The Best of Australian YA

I’m an avid chewer of books but, surprisingly, I don’t read a lot of literature from my own country. Oh horror! Gasp with me! It’s an abominable shame. The reason for this is, a) I read mostly YA, b) most famous YA books are by American authors, and c) it seems much easier to get one’s clammy paws on American books than Australian ones.

But I do love some good local literature. So if, like me, you are always hungry to find more Aussie authors — I’ve got you covered.

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Bowe_GirlSavesBoy81. STEPH BOWE16111373

Steph Bowe is rather an authorly hero of mine, considering she published two (!) books while still a teen. Plus they’re heartwarmingly fantastic reads. While I loved Girl Saves Boy, I’m particularly fond of All This Could End because it features a family of bank robbers. The family that robs together, stays together. How wonderful.

 

Life in Outer Space

2. MELISSA KEIL19403811

I absolutely fell in love with Melissa Keil’s works after I swallowed Life in Outer Space. Awkward teenager who dreams of being a writer?! SIGN ME UP. I didn’t think things could get better until I met The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl. On the verge of leaving high school? Life collapsing? The apocolypse coming? So many delicious cupcakes? This book shot up to my favourites shelf in a matter of seconds.

Disruption
3. JESSICA SHIRVINGTON 9781492601777

Although she’s a prolific writer of wonderful sounding books, I’ve only read Disruption and Corruption so far. I admit! I was dubious of the premises (everyone has technology that allows them to find true love easily? Bah) but it’s so much more than a love story. It has fighting, adventure, espionage, martial arts, guns, and a really greasy burrito.

 

97819218889534. DIANNEE TOUCHELLA Small Madness | FRONT COVER (10 September 2014)

Even though A Small Madness is only a few months old (published in just February, 2015) it’s entirely sad and beautifully written. It’s a gritty, realistic look at teenage pregnancy with heartbreaking outcomes. I haven’t read Creepy and Maud yet, but with a title like that, it’s on my to-do list.

 

97819221472575. A.J. BETTS9431702

And we can’t forget the tear-jerker of Zac and Mia. I hesitate to pitch it as the “Australian The Fault in Our Stars!” but…it kind of is. The characters may be a little more bitter in this one, but still entirely managed to win my heart with their struggles with cancer. You won’t find any prettiness here, though, I WARN YOU. Only sadness, swollen faces, ice cream, and sheep. I haven’t read Wavelengths yet, mostly because I didn’t know it existed until now. SO! I will read it one day!

97807022501946. CLAIRE ZORN9780702249761

I only discovered Zorn’s books this year — and proceeded to eat two in rapid succession. The Protected is a heartbreaking contemporary about a girl coming to terms with the death of her older sister — but the HOWS and WHYS are mysterious and I kept flipping pages long into the night to get answers. The Sky So Heavy is an apocalyptic story. Mostly snow and unwashed bodies. I’d easily call it “The Next Tomorrow When The War Began”. (Dare I say it’s better?!) You need both these books in your life, ASAP.

 

[All links take you to find more information and prices of these fantastic books! Click! Click, I say!]

Why booklovers need newspapers

The SMH replica app allows a tablet user to see the newspaper as it appears in print.
After 14 years in newspapers of which 11 were with Fairfax titles, and seven were online, I have some pretty strong views about recent events in that great newspaper company.

As an avid reader and book lover so should you. Newspapers have long encouraged and supported their journalists as they add the writing of books to their creative output. Without their newspaper jobs, these journalists simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to devote their time to the writing of books.

There are too many current or past Fairfax journalists and columnists who have become authors to mention here, but some names that spring to mind are Maggie Alderson, Mia Freedman, Peter Fitzsimons, David Marr, Chris Womersley, Annabel Crabb, Roy Masters and Kirsty Needham.

I’m most concerned for those friends and former colleagues who have already lost their jobs, or may do so in coming months.

I’m also worried about how those who keep their jobs will cope with all the uncertainty and change.

I’m devastated about the impact cuts have already had and will continue to have on the quality of the content coming from the SMH, Age and Canberra Times.

I’ve also always been a passionate reader of Fairfax content, whether it’s in newspaper form (rarely these days), on the web on my computer, on my iPad via an app or on the iPhone as a mobile optimized version of the websites, and whether it’s content I’ve found by flipping or scrolling through Fairfax’s own pages or via a recommendation from a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn contact.

However we find or read the content, it’s a huge enrichment for our lives.

As a journalist who was lucky to be poached from Fairfax by a small start-up publisher a year ago, before the outsourcing of sub-editors started the current doom and gloom, I have mostly happy memories of my time there. Fairfax is a great company. Its people are exceptional as writers, editors and mentors to those building media careers.

A little part of me is angry about some management decisions made over the years, particularly the ones that involved head-in-the-sand statements like, “No, you can’t publish that online, it’s a print exclusive” and “No, we can’t publish a replica app because it might impact on print sales”.

