Archive for November, 2010

It’s wizard!……Or is it?

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Firstly, apologies for the vast length of time that I have allowed to pass since my last ‘personal’ blog. The only excuse I can offer is that half term hijacked my brain and it hasn’t been until now that I’ve managed to lure it home. Funny how you need a holiday to recover from school holidays isn’t it? It’s all very nice in theory – not having to get up, not having to iron uniform, plenty of opportunity – nay, need – for trips to the zoo, swimming pool, cinema, etc. However the reality of hearing the word “Mummy” 57 times a minute always takes me by surprise. But the one that really gets me is  “Mummy, can you watch me do XYZ?” For everything. It may not be a watchable activity, I’m talking about searching for crayons, choosing clothes, etc., but my eldest daughter will want me to watch her do it. Or better still is the often-asked question: “Did you watch me?” I’m her parent, not her personal spectator. Although that may not be how the school judge me; no sooner is she back in the place then they announce a new initiative whereby you can come in and ‘observe’ (or ‘watch’ as it’s otherwise known) their individual music lessons. Which of course prompted the inevitable question this morning: “Mummy, can you watch my violin lesson today?” It was unfortunate that Sainsburys conspired against the school by restricting their available delivery times and thus prevented me from doing so. Shame.

One thing that has really caught my interest  recently is the spate of articles that have appeared over the last few days as the Harry Potter films come to an end and Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are released from their time as Harry, Ron and Hermione. It was quite fascinating learning about how the films were made, and where and how long it all took. And in addition quite how much money the three main actors have earned. Millions, needless to say. I think Daniel Radcliffe alone is worth £40 million. Great, in theory. He’s barely in his twenties and yet he need never work again. He has more money than he could ever spend in his lifetime. And probably those of the children he may go on to have. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are in a similar position. But is this a good thing? Is it really so wonderful for an individual to be in the position where they need never work again so early in their life? Most – if not all – people in these economically straightened times would probably say yes, it is a wonderful thing and how lucky they are. But I suspect otherwise. It will take an enormous amount of self-discipline for those three people to maintain focus on their lives, to have a structure to their week and not drift into any of the temptations that will inevitably fall into their paths. They need never get out of bed again, they can spend their lives on the slopes of Gstaad or the beaches of the Seychelles – they could probably buy their own slopes and beaches – but I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing. Is it not far better for a person to be anchored by the demands of life? The Government clearly agree with me  (which is always nice) judging by the scheme they’ve just announced  whereby those who have opted for a ‘life on benefits’ are to be forced to work for set hours each week to teach them the self-discipline and skills required to hold down a job. Interesting juxtaposition between being entirely dependent on state welfare and having more money than you could ever spend, but the risks are potentially the same.

The problem that I see for these three actors, and for anyone else in a similarly privileged position, is that there’s nothing left that they need to achieve in life. Professionally and financially – they’ve made it. Of course they will all have their individual aims but whereas most young adults are forced into making sensible decisions by the pressure of having to work, whether that be purely in terms of earning money or by gaining qualifications for a career, the risk for the Harry Potter crowd is that because they don’t have this they will drift, make unwise decisions and suffer personally as a consequence. Examples of this flood into the media all the time; Macauley Culkin – who went from being a celebrated and revered child actor to being an extremely troubled adult. The socialites who become drug-dependent.  Emma Watson is the only one of the three to take A-Levels and go on to University. She was also the only one of the three who did not have her parents on set with her. And she wasn’t told until she was eighteen how much she was worth. She now comes across as a focussed, driven person and a potential success story for having spent ten years as a child, teenager and young adult locked into a pretend world. Which is of course the other issue which could be argued to be a bad thing. The social aspect. If you remove a normal school routine, normal peer groups and essentially normal life and replace it by teenage years spent in draughty aircraft hangars, fighting dragons, that must have enormous and lasting consequences for a child. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson both experienced bullying-type behaviour and Emma has now opted to study in the USA to avoid recognition, and speaks openly about struggling to know how best to make friends.  None of these things are a substantial argument against taking the Harry Potter kind of roles that catapault children into superstardom, but I do think it’s important to recognise the negative aspects as well. Whether this will bother any of them as they buy their fourth home on Mustique is an entirely separate question.

But there is of course another benefit to starring in these films. Quite aside from the worldwide fame and the millions of pounds lodging with Coutts, there is something else which is a truly amazing thing to have. And this is that when Daniel, Emma and Rupert ask their parents “Did you  watch me?” – the answer will be a resounding YES.

Self-publishing – why not?

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

When people think of becoming an author and publishing a novel, I think it’s fair to say that even now it’s considered as something you can apply to do and you may or may not be accepted. For the vast majority, it is unfortunately the latter. The well-trodden, traditional route to becoming a published author is to write a book, seek and find a literary agent and for them to secure a publisher on your behalf. The number of people who achieve this, versus the number of people who try and don’t, is tiny. There are literally millions of aspiring writers worldwide, look at the current phenomenon that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the slightly kamikaze idea being to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, quantity, not quality, being important. I think it’s a great idea and gives those people who have ‘always meant to write a book’ a kick in the right direction towards doing so. I am passionately committed to encouraging writing of every description. Even if it never leaves the author’s desk it can still be a wholly enjoyable and often therapeutic thing to do. There are people out there with fascinating stories to tell. Sadly, it has become clear that the writing industry is viewing NaNoWriMo extremely sceptically, because a percentage of these currently-being-written manuscripts will inevitably land on the desk of some agent or editor who already has their hands full. Anyway, I digress. Most of these writers that I’m talking about, for one reason and another, will never become published. Breaking into this tightly protected industry is an incredibly hard thing to do. We’ve all heard the infamous stories of how often Stephen King and JK Rowling were turned down which people repeat ad infinitum in an effort to be encouraging to aspiring writers, but for me it has always had the opposite effect. Instead of reassurance, it just demonstrates that actually, the publishing industry is completely prejudiced against the unknown, no matter how good that unknown work is. And frankly, one view is why shouldn’t they be? Agents and publishers are ultimately looking to make money out of a book, not give a wannabe writer their chance of a lifetime. For an agent to accept a manuscript they have to be 100% behind the project, and believe that it can be a marketable, profitable book which will sell well. Added to which there are hundreds of fully-established novelists in every genre who regularly turn out work which sells extremely well, thanks in part to their recognisable name. Therefore, it is easy to see why agents and publishers may not be fully enthusiastic about welcoming new writers into the fold. However, as I know from experience, there are those who are more open-minded than others and who have one eye more or less continually open for new projects and new authors. Sense dictates that there WILL be undiscovered talent, though these days the bar is set extremely high. But I shall not be side-tracked, this is not a piece on how to become published, instead I’m looking at the other option, the option that is currently a sneered-at phrase among the publishing fraternity: SELF-PUBLISHING.

