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1. Selling Yourself Online

Seems to me to be bleeding obvious that tweeting and facebooking and blogging and whatever other social media is the flavour du jour do not automatically equal vastly increased sales. Of any kind. But I’ll talk about books that being what I am in the business of selling.

So I agree with Nick Earls’ post about how social media works for us author types. Except I don’t have a cat and have never had a cat and will never have a cat.1

Loads of authors are being told that they MUST tweet, blog, facebook, tumblr, whatever. Because if you do not have a social media platform NOT ONE BOOK OF YOURS WILL SELL EVER. And they freak out and do it and notice they have hardly any followers and no one’s clicking on the buy links and it’s not working and clearly their career will be a total failure and AAARRGH.

Here’s everything I know about authors promoting books via social media:2

No one knows how to sell books. Not for sure. Not online and not offline.

Many books have had the full weight of their publisher behind them, big publicity budget, huge tour, saturation marketing online and off—the works—and died on their arse. Or, sold well below expectations.3

It’s really easy to look at, say, Hunger Games and declare, “Of course it did well! Look at the promotional campaign behind it.” Sure. But what about all the other books who got the same or bigger campaigns and haven’t sold anywhere near as well?

Some books catch with the wider reading public. Some don’t. A big campaign behind your book sure does help but guarantees nothing. Unless that good old word of mouth takes off your book is not going to shift many units.4

There are also books that come out of nowhere and do really well. Most recently, Fifty Shade of Grey. When it was a self-published ebook—before mainstream publishers picked it up—there was no huge publicity campaign making it sell like hotcakes. Word of mouth did that magic.

So, selling books? A bit of a mystery.

Which means that publishers and publicists and authors tend to latch on to whatever they can in the hope that it will generate that blessed word of mouth. Telling authors that they should social media their little hearts out has the virtue of giving them something to do. Something that, occasionally, does work.

I know two authors for whom social media has been crucial to their success as writers: John Scalzi and John Green.

Data point: it helps to make it via social media as an author if your first name is JOHN! *considers changing name to John Larbalestier*

Obviously there are loads of writers who use social media really well who sell loads of books.

However, unlike the two Johns, I see no straight line between their use of social media and their sales. I reckon most of them would sell just as well if they had little online presence. Suzanne Collins certainly does. Karen Joy Fowler’s Jane Austen Book Club and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love sold stratospherically without either of them having much of an online presence and much of a publicity campaign on first publication.

And many of these successful authors were selling fabulously before social media existed. Most of their followers follow them because they are fans of their books. Not because they’re good at Twitter.

There are also many authors who are amazing at social media, have loads of followers, but don’t sell stratospherically. For some there seems to be an inverse proportion between their sales and their number of followers.

I follow heaps of writers whose books I’ve never bought. Just because I find their tweets witty and amusing doesn’t mean I’ll find the kinds of book they write appealing.

Plenty of people have told me they’ve bought my books because they’re enjoyed my blog or my tweets. Which is lovely. Yay! But I doubt they’re a big percentage of the people who buy my books. I’ve had many more people tell me they read my blog and/or tweets because they like my books.

I’m not saying having a social media presence doesn’t help. I’m sure it does. I’m just saying that there is not a direct impact on sales of books.

Selling Stratospherically

I think part of the problem is that all too many aspiring authors look at the success of a Suzanne Collins or an E. L. James and think that’s attainable for any author.

Um, no.

The vast majority of published authors do not make a living from writing books. I’m talking about novelists published by mainstream presses.5 Most writers have another job. Or supplement their novel writing income with school visits, teaching, other kinds of writing etc.

Most of us feel like we’re doing well if we can support ourselves from just writing novels. So the idea that if you only devoted more time to online marketing than you do to the actual writing you will become the next E. L. James is nutty.

Becoming an author to make bank is nutty. Social media’s not going to make it happen any more than any other form of marketing will. And the fact that it worked for one in a million6 doesn’t really prove the case.

So why social media?

I am not on Twitter because my publisher told me to be.

Okay, actually, I think I am. I was very resistant to Twitter at first. But a publisher said I should so I did. Even though they also told me I had to myspace7 and I hated it and gave it up pretty quickly. Or, at least, forgot about it. Perhaps that myspace page is still there. Is myspace still around?8

I digress.

I stayed on Twitter because it’s fun. It’s a great way to keep up with sport and politics. Especially women’s sport that mainstream news sources do such a terrible job of covering. I really enjoy tweeting with a wide range of people from all round the world about politics, sport, books, film, TV, publishing, random silly stuff. Worst place to get a mostquito bite? Your eyelids. Clearly.

I have come to love the brevity of Twitter. It certainly is way less tough on my RSI than blogging is.

It’s fun to field questions from fans. It makes my day when someone is excited that I followed them. Hey, I was dead excited when one of my favourite basketball players started following me. I so get it. Though perversely I hate being asked to follow people. I’ll follow you if I want to! Sheesh.

I was offline—not blogging and not tweeting much or anything—for almost a year. I saw no effect on my books sales. I came back to it partly because I had a new book out and felt I should. A lot of the publicity Team Human‘s publishers organised was online.

I found that I’d really missed blogging. Even though hardly anyone comments anymore. *pines for the old days* *is super grateful to those of you who do comment* *realises I don’t comment much on people’s blogs either* *shame spirals*

I digressed again! Sorry.

Has returning to the wonderful online world led to increased sales? I have no idea. Certainly it’s led to some. It’s been a useful way to let people know I have a new book out. Though I suspect my publishers’ efforts in getting advance copies of Team Human to book shops and libraries and other important places all over Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA has been even better at letting people know it exists. Their reach is way bigger than my reach.

Do I think social media is essential?9

If you have a well-known publisher behind you, who can get your book widely distributed and reviewed then, no, I don’t think it’s essential. Do it if you’re good at it and enjoy it. It will lead to some sales.

Don’t do it if it feels like a chore. If you resent it because it takes you away from writing. If you don’t enjoy it people can tell. Especially if your every tweet, blog post, facebook entry is about your book and where to buy it and how good it is and how we should all buy it. Don’t do that.

