FYI

Posted by James Dawson on December 9, 2014

This should help avoid any  messy confusion in the future:

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 11.32.24

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PHBC: NIGHTMARE HALL – THE SILENT SCREAM BY DIANE HOH

Posted by James Dawson on November 13, 2014

310894What’s it all about?

Jess Vogt is a freshman at Salem University but quickly discovers her off-campus house, Nightingale Hall, was the scene of a tragic suicide the previous summer. What’s worse, Jess starts to believe her purple room which is purple may be haunted by dear, departed Giselle – not the supermodel.

And…

Jess starts to question if Giselle’s suicide was even a suicide at all. That’s right…Jess thinks Giselle was murdered! I KNOW!

The Girl

I think it’s important we try to understand Jess. By that I mean HOW THE HELL DO YOU PRONOUNCE HER NAME? Does it rhyme with yacht? Does it rhyme with yoghurt? Is it like Voight?

Jess is one of the better PH girls. She has a wry sense of humour and loves pizza. While not especially complex, we get the sense Jess is independent and laid-back. Certainly not the most irritating character we’ve met. Although she does have ‘navy blue eyes’…REALLY?

The Love Interest

This month the honours go to photographer/fishing enthusiast Ian Banion and his early top-knot. As Ian’s also a suspect he’s frustratingly vague, but you can’t knock a guy who takes you out for a Chinese every once in a while.

The Gang

As The Silent Scream is basically a whodunnit, we have a classic rag-tag bunch of housemate subjects.

As a side note – with the exception of Dee in The Forbidden Game have we read ANY other characters of colour? The large cast of TSS really highlights how hideously white the Point Horror world really is.

Back to this lot. We have rich boy Jon; uptight, bitchy Cath (‘Those suits are the ugliest things I’ve ever seen. Even on people with good figures’); possibly trans Linda; poetic Milo and charismatic handyman Trucker.

Even without reading the book, you can guess who the killer is from the list, right?

0bc5c24149470157339889aebfd915beFashion Faux Pas

In a new category for November, let’s check out those fashions!

Jess sports khaki shorts and sandals not to mention a curious I IS A COLLEGE FRESHMAN sweater that almost made me hate her. Ian, although apparently heterosexual does sport ‘faded denim cut-offs’. Cath and Jon win for their preppy ensembles: ‘perfectly creased, navy blue slacks’. Nice.

However, lets take a moment to envisage Cath’s ball dress: ‘Cath’s dress was like a pale blue cloud’.

Dialogue Disasters

Ian: ‘Nice smile.’ I SO wish Jess and replied ‘I’ll give you the number of my dentist.’

Jon. Poor Jon. Although Jon is meant to be cheesy so Hoh knows what she’s doing. ‘I was too busy having a great dream about Kim Basinger’

‘After all, my major is parties, sports…and women.’ Jon’s Salem’s Dapper Laughs.

Milo: ‘I’ve written some of my best poetry while I was sitting on the riverbank, fishing.’ Well haven’t we all?

Some Mild Peril

TSS is a game of two halves. The supernatural stuff is genuinely chilling. We all KNOW there is nothing scarier than ghost photography and Giselle appearing in Jess’s passport photos gave me the willies (quiet at the back). The dips in temperature and nightmarish visions are effective. I’m even OK with the slightly hokey ending.

Where it’s less good is the standard PH fair of ripped up swimming costumes, missing essays and (most stupidly) worms in a drawer. How does a worm crawl up your arm? ANSWER ME THAT?

Body Count: 2

Is It Any Good?

I really enjoyed TSS, far more than I thought I would and much more than our last Hoh offering, The Funhouse. Tellingly, I really want to order a load more Nightmare Hall outings as I seem to remember they all vaguely linked back to TSS in some way. I definitely read The Scream Team and The Wish back in the day.

The only critique is that the killer is so obvious. No amount of casting suspicion on Milo made me think for a second it was anyone other than the real killer. For me, I would have made Ian the killer. Or Linda could have revealed she was Giselle’s BF before her transition. That would have been perfect.

Over to you

Q – Did Giselle push Mrs Coates down the stairs? If so, why?

Q – What does Linda see in Milo? What does Jon see in Cath?

Q – What precisely do you think went down between Giselle and Milo in the past?

