Browsing Tag

publishing

Literary adventures

21 June 2018

This month I thought I’d bring you a newsy post about my latest literary adventures. First up, I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with two brilliant writers, Kate Mildenhall and Katherine Collette, for their new podcast, The First Time, which is launching in August. Katherine has recently signed her novel, The Helpline, and the podcast is part reality show, following Katherine’s journey through the publication process, and part masterclass as the pair interview writers about their experiences of publishing a book for the first time. It’s such a brilliant idea and I had way too much fun recording the podcast. The first ep comes out in August but in the meantime you can follow the podcast on Twitter and Insta.

Later that night we met up again for an event hosted by the ACT Writers Centre in the Canberra Contemporary Art Space (CCAS). It was rainy and stupidly cold (please hurry up, spring) but CCAS was deliciously warm and there was a lovely audience waiting for us. With Jack Heath and Karen Viggers, we chatted about writing and publishing. Jack revealed that with his first advance (as a teenager!) he bought a pair of outrageous boots that he wore to school visits. Sadly, my first advance was swallowed by dull things, like bills. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re all grown up and sensible, but I’ve resolved to buy something indulgently wonderful with my next advance.

Following us were Rosanna Stevens who read a brilliant new essay that had us laughing and wincing, and Jacqueline de-Rose Ahern who spoke about the overwhelming experience of having her first picture book published. There was also a panel of visual artists talking about their processes which I found fascinating. I particularly loved Jodie Cunningham’s ‘Talking to the Tax Man About Poetry’ series which converts eight artists’ lives from stats into sculptures, examining the balance of time for creating art versus doing work that pays the bills. I’m sure all the writers in the room could relate to the struggle to reconcile the two.

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Our panel continued chatting afterwards over dinner, and can I just say how much I appreciate having such intelligent, thoughtful and just generally lovely writers around me? Well there, I have.

Kate Mildenhall, Jack Heath, Karen Viggers, me, Katherine Collette

The following day I threw a bag into my little car, fuelled up on coffee, and headed down the Monaro to Merimbula to present a workshop on writing picture books for the Writers of the Far South Coast.

The drive there is stunning — yellow baked plains, violet hills, huge blue skies. I listened to podcasts and snacked on chocolate and generally enjoyed not having to entertain three children. I arrived a little early so I ate lunch on the beach, digging bare feet into sand. The one thing that I miss about living in Canberra is the beach, and on this day the ocean was dead flat, completely at peace.

There was an enthusiastic crowd at the workshop and I had a great time chatting all things picture books. I wish I’d taken a piccie of the lovely writers who came  but we were so busy that I completely forgot. Instead here’s me in a quiet moment before everyone arrived, looking longingly out towards the ocean. I mean, if Canberra had a beach it’d be perfect.

After two days of writerly goodness I was smashed, so that evening I crashed in my cute little Airbnb place and ate a takeaway pad thai and drank prosecco and watched bad TV and caught up on emails. Ah, the glamorous life of a writer! In the morning I spent one blissful hour walking an empty beach before heading back home.

I want to now step back in time, by a few weeks, to  mention a particularly special launch of the Sorry Day picture book by Coral Vass and Dub Leffler. It’s always a lovely moment when a book that you’ve edited is released, but the Sorry Day launch was a particularly moving experience. Anita Heiss did the official duties and there were several speeches that left me feeling quite teary. This is such an important book and it was a privilege to be involved as editor. Sorry Day allows us to open up conversations with our young people about a terrible part of our history in an age-appropriate way. I hope it makes its way into every school and home around this country.

Well that’s it for now, but there are more literary adventures ahead. Onward!

Guest post: Under the bed

1 June 2018

Every writer’s path to publication is different, and most writers have at least one novel that for one reason or another didn’t quite make it. Robert Lukins has 24 of them, but none of them were ever intended for publication. In this guest post, Robert reflects on how and why he wrote a book a year — only to file them away or burn them — before plucking up the courage to write for an audience.

My debut novel was published in February 2018. My first novel was completed in February 1994. Between these two dates I completed a new novel each year; each one printed, economically bound, and placed under my bed without being seen by anyone other than the person at the counter of the photocopy shop. I was teaching myself how to write but, I now realise, I was also avoiding the act of stepping into the world for fear of the consequences.