The audience for my blog before I stopped blogging was much bigger than it is now. You can build up an audience but it will vanish if you don’t keep feeding it. After a month back blogging those numbers are slowly growing again but they’re nowhere near where they used to be.

Those numbers, however, can be misleading. It’s easy to fall into thinking that there’s a correlation between visitors to your blog and sales of your books. Even though I had thousands of people visiting here daily back in 2009 I wasn’t selling thousands of books every day. I was selling around the same number of books per day as I am now with the much diminished blog audience.

Basically all my going away did was reduce the number of people who read my blog. Not the number who read my books.

The big effect of returning to blogging has been reigniting my love affair with blogging. *hugs blog*

In Conclusion

The link between online presence and books sales is a hard to prove. It depends on so much. We are still in the very early days of the online world. We’re all pioneers and early adopters and none of us really know how this is going to transform publishing. It’s like people driving in the 1920s. The new car-centred world hadn’t fully formed yet. Neither has the internet-shaped world of publishing.

Right now the people who are most successful at selling themselves online are the ones who do not seem to be selling themselves online. Neither of the Johns, Scalzi or Green, are standing up shouting BUY MY BOOKS. They’re doing what they do, being themselves, and it works. They’re a natural fit, and they started their mostly inadvertent platform building early on in the truly pioneer days. And it worked.

But there are millions of others who started blogging and youtubing around the same time for whom it has not paid off the way it has for the Johns. Two successes do not a model for success make.

The one true path towards a successful writing career is to write. Write a lot. Write well. Spend at least 80% of that precious writing time on writing, not on marketing. And only do it because you love it. Because you can’t not write.

And try not to freak out too much about social media as book marketing. Try to enjoy it for its, you know, socialness. Follow people outside of your industry, who have nothing to do with selling books or marketing, who aren’t useful to you. Follow fabulous,10 wild,11 interesting people12 and crazy all-caps newspaper feeds. Have fun!

  1. Apparently pets would not be down with the whole going back and forth between Sydney and New York City thing.
  2. I was very tempted to leave the rest of this post blank. But aren’t you lucky? I’m going to ramble on anecdotally instead. Woo hoo!
  3. No, I’m not going to name the books. It seems kind of rude.
  4. “Shift many units.” Tee. I’ve always wanted to say that. I feel like a 1950s A&R man.
  5. For self-published writers it’s even harder.
  6. Or is it one in a billion? There are an awful lot of books being published these days.
  7. Back in the day.
  8. My experience with myspace is why I’m not on facebook.
  9. However, for self-publishing I imagine that it is essential. But that’s an area I know very little about. The people I know who self publish, such as Courtney Milan, started out with a mainstream publisher and were well-known before they switched.
  10. A lawyer from Perth, Australia. She cares passionately about refugees in Australia and cricket and Bollywood. She makes me laugh. No, I’ve never met her.
  11. She’s an awesomely cranky NYC lawyer who likes to argue about social justice. No, I don’t know her. Discovered her via @sunili.
  12. He’s tweeting small fates from 1912 culled from NYC newspapers. Some are pure poetry. Though of the limerick variety.

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2. What To Do About Cranky Authors

A friend of mine, a librarian and blogger and reviewer, has had a handful of authors attack her because she wrote what they considered to be bad reviews of their books.1 She did not enjoy it.

This is not an isolated incident. Reviewers have had authors dummy spit2 at them, sic their fans on them, and generally make them wonder why they’re bothering to write reviews.

What can bloggers do when wrathful authors and their hordes descend up on them?

Here’s what my friend did. She took down those reviews. Good idea.

What these authors don’t realise is that their worst enemy is not critical reviews; it’s obscurity. No reviews is way, way, way worse than bad reviews.

Someone hates your book? That’s a good thing because it means they actually read it. (Even better you got a passionate response!) No one reading it. No responses? That’s the fast track to out of print and gone and forgotten.

That’s what I fear: not being able to sell my books because I have no audience. I do not fear people hating my books. Jane Austen is hated. Every writer I love is hated. It’s a feature, not a bug!3

So here’s my advice: if an author has a go at you for a less than gushing review of their book—take it down. And if it’s possible leave a polite note explaining why. Something like:

This space was occupied by a review of X by Cranky Author. Cranky Author was incensed by the review so I have removed it and will no longer review anything by Cranky Author.

See? Everyone’s happy. Cranky Author’s eyeballs are no longer assailed by your shocking blindness to their genius.4 You don’t have to deal with their crankiness.

And maybe if everyone does this, those authors—and fortunately they are small in number—will get the message and knock it off.

As a general rule, authors, do not respond to reviews.5 They’re not for you, they’re for readers. And especially do not attack the authors of those reviews! Leave reviewers alone!

  1. Mostly, of course, these were not bad reviews but more like three-star, has-some-good-points-has-some-bad-points kind of reviews.
  2. USians: look it up! You are online. You can find out the meaning of any unfamiliar word or phrase in heartbeat. Embrace this gorgeous future we live in.
  3. Hell, I even have favourite bad reviews of my books. I have quite the collection for Liar. Wow, do the people who hate it REALLY hate it. It’s also, so far, my best-selling novel. Take from that what you will.
  4. Not unless they go hunting down the cache.
  5. If you must respond do it generally in a post on your own blog.

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3. On Blogging and the Olympics

So here it is the final day of my blogging every day of July effort and I have succeeded!1 And it was fun. So much fun that I’m going to keep on blogging. Not every day but at least once a week. Turns out I missed it way more than I realised. Missed you commenter types both here and on twitter. I think we had some really cool and interesting conversations over this month and I hope we’ll have many more. *hugs blog* *hugs commenters* *cries*

I didn’t do all the posts I promised I would. I know. I am badness. But I will do them. In the future. In the not-too-distant future even. If you ask me to opine on something here or on twitter eventually I will do so.

I did not, in fact, use voice recognition software. I tried and gave up in anger and frustration. But I will do the post I promised @SirTessa in which I use that dread software without correcting any of the mistakes.