POINT HORROR BOOK CLUB will return in 2015…

 

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WHY I CHARGE FOR SCHOOL VISITS

Posted by James Dawson on November 12, 2014

Durrington High, SussexHiya! I am troubled by a thing, so I’m a-gonna write a little blog about it. It’s not a rant. I’m calm, I promise. *Rubs rose petals against cheek demurely*

love doing school visits. They break up the week, the get me out of the flat, I get to work with young adults who are inspirational and often hilarious. I also love doing school visits because they supplement what I earn for my writing, enabling me to buy fripperies such as food and warm clothes. I don’t wanna sound like a buttmunch (no-one likes a buttmunch) but I like to think I am good at school visits too.

Now while 95% of schools and librarians I work with are a dream to work with, today a school approached me to do a visit and then pulled out when I told them my (perfectly reasonable I add) fee because ‘we can get someone for free.’

*Takes soothing breath*

Now, clearly I’m not starving. I’m lucky enough to be able to write full time – for now – but the money I earn from school visits is a very welcome bonus. I know a lot of writers depend on this additional income. Let’s face it, there’s only one author on JK Rowling money, and that’s JK Rowling. Advances, in the most part, are not enough to live on.

The way I see it, on a normal working day I’m either writing, researching or editing. If I take a school visit that’s essentially a day off work. Like most working people, I can’t really afford to have a day off work. The sooner I get stuff written, the faster I get paid by my publisher.

Initially I really wanted to be able to do school visits for free because I love them and enjoy them, but I simply can’t afford to. I think IF the day comes when I could afford to, I wouldn’t, because I don’t ever want to undercut the authors who rely on this income. Good lord, if I’m ever one of the lucky few who can afford to do events for free, I shall still change and donate my fee to the wonderful First Story.

Some people will no doubt be saying, ‘what about book sales on a school visit?’ Well. In some schools you can shift a lot of books, but that rather depends on how much money the pupils have to spend doesn’t it. Some kids don’t have £6.99 to spend and I wouldn’t want to do a HARD SELL school visit in order to make it worthwhile. Furthermore, even if I moved a hundred books at every visit, royalties would take YEARS to find their way back to me (if they ever did at all).

So it would be disingenuous of me to say “I wish I could do school visits for free’, because I think writers should be treated like any other freelancer. No-one expects a plumber to come out to a school for free.

I’ll always be a teacher at heart and I KNOW the impossible budget constraints of working in schools and I sympathise, but I do have to charge for visits. I hope teachers and librarians think I’m worth it *Loreal hair flip*.

And as for authors. Be neighbourly. Don’t undercut your fellow authors in the name of self-promotion. That shit be shade.

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PHBC: THE BOYFRIEND VS THE GIRLFRIEND

Posted by James Dawson on October 13, 2014

The Boyfriend The Girlfriend
Cover 176400 

 

 

 

 

girlfriend
What’s it all about? Borderline sociopath Joanna Collier sees AMATEUR DRAMATICS fan Dex fall off a cliff only to be surprised and horrified when he APPEARS to come back from the dead.What is the terrifying truth? Bet you can’t guess. Scott ‘Scotty’ Singleton soon regrets a weekend blowie with whispery redhead Shannon. That’s right, she’s a grade A bunny boiler. Lock up your pets! No, for realsies.
The Girl? As both titles this month are from the Godfather of Point Horror, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that neither lead character is typical.Joanna is a less self-aware Regina George. Hands up if you’ve ever been personally victimised by Joanna Collier? 

She leads Dex on, and treats new love interest Shep like a fashion accessory.

 

Stine hints at some major mummy/daddy issues, going some way to explain Joanna’s attitude problem. I don’t see any other author getting away with it.

Likewise, very few PH titles (The Yearbook) led with a male lead.The Girlfriend is no more and no less that a YA retelling of Fatal Attraction, and that’s no bad thing. 

However, it’s hard to tell if we’re meant to like Scotty. I think we’re meant to, but he does cheat on Lora (who is actually better than most PH girls – testament to Stine’s excellent dialogue).

 

Like Gone Girl’s Nick Dunne, this Golden Boy has it coming.