When I say that my first novel was written in 1994, I mean really that I finished my first novel-length piece of writing. Importantly — to only me, of course — this was never intended to be a thing that I would attempt to get published. Somewhere in childhood I had attached myself to the idea of becoming a novelist and this was a job that I was prepared to spend a lifetime readying myself for. Just as a musician might not expect the first song they ever wrote to end up on the radio, so I didn’t expect my first attempts to end up on a bookshop shelf. So I would not write novels but novel-length exercises. I was going to learn to write by writing, and suspected this may take some time.

My first books (and let’s generously call them books) were all conscious attempts to ape my writing heroes. This seemed a logical step: when getting to grips with guitar I started by learning to play my favourite songs by my favourite bands. So then, I wrote bad versions of the great novels. It was an extension of a much earlier habit of typing out my favourites: I would sit at my typewriter and copy out, word for word, comma for comma, the books I most adored. I wanted the feeling of being in the writer’s mind or perhaps just to feel what it was to have writer’s hands. So the next step was writing my own stories but making them as near as I could to the style of my greats. You’ve never read a bad novel until you’ve read a knock-off Don DeLillo written by a Sunshine Coast teenager who has an X-Files poster above his bed and no driver’s license. A bad Charles Dickens. A bad Edith Warton. Later — while traversing the first of many perfectly disgusting Brisbane student share houses — a bad Andrew McGahan Praise and an unbelievably bad Garner Monkey Grip.

This was all, though, the plan: I was learning to write.

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The second, longer phase was one of writing a book (again, that generous term) each year, that attended to a specific self-set challenge. Can you have the adult and child characters in your story switch minds? Can one strip one’s novel of every kind of expression of heightened emotion? Can internal thought processes be spoken and, what would be verbal, internalised? Can you set a whole novel on a bus? Can one be set in a single, completely empty room containing no characters (and written in second-person perspective, for good measure)? The answer to these questions, and all the others I plucked from the sky, is yes, but it does not mean they will be novels that are interesting, innovative or entertaining, and certainly not that they should be sent to a publisher with a note attached: urgent!

So this went on and all the while it seemed like progress. All this writing was done in as near to secret as I could manage. It became part of the process that I was not proclaiming to the world that I was a writer. I didn’t go to writing classes. I didn’t join writers’ groups. I didn’t enter competitions. This was the plan: that I would learn until I was ready.

However, the years ticked over. Room under the bed diminished. There were moments of silly melodrama; manuscripts were made into unimpressive little pyres and set alight in the backyard. Where the self-flagellation was ramped up and I completed the task of writing three books in a row where at their completion the Word file was simply deleted from my computer. The poor things not even making it to the Office Works printing queue. It was proving something to myself, it seemed.

This went on and it became 2013.

The realisation came not like a thunderclap but rather like a steadily rising flood that this was all an excuse. All this work, just noise. I was writing novel-length things because I was terrified of writing my first novel. What if I couldn’t do it? I had constructed my life and psychology around the idea of writing novels. What would happen if it were all a lie? The truth is I had never found the courage to write that first. All the words, millions in the end, just treading water.

So, for the first time, I would write.

Robert Lukins, photo by Eve Wilson

Looking at The Everlasting Sunday now, I find it curious that it is a novel that seems to have abandoned all the things I thought I was learning with my previous exercises. There is no hyper-analysis, no trick. It’s a novel written peacefully and on what felt like pure instinct. Gone was all the self-torture. I simply did what you’re supposed to do: pluck up the courage to try, and try your best.

I don’t regret all the years (lonely ones, really, looking back at them) and I don’t regret all the abandoned words. The truth is that I likely did learn a little craft from all those unreadable books and, for the most part, I took great satisfaction from writing them. And we’re all just looking for ways to cope; mine was simply working to avoid trying. I wish though that I’d joined the world a little sooner. Trusted a little the lessons available from other writers and readers. Because I’ve now taken my first steps into the world and I’m finding it a hospitable, forgiving place.

The Everlasting Sunday is available now, published by University of Queensland Press. Visit Robert at robertlukins.com

To go in the draw to win a signed copy of The Everlasting Sunday simply subscribe to Irma’s newsletter before 6 pm, Monday 25 June. Sign-up box is on the right-hand side of this page (or down the bottom in mobile view).

Guest post: HARDCOPY pearls

6 March 2018

In order to make a living most writers take on a range of different work, and Nigel Featherstone may have one of the best jobs in the biz. Managing the HARDCOPY program, he works with emerging writers and industry professionals — agents, publishers, editors — from around the country. Having been involved in a very minor way (speaking on a panel of authors one year, assessing applications another), I’ve seen firsthand what a unique and transformative program HARDCOPY is. So I asked Nigel to share the top ten things he’s learned from spending time with so many industry greats.

Although I am lucky enough to spend the majority of each week writing, and primarily writing literary fiction, I am also lucky enough to spend a day each week at the ACT Writers Centre delivering HARDCOPY, a national emerging writers program funded by the Australia Council for the Arts. Having been involved in every element of the program — behind the scenes and as well as facilitating some of the sessions — I have had the opportunity to meet many key figures in the Australian publishing industry and authors, as well as get to know almost 120 new Australian writers, some of which have work that has hit the bookshelves or are about to. Needless to say, I have learned a huge amount, and in a moment I’ll share with you the ten key things I have learned from coordinating HARDCOPY.

But first, what exactly is HARDCOPY?

Established in 2014, HARDCOPY is a six-months-long national professional development program that helps build the capacities, aptitudes and resources emerging Australian writers need to reach their potential. The program is the flagship initiative of the ACT Writers Centre.

By creating an environment that is educative, vigorous and nurturing, HARDCOPY helps writers develop their manuscripts; increases industry knowledge; facilitates relationships between writers and publishing professionals; and breaks down the barriers of location and geography. HARDCOPY aims to develop writers who will have longevity as Australian writers, and the program is underpinned by the principle of pragmatic optimism: being aware of the challenges, but also being positive about the future.

There are three key stages to the program: a three-day manuscript development intensive with Nadine Davidoff, in May; a three-day series of industry presentations and panels, in September; and one-on-one feedback sessions with prominent Australian agents and publishers, in November. Each year, thirty emerging writers are selected to participate in the first two stages, with ten of the thirty then being selected for the agents/publishers feedback sessions.

So what have I learned about writing from coordinating HARDCOPY?

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1. Write about what makes you scared — it’s important that you don’t try to predict publishing trends or write ‘to market’. Write what makes your blood boil, write about what makes you think that people reckon you’re crazy. As Nadine Davidoff says, ‘Write about what makes you blush.’

2. Binge on your work — set a goal (e.g. write the first draft by year’s end) and then work hard to meet that goal. By ‘writing hard’ I mean write on a regular basis. Put into your work all the blood, sweat, and tears you can muster. At some point you’ll discover the story feels finished. Brilliant; celebrate that moment. Put the manuscript aside, then do some more work on it, but it’s okay to reach the stage where you draw a line under it and move onto a fresh project. Sure, some stories take a long time — years — to write, but there’s wisdom in saying, ‘I’ve done enough on this. I’m going to start something new.’

3. The world treats writing as a vacuum — resist distraction. As per the above, set aside time to write on a regular basis and guard that time fiercely. Everyone and everything will want to encroach on that time — the kids, the dog, the bills piling up on the fridge — but learn to boldly say, ‘This is my time to write. It’s critical to me. Leave me alone.’

4. Agents and publishers are invariably good people — they are passionate about words and stories and writers and books and readers. They live and breathe this stuff, and they work incredibly hard, often seven days a week. Treat them well, and by ‘well’ I mean politely and with respect. Sometimes they will take a while to get back to you; sometimes they will take a VERY long while to get back to you. That’s okay, it’s only because they are busy. By all means, gently and succinctly chase them up, but don’t be annoying and certainly don’t be rude. Agents and publishers have very long memories and you never know where they might end up.

5. As writers, we’re not trying to produce books; we’re trying to write stories that will move readers. Often in HARDCOPY — and more generally — I hear conversations that make writing sound like a game that folk are trying to win. To my mind, it’s a vocation. We write because we love words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, characters, plot, structure, ideas, themes. We write because we would go a little mad without it. In terms of publication, what will be, will be — it’s more or less out of our control.

