My animals and other family, by Susanna Andrew

When I was small I avoided non-fiction the way other children avoided vegetables. I skipped the history in the School Journal and went straight to the fiction bar. In my reading habits, I was fact-averse. There was, however, one non-fiction book that I swallowed whole: The World of Pets.


I was given it for my birthday when I was eight years old. It was a large, hefty book with full-colour plates and chapter headings such as How to Care for Mice, Keeping Guinea Pigs and Which Breed of Cat Is For You? I loved its grave and factual tone. There were animals in that book that I could only dream of having – cats with pedigrees, silky rabbits, chubby hamsters, voles, and even chestnut horses with long manes. My animal-loving obsession was tolerated by my family. They nicknamed me Daktari, and banned all pets inside the house.daktari

Perhaps it was being the youngest of eight siblings that made me want to be the boss of others, but it was true that whatever was able to be caught and brought up in a cage, I had at some stage tried to be the master of. As Seamus Heaney put it, “I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied /specks to range on window-sills at home,..and wait and watch until, the fattening dots burst into nimble -/swimming tadpoles”.

I bred mice in different colours in a four-storey cage built by the caretaker at the school my mother taught in. The cage allowed me to partition off floors and separate the babies from the males, who sometimes ate them. I also owned a cat, some goldfish and an axolotl. I kept guinea pigs named Wilbur (but of course) and Charlotte – and all of their offspring. I had an aviary which housed ring-necked doves, quails and finches. I managed this whole animal kingdom alone, with the book as my guide.

possumOne day, the caretaker at my mother’s school arrived in her class with an orphaned baby possum and my mother brought it home for me. It was a tiny pet furball, the cutest thing imaginable, and it clung to me. Whenever I picked it up it climbed up on to my head and sat spreadeagled in my hair. One morning I woke to find the possum was missing from its cage. I remember crying in the morn-ing before school.

There was no chapter in The World of Pets titled How To Look After Your Pet Possum. It could only have contained the unhelpful sentence ‘It doesn’t belong to you’. The writing in that book was prosaic and encyclopaedic but at the age of eight it gave me my fictional life: Hamster Trainer, Rabbit Keeper, Horse Owner.

Susanna Andrew is co-editor with Jolisa Gracewood of Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2015 published by Auckland University Press RRP $30.00 ISBN 9781869408244


Susanna Andrew and Jolisa Gracewood, image copyright Marti Friedlander


Using Facebook for customer engagement works for Atlantis Bookstores

Article supplied

Atlantis Books opened its first shop in April this year and it already has another two stores. Co-owner Fraser Newman puts a lot of their success down to social media.

“This is a very powerful tool for booksellers,” Fraser says, “In the past booksellers laboured over newsletters and reviews in newspapers. Now we can reach our customers instantly at any time of night or day – and it is fun and interactive.”

Atlantis Books has seen its following on Facebook boom with over 2,900 likes already. Fraser says, “We’ve noticed we can say something on Facebook and immediately we’ll notice people coming into the store responding to it. I cannot overstate the case for good social media engagement.”


Facebook, at least for Atlantis, has until now replaced the need for newsletters and other forms of advertising, though they still market heavily in local newspapers in their three cities.

“Newsletters are good for a certain demographic. But you only get to send one out once a month or so, people rarely read them and you don’t know who you are targeting.”

Targeting is a major factor in Atlantis Books’ success on Facebook. The page’s ‘Insight’ feature allows staff to see who is on the page. They can then shift their focus appropriately. Fraser sometimes sets goals when he sees the demographics moving too far in one direction. For example, when the balance of under 24 year olds shifted too far toward female fans, Fraser carried out a drive to appeal to male under 24 year olds as well.

“This keeps us grounded. We want to be a mainstream, mass market bookshop for the average punter. Our Facebook page has to reflect this. Therefore our goal is always to have a good bell-curve distribution for our demographics. It is never going to be perfect though. Younger people are on Facebook more than older, and females are more likely to engage on a page than males.”