However, not using it was really positive because I also finished the first draft of a novel this month2 and thus between that and blogging every day was typing more than I had for ages and doing so in a managed way. Some days, yes, I was very sore. But I never pushed through and typed more than twenty minutes at a time. And the frequent breaks—including at least two days off per week—and stretching and strength work and treatment kept the pain manageable. Turns out I can write more than I think I can. To which, well, YAY + DANCE OF JOY.

And my reward for finishing the first draft of a new novel and blogging every day?

THE OLYMPICS.

So far I have watched, in no particular order:

  • shooting—for the first time and it was way more interesting than I thought it would be
  • hockey—the Aussie men are RIDICULOUSLY good what a pleasure they are to watch
  • basketball—the US women ditto. I mean, they could field an entirely different team from the WNBA and they’d still win gold. Hell, they could go all the way down to, like, the fourth, fifth, and sixth team options and they’d still medal. Depth? Oh, yes, my second nation has it. Total pleasure to watch them play. Especially Seimone Augustus. Oh, how I love her. And yes I adore the Opals and I want them to win but without Penny Taylor? I mean, even with Penny Taylor it was a long long long long shot.
  • badminton—shuttlecocks are freaking awesome, I love how they are at once faster and slower than a tennis ball. I also love that serving has no impact on the game
  • weightlifting—has to be the most stressful sport of all. I am always afraid their eyeballs are going to pop out of their skulls, that muscles will rip from bone, that their heads will explode. I love the slapping and screaming and other weird stuff they do to psych themselves up and how cool is it when they manage to keep that insanely heavy bar above their head and their feet in line and not moving? Very. And some of them are lifting three times their own weight. Let me repeat: THREE TIMES THEIR OWN WEIGHT!
  • gymnastics—you know, every other sport I kind of feel like I can do a much crappier version of it. I could shoot and play hockey. I have played basketball and tennis and table tennis. I’ve lifted weights. I’ve been training at boxing for almost a year now. I have dived into pools. I’ve swum, run, rowed, canoed and

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4. Cassandra Clare on the Myth that Authors Automatically Condone What We Depict

Cassandra Clare has written an important piece called Rape Myths, Rape Culture and the Damage Done. If you haven’t read it already you really should. Be warned: she discusses much which is deeply upsetting.

What I want to briefly comment on here is the notion that to write about rape or war or any other terrible thing is to automatically condone it. Cassie writes:

[T]he most important point to be made here is that to depict something is not to condone it. This is a mistake that is made all the time by people who you would think would know better. Megan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, excoriated YA books for being too dark, zoning in specifically on “Suzanne Collins’s hyper-violent, best-selling Hunger Games trilogy” and Lauren Myracle’s Shine, which depicts a hate crime against a gay teenager. Anyone paying any attention, of course, can tell that while violence is depicted in the Hunger Games, it is hardly endorsed. It is, in fact, a treatise against violence and war, just as Shine is a treatise against violence and hate crimes. Gurdon notes only the content of the books and ignores the context, which is a unfortunate mistake for a book reviewer. If the only people in the book who approve of something are the villains (nobody but the bad guys thinks the Hunger Games are anything but a moral evil) then it is a fair bet the book is about how that thing is bad.

What Cassie said. If you follow that argument through to its logical conclusion than we who write books marketed at teenagers must not write about conflict. We must only write upbeat, happy books in which no one is hurt or upset and nothing bad ever happens. But even that would not be enough because I have seen books like Maureen Johnson’s The Bermudez Triangle described as “dark.” A gentle, funny, wry book about two girls who fall in love is dark? I’ve seen other upbeat, happy books described as “dark” because the protags have (barely described at all) sex.

The complaint that YA books are too “dark” usually does not come from teenagers. Teenagers write and complain to me that there’s no sequel to my standalone books, that there should be four or five books in my trilogy, that I take too long to write books, that I’m mean about unicorns, that zombies DO NOT rule, that they hated that I don’t make it clear what really happened in Liar, that Liar made them throw the book across the room,1 that their name is Esmeralda/Jason/Andrew so why did I have to make the character with that name in my books so mean, that one of the Fibonacci numbers in Magic Lessons isn’t, in fact, a Fibonacci.2 I also get the occasional complaint that their teacher made them read my book when it SUCKED OUT LOUD. People, that is SO NOT MY FAULT! BLAME YOUR TEACHER! 0 Comments on Cassandra Clare on the Myth that Authors Automatically Condone What We Depict as of 1/1/1900

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5. YA Mafias & Other Things You Don’t Need to Worry About

Holly Black recently posted on the subject of the so-called YA Mafia, which apparently is a “cabal of writers who give one other blurbs, do events with one another, and like each other’s books.” Also if you cross them they can ruin your career.

In her post Holly said such a cabal does not exist. I suspect she’s right. Certainly none of the YA writers I know are involved in such a group. However, there are many YA authors I don’t know. Could be a few of them plot darkly together. Who knows?

Thing is plotting ain’t doing. As Holly points out, YA authors do not have that power. I have recommended twenty or more of my writer friends to my agent so far she’s taken on one. You see? I have her twisted around my little finger! Oh. Wait. And if I told her not to take on so-and-so as a client I shudder to think what she’d say. Probably that I’d lost my mind. Rightly so.

Here’s what I think is going on with the upset over the idea of a YA mafia. As Phoebe North says in an eloquent comment in response to Holly’s post there has been some nastiness online from authors to reviewers and sometimes vice versa:

I’ve seen countless blog posts that purport to be talking up positivity, but also include veiled threats (one post said that an author would ask her agent not to sign a writer who has negatively reviewed her friends books, even if they were fair reviews). I’ve seen authors post comments on negative goodreads reviews (and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this go well). I saw someone who had been book blogging for three years–and had hundreds of followers and who genuinely loved book blogging–shut down her blog because an agent said that she’d never sign a book blogger as an author. And this woman wasn’t Cleolinda-style snarkbaiting, I promise. She wrote great, thoughtful, and generally kind reviews.

What it boils down to, right now, is a lot of reviewers feel threatened. It’s uncomfortable, because they’re readers, too, and they love books, even if they don’t like particular books. But all of this feels silencing, even for reviewers who never want to be authors. There’s this air of intangible hostility around the whole scene. It feels like many authors generally don’t like reviewers or bloggers generally.

