Tag Archives: author

How to be a successful writer

Want to be a successful writer? It’s a stupid question really. Everyone who seriously puts pen to paper wants to be a success and they dream of the lifestyle that goes with it. The truth is that not that many people get to make a full-time living from their writing and even fewer make the jump to the big time.

Those that really make it big are often not very good writers who happen to hit a nerve at the right time that makes people buy their books. What on earth made everyone go out and buy Dan Brown’s the The Da Vinci Code
? I’m sure most of the copies sold weren’t ever read. A madness took hold of us, the zeitgeist – whatever. While The Da Vinci Code
was selling in squillions, hundreds of other well-written, worthy and probably better books were written but never made the jump into the book buying public’s imagination.

So what can you do to give yourself an advantage? I think there is one simple thing that you can do that will help you get a foot on the rung of the best-seller’s list. People buy stuff that is already selling. If you can show that others are buying your books then it makes it easier to sell the next one. Buyers like to know they have made a good decision and if everyone else has bought the book, then the chances are they’ve all made a good decision. If they haven’t then at least they all go down in flames together.

There really is a simple thing that you can do. I probably applies to every other profession too.

When I was at school, I lined up at the end of the hall, because my surname began with an R, which put me, everyday, at the end of the queue with all the other no hopers… the Smiths, the Thomases and the Wilsons.

The Adams, the Browns and the Coopers would get fed first, get picked for the team first and would generally get a fraction more time at stuff than us, waiting to be chosen at the end. So they got more practice and a heightened sense of entitlement. It’s taken me this long in my life to work it out!

What should you do to become a successful author? Change your name of course! The brilliant thing about publishing a book is that you can have a nom de plume.

A name like Aaaron Aardvark will get you to the top of the list – the first choice that readers are given. Most buyers can’t be bothered to go any further and will buy your book because it is there in front of them. Any advantage is an advantage. Looking back I can see many situations where things would have been easier if I’d been thrown up to the top of the list by the simple fact of having a different name.

It’s probably too late for me now, I’d have to develop an alter ego and write quite different books – but then again… maybe that’s an idea I should follow up?

OMG – I think I’m a cartoonist!

Taken from Wikipedia:

Calum MacKenzie in his preface to the exhibition catalog, The Scottish Cartoonists, published in 1979 by the Glasgow Print Studio Gallery, defined the selection criteria:

The difference between a cartoonist and an illustrator was the same as the difference between a comedian and a comedy actor – the former both deliver their own lines and take full responsibility for them, the latter could always hide behind the fact that it was not his entire creation.

I began my career as an illustrator, and even though I was writing and having my own books published from the start, some twenty-three years ago, I thought of myself as an illustrator and worked mostly on other people’s stories.

Time moved on, and even though I still spend most of my time drawing and illustrating, I’m thought of now as an author. I’m often asked in schools who illustrates my books. People seem surprised when I say I do. I’m blessed with two talents – most people would be happy with one of them.

But, I go on to explain, the thing that ties the to together is storytelling, In fact I’m probably happiest in front of an audience drawing and telling stories live. Illustrators often write, writers very rarely illustrate. It’s storytelling that makes an illustrator different to other artists.

People of ten refer to my “cartoon style”. They say it in an apologetic way as if trying not to offend. Reading the quote above this morning, made me wonder – is that what I am? Am I a cartoonist, but I don’t know it? I feel that what I do write are really graphic novels or even Manga, in the Japanese sense. In the west we think of Manga as being a particular style, which should really be termed Anime. As I understand it, Manga is the telling of stories with lots of pictures and text – which is what I do.

However, authors get treated a lot better than illustrators and I think illustrators are treated a tad above cartoonists. Cartoonists tend to be dismissed as ephemeral, whimsical, cheap comedians, whereas it is assumed illustrators can probably do proper art if they tried.

Perhaps I’d better stay convincing people that I’m an author and stay in the room with wine and canapes – The artists tend to get shoved in a room out the back with beer and sandwiches!

The glamourous life of a children's author!

We complain about children, these days, who can only dream of being celebrities, never thinking they may need talent or might have to do something special to attain that status.

Actually, I was like that. Rather than work hard, I daydreamed through my teenage years at school, doodling affirmative statements on my exercise books, usually, “Shoo is a Star!” drawn in 3d hollywood style, surrounded by 3d shooting stars! I believed it too.

Back then Rock and Roll was what you did to become famous. I guess I did work at it quite a bit. I spent a long time practicing my poses in the mirror. I actually wrote songs, maybe three or four a week for years, usually about unrequited love. The ones that people liked were story songs. One was about a young couple moving to Peterborough and their relationship with the housing corporation, another, I was reminded about just a couple of weeks ago, was about Fred, who was a whizz at electronics and had a plan to take over the world.

When I finally got a taste of the reality of Rock and Roll, in a band called Flamazine, (See more here) I realised that I not only didn’t want the rock and roll lifestyle – travelling, living out of suitcases, interacting with the fans – I knew it would probably destroy me too.

I gave up and committed myself to my other string. I hid away in a shed and became an illustrator. And that’s how I thought it would be. My aim was to reach the point where I only had to do one picture book a year. The rest of the time would be researching and getting better at drawing. I was happy!

You must be careful what you wish for. I never got to spend my time quietly dreaming up new stories. I now spend half my time travelling, living out of suitcases, interacting with with my readers? Performing three or four times a day is quite enough of a job for most people. Then I come home and immediately have to get writing – again enough of a job for most people. Then I illustrate the books – another job on it’s own. Then I have to become a web designer, animator and systems administrator to keep my website up and running when my ISP lets my site get hacked. I market myself and my books (I’m doing it now. My publishers want us to blog – to be “out” there”). I do my online drawing school, so I’m a video director and editor too. Then I have to be secretary, booking agent and tour manager when I go off visiting schools and libraries. Never mind dealing with the general email, post and office stuff everyday.

And then I always get asked the same question by children. “Are you famous?” I have no idea how to reply. I certainly don’t feel it. If I am I don’t think I’m getting the benefit – No swimming pool, no flunkies at my command.

After a week visiting schools, I’m exhausted. I have today to catch up and then I’m off again tomorrow. I know it’s my fault for taking on all these roles, but it seems to me that unless you get really lucky and one of your books takes off, that’s what you have to do these days.

In the early eighties we were warned to prepare for the leisure society. Technology would take over so much that we would spend most of our lives on the golf course – living the celebrity lifestyle, in fact. Technology has changed my job as well as everyone else’s. What used to feel like a vocation has become a hard slog to stay in the business. Maybe I’m doing something wrong.

And yet, I’m very aware that what I do must seem quite glamourous from the outside. Glamour is a bright light that dazzles the audience so they can’t see the rickety scenery wobbling in the background.

Would I have it any other way? Would I swap and do something else? Of course not!