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society of authors

I've recently applied to join the Society of Authors, partly because I thought it was about time, since I've gatecrashed a few of their events and I can get in cheaper before I turn 35. But I also think they fill a gap that the other two organisations I'm a part of don't yet meet. All three are great in their own ways.

The Association of Illustrators was the first one I joined, partly because my illustration tutor, Janet Woolley, is a patron and very active in it, and I was in a crit group with several active members. They're great for professional advice and networking with other people who are on the cutting edge of mainly editorial illustration, graphics and design, and who expect to work hard enough to earn a living from what they're doing. There are a lot of people fresh out of college, with new techniques and a lot of excitement. Their business courses are brilliant, just the kind of hard-core information I need. And it's nice to be part of a sort of union type thing, that looks out for the interests of illustrators, since it's so easy to get taken advantage of in that field. I've been very glad to get quick and accurate quotes for standard price quotes on their hotline, which I don't use so much now I have an agent, but it's still helpful.

The Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators has been the most approachable, warmest group, and I've made some really good friends there. I shared a room with three others on our recent trip to Bologna and we had a fabulous time at the SCBWI conference there before plunging into the fair itself. It tends to be a bit more focused on people who are trying to get published, and less for people who are already published and dealing with those complicated issues. (In other words, I don't have to worry that people might think my questions sound stupid.) But I think it's also growing up - these people ARE getting published - and it's cranking up a notch, while staying friendly. This group tends to be a bit older and humbler, people who have gone through some of life's hard knocks and have had kids and know all about distractions to a professional career. The AOI don't have much of a children's book focus, and SCBWI is all about children's books, which is great. In some ways, a lot of the work that comes out of this group can feel less 'juvenile' than some 'adult' work, even though it's aimed at younger audiences. There are less attempt to be cutting-edge trendy and more attempts to really communicate and speak to readers.

And The Society of Authors, I don't really know yet, but it seems to fill that kind of union gap that the AOI fill with illustration, and very much be for people who are well along in their career and are struggling with the complicated issues that throws up. There seems to be a strong focus on children's books, which I'm very happy about. And it's marvellous sitting down next to someone at a talk and discovering they're someone who wrote the books I loved when I was a kid.

Last night I went to the SoA talk at Random House about 'Age Ranging'. Scholastic UK's Elaine McQuade introduced Martin Lee from Acacia Avenue, a research and strategy consultancy firm. The Publishers Association hired them to do a study on how people buy children's books, and how much their awareness of the books' projected age ranges helped or hindered their buying. They concluded that the majority of buyers feel a bit lost when buying books as gifts for children, and would welcome a subtle little black-and-white box near, but not inside, the books' bar code box, stating a projected 'age plus' range (ie, 5+). It sounds like publishers will be going ahead with this fairly soon.

Or course, this threw up a whole storm of protest from the authors, who don't want their books pigeon-holed and felt they hadn't been consulted soon enough. Here's a picture I drew of the audience response:

Here's a sketch of Elaine, looking polite, engaged, and slightly under attack:

And here's an audience member after the storm had abated a bit.

(I saw Ros Asquith drawing people, too, but I didn't manage to get a good look at her sketchbook.)

After the discussion, we went for a cosy curry with an amazing table full of people: my friends Sally Nicholls and An Vrombaut, and some people I hadn't met but was chuffed to bits to meet, Fiona Dunbar, Shoo Rayner and Nicholas Allan. Funnily enough, I've had one of Nicholas Allan's books sitting right next to my keyboard, and I think I've bought at least ten copies of it: the £1.50 version of The Queen's Knickers. It's the perfect thing to send to foreign friends who want a quirky little bit of Britain, but also lightweight and flat enough so I don't break the bank doing it. He also wrote The Hefty Fairy and Cinderella's Bum, which I find hilarious.

