Submitting your manuscript – the ask and the answer, by Julia Marshall

GeckoLogoIn mid-2013, Gecko Press stopped accepting general manuscript submissions. Instead we said we would only consider work by previously published writers; writers who know someone we know; or writers whose work has been assessed by a manuscript assessor.

The reason for this was that we were getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of manuscripts arriving in our box (some 500 a year). The reason for adding in the ‘writers who know someone we know’ sentence was because we wanted to keep our doors open to people who are tenacious and committed and who haven’t been published before – somehow to me this sentence leaves just a little room for those writers and illustrators to find us.

pp_julia_marshall_orangeSometimes we say no to a manuscript, but that doesn’t mean we are saying no to all manuscripts from that writer. Just that one. It is not personal. It is just hard to get published, and I believe it should be. It is very hard to say no to manuscripts by writers you think are going to be great. Sometimes they go elsewhere.

I understand publishers always take far too long to process manuscripts from a writer’s perspective and I know that is true with us. Sometimes the longer a manuscript is with us, the better that is.

cv_mrs_mos_monsterGecko Press has published a book that was unsolicited by someone who didn’t meet any of our guidelines. That was Mrs Mo’s Monster by Paul Beavis. (I hope he would have been tenacious enough to send it anyway, but he says he might not have been).

I am reading Ann Patchett’s The story of a happy marriage at the moment – a great book for writers. She advises studying the website of the publisher or agent you are submitting to, deciding whether what you have fits in with what they are publishing and then following their instructions TO THE LETTER (Our instructions are here).

Common misconceptions are that writers of picture books think they need to send in an illustrated text – they don’t, unless they are an illustrator. They don’t need to present their work in person: the story needs to stand on its own. We cannot be bribed by chocolate or ribbons, or even money. Our decision is based on the work, and nothing else.

Although people understand that learning to play the cello is hard and takes practice and craft and commitment, somehow, Ann Patchett says people think writing is easy. cv_this_is_the_story_of_a_happy_marraigeIt is perhaps too tempting to submit a piece of writing too soon. She suggests – in my today-memory at least – comparing it to standing on the stage at Carnegie with a work that is unrehearsed, and a cello that is out of tune. But if you truly feel the work is ready, if you have put your heart and soul into it, then it is time to take a deep breath – and send it in. For every story of famous writers once rejected, are the less publicised stories of publishers who regret saying no. Saying no is their job. It is the saying yes that is hardest.

If your work is rejected, you have to keep writing. And reading, of course.

by Julia Marshall

Submission requirements from Gecko Press
Gecko Press publishes around 15 children’s books every year. Of these, only three will typically be original to Gecko Press rather than translated. Our selection process is therefore very tight.

We judge by our (subjective of course) criteria of: “Is this curiously good? Do we want to read it hundreds of times? Are we emotionally attached to the characters? Must we publish this book?”

Before submitting, take a look at our books to get a feel for what kinds of books we publish.

What we’re looking for
We always like to read picture book texts with energy and originality and a strong story/narrative (not “ideas” stories). Please note we do not publish educational books or didactic books.

We are also looking for Junior Fiction – novels for 6 to 10 year olds. We are looking for original, warm, character-driven work, with a strong plot and voice.

How to Choose a Book*, by Jenna Todd

*at your local independent bookstore.

Prepare yourself
Put away your phone! Fill up your parking meter! Your bookstore is ready and waiting for you.

Are you ready to have a conversation? Are you ready to be led down the path of the unknown? It’s time to stand shoulder to shoulder with your literary comrades as you take part in one of the most precious and personal tasks known to man: choosing a book.

time_out_fashion_window

An inviting Time Out Books window

The Great Good Place
As you step into your local store, you will feel something quite powerful. That’s the power pp_Ray_oldenburgof words. These books are written and published with you in mind and this bookstore is filled to the brim with titles chosen by booksellers, for you.

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg (right) believes that alongside your home and work, you need a place where you can gather and be part of a community. He has coined this The Third Place.

This bookstore opens its doors everyday just to be your Third Place. It wants to be a part of your routine, a place of comfort and discovery.

