A few weeks ago I was flicking through my Twitter feed and I came across a tweet about a National Book Blogging Forum with Random House Australia. “Click here”, the tweet said, “if you want to be a part of this”. So, naturally, I put my name down. Filled in the form and sent my application off to Random House. I’ve put my name down for a bunch of things and I never get chosen, so once the form was sent off, I forgot all about the forum. That is until, a few days later, I got an email from someone I don’t know. And you know what they say: never open emails from strangers. But this one had an official feel to it, it mentioned the forum and Random House and so I opened it. Thank God. I had been accepted for the book blogging forum! I was ecstatic, especially because I don’t really get that many views per month, or have an overwhelming number of followers.
I love each and every one of you for caring about what I have to say, but most of the people at this forum have been blogging for YEARS. I don’t even have a full twelve months under my belt yet!
Another surprise came when I realised that the forum was actually going to be a physical thing. I honestly thought it was going to be online. So when I saw that the forum was going to be held in the Random House office in Sydney, I ummed and ahhed about whether I would go. Currently, my hours at work have been “dramatically slashed” as spruikers on the Chemist Warehouse ads say, so my funds are limited. But Cold Chisel said it best when they said “the money I saved won’t buy my youth again”. So I hopped on the Murray’s website and booked my round trip to Sydney (less than $50, if anyone’s wondering).
Another part of the whole journey was waking up. At 3.30AM. What…..?! Let’s break down the time-frame, in reverse-chronological order:
9.30AM: Forum begins
9AM: Arrive in Sydney
5AM: Leave Canberra
4.30AM: Check in for bus
4AM: Leave home
3.30AM: Wake up
I didn’t really have a choice. But you know what? It was all totally worth it. I would do it again tomorrow.
When I found the address (without getting lost, I might add), I was momentarily confused. All of these men and women in power suits with their coffees and self-important airs made me feel strange about just wandering into the lifts behind the in-house coffee shop. I felt like such an impostor in my jeans, studded boots, and Jack Harkness inspired jacket. I felt like I needed someone to direct me to the right place. That was not necessary in the end. I found the “office directory” which told me I was in the right building, so I got over myself and got into the lift.
I should have taken photos of the Random House office, since it’s basically my Nirvana. All hardwood floors, white walls, and the only decorations are these floating shelves every now and then filled with books. And all of the shelves are grouped into colours. The one right by the door was filled with books in all different shades of pink.
Here’s a little bit of Random House trivia: the meeting rooms are all named for literary awards. I didn’t realise this until the end of the day when the forum space had been converted back into meeting rooms, and I caught the organisers as they were heading back upstairs (where the magic happens!). The space we’d been in? Actually the “Miles Franklin” and “Nobel” rooms. Awesome! I started getting a bit starry-eyed and picturing myself taking meetings and talking to authors (or being an author taking a meeting) in those rooms. I had to blink a few times to shoo the images away and concentrate on the conversation at hand. Which was incredibly fascinating. Apparently, Random House and Penguin (another bit of trivia: Penguin and Random House and going to be sharing that Sydney office space soon. I have a feeling it has something to do with the state of the publishing industry, but that is a whole other topic) have booths at SupaNova and you can volunteer to work at them. I have the volunteer pages open as I type this, begging for me to fill in the application forms. But I want to get this written first. Working with Random House and/or Penguin while at a fandom supafest? Um, dream come true much?
The woman who was telling me this was one of my favourite speakers from the day. Essentially, she is who I want to be when I grow up (twenty-two is NOT grown-up). She is unabashedly enthusiastic about YA and has so much energy and passion when it comes to books that hearing her speak was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, the other speakers were amazing as well. But they had a reserved air about them (well, not the authors, but I’ll get to that), like they were holding back their enthusiasm to maintain professionalism or something. Not this woman, she was completely into everything she was saying, 100%. And when she mentioned Silver Shadows I think I may have actually punched the air.