That sucks. I hate any kind of silencing. And I hate that there are reviewers and bloggers who think all authors hate them. Not true!

But here’s why I don’t think you should be worried:

  1. I guarantee you that the vast majority of agents or editors seeing their author making veiled threats would be having words with them of the DO NOT DO THAT variety.

Some authors do go nuts in the face of bad reviews.1 This is why I have long been on the record as advising them to kick their pillow around, or run around the block, or do anything that will keep them from expressing their insanity online.2 Ma

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6. Farewell For Now

As some of you may have noticed I’ve not been around much online. Sorry! Thank you so much for all the concerned supportive emails. They are much appreciated. (You made me all teary.)

Here’s where things stand with me:

The good news: The original injury that caused me to cut back on blogging is completely healed. Yay!

The bad news: The RSI in my hands and forearms got worse.

I took four weeks off from the computer entirely. I have reorganised my computer setup. I’ve been doing a vast amount of physical therapy. I’m improving. Slowly and frustratingly but surely.

However, my time at keyboard remains limited and my top priority is my novel. All else—blogging, tweeting, emailing—is on hiatus until I can get through a day’s1 work without pain.

I see that all sounds depressing. But honestly I’m doing great. While I miss being in close contact with all my fabby online friends.2 I’ve been spending more time with friends in the real world. I’ve been reading more than I have in years. Watching lots of crazy good anime. Who recommended Moribito? I LOVE YOU.3 I’ve been cooking up a storm. And immersing myself in the WNBA, NBA, French Open, various cricket series and am ecstatic about the coming World Cup and Wimbledon and the Tour de France.

Life is very good.

So this is farewell for now. Thanks for all the support. It means heaps.4

I’ll be back.5

  1. I.e. four hours.
  2. A LOT.
  3. Feel free to make more recs in the comments.
  4. Thanks to the lovely folks who inquired after my health at BEA. Even if most of you were Team Unicorn. What’s up with that?
  5. But not in a scary way. I swear that I’m not a cyborg from the future hellbent on wiping out humanity. Me, I like humanity.

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7. Guest Post: Jaclyn Moriarty on Blogging & Leaves Blowing Backwards

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much for awhile. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.

Jaclyn Moriarty is a wonderful Sydney writer who used to be a lawyer and is responsible for some of my favourite Aussie novels of the last few years, especially The Betrayal of Bindy McKenzie and Dreaming of Amelia. But, trust me, all her books are amazing. Be careful though they seem to have different titles in every territory they’re published in. I also love her blog. It’s as gorgeously written and thoughtful as this post. Though her notion that blogging ever day as anything to do with precision is kind of hilarious. It has a lot more to do with a different word beginning with p: procrastination.

- – -

Jaclyn Moriarty is the author of Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments. She grew up in Sydney, lived in the the US, the UK and Canada, and now lives in Sydney again. Her latest book, Dreaming of Amelia, will be published in North America as The Ghosts of Ashbury High in June.

Jaclyn says:

Every time I drive on Shellcove Road I have this thought: Blogging is leaves blowing backwards.

I don’t want to think that. I’ve got other things to think. But it’s there, every time, along with an image of a man in a coat, leaning forward, hunched into a storm, leaves blowing back into his face.

Then I turn the corner and a voice in the backseat says, ‘Where did Santa Claus go?’

He means the giant inflateable Santa Claus that was standing on the front porch of a house on Shellcove Road last December. They took him down in January.

‘Where’s he gone?’ Charlie asks, every time we pass that house.

‘The north pole,’ I explain.

Sometimes I add something educational: ‘They’ve got snow there, you know, in the north pole. And polar bears. And elves.’

Then I glance in the rear view mirror, to see if he’s impressed, and that’s when he says, with weary resignation, ‘I’m not in the mirror. I’m here. See? Look around. I’m sitting back here.’

I have a blog, but I don’t do it properly. Months go by, years even, without me writing. Then suddenly I write a lot. Other people—I’m thinking of Justine, for example—other people blog properly.

Also, when I do blog, I mostly just write about my kid. How cute he is, three years old, sitting in the backseat, telling me he’s not in the rear view mirror, and it must drive people mad. (There’s the issue of his privacy, too. I once wrote a thesis on the Privacy Rights of the Child.)

The other day I subscribed to the Herald, so I could start collecting other things to talk about on my blog. And I’m thinking I should get a dog. The dog can shred the Herald, and I can take photographs and post them—cute, apologetic dog, paper in pieces at its feet. I never wrote a thesis on the Privacy Rights of the Dog.

But I haven’t got the Herald or the dog yet, so there’s the kid. Last week, I took him for a haircut. Charlie in the big black cape, little face in the mirror, blonde curls. The hairdresser asked me what his starsign was.

‘Virgo,’ I said.

‘Huh.’ She raised her eyebrows, looking thoughtful.

‘What does that mean?’ I said. ‘Him being a Virgo?’

‘I haven’t got a clue,’ she said. ‘I was just making conversation.’

She snipped for a while and we were all quiet. Then she added, ‘He could be a Leo. I’m half-Leo.’

‘But he’s not a Leo,’ I said, and we were quiet again.

So, you see, th

1 Comments on Guest Post: Jaclyn Moriarty on Blogging & Leaves Blowing Backwards, last added: 4/15/2010
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8. Fighting Spam

Okay, after yet another spam hammering I’ve had to switch comments and pinging off on many of the posts that were getting hammered. I’m really at a loss as to what to do. I don’t want to switch comments off. I love your comments. But right now I’m battling so much spam that loads of geuine comments are not making it past the filters while too much spam is. I’m only spending four hours at the computer a day so I cannot use most of that time dealing with spam.

Oh, how I hate spammers!

Anyone got any cool wordpress plugins or other suggestions?

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9. More Questions + Event

You’re unlikely to get anything sensible out of me for awhile. This will be brief. First, thanks for all the responses yesterday. That was truly fascinating.

Second, we recently finished watching Fullmetal Alchemist and Read or Die and LOVED them both with a fiery burning passion. Thanks everyone who recommended them. What should we watch next? And why do you recommend it?