2-22 unity 4

A mere corner of Unity Books Wellington – start here and work your way out!

Judge a book by its cover
Start big.

I recommend you make a round the whole store at least once. This is where unexpected surprises may come your way.

Narrow down.

Choose your section – Fiction! History! Cooking! Cultural Studies! Scan the covers or spines. Let the fonts and colours tell you to grab them. Let’s be honest, there are so many books with terrible covers. Covers where you know the stories’ protagonist would despise their outer skin. But don’t let this deter you.

Something will lead you to pick up a book and it’s hard to explain how and why this happens. The best way to think of it is as a fateful match.

time_out_team

Time Out Bookstore staff in 2012. They may not be dressed in evening wear in-store…

Ask the experts
Floating around the bookstore, will be some very happy people. These are your booksellers.

They have been hired because they, like you, love to read. They have towering piles of books, surrounding their sleeping heads, hoping to absorb the words so they can pass on their opinion to you.

Your bookseller will probably ask you a few questions. What are some of your favourite books? What have you read lately? Watch them carefully after you answer, as you will see their brain calculating and eliminating. Then follow them around the store as they mumble to themselves, putting together a curated pile for you.

IMG_1498[1]Making the final decision
By now, you may have gathered quite a pile of books and, unfortunately, these choices just may exceed your budget. (Ed’s choices from her review pile to the side!)

This is where you will have to a) thinking about your upcoming reading spots and b) get in touch with how you’re feeling.

Will you be carrying this book on a plane? Or will it sit firmly on your beside table?
Do you feel like delving into a new author? Or would you little to settle into a familiar voice?

The elimination process is a difficult task, but you will make the right choice. Read the first paragraph of all your finalists and, somewhere amongst their text, one of them will whisper the strongest, “I’m the one!”

Heck, you may just give up and say, “I’ll take them all!”

wonka_golden_ticketCongratulate yourself
You have not only just gained a precious item for your bookshelf. You now have a ticket to any time or place. Your imagination will be stretched and you will discover something you would not have known before.

This book will sit upon your shelves for years to come. Its cover will become a memory trigger for this exact moment of purchase and the unfolding moments in which you absorb its tale.

Conservations will be sparked as future guests to your home approach your bookcase, tilt their head sideways and finger its spine.

This new book is yours, but its story will be shared. And that’s pretty special.

by Jenna Todd, Manager of Time Out Books, Mt Eden

Book Review and author Q & A: Ghoulish Get-Ups: How to Create Your Own Freaky Costumes, by Fifi Colston

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Available in bookstores nationwide.

Fifi Colston is the Jamie Oliver of the costume world. Give her a cupboard of recycling and art supplies, or even a bag of them, and she is certain to come up with something incredible-looking, at pretty well zero cost. This book, which is the second of its kin after the bestselling, award-winning Wearable Wonders, has truly got something for everybody.

I am not a great crafter. In fact, though I have been involved in Storylines Family Days since 2007, I have never once put my hand up to manage one of the craft stands. This book has costumes at my beginners’ level (I managed to make ladybird tights from red stockings with holes over black tights), but it also has costumes that somebody who sees a fancy dress party as a chance to strut their crafty stuff, can make and be proud of. It is the perfect book for desperate parents, as well as older school kids who are discovering their own creative abilities.

costume fyna arteryThe layout of the book sees several ideas for full outfits, combined with ‘quick costume’ hints; followed by techniques to use to achieve these looks. I particularly liked the ‘quick costume hint’ to hang a name tag on yourself saying ‘Book Awards Judge’. My favourite full costumes were Fyna Artery (left) – wonderful and very simple-looking to achieve, and Fundorsaurus, which looks great but may well be beyond my painting abilities! I passed this to 4-year-old Dan to tell me which he would like me to make for Halloween, and he put it down and said a ‘Skeleton’. There is no skeleton in there. Kids, huh.

