and map-making was a timely read for me as I was on the verge of launching Mike Lendingham’s third book - ‘They Don’t Just Fade Away’.
Mike first two books were short stories based on his experiences in army and civvy life.  A former New Zealand Special Air Service (SAS) and NZ Army infantry soldier, Mike’s short stories were often strongly worded and always to the point.
Along with a good dose of humour, ‘Once a Grunt’ and ‘Always a Grunt’ also contained a sustained level of anger (and swearing).  One story in ‘Always a Grunt’ about a young boy’s abuse by a Catholic priest was particularly sharply felt and worded accordingly.
The stories are highly readable, however, and entertaining, with a genuine appeal for anybody who has made the transition from the military, or even corporate life to the “normal” civilian world.
‘They Don’t Just Fade Away’ is Mike’s first novel and as such required a different approach to maintain the story through the full length of its 70,000 words.
While preparing for the launch of this new book in the South Wairarapa town of Featherston, I read an article which compared writing to track or map-making through various historical references.  Maps carried refences to the past of the places they tracked and reading them could fire not only memories but also the imagination of the expectant visitor.
The comparison was particularly apt in the case of writing by an ex-soldier like Mike, who had not only tracked through the bush in New Zealand and South East Asia but also through a life filled with the challenges, the highs and lows, the anger and humour that ultimately come with broad experience of humankind.
‘They Don’t Just Fade Away’ tracks the story of Bill Secombe, a former soldier whose world falls apart after the love of his life dies.  Bill heads up to the Northland area of New Zealand, where he builds a successful business in the hope of getting on with his life.  He remarries but, after a bad accident, his new wife and her family figure out they are better off with him in an old people’s home and them in control of his now-substantial bank accounts.
Bill manages to give them the slip but only after having a nasty tangle with a bullying male staff member.  In the time-honoured fashion, he hits the road and goes south, ending up in the West Coast bushland with Frank, an aging, sick but determined old mate.  A kind of “Wilderpeople for pensioners” ensues. With Bill not aware he has been cleared of any charges, they go bush.
As they get deeper into the bush, they also become more deeply immersed in each other's stories. Frank gets sick and Bill must use all his personal and physical resources to save him, all the while believing he is a wanted man.
Family gather around author Mike
Ledingham (fourth from left) at
Featherston RSA.
The book’s launch took place at two venues in Featherston.  One was at the Featherston Returned Services Association base, where an over-seventies group was having a get together in the bar next door.  Close friends and family from the southern North Island gathered in the gloom and caught up with Mike, talking one-on-one with him.
It was kind of the Featherston RSA to assist with a book launch.  It was very much appreciated.  Given the title of Mike's book "They Don't Just Fade Away" it reminded us that organisations like local RSAs and community facilities should be treasured.
The second event was held at Fareham House, and was run by Justine Kingdon, one of Mike’s nieces.  This was more of a “meet the author” opportunity, with Justine interviewing Mike and me about writing, publishing and our collaboration.
Fareham House had had a noteworthy past, starting out as the grand home of one of the Wairarapa’s pioneering families before being a government-run facility for girls who were wards of the state.
Today, Fareham House has taken on a new life as a venue.
Justine Kingdon, Mike Ledingham
and Michael Smith: Taking an author's
writing in a new direction. 
I was reminded how, like map-making and writing, houses (homes) have a life of their own.  During our discussion, I talked about how the map-making analogy was appropriate thought Mike's case given the trails he takes readers along in "They Don't Just Fade Away" while using words and ideas as markers to help readers better understand his story.
“Like a map-maker, Mike takes readers up north to small town life, into a northern Maori community, then drives us to the majestic West Coast bushland.  And at the same time, we are taken on a journey through the map of life today for ageing soldiers - indeed many elderly people. We see the sign posts of unseen bullying and the struggle for self-belief and survival in what, to many, has become a confusing world where maps have given way to impersonal digital recognition devices.
We talked about the language in the book and how Mike was coming to terms with the need, ultimately, to communicate in more nuanced ways.
The source for the quote is: The London Review of Books.  The writer, Marina Warner, Vol. 39 No. 22 · 16 November 2017; pages 37-39 | 4848 words
For more information, contact BMS Books Ltd
07-349 4107

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Booksellers embracing self-published books

A BMS Books survey of booksellers has found widespread support for self-published authors but with reservations around marketing and sales.
BMS Books called booksellers throughout New Zealand and asked them three simple questions for our survey:
Do you stock self-published books?
What sales and marketing support helps?