Third, without googling how many have you heard of Joel Chandler Harris? And what do you know about him? And where are you from? (I suspect how old you are is pertinent also.)

Thank you!

If you’re in NYC you can see me and Scott reading this Saturday:

Justine Larbalestier, Bennett Madison,
Scott Westerfeld, & Cecily von Ziegesar
Reading and Q&A
12:30PM-1:15PM, Saturday, 10 April
Center for Fiction
17 E. 47th Street, Second floor
(between Madison & Fifth Ave.)
NY NY

The price of admission? Your donation of two or more new or gently used board books through grade 12.

I’ll be reading from my 1930s book.

Later!

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10. A Question for You, My Dear Readers

The wonderful Kathleen T. Horning sent me a link to this discussion of Twilight on NPR in which much mock is made of the writing style of Twlight. Judging from the comments if you love Twilight then the NPR people are being condescending meanies and if you hated Twilight1 then their comments are hilarious and spot on.

Now, I do not want a discussion of the merits or otherwise of Twilight here. In fact, I will delete any comment trashing Twilight. We do not diss living authors on this blog. What I’m interested in is a broader discussion of adults’ attitudes to YA literature.

My question is this: What do you think of the frequently mounted defence of Twilight and some other popular YA titles that no matter what you think of the writing style or content it’s intended for teens so that’s okay. Or at least it gets teens reading?

Here’s what the folks at NPR had to say in response to that claim:

Linda: One thing we haven’t talked about much, except in the comments, is the fact that for a lot of people, both the quality of the writing and the content of the story, as far as its nonsensical aspects, are really irrelevant if the book is intended for or appropriate for teenagers.

This is an argument I would find a lot easier to swallow were it not for the facts that (1) I don’t think Meyer necessarily meant it as YA fiction and I think she’s said that; and (2) it is read by many, many adults who take it quite seriously. It seems to me that it has been embraced as fiction by enough adults that it’s legitimate to look at it that way. And that’s true EVEN IF you accept that it’s okay for things to be bad if they’re for teenagers, which I … don’t.

Marc: Of course. It’s wildly insulting to teenagers to insist that it’s acceptable to foist inferior product on them because . . . why, exactly? “This is a terrible book. Give it to your daughter.” How is that not a terrible abuse of kids’ minds?

In the comments on their Twilight posts there were many claiming that it was wrong to criticise Twilight at all because it’s popular and has gotten teens reading. I’m curious to hear your responses to that claim as well. Are such claims made about equally-criticised-for-bad-writing books by the likes of Dan Brown?

NOTE: Remember I want this to be a broad discussion of attitudes to YA literature. I’m not kidding about deleting any Twilight bashing.

  1. Even if you haven’t read it—how do you hate a book you haven’t read?

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11. Songs of Girls Who Don’t Want to Get Married (Right Now) + Thanks

I have decided that I love songs about women who don’t want to be married. I decided this while listening to lots of Gillian Welch. Twas the song “Look at Miss Ohio” which triggered this decision. Also my annoyance with certain lines in Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”. “Put a ring on it”? What are we living in the 1950s or something?! Uggh.

Then I realised I couldn’t think of any other songs about women who have priorities in life other than getting married.1 Other than the “I never will marry” song:

I never will marry
I’ll be no man’s bride
I expect to stay single
For the rest of my life ((Lyrics from memory thus could be wrong—too many keystrokes to google.)

But that’s usually sung as a heartbroken miserable song of despair, which is not what I’m talking about.

Can anyone think of cheerful songs of women who are happy to be single, who are not desperate to be married, of women who may want to marry some day but not right now? Please to share in comments if so.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against marriage. I am married myself. Happily even. Nor do I have anyone against women wanting to be married. It’s just that they already have a tonne of songs. I want representation for all the girls who don’t dream of a big wedding and marriage when they grow up.

- – -

Thanks to everyone for all the lovely get well wishes. I is touched. Truly I am on the mend and is not that bad an injury. Trust me, I’ve had worse. But, yes, I will continue to not be online much for the forseeable and, yes, there will be more guest bloggers. Thank you, wonderful guests, and thanks again, faithful readers, for bearing with me.

Have a good weekend everyone!

  1. This probably reflects more on my dreadful memory than anything else.

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12. Why I’ve Not Been Blogging

(Or answering email or responding to IM requests or to comments or been on Twitter or read many blogs.)

Like almost every writer I know, I have a number of chronic—though not particularly bad1—injuries, that were caused by (or flare up when) I spend a lot of time at my computer. Sitting at a computer for long hours is not good for your body. Which is why so many writers, receptionists, data processors, computer programmers etc etc2 have repetitive strain injuries, headaches, chronic back and neck problems, shooting pains in the arms and hands and so on and so forth.3

Like many of you, I frequently spend more than fourteen hours a day at my computer.4 A recent injury (not sitting-at-computer related) has made that impossible. In order for my injury to heal I have had to drastically reduce my time at the computer, which forced me to prioritise what I do there:

  1. Write novel.
  2. Answer urgent business related email.
  3. Blog.
  4. Answer other emails.
  5. IM with friends.
  6. Read blogs, twitter etc.

Here’s what most days since the injury have looked like:

  1. Write novel.

I no longer spend more than four hours on the computer. If the pain flares before four hours I stop. Four hours is not long so my novel gets my top priority. Many days writing my novel is the only thing I do at the computer. Ironically, I’ve written more in the last month than in the previous six. The book’s going well and I’m loving it. Bless, this injury!5 I have not once gotten past no. 4 on my list. So that is why you have not heard from me.

The acute injury is improving, slowly but surely.6 However, I have decided to stick to the current regime at least until the injury is completely healed and maybe longer because I have experienced less pain with my other chronic injuries as well.

In fact, February has seen me increase the amount of walking I do every day, I’ve taken up Pilates7, and I’ve upped the amount of time I spend at the gym.8 Injury aside, I feel better than I have in a long, long time. I’ve been reading way more books and manga as well.9

Because of this injury I’m fitter than I was, more flexible and, best of all, getting more writing and reading done. All good, right?

