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Author Q&A with Ally Aldridge

Like many not-so-young adults, I enjoy reading the occasional ‘Young Adult’ (YA) novel. Culture Trip‘s Parish Turner describes the category as one which not only reflects the world around us, but which offers a sense of hopeful escapism – something many of us crave this year!

Despite its reputation as a ‘less serious’ category of fiction, YA frequently deals with difficult issues, ranging from general coming-of-age stories, to social problem novels. And it is precisely because YA often blends relatable settings with engaging fantasy that it is so powerful. Meeting so many of its readers at a critical juncture in their lives, YA has the potential to introduce young people to formative ideas about identity, self-value, relationships, and justice, or to reinforce old stereotypes about feminine beauty and meekness, and masculine wealth and power being the only important values.

That’s why I was fascinated to speak to YA author Ally Aldridge. It’s not every day we get to speak directly to an author and find out what went on behind the book! But today, I’m thrilled to be part of the book tour for Ally’s brand-new Ocean Heart. I hope you’ll enjoy this deep-dive as much as I did!

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Pen Names & Anonymous Authors

The #challengeaccepted hashtag got me thinking about the power – and danger – of anonymity, and the prevalence of pen names. The idea, Belinda Jepsen at Mamamia reports, is for women “to upload a grey-scale selfie in an apparent show of solidarity”.

The challenge originated with Turkish women drawing attention to domestic violence and femicide. The black and white photographs, far from a mere aesthetic choice, are designed to mimic the sort that appear in reports about murdered women.

Yet, while the idea might be for ordinary and especially marginalised women to have their faces seen and their voices heard, the most successful (if we’re judging the accumulation of ‘likes’ as success) are those glamorous, often sexualised selfies posted by celebrities with vapid Hollywood sentiments.

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Wired Birds

One of the joys connected to reading and writing is reading books about the craft of writing.

Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird in many ways represent two opposite ends of the spectrum of writing guides.

I first came across these two books in two very different ways. And it is perhaps fair to say that the ways in which I encountered them shaped my experiences reading them.

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In Defence of Novels in Englishes

If you primarily read novels written in English, have you ever wondered how writers decide which English to use? What do I mean ‘which’ English? And what’s with the weird spelling of ‘defense’ in the heading?

All of us grow up speaking not just a mother tongue (or possibly several!) but a variety of that language. In my case, I grew up speaking English, started learning Japanese as a child, and then tried my hand at French in later life before dabbling with some other languages – living and dead.

The variety of English I grew up speaking is Australian English – and more specifically, South Australian English. In this post, I want to share with you why I decided to write my debut novel in Australian English – and what that actually means.

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On Book Bigotry – Part 3

Location

Location, location, location. It’s that old real estate saying. And, in our globalised economy – and particularly, in our globalised digital economy – we could be forgiven for thinking it shouldn’t matter where an author or reader is located.

But it does.

In this final post on #bookbigotry, we’ll look at how location affects writers in terms of their language choices, and how it affects readers in terms of what books they have access to. Then, we’ll examine how all three factors explored in this series – format, platform, and location – affect the way books are understood and appreciated.

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On Book Bigotry – Part 2

Platform

In my previous post, I set out three subtle forms of ‘book bigotry’ I have observed in publishing, whereby reviewers, readers, and even writers judge a book by some aspect of its publication, rather than on the basis of its written content. That post explored the first of these kinds of prejudice, based on a book’s format (e.g. physical vs. ebook). In this post, we turn to examine prejudice based on platform, and in the next, we will look at location-based biases.

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On Book Bigotry – Part 1

Format

I first came across the concept of #bookbigotry in the writings of author and publishing guru Carolyn Howard-Johnson. She describes how people sometimes make snap judgements about a book on the basis that it is independently published – without reading the book’s description, or the author’s bio, or even looking at the cover.

Indie authors can encounter book bigotry early on in the publishing process, as soon as they start shopping their novels around for reviews. Many reviewers explicitly state that they will not consider independently published works.

Given the vast number of requests they are inundated with, it’s understandable reviewers want to narrow down the herd. A ‘no indies’ requirement appears to be a simple and effective hurdle for reviewers to put in place in order to stem the flow of requests. A way of using traditional publishers as gatekeepers.

But of course, not all traditionally published books are high quality and well-produced, and not all independently published books are error-riddled dross. I’ve written before about how traditional publishers are no longer the gatekeepers they once (supposedly) were.

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Bloggers and book hauls: 12 case studies

Things have been a little quiet on the blog, while I’m working on a new series focusing on #bookbigotry. But in the middle of preparing those posts, I got a little bit sidetracked – looking into the phenomenon of book hauls.

Kelly’s post on Stacked Books close to a decade ago seems to have been one of the first to draw attention to ‘book haul’ videos wherein some bloggers brag about the sheer volume of books they’ve picked up at conferences.

Now, I can hardly blame anyone for being excited about getting books! I love collecting books as much as the next person. But what appears to upset many in the industry – authors, publishers and publicists, not to mention other reviewers and librarians who ultimately miss out when all the copies are scooped up by a select few – is that some people are apparently walking away with great swags of books without any interest in evaluating or promoting the books received – and maybe not even reading them.

Now, as I’ll detail in an upcoming post, I do not believe anyone should feel obligated to review a book, full stop. Even if they have promised to do so. Some books simply aren’t a good fit for some people, and that’s okay.

But all this got me thinking – how many books is too many? To accept for review, or to take from a conference, I mean. (I’m certainly not proposing a limit on the number of books in your own personal collection!) And, have things changed in recent years? So, I put on my researcher’s cap, and did some digging.

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Do readers really own books?

In my last post of February, I answered Smashwords founder Mark Coker’s question ‘Can authors honestly call themselves indie authors when they’re getting 80-100% of their sales from a single retailer?’. In short, my answer was ‘No.’ But writers are only one piece of the puzzle.

My question, for this first post of March, is What about readers?

Online retailers and ebooks have brought readers unprecedented selection when it comes to reading choices. But in other ways, these platforms, both in collaboration and competition with the big publishers, have restricted readers as much as they have writers.

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Are indie authors truly independent?

In his annual post, Smashwords founder Mark Coker asks ‘Can authors honestly call themselves indie authors when they’re getting 80-100% of their sales from a single retailer?’

His question inspired me to investigate my own sales. And it turns out, the sales of Number Eight Crispy Chicken fall right in this range.

Although it is also available on Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords, over the first month, 91% of the sales of Number Eight Crispy Chicken were via a single platform. You guessed it: Amazon.

Drilling down, however, 44% of those sales on Amazon were for paperback books. Only 72% of ebook sales were on Amazon.

But that’s still a lot of eggs in one basket.

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