We talked to more than 40 booksellers.  Some were unable to talk to us for good reasons – they were busy in the shop.  We are grateful for those who did make space in their busy days to share their thoughts.
Self-published books have grown to be a significant component of the book marketplace but, as NZ Booksellers Associations Media and Communications Manager Sarah Forster says, sales don’t necessarily show up in the current “best seller” lists.
Of the 40 booksellers BMS Books contacted, 28 stated that “yes” they would stock self-published books.  Only two gave a flat “no”, while 10 were uncertain.
Those booksellers who were uncertain either cited “messy” sales arrangements or the general difficulty of managing the sales and payments involved, although one was straight up, saying: “Too much work for no return”.
However, with the overwhelming number of positive responses, it seems the tide of self-published books being produced is unstoppable.  
Regarding why they stocked the books, many booksellers showed a willingness to support “local” authors.  This suggested that the author who is from within the local area or who  based the story in the vicinity, may have some chance of linking with local bookshops to discuss them stocking their book.  
BMS Books specialises in regional authors with challenging themes, so it was interesting to note that booksellers supported local, and New Zealand authors so strongly.  
“Some are incredibly good” was one comment, while another was “we like to support local authors” and “we choose what we like”.  A number of others said that self-published books add variety to the store, one adding “We like to support the artist (writer)”.
Sales and marketing of self-published books is an essential component of making sales through bookshops.  Booksellers pointed to local media as the most effective, along with social media, launch parties at shops and in-store signings.
However, the need for attractive covers as essential in making sales was underlined, as was a requirement for the books to be professionally produced.  
NZ Booksellers’ Sarah Forster agreed with the need to focus on the look and finish of the book to boost its chances of sales success.  Pricing was difficult for authors, because they wanted a return on their work and the production of the book.  They needed to be aware that the bookseller had to make a profit, as well as the terms of sale required to get the books into shops.  
What was the best-selling self-published book on the New Zealand official list?  The ‘Dunedin Fonebook’ – a book of photographs published by a local author.
Decidedly local, the book has been produced by Michelle Chalklin Sinclair and Judith Cullen – the name being a play on words given the images in the ‘Dunedin Fonebook’ were taken on Michelle’s phone.
Their inventive approach highlights the comment from booksellers that authors should work with people they know and gear their books to the audience.

For more information on BMS Books Ltd and its products and services, contact:
Michael Smith
Publisher and Director
BMS Books Ltd
07-349 4107
027-209 6861

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Digital books and librarians – pushback on licensing and costs

A survey of public libraries in New Zealand has found most have embraced digital book options but some pushback is apparent.
The survey was carried out by Business Media Services Ltd on behalf of its imprint BMS Books Ltd.  As a boutique publisher specialising in regional authors with challenging themes, we set out wanting to know more about the role of digital books in libraries.  Having called and talked to 62 librarians over a couple of weeks, we found some interesting aspects emerged during our discussions.
We had three main questions: One, had the libraries moved into digital books (never assume)?  What formats did you use?  How were eBooks priced?  A number of discussion points sometimes flowed out of straightforward questions.
Some of the librarians have been heavily involved in the introduction of digital books at a national and regional level.  Others were managing the process on a face-to-face and day-to-day level with the public.  Only one of the libraries did not have digital book services, but this was due to damage sustained by a natural event.  It is fair to say digital books are a minimal component of books in smaller libraries, however.
Librarians said books supplies are drawn mainly from the largely Wellington-based EPIC consortium, the Japanese-owned OverDrive and Auckland-based Australasian distributor Wheelers’ ePlatform.  Other sources include All Books NZ Ltd in Christchurch and other distributors, such as the James Bennett of Australia and Axis 360 Degrees.
Each of the suppliers has its adherents, who may not necessarily be “locked-in” by contractual arrangements but are heavily influenced in their book selection choices by distributor options.
Although the librarians in our survey described the suppliers in positive terms, a number raised concerns about access, selection and relevance.  Sometimes it was just a question of numbers, as one librarian said how they had 15,000 books on offer and only 250 digital books.