The Love Interest Dex is your standard Bad Boy from the bad side of town, except he’s not especially bad – just a bit stalky. It’s hard to understand what he sees in Joanna.Shep is a Golden Retriever of a character, but does grow a pair for the final (and demented) showdown and tells Joanna where to go. Lora (although perhaps too good to be true) is well realised. She loves Scotty but has a life of her own. Her sardonic take on her privileged life feels real.Her only misstep is her VERY fast forgiveness of Scotty at the end, he’d have been DEAD TO ME.
Dialogue Disasters This is RL Stine! There aren’t any obvious zingers, but please prove me wrong in the box below. ‘Bender’‘Fluffernutter’
Some Mild Peril Dex climbing in through Joanna’s window, and his lurking could be perceived as scary I suppose. The problem is, Dex isn’t very scary.Less would have been more, I feel. Shannon’s relentless pursuit of Scotty is effective. Scotty’s powerlessness is chilling.Stalking is a real threat, and this isn’t a bad portrayal – even if the climax is ludicrous.
Body Count 0 2 (animals)
Is it any good? Erm…Joanna is a welcome addition to the PH world – she’s truly hateful and a bold choice. It’s a shame she doesn’t get her comeuppance.I’m also a big Mary fan. Yes, the twist is obvious and I wish she hadn’t been quite so unhinged but I like the idea of her plotting against her frenemy. The Girlfriend feels slightly more like a PH than The Boyfriend and is better for it. Shannon is more believable than Dex, although it’s a shame she’s so one dimensional – I wish we knew more about her background.
Over to you! 1. Which title did you prefer and why?2. If you HAD TO, Dex or Shannon?3. Who’s a bigger shit? Joanna or Scotty? 

Next month we graduate high school and head to NIGHTMARE HALL – THE SILENT SCREAM by Diane Hoh.

 

 

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THE DAWSON DIVERSITY TEST

Posted by James Dawson on September 23, 2014

54bc20e4d07d91d73b756929fc0619a4Official_christinanew-breaking-dawn-pic-jacob-black-26896688-1391-2165OK! So last week I did this big speech for the Children’s Book Circle. It’s REALLY long, but you can read it HERE. In a nutshell, I asked the children’s publishing industry if they’d make a nice spreadsheet recording how diverse their books were.

Why? This was not, you may be surprised to learn, a 1984 Big Brother plot to invade the privacy of Google or some such. I just think there’s so many fantastically diverse books out there but we don’t have any evidence. So when someone stands up and says books aren’t diverse enough, we really have no idea.

That said, a recent American study found only 3% of children’s/YA books featured a black character, so maybe we DO need to try a bit harder on both sides of the editor’s desks.

After the speech, lovely agent type Hannah Shepherd suggested I devise an EASY system for checking a book’s diversity credentials much in the style of the BECHDEL TEST for feminism. Now the Bechdel test is not perfect – after all the loathsome SUCKER PUNCH passes the Bechdel Test, but it certainly isn’t feminism friendly. What I’m suggesting here isn’t perfect either, but if a book were to fail you might wonder WHY.

It wouldn’t tell you anything about the WRITING or HOW MUCH YOU ENJOY IT, it would merely tell you how diverse the book is.

I suggest, like the Bechdel Test, a three stage system.

Think about the book you just read. Select the three MOST IMPORTANT characters.

1. Is at least one of them female?

Women are not a minority group as such, but this is important because we must acknowledge the voice and stories of female characters are as important and valid as those of male ones.

2. Does at least one of the three lead characters fall into one of these groups?

  • A person of colour or from a minority culture i.e Gypsy/Roma/Traveller, migrant groups.
  • LGBT or queer or curious or asexual or gender fluid.
  • Physical or mental disabilities inc. mental illness.
  • Low socioeconomic background.
  • A faith group.

This is important because, as minority groups, the voices and stories of people from these groups are seen less in mainstream media. This is silly because while we are in very few films, TV shows or books, we do exist in quite large numbers. We buy books, we read books. We want to read books about people like us.

It isn’t enough to have a minority character on the outskirts of the plot – this reinforces the idea that culture is for and about one type of person. That’s why it has to be one of the three main characters.

3. Are the minority characters represented in a non-tokenistic, fully-rounded way? Do they reinforce stereotypes about that group?

Stereotyping occurs because we tell one type of story about a group. If we continue to perpetuate myths, groups continue to be dehumanised making prejudice and discrimination more likely.

Like I said, this test isn’t going to work every time. I do however think that it’s helpful. It’s an aid-memoire to me, an author, to ensure I am helping, not hindering understanding of minority groups. I also think it would help editors and agents reflect on the makeup of a novel.

I mean, this does and doesn’t matter. I KNOW it won’t improve the writing. I KNOW it won’t make the book more FUN or PAGE-TURNY. I KNOW most readers really don’t care one way or another. I mean half of the Harry Potter films fail the Bechdel Test, but I still love them. But I care as an author, and speaking to people since the talk last week, I think the industry cares too.

