I’d wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl and was always a big reader. Favourites as a really young child were the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, especially Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, and these still resonate with me now - I weave a lot of Central European folklore and fairytales into my novels. I used to make little books of short stories and poems and wrote through school but it wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I began to really, seriously consider writing a book.
After leaving university I developed parallel careers in the world of books; the first as a bookseller, buyer and now publishing ‘marketer’, and the second as a writer. I didn’t specifically make a big career decision to work in books; it just kind of happened after doing a (snappily titled!) degree in Archaeology and Anthropology with Social and Political Sciences, when my first job was bookselling. This showed me how publishers sell to shops, and the role informed, enthusiastic booksellers have in generating interest in particular books. I was Children’s Book Buyer for Borders head office by the time I came to write my first book, Puppet Master, and this was an exciting time. Many evenings were spent meeting other booksellers, publishers and authors at events and launches and generally absorbing myself in the world of children’s books.
While there’s a crossover between my life as a writer and publisher- it essentially comes down to having a passion for good writing and good books - my publishing ‘day job’ (I currently market children’s and YA books) is wholly different from writing my own books. There has to be a separation; firstly so there are no distractions from coming up with ideas and writing, and secondly to avoid any conflicts of interest e.g. I don’t write for the publisher I work for – that could lead to all sorts of awkwardness!
Being immersed in selling and marketing children’s and YA books has given me many insights I wouldn’t have otherwise had, and these are both useful and sobering. The most pertinent is an acute awareness of how many great books are published each year, and how few of these ‘break out’ and become bestsellers. While trying to make this happen is a concern of my marketing work, as a writer I have to distance myself from this. There’s no point getting hung up on whether your book might become one of those, or quickly trying to follow trends. I feel the writer’s job is to do just that: to get on with writing to the best of your ability. Leave worrying about which market you’re being published into to the publisher. While you might have some input into things like jacket design, it’s important for writers to recognise their publishers’ expertise and devotion to the process, from editing and producing to selling and marketing. I’ve been very fortunate in that my editor at Orion completely gets what I’m doing, which makes the editorial and re-writing process a pleasure.
Ultimately I’ve learned that while writing is a solitary activity, publishing involves a whole team and I feel very fortunate to be part of this process, both as writer and publisher.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Guest Post: Joanne Owen Talks Writing & Publishing
Joanne Owen is the author of Puppet Master and newly published The Alchemist and the Angel. She also works in children's marketing at a well-known UK publisher, and has a great background when it comes to working with books. I thought it would be really interesting to get an insight into both sides of the book world - both from a writing and publishing perspective. Thanks, Joanne!