Book in for the 2013 Women Writers Challenge!

Australian Women Writers ChallengeWhich of the many books on your to-read list will you pick up (or click on) next? If you’re as indecisive as me, it’s a struggle each time.

In 2013, I will have a mission to guide me. I’m signing up for the second annual Australian Women Writers Challenge, with a plan to read 27 books by Australian women writers, many of which have been gathering dust on my real and virtual bookshelves for years (the full list to come in a future post).

I found out about the event too late in 2012, but tracked the progress of other bloggers who joined in via Twitter and GoodReads with interest. So what exactly is this giant digital book club, how did it come to be, and how can you get involved? Founder ELIZABETH LHUEDE explains all …

1. What is the Australian Women Writers Challenge all about, and what inspired you to launch the campaign?



The Australian Women Writers Challenge is a reading and reviewing challenge organised by book bloggers. It asks people to sign up and read, or read and review, a number of books by Australian women throughout the year, and to discuss them on book blogs and social media. Through the challenge, we hope to draw attention to and overcome the problem of gender bias in the reviewing of books in Australia’s literary journals, and to support and promote books by Australian women.

Indirectly, the challenge was inspired by the VIDA count, an analysis of major book reviewing publications in North America and Europe. This count revealed that male authors were far more likely to have their books reviewed in influential international newspapers, magazines and literary journals than female authors.

An analysis of Australian literary pages by Bookseller + Publisher showed a similar bias (reprinted in Crikey in March 2012). 

From my own experience I know the problem isn’t just with male readers not reading books by women; it’s more entrenched than that: women, too, are guilty of gender bias in their reading. This is part of a much larger problem of devaluing work labelled as being by a woman. A 2012 study quoted recently by Tara Moss demonstrates that this bias exists independent of the actual quality and content of the work (see excerpt here).

To help solve this problem, the Australian Women Writers Challenge calls on readers to examine their reading habits and, if a bias against female authors exists, work to change it by reading – and reviewing – more books by Australian women. The quality of the work is there: it’s up to us to discover and celebrate it.


2. Is it just a coincidence that the challenge arrived on the scene around the same time as the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing?



The challenge owes a lot to the people who created the Stella Prize. Kirsten Tranter, one of the Stella panelists, wrote about the VIDA statistics in early 2011, as did many others in the early part of that year. Without the Stella Prize, the challenge wouldn’t have been the success it is.

3. How highly would you rate the influence of Miles Franklin on all of this, and why do you think she has become such a symbol for women writers in this country?

The Stella panelists chose Miles Franklin as a symbol, I believe, because no women were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2009 and 2011, despite the prize having been established at the bequest of a woman – one who, incidentally, chose to publish under a male pseudonym.

I can see the strategic reasons for adopting Franklin as a symbol, but I also think it’s a symptom of the problem. There are far more talented Australian female authors. There are also other literary prizes that have been going for years that don’t get anywhere near the publicity of the Miles Franklin Award, such as the Barbara Jefferis Award and The Kibble and Dobbie prizes. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of these awards before I started researching books to read for the challenge. Why is that, unless it has something to do with the fact that they, in varied ways, celebrate women?

4. A year on, do you feel the campaign has been a success?

The challenge has been a huge success. The Huffington Post Books blog published a wrap-up of recent releases of books by Australian women, Overland blog announced 2012 as The Year of Australian Women Writers, it has been mentioned on Radio National, and the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life blog counted it among the 20 Greatest Moments for Women in 2012. I couldn’t have hoped for more.



5. How important has social media been to its reach?

Twitter especially has a major force in getting word out about the challenge, and has helped publicise the many reviews now linked to the blog (well over 1300). Recommendations via book bloggers and, to a lesser extent, Facebook have also been important. The real spikes in terms of hits on the blog, however, have come after mentions in traditional media.



6. You’ve done some survey research into AWW’s impact. Have you seen the results of that research yet?

A brief look at the results has revealed that the majority of respondents didn’t sign up for the challenge, but had heard about it; a majority of these also happened to read more books by Australian women this year. There are many other factors beside the challenge which have raised the profile of books by Australian women in 2012, so the challenge can’t take credit for this result, but it is a very encouraging trend.

Of the people who did sign up for the challenge, a majority read more books by Australian women than in previous years, and most reviewed more and read more broadly. A majority of respondents credited the challenge for their having a greater awareness of authors’ names, book titles and a sense of the breadth and diversity of genres being written by Australian women.

7. Do you have anything different planned for AWW in 2013?

In 2013, the challenge will remain basically the same, with the aim to read and review more books by Australian women. One change is that there will now be a ‘read only’ option for people who are reluctant (or too time poor) to review. This is a gamble – as it could easily diffuse the challenge’s goal. But it is my hope that people who sign up for this option will actively participate in the challenge.

How can they do that? By discussing books they’re reading on social media, using #aww2013 on Twitter, posting comments on the AWW Facebook page, discussing the books in the AWW GoodReads group, and – especially – by commenting on book bloggers’ reviews. Book bloggers have made a huge effort to read and review these books and I’m sure they appreciate people commenting.

8. Are the goals for the campaign the same, or have they grown with the movement?



The goal for the challenge remains to help overcome gender bias in reviewing, and also more generally to support and promote books by Australian women.

9. How can readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, the media and bloggers get involved?



The best way to get involved is to sign up to the challenge, to pledge to read and review books by Australian women in 2013, and to encourage others – friends, co-workers, family members, book group members, local librarians, school teachers and bookshop owners – to join as well. You can sign up here.

10. Can men participate (of course I know they can, but you never know, some might be too shy unless you extend them a really warm invitation!)?

Men are very welcome to participate – as they were in 2012. One male participant in the 2012 challenge was David Golding who recently wrote a wrap-up post on his participation which included a call for more men to sign up.

Another participant from 2012 is Sean Wright from Adventures of a Bookonaut blog. Sean has joined the AWW team and will be looking for ways to help get more male readers engaged in the challenge. (If you have any ideas, let him know!)



11. Who is/are your favourite Australian woman writer/s?


This is a tough question. I can honestly say my knowledge of books by Australian women is still too limited for me to have a favourite or favourites. This year I have discovered a wealth of genuine talent  – world-class authors I didn’t know existed this time last year – and I’m convinced there are many more to discover. My favourite genre is crime, particularly psychological suspense, and in those genres I’ve enjoyed the work of Wendy James, Rebecca James, Sylvia Johnson, Sara Foster, Caroline Overington, Angela Savage, Sulari Gentill, Nicole Watson, PM Newton and my friend Jaye Ford. But one of my goals this year was to read widely, which means I’ve read a lot of single books (46 so far) by different authors. The only authors I’ve repeated have been Gail Jones, Charlotte Wood and Margo Lanagan (two each). It’s not enough to go on to develop a favourite.

12. What were your top three reads by Australian women writers this year?



Only three? Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy, Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts tie for first, and a shared tie second includes Emily Maguire’s Fishing for Tigers and PM Newton’s The Old School, while Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper comes in third. These are all very different books but, in my view, compelling reading. (Sorry, that’s five, isn’t it?)

13. What are you planning to read next?

I’ve just finished Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, an emotionally devastating and imaginative speculative fiction novel, and before that was Annabel Smith’s Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, a very readable literary book about sibling rivalry. I have a huge stack books by Australian women to read, both recent releases and older titles, but I’m also keen to get back to my own writing which I’ve neglected this year while working on the challenge. Creating the new websites has required fulltime work for the past few months, and I need to get back to my own writing.

13. Could you tell us a little about your own writing? Has your work on the challenge pushed your own literary career along?

I started writing novels after I finished my PhD (in 1995) and I’ve had success in competitions with several romantic suspense novels and a fantasy title, but so far no acceptances from publishers. My latest story is a page-turning psychological suspense novel which draws on some hair-raising encounters I had working as an intern counsellor at a private hospital, as well my experience growing up with a schizophrenic father.

Earlier this year I attracted the attention of literary agent, author and former editor, Virginia Lloyd, who loved the story and agreed to represent me. With a great team now supporting the AWW challenge, I hope to get on with writing my second psychological suspense novel in 2013.

Have I been inspired by what I’ve read? Without a doubt. It has also been intimidating to see the depth, breadth and quality of the work that is out there – work that clearly doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s scary, in a way, to go back to my own writing now with this new ‘anxiety of influence’. I would love to write with the richly textured imaginative flair of Margo Lanagan, or the terrible emotion of Eva Hornung, or the compassionate humanity of Charlotte Wood. I would love to write crime with the sense of history and stylistic precision of PM Newton, or have the exquisite appreciation of nature and human heartbreak of Favel Parrett, or the contemporary feel and nuanced characters of Emily Maguire. I’d love to write suspense, mystery and history with the scope and readability of Kate Morton – and to have my books be half as popular with readers. I doubt I can do any of those things and I feel grief about that. I know the next step in such thinking would be “Why even try?” But what I can do is what I’ve always – sometimes hesitantly – tried to do: to write as skilfully and honestly as I’m able, informed by who I am and my unique experience of the world. If one day I get published and find readers who enjoy reading the stories I’ve created, great: that will be a dream come true. If not, at least I can be an active and appreciative reader of those writers who have a great deal more talent than me.

 

Dabbling in digital storytelling at drabbl.es

drabbl.esCanberra writer and entrepreneur Ellen Harvey has launched a new global platform for writers who can cope with word limits. The drabbl.es website, which is live but in alpha testing, invites visitors to create 100 word stories in one of dozens of subject areas, from journalism to crime and chick lit to biography. It’s an addictive format, and one that will appeal to writers of all genres and experience levels. Ellen took time out from her busy schedule to answer some questions about drabbling and literary start-up life for Boomerang Books. 

How and when did you come up with the idea for drabbl.es? 

The idea for drabbl.es came about as I was thinking of a way to write, collect, share and get others to do the same with 100 word stories. My writing group at the time loved the idea and I would give them ‘homework’ tasks to write 100 words around a certain theme. I wanted to read their drabbles, and they wanted to read other people’s drabbles too. Drabbles have been around for a while, the term originating from Monty Python, and are quite popular on online blogging platforms such as Livejournal. At the end of 2011, my husband, Lachlan Blackhall, and I were having a conversation about how to make this 100-word story-sharing website a reality. It was then that drabbl.es really started to take form, including many features and improvements that we can’t wait to implement on the website in future versions.

How long have you yourself been writing drabbles?

I have been writing drabbles since I was 14 and sharing them with friends via email and online blogging.

What’s your day job? 

My day job is split into three segments really: I’m a writer working on my first manuscript. I also started a company with my sister this year called BnE Media (www.bnemedia.com) where we create animated storybook apps for children. And of course, I work on drabbl.es.

And your dream job?

This is pretty much the dream. I am able to travel while working, I am able to write full-time, and I am able to work on interesting projects.

How many of you are involved in the project and what are the key roles?

As mentioned earlier, my husband is a key member of this project. He works with many start-up companies and is the ideal partner to have for this website. Plus, it’s great fun to be working on something with Lachlan. David Elliot and his team at Agile Digital are amazing–they worked tirelessly to make sure we had demos for workshops and a working version to begin this first trial in October.

How long has it taken to get the site up and running?

The idea was developed into a working website early in the year, and we were able to secure our developers (Agile Digital) in April. In six months, we have been able to start our first trial.

Now that drabbl.es is live, how much work is involved in running and promoting the site?

It’s actually a lot more work than I thought. Running a website, especially one in the early stages, means that I read 95% of all the drabbles. Drabbles are then randomly picked to be ‘promoted’ on social media, as well as advertising our challenges on social media so users know there are new ones. Running a trial, in particular, means I sort through feedback results and am constantly updating the development strategy for the next version. It definitely keeps me busy – but I love it all the same. It’s a new experience that I wouldn’t get anywhere else.

When do you anticipate leaving alpha stage and launching proper?

We plan to have the alpha trial running until the end of January (although we may continue into February). The site will still be live after that, but behind the scenes we’ll start working on the beta version. We’ll then release the next version and collect feedback. I love the idea of an evolving website that is exactly what its users want. After the beta trial and redevelopment, I think we’ll launch the proper version.

Will there be iOS and Android apps for drabbl.es?

I certainly hope so! To me, drabbling is definitely something that can be done on the run. You can be at a concert and write about the song you just heard; you can be watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks and describe the atmosphere; you can take a picture and explain what it means to you right then and there while still being in the moment.

Why should people post to drabbl.es rather than Facebook or Twitter or their own Tumblr/blog?

Drabbl.es allows people to tell stories. That is our aim. We want to read about a moment in someone’s life and feel as if we experienced it with them. Drabbl.es is about connections. Facebook and Twitter statuses have developed to the point where they are often used to talk about a very specific moment, but once the moment is over, the update or tweet is often no longer relevant. We want drabbles to have longevity and to mean something a week, a month, a year, a decade after it’s published. Tumblrs and blogs allow users to write as much as they want–we want to encourage creativity by having the word restriction.

Might we see drabbl.es anthologies in ebook form in the future?

It is definitely something that we’ve thought about. Possibly as a way to deliver drabbles daily, weekly or monthly to users interested in particular genres or users. Almost like a newsletter, but hopefully delivered straight to your eReader. That being said, we’ve also thought about users able to export their drabbles straight to ePub/mobi and upload to the various stores themselves. It’s something we’ve thought about, but still a little while off from implementing.

How will you deal with copyright issues ie does the writer retain copyright and what if you were to publish a book, would you have to ask for permission?

Writers always retain copyright. As a writer myself, this is something I feel very strongly about. When they post on the website, the work is always theirs. If we were to publish a book, we would ask the users for permission.

What about moderating the drabbles to ensure nothing defamatory or racist etc is posted, is that a big job? 

Currently, our users are wonderful and don’t make it a very big job. I imagine it may turn into one, though. Our website is only as good as the users on it, so I hope that our users will alert us to anything they think we should check out, in addition to our own moderation.

What’s the end goal and how will you make money/pay for the site?

Ideally, and it’s a big dream, I’d love drabbl.es to be on the Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook stage–something people do for fun, but is totally addictive. Regarding making money, we believe the site can make money in two ways. Firstly, sponsored challenges are a logical step. The challenges are already part of drabbl.es functionality and with our view that drabbl.es can be written about events and experiences, then having drabbl.es host challenges for other companies seems reasonable and something the drabbl.es community would do because they are already using the challenges section of the website. The second way is by creating levels of paid users. There will always be a user type that is free and without advertising, but if they want more functionality, such as linking drabbles together or adding more than one picture to a drabble for example, they would need to pay for their account.

How did you come up with the extensive list of drabbl.es subjects? Can contributors suggest more?

I searched for writing genres on Google and came up with a multitude of sites that declared they had the best list of writing genres. I ended up just picking the one I like the best and started with that. The list is a work in progress and I would love for users to suggest more.

What other online forums exist for posting drabbles ie what’s your competition?

A wave of citizen journalism sites have cropped up in the last year and I feel that this is probably our major competition. They all allow their users to add pictures, follow other users, get email updates, comment and socialise on the websites. What’s more, they all promote that their site is about storytelling. Despite this, I know that our concept and website is strong because our 100 word restriction on the stories is a challenge (and an addictive one at that) which only enhances and promotes creativity.

Tips for bookish bloggers

I spoke recently at the Australian Booksellers Association Conference in Sydney on blogging and social reading and have been meaning to share my presentation more widely ever since.

Below is an outline of my tips for booksellers on writing blog posts. You can check out my social reading presentation (think Readmill, GoodReads etc) on Prezi here.

BLOGGING TIPS

How do you decide what to post about? I’d recommend you keep a list somewhere – perhaps in notes in your phone or in a notebook or diary – of ideas as they pop into your head.

You might be inspired by a conversation, a news report on television, another blog post or an article you read in a magazine like Bookseller+Publisher. Ideally in this case you’d look for a new angle on what you’ve read.

So for example, a couple of weeks back Pan Macmillan digital first imprint Momentum announced it would be the first major Australian publisher to ditch DRM.

I wanted to write about this – and to applaud it – but given it had already been announced had to find a way to take the story a step further.

I did some more reading on DRM and thought about it for a couple of days then wrote a note to Joel Naoum at Momentum to ask whether retailers had agreed to support the move, or whether it was only Momentum titles sold on the publisher’s own website that would be DRM-free.

Naoum wrote back acknowledging there were some issues with retailers, so I then contacted several key retailers and suppliers via Twitter and email to find out whether they would in future or were already set up to sell DRM free. All responded that they either already were or would soon be doing so, which I felt was sufficiently newsworthy to work into a blog post.

Some types of blog posts are:

  • Posts inspired by other blog/social media posts or media reports
  • Reviews (of books, online and bricks and mortar bookshops, other blogs and book-related platforms, a TV program/film/plays with book tie-ins, apps or YouTube videos)
  • Interviews with authors or experts in the industry
  • Descriptions of what you’ve been doing/thinking about books and the industry lately
  • A calendar of events related to your store and books and writing generally
  • An opinion piece on an issue in the industry
  • A discussion about such an issue
  • A news story – in the rare case that Bookseller+Publisher don’t beat you to it!
  • A campaign to achieve something
  • Information/how-to
  • Guest post from an expert/fellow blogger/staff member/visiting author/publisher/personality who loves your store
  • Your response to a guest post
  • A public letter to someone in a position of power
  • A list – of useful stuff eg people to follow on Twitter

Whatever you choose to write about, make sure it’s on topic and thus relevant to your niche audience. So for example, for me to post a vegetarian restaurant review on ebookish wouldn’t work at all.

Structure

No matter what type of blog post you’re writing, remember to write it so that the reader will be drawn in from the first paragraph. If that means cutting and pasting the most interesting or well written paragraph from further down in your post, or opening with a quote, great.

Try to keep your posts short – under 500 words is ideal. If you must write something that is much longer than that, consider writing a summary at the top so that readers get the general idea even if they don’t read on.

Style

Be yourself. Write the way you’d speak during an intelligent, but informal conversation. If you’re not sure whether a post is working, try reading it aloud to yourself or to a family member or friend. The clunky sentences will leap out at you that way.

Finally

Write about what you know and be passionate about it. Your enthusiasm will win readers over.

Blogging about blogging

In recent years, blogging has become the in thing. It seems that every man and has dog is getting in on it. People blog on a HUGE range of topics, from the intensely personal (often fitting into the “too much information” category, thus only able to be read whilst chanting “la-la-la-la” really loudly) through to public commentary. Seeing as Literary Clutter is a blog about books and writing, I thought I’d focus on author blogs.

There are lots of authors out there who blog regularly. Reading their blogs can be a great way to introduce yourself to their writing. Chances are, if you like their blog, you might like their books.

Authors blog for a variety of reasons. It can be a way of promoting themselves and their books. It can be a way of keeping themselves writing regularly, even when they are not working on a new book. It can be an outlet for opinions and a testing ground for ideas. And it can be a great way for them to interact with their readers. I asked a couple of author-bloggers to briefly tell us about their blogging.

First up we have Karen Tayleur, whose latest book is the YA novel Six. You can read her blog here.

Blogging is a way to hook into the writing universe in a way that you can’t do on Facebook. Unless your readers click a followers icon, you’re never sure who, if anyone, is listening. The best part of blogging is the interaction with your readers. I’m always surprised when someone in real life mentions reading the blog. I wish they’d leave a message online. I like to talk about writing and stories, although home life sometimes creeps in. It’s all grist for the mill. I like reading other writers blogs. It’s interesting to see what makes them tick.

Next up we have Sue Bursztynski. Her most recent non-fiction book is Crime Time, and her new YA fantasy novel, Wolfborn, is to be released by Woolshed Press in December. You can read her blog here.

My blog,The Great Raven, mostly reviews children’s and YA books. I started it because January Magazine, for which I review, is overflowing with material and doesn’t publish more than one review at a time per author, so can take a while to publish your stuff.

I don’t post as often as many other bloggers; I’d rather throw my energies into writing books than posts. But blogs are easier to update than other forms of web site if you’re not an expert, and they’re a great way to publicise.

My “followers” include two of my former editors, some friends, a bookseller and fellow writers. Some of them aren’t on my visible followers list, so it’s a wonderful surprise when they pop up with a comment now and then. When I announced proudly that I’d sold my first novel, to Random House/Woolshed, I got some very enthusiastic congratulations.

I like the immediacy of blogging – and it’s becoming, more and more, a mainstream form of writing and publishing.

Thanks you, Karen and Sue, for visiting Literary Clutter.

There are lots of author blogs out there that are worth reading. If you’ve got a favourite author, why not Google then and see if they write a blog? I read quite a lot of author blogs, some more regularly than others. Here’s a small selection of those:

If you know of any other good author blogs, leave a comment.

And tune in next time for some of my favourite book covers.

Cheers,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

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