For LOLZ lets take a look at some recent hits:

The Fault In Our Stars: PASS (Augustus has a disability but is still able and sexified.).

Twilight: PASS (Jacob is Native American and while CLEARLY Native American people are not mystical werewolves, many white characters are also mystical).

The Hunger Games: PASS (All three characters are from poverty but are capable, intelligent and skilled).

Divergent: Hmm…depends on whether you select Christina as one of the three main characters.

As a reader, I doubt this will come in very handy although there are lots of people who actively seek out books with diverse characters because they like reading about a variety of characters. As authors, editors and agents, though, it might come in handy! Use it as a tool, DON’T take it too seriously. There will be no book burning here!

In fact, I bet MOST books will pass – and that’s down to the excellent work of authors and editors. If we were to look and films and TV shows with the same test, I imagine mainstream media would be doing far worse.

 

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POINT HORROR BOOK CLUB NEWS

Posted by James Dawson on September 8, 2014

Hello readers! Unfortunately I’m on a super tight deadline, so our RL Stine compare and contrast extravaganza shall have to be pushed back to OCTOBER. Sorry kids! Ah well, this gives you extra time to read both titles!

Get searching for your copies of THE BOYFRIEND and THE GIRLFRIEND!

 

James xxx

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PHBC: THE PERFUME FEATURING CAROLINE B COONEY!

Posted by James Dawson on August 13, 2014

perfumeWelcome to August’s Point Horror Book Club. Guys, I am so excited to announce that this month we are joined by Point Horror ROYALTY Caroline B Cooney! I KNOW! Caroline very kindly agreed to answer questions about THE PERFUME, this month’s title, and what it was like working on our beloved range in the nineties.

First, let’s examine THE PERFUME before we hand over to Caroline.

What’s It All About?

OK, bear with. Dove Daniels was supposed to be a twin, except her mother’s body rejected supposed twin, Wing. That’s right – Dove and Wing (more on that later). Anyways, a sinister new perfume, Venom, awakens Dove’s latent twin (who may also be an ancient evil from Egypt) and Wing proceeds to run riot with Dove’s body.

Run Riot?

Oh yes. She be cray. She tries to push Dove’s love interest out of a hot air balloon and everything. Guys, she GETS IN A FOUNTAIN.

The Girl

My favourite thing about The Perfume is Dove and the fact she is potentially just nuts. Even at the end, when only ‘very, very, very’ creepy teacher Mr Phinney believes her. Dove, according to her ‘maternal body’ (a phrase I’m adopting 100%) was supposed to be ‘soft, gentle and mewling’ while twin sister Wing was also meant to be strong and flying free.

In reality, Wing is pure teenage strop distilled into perfume. She kicks walls, slams doors and is openly horrid to Dove’s friends.

In the end, it’s no big surprise, Dove (and indeed Wing) are locked away in the mental hospital. For a week.

The Love Interest

Timmy only appears briefly but is pleasingly fleshed out. We learn Timmy isn’t a natural beauty – ‘he had overcome the handicap of being ugly’ – with his winning personality. After Wing almost pushes him out of a hot air balloon, he sensibly does a runner for good. Wise.

The Friends

An eclectic bunch. Connie is hugely irritating (and is supposed to be) like a sugared-up, self-made leader of the group. She actually rang true. Luce is gentler and kinder, but my personal favourite is glutton for punishment Hesta, who can’t get enough of Wing trying to kill her. Kinky.

Some Mild Peril?

The Perfume is scary in a way we haven’t really experienced before. Dove losing control, and Wing’s punishing behaviours feel very insidious. We may be in Point Horror territory but here we deal with self-harm, mental health (personality and, I’d argue, eating disorders) and identity.

Is It Any Good?

OK. The Perfume is the Marmite of the Point Horror world. Whichever way you frame it, it’s nuts. I think wilfully so. The whole thing reads like a Benylin and fever dream and I think that was Cooney’s intent. It’s a novel about possession and it feels possessed. As we learned from The Cheerleader, Cooney’s style is lyrical and metaphor rich which might not suit every reader (and didn’t suit me aged 12). As an adult I am so pleased Cooney contributed to the Point Horror range, they’re different. They’re wonderful.

Dove defeats Wing with a smelly handkerchief. I rest my case.

Caroline CooneyAnd now to the important business of MEETING CAROLINE B COONEY! OMG!

Hello Caroline! Thank you for taking part in our humble book club!