Here's one of An's animations, Little Wolf. She's made loads more since then, but this one's still brilliant:

And here's a photo I took on a quick walk in Chelsea in the afternoon. The flowers smelled heavenly.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 30th, 2008 01:35 pm (UTC)
i like An's animation!! where can i see more of her work? :)
Apr. 30th, 2008 01:56 pm (UTC)
Isn't it great? :-) You can see her work on the BBC with '64 Zoo Lane'. I haven't found too much online, but here's a non-English clip:
and her website:
Apr. 30th, 2008 02:04 pm (UTC)
great, yes))
Apr. 30th, 2008 02:53 pm (UTC)
Не за что ;-)
Apr. 30th, 2008 02:58 pm (UTC)
Lookybook <info@lookybook.com
Thanks for An's Little Wolf animation -- delightful! I appreciate the comparison of the three organizations you have joined. Check out today's posting in Lookybook featuring Mattland by Hazel Hutchins & Gail Herbert, illustrated by Susan Petricic. Also you might note Alphaabeep by Debra Pearson, Ill. by Edward Miller.I'd include a link if I knew how. Ah, Wisteria -- spring. Yesterday's high in Seattle was 52 degrees F. X Mom
May. 1st, 2008 11:59 am (UTC)
Re: Lookybook <info@lookybook.com
Thanks for the tips! Yes, Mattland is an interesting idea, and I really like the lettering in Alphabeep. Here are the links:

Mattland: http://lookybook.com/mainpage.php?name_id=1520
Alphabeep: http://lookybook.com/mainpage.php?name_id=1247
Apr. 30th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
Seriously, how do you STAND it???? If I went to one more of those kind of meetings I'd give it all up and settle down to a life of daytime TV. All I know about age-ranging is that I was reading Henry Williamson when I was 8, with frequent interruptions from our retard teacher forcing Roald Dahl down our throats. Oliver Postgate famously said "children learn about the grownup world by picking up fag ends..."

An is SO cool!!! "Little Wolf" is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.
May. 1st, 2008 12:03 pm (UTC)
The meeting was interesting, I'm really glad I went! I could sort of see both sides of the argument for age ranging.

It's hard to remember sometimes that the important thing is selling our books; if it takes a tiny number next to the bar code to ease the mind of a timid buyer, who might just buy a toy or piece of clothing because they don't know what to get for the child, so be it. But I hope the number really is tiny, I'd hate to see big age numbers on the front of a book, like one Italian version someone held up with a huge '5+' taking up a quarter of the cover. That wasn't good.
Apr. 30th, 2008 05:03 pm (UTC)
Enjoyed the sketches, Sarah! And it made me wonder why I ever stopped doing this...actually I know why. It's because you inevitably appear slightly sinister, and have to try to hide the fact that you are sneaking repeated surreptitious looks at people. A gipsy once followed me down the street and tore a page out of my sketchbook, after I'd stolen her soul by sketching her at a street market in Seville. I was quite flattered that she'd recognised herself!

Great animation too.
May. 1st, 2008 12:03 pm (UTC)
Re: sketching
Thanks, Fiona! :-)
Apr. 30th, 2008 05:13 pm (UTC)
little wolf! i saw this in the nineties on ifc and loved it, so great to see it and put a name with the animation! thanks!: :D
May. 1st, 2008 12:04 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! :-)
May. 1st, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
i wish i'd gone to that talk before i blogged about age ranging. instinctively i thought, no, no, NOOO! but then i saw shoo rayner's blog. so i guess there are many sides to this. what is your view?
May. 1st, 2008 04:55 pm (UTC)
I have mixed feelings. But 86% of the customers they surveyed - everything from regular buyers to people who only buy one children's book a year - said they think age guidance for books is a good thing. And a large percentage of them felt bewildered when trying to buy a book as a gift for a child, worrying about getting it right. If they can get help and that means they'll be more likely to buy a book, that's not a bad thing.

I guess I would agree if the keep the 'age plus' label very small and discreet on the back cover. I don't think children will care one way or the other, they'll be more influenced by the cover art, density of the text, whether it has illustrations, subject matter, film and TV tie-ins and what their friends say. I'd hate to see it splashed across the front cover, or find the age range thing becomes heavily prescriptive. (It should only be a guide, not a rule.) Or parents pushing their kids to read 'more advanced' books, people ridiculing children for reading books 'beneath them', or pressure on kids with reading difficulties.

I think involved parents won't need to look at age ranges. But even I've been in that awkward situation where I'm selecting a gift for one of Stuart's godchildren and I haven't seen them in ages and have no clue what they like. I often end up getting them toys or craft supplies. At least if I know their ages and know what age a book's generally aimed at, I could go by that. I still haven't got my head around the British school system grade levels, so that's never any help. (Okay, maybe it'll help foreigners like me.)
May. 8th, 2008 02:12 am (UTC)
thanks much
well done, bro
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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