Meeting Stephanie Hale

Meeting Stephanie Hale

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arranged by our tutor Julia at Worcester university.

Julia and Stephanie met working for the BBC. Stephanie Hale was the former Assistant Director of the Creative Writing Diploma at Oxford University’s Department of Continuing Education and is now the director of Oxford Writers literacy consultancy.

Stephanie’s advice for new authors is primarily to research your market. even if you are doing a genre-based novel.

Also stories must always escalate from the beginning. “In the last 10 years of my experience readers don’t like to wait, especially in literary fiction. They wanted to move fast and they wanted all set up being done within the first chapter.” Stephanie warns us.

What is the worst misconception authors have? “The one thing I’d don’t want an author to be is negative and expecting things to just drop in their lap.” Stephanie often finds that rebranding or re-titling the book can sometimes help an author who has been struggling.

When asked why she wanted to be a publisher Stephanie answered “mostly because people kept asking me. I was quite good at marketing and a lot of people wanted to go from part-time to full-time and I could help with that. I was able to bridge the business to the literacy writers gap and back either way.

How many authors make the cut this year? “out of thousands there is only about 90”

why do people often choose to self-publish?

“I’m not against people self-publishing. As self-published authors you get most of the profit. if you go to the mainstream publishers you only get around 8%. If there was any type of publishing I’m against its vanity publishing where you pay to be published.

If you’re going to self-publish you need to learn marketing skills. Don’t hand the book over and just think it’s going to be okay. When you read about anybody who goes from destitute to millionaire, you find that they have had to put in a lot of hard work and have had to know the subject well in order to sell it.” publishers expect 3000 to 5000 followers on a social media site before they’ll even look at publishing you after you have self-published your own work.

For Stephanie the business side often produces her books. for example, clients wanted to know how to sell 1 million books so that’s what she wrote and that’s exactly what she called it “How to sell 1 million books” she always says to keep going and keep learning.

What are the things you look for in an author?

“The character of the best kind of author is resilience. writing is a business you need to be up to doing this for hours and hours of a day. secondly is marketing. you’ve got to be okay about it; talk about your work, why you love your characters and what inspired you to write. You need to know that you will need even more hours spent researching your book than when you are writing that book. Lastly the perfect type of author understands their reader. They look at what that reader is looking at, they read what that reader is reading, then and only then did they make a story for them.”

Stephanie’s top tips

  1. Don’t outsource. Instead find out what your readers like about your work. Respond to them yourself whenever possible.
  2. Plot is so important. Grammar can be sorted out, but if you don’t have a good story it isn’t even worth the paper its on.
  3. Your first chapter must be a wow! Personal experience and lots of research always help to do this
  4. Get on social media and exploit it. Find out now who is doing similar work to yours and have a look at it. Market research is very valuable.
  5. Sometimes you are the story when it comes to selling your work. Things like what inspired you to make this story or what’s it about these are facts only you can say with passion and be believed.
  6. Bulk sell your book. Get your book into a reading group or on a popular reader’s blogger by sending them free copies for a review. It often works well.

I have to say it was a shock at how high the bar is set for new authors, but I’m glad I took the time to talk with a brilliant mentor and publisher. Now I won’t be wasting so much of my time and energy. Stephanie’s talk has motivated me to really aim my writing and do a lot more research before starting a story.

Thank you Stephanie Hale.

oxford LCA

Axel Scheffler @ the Hive Worcester

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An open day at university leads to an awesome moment in my life. A tutor from Worcester University had chatted with me and we had laughed at my eagerness but lack of portfolio. He later called me to see if I wanted to join the class in meeting Axel Scheffler at the Hive later on in the week.  At first I did that classic, but very common “you don’t mean the Gruffalo guy, right?” Yes, (more laughing at me.) And yes that is just one of his famous illustrations but my no means is it all he has done.

Axel Scheffler started by fondly telling us about his move to England in 1982 to study Visual Communication at the Bath Academy of Art. How meeting others with creative and open minds can really get you going. Axel had a tone of honest reality as he relayed the accounts of taking his portfolio around to different publishers and magazines. He recommended always taking your current sketch book with you. “Often people like the more free and flowing look of a sketch book” Alex spoke about sending images off in the post and hearing nothing back for ages if at all. Then he got his first commission. Faber commissioned him to illustrate The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell . In 1989, Walker Books from London asked Axel to illustrate a text by Jon Blake; You’re a Hero, Daley B.

The successful collaboration of Alex Scheffler and Julia Donaldson happened in 1991. “Julia had been writing songs for the BBC when a friend told her they would make great children’s books” Alex told us “when Macmillan Children’s books took her up, they introduced us to each other.”

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Q: When did you know the Gruffalo was going to look like he does?

A: Lots of sketching based on Julia’s description in her text was the basic starting point. I had done him with clothes; in fact I had done all the animals with clothes. But Julia looked them over and just did not like it.

Q: How does the text come to you?

A: Sometimes it is just emailed and you decide the layout and what to draw creating a kind of dummy book which you send back. Publishes then look at that and make changes. They always make changes. Other times they send me the dummy book with the layout and text and I will know there they what the illustration and how much of the page to illustrate. But that’s never the end, because publishers sell to other countries this is called co-addition sales. They too can ask for anything to be changed.

Q: What sort of things have you been asked to change?

A: Lots of things, anything. An example is with the book A Squash and A Squeeze in the Macmillan book the goat had udders but when it was sold to the American publisher they wanted the udders removed as they didn’t find it appropriate. Just lots of things like that and practical things like moving the layout because the amount of text or even direction of text is different.

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Q: Have you ever written a children’s book?

A: Only one as I’m not a writer. Pixi publishing who make little books were doing their 1000 print and they asked me if I would give then a picture book. The story was about a squirrel that got blown out of a tree. But it was not amazing like I said I’m not a writer.

Q: What one piece of advice would you give to those illustrators who are now leaving university?

A: Never say no to work; you just never know where that will lead. Illustration is an applied art. So listen to what they (publishers and editors) say to you it is in both your interests to make the work sellable. Compromise is good, yet you should always keep your own style. (He smiles) That’s all my advice.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Just completing another picture book with Julia Donaldson; The Scarecrow’s Wedding.