Let’s start with The Perfume. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde story about duality unlocked by an evil perfume called Venom. What inspired this title? Did you come up with it yourself or were Point Horror authors steered?

One day the editor phoned and said she had a title and from that one word, she wanted me to write a horror story.  ”Perfume,” she said.  Since I do not use violence in the books, whatever this perfume was, it would have to affect the soul.  First I needed a name for the perfume, and it turned out that all real perfume names are copyrighted, so when I liked the word “obsession” it of course was a real perfume and I could not use that word.  I finally settled on Venom, and at least back then, there was no such perfume.  The moment I’ve named it venom, I think of snakes, so that was the starting point.

Your Point Horror titles always feel layered and metaphorical. What do you feel the themes of The Perfume are? I read messages about teenage rebellion, neglect and mental illness.

I’m a little iffy at discussing themes.  My main theme is: provide great entertainment for young readers.  As a Christian, I want also to write parables.  Very often the parable (completely hidden) in one of my stories is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which we have to decide – Who is the good neighbor?  The only who looks good or the one who acts?

The reason for “neglect” (your term) is simply that I have to keep adults off stage.  The minute there are parents in a story, that child won’t be allowed to act that way, or go that place, or do whatever. So it’s crucial to have parents who somehow just aren’t there.  It isn’t a demonstration of neglect, it’s omission of grownups because they just clutter it all up.

The main characters are called Dove and Wing. This is both amazing and bold. Your Point Horror character names were always unusual – how did you come up with them?

Names are such fun.  In fantastical stories, you can use names that otherwise you wouldn’t even saddle a cat with.  I collect names from newspaper lists of honor roll students, or sports teams, or whatever.  Once you have chosen a name for your character, that girl or boy begins to live.

What was your favourite Point Horror title to write?

I think I liked Freeze Tag best.  I grew in the 1950s, when your mother insisted on something called “fresh air” which today’s parents don’t do.  We had to play outside, and we played yard games, every kid and age on the street.  Most were chase variations, like Red Rover, or Freeze Tag, and I was always slightly frightened by pursuit.  (I’ve written a lot of pursuit adventures, too, like Fatality and Wanted.)

Your titles are fairly unique within the range. How did the Point Horror process work? How much authorial control did you have? Was there a rule book and did you stick to it?

All the Point Horror books that I wrote were written by assignment.  That is to say, the editor came up with an idea (usually one sentence) from which I had to construct 175 manuscript pages.  The first assignment was to write a trilogy that would be entry level horror – beginning horror, for readers who just wanted to be a little bit scared.  The rules were: no blood, no gore, no violence, no drugs, no bad parents.  The original titles were The Fog, The Snow and the Fire.  Later they were reissued as the Christina series.  I liked the rules, and for the most part, continued to follow them.

I rarely got to choose the titles.  At Scholastic, the editors met and decided what would be most commercial.  Since I was supporting 3 small children at the time, I did not oppose this.  Nor did I have anything to do with cover art.  On one Perfume cover, there is blood spilling out of the vial, even though there is none in the book.  It sells better, they said.

The Vampire Trilogy are fan favourites – how much fun was it to write such a glorious villain? And what’s with the shutters on the windows?

The vampire trilogy was great fun.  Again, I wanted no violence, so what dreadful dark thing can occur if the vampire doesn’t take blood?  (He’s my vampire, he’ll do what I decide.)  There was a house we drove by occasionally in Connecticut where I grew up which had such a tower, and I yearned to live there.  I can’t say why the shutters are involved.  You need detail, I guess, and there it is.

The Point Horror range petered out at the end of the nineties. What have you been up to since?

Three years ago I read a scholarly history by a British author, Nick Bunker, about the English background of the American Pilgrims.  It was a very intense read for me, as I am a Mayflower descendent.  Since I write for children, I tried to imagine as I read his extremely detailed excursion into whose these people were as Englishmen,  how the children lived.  After 2  years of research, including a l trip to Lincoln and the nearby scattered little villages where the Pilgrims came from and also to Leiden, where they lived for 12 years prior to sailing to Plymouth, I have been writing a historical novel about the children on the Mayflower.  However, it is for adults.  I can’t remember enjoying the writing of a book so much.

Again, thank you Caroline for answering the questions of a proper fanboy. In all seriousness, Point Horror books are the reason I’m now making a living from writing and I can only hope that in fifteen years’ time someone is still talking about my books.

Next month, we have our first DEATHMATCH – THE BOYFRIEND VS THE GIRLFRIEND, both by RL Stine.

