Miscellaneous Memoranda

The National Year of Reading Read This! prize winners have been announced, after attracting lots of fabulously creative entries from young readers. I think my favourite entry was the knitted Wizard of Oz characters by twelve-year-old Lexi, although the papier-mâché model of James and the Giant Peach by Michelle, also twelve years old, was wonderful, too. (Also, I just discovered that ‘papier mâché’ is French for ‘chewed paper’. Thanks so much for telling me that, Oxford Dictionary.)

Entries in the 2012 John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers are now open, with “young writers under the age of 25 [. . .] urged to enter the competition to share in $5,500 in prize money and have the opportunity to be published online and in the December issue of Voiceworks, Express Media’s literary quarterly.” You have until September to enter your short story or poem, with more information here.

Speaking of young readers and writers, there’s a great new(ish) online magazine for teenage girls called Rookie. I wish magazines like that had existed when I was a teenager. (Sadly, the internet hadn’t even been invented when I was a teenager.)

There’s an interesting article here by Anthony Horowitz about how book covers end up plastered with glowing endorsements from other writers. I’m currently reading a YA novel by an established US author, and the Cassandra Clare endorsement (“A gorgeously written, chilling atmospheric thriller.” CASSANDRA CLARE, bestselling author of THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS SERIES) takes up more space on the front cover than the name of the book’s author. But do book buyers actually pay any attention to these quotes? As the first commenter on the article says, “Probably the only people who would truly benefit from an author’s endorsement are new or little-read authors – exactly the kind of people who (for completely understandable and rational reasons) are least likely to get them.”

I recently read two fascinating articles about successful novelists who decided to stop writing (and, presumably, to stop endorsing other authors’ books). “There’s just too much stress on authors,” said Steph Swainston, author of the Castle series. She was unhappy with the pressure from fans and publishers to produce a book a year, and disliked the modern need for authors to be ‘celebrities’ and engage with social media (“The internet is poison to authors”). The other author, Elizabeth Harrower, was less forthcoming about why she stopped writing in 1966:

“It’s not as though she ran out of things to say – ‘there were probably too many things to say’. It’s not as though her work was poorly received – her second novel, The Long Prospect, was described as ranking ‘second only to Voss as a postwar work of Australian literature’. It’s not as though she was busy raising children – she never married and is childless.”

In the end, she simply says, “[I] realised I just can’t be bothered any more.”

To end on a more positive note, this year The Famous Five celebrate the seventieth anniversary of their first adventure, Five on a Treasure Island. Naturally, the celebratory feast will feature ham sandwiches on crusty bread, hard-boiled eggs, currant buns and lashings of ginger beer.

2 thoughts on “Miscellaneous Memoranda”

  1. An author endorsement gets my attention if it’s a author I really like. But that only makes me pick up the book and read the book description. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book based on a cover blurb. Just because I like someone’s writing doesn’t necessarily mean our tastes will completely align. The book still has to sell itself to me with an interesting premise. An author endorsement can also be a turn off if it’s an author I dislike. Blurbs are like book covers–good ones will intrigue me, bad ones turn me off, I’ll never buy a book just based on that one factor.

    In the end, the thing that will really get me to purchase a book is word-of-mouth. Good reviews from people whose taste I trust. That grabs my attention more than anything.

    As for authors and how much of a presence they should have on the Internet, I don’t think it’s necessary to be very active but all published authors should at least have a site for their work. It doesn’t have to be fancy–a list of the books they’ve written with descriptions of the book and when their next book is going to be out. That’s all I ever really need when I Google a writer’s name. Everything else is just a bonus.

    1. I once bought a book solely because it had been endorsed by Anne Tyler, one of my favourite writers and not a writer who regularly provides book blurbs. And the book was . . . very odd. It wasn’t badly written, just strange and meandering and not really my cup of tea. (And also, it was nothing like an Anne Tyler novel.) So I learned my lesson and now, just as you do, I base my book buying on trusted reviewers and I ignore cover endorsements.

      I think YA authors have more pressure on them to have an internet presence than authors of other types of books, but I agree, it doesn’t take much money or effort to put up a simple website. Participation in social media takes more time and energy, but it can also be fun and interesting.

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