Wednesday, 26 August 2015

#LoveOzYA for authors: Your weakness makes you strong

*I wrote this piece recently for inclusion on the Wheeler Centre website, but we ended up turning it into a more general article to word up the general public on the #LoveOzYA movement.  So I've put this up here: an article on #LoveOzYA just for authors.  Thanks to Simmone Howell for proofing, and for reassuring me that it didn't sound too 'Voice of the People'.

The #LoveOzYA campaign has been a topic of conversation recently.  Much has been made, in the last few years, of the fact that Young Adult Lit is a growth area in the publishing market, and I suppose that may have lulled us into feeling as if we’re all doing okay.  But when the May 2015 Australian Library Information Association lists revealed that of the top ten most-borrowed YA titles in Australian libraries, only two titles were Australian-made, it was (as Emily Gale pointed out) a kick in the pants.  We realised that we needed to have a conversation about this.  That conversation flowered into a realisation that much work is yet to be done in the promotion of Australian YA stories for local teenage readers – and that the responsibility is on us to make it happen.

It’s not the situation that Australian YA books aren’t being read because they’re not good.  They are good – let me qualify that further and say, they’re excellent.  But other market issues are at work.  Blogger and emerging YA writer Danielle Binks has written articles in Kill Your Darlings and Kids Book Review that explain how local YA is ‘being underrated in its own market by global forces’, specifically how local voices in the market are often crowded out by the number of overseas buy-ins and blockbuster titles.  How Every Breath made it onto the ALIA list is still a mystery to me (not that I'm not happy!), but it's noteworthy that it was the only title without a movie tie-in or a big marketing budget.  Without that external big-budget push, more needs to happen to promote homegrown YA literature if we would like to see the industry continue to thrive, and our own work to be read and sold.  Not all that work can be done by already-stretched publishers, or literature organisations that have just been de-funded.  Clearly, we need to shoulder some of this responsibility ourselves.  That’s how the #LoveOzYA campaign came into being.

From an author’s standpoint, I guess I feel like we’re coming from a point of vulnerability.  We pour our hearts out into our work, in ways that leave us feeling shaky and exposed.  We’re often living ‘balancing-act’ lives, juggling day jobs, parenting, writing – and with that often comes financial instability, which can make us feel like we’re on a literal tightrope.  The recent disembowelling of the Australia Council has left us even more vulnerable.  We’re working without a safety net.

But in some ways, I suppose none of that is new.  Justine Larbalestier said it well: “Making a living as an artist of any kind is a long shot”.  But what can we do, as individuals, that can make a difference when we’re already strung so thin?  Well, we can sit back helplessly…or we can act.

The first thing we can do is be visible, and use that visibility talk about #LoveOzYA.  We’re in the middle of Book Week, the mad-busy time for writers all over.  It’s a great reminder of what we already know, as authors: that the time of writing and delivering a manuscript and then retiring quietly to our writing caves has long passed.  It’s necessary to come out into the light in person – to visit at schools and libraries, to attend festivals and speaking events, to communicate with a wider readership and support network online, and to engage with the larger community in general.  If we want to support an effort to promote and profile-raise for Aussie YA books, we need to continue to be visible, and to speak about #LoveOzYA when given the opportunity.

We can also get in touch with organisations.  We’re well-placed to contact organisations like the Australian Society of Authors, the Australasian Children’s Literature Association for Research, SCBWI and writer’s organisations in our own states, and let them know we’re on board with the campaign – and encourage them to get involved.  Other organisations who work in schools to promote Aussie literature, including the Centre for Youth Literature, IBBY, YABBA, the Australian Children’s Laureate Alliance, the CBCA and The Stella Prize, might also like to know we’re pitching in.

As authors, we also have support networks of other kinds – the large community of teachers, librarians and booksellers, who are always keen to be supportive, and the growing community of reviewers, book bloggers and book tubers out there who are actively seeking books to love and promote.  Heck, our publishers might like to know we’re supporting the campaign (which they will surely appreciate).  We also have our networks at home – local bookstores, local and high school libraries.  We can let them know we’re supporting the campaign, and suggest that they come aboard.

The best way to communicate the message is by being positive.  It can be dispiriting when we go into our local library or bookstore and see that they aren’t stocking our titles – or the titles of other Aussie authors.  But librarians, teachers and booksellers really want to help: having a healthy local publishing industry benefits them, too.  We’re all professionals, and our relationships are based on respect and friendship…and we all love books.  In our exchanges with people who work in the wider networks of reading and literature, it’s important to give positive encouragement.

Ultimately, this is an industry based on mutual support.  None of us would make it without a helping hand – we encourage each other, give suggestions and advice, share information, and help spread the buzz about new work at release time.  So the #LoveOzYA campaign is about more than just profile-raising for the industry: it’s about creating a close-knit community.  As individuals, we can do our bit, but united, we’re more than the sum of our parts.

And that’s another key thing we can do: support other authors and create community.  We all read widely in the category to stay up-to-date with what’s happening, and we’ve all read awesome books by other Aussie authors, books we would happily press into someone else’s hand.  Applaud and encourage each other, and talk about other Aussie YA authors when you have the chance – they will undoubtedly love you for it, and return the favour.  You will never hurt your own career by supporting other writers.  Giving other authors a leg-up is really a form of self-help.

But probably the most important thing we should be doing is: our job.  We need to keep writing.  Without the books, there’s nothing to promote – and nothing to nurture the steadily growing interest of readers.  We can find support, where and when we need it: from family, friends, writers’ networks and organisations, and the wider community of OzYA authors.  We can reach out for advice and information, and remember that we’re not struggling alone.

Please keep writing!  We need Australian stories, told in Australian voices, in which Australian kids can see themselves reflected.  We are the people who write those stories.  Keep writing, #LoveOzYA, and don’t lose heart.


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