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EXCLUSIVE CRUEL SUMMER EXTRA!

Posted by James Dawson on August 6, 2014

Cruel Summer_FC_hi-resToday CRUEL SUMMER is out in paperback (it’s cheaper and smaller, YAY!)

If you’re new to me, let me fill you in. Last year Janey Bradshaw killed herself. OR DID SHE? Her friend Ryan thinks otherwise, and one year on he gathers his friends in Spain to confront them with his suspicions. Before long, there’s a dead girl in the pool and fact is, one of Ryan’s mates is a serial killer.

Exciting stuff. Cruel Summer is TWISTS GALORE and perfect for taking on your holidays!

As a special treat for my long-time fans who’ve been there since day one, I’ve written a short additional scene called Exterior-Prom Night.

BE WARNED! YOU MUST NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T READ CRUEL SUMMER, IT CONTAINS MAAAAAJOR SPOILERS. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF? ALSO BE AWARE, IT’S RATED 12A. YOU WERE WARNED.

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THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS

Posted by James Dawson on August 4, 2014

2f042cffb7e88adab0e46799ee131a77Dear James

How is 2009? Have you dumped that guy yet? Get on with it. Oh, and drug dealers are about to move in next door. Good luck with that. I’m writing from 2014 cos there’s some stuff you should know if you’re serious about this book-writing thing.

Remember when Megan Fox called out Michael Bay on being a tyrant? Did that happen yet? Just because she was biting the hand that fed her didn’t make it any less true. There are things an author probably isn’t meant to say because we, especially as unfailingly polite Brits, must remain grateful at all times.

You are going to be very grateful to get where you’re at. You’ll feel very lucky, and that isn’t self-depreciating BS – there is so much TIMING involved with being an author. You’re about to meet an agent who’s just come off a career break and is actively looking to build her list. Timing. At the same time, your future editor believes thrillers will be the Next Big Thing. Timing again.

Looking back, I was so, so green. As naive as any YA heroine on her first day at a high school filled with vampires. I want you to listen up. Publishing is a business, and not always a very nice one. It doesn’t have to be – everyone wants to get their books published – authors need publishers if they are to be traditionally published (more on that later) and publishers will always have a willing, eager pool of talent to draw from.

Listen up. Publishing is alchemy. There is no maths, only magic, and magic that no human is able to master. There are no rules and there is no formula for making a book work.

Let’s start by taking a look at where it DID work. First up: Harry Potter. Harry Potter so nearly didn’t happen. Considered too long and too slow for a children’s book it was rejected pretty much everywhere until it sold at Bloomsbury for a very low advance.  The first print run was just 500 copies.

Let’s also look at John Green. You don’t know who he is yet, but you will. Looking For Alaska was acquired for $8000 and his editor left the firm before it came out. Neither Green, nor Rowling were meant to do so well. There were no tube posters, no moving billboards outside Westfield, no movie adaptations on the horizon. These were just good books that sold well because people loved them and told more people who also loved them. I still believe that: if you write the best books you can, eventually people will find them.

The trick is in trying to manufacture this glory and this is where publishing can get murky. To say that The Hunger Games was Suzanne Collins’s SIXTH yes SIXTH title, publishers are unhealthily obsessed with debuts. I can only think of Holly Smale’s debut Geek Girl as an example of a debut that instantly hit in the UK. Perhaps Derek Landy too. Love for debuts is shown in £££. Publishers dig deep to secure what they feel could be the next best-seller – on any given week we’ll read about a SIX FIGURE ADVANCE going to a debut in The Bookseller.

Of course, this is lovely for you because you’re about to be a debut. Or is it? Well, duh, of course it it, but it’s important to look at the long and short game. Short game, get yo ass down to Selfridges and buy something nice. Long game, however, is trickier. The bigger the advance, the less likely a title is to earn out. You’re not exactly in debt to the publisher as you don’t have to pay it back, but you do become a walking, talking, writing money pit. Remember the film of the same name? At what point do you stop spending money on a bad investment? More and more, it seems that if the debut doesn’t do well, the temptation is to cut losses and run. Every finish on a cover, every inch of shop shelving, every advert is money tumbling into the well that is YOU, the author.

I personally know three authors (who I won’t name, because that’s not cool) who fell victim to this BIG MONEY/LOW RETURN problem. It happens in both the UK and the US. It’s stressful and heartbreaking – for both author and the editors who I feel truly believe they’ve struck gold with a manuscript.