Pricing seems to be a problem.  As anybody who has bought a Kindle book will tell you, the price is usually much less than for a hard copy book (unless it is a best-seller).  However, we received a number of complaints that pricing for digital books from suppliers was “variable” – one librarian noted that there seemed to be “no rhyme or reason” for pricing.  Another noted that prices had risen recently, so that they were now as expensive, if not more expensive.

The introduction of a system of licensing access to digital material – books and audio – is troubling some librarians.  In theory, licensing should help libraries move into the world of streaming services and pay-as-you-read.  Licence periods vary depending on the distributor, as do prices.  However, we found librarians concerned about the continuing expense involved with limited licensing periods based on the number of times a book is read.  This can turn into an expensive exercise when the most popular books are involved, leading to a comment that librarians would prefer to buy the books than licence them.

Who decides?
Decision-making is an area of concern among librarians in regard to both digital and hard copy books.  Librarians love books and they love talking to people about books, that much became clear as we talked to them about for this survey.
The choice of which books will be put on your local library’s bookshelves will now, in many cases, be made at a distribution hub.  This means that librarians are unable to select books that they may think will appeal to their audience.  The selection is made based on what the contracted distributor believes are the most popular books.
“I am losing touch with new titles, because decisions are made elsewhere,” said one librarian.
An experienced librarian also noted: “Digital books are too expensive and have lots of limitations.  Publishers have to remember that research has shown that libraries are like shop fronts for their books.”
We are grateful for the librarians who took the time to talk to us and provide valuable feedback.

For more information, contact
Michael Smith
Publisher and Director
Business Media Services Ltd
BMS Books Ltd
07-349 4107
027-209 6861

Monday, July 31, 2017

NZ self-published author's UK deal 'huge'

By Michael Smith
Tammy Robinson
Self-published New Zealand author Tammy Robinson says a “significant five-figure” deal with a United Kingdom publisher is “huge”.
Piatkus has acquired two novels by Tammy – the first book Differently Normal will be published in 2018 and the second Photos of You in 2019.
Formerly from Rotorua, Tammy now lives on a farm in the Waikato with her husband and three young children.
In an interview with the BMS Write Stuff blog, Tammy told the story of how after going the self-publishing route she sought out Vicki Marsdon of WordLink to help find a publisher.  While the five-figure sum is big, we get the impression that it is the opportunities opening up for Tammy that is the key.
The Bookseller reported that associate publisher Emma Beswetherick and Anna Boatman at Little, Brown Book Group, in their first joint acquisition for Piatkus fiction, did the deal for world rights with Vicki Marsdon at WordLink. Kate Stevens at Hachette Australia will publish Differently Normal in New Zealand, also in 2018, as part of the collaborative deal.
Tammy says the deal, which will see her books distributed throughout Australia, New Zealand and the UK from next year, is a dream come true.
However, it hasn’t been without hard work and a great deal of achievement through self-publishing via Amazon Kindle.  Differently Normal, for example, achieve 60 five-star reviews on Amazon UK.
Tammy also credits much of her success in breaking into the international publishing seen to her agent Vicki Marsdon, noting: “Without her, it simply wouldn’t have happened.”
Write Stuff wanted to know more about Tammy, her journey and what the future holds.  The interview follows:

Michael Smith: Hi Tammy, thanks for taking the time to do this interview.  Can you please tell me something about yourself?
Tammy Robinson: Hi Michael, thanks for asking me to do this interview. I am from Rotorua, New Zealand and have lived there the majority of my life apart from a few years working on cruise ships and island resorts. I married my husband ten years ago and we now have three beautiful pre-school children, who keep me very busy! We’ve recently moved to a farm in the Waikato, talk about lifestyle change. I’ve gone from being woken by traffic to cows mooing in the paddock next door!
MS: I understand you have self-published two books – how did that come about?
Tammy: Actually, I have seven books self-published, although the last one has now been acquired by Piatkus UK. I wrote my first book back in 2011 and tried the traditional route of approaching publishers. Back then, most still preferred paper submissions and the postage to approach multiple agents and publishers overseas proved costly and out of our budget. I did nothing with the book for two years until my husband bought me a kindle and I realised, hey, I can do this myself! I self-published Charlie and Pearl in 2013 and a book or two every year since.
MS: What was that experience like?
Tammy: It was wonderful. My books were finally out there, unleashed on the world and being read by people other than my friends and family. I even got messages from people in other countries telling me how much they loved my books.
MS: You have now had two of our novels selected by an international publisher.  Can you tell me how that came about please?
Tammy: In 2015, I decided I would approach an agent who I knew represented two fellow Kiwi authors. She agreed to take on my books and at the start of this year she approached Emma at Piatkus with my latest book, who loved it. After a nervous wait while Emma pitched the book to the powers that be, Piatkus made a joint acquisition with Hachette Australia for Differently Normal and my next book, Photos of You.
MS: How important was the role of your agent in making this happen?
Tammy: Invaluable. Without her it simply wouldn’t have happened.
MS.: What does this mean for your books and for your writing direction or career?
Tammy: It’s huge. From next year my books will be available in shops around Australia, New Zealand and the UK, which is a dream come true for me. There has also been movie interest in Differently Normal, so hopefully something comes from that!
MS: How did you get into writing?  Did you always write as a child or is it something that came to you later?
Tammy: Yes, I’ve loved writing and reading for as long as I can remember. My father and grandfather are both natural born storytellers, so I guess I inherited the gene from them. I’ve always known I’d write books one day, and the dream was always there to have them on the shelves in shops. Just shows you should never give up on your dreams.
MS: How do you describe your writing…your stories?
Tammy. They all start from the smallest thing, a fragment of a dream remembered, an article online, something someone says when I am out in public. I usually get that scene down first and then the book idea comes from there. With most of my books (except Differently Normal) I had no idea half the time what would happen or how it would end, I simply wrote the book as if I was reading it. I’ve recently discovered there can be some benefits to having a story mapped out first (faster to write for instance) so I am playing with that too. As long as I can still take off on a tangent when the book demands it I’m okay.
I class my books as Contemporary Fiction, or contemporary Women’s Fiction, but I know men who have enjoyed them as well. They did have romantic elements to them but they are not romance, in that you won’t always get a happy ever after. I try and reflect real life.
MS: Young adult or YA is a particular genre.  I wonder if you could describe how you go about writing for your readership, please?
Tammy. I would only say one of my books is really classed as YA (The Insignificance of You), I have a couple that are NA but they all appeal to people of all ages. I tend to be vague about my characters ages for that purpose. I have teens reviewing my books who love them as well as sixty plus year old women.
MS: Do you draw on your own experiences or do you have special way of approaching stories?
Tammy: Yes, you will find experiences from my life throughout all my books, as well as emotions that I am going through at the time I write them. I wrote When Stars Collide just after my mother passed away very suddenly, and I poured a lot of my feelings into it.
MS: What next?
Tammy: I am currently writing Photos of You every chance I get, which is not as often as I’d like with three pre-schoolers. Luckily, I have a very understanding husband. It will be published in 2019 by Piatkus UK and Hachette Australia. Once the book and edits are finished I will get stuck into the next one. I always have a book (or two) on the go, and I will keep writing until I can write no longer.
Note: Michael Smith is the publisher and director of Business Media Services Ltd and BMS Books Ltd

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Dig this book on scratching out a living writing

Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living
Edited by Manjula Martin
Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster)
FRONTLIST - January 3, 2017
ISBN 9781501134579, 1501134574
Trade Paperback, 304 pages, Carton Qty: 40
$16.00 USD, $22.00 CAD
Literary Collections/Essays

If you have an epiphany along the lines of “This year I’m going give up my job and focus on my writing”, you would be well-served to read Manjula Martin’s book.  Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living provides readers with many useful insights into the challenge writings face when making a life for themselves and their writing.

For some, the path is quite straightforward – school, college, agent, publication.  For many others, it is a rocky road littered with broken promises and fading dreams.  However, even for those whose road through the literary world seems smooth, most experience potholes and patches.