The latter particularly frustrated me because replica versions (like those found on Zinio or PressReader) seemed like such a simple and cheap way to get Fairfax content onto tablets for readers interstate and overseas, or for those who had an allergy to newsprint, and who thus couldn’t access the print edition.

I replaced my print delivery of the SMH with a replica app subscription in 2010 and haven’t looked back. I’d do the same for The Canberra Times today if they offered one.

I’ve always believed that if your readers want to receive your goods in a particular way, and you can provide the goods to them in that way relatively cheaply and easily, then you should do so.

Print has been over for a long time, and the direction CEO Greg Hywood has finally shifted the business in is the right one.

A digital first policy and the appointment of social media editors for each title are necessary steps forward. A little late, maybe, but better late than never.

As for Gina Rinehart, well, wouldn’t it be great if everyone who felt strongly about keeping her off the board invested in a few Fairfax shares themselves. Don’t hold your breath.

What do you think the future holds for newspapers?

Do you, like me, believe Fairfax should pull back further on printed editions to save on printing and distribution costs and provide print subscribers with tablets and app subscriptions?

I reckon that will happen in time.

I also think they should look to charge for longer form journalism, focusing on depth and expertise rather than trying to compete on breaking news, though this will only work if they expand still further on their social media plans to ensure their content is discovered.

As for how you can help to support Fairfax’s great journalists, the most important way is to pay for their content. Subscribe to an app or paid website. Buy a print edition (if only to show your grandchildren so they know what a newspaper used to look like). Buy some shares. Or join the Get up! Campaign to promote its editorial independence.

Not The Book You’re Looking For…

Penguin 75I’ve got to admit I didn’t expect to be laughing at myself while reading Penguin 75, but then again, but I guess that’s what you get for doing something by halves (I almost wrote ‘half-assed’, but then told myself this was a family-friendly blog).

I’d vaguely heard there was a book about the history of Penguin’s covers and, as I’m fascinated by the company’s origins and iconic penguin and orange covers, figured it was a must-have. Of course, I didn’t know the title so crowdsourced its title via Facebook.

Fellow writer, part-time bookseller, and full-time friend and Christopher Currie (I’ve blogged about his first novel, The Ottoman Hotel) suggested I might be thinking of Penguin 75; one he knew to be a bestseller. I immediately ordered it from Boomerang Books and rubbed my hands together in anticipation of its arrival.

Those of us in the industry obsess about what goes into a good cover, and what works and doesn’t from both the author’s and booksellers’ points of view. We each have our pet hates.

For me, they’re generally dust covers and specifically dust covers in light colour. If they don’t arrive in store torn, battered, and generally looking shabby, within about five seconds flat of being on the shelf and handled by potential buyers, they will be.

That said, I have no idea what my idea of a perfect cover is and would go into a complete tailspin were I to have to articulate what I would do for my own book should it ever be published. Hence my keen-ness to learn from the best…

It turns out that it wasn’t quite the book I thought I was ordering, although I’m not sure the book I thought I was ordering actually exists. Instead of tracing the company’s history and the arrival at those distinctive orange Popular Penguin covers, Penguin 75 looks at other covers the company has put together and contains a commentary from the authors whose books those covers graced and the designers who came up with them.

It took me a while to work out what was going on and I chuckled at myself and my confusion when I finally worked it out. And although I don’t (ironically) like its cover, I was amused at and impressed by the cleverness of the book and the wit with which it’s executed.

Paul Buckley is the Executive Vice President Creative Director at Penguin, which is a fancy way of saying Art Director, AKA the guy who is in charge of the designers who design the covers. The book is him documenting the behind-the-scenes tales of just how some covers came into being. And by goodness it’s a cack.

Take, for example, his introduction:

Publishers and editors are used to hearing art directors and designers moan endlessly about their best work being passed over by the philistines that surround them on all sides. They’re also used to hearing from the authors about how there is no way the designer read the material and this lousy cover will surely bury the author’s career.

Then these poor editors and publisher have to gently navigate us through, hopefully to a good conclusion for all. Beautiful designs flourish. And massive book sales soon follow. Probably. Not really. Okay, sometimes. But never as often as we’d all like.

Eat, Pray, LoveHe goes on to explain the book’s premise:

This being the case, design blogs are constantly asking, ‘Why does this cover look this way?’ Often the designer appears online and diplomatically attempts to answer. But in all my years, I’ve only seen an author chime in once. So with this book, I thought it would be fun to get both sides on one page talking about one cover.

And what I’ve learned is that when faced with putting their thoughts on the printed page, authors are far more polite than designers. But I’ve seen the emails. I’ve heard the responses. An author who dislikes his or her cover is often very not polite, and sometimes understandably so.