6. You don’t have to do this alone — there is a wide range of writing programs out there, such as HARDCOPY, as well as other opportunities like residencies and funding programs. By all means focus on your writing and keep the world at bay, but sometimes it’s productive to seek help and connect with other writers. Take note of the opportunities presented by your local writers centre and the various funding bodies (state/territory and national). Also, attend literary events and meet other writers and authors.

7. Be wary of social media — one of the things that is discussed a lot at HARDCOPY is social media: is it worthwhile or evil? The consensus seems to be that it’s probably a bit of both. It can be a good way to get information and feel connected to a broader and diverse writing community and share news, but it can also be a time-trap. For emerging writers there is no doubt wisdom in putting some rules around social-media use: what are you trying to achieve with your online engagement and how much time (or how little time) do you need to invest in it to get the result you want.

8. Rejection is part of what we do — most writers and writing programs say this because it’s true. There are many more writers in Australia than there are publishing opportunities, and every writer worth her or his salt has copped a set-back, or quite a few set-backs. Whatever negative event comes your way in your writing life, reflect on it, learn from it, and then just keep going. As former publisher, agent and HARDCOPY advisor Mary Cunanne says, ‘Persistence pays.’ I’d add to that: ‘Patience goes a long way.’

9. Read, read, read — by reading you’ll become a better writer. It’s as simple as that. But it’s worth noting that agents and publishers, not to mention authors, love it when you read. If you can, spend money on the publishing industry, i.e. buy books, and buy books by Australian authors and Australian publishers. Also read as widely as you can, including works by authors with very different life experiences to your own.

10. It’s okay to ignore all the writing advice you’ve ever heard and go your own way.

Applications to HARDCOPY 2018 close on Friday 16 March. For more information visit www.actwriters.org.au

Nigel Featherstone is an Australian writer of contemporary fiction. He is the author of 50 short stories that have been published in Australian literary journals such as Meanjin, Overland, and the Review of Australian Fiction. Nigel’s critically acclaimed first novel, Remnants, was published in 2005 by Pandanus Books. His award-winning series of three novellas was published by Blemish Books between 2011 and 2014. Nigel has been shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year award, and has also received two Canberra Critics Circle Awards. He has held residencies at Bundanon and Varuna. In 2013, he was a Creative Fellow at UNSW Canberra / Australian Defence Force Academy, during which he explored different expressions of masculinity under military pressure; his war novel, Bodies of Men, is forthcoming from Hachette Australia in 2019. In 2014, Nigel was commissioned by the Goulburn Regional Conservatorium to write the libretto for a new Australian song cycle, with the music composed by James Humberstone from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music; this work has been developed by the Street Theatre in Canberra and had its world premiere in early March 2018. Nigel was the founding editor of Verity La. He is represented by the Naher Agency in Sydney, and lives on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales. For more information about Nigel, please visit www.opentopublic.com.au

It’s a collaboration

13 September 2017

Last weekend I presented at SCWBI’s Level Up conference on the collaborative process of editing a manuscript, and how the author–editor relationship should ideally work. I thought it might be useful to share an abbreviated version of the section on how to get the most out of the experience, because if you’ve never worked with an editor before it can feel like a daunting process. Every writer is deeply attached to their work, so turning a manuscript over to an editor can feel like having your soul laid bare, and critiqued.

It’s important to remember that editors are ordinary people who love books. An editor’s job is to make the writer look good. They have nothing to personally gain, other than the satisfaction of knowing that they helped you make your book better.

In order for the editorial process to run smoothly, it’s important to develop a good working relationship with your editor that is based on mutual trust and respect. So here are my top tips for how to create a strong partnership.

  1. Let go of your ego

The truth is nobody really enjoys being critiqued. We all secretly want to be told that we’re a genius and the work needs absolutely nothing done to it. But even the most experienced writers benefit from a close edit. A good editor will provide honest, constructive feedback designed to improve your book. Anyone who believes they don’t need an editor is letting their ego get in the way of commonsense.

