Monday 30 May 2016

Creation or Promotion? Is there time for both? by Abie Longstaff

I've been really busy with work recently. But not with writing; with events.

I love doing author events: school visits, literary festivals and bookshop readings. It gives me a buzz to meet children, hear their ideas, share stories and help them with their creative writing. But it takes its toll. It’s exhausting. There's the panic of
Will my train be on time?
Will the school’s technology be compatible with mine?
Will anyone come to the bookshop?
(see Michelle Robinson’s excellent list of other things to panic about - here)

In day-long school events I might run up to six sessions for Reception to Y6. So when I finally make it home I tend to crumple on the sofa for the rest of the evening.

There’s been a lot of talk about author events in the book world recently, including a fantastic post on author fees by Nicola Morgan, and an article in the Guardian on the budgeting pressures faced by literature festivals.

Pay is an important issue. Events are hard work and we should be compensated fairly for our time. But some events don’t pay (eg bookshop events); while others pay but not quite enough to reflect the work you put in (lit fests). Then there’s the wider question of promotion in general – hours spent (unpaid) on social media, blog posts, press articles.

As authors, how do we balance promotion and creation? How much time should we spend selling the product rather than making it?

Some authors see promotion as very much part of their role. I know a writer who does lots of free events, puts her own money and time into marketing her books and works incredibly hard on promotion. I know another writer who hates promotion – she devotes all her time to writing and, for her, the best way to sell books is simply to write more (and better) books.

There are a growing number of lit fests across the country, umpteen bookshops keen to have an author visit and oodles of book blogs to post on. A writer could spend the entire year doing shows, bookshop readings, articles and guest blogs - but every day spent doing promotion is one fewer in which we could be writing.

How do we know if the time we spend promoting is worth it? And what does ‘worth it’ even mean? There’s the financial angle: selling books, promoting your brand. There’s the enjoyment angle: connecting with children, seeing the impact of your book on the world. There’s also a doing-good factor: maybe you’ll help a child learn to love books, or help a library stay open.

A very wise person, author Liz Kessler, devised a clever 'is it worth it?' formula (her post about it is here). She’s listed the upsides and downsides of events, and devised a scoring system to weigh the pluses against the minuses.
You score the following (each has a different maximum value):
Sales (S) – out of 10
Payment (P) – out of 5
Word of mouth W) – out of 3
Time (T) – out of 10
Cost (C) – out of 3
Enjoyment (E)– out of 3
Good cause (G), ie where it’s for charity – out of 3

Then her formula goes:
(S + P + W) must be greater or equal to (T + C – E – G)

I like Liz’s formula and I often use it when considering doing an event. But of course, it’s just a guide and you have to factor in your personal preferences - for example, because I love doing events I allow myself to score the enjoyment out of a higher number than 3. And I might consider the good cause to be particularly worthy, thus worthy of being allotted more than 3 points. Also - sometimes the value of the event isn’t apparent until after it’s over. A few weeks after one of my lower-selling events I got a letter from a little girl saying how much she loved the book she had bought that day. That alone made it worthwhile.

But the scoring system is a useful guideline and I’ve never come up with a better one.

What about you?
How much of your time do you want to devote to promotion?

How do you decide which events, paid or unpaid, to give time to?

Monday 23 May 2016


by Michelle Robinson

I was busy minding my own business when I found myself copied in on a (non-publishing) person’s question to an illustrator: “Do you think we could just make books without writers now?” The illustrator was just as astonished as me.

Talk about putting the twit in Twitter. Zero marks for knowing your audience, minus ten for understanding picture book chemistry, straight to hell for underestimating the art of the author. That's right, ART. 

A few snippets from my notebooks.
Just because the writing process doesn't lend itself so readily to showboating, doesn't mean we're not crafting away like billy-o. A snapshot of a scribbly, crosshatched notebook may not be as visually pleasing as a sketchbook, neither is it as simple to interpret, but us writers have some serious skills. It's harder to prove it, but then we shouldn't have to.

We create heroes - and not just on the page. Read our words aloud and you become a joy conjurer, memory maker, child whisperer. We weave the words whispered into waiting ears. "We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams." Perhaps the Twitter twit could do without the likes of O'Shaughnessy, but I'd rather not.

So anyway, I thought I'd lay myself bare to ridicule and failure and attempt to showboat.