They spend years crafting something that is immensely important to them, then we come along and in a matter of weeks, an editor sends an email that is usually along the lines of ‘We are so excited to be showing you this cover! We hope you love it as much as we do!!! XOXO’ (really, I see the XOXO thing A LOT)…and then major author panic ensues.

There are some brilliant admissions and one-liners in this book, including some that are cleverly previewed on the inside of the cover and that then point to the particular page in the book on which they occur. Some of my favourites include:

  • He read the book brief and immediately came up with a bear shagging a doll. Bingo. Cover approved.
  • This one is going to be very very very difficult to nail.’ Translation: I’ll need to see a hundred cover comps, and I’m not picking on till UPS is banging on the door.
  • What if I said it was awful? Would [my editor] still take me out to lunch?
  • Sketches were submitted and came back with mixed results. The horse would have to be castrated, but the nipple stays.

The Ottoman MotelI actually laughed out loud (at myself) when I read about how the designer, who didn’t realise just how big the book was going to be (although in truth, no one did, really) put together the Eat, Pray, Love cover. See, the ‘eat’ is crafted from real, three-dimensional pasta, the ‘pray’ from prayer beads, and the ‘love’ from flowers. It was painstakingly completed and photographed twice because the first images didn’t turn out quite so well. Me? I never realised what they were! Er, like, duh!

The tale of how a 16-year-old intern broke the rules and came up with the perfect cover acts as a reminder that the best ideas can come from the unlikeliest (and less experienced) of places. Its inception will go down in Penguin history.

I also loved how one author created his own cover by photographing prostitutes and then obtaining a handwritten release form, which is pictured in the book). His rather, er, detailed invoice (also pictured), is brilliant too.

But I don’t wish to ruin the surprise so won’t say anything further. Instead I’ll say it wasn’t the book I expected and that I didn’t have the reaction to it that I’d anticipated, but that I’d highly recommend. Kind of like it’s not the book you’re looking for, but it’s one that you should find.

Why Nobody Blames Authors (And Why You Should)

Whether it’s geo-restrictions, digital rights management (DRM), ebook pricing or ebook quality, it’s rare to hear a reader blame an author for the state of an ebook (unless it’s self-published, of course). And I can see why. Authors are the public face of what readers love about books. They are the creative geniuses behind all the amazing books you’ve ever read. And it’s not just that. Writing books is really hard, and most authors only do it for the love of it.

It’s for these reasons and many more that the last thing we want to do is hang all the things we hate about ebooks on our favourite authors. Especially not when there are publishers, agents and ebook vendors who perform that role very well indeed thank you very much. None of this, however, changes the fact that a big chunk of the blame for why the publishing industry is as slow-moving, old-fashioned and afraid of change as it is lies at the feet of authors. I’ve written before about the Luddite nature of most book editors. But that’s nothing in comparison to authors. Nobody talks about the smell of books more than traditionally published authors. Nobody is more wedded to the comfortable, cyclical traditional publishing model than authors. Most authors love book launches, writers’ festivals, tours, publicity and going into physical bookstores to sign copies of their books for their fans, despite what JA Konrath might say. A huge chunk of authors either support DRM or don’t know what it is, despite the fact that most authors have more direct contact with their readers than their publishers. Many authors don’t care about ebooks, or are afraid of them, and certainly don’t read ebooks themselves.

And then there are the digital holdouts. Publishers don’t like to talk about them, because at the end of the day, most publishers would prefer to protect their authors and keep selling their books than drag their names through the mud in order to deflect the blame. But there are more than a few authors out there who don’t want to sell their books as ebooks at all, and refuse to make them available out of fear, snobbery or greed. Some of them are very big. JK Rowling is perhaps the most high-profile of these, but there are others. Some of them are even Big and Fancy Australian authors.

The fact of the matter is, the reason many of the annoying things about the publishing industry exist are to protect or promote an author’s copyrighted material. Many of these things are not bad at all for authors. Geo-restrictions, as frustrating and exhausting as they are for global ebook readers, are the result of authors protecting their copyright. Authors have the right to sell their copyright in different countries to different companies. Those companies are sometimes in direct competition with one another. This means authors get better deals, are treated better and are publicised and distributed more widely than they would otherwise be if they were sold globally by one single company.

So next time you start working yourself up into a rage about the greed of publishers, agents, retailers and all the other ‘middle men’, ask yourself what the author you love has to gain from the situation they are in. If self-publishing ebooks were as easy and inevitable as it is often made out to be, why aren’t there more authors who are self-publishing ebooks without DRM at super-low prices? The answer is simple: because they’re getting as much out of it as their publishers.

And if you’re a traditionally published author reading this and thinking, ‘That’s not me! I love my readers! I want my ebooks sold at $0.99 without DRM internationally!’ Then please, comment below. And more importantly, speak to your publisher. Educate yourself about ebooks and digital publishing, and you can take advantage of the changes sweeping the reading world. Because ultimately it’s your book, and you get to decide how it reaches your readers.