Another thing to look out for are Facebook rules.

“A lot of people miss these,” Fraser says, “But Facebook can actually be quite strict. There are rules around images, advertising, give-aways and competitions. People need to be familiar with these and not be lax on following them. As your page grows people will notice when you break the rules and dob you in. There is nothing worse than planning a promotion and then having Facebook pull the plug on it.”

This is important because one of the most successful ways to grow followers on a page is with competitions.

“Dollar for dollar competitions do more for a page than anything else. Sometimes we’ll have 100+ people enter a competition and we sell a lot of the same book afterwards because people are sad they missed out.”

The key to a good competition is a worthwhile prize (no reading copies thank you!) and a decent question people have to answer in order to get some engagement with customers. It is also important to remember that the prizes should not be just fiction but reflect the different areas of the shop.

“Too much of the book industry is geared up for fiction sales,” Fraser says, “But they are only a small part of total sales. Your Facebook page should reflect this.” (below is a selection of comics available at their Whakatane store.)

comicbooksAnother way to get people engaged is with open ended questions or fill in the gaps. Social media users love to share their ideas, even if no one else is really listening. So simply chucking discussion points out there can really get people going.

At the end of the day though success on social media comes down to having an attractive online personality and putting in the hard work.

“Don’t just just put up photos of your new releases,” Fraser says, “People want substance and a little fun.”


Article supplied by Fraser Newman, Atlantis Bookstore

The artful recreation of a Kiwi Christmas story in Hutt City – Giveaway below

cv_the_twelve_days_of_kiwi_christmasThink of your favourite childhood storybook. And now imagine yourself as a child seeing that storybook come to life. That’s exactly what’s happening in downtown Lower Hutt next month to celebrate Myles Lawford’s children’s book The Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas.

The lively picture book is a delightful take on The Twelve Days of Christmas carol. But as the title suggests, it comes with a Kiwi twist. The partridges and pear trees have gone, and instead Kiwi kids will read, and sing, about a summertime Christmas with chocolate fish and boogie boards.

To boost the festive mood, Hutt City Council is running a scavenger hunt through Lower Hutt CBD based on The Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas. Twelve shops in the CBD will display an artwork based on one of the 12 gifts in the book. Kids of all ages can then use the storybook trail map (see link below) to find the art pieces. They’ll find a letter attached to each display, which will spell out a Christmas message, and be their entry into the draw to win fantastic prizes.


Tony Yates’ sculpture of a giant meat pie is one of the 12 art displays in Lower Hutt that’s bringing a kids’ Christmas storybook to life.

It’s a neat way to promote The Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas. And for kids, it’s a fun, interactive way to enjoy the story. It lifts the story off the pages and recreates it in their world. Each artwork is created by artists from The Learning Connexion in Lower Hutt. These artists give their own spin, their own interpretation, their own ideas to the words – and what better way to show children that words in a book aren’t limited to the pages, but can take on their own forms in their imagination and be recreated as art.

Learning Connexion logoArtist Michaela Miller’s brief was to create art that reflected the book’s “eight flying Frisbees”.

Although Michaela specialises in painting, she decided to experiment in photography. For her work, she will literally have to fling and then photograph Frisbees from hilltops, before adding her creative spin through Photoshop.

The result is stunning. And without giving too much away, the Frisbees will be in high colour against a black and white background.

The artists can, and do, indulge in a topsy-turvy world. Just like Caitlin Morris’ watercolour painting depicting the fifth day of the Kiwi Christmas. Chocolate fish dangling like baubles on a pohutukawa tree? Well, why not? In art, as in storybooks, anything can happen. Real world rules don’t apply.

Tony Yates is another of The Learning Connexion artists involved in the project. His work is a sculpture of an oversized mince pie. Tony spent a week moulding the clay before painting it to give it that look of golden, freshly cooked pastry.

Tony says the kids in his family are especially excited by the project. They can’t wait to see his work displayed as part of the story trail.

The Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas also comes with a CD so kids can sing along in both English and Māori.HCC_TE AWA_lockup_CMYK_Teal TeAWA

Kids will love singing along with the book, and if they head out to Lower Hutt over the next couple of weeks, they can see with their own eyes, the ideas of The Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas come to life.

Booksellers New Zealand has three copies of The Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas to give away. Click through to their facebook page to enter, or enter below.

What: The Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas storybook trail
Where: Lower Hutt CBD
When: November 30 to 24 December

Download your Story Trail map here.

A Rafflecopter giveaway

Article by Jolene Williams, Hutt City Council, in promotion of their Christmas celebrations.

How To Talk To Famous Authors, by Francis Plug

Francis Plug is the fictional hero of the critically-acclaimecv_francis_plug_how_to_be_a_public_authord book Francis Plug: How to be a Public Author, by Paul Ewen. We are very privileged to have Francis write an original blog piece for us about his experience with famous authors.

“So funny you find yourself giggling helplessly long after you’ve passed the joke” … “Pure – and purely pleasurable – silliness”, said the Times Literary Supplement, of Francis Plug.


In the literary circles I tend to swing in, the opportunity to converse with famous authors arises often. The fact I have met over thirty Booker Prize-winners is very well documented. Not that I’m particularly charismatic, or socially blessed. Many people actually find me rather difficult to engage with, or, in their own words, “freaky”, “unbalanced”, and “a complete nutjob”. But this hasn’t prevented me holding conversations with the most respected authors of the present day and age. Because most famous authors are very freaky too.

This is to be expected. After all, much of their lives are spent in self-imposed confinement, engaging only with fantastical beings of their own imagination. Make-believe characters, fictitious creations. That’s why the whole notion of talking to these people is problematic. They’re simply not wired for everyday chit-chat with normal folk. If you hope to engage with them in conversation, it’s probably best if you come across like fragments of their inner imaginations.

Normally when you talk to famous authors, they are seated behind a signing table, as if on a throne, while you stand before them, a mere minion. Despite your height advantage, you are a real person and therefore mean nothing. Most famous authors will simply lower their eyes to your/their book, hoping that all the information they need for the brief transaction is spelt out on a pre-written slip of paper inserted alongside the title page. Telling them how much you enjoyed their book is a polite and well-meaning ice-breaker, but in truth, your presence and speech are creating that ice, and the only way to break it is by removing yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. Or by getting on the other side of the table, out of the author’s immediate vantage point, and whispering in their ear. If they can’t see you, your presence is better imagined, and your whispered voice can be attributed to any number of characters that already exist inside their head.

However, even by merely whispering to a famous author, you are prolonging their public spectacle and using up more of their valuable writing time. That’s why you’ll often see a famous author immediately reach for a glass of wine when a member of the public approaches. If they’re forced to listen to a real person, they may as well take their mind elsewhere.

If you still feel compelled to converse with famous authors, perhaps attempt to be constructive with what you’re saying. For instance:
“I have a bottle of Scotch in my bag. Would you care for some?”
“I know a very wealthy benefactor who supports authors who write books like yours.”
(Yes, even the famous authors are financially up against it in this day and age.)

But perhaps the best way to talk to famous authors is through the written word, by writing them a letter. It’s a medium they understand and respect, and you’ll spare yourself the disappointment of finding out that the author you much admire is actually, in real life, a bit of a shit.

Here’s an example of a recent letter I wrote to Richard Flanagan:

Dear Richard,
Hi, it’s me again. Sorry for the barrage of mail, but I still haven’t heard from you. You’re a busy chap, I understand perfectly, so I’ll try and keep this letter succinct – you already know all about my gastro/indigestion problems!
To recap, I’ve just written a book about Booker Prize-winners, but you missed the boat. I need to meet you at haste, to get my book signed. I was kicked out of my flat, so maybe we could meet at a pub? Could you bring a credit/debit card?
I’m rubbing my hands fervently in anticipation.
Your fellow,
Francis Plug.

Richard’s response is undoubtedly imminent. In the meantime I take heart in the knowledge that I wasn’t freaking him out in person, thus causing him to lunge for his wine glass, while simultaneously blasting him with my own pissy breath.

by Francis Plug

Thank you to Text Publishing for arranging this blog piece to be written by Paul Ewen, author of Francis Plug: How to be a Public Author. 

Keeping up appearances with Steve Braunias of Luncheon Sausage Books – includes giveaway

madmen_coverShould authors have their own website? There is no getting away from the fact that it’s an explicit advertisement, even more self-regarding than a Twitter or Facebook account – mirror mirror on the wall, show my collected works to one and all.

We live in the age of the electronic sandwich board. It’s okay to walk around shouting your name. The theme of 21st century life is attention, and the cunning, independent ways to go out and get it. Writers are not exempt from such socially acceptable boorishness; and a website is really just a sensible option. It might help sales, it might lead to an invitation to appear at a writer’s festival – the one in Ubud sounds nice.

But it seems that once a writer has committed to a website, and got it up and running, their duty to maintaining their image sooner or later begins to…fade, and evaporate. I had a look at the websites of four New Zealand writers. Three of them were very nice looking, even quite graphic in their use of images. All had the basic information pack. And all had been pretty much completely abandoned.

The bibliography of one author stops at 2012, even though they have published several works since then, including a book which has been translated into French and Italian. Another claims they are still living in a city they left in 2011. A third has a “News” page, which fails to mention any news since 2013, including their work on exciting projects in Los Angeles. The fourth writer says their latest novel “will be published in 2013”.

O vanity! Where is thy staying power?

I have every intention of providing fresh, daily updates of my new website.

It’s not an author website as such – I created it to advertise and promote my latest book, 
Madmen: Inside the weirdest election campaign ever
– and its domain name is Luncheon Sausage Books, “a new and pungent name in New Zealand publishing”.

I formed Luncheon Sausage Books to self-publish Madmen. Talk about vanity. No one wanted to publish the book, so I took matters into my own hands. It’s been a fascinating process and I couldn’t have done it without Katrina Duncan, who designed Madmen, cover designer Jenny Nicholls, and subversive Hamilton man Joshua Drummond, who painted the cover depicting Prime Minister John Key in a state of supreme indifference.

When it came to creating a website, I couldn’t have done it without my daughter. I sat down next to her on the couch with my iPhone, and determined to find out how to make a website. I went to Google and clicked on a few suggested sites. I didn’t understand a goddamned word and the instructions were impossible to follow and I howled with agony, rage, deep-seated loathing for mankind – the usual range.

“Oh, give me the phone,” said my seven-year-old. She directed me to Simple Site, and then talked me through it.

It was very good of her. I’ve tried to live up to her expectations by designing a possibly fairly striking website – with news, updates, slide shows, the contents of interesting emails, and a comments section, which I really should moderate. I don’t know where they come up with those terms of abuse.

Simple Site provides 40 pages. I have 30 unused pages left to go, and fully intend to use every last one of them as I try my best to entertain, inform, and shift stock.

I welcome fresh ideas – and will reward the very best idea with a free copy of Madmen, which retails for $20. Perhaps a questionnaire of some sort, an idea involving clever use of photography, mock satires of other writers’ websites? All suggestions will be considered, and gratefully received. Please send emails to Booksellers NZ ( with the subject line ‘Luncheon Sausage Books’, or email directly to me at

I’ll sign and send a copy of Madmen in the post to the winner.

Entries close at 5pm Friday 14 November. I will use the winning idea as Monday’s entry on Luncheon Sausage Books website. Yes, that quick; vanity doth not wait.


Guest post by Steve Braunias, author of Mad Men: Inside the Weirdest Election Campaign Ever, as well as the NZ Post award-winning Civilisation: Twenty Places on the edge of the World (Awa Press), among other titles.

Stockist list available here. 

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.


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 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