Not exactly. The reduced computer time has meant that I have not been communicating regularly with many of my close friends. I’m massively behind on email. I no longer IM.10 I feel like I’m losing touch with my online communities, which may sound trivial, but as Varian pointed out last week that sense of community is very important. It’s a large part of why I blog in the first place. Not blogging and responding to your comments has been difficult.

In fact, that is why this post. I don’t much like whingeing about my health here.11 Boring! But I couldn’t really think of any other way to let people know that even when I’m not responding I’m thinking about them. I feel especially bad about all the lovely fan mail I’m not answering.12 Several of the letters people have written me about Liar and have reduced me to tears.13 Thank you.

Thank you also to all my guest bloggers. You’ve kept this blog alive with entertaining, moving, informative, funny, wonderful posts. Bless you all. And thank you readers for supporting the blog in my absence. I’ve been so delighted to see the continued volume of traffic and comments. Yay!

One last thing: I know a fair number of you are in your teens and twenties and spending a vast amount of time at computers.14 If you’re not already taking care of your

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13. How to Conduct an Interview

I’m always very flattered when someone wants to do an interview with me. I jump with joy. People are interested in what I think! They want me to blather on! I am a woman of many opinions so being offered the chance to opinionate in multiple places is most pleasing. Thank you everyone who’s ever asked. I truly appreciate it.

However, many of the questions I get could be asked of any writer. Sometimes they could be asked of any person. It’s a bit lowering to suspect that the interviewer doesn’t really care about my particular pearls of wisdom—they want any old writer’s wisdom.

Let me make it clear that I don’t mind being asked generic, could-be-answered-by-anyone-with-a-pulse questions if the interviewer forewarns me. Just today I got a very sweet email from someone who runs a writing website for kids and teens. She specifically said she was writing to many writers and getting their response to one of a long list of questions. I will definitely be answering one or more of those questions.

I just wish the people who ask for an interview, but then send the same questions they send everyone, would preface their request by saying “My blog has five questions I send all my favourite writers. Here’s the link to the questions. Let me know if you want to take part.” Rather than, “I think you’re wonderful! I love your work! Please let me interview you!” Followed by the same five questions they ask everyone.

My friend Scalzi just ranted about this. Another friend, who I won’t name,1 gets cross about it too. They feel that the interviewer is doing zero work, but expecting them do loads, that the interviewer just wants easy content for their blogs.

Now, while I agree with some of what they have to say, I think there’s more to it than that. I’m convinced that the biggest problem is that most of these interviewers have little experience with interviewing and don’t know how to go about it. Learning to be a good interviewer takes time. It’s a skill. And not one that many people are taught.

Thus I thought I would share my tips. While I’ve never been a journalist, I was a researcher for many years, and that involved interviewing gazillions of writers, fans, and publishing people.

Justine’s guide to conducting a cool and interesting interview with a writer:

1. Research your subject. Read as many of their books as you can find. Read reviews of their books. Read all the previous interviews you can find. If they have a blog—read it. Yes, the entire thing. Or as much as is available online. If they’ve been blogging since the dawn of time (i.e. 1998) at least read a year or two’s worth of the archives.

2. Ask questions that are informed by this research. Rather than asking generic questions such as “where do you get your ideas” look at their responses to that question in previous interviews. Here’s Maureen Johnson talking at length about where she gets her ideas:

Almost every writer I know hates this question. We are, by nature, a lazy people. Hard questions disturb our state of mind. This is one of the hardest of the hard, topped only by things like “How do you write a book?” and “Why are there so many headless girls on the covers of your novels?”

Instead of asking her the question she hates being asked you could ask her why she thinks writers hate this question so much. Because, clearly, it’s not because writers are by nature lazy. Maureen Johnson certainly isn’t—ten seconds of research on her will reveal that fact. But, wait, she’s already answered that question:

I always try to make something up . . . some weird, cob

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14. New Year’s Resolution: Finding Balance

I know many people are all bah humbug about new year’s resolutions but I love them. This year I resolve to find a balance with my time online.

Let me explain: when I first became a published author of an actual novel I kind of went a little bit insane. I tracked down every teeny tiny reference to my book or me. I used every tool then available (and remember this was the long distant past of 2005) to stalk mentions online. At first there were few, very few, and I was convinced no one was ever going to read or review my baby Magic or Madness. Wah! Then there was what seemed a lot, which provided momentary flickers of joy—yay! good review!—and longer bouts of misery—boo! bad review.1 But then the mentions slowed down and lo there was despair again. No one is reading my book!

All of that slowed down my writing. Considerably. I was spending more time thinking about what people were saying about my book then, you know, actually writing the next one. Fortunately, for me I’d already finished my second book, Magic Lessons before my first appeared. But all the they-hate-me-they-love-me-they-think-I’m-meh-they’re-ignoring-me significantly affected the writing of the third book in the trilogy, Magic’s Child. I ran late, very late, because I was wasting so much time online googling myself and angsting about the results of those searches.

It got so bad I considered pulling the plug and not going online ever again, which, as you can imagine, is not possible. A large part of what I do online is directly related to my work: communicating with my agent and publisher, all the online promotery stuff my publisher likes me to do, research, keeping up with my field, blogging (my favourite thing ever!) etc. I can’t really let any of that slide for more than a week or so.

So instead I vowed to go cold turkey on self-stalking. I turned off my google alerts, unlearned the existence of technorati, icerocket, blogpulse etc etc and concentrated on finishing How to Ditch Your Fairy. It went well. I could go online without doing my head in. I was productive again! I learned that people would forward me any interesting reviews or commentary on my work.2 I did not need to seek out.

I also found that after several published books, bad reviews worry me far less than they used to. What I used to know only intellectually—that most reviews say far more about the reviewer than the reviewee—I now know all the way through me. Bad reviews rarely rile me now.

Thus I happily remained until 2009. Yes, I was still given to procrastinating. I would discover new blogs and be compelled to read through the entire archive. What? You can’t understand a blog until you’ve read the whole thing! And certain people still seem to think I spend an inordinate amount of time IMing with friends and family. What can I say? I don’t like phones. Plus some of those chats have led to Very Important Things. I’m just sayin’.

This year, however, for the first time in my online life, I was at the centre of a storm. People started saying things about me that were not true and were sometimes downright nasty. I’d become inured to people hating my books, but I’d never had strangers hating on me before. I’d seen many of my friends go through it. I’d even counselled these friends not to let it get to them, to make sure they took time away, that it’s not really as big a deal as it seems, and that those nasty, small-minded people don’t know them and what they say doesn’t matter. All of which is true.

But then it happened to me and I let it get to me. I fell off the wagon. I reinstated my google alerts. I used every search engine known to humanity to search out every single mention. I lost sleep. I lost days and weeks and months of work time.

I found some wonderful friends and allies du

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15. Blogging & Teaching

One of my highlights of NCTE was doing a panel on blogging with Laurie Halse Anderson, Maureen Johnson, Barbara O’Connor and Lisa Yee. The panel was put together and moderated by Denise Anderson, who was just splendid and had done a tonne of research. I was very impressed. They’ve all now blogged about the panel. (Links to their posts are on their names.) All except for me and Maureen. As I think it’s a sign of deep failure not to blog about a panel on blogging I am now fixing my omission. I doubt Maureen will, however, because hers is not that kind of a blog.

The panel was aimed at teachers and concerned with demonstrating how they can make use of authors’ blogs in the classroom. Denise observed that many of her colleagues were unaware of authors blogs and was on a mission to open their eyes. I suspect, though, that most of the educators in the audience were well aware of blogs and that was why they were there. Certainly the questions we were asked were very knowledegable.

We authors took the opportunity to ask the teachers not to set writing to authors as an assignment. Yes, that’s right, we whinged. We explained how much time it takes for us to answer questions especially when there are forty students writing us at once. Volume is not our only issue. The students tend to write asking us questions that are already answered on our sites, revealing they have the skills to find our email addresses, but not to find the answers to their questions, which are also in plain slight.

We also mentioned that some of the letters we get from students are flat out rude:

YOU MUST ANSWER THIS EMAIL STRAIGHT AWAY. MY HOMEWORK IS DUE TOMORROW. HERE ARE MY 456 QUESTIONS.

Laurie asked the following question: “Should we continue to spend classroom time on letter writing or has the time come to teach how to compose appropriate email communication?”

Our panel gave a very emphatic yes to the second half. Teach them how to write polite emails, please! I saw many heads nodding in the audience.

Another concern we had was students leaving comments on our blog making their phone numbers or email addresses public. We made it clear that we delete such information but thought that was another thing that could be addressed in the classroom.

We were all very clear that we love hearing from our readers and try very hard to answer them all. It’s just the students demanding we do their homework that we’re reluctant to respond to. We write for a living. Our novels are our top priorities, any additional writing comes after that. Which is why most of us started blogging in the first place—to have a method of communicating directly with our readers. We all agreed that the comments are the best part of blogging. Laurie said that she feels the readers of her blog have become family.

Laurie also mentioned that if they ever have parents wanting to remove a book from the school library or prevent it being taught they should get in contact with the writer because often the writer’s been through this before and can offer support. (Oh, look: it’s happened again, this time in Kentucky. And Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted is one of the books.)

Hmm, we seem to have agreed about many things. The only disagreement I can think of is when we were answering a question from the audience about the relationship of our blog writing to our novel writing. I said that I found blogging much more relaxing and easy than novel writing. While I craft it, the w

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16. Guestblog on Teenreads

Today I blogged about over here. Those of you who’ve been wondering about the process of writing Liar might find it interesting.

Today I prepare for my appearance in Larchmont tonight and the many appearances I’m doing next week in Seattle and Portland. Then I’ll be at the Teen Lit Festival in Austin next Saturday. That’s quite a temperature range. Packing’s going to be fun!

For those of you who only read the posts and not the comments, you really need to check out the comments on the White Writer Advantages thread and the Hating Female Characters one. People are being astonishingly smart.

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17. Liar & Spoilers

I’ve already talked about this a fair bit, basically pleading for people not to give any of the twists and turns of Liar. For the most part bloggers and reviewers for the trades have done exactly that.

I would like to thank them for being so amazing about not spoiling Liar. I’m really astonished by how considerate reviewers have been. Thank you!

Of course, inevitably, there are spoilers out there in the broad, wild intramanets. Not all reviewers feel the same way about spoilers that I do, which is absolutely their right. I cannot make anyone not spoil Liar I can merely request.1

But I would like to explain once more why I think it’s important that those of you who have not read Liar should avoid the spoilers. There are a lot of them out there now. Your best policy is to avoid all reviews until you’ve read the book.

Here’s why:

Pretty much every reviewer so far has expressed pleasure at the unexpectedness of some of the book’s revelations. If you already know the spoilers that pleasure is taken from you.

Even friends of mine who don’t care about spoilers and actively seek out spoilers have told me that they’re really glad they read Liar unspoiled.

Knowing those revelations ahead of time will change the way you read the book. It will make you decide ahead of time that Liar is an x kind of book when if you had gone into it not knowing you may have decided it was a y kind of book. Or possibly both. Or some other thing altogether.

I deliberately wrote Liar to be read in more than one way. That way more than one reading would make sense and be sustained by the evidence. So if your friend tells you, “OMG! Wait till you get to page x and you find out y! And you discover it’s a z kind of book!” Your reading will be shaped by that particular interpretation of the book, which puts weight on the first revelation, but ignores the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth etc. ones.

Why, yes, Liar was a bugger to write. And, no, I have no plans to write any more books like it. From now on I’m only writing books where spoiling isn’t that big a deal. Like all my previous books.

One last thing: Yes, the Liar sightings contest is still going. Apparently Liar should start appearing in bookshops in Australia, New Zealand and the USA this week. First person to send me a picture of Liar in the wild for each country wins a prize. You can put a link to your picture in comments or email me. The Canadian prize has already been won.

  1. The blog overlord, alas, only controls this blog with an iron fist.

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18. Tell Diana What Anime This is

Diana Peterfreund has a request:

Um, can someone help me with an anime rec? I watched one episode a long time ago and I can’t remember what it was called but it was recommended to me.

It starts with a girl falling through the sky. then there are all these kids at a school — they’re angels, with little wings and halos. And they are cleaning up in a library that has what looks like a giant cocoon in it. And then you see inside the cocoon and the girl who was falling is inside of it.