I just asked an editor why debuts often get such sweet deals. He said, ‘in all honesty, sometimes you just get caught up in a bidding war. It becomes about winning.’

I find this baffling. Why would an unknown debut (unless they happen to be David Walliams) sell a truck load of books? There’s no fandom there. It takes time to build a following, but time is also costly. Once a book’s been out for a month, a new title, also hungrily snapping up budget will swoop in to take your place.

At this year’s Imagine Festival (yeah, you’ll get invited to stuff like that and it’s COOL), Horrid Henry author Francesca Simon pleaded with the great and good of children’s publishing to give authors TIME. She stated that Waterstones wouldn’t even stock Horrid Henry until the fifth title and she suggested that in 2014, it’s unlikely her publisher would have stayed by her side for that long.

As well as being a debut it’s also increasingly important to have a HOOK. Talent, I’m afraid, isn’t nearly enough. It will help if you’re already famous – either ‘actually’ or ‘internet’. This isn’t a bad thing at all. I was once told how many unknown authors Katie Price had paid for with her successes. Again, a business can only work if it’s profitable. It doesn’t matter where that profit comes from. So we’ll see more YouTube people, more models, more singers, more TV Presenters and more actual animals ‘penning’ novels. Find your angle (I’m not even gay, it’s just my ‘thing’. I’m happily married to Julie and have three kids).

Also, as children’s or YA authors, you need to possess the qualities of a TV personality. Sorry, but to do well you will need to read, speak, lecture, dance, act, sing, tell jokes and perform to audiences of up to 1000 people as we recently did at YALC. The cooler, hipper and more versatile you are, the more ‘gigs’ you’ll book. This is how it is.

More troubling perhaps is the youth fixation that seems to be plaguing publishing at the moment. Although fashion has had this affliction for years, it’s only in the last couple of years (or perhaps since Christopher Paolini) than an author’s age has become a key PR angle. I find this murky. For one thing, we have child labour laws, for two, I was naive about publishing at twenty-eight so one can only wonder how I’d have felt if I’d written Hollow Pike at fifteen. People promise you a lot of things only to later tell you there are no guarantees. People tell you you’ll be the next XY or Z only to later call you ‘disappointing’. Tough, but especially tough for a teenager.

If it’s so tough, why aren’t I self-publishing? Well because it’s still not quite there yet is it. Let’s be brutally honest – people are snobby. People like books that have been curated by publishers as it’s a mark of quality. We all KNOW there are excellent self-published books out there, but who can be arsed trawling the internet for the good ones? As with traditionally published books, if word of mouth is good, it’ll reach you eventually anyway. The reason I don’t self-publish is because I would never switch off, I’d be promoting and marketing and selling twenty-four hours a day and I think it’d kill me. What’s more, I really LOVE working with a team. Amber Caraveo and Emma Matthewson and Tori Kosara have made my books BETTER for editing them. Anyone who sees your Queen of Teen Conchita video (just you wait) will see how much fun you’ve had working with Rosi and Livs and the team.

Here’s another thing you haven’t thought of. It’s fine, you were excited! Foreign deals. This is where your books are likely to succeed. Learn about this shit. Do you sell world rights to your UK publisher or do you trust your agent to sell them overseas? It’s these details, the things people don’t really talk about, that will be the difference. This is why I believe every author needs an agent. You won’t believe this, but your books have now sold in Spain, Germany, Turkey, Poland, France and the United States. Work.

What’s the answer? I don’t think there is one. It would make sense to offer fair advances to all debuts and pay more to the ones with a sales track-record, right? Or to reduce advances but boost royalties? Acquiring fewer titles so each had a larger marketing spend doesn’t sound like a terrible idea.

I certainly think there is a real power in BUILDING A FANBASE. That’s what John Green, JK Rowling and Malorie Blackman were allowed to do. I feel hugely, hugely lucky in that I’m with a publisher (Hot Key Books) who’s standing by me at the start of my career, helping me to build a fan base. You won’t believe this, but you recently won Queen of Teen! I know! That was a real sign that your readers are getting behind me (yeah, I know, timey-wimey). You’ll be beyond thrilled. I’ve now been building my career (as that’s what this is, James) for four years and I still feel like a relative newcomer – most people still don’t know who I am after five titles. These things clearly take time.

This is not a whinge. I am still grateful. While writing this very post, my box of paperback editions of Cruel Summer arrived and my lounge smells of freshly baked murder mystery. If I could go back, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing, but I do wish I’d always looked upon publishing as a business, as that is what it is. As much as I wish authors could purely focus on their ‘art’ we must also come into the game with our business heads ON.