One of the most useful sections of the book is ‘Get Creating’. This gives you handy tips on what to save. Egg cartons are a no-brainer. Fifi recently posted a photo on facebook of her towering stack of them (below). I have now become obsessed with washing and saving all of our recycling – yoghurt pots being a particular nuisance for my husband, whom I need to remind not to throw them out.

In ‘Look in the Laundry’ I learned how egg_cartonsmany ways you could tie a T-shirt, how many ways you could use stockings (I donated a very bright stocking to Fifi’s collection which is used in the ‘Terrifying Tightacle’), and how many different things could be created from rubbish bags. And if the costumes aren’t enough, there are even some recipes for gross-looking snacks for Halloween parties. I have just today been invited to one and asked to bring a themed snack: zombie fingers should hit the mark, I think.

Fifi also gives good tips for some gruesome make-up. The grossest thing in the book, to my mind, is the ‘Bursting Boils’ made using a large bubble wrap bubble and some natural yoghurt. Ick.

I am looking forward to future Halloween parties, as a chance for me to dress my boys in some nasty-awesome creations, based on this essential book. This needs to be part of every mum’s secret box of essentials. Perhaps you could even get a second copy for the kids to use.

Ghoulish Get-ups
by Fifi Colston
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432470

Q & A with Fifi Colston, author, illustrator, creator of wearable arts…

  1. Did your kids fully appreciate that they had a genius mother when they asked for difficult dress-ups for parties and Halloween? What was your proudest dressing-up your kids moment?
    I don’t think they truly appreciated my efforts − I have a son who refused point blank to dress up at all, although he did request a full scale Furbee head for a school production the day before. I still have it and take it to schools − kids love it. It is probably my best effort and my son actually wore it − so that’s my coup! My daughter totally had her own style and still does − she appreciated that I had a large resource (read attic) of clothes and props and still raids it. On holiday, my sarong doubled as all kinds of costumes, from hippy outfits to hula girl and she let me dress her up in that when she was a kid. I spent hours making an Cherokee outfit for her once when she was at kindy but she absolutely wouldn’t wear it. I was so cross I sort of threw it at the teacher and said ‘good luck with International dress up day!’ and stormed off to find coffee.

    Fifi's Attic

    Fifi’s Attic

  2. In terms of crafting costumes, do you have an absolute favourite thing to do?
    I have this dress that I wore pre motherhood to a family wedding about 30 years ago. That dress has since become a 17th century milkmaids outfit, a pirate gals dress, a vampire dress and now currently a steampunk dress. It has been added onto, bleached, dyed and repurposed so many times and what’s more it still fits! (because it has elastic in the waistline!) So upcycling rocks!
  3. Talofa_lavaTell us about your most recent ‘Eureka’ moment when looking at a pile of craft materials / recycling!
    Probably my 2014 wearable arts entry where I looked at painters drop sheet made from felted recycled material and thought…that’s cool, I bet I could make something out of that. And I did − it became lava flows on a dress inspired by lava fields in Samoa. (Left: one of Fifi’s entries to 2014 Wearable Arts, Talofa Lava, credit: World of WearableArt)
  4. How do you keep your studio organised?
    I have a big clean up after each project before I start the next one but it’s a running battle to keep organised. I actually have many studios- they are my messy place studio in Owhiro bay at Nautilus Creative Space; this is where I do splattery paint and smelly glue stuff, my home office where I do my computer graphics and writing, my kitchen table where I do my sewing, the attic in our house where I store things and my family say, everywhere else in the house too because I’m always making stuff!

    studio messy

    Featuring part of the steampunk costume, as well as some terrifying tightacles

  5. What do you love most about working with students on crafts and costumery?
    Their unparalleled enthusiasm for cutting, glueing and experimenting, without being afraid that something isn’t good enough. They just get stuck in and we all have heaps of fun. Recently we made fake wounds from my recent book and they wore them home to terrify their mothers!
  6. What books or website do you have near you at all times?
    My sketchbook and google images. With those two resources, I can make anything!

Review and Q & A by Sarah Forster

Fifi Colston will be promoting the book on What Now on Sunday 26 October, and Good Morning on Wednesday 29 October- keep your eyes peeled!

Give a boost to the Storylines Family Days

A message from Libby Limbrick, chair of the Storylines Trust.

The Storylines Festival Family Days are magical days where writers, illustrators and storytellers come together to meet children and their families and share the ins, outs and upside-downs of New Zealand stories.Storylines_family_days

The Storylines Festival Family Days are nearly upon us and we have just three days left to reach our crowd-funding target of $10,000 – we are 58% there, we just need a few more generous individuals to help us out.

The Family Days are and always have been free for children and their families. There are now six of them round the country and every year thousands and thousands of New Zealand children get to meet the writers, illustrators and storytellers who are telling our stories right here and now, inspiring them to become eager and engaged readers and writers. Here is the line-up for this year. 

This year, Storylines is running a crowd-funding campaign to help cover the costs of the Family Days and we’d be over the goodnight moon if you’d join us by making a small donation to the cause.

Donate here. 

Please help Storylines, every donation, however big or small, helps hugely.

ENDS

Island-styled success with Mākaro Press

I asked three new publishers five questions, in an effort to understand why you would decide to start anew in the current publishing environment (see feature article in The Read last Thursday.)  These are the answers from Mary McCallum from Mākaro Press. Here are the answers from Paper Road Press, and the answers from Pip Adam and Emma Barnes from Cats and Spaghetti Press.

  1. Why did you decide to create your own publishing company?
    I have been involved with books in almost every way except for publishing for years. I am a writer myself, as well as a writing mentor, creative writing tutor and reviewer, and I have worked as an organiser of literary events, a bookseller, and a trustee of a literary residency. I have always supported NZ literature and had thoughts – on and off – about I would go about publishing local fiction and poetry.

    At the start of 2013 I was working as co-editor on an anthology of Eastbourne writing and we were looking for publishers, at the same time my son Paul (below on the left) had completed an Honours degree in film studies and was looking for work. We employed him to do some work on the anthology and found he was great at what he did, and then it occurred to me that he and I could take the book through to publication ourselves. With local publisher Steele Roberts mentoring us, and generously offering us an office, carpark and computer, Mākaro Press was born. pp_paul_and_mary

  2. You have had some success already – what is your aim with the company? What constitutes success for you?
    We started with a vision but without a plan. We wanted to show New Zealand writing at its best, including those books that might not otherwise be made due to larger publishers contracting, and to make all efforts to get those books into the hands of readers. There is definitely a niche in this country for smaller publishers, and we’re still finding out the size and shape of that niche, but so far we’ve enjoyed exploring it.

    Eastbourne_pileUnlike some other small publishers starting up at the moment, Mākaro Press aims to be a self-sustaining business that eventually brings an income and makes some kind of profit. The cost structure in this industry and the shift in book-buying practices make that very difficult, but we’re looking at ways of making them work for us. Some things we’re doing are: trying to make our books fit a format to keep costs down, looking at different ways of funding books and marketing them to the communities that will support them, and collaborating with other publishers e.g. ebook publisher Rosa Mira Books. Who knows if we can manage it in the end, we’d like to hope we could.

    Success for us is holding a book in our hands that wouldn’t look as it does, might not even be a book at all, if we hadn’t taken it on, and that feeling is doubled if the reviews are good and people buy the book.

  3. How are you selecting your titles? Have you got a MS pile yet?
    Yes, we have a pile already and I feel guilty about how long it takes me to get through it because so many other things call on my time. We are being sent manuscripts at an increasing rate now that writers have us on their radar, and we go looking for writers, too. We approach poets for our HOOPLA series, and approach other writers we think are writing books we could publish.

    It takes so much longer than I thought it would reading and assessing manuscripts, thinking about them, and talking to the author before the editing process even begins. I keep in front of me the patience and encouragement of Geoff Walker of Penguin who published my novel The Blue in 2007 after having shown an interest in the manuscript three years earlier, the openness and flexibility of Julia Marshall of Gecko who allowed me two goes at convincing her with Dappled Annie and the Tigrish (published this year), and the respectful but firm approach that editor Jane Parkin — who edited both novels — shows authors. I am also influenced by the personal hands-on approach of Roger Steele and his crew at Steele Roberts.
    Hoopla_series

  4. How are you going with distribution? Is there anything you would like to see booksellers doing?
    I distribute via PDL, with the wonderful Paul Greenberg and Joan Roulston of Greene Phoenix marketing the books to bookshops and libraries. Paul is pragmatic, hardworking, enthusiastic, supportive and fights for our corner. I could help him more by getting our publishing information out earlier than I do i.e. three months before publication, but that’s a bit hard for us to do at the moment. Indie and certain Paper Plus booksellers have been amazingly supportive, and others are coming on board as they get to know our books, but I’d love to see the same support from Whitcoulls. Not just for us, but for New Zealand writers as a whole.

    It would mean a lot for our business if returns from book sales could make their way to us more quickly than they do (we can wait four months) – this feels like a complex industry issue to do with sales and returns etc rather than something booksellers can sort but they could perhaps contribute to the discussion. It would also make a huge difference to us if booksellers could see their way clear to dropping their cut for NZ books from 40% to 35 or 30%, but as a former bookseller I can understand their position.

  5. I would imagine with a small list, you are easily adaptable for new realities. How are you dealing with future technologies for distributing/publicising your books?
    Yes, we are adaptable. We print a number of our books using print-on-demand, so that means smaller print runs and less outlay all at once, and we have worked out a way of publishing poetry titles by doing them as a bunch (e.g. as a series of three) to keep printing costs down. We are also building a relationship with Rosa Mira Books who are making an e-book of one of our titles. We hope this relationship will lead to more such collaborations.

- Sarah Forster, Booksellers NZ

Getting creative with Cats and Spaghetti Press

cats_and_spaghetti_logoI asked three new publishers five questions, in an effort to understand why you would decide to start anew in the current publishing environment (see feature article in The Read from yesterday.)  These are the answers from Emma Barnes and Pip Adam, who founded Cats and Spaghetti Press. Here are the answers from Paper Road Press, and we will post Mākaro Press’ answers on Monday.

1. Why did you decide to create your own publishing company?
Pip and I spent a lot of time talking about things we’d like to see getting published. Books aren’t always the easiest format to get creative with and the vagaries of publishing in this climate mean that what gets published can sometimes end up being larger manuscripts that are easier to make into books. We really liked the idea of doing weird things or little things or things that might not otherwise see the light of day.

2. What are you hoping to achieve in your publishing ventures?
We’re not in it to make money. But who is with poetry and short fiction! Even fiction! We are just wanting to make room for the unusual. I think that sums us up best.

3. How are you selecting your titles? Have you got a MS pile yet?
I came across Magnolia’s work and thought it was a natural fit for us and Pip agreed! So that was great. We’re going looking. If you’re only accepting submissions, you are often bound by that in that maybe you don’t know what you’re missing! I want to go out and find diverse work, both from different backgrounds and work that will challenge us to produce.
Pip_Sugar_Emma
4. How are you going with distribution? Is there anything you would like to see booksellers doing?
A few weeks ago, Cats and Spaghetti launched its first publication − Sugar Magnolia Wilson’s long poem Pen Pal. It was not a conventional publication and we didn’t want to distribute it in a conventional way. We decided to give all the copies of the first edition − which was a beautiful object − away for free. We organised an event, several writers read work which reflected some of the themes of Pen Pal (Magnolia gave them a brief to think witch-craft and the occult), then we let people know through social media that this would be the only chance to get a copy of the first edition of Pen Pal. In this way, we gifted the publication back to the poetry writing/reading community. We also tied the publication to the event, so it was sort of a record of the event for people who came and heard and read. We wanted people to read Magnolia’s work and we’re not totally sure ‘sales’ equal readers as unproblematically as we assume. By distributing Pen Pal the way we did (at the launch event), people paid for it through effort and participation and love and joy and support of the writer and the event, which we hope means that their relationship with Pen Pal will be different to what it might have been if they had paid money for it.