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If you are a first-time author, you may be unsettled by the number of changes your editor makes on the manuscript. But remember that this is normal. It doesn’t mean that the editor doesn’t love your book. Try to remember that that the feedback is not personal criticism but professional insight into what could make your manuscript stronger. The editor’s goal is the same as yours: to make your book a success.

So don’t be defensive, instead…

  1. Be open

Be open to new ideas. Be open to different approaches. Be open to major rewrites. Be willing to listen and learn. The best editors see potential. They see what the writer’s vision is and they help sharpen it and enlarge it — they help the book reach its full potential.

Listen honestly to what your editor has to say. Their suggestions may require you to do some really hard work that you might resist. But be brave. Embrace change. Experiment with structural revisions. In short, be willing to move in a completely different direction from where you started.

  1. Take time out

But first thing’s first. When you receive your editor’s comments and you’ve read them through and realised that you’re going to have to grapple with some major changes, you might need to take some time out. You might need to sulk. Or cry. Or drink wine. Or eat an entire block of chocolate. Or do all of those things. And that’s okay.

Give yourself time to gain some perspective because your initial reaction is likely to be driven by emotion, but then get on with it. Consider every point carefully, without letting emotion play a part, and objectively assess the substance of the critique.

  1. Pick your battles

The editing process is not about winning or losing. The editor is your ally, not your opponent. And if you treat them this way your work will only benefit. That’s not to say that the editor will always be right. Even the best editors sometimes get things wrong.

Anyone who is a parent will know that you pick your battles with your children. You also need to pick your battles as an author (and know, too, that your editor will be picking their battles). If you don’t agree with a suggestion clearly explain your position, and be willing to engage in a discussion about it. Editors are creative problem-solvers and they want to work with you.

Often an editor will identify an area that needs work and might suggest a solution. However their suggestion should be treated  as a springboard. You might use their solution, but often the author comes up with something that’s even better. Think about the process as being like a conversation. Exploratory discussions give rise to the best work.

Some newer authors feel intimidated by editors, but don’t be. Always ask questions if there’s anything you don’t understand or aren’t clear about.

  1. Be professional

Always be professional, polite and timely with your responses. Remember that the editor will be working on multiple books simultaneously, and another author’s book might be their current priority. Editors are extremely overworked, so be understanding if they don’t get back to you immediately.

Ensure that you always meet your deadlines. The editor will stipulate a deadline for every round of revisions. If you don’t meet these deadlines you will put the whole production cycle out. Even though it’s your book, you are only one person in the process. If for some reason you think you’ll be unable to meet a deadline, let your editor know as soon as possible.

  1. Be patient

Know that publishing is long game, especially with books where an illustrator is involved. My next picture book, Seree’s Story, will have taken about four years by the time it comes out with Walker Books. And that’s only from submission — the research, writing and self-editing process began long before that. Admittedly this is a particularly long timeframe (my previous picture book took 18 months, my short fiction collection took one year), but publishing is a slow process. The smaller independent presses tend to be quicker than the larger publishers, but waiting is a reality of the industry. The best antidote is to get on with writing your next book.

  1. Say thank you

It is true that not every traditionally published writer has an amazing relationship with their editor, and there are certainly horror stories out there, but these are not the norm. Most published writers value their editors. So if your editor has helped you create a better book, thank them. Editors get very little credit, they are essentially invisible, and they work hard to help you make your book the best that it can be. So express your gratitude — privately or publically, or both. Flowers are not necessary — we are all word people after all, and words are more than enough.

Go ahead, make my day: supporting Australian authors

18 July 2017

Here’s a stat for you. On average Australian authors make just $12,900 a year. That figure is usually made up of a bunch of different income streams that might include teaching writing, festival appearances, PLR/ELR (if you don’t know what this is, read on), school visits, and a range of other writing-related activities. Book royalties  often represent only a fraction of an author’s total income.

The market in Australia is small and consequently there is pressure on authors to sell enough copies of their book to warrant the publisher’s financial investment. Put simply, if a book doesn’t sell well enough, a publisher will think twice about taking on another book by that author. So if you love Australian writing, here are some ways that you can support authors and the industry that makes it possible for them to continue publishing.

  1. Buy their book, but know that all sales are not equal.

On every book sold authors make ten per cent of the RRP. So if the book retails for $30, the author makes $3. If the book has multiple authors, or an author and an illustrator, that ten per cent will be divided between them. So, for example, my picture book, Megumi and the Bear, retails for $27.95 which means that on every book sale I receive 5% or $1.40 (as does the illustrator, Craig Phillips). But this is only the case on full price sales. If the book is sold at a discounted rate the author may earn next to nothing. For example, on my latest royalty statement a bunch of Megumis were sold at discount, netting me the grand total of 13 cents per book. Deals like this are often done by the publisher when the book has been out for a while, but even a new release can receive just a few cents in royalties. How? you might ask.

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Well, here’s how it works. In order to get books into the major department stores (the Big Ws of the world) the publisher offers them at a drastically reduced cost. So if you purchase a book from, say, Kmart, you might get it a couple of dollars cheaper, but you’re also reducing the author’s already meagre earnings. And then there are all the online bookstores offering cheaper rates. Again, the author’s earnings are likely to be meagre. I’ve quoted Jo Case’s stark example before but it’s worth repeating here. Purchasing a copy of Case’s memoir, Boomer and Me, from an Australian bookshop meant she received $2.50 in royalties, but buying it via Book Depository UK meant only three cents in royalties.

Ultimately authors are going to be happy that you’re reading their book any which way, but if you can buy locally from a physical bookstore everybody wins.

  1. Better yet, pre-order the book

Pre-orders and first week sales are crucial for a book’s success. Pre-orders help determine the number of copies retailers will stock, and also help books hit the bestseller list. So if you’re intending to buy an author’s book when it comes out anyway, why not pre-order it to give them that extra boost.

  1. If you can’t buy their book, borrow it…

…but not from a mate, from the library. Most readers don’t know that at the end of every financial year Australian authors receive PLR (Public Lending Rights) and ELR (Education Lending Rights) payments based on the estimated number of copies held by Australian libraries. These funds are significant, and often exceed royalties on sales.

If you read anything like the quantity of books that I do, then buying every book is simply not possible. But when you borrow a book from a friend, or buy a copy secondhand, the author gets nothing. Supporting your local library is a better option. I regularly borrow books from the library and if I love the book I will often then buy myself a copy. A recent example is Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek. I borrowed it from my local library and loved it so much that I bought a copy for myself, and have been buying it as a gift for friends ever since.

If your local library doesn’t have the book you’re after, you can request that they buy it. You’ll increase the author’s PLR payment and other library users will also benefit from your initiative.

  1. Write a Goodreads (or Amazon) review

I am a late adopter of pretty much everything, and Goodreads is no exception. I had an inactive account for years and have only just started actually using it (so come join me there!).

Reviewing and rating an author’s book does make a difference. The best kind of reviews give other readers a sense of what the book is about and why you enjoyed it. But if you don’t have time to construct a paragraph or two, a quick line — even just ‘loved this book’ — will always be welcomed. Aside from making the author extremely happy (and believe me it really does), the more reviews a book has, the more readers see it. And constructive conversation around a book is useful in generating awareness. I use the word ‘constructive’ because Goodreads can be a brutal place for an author. Many authors I know avoid it in order to maintain their own sanity. I think some reviewers forget that a real person with real feelings wrote the book that they are reviewing. So please be honest but kind.

  1. Tell your networks

If you’ve enjoyed a book let others know by tweeting, Facebooking or Instagraming about it. Even good old-fashioned face-to-face works a treat. Word of mouth is the best way to help a book make its mark because readers act on recommendations from people they know and trust. And the author will love you forever and ever.

  1. Write to them

It’s so easy these days to drop an author a line. Most authors are accessible via email, website contact forms and various social media platforms. And don’t underestimate the zing it will give your favourite author. You work so hard on any given book for so long in isolation and then when it goes out into the world you crave feedback from readers. As Roger McDonald once said ‘an author is a thirsting person in the desert’. Hand them that glass of water!

  1. Go to their events

Better yet, meet them in person. Get them to sign your book, tell them what you loved about their last one, even take a selfie with them! It’s the loveliest thing when someone comes up to you at an event and tells you how much they adored your book. Nothing beats it.

So there you have it. Six ways to make an author’s day.