The authors included in this book are either interviewed by the author and their experience presented in a question and answer format or have taken the opportunity to write about their experiences. 

Both have have advantages and disadvantages: Allowing the authors to write about the experiences brings a personal element to the expression of their experiences regarding their journey to writing for a living.  However, the Q & A format allows the author to press the writers in regards to their perceptions.  It would have been good had Martin been able to ask questions after authors had presented their pieces.

As the Q & A with Jonathan Franzen illustrates, the successful author’s outrageous fortune has its share of slings and arrows. In his chapter entitled “Like a Fish in a Tweed Suit” Franzen says he was never in writing for the money.  “I think the literary novelist who makes money is like a fish in a tweed suit.”  He also admits life has got harder for “mid-list” writers who have had some success but have not reached the levels of multiple publishing and film deals.

The opposite to stellar success is, inevitably, failure, as underlined by Nina MacLaughlin’s With Compliments, recounting the experience of waiting to break through: “Time pressed and question marks hovered like hummingbirds gone desperate and mean.  Failure, my brain told me, Failure.”
MacLaughlin, like others in this book, has written free of charge while on her journey, although she mostly tries not to and instead returns to working with wood in buildings. 

“People wonder when you’re allowed to call yourself a writer.  I think maybe the answer is when you recognize that it is work.”

Sometimes, however, there are no easy answers.  Daniel Jose Older in Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing talks about how “The disproportionately white publishing industry matters because agents and editors stand between writers and readers.”

Do you write and get published because of your colour?  It would seem so, as Older notes: “The publishing industry looks a lot like one of these best-selling teenage dystonia: white and full of people destroying each other to survive.”

The reality for many writers, however, is that asking for money or otherwise selling their work is an uncomfortable experience.  Others have a knack of happening upon sources of income by either professional/academic means or by utilising the resourcefulness inherent in their own background.
J. Robert Lennon in “Let’s Suffer, Let’s Stave” makes the point: “There is writing, and there is commerce, and between them stands an impenetrable wall…” in regards to authors and their relationships with agents and publishers. 

Editor/author Martin’s story “The Best Work in Literature” is closer to my experience as she recounts her first job as an eleven years old “stock girl” working in her grandmother’s houseware store.  The real powerhouse of the store was the basement “where the money lived” in stock and trade, much like the working writers’ who earn a living from a “day job”. 

I am reminded of my own experience as I write this review during the 2016-2017 holiday season.  Our family bought a Christmas tree in a bucket one year when I was a kid.  Dad being dad planted the tree in our front yard so that we had a free supply of trees for the festive season from then on.
It turned out that I was quite lucky too.  That first tree grew and was pruned to stunt its height, making it the opposite of a perfectly-formed specimen.  Although one of the ugliest trees around, it did have the advantage of lots of branches.  Each Christmas, we would lop one of its branches off and use that as a tree – saving dad the cost of buying us another one. 

I would climb the tree and cut down as many of the branches as I could.  Anybody who has tried to cut pine branches in the tree with a handsaw will know that’s not many, particularly if you are a nine-year-old kid.

Armed with my branches, I would go door-to-door trying to bring Christmas cheer to each household, at a small price.  Do you know how hard it is to carry branches of a pine tree when you are a kid?  The pine needles look cute and they smell beautiful but they are sticky in both meanings of the word.
Our Christmas being summery, sap ran over me as I had to wrap myself around the branches in order to haul them behind me.  The needles not only stuck into me but also stuck to me.

By the end of the exercise, I must have looked like a wide-eyed sticky tree gremlin rather than Santa’s little helper.  Nevertheless I always sold enough to make my discomfort worthwhile, although I think the mums maybe gave me the money out of pity, particularly if my wide-eyed little brother was along with me.

Years later, when a local newspaper editor wouldn’t hire me because my wife was the news editor for the town’s radio station, I set up a freelance news agency while writing my first book.  Selling stories became my stock-in-trade and was a doddle compared to selling prickly, sticky “Christmas” trees.
Manujula Martin has compiled an excellent book reflecting the experiences of a wide range of writers.  The book is a very good foundation document for new writers and those looking for guidance or reassurance on their pathway through publishing.