I hope that maybe when they pick it up or read it or see it in their bookshelf they’ll remember the night and the readings and the people they talked to and that will kind of commit them or tie them to the community around them. We were lucky to find a writer who shared our kaupapa.

As you can see, this makes it tricky to think about how we might work with booksellers, but I do think booksellers are an important part of the community that I’m talking about. I’m really interested in how a bookseller might fit with a gift economy kind of project.

5. I would imagine with a small list, you are easily adaptable for new realities. How are you dealing with future technologies for distributing/publicising your books?
I feel really lucky because neither Emma, Magnolia or I had money as a base criteria for publication. This is a ridiculously privileged position to be in, but I think that this, more than anything gives us scope for experimentation in distribution and publication. We were, and I imagine will be, mainly working in a self-funded model. This has two advantages, one of them is obvious − we please ourselves − but the other advantage is that we need to be creative and I think that is also very good. For instance, with Pen Pal, we had enough money for a small run of beautiful things, so we needed to find an exciting way of getting this small run into hands that would love it like we did. Our next project is a collection of a lot of writers’ work which has been rejected from other publications, and yeah I find it quite exciting not to have to think of it as a ‘literary journal’ as such or an ‘anthology’, it feels like there is so much room for it to become.

- Booksellers NZ

Paving a Paper Road to success – Paper Road Press

marie_elizabeth_paper_roadI asked three new publishers five questions, in an effort to understand why you would decide to start anew in the current publishing environment. These are the answers from Marie Hodgkinson of Paper Road Press. (Left, with publicist Elizabeth Heritage) Over the coming two days I will post full answers from the other two publishers covered in this feature article, Mákaro Press and Cats and Spaghetti Press.

1. Why did you decide to create your own publishing company?
I’ve always been interested in working with books and words. During university I ran Semaphore Magazine, an online publication that focused on short stories and poetry, and my experiences working with authors and a mixture of online and print publishing made it clear to me that this was a field I could really enjoy. After I completed the Diploma of Publishing at Whitireia Polytechnic in Wellington, there weren’t many jobs available that offered the breadth of publishing activities I enjoy, so I started up Paper Road Press in addition to working as a project administrator at another publishing company in town.

2. You have had some success already – what is your aim with the company? What constitutes success for you?
cv_baby_teethOur first book, the charity collection Baby Teeth: Bite-sized Tales of Terror, sold out soon after it launched. It’s now available as an ebook and via print on demand. I’d say it’s done really well, for an admittedly niche book (scary stories about, but not for, children − difficult!).

We released our first novel in May − Engines of Empathy, by Paul Mannering. Obviously, a movie deal and Scrooge McDuck-style rooms of gold would be an ideal level of success, but keeping things within the realm of reality, it would be great to see the book be well received in NZ and overseas, and sell well enough that we can finance publishing the second book in Paul’s series.

3. How are you selecting your titles? Have you got a MS pile yet?
Paper Road Press currently has a completely open submissions policy − writers send in the first 5000 words of their manuscript, and if I like what I see, I ask for the full manuscript to review. I do my best to keep on top of the pile, but I admit there are a few in there at the moment that I really should get back to! I may move to a ‘reading period’ submissions policy at some stage, where I only accept submissions in certain months of the year (and can plan ahead to put time aside for reading and assessing manuscripts), but for the time being, open submissions are working for me.

4. How are you going with distribution? Is there anything you would like to see booksellers doing?
I did the distribution for Baby Teeth myself − never again! Our current distributor is Greenecv_engines_of_empathy Phoenix Marketing, with Paul Greenberg, who’s a well known figure in the book trade. The book’s only been out for a couple of months, so it’s a bit early to know how that’s going, but I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far.

5. I would imagine with a small list, you are easily adaptable for new realities. How are you dealing with future technologies for distributing your books?
All of our books (all two of them!) are available both in print and as ebooks. We’re also working with a Scottish audiobook producer to create audio versions for digital download. I do my best to keep up with new technologies in the publishing industry, and keep an eye out for new distribution systems − but there’s certainly a risk in jumping on every shiny new idea before it’s been market tested.

- Booksellers NZ