Lots of love

 

Future James

PS – enjoy it all, it’s going to be amazing.

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PHBC: MOTHER’S HELPER BY A BATES

Posted by James Dawson on July 13, 2014

!!d7nnYw!mM~$(KGrHqYOKnUEw89OpVZ3BMRq3YG6gg~~_35What’s It All About?

Becky Collier, hurting from her boyfriend’s betrayal with her former bestie, accepts a job as a live in nanny on a remote island. Something is afoot though and Becky quickly realises this is no summer in paradise.

Something’s Afoot?

You betchya. Mrs Nelson is awfully suspicious, practically forcing Becky to hide out in the woods. Then the phone calls start…

Scary Phonecalls?

No. Just really annoying ones, potentially about PPI claims. It’s not as crap as it sounds though. Becky has to try work out what’s going on with little baby Devon and his twitchy mother AND suss out local forest prowler Cleve – is he curly haired friend or foe?

The Girl

As I mentioned last time, Mother’s Helper was the first Point Horror I ever read and *something* got me hooked. On second read it could well be Becky. Given that we’ve had some pretty shoddy female leads, Becky is wonderfully capable and down to earth.

The evidence:

1. ‘Actually, I’ve never needed rescuing my whole life…In fact, I’m the one who rescues everyone else.’

2. She’s fantastic at childcare. Her subtle undermining of Mrs Nelson is both funny and skilled.

3. It’s Becky who plots out the escape from the island with the fake baby – ingenious.

I’m not sure about the hair you can sit on though. That can’t be hygienic. I’m just picturing the last two inches of her hair matted with leaves and bits of chewing gum, not to mention toilet seat faecal matter. I mean, does she sometimes get poop on her hair? ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT.

The Love Interest

This is the first Point Horror to present a compelling hint of genuine and understated lesbian affection. Just kidding! Love interest Cleve is a wholesome all-american sailor/wood lurker who lives near the forest cabin.

I actually quite liked Cleve. When he and Becky go on dates (once Mrs Nelson lets Becky out), he’s quite sweet. I like the bread sharing exchange: the one who tears the bread doesn’t get to choose which bit they eat, and I enjoyed Cleve’s made-up Becky story in which she’s an heiress on the run. The sudden brooding moments are a tedious red herring but we’ve met a lot LOT worse*

*Chuck from The Babysitter flashback. *shudder*

imagesDialogue Disasters

Mrs Nelson’s dialogue veers towards bonkers: ‘I wasn’t brought up to publicly discuss private things!’ but *just* stays this side of acceptable. Even Devon’s baby chat isn’t awful.

With this in mind, I shall dedicate this whole section to the GRACEFUL WHALE EARRINGS. I mean whut?

Body Count: 0 (boooo!)

Some Mild Peril?

Mother’s Helper has a very different, slightly more mature feel to previous episodes. In fact, the whole thing feels very nineties thriller – think The Hand That Rocks The Cradle or Single White Female. The scares, as such, are classier – no creepy masks or guts in letterboxes. The mutilated dolls left in the cabin are the only clue we’re even in a Point Horror.

By far the most effective moment is when Mrs Nelson catches Becky in her locked bedroom. Point Horror could have used more high-tension moments like these.

Is It Any Good?

Yes. Despite not a lot actually happening, a sense of something lurking just in the woods is enough to keep you reading. Is it surprising that Mrs Nelson is a certified fruit loop? No, she’s act madder than a shithouse rat throughout. Trying to figure out precisely what’s up with her, though, is quite compelling. The fact that she stole Devon is a pretty neat twist though, one which I’d forgotten.

And I really think Bates deserves praise for creating a ‘strong female character’ in Becky, and a kind which we don’t see very often: a girl who is strong and capable without needing to be Buffy. The ending felt particularly compassionate, and wasn’t what I was expecting.

perfumeNext month we get a whiff of evil as we visit perhaps the most unusual Point Horror, THE PERFUME BY CAROLINE B COONEY.

Over to you:

1. Which is better – this or The Babysitter?

2. How did Franklin get the number for the cabin?

3. Why did Mrs Nelson bother to hire Becky? Isn’t this the least likely thing you’d do in her situation?

4. What does Mrs Nelson hope to achieve by pushing the sheriff off the cliffs?

5. Will Becky make it work with Cleve long-distance or will she be back in Jason’s clutches the day after she gets home?

 

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