So, after she told me about the SupaNova thing (I can actually go. It happens a few days BEFORE I fly to Brisbane. Fantabulous). We got to talking about what brought me to the forum and how I want to be a writer and stuff. She was in a huge hurry but she had a quick look at my name tag, taking note of my website I think, and told me to look her up if I do end up at SupaNova. I didn’t feel blown off at all when she hurried off, or that she was bored with me. She looked and sounded genuinely interested in what I had to say. Definitely a highlight for me. I only wish I had a better memory so that I could remember her name. If I ever end up writing my book (trying to save for my year in Bonnu, France so I can research for it), I want to send it her way.
What was fascinating to me was the digital aspect of the day. It was a book blogging forum, so there had to be some technological discussion. Did you guys know about Google Analytics? Or Google Trends? The first one is a way to see how people interact with your website: how many pages they see, whether they only look at the one page and then bounce away to another cyber-spot (the official term is “bounce rate”), how long they spend on your site, and a bunch of other really cool stuff. As for Google Trends, that is a way to see what are the most talked about things online and how you can use that to your advantage. If something is trending, and you write about it, then voila more traffic to your blog. Unfortunately, I am not really interested in playing to trends. I write about what I want to write about. And while I would love to be one of those bloggers who gets paid for posts or gets picked up by a publishing house, like Random House, for a book deal, I just don’t think I can play the game. So, I will continue writing about what I love and hope that you guys enjoy it.
Another really cool thing we learned about was NetGalley. I don’t know how many of you out there are professional book reviewers, so bear with me. NetGalley is a way in which you can ask for review copies (kind of like electronic proof copies) of books so that you can read them, review them, and maybe get some industry attention. I always thought you had to be asked to review books before they are actually released. That if your reviews were good enough, the publisher approached you. But no, it’s the other way around. Unfortunately, all of this is online. And I hate reading books online (The Bane Chronicles excluded). And besides, my TBR pile is so big that I don’t know if I could add the NetGalley books to my pile. As much as I would love to. Maybe after I take my hiatus from buying books so I can reread The Hunger Games, Beautiful Creatures, Harry Potter, and everything Neil Gaiman, I’ll have time. Did you know that the Hempstock family in The Ocean at the End of the Lane was also in The Graveyard Book? And Stardust? What……?!
To be completely honest, what I was looking forward to most was the “surprise author” mentioned on our timetables. Authors fascinate me when they speak. Because we’re writers. We work in the written word. So speaking is a foreign language to, well, me. I can’t speak for everyone else. Some authors are fantastic speakers. Others are closed off, and some are arrogant sons-of-bitches. Luckily for us, both of our speakers fell into the first category: Judy Nunn and Bruce McCabe.
Nunn was our first speaker. She was vibrant and enthusiastic and loved to answer the questions put to her. She’s an Aussie writer who writes Aussie stories. She spoke to us about her new book Elianne which is set in Queensland during the 1960s. I’ve seen Nunn’s books around, but I’ve never actually picked one up. They never really called to me. Maybe because I’m stuck in a reading rut, as someone pointed out to me yesterday. So it was pretty cool when we were all given signed copies of Elianne. Maybe I can break out of my rut.
Oh, and another piece of trivia for you: Judy Nunn played Ailsa Stewart on Home and Away. I love that she’s an actor-turned-author who doesn’t write about her own life. Not like the self-indulgent actors in Hollywood. That being said, John Cleese’s autobiography, So Anyway, is coming out soon and I am going to be all over that.
But probably my favourite speaker for the day was Bruce McCabe, author of Skinjob. Not only can I not wait to read his book, but the way he spoke was awe-inspiring. Bruce McCabe is the Australian Christopher Paolini. For those of you who don’t know, Eragon was originally self-published. It got picked up by a publishing company and this is how we ended up with the Inheritance cycle.