Anyone know what series she’s talking about?

And thanks everyone for all the amazing anime recs. I can’t wait to start watching. I’m particularly excited about Read or Die cause I love the manga and didn’t know there was an anime.

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19. Quickly

The response to yesterday’s post has been astonishing. I am overwhelmed. I received more mail in a single day than I normally do in a month. (I was already behind with my mail.) I’m going to try very hard to get to it all, but it may take some time and I have a novel to finish and leave the country in a couple of days. So bear with me.

Thanks so much for taking this conversation further. It’s crucial.

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20. Fabulous Blogs You Should Be Reading

Because of my post about the US Liar cover I have discovered some wonderful blogs, which as someone who follows the YA blogosphere closely, I’m ashamed I didn’t know about already. I have added all of them to my blog roll:

I am still no where near working my way through all the mail the cover post generated. It may take me a few weeks. Sorry. But thank you everyone for your intense responses and for all the links and for continuing the conversation in so many different places. I’ve heard from several people that at least two YA publishing houses have been circulating my post to their staff. Awesome.

And extra special thanks to the people who emailed me with the typos they picked up in that post. As someone who’s not the world’s greatest speller, I really appreciate it! (Though am embarrassed that I still don’t know the difference between “effect” and “affect.” Aargh.)

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21. Another Fabulous Blog + Reviewing Challenge

One more wonderful blog for you to add to your list:

Also Susan over at Color Online has issued the following reviewing challenge:

Read and review POC books through the month of August. We’ll have a random drawing for 3 reviewers at the end of the challenge. Drop us a link to your review to be eligible. +3 entries for any sidebar link/tweet or blog post about this challenge. Contest limited to US residents.

If you’re looking for suggestions for books to read and review these two blogs have lots of reviews as do the blogs I listed yesterday. I’d also like to suggest Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin, which was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2007. It’s one of the most moving, funny, sad and honest books I’ve ever read.

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22. Cover Change

As you may have already discovered if you read Publisher’s Weekly’s “Children’s Bookshelf,” Bloomsbury is rejacketing the hardcover edition of Liar. My wish came true much sooner than I expected. Thank you to everyone who expressed your concerns. Thank you to Bloomsbury for listening.

As soon as the jacket is final, which should be soon, I’ll be posting it here. Yes, I was involved in the cover design process.

I am delighted that my post about the original Liar jacket got some traction. But everything I said there had been said many times before by authors and bloggers of colour. Whitewashing of covers, ghettoising of books by people of colour, and low expectations (reflected in the lack of marketing push behind to the majority of those books) are not new things. The problem is industry-wide.

I’m seeing signs that publishers are talking about these issues, and I’m more hopeful for change than I have been in a long time. However, as many people have been saying, we consumers have to play our part too. If you’ve never bought a book with someone who isn’t white on the cover go do so now. Start buying and reading books by people of colour. There are so many wonderful books being published right now, such as Coe Booth’s Kendra and M. Sindy Felin’s Touching Snow. Color Online is a wonderful place to find more suggestions as are all the blogs linked to in this paragraph.

Happy reading.

PS If you’re too broke to be able to buy any new books right now don’t forget about your local library. Or you could enter this contest to win A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott.

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23. My New Favourite Blog

As previously mentioned I’ve discovered a slew of marvellous blogs because of the storm surrounding the cover of Liar. I’ve already mentioned Color Online and the Happy Nappy Bookseller as well as Reading in Color and Taste Life Twice, all of them wonderful informative blogs. I’m not sure how I lived without them.

But I also came across some blogs that have almost nothing to do with YA books. My current favourite is Journal of a Baby Power Dyke in Training—best blog title ever, right? (Why did I not come up with a cool title for my own blog? What was I thinking?) This post made me nearly combust with laughter. It is currently my favourite blog in the universe. Go, Baby Power Dyke!

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24. Testing Wordpress iPhone App & Praising Electronic Devices

I’m at Sydney airport, on my way to Melbourne for the Melbourne Writers Festival, and since it took way less time to get here than I thought1 I figured I’d test this here new application what Stephen Fry recommended.2 I am blogging from my phone without squinting or yelling. I count that as a big thumbs up for the wordpress app.

I’d also like to give a big thumbs up to my Sony reader 505. It’s not perfect—I’d prefer a touchscreen and a faster page turn on PDFs, I’d also prefer my iPhone to be larger and be a reader on top of everything else it does3—but just for reducing the weight of my luggage I hug the ereader to my chest. I’ve been a lot faster reading mss. than ever before. W00t! Oh, how I hate reading mss. on my computer or in paper form. I am liberated.

What electronic device is making your life better right now?

  1. 10 mins as opposed to 1 hour. Who knew? Other than Scott.
  2. As you all know everything Stephen Fry says is golden unless it is about cricket. He supports the bastion of evil the English cricket team. Ewwww!
  3. Next year I hear.

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25. My Silence

Enough of youse lot are wondering what’s up with me not blogging every day that I am driven to offer an explanation for my blog silence of late. A brief explanation: travel, busy, knackered, bad sport karma.

I have many posts brewing or brewed. More on race, writing and publishing (here’s a few links to others. I’m especially loving the Writers Against Racism series on Amy Bowllan’s SLJ blog like this one with Ari of Reading in Color.); a complaint about Being Human (Why does the woman have to be a timid ghost? Wouldn’t it have been much more interesting if she was the werewolf or the vampire? Um, okay no need to write that post.); on re-reading Han Suyin’s A Mountain is Young; the long awaited stalker song post; a response to Sarah Rees Brennan’s wonderful essay on the way female characters get dumped on (hmmm, I think those last two posts may be connected); the art of writing dialogue, and many others.

Feel free to make requests for anything else you’d like me to blog about in the comments.

And for those who keep asking: both Liar and the paperback How To Ditch Your Fairy publish on 29 September. I.e. this very month! I happen to have two copies of HTDYF in its glorious paperback edition. So beautiful. Liar is also already a complete book with brand new dustjacket. I bet they will both start showing up in book shops around or even before the 29th.

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