Finding a story is a bit like finding a gem. In order to dig one out, you must first dig your way through a lot crappy rock. But us writers can't find that gem, can't weave the magic words, without first creating the crappy rock. All of it. From scratch. So here I am, starting from scratch, brainstorming 100 different ways with just one word: ROCK. 

  1. Rock on (Tommy).
  2. Rock 'n' roll. Rollin' rock. Gathers pace and just can't stop.
  3. Rock music.
  4. Rock around the clock.
  5. Rockabilly.
  6. Rockabetty.
  7. Rockabenny, too. I like a rockabilly band, how about you?
  8. Rockabilly goats gruff.
  9. Rockabye baby, on the treetop. Call social services, this must stop.
  10. Rocks in your socks.
  11. Stick of rock. Stuck of rock. Stack of rock. Rock stock.
  12. Crocodile rock.
  13. Rockodile.
  14. Get your rocks off. (What an odd phrase, honey. Write it down now, need a hundred, wow.)
  15. Rocks in your head, heavy as lead. Rocks on your head instead? SPLAT. You're dead.
  16. Rock hard.
  17. Rock solid.
  18. Rock steady crew.
  19. Rock teddy in your beddy, god bless you.
  20. On the rocks. Off the rocks. Over the rocks and far away.
  21. Rock buns. Mmm.
  22. Sit down, you’re rocking the boat.
  23. Rocking horse.
  24. Rocking chair.
  25. Rocking stocking.
  26. Rocky road.
  27. Precious rock.
  28. Rock layer.
  29. Solid rock.
  30. Tick, tock, get ready to rock.
  31. Rick.
  32. Rock, paper, scissors.
  33. Rockstar.
  34. Rock hammer.
  35. Rock climber.
  36. Dashed upon the rocks.
  37. Rock pool.
  38. With rocks on her fingers and rocks on her toes, she shall have blisters wherever she goes.
  39. Rock of ages and ages and ages. And ages.
  40. Rocky Mountain High.
  41. Rocky Horror Show.
  42. A rock and a hard place.
  43. Glam rock.
  44. Rock bottom.
  45. Rocky Balboa.
  46. Jailhouse rock.
  47. You’re my rock.
  48. 100 ways with one word? I must be off my rocker.
  49. Rocking, rolling, riding, out along the bay, all bound for morning town, many miles away.
  50. Hard Rock Cafe.
  51. Roxanne.
  52. Rocky Raccoon.
  53. It's hard, being a rock.
  54. The Rock stars in "Another Bad Movie".
  55. Rock up.
  56. Rock god.
  57. Rock me, Amadeus.
  58. How much rock would Woodstock stock if Woodstock could stock rock?
  59. A flock of rocks.
  60. Rock, stone, pebble, grit, gravel, sand.
  61. Bedrock.
  62. Shamrock.
  63. Mary Mary, quite contrary, how is your garden rockery? With silver bells and cockle shells and a splendid set of crockery.
  64. Did stone age women wear f-rocks?
  65. Do rockhopper penguins wear clodhopper shoes? 
  66. Get your rocks off, get your rocks off, honey. 20% off rocks today.
  67. Rocket.
  68. Rocketeer… rocket there. Ride a rocket, everywhere.
  69. Rock slide.
  70. You call that rock? What a crock. 
  71. Why did you set yourself this challenge? It’s almost impossible. But you can do this. You’re an author. You set yourself difficult word challenges every day, and you rise to them with tricks like added alliteration and internal rhyme all the time, so come on. Keep going. Don’t forget to think catchy. Think commercial. Think great to read aloud, like rolling a sweet around your mouth. You can do this. You rock.
  72. Rockin’ Robin.
  73. Is this even how you spell ‘rock’? It’s starting to look weird and between you and me I’m beginning to doubt my own existence. Rok? Rokk? Wrock? 
  74. Throw a rock upon the ground. Hit a number, hop around. What am I…? Hopscotch.
  75. If you hide a rock in that snowball, I’ll hide my fist in your face.
  76. What rock did you crawl out from under?
  77. Ayer’s Rock, actually, sport.
  78. I am a rock, I am an island.
  79. Rock dweller.
  80. Number 80? What rock have you been hiding under?
  81. School of hard rocks.
  82. Chock-a-block, full of rocks: a giant’s hole-y walking socks.
  83. River bed rocks, so slimy and wet. Off with your socks, paddle in, go get.
  84. Michelle, meet enormous house spider. Enormous house spider, meet heavy rock. True story.
  85. ‘Hey, big human - that’s my home. Leave my rock, go find your own.’
  86. Rough rock. Tough rock. Made of stronger stuff rock.
  87. Rock carving.
  88. Does a statue have a heart of stone? (Okay, that didn’t contain ‘rock’ but I love it so I’ll go to 101).
  89. Curl up your fingers. What have you got? A fist that’s hard and round as a rock.
  90. I named my dog Rock. He won’t shift. I should’ve called him Rover.
  91. Moon rock. Space rock. Space ROCKS.
  92. Saw this sign at a car boot sale: ‘RARE ROCK, FIFTY QUID’. Thought, ‘Can’t fail.’ Traded rare rock for my cow. Hope to grow a beanstalk now.
  93. 'Who threw that rock? Was it you?' 'No, I threw a kangaroo.'
  94. Holding a rock is like holding a piece of history. A really boring, grey piece when nothing much happened.
  95. If mum won’t let you keep a pet, keep a rock, the best pet yet. Rocks are quiet, rocks are cheap. Rocks spend all their time asleep.
  96. They puts rocks in boats, but dem boats still floats.
  97. What’s big, red and eats rocks? The big, red rock eater.
  98. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but rocks will really squish me.
  99. Race you to the rock and back. Which rock? The big grey one. They’re all big and grey. GO!
  100. Take a rock and draw on eyes. Instantly the rock looks wise.
  101. Bonus rock! Free rock with every 100 nonsensical rock word plays created! Enjoy your free rock.
This is just stage one, where stories and books start, all thanks to some story chasing, idea hunting, thesaurus loving buffoon who just cannot help mucking about with words, glorious words. Go ahead, try making all books without writers. Meanwhile, I think I'll just carry on digging.