Bruce McCabe has a similar success story, only way more awesome because he’s Aussie. Skinjob was originally self-published, as you may have guessed. Even though, as he spoke, McCabe went out of his way to emphasise to us that it wasn’t just him: he had a team who made Skinjob possible. He spoke all about how his little team and he edited, collated, published, and distributed the books among local booksellers. He tried as hard as he could to promote the book himself, approaching newspaper book reviewers and taking to social media, but with little success.
The next part of his speech was my absolutely favourite part of the entire day. He said that none of his success would have happened without the readers. Someone read his book, who passed it onto someone else, and then someone else, etc. until it finally reached someone connected. Someone who could drag his book into the limelight. And that someone was a relation of the infamous Christopher Little, also known as J.K. Rowling’s agent. Apparently, McCabe got an email from Little with the subject “You!” and history was made from there. Now, Skinjob is part of the Random House family and McCabe is working on a second novel.
McCabe was so thankful and grateful and excited in everything he said that I will be reading everything he ever writes just because of how he spoke to us. And how humble he was about everything that’s happened to him.
I was going to get McCabe to sign Skinjob for me, but he left before I got a chance to ask. Totally sucked.
Here’s a concept for you: blog business cards. I was given at least half a dozen of them throughout the course of the day. Don’t believe me? Here, check them out:
What this drove home to me was how important books and blogging are to us. This is some people’s livelihood. (OK, have you heard of Sneh Roy? She’s the author of Tasty Express and the owner of Cook Republic. She got her book deal from her blog. How awesome is that? Keep blogging, guys, you never know what is just around the corner). The more cards I was given, the more of an impostor I felt. I blog because I love it. I love writing and I love books and because it’s a little cathartic for me. But maybe I should be a little more professional? I don’t know. But maybe I could make some wicked business cards and give them to people. Even though, I prefer just linking people to my blog. Strange, but it feels more personal that way.
This is becoming a monster of a post so I’ll try and be as brief as possible in these last few points. Well, really, one point: networking. I am an introvert. I love my own company. I can actually go for days without seeing another human being and be completely content. I don’t make friends easily, and don’t even get me started on talking to strangers. I do weird things and can never figure out what to do with my hands (thank God my jacket had pockets). So the woman I was sitting next to yesterday became my touchstone for conversation. She was familiar, because we were sitting next to each other, and we got to talking about books and Doctor Who. But she was better at the whole networking thing than me so I often found myself standing around and having to make the cold approach and talk to strangers. Everyone was super friendly though, and more than happy to talk to me. I talked about writing, Brisbane, TV, YA, my future writing career, and all sorts of things with complete strangers. And I don’t think I did too badly at all. Probably because no one was judgemental or ageist or anything awful like that. We all listened to one another.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel totally comfortable until the very end of the day when we were all mingling for drinks. I didn’t drink because I don’t drink wine, and it was the only alcohol on offer (so not a complaint, just by the way), but everyone else was. And so, everyone was a little more relaxed. I got to talking with the woman who manages Random House’s Facebook page and one of the Senior Marketing Managers. Now that was pretty cool. I managed to bring up Lolita in conversation. It may have been the only point during the entire day I didn’t sound like a nutty fangirl. Yay for it being in front of industry professionals. During this conversation, a fellow book blogger joined us and we got to talking about books (of course) and Sydney in general. Today may have been the only time when Sydney hasn’t intimidated me. But that may have been because I didn’t spend that long in the city itself, just the outskirts. And also because my fellow book blogger and I ended up walking to the train station together, so I couldn’t possibly get lost! It was definitely an awesome way to wrap up a day surrounded by books and writers and bibliophiles, talking about Divergent (which I still haven’t read, please don’t shoot me!) and basically summarising the best parts of the day. There was this woman sitting across from us when we got onto the train who kept giving me these weird looks as we talked. I think she was just jealous, to be honest. Talking about books is one of the best things ever. That woman was just clutching her MX and eyeballing us.
Oh, and did I mention…free books?!
Conclusion: This was pretty much the best day ever.