The self-publishing industry has seen a real explosion over the last few years. More people have become aware that it exists, websites like have helped promote it as a concept, and like any new venture, the more people that go forth into it, the more people want to follow them. The reason for this is all those hundreds of writers (and I’m talking purely UK-based here) who are not given the chance through traditional publishing, yet yearn to see their work in print. And furthermore bound into a recognisable format. And why not? Should they forget their aspirations and resign themselves to be failed novelists just because the person at the top of the writing chain hasn’t liked their style or content? I don’t see any reason why. If a person has invested the amount of time and energy it takes to write a book, then that potentially deserves some outlet.

What becomes vitally important here is to be realistic, and recognise that very few people will become household names because of their writing, and still yet fewer if they self-published. But if the aim is simply to write a book and have it published through some form or other, for it to be available as an actual book in other words, then turning to self-publishing becomes a viable option. The publishing industry has experienced something of a backlash from irritated writers due to its closed -ranks policy; and this can be seen in a number of ways. For example, the growth of websites such as and The latter was the brainchild of HarperCollins publishers, designed to discover new writing talent. Once a month they review the most popular submissions, with a view to publishing them. It’s a unique site and a relatively new idea, but furthermore it creates a holding bay for aspiring writers who have a place to focus their creative energies and have the knowledge that their work has a purpose. After all, the most successful novels will be placed into the direct attention of an editor at HarperCollins. It’s massively popular, but, ultimately, just another way of breaking into the same industry, it’s not a new way of becoming a successful author.

Self-publishing is a different method. This is where the author bears all of the costs associated with publishing purely to get their book printed and bound. There are a few companies who offer this service, there is no selection criteria applied, but it does cost thousands of pounds. So why this prejudice against it? That’s an easy question to answer: no selection criteria means that absolutely anything can be printed and published. No-one in a position of authority has actually made the decision that a book is worthy of publication. However ultimately, this doesn’t really matter because if it’s no good then the market will judge it as such and it won’t sell no matter how hard the author tries. It often comes down to an issue of vanity.

And speaking of the author trying, I met a very interesting chap last week in Waterstones. He was called Alan Gilliland and he’d written and illustrated a children’s book called “The Amazing Adventures of Curd the Lion in the Land at the Back of Beyond”. He had previously worked for 18 years for a national newspaper in their graphics department. Through conversation it became clear that he had marketed his book very effectively, selling £90,000 worth. In addition he’d had interest from the USA in turning it into a feature film. No small amount of success in other words. Well, I thought, of course that’s possible with a big publishing house and consequent marketing department behind you, plus he probably has hundreds of contacts from his media days which would be handy for review purposes; it’s no surprise really. After a brief conversation about the various merits of book-signing and gaining some valuable advice, I asked which publishers he was with. His response knocked me sideways, “No-one,” he said. “I’m with myself. Completely self-published.” I was so amazed that I couldn’t speak for a second (very unusual), but it was literally the last thing that I expected him to say. He had a well-rehearsed patter which he then gave me, telling me how beneficial it was to be in control of the whole operation, that it would never go out of print unless he chose, the books would never be pulped unless he chose – and perhaps most pertinently – the amount of money that he earns per book sold is far in excess of what most authors earn. All undoubtedly true. And what is more, he’d had no help in terms of reviews, simply because he was self-published. Even after working for 18 years in the media industry, he had not been given a helping hand of any sort. It doesn’t appear to have affected his success, I was extremely impressed and it opened up a side of self-publishing that I hadn’t realised existed. However, whilst his story is undoubtedly true and inspirational in part, I do wonder what difference it would have made to him to have had the support of a publishing house.  What this story does prove is that the success of a product, and in this case the book, depends on the marketing. Being with a mainstream publisher gives the author all the advice and expertise that they could wish for. It’s on tap. For a self-published author, they have no such access to free advice and support, which makes it an expensive business to achieve even a small amount of success. Not forgetting the substantial upfront costs to manufacture such an enormous number of books.

The conclusion that I’m going to draw is that although it’s a sad fact, it is probably still true that to achieve even a moderate amount of success, respect and recognition as a writer, you do need to tread the traditional route. Being a self-published author in the eyes of the publishing industry is worse than being an unpublished author. I suggest that the reason for this is that those people high up in the business want to make the decision that a book is worthy of publication; unless they or someone of their set standards has ratified it as such, then it does not merit a glance, much less any respect, regardless of the fact that it may actually be quite a good book. They appear to loathe the confidence/arrogance of the person who chooses to go ahead anyway. There are, and always will be, exceptions to this, but I don’t think the publishing world is ready to welcome self-published tomes with open arms just yet.

Interesting sites: