Twofold/Threefold Reasons Why I Adore JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildThere are innumerable reasons to love JK Rowling, not least because she penned the beloved Harry Potter series through which she eternally, ever so slightly, changed the world.

But the reason I love Rowling is twofold. Note one of these reasons isn’t, as you’d expect, the fact that she made our dreams of another Harry Potter instalment come true with the announcement of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Although that’s a perfectly good reason to make it threefold.

It’s twofold because while I love and admire her imaginative writing immeasurably, I love it even more in partnership with her groundedness. She might be worth more than Queen Elizabeth these days, but she appears pretty pragmatic about how much she values what she has and how different things could have been.

‘Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life’ is a quote widely attributed to Rowling and that I can only assume she said. Preceding that sentence was also reportedly ‘I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea.’

That is, she was once a struggling, everywoman writer trying to make ends meet. Compounding that, she was a single mother. (It’s hard enough to find time to write and to cobble together some sort of a writing-based income at any stage, but to do so while managing sole parenting and with the burden of knowing it’s not just your life and food provision you’re responsible for…Yikes. The mere thought of it is terrifying.)

She also hasn’t for a moment forgotten that or the countless rejection letters she received before Bloomsbury took a chance on her manuscript. So, you know, hats off to her.

I’ve also enjoyed her pwning people on the internet who say highly in appropriate things. BuzzFeed and Mashable helpfully collated lists so I didn’t lose hours scouring Rowling’s social media feed. Some of my faves include how she said:

  • if she weren’t a writer, she’d like to be an otter weigher (because there’s apparently a job that entails doing that)
  • that contrary to what people think of her, celebrity has actually changed her a bit—she doesn’t cut her own hair any more
  • that she completely supports LGBT rights and that the Harry Potter universe does/would too
  • how even she was shocked by how hot the actor who played Neville Longbottom turned out
  • how despite others’ claims she is, she doesn’t consider herself a ‘world leader’. At least not beyond the worlds in her head: ‘In the real world I can barely lead my dog.’
  • how even she battles with her home printer: ‘Of all devices known to humankind, the desktop printer is the most evil. I am close to breaking point.’ And how she added: ‘I now feel the need to say (in case he sees this at work) “Neil, I haven’t broken your printer.”’
  • what we’ve all been thinking about Murdoch and then some: ‘I was born Christian. If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I’ll auto-excommunicate.’

Robert GalbraithI’ve also got to say I have a huge amount of respect for efforts to release a book under a different name (Robert Galbraith)—I feel like it was almost a test to see if her work could successfully make its way in the world without the now-inevitable fanfare and hype. Because the pressure to succeed after such a breakout success is, well, unrivalled.

The only book that has sold more copies than Rowlings’ is Fifty Shades of Grey. And no one’s claiming that was good writing. Ergo, while there’s a bunch of pressure for EL James to pen a follow-up bestseller, no one would be expecting it to some sort of well-written, world-expanding masterpiece.

So while I’m undeniably excited about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’s impending release (hurry up, July), I’m also really just chuffed we get to hear more from Rowling herself, both in this forthcoming text and via social media. She seems like the kind of person whose work you’d admire but who you’d also—as arguably naff as it sounds—respect.

Back to Azkaban

Prisoner of AzkabanHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — I read it quite a number of years ago. So it’s been really interesting revisiting it, along with the other books in the series. But this time I also got to see it through the eyes of my ten-year-old daughter.

Last year, I started to read the Harry Potter books to my then nine-year-old daughter, Nykita (see: “Revisiting Harry” & “Opening the Chamber of Secrets… again”). She loved them, but didn’t want to go on to the third book, as she was worried that it might be a little too scary. So we decided to wait a while. But last month, after re-reading the first two books herself, she declared that she was ready for me to read the third book to her.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is an interesting book. The titular prisoner is Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather and the man who supposedly betrayed Harry’s parents to the dark wizard Voldemort.

This is the book where things start edge towards darkness, focussing a little bit more on the actual circumstances of the murder of Harry’s parents. It is also noteworthy as the only book in the series in which Voldemort doesn’t make an appearance.

The book holds together extremely well. It is, I think, the best of the first three. It is longer than the first two, but not so long as to be meandering and unwieldy. It is still a reasonably tight story, with a good balance of plot, character development and set-up for future books. I have a slight problem with the time travel stuff at the end, but I think that time travel is a problematic plot device at the best of times. In terms of the Harry Potter universe, after reading this book, one can’t help but wonder why time travel isn’t utilised again to solve future problems. Why? Because it is merely a plot device that is conveniently ignored thereafter by the author. But if you can overlook that, the book is an excellent read.

What I enjoyed most about reading this book to Nykita, were her reactions. They seemed more intense with this book. There were moments when she was literally bouncing up and down with excitement as I read. Or laughing uncontrollably. And towards the end, when Sirius Black had been revealed, she was huddled in bed, blanket over her head with just her eyes peeking out. The power of the written word. Pure magic!

As with the first two books, we followed up the reading with a viewing of the film. It is without a doubt, my least favourite of the films. This film has quite a different look and feel to the first two (probably due to a change of director), which I like — it results in a visually more striking film. But it doesn’t quite hang together for me in other ways. The pacing seems wrong. Some of the scenes struck me as a little forced. And it’s the first film after the death of Richard Harris, with Michael Gambon taking over the role of Dumbledore — and while he certainly settles into the role over the next few films, making the part truly his own, this first outing lacks the subtlety of Harris’s performance.

Now we’ve gone straight into Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Yes, she thinks it might be too scary… but she simply can’t bear to wait!

Catch ya later,  George

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It’s a long way from Hogwarts – J.K.Rowling’s gritty new novel

J.K.Rowling’s new novel was released yesterday. But before you rush to the shops with the kids in tow, be warned; if you’re expecting a bedtime story or a little light reading, her latest novel may surprise you.

Described as her “first novel for adults”, The Casual Vacancy is a complete departure from the world of wizards and the J.K.Rowling that readers have come to know. It’s a novel set determinedly in the real world, telling the story how an unexpected death and local election exposes secrets, lies and treachery in what is a seemingly idyllic English town.

There’s little magic, friendship or magnificence in the new world she has created. Rowling’s not afraid to dirty her pen, whether it be words, thoughts or deeds she’s describing. She takes on drug addiction, poverty, abuse, assault and neglect through a host of characters less interested in redemption and nobility and more interested in getting their own fix.

Allison Pearson, reviewing for The Daily Telegraph, describes it as “the Archers on amyl nitrate” and recommends hiding the book from any children. There’s certainly enough swearing in the book to justify withholding it from the kids:  Sherryl Connelly of the New York Daily News quips, disappointedly, that “J.K. Rowling has gone from Potter to potty-mouth”.

Many more reviewers have commented that it seems that Rowling was so eager to throw off the title of a children’s writer that she as gone too far in the opposite direction, penning a novel that will only be appreciated by adults interested in a dark dissection of human folly.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Rowling  – who has spoken freely about her own struggles with depression, povery and suicidal thoughts – has more than a little darkness to get out of her system after several years of writing for an audience that demanded optimism. If you think The Casual Vacancy might not be a book for you, there’s no need to give up on Rowling as she said in a recent interview with the BBC that, while she is proud of her latest novel, the next book she works on will be for children.

“I think it very likely that the next thing I publish will be for kids. I have a children’s book that I really like, it’s for slightly younger children than the Potter books. I loved writing for kids, I loved talking to children about what I’d written, I don’t want to leave that behind. But I wanted to write this as well.”

For the moment, if you’re looking for a little magic and escapism, The Casual Vacancy may not be the book for you. But if you are willing to keep the faith with Rowling’s writing skills and her knack for getting into her character’s heads (unlikeable as they may be), it could well be worthwhile putting Potter aside and letting her spin her new story.

Opening the Chamber of Secrets… again

In May I wrote about reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my eldest daughter, Nykita, aged nine (see “Revisiting Harry”). She was so excited by the book that we immediately moved on to the next one, which we polished off rather quickly. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally gotten around to writing about the experience.

I am pleased to report that Nykita loved Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secret as much as, if not more than, the first book. She found the ghost of Moaning Myrtle, and her tendency to dive into toilets, particularly amusing. But she also found this book to be a little scarier than the first — especially the encounter with Aragog and the giant spiders in the Forbidden Forest. She also seemed a little distressed that his fellow students were so quick to turn on Harry and believe him to be the Heir of Slytherin.

As with the previous book, we followed it up by watching the film. Again, Nykita liked the film but preferred the book, although she thought the spider scene was more frightening in the film.

With book two done and dusted, you’d think that we would move straight on to book three. Not so. Nykita seemed rather torn — on the one hand she was eager for more Harry Potter; but on the other hand, she was worried that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban might be even scarier, and she thought that The Chamber of Secrets was scary enough. In the end, we decided that we would wait a while and read book three over the Christmas holidays, when she would be a little older and more capable of handling a scarier book. 🙂

And my opinion? What do I think now, after all these years, revisiting both book and film in close proximity?

I think Chamber of Secrets is a better book than The Philosopher’s Stone. It has all the charm and wit of the first book, but not as many lapses in logic. The only one that really stands out is the basilisk using the Hogwarts plumbing to make its way around the school. All I can say is that, given the enormity of the basilisk, Hogwarts must have some pretty bloody BIG pipes running through its walls. As for the actual plot, it is more intriguing than the first — the idea that Voldemort preserved a teenage version of himself (then called Tom Riddle) in his school diary. It’s a clever way of having a different villain, who is also the same villain. And, of course, it’s all followed through in later books when the diary is revealed as one of the seven Horcruxes into which Voldemort placed his split-apart soul.

As for the film, I think it’s better than the first. The young actors have all settled into their roles and the story flows along much better — it feels more cohesive than the first. It’s interesting to note the changes that the filmmakers have made from the book. Nothing too big. Most of those changes have been to condense the plot or to make things more visually exciting or funny. But there are some subtle differences in characters, such as Dudley not being quite a horrid as he is in the book. The biggest omission is the plotline about Argus Filch being a Squib (a non-magic person born into a wizarding family). A pity, as this adds to his character, going a long way towards explaining his constant bitterness.

So now I’m waiting — very impatiently, I might add — for the Christmas holidays so I can read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to Nykita and then watch the film with her.

Catch ya later,  George

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Revisiting Harry

You may remember me blogging about the Harry Potter books and telling you how I read them all out loud to my wife (see “Life after Harry, part 1”). Ever since then, I have looked forward to the day I could share these books with my daughters. And now that time has come… at least for Daughter #1.

Nykita is now nine years old. Despite repeated offers to read her the books over the last couple of years, she has been rather disinterested. Things changed when her class started to read the first book during fruit breaks at school. Suddenly she was interested. But they were going too slowly, with a half chapter a day, at most — often reading as little as a page or two, and sometimes nothing at all because things got too busy. Suddenly, the prospect of me reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to her didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

And so I read her the book. She was so interested and so excited by it that we ended up flying through it in just over a week. “I didn’t think it would be my kind of book,” she told me one evening. “But I was wrong. It’s great!”

They are still only about a quarter of the way through in her class. But she’s enjoying it all over again.

Having finished that first book, we followed it up with the film. Verdict: “It was okay.” It seems that she preferred the book. In fact, she enjoyed it so much that she is now re-reading it herself.

Reading it again after all these years has been an interesting experience for me. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed it — the characters, the concepts, the world and the plot, which is very much a set-up for the epic events to follow. But the flaws also stood out. The rather unbalanced deduction of house points for instance, with more points being taken off for a nocturnal wander than for an attempt to confront a troll (the latter putting lives in danger). And then there is that rather ridiculous detention where students are sent out into the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid on a dangerous mission — a rather irresponsible thing to do to the students, especially since it was established earlier that the forest was strictly off limits to students. And then to make matters worse, in the middle of the dangerous environment, Hagrid makes them split up. It is completely out of character for Hagrid to put the students into such enormous danger.

But this was JK’s first novel, and given how good the rest of it is, I’m will to cut her a little slack on these points. 🙂

It was also interesting to watch the film version immediately upon finishing the book. This proximity highlights the film’s weaknesses — the nuances it leaves out and how poorly it depicts the passage of time. But then the film also adds many interesting visual elements — the delivery of Harry’s initial letters at the Dursley’s by owls; the way Voldemort passes through Harry in the climactic moments. These things, dare I say, actually improve on the original source material. And this film is also so perfectly cast — not just the main characters, but the minor ones like Argus Filch.

Nykita and I have now begun Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I’ll report back when we’ve finished.

Catch ya later,  George

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JK Rowling and the great Pottermore scandal

For around the 475th time this decade, I’m angry on behalf of independent booksellers.

This time, it’s with JK Rowling, who in signing affiliate agreements with Sony, Barnes & Noble and Amazon for the sale of the Harry Potter digital editions has supported the giants but locked out the indies who have hand-sold her books to millions of children all over the world.

Last week, on Tuesday, Rowling finally made the Harry Potter series available as ebooks via her Pottermore website, www.pottermore.com. The Potter stories had been conspicuously absent from ereading devices and ebookstores over the past two years as Rowling pondered and negotiated a digital way forward for the books – she had retained digital rights when signing contracts with her publishers and wanted to get the model just right.

I have no problem with her subsequent decision to sell direct to readers, ensuring that as the author, she will rake in most of the profits.

As a huge Potter fan, I can’t wait to experience the full Pottermore site once it launches in the next couple of weeks. Digital Quidditch, anyone? I’ll also be buying the entire series as ePubs and reading them all over again, and can’t wait till my toddler is old enough to read them himself.

On a positive note, Rowling has signed partnership agreements with key publishers of the print editions, like Scholastic and Bloomsbury, to provide them with an undisclosed share of ebook sales via Pottermore, which seems only fair, given the vast resources they have devoted over the years to editing the books and marketing the Potter brand as well as Rowling herself.

My problem is with the great author’s decision to allow only Sony, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to sign affiliate deals for the ebooks. This means the three retail giants (intriguingly, neither Apple nor Google has got a look in) can direct their readers via website links to Pottermore in exchange for a cut.

Indie booksellers who have hosted Potter events with schools and libraries as each of title hit the shelves, who have made their staff dress up as Ron, Hermione, Harry and Dumbledore and open the store early, or stay back late, and held competitions for the best Potter costume among their junior customers, have been shut out all together. They’ve filled window displays with Potterabilia, and held tie-in events with the film adaptation, but when it comes to digital, it was all for nought.

Rowling must provide indies with the same opportunities to promote her titles to their customers as Sony, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. She owes it to them, as a mark of gratitude for the years they have spent selling Harry Potter to bookshop lovers, helping to make her the success she is today.

Indies here in Australia and all over the world are making the transition to digital. Dozens of stores here have opened ebookstores during the past 18 months. Rowling shutting them out will impact on their brands in this fledgling market, as well as on their bottom lines, indeed their futures.

Come on, JK, give your greatest supporters the respect and the opportunities they deserve. Open your affiliate program to the indies today – and at the very least before Pottermore’s big launch.

Life after Harry, part 2

Last post I blogged about the Harry Potter books. Today, I move on to the films.

The film version of the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was released in 2001, in the long drought between the publication of the fourth and fifth books. I don’t think I have ever been as excited about a film release as I was about that one. My wife and I even dressed up in wizarding robes when we went to see it. (Don’t worry, we weren’t the only ones. It was a special charity screening where people were encouraged to show up in costume.)

My overall impression of the films, is that they are a damn good adaptation of the books. Yes, some are better than others, but that’s the case with the books as well. My only regret with having seen the films, is that my visualisation of the world and its characters has been over-written by the films. Try as I might, I now can’t picture Harry as anyone other than Daniel Radcliffe, or Hagrid as anyone other than Robbie Coltrane. And I am sad that I have lost my initial impressions of those characters. It’s for this reason that I am doing my best to keep my daughters from seeing the films until they are old enough to first read the books. Fingers crossed on that one.

Anyway… back to the individual films.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was a good start. It was the shortest of the books, so was probably easier to adapt than its successors. It was not a brilliant film and the performances of the kids, while good, were not particularly outstanding. What was brilliant, was the casting of kids who really fit the roles… so it didn’t matter if their acting occasionally came across as inexperienced.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was a better film. The actors had settled into their roles and the director, Chris Columbus, created a more cohesive film.

And then Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban changed things. The new director, Alfonso Cuarón, raised the bar in terms of visual style, and the actors really began to hit their stride. And yet, for me, this was the weakest of the films. It lacked energy and just didn’t quite gel.

Another new director, Mike Newell, took the helm with film #4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was my favourite of the books, so I was particularly looking forward to this film. And I wasn’t disappointed. It still stands as my favourite of the films. My only disappointment was that you didn’t get to know and like Cedric as much as you did in the books, so his death was not as impactful.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, now with David Yates as director, was perhaps the most successful of the adaptations. As the waffliest of the books, they were able to cut out a lot without actually losing much plot. It was also noteworthy for its superb casting of Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was not as successful an adaptation. Some rather odd decisions as to which plot points to leave out resulted in a film that retained the Half-Blood Prince title, yet purged the majority of that storyline. It felt a little unsatisfying.

Thankfully the film-makers decided to turn Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films. (insert huge sigh of relief) It would not have been possible to do justice to the story in a single film… there simply would not have been enough time to include all the major events. So, although leaving the story half-finished at the end of the first film, and having to wait all this time for the conclusion, has been frustrating… I’ve been able to live with it. 🙂

Now, I am counting down the days until the release of HP7.2, as it has become known. But what will I do once it’s all over? I fear that the whole Harry Potter experience will be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I cannot recall a set of books ever having this much worldwide impact. And I cannot recall a set of books having had this special a place in my heart. There are other books I love just as much, and there are other books that I think are better books — but no other set of books has generated the excitement that Harry Potter has; no other set of books has taken up as much of my life as Harry Potter. And yes, I know I can re-read the books and re-watch the films… but it’s not the same. No more NEW Harry Potter! So…

Farewell Harry Potter. (No, I’m not crying. Really, I’m not!) I shall miss you. I shall miss you and all your friends, rivals and enemies. But I look forward to one day introducing you to my kids.

Catch ya later,  George

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Life after Harry, part 1

The final Harry Potter film is due out in a little over a month. I am positively quaking with antici… pation. I have been looking forward to it since the closing credits rolled on my first viewing of 7.1. But once it’s over, what will I do? No more new Harry Potter! How will I cope with life after Harry?

It’s been four years since the release of the final Harry Potter book, so the anticipation of each new film is what has been sustaining me. But now, that too will soon be over. It may seem a little melodramatic to those who are not Potter fans. But it’s a big deal to me. Harry has been part of my life for quite a number of years.

Somehow, Harry Potter became a worldwide phenomenon. Somehow, a series of children’s books captured a reader audience way beyond its target market. The books were even re-published with grown-up covers so that adults didn’t have to feel embarrassed about reading them on their train journeys to work. The world went Potter-mad!

I was a little late jumping onto this particular bandwagon (although I’ve never felt the need for a grown-up cover). I didn’t start reading book 1 until book 4 had been released. It was the insistence of friends that finally convinced me and my wife, Kerri, to read them. With book 4 having been released, books 1 to 3 were on special at our local bookshop, so it seemed like a good time to take the plunge.

I wanted to read it first. But I’m a much slower reader than Kerri, so she insisted she should get first dibs. We argued! Then we decided to read it together — out loud, each reading alternating chapters. By the halfway point of the book, I was doing all the reading and she was doing all the listening. We discovered that Kerri enjoyed being read to, and I liked the sound of my own voice. A win/win situation.

Needless to say, we both loved Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Looking at it critically, the book certainly has flaws, but the overall feel made us happy to overlook those occasional lapses in logic. Rowling had created a fascinating world and peopled it with a wondrous array of characters — characters that we desperately wanted to read more about. Her style was easy to read, but witty and insightful. We had quite a few late nights because we found the book difficult to put down. (This was before we had kids, so we were able to do crazy things like stay up all night reading. 🙂 )

We immediately moved on to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — each better than the previous. The moment we were finished with these, we rushed out and bought Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Our reading experience with book 4 was a little different. We were about half way through when we left for our annual road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide. The friends we were staying with had already read book 4, and not wanting to have any details spoiled, we wanted to finish the book before getting there. So Kerri drove most of the way, while I read.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is my favourite of the books. The thing I remember most is being utterly shocked at the death of Cedric Diggery. I remember struggling on with the reading as I was getting all choked up and teary. This moment goes down as one of my all-time reading highlights.

It was then a rather long wait until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This was the only one of the books to have disappointed me, mostly because it took way too long for anything to happen. The comparison to the previous book didn’t help. And the long wait we had endured, added to the disappointment. It struck me that it would have been a much better book if it were given a darn good edit.

Not quite as long a wait for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was a huge relief reading this book, as we had feared the previous instalment may have been the beginning of a downward spiral. But thankfully not. Rowling was back on form with this one.

And then came Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The book I never wanted to end… because I knew it was the last. But it was a fitting end. There were heroics aplenty and many deaths; excitement and thrills; laughter and tears — and a definite conclusion. It really was the end.

Oh yes, there were those other little books along the way  — Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them in 2001 — and The Tales of Beedle the Bard would come along after the last novel. But they really didn’t do it for me. They were merely diversionary strolls. The main journey was over.

Except, of course, for the films. Tune in next time for my thoughts about them.

Catch ya later,  George

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Pop Star Authors

Authors are a bit like pop musicians. No, really… they are more alike than you might first think. Both tread that fine line between art and making money. Good books and good music are often never released because they are not commercial enough. Just as authors are often at the mercy of large publishers, musicians are often at the mercy of large record companies. (Hmm… are they still called record companies even though its now mostly downloads and CDs?) And the promotional steamroller drives sales in both industries.

As time marches on, writers are becoming more like pop musicians. In this day and age writers need to become personalities. They need to get out there and promote their books. They need to promote themselves. The image of the writer is becoming as important as the books they write.

Jack Heath (author of The Lab) sold his first book at the age of 18. His youth certainly helped the sale of his books. That’s not to say he doesn’t write really good books — he does. But selling books requires more than the ability to write good books. Health’s youthful image made for good promotion. Now, six years down the track, Heath still manages to maintain his image. Check out his YouTube channel to see how he promotes himself, more than his books. And his website still makes reference to his youthful start in the industry…

“He started writing his first novel, The Lab, at age 13, and earned a publishing contract for it at 18.”

Publicists have had a field day with JK Rowling’s image of the struggling single mum who hit it big. And Stieg Larsson has shown how dying prior to the publication of a trilogy can enhance an author’s image.

The simple fact that authors need promotional photos is a testament to the importance of image. Author Shirley Marr even blogged about her author photo shoot, which resulted in some very glam, fashion-model images.

Shirley Marr, author of Fury. Photograph by Red Images Fine Photography.

Or has image always been friend to the author? Certainly Ian Flemming’s past as a Naval Intelligence Officer probably helped to promote his Bond books. And the glamour image of Jackie Collins hasn’t hurt her career.

Pop stars are forever in the public eye — image often eclipsing the music. Lady Gaga springs to mind. Of course, pop stars can also use their fame to become authors. Look at Madonna — pop icon and children’s author. Hilary Duff has also gotten in on the literary act with a novel titled Elixir. And did you know that Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, used to be a pop singer and songwriter? He even released an album called Angels & Demons — that’s right, the same title as one of his books.

If only we could turn things around and see some authors cross over into pop music careers. I have this image of Stephen King doing a cover version of Werewolves of London or Bad Moon Rising. 🙂

Oh wait, King’s already in a rock band. True! He’s a member of The Rock Bottom Remainders, a band made up of published authors. Don’t believe me? Check out this clip…

Tune in next time for more pop music.

Catch ya later,  George

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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.

Rejection

“Thank you for your submission. We regret to inform you that it does not suit our current needs.”

These words, or similar, are common in the life of a writer. Okay, I’m sure that there are writers out there who no longer get such notes. I’m willing to guess, for instance, that it’s been a very long time since Stephen King has had anything rejected by a publisher. But for those of us who are not household names with a string of best sellers to our credit, rejection is still a daily threat — A pendulum with a razor-sharp blade, swinging above our heads, waiting to suddenly drop.

But the thing to remember here is that writers like Stephen King and JK Rowling did, once upon a time, before they struck it BIG, get a rejection letter or two. JK even discussed her rejections with Oprah.

A young Paul Jennings took his first rejection very personally. In Paul Jennings: A Biogrpahy, by Matthew Ricketson, he is quoted as saying:

“I wrote my first story when I was sixteen and it was turned down by the Women’s Weekly. I felt so rejected I didn’t write anything else until I was forty.”

Different writers will undoubtedly have different experiences with rejection. Some writers deal with it well… like water off a duck’s back. They pick themselves up and try again. Others not so well. You hear the stories of some writers who take rejection personally and who question their ability every time a piece of work is not wanted. But they deal with it, they move on, however torturously, and continue writing. And then there are those people who get one rejection and never write again… writers who could have been, but never were, perhaps never meant to be.

I think there are two important things to remember about rejection. Firstly, that it is not personal. It is the piece of writing that is being rejected, not the writer. Secondly, it is just the opinion of one publisher/editor. A piece can be rejected for any number of reasons other than the quality of the writing. It may not be what an editor is looking for at that time. It may be too similar to something else that has already been accepted. It may be a simple case of the wrong story to the wrong publisher at the wrong time.

But it can be a hard slog. I understand that. I had many years of rejections before I finally made my very first sale — an article about Melbourne’s Regent Theatre for a CBD magazine called Melbourne Agenda in 1994. And it was another few years of rejections before I had my first book — Life, Death and Detention in 1999. I get a lot fewer rejections these days (‘cause me righting has gotten gooderer) but I still do get them. Every time I send something off, I do so with a little bit of anxiety. Every time I send a piece of writing out into the world, away from the safety of my computer, I feel the threat of possible rejection.

Not that the threat of rejection is necessarily a bad thing. It certainly keeps me on my toes. It forces me to not be complacent about my writing. Most of all, it makes me even more determined to try harder and make the next sale. As far as I’m concerned, dealing with rejection is just part of being a writer.

Tune in next time for a post I haven’t even thought about yet. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll make a list of every rejection I’ve ever had.

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