★ Michelle Robinson's latest book, 'Goodnight Spaceman', illustrated by Nick East and published by Puffin, will be read from space by ESA astronaut, Tim Peake on CBeebies at 6.50pm, Monday 30th June 

Find out more about Michelle and her books at

Monday 9 May 2016

Picture Books Aren't Just For Reading - Lynne Garner

I’ve been writing education based articles for professionals who work with young children for a number of years now. So when I was asked to write a few activity based features linked to picture books I jumped at the chance.   

First I needed to do a little research and find some books. Easy! I put a call out to my fellow picture book writers and as usual they came to my rescue. The three books I’ve based my features on so far are:   

Written by Pippa Goodhart and Illustrated by Sam Usher
Published by Egmont 

Written by Moira Butterfield and illlustrated by Michael Emmerson
Published by Ginger Fox 

Written by Jane Clarke and iIllustrated by Charles Fuge
Published by Nosy Crow

My next task was to read each of the books and come up with some activity ideas which would tie the story with at least one of the subject areas covered in schools. These areas are:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED)
  • Literacy (L)
  • Communication and Language (CL)
  • Mathematics (M)
  • Understanding the World (UW)
  • Physical Development (PD)
  • Expressive Arts and Design (EAD)

I also teach in this sector (on a part-time basis) and we often call this type of linking different activities embedding, so it's something I'm used to doing. As I  read the books I could see there were lots opportunities for embedding. So here are just a few ideas I had:

Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED)
Encourage them to play group games linked to the book to support their understanding of respecting one anothers differences and the concept of sharing.

The very act of reading and sharing a book is supporting their literacy skills.

Communication and Language
As you read ask lots of open questions and you'll be expanding their vocabulary and improving their use of language.

As you read encourage them to count things and notice the use of numbers in the text to support their math skills.

Understanding the World
Once you've shared the book learning about the real life animals that appear in them provides them with the opportunity to gain understanding of the world around them and provides them with the opportunity to show care and concern for living things and the environment. 

Physical Development
Handling a book and turning pages will support their small motor skills.

Expressive Arts and Design
Encourage them enjoy a themed art and craft session will support this area and encourage them to explore using different mediums plus supporting their PD as they use small tools.

I'm now hoping you can see that every picture book opens up a wealth of learning opportunities and that picture books aren't just for reading.   



The features that used these books have or will appear in Practical Pre-school magazine which incorporates Child Care magazine. Both are a great source of information, creative ideas and resources for those who work in the Early Years Foundation Stage.  

Now for a blatant plug - don't say I didn't warn you:

My latest short story collection Coyote Tales Retold is available on Amazon in ebook format. Also available Meet The Tricksters a collection of 18 short stories featuring Anansi the Trickster Spider, Brer Rabbit and Coyote is available as a paper back and an ebook. 

I run the following online courses for Women On Writing: