The future of bookstores

Yen and I just read this article in Business Spectator, about the future of the publishing industry.  It has some interesting information about the way the current revenue is structured in publishing, and the kinds of risk which publishers are exposed to with the existing retail model.  At the moment, retailers get about half of proceeds, but get to send books back to publishers if they don’t sell.  So publishers are in the risk-bearers seats when it comes to investing in books.

The author of the article, Josh Dowse, eventually makes the point that, like the music sector, the book industry will need to integrate vertically.  So a retail presence will ultimately just be a shopfront for online or e-book sales, with display copies rather than loads of unsellable print stock in the back room.

I reckon that this is the start of a fair point.  At the moment, Amazon gets away with not investing in these sorts of shopfronts because I can go into Gleebooks, for example, work out what books are good, and then go buy them online from the Kindle store.  The online Kindle and Amazon stores are pretty rubbish when it comes to helping you find books you might like.  They have not had to shape up their game because they have such a major price advantage, and because shops like Gleebooks are still fulfilling this role for them.  Amazon has its rusty old recommendation engine, but it doesn’t have links to opinion leaders I trust, or lists of recent Orange Book Prize winners (for example) – another way that readers work out if they want to take a punt on a book.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Amazon will need to suddenly open retail shopfronts full of display books once regular bookstores start closing.  And it won’t necessarily save bookstores from closing, as many of these display and taste-setting functions can actually be fulfilled online.

So who will fulfil the functions of current bookstores, outside of the actual sale of books?  And what will happen to bookstores – will there be many, any or none at all?  To answer this, we have to understand the functions of bookstores, beyond just selling books: taste setting, try-before-you-buy, selling books as objects and bookstores as cool places.  Then we can start to see how these roles will be fulfilled, and by whom.

Taste setting:

As bookstores close, the online booksellers will probably have to ramp up their rather hopeless taste-setting functions, as noted above.  But there is also a role for existing, trusted independent booksellers to fulfil this role online.

For example: I trust certain independent booksellers because I share their preferences.  I like their staff picks, and I like that when I walk into their stores, I am probably going to see a book or three that I would like to read.  The bookstores I am talking about are stores like Brunswick St Bookshop or Gleebooks, or perhaps Ariel or Berkelouw bookstores.  Some of these stores already allow you to buy books online from them – but not e-books (as far as I can tell – I might be wrong though!)

If I were running one of those stores, I would think about selling my lease.  I would start building or changing my website to get ready for e-books, and cash in on my role as a trusted brand and taste-leader.  I would say to my web consultant: please set me up a website that does not look like Amazon, but looks more like the personal blog of a trusted writer and, more importantly, reader.  Set something up that lets me expound my (and my other trusted staff/friends) opinions about what to read at the moment, right across the categories of books I am knowledgeable about.  Make the front page of my website show featured books, top picks, and recommendations in response to frequently made requests.  Let people respond to my posts and ask me for recommendations.

And then, rather than try to get people to buy the books from me online, when probably what people will do is say, thank you for the recommendation, and now I will go to Booktopia or the Book Depository or Amazon/Kindle or iTunes, and buy that for half what you are selling it for: I would provide links directly to any or all of those websites.

I would say to these websites: look at the kind of taste leader I am.  Give me some money.  If they were not interested, I would go ahead and set up my website, and then use as proof the volume of my clickthrough traffic to their sites.

And if that didn’t work, and other methods of monetising my site didn’t work (eg advertising from publishers), I would shrink my store to a small size, and focus my business operations on books as objects or my bookstore as a cool place to be (see below).

Try-before-you-buy:

Bookstores also allow you to try before you buy.  But this function will be easily replaced by online bookstores.  Kindle allows you to download a sample section of a book to peruse.  And the price of online or e-books is so good as to make the risk much easier to take.  And as bookstores close, the online functions will probably become more sophisticated, as they will for taste-setting.

The only possible issue may be around trying books as objects (see below) – eg what will this pop-up book about dinosaurs really be like?  But this could partly be addressed by providing a simple video example of a child opening the book, and a mag app style of representation, where you can flick through an online catalogue or “book.”

Books as objects:

This is where bookstores may continue to have a role as physical shopfronts, and books a physical, print existence in the future.  Beautiful art books, graphic novels, children’s books, collectibles and illustrated books are the only types of books people will want to physically buy in the future.  Because these types of books are physical experiences, they are also the type of books people will want to handle, feel, smell and admire before they actually purchase.  And so they are the type of books where bookstores have an edge over online stores.

This may also be eroded if the book can be viewed in a bookstore and then bought online later.  In which case, it will be in the bookstore’s interests to focus on handcrafted books; limited runs; local artists; rare and collectibles – basically, a sense that this is the time and place to purchase this book.  Bookstores may also, in part, need to accept that they may start trends, and cash in at the outset, but not finish them.  To compensate, bookstores may want to branch out to include other unique objects – including other, carefully chosen objets’d’art in their retail offering.  If they went this route, they would need to scrupulously avoid becoming a generic gift store – this would destroy their core remaining asset – their trusted taste and curatorship.

Berkelouw’s has the edge on rare collectibles already, and Ariel and Kinokuniya on large art, design and foreign language (Kinok.) books.  There may be more of a market for illustrated books as objects than publishers currently realise, as these books become the only ones that are actually printed and purchased.

I know I am biased here, as I am trying to publish my illustrated Mr Middleton’s Teleporter. But honestly, I can’t understand why publishers haven’t twigged – people already buy books because they are pretty; unique; they say something about who they are as gift givers; and statements about their personal taste  and identity.  As books go electr(on)ic, books as objects will have some big shoes to fill in people’s personal space as indicators of how very cool/chic/geeky/smart/interesting/whimsical they are.

And also, more to the point – books are lovely objects.  And the lovelier they are as objects, the more attractive they will be to buyers.

Bookstores as cool places:

Bookstores – the nice, independent ones with cluttered shelves and comfy seats, the ones that remind me of coming home and being safe amongst all that sound absorbent, stilling paper – are cool places to hang out.  They are little oases on busy roads, and the best ones are the ones that are open late, unexpectedly surprising you with the chance to wander in after a show or a dinner with friends and reclaim some part of your less social self on your way back to being alone and OK with that.  They are even better again when you can buy a cuppa and a muffin, or a glass of red wine, and be surrounded by words.  They say: it’s snug in here.  Don’t hurry away.  The music will always be something you don’t mind, and the people will be the unobtrusive, real type.

So bookstores as cafe/bar/hang outs will, I hope, continue to have a role.  But their core business will be in selling coffee, not books (except maybe books as objects, or books on a whim, books as nostalgia, and maybe books as gifts).  The books’ real role here is atmosphere, giving urban passersby a feeling of homecoming, a rare sense of belonging in a place which can be sometimes forgetful of who you are.  Without the books, there would be no reason to stay.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 12

In which I just say no….I think.  Yes, that’s right.  No.

It’s been some time since I updated you on Mr Middleton developments.  This is probably because I have been hesitant, not wanting to disappoint, and not wanting to jinx future efforts.

This is what happened after the last post, at which point, Hoang and I were about to tackle the world of publishers.

The major publisher who was interested, was not interested in a stand-alone, illustrated book. They liked my writing, and they liked the drawings, but it was just not their mainstream fare.  They said they would like to see a collection of short stories from me.  

As my husband likes to tell people, I turned them down.  It wasn’t really like that: there was no firm offer, just their interest.  Still – why would I walk away from a major publisher?  Having them interested at all was a coup.  I told myself this, about one hundred and twelve times.

But the bottom line was, my heart was not in writing more short stories, not right now.  I was very motivated to write a long-form story which I am working on now; and I was motivated to see Mr Middleton published with pictures; but I was not remotely motivated to do a short story collection.  And I couldn’t force myself to do it.  To do so would be to betray the process; and as every writer knows, to betray the process is to betray yourself.

So….my husband and I got busy with postage, packing tape and brown paper.  We sent the package of illustrations,story and synopsis, all lovingly presented in a brown box wrapped in string, to ten publishers who seemed to have published like-books in the past.

And we waited.

To be continued.

Mr Middleton’s Teleporter: How do you do?

Last week, I introduced you to Mr Middleton.  I have provided an excerpt for you below, from my interview journals with Mr Middleton, from when I first came across him. It was on a meandering walk I took, through Paddington, not long after I had moved to Sydney.  Not knowing my way around, and with thoughts of what documentary I might try my hand at next (at the time, I fancied myself a documentary maker, having made a couple of TV-length attempts, none of which had been broadcast), I had decided to try and find the next subject for a documentary simply by roaming the streets.

 The first few attempts were dismal; I interviewed some perfectly pleasant, utterly boring Sydney-siders, one a cafe owner, one a cosmetics shop proprietor.  Then I came across Mr Middleton exiting his house on his way to the grocery store.  

Journal excerpt

…His plainness, the total anonymity of his suit, made me think, oddly, of Einstein and his wardrobe full of the same suits, one for each day of the week, to avoid wasting his mental energy on menial tasks such as deciding what to wear each day.  Mr Middleton was either going to be the most interesting person I had met so far, or the least.  Either way, it was worth the attempt.

As I got close, I am sure I heard him mutter under his breath something about a “teleporter.”  Better and better.  I cornered him for a couple of questions, as he stood outside his gate, nervously fidgeting with his coat the while.  I did manage to get from him that he was a scientist of some kind, and I thought I would slip the teleporter into conversation as if I knew about it already, a technique which I had used in interviews in the past and which generally seemed to achieve greater disclosure.

Q: Where were you born?

MM: Sydney.

Q: What made you want to get into science?

MM:  I don’t know what you mean.  Science is everything.  How can one get into it when one is never out of it?  

Q:  What first prompted you to try to invent a teleporter?

MM: You know about that?  No one is supposed to know about that yet.  It’s not ready for other people to know about it.  Have you told “Physics Today?”  I beg of y0u, don’t breathe a word to the toadies at that magazine.  Not yet.  They wouldn’t know true science if it poked them in the eye.

Q: How will your teleporter work, once it is ready?

MM: I can’t say.  There’s a combination of expectation energy…but no, I can’t say.  Not before it’s ready.  They’ll just think I am mad again.  This will show them, my theories are not mad at all!

Q: What do you do for a living?

MM:  I work at a television factory, doing quality control.  But my real work is in my laboratory.  No one has ever understood, but I’m sure, if I could only work out how matter can be transformed and reconfigured rather than transported…we could save so much time…there could be instantaneous travel.  But no, that’s enough.  What was I saying?  Nothing, nothing.  Very well.  Get on now.

Q: Do you have any family?

MM:  That’s enough.  I’m very busy.  Please don’t come back, as I won’t have time.  Good-bye.

I’m afraid that’s all Mr Middleton had time for.  He did not tell me when he expects the teleporter will be ready; in fact, he seemed to want to not speak of it.  He did not let me into his laboratory, but I am hopeful for next time.  I will definitely be back.  Mr Middleton, this funny little man, is on to something.  Mad man or genius; either way, good talent….

To be continued.

 



Introducing Mr Middleton

May I introduce to you Mr Middleton.

 

Mr Middleton

Mr Middleton

 

 

Mr Middleton.  Say hello.

MM: Oh, uhmm.  Yes, but the impersonality co-efficient.  If it was to the power of z, then proportionally it might make no difference to the material transfer.  Where’s that glass?  

Doesn’t look like we are going to get his attention, but at least now you’ve met him.  He’s like that.  I’m the only friend he has, and that’s because he doesn’t know I exist.

Mr Middleton will be making future visits to this blog, and will be setting up his own site soon enough. Won’t you, Mr Middleton?

MM:  What’s that?  No, can’t do it.  Got to work at the sub-atomic level for it to be of any use at all.

Let’s take that as a yes.  Mr Middleton.  Mr Middleton!  Do put away that bottle, there’s a good man.  (Doesn’t understand a PR opportunity when it is staring him in the face.  Might be best to close off now.)

Next week, I’ll tell you more about Mr Middleton, including his likes, dislikes, and how he came to be in the teleporter business. I’ll also be introducing you to Mr Richards.  You might find Mr Richards a little more, ehem, communicative than Mr Middleton, although I will keep trying.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 11

Once upon a time there was a city called Sydney. 

I met Hoang back at Berkelouw’s two weeks later, to see the character drawings and the first of the scenes.  We had agreed to do this to check that we were on the right track.  

Hoang brought his wife, Cat, with him this time, and I brought Y (my fiance).  Cat was the girl with the beautiful hair whom I had met at the Paddington markets.  She and Hoang seemed a perfectly matched pair, complementing each other’s creative and business strengths and weaknesses, the type of couple you always hope will like you and, more importantly, that you will some day be like.

Hoang was excited.  I was excited.  Y and Cat were supportively boisterous.  

Hoang drew out from his satchel…

the perfect Mr Middleton.  He had the alcoholic red nose, the disconsolate slouch, and the round belly of middle-age that I had imagined without actually  imagining it quite as perfectly as this!

Mr Middleton was closely followed by Mr Richards.  Again, perfect.  Hoang had achieved his angularity, his moonish dissatisfaction, his quiet desperation, and made him look likeable at the same time.

The crowning glory…the first scene, to go with the opening words:

Once upon a time there was a city called Sydney, in a country called Australia, built like an old-fashioned beehive across a flurry of sprawling, sparkling, rudely alive water.  Tall buildings sprouted out of the city’s conical centre, around which clustered thousands of winding roads and terraced houses.  Homes jostled with offices and buildings inside of which people lifted weights squeezed next to places where they put them down again.  All around, streets spread like lines of hardened honey for hundreds of miles, people buzzing to and fro, some filled with music, others with rage, others with forgotten shopping lists that in turn concealed memories of loved ones, of regret; all of them keeping the veins of the city alive.  

It was glorious.  Hoang had given so many little details which revealed themselves only on closer inspection, and had taken the essence of the scene and the entire story and captured it.  He got it, and he had translated it into a look, feel and masterful illustration.

I almost wept into my LSD.

“So you like them?” Hoang asked, grinning.  

We spent the next twenty minutes being excited together, before agreeing to come and see him at his home and office in the Blue Mountains in two weeks time to see the final two drawings for the pitch package.  

Hoang had already made me see the possible wonder of the book.  Now we just had to show these pictures to the publisher and give them a moment of wistfulness in their days, and see how they responded.  

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 10

In which I am asked the question, what does a teleporter actually look like?

It was 10.06 pm when the phone rang, about three days since the events of my last self-publishing post.

“Jackie?”  

“Yep, Hoang, how’s it going?”  Trepidation..he’s going to say it’s too hard..

“Good, good.  I was just wondering, if you can tell me because I can’t really find it in the story: what does the teleporter look like?”

“Look like?”  

“Yeah, look like.”

“Umm…”  I racked my brain for a memory.  Surely I had imagined what the teleporter would look like…”Um,” I improvised.  “I guess it might look sort of like, there is something coming from the ceiling…actually Hoang, what do you think it would look like?”

Nice save.  

“Well, it could look all industrial, so with like, red lights and big metal doors and things.”

“Oh yeah, that sounds cool.”

“Or, it could be more minimalist, like, just a light from the ceiling, with a few hooks.”

“Oh, yeah, that too.”

“So which do you prefer?”

I paused.  The thing was, both sounded cool.  But I had never really pictured the teleporter before.  I kicked myself for this oversight.

“Can I call you back?  I just need to think about it for a bit.”

“No worries!”

I lay on the bed (my favourite thinking position, after he baththub) and tried to imagine the teleporter.  Both of Hoang’s options sounded good, and I wanted to give him full latitude as the visual creative on this project.  This situation demonstrated to me how much of a word person I was, and not an image person.  It also made me feel like a bit of a nob, really.  Not knowing what the third word in the title of the book even looked like?  Dear oh dear, Jackie, I berated myself (in somewhat harsher thought-words).  

I thought, and I thought.  I eventually put the (metaphorical) baseball bat that I was whacking myself with down, and let myself realise something that had been nagging at me.  

The story was not about the teleporter.  It was about the experience of being teleported.  I had spent ages and ages, imagining what it would feel like to be teleported.  What it would do to a person.  How they would lose part of themselves in the process of becoming what the person at the other end of the journey “expected” of them (the teleporter, as everyone knows, works on the principle of expectation energy.  The downside, or upside, depending on your proclivities, is that you become what the person who is waiting for you expects.)

I hesitantly explained myself to my betrothed, who immediately made me feel like I wasn’t an avisual loser.  “You wrote about what mattered to you,” he encouraged me.  

“So, I was thinking, do you think you could illustrate Mr Middleton being teleported, rather than the teleporter itself?”  I had called Hoang back and now waited to hear his response.

“Yeah, I think so, absolutely.  Can you explain to me what it feels like to be teleported?”

This, I could do.  “It’s like, your whole body disintegrates, and you are a million atoms but you are none of them, and you could be tugged in a hundred directions, but the person expecting you applies their expectation energy which gathers you into the person they expect.  But before that moment, you are ego-less whilst still having self, distributed across all the different particles which are all the particles of the Universe.”

“OK…I think I have an idea.”

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 9

In which I drink an LSD which changes my life forever.

In Part 8, I had just managed to locate the brother of the artist, Hoang Nguyen, who had done the picture I had fallen in love with.  I gave the man my manuscript and all I had to do was wait, and pray, and try not to pick off the entirety of the skin around my fingers (gross, I know).  

I had resigned myself to having to wait the full week before making a follow-up phone call to see how Hoang had reacted to the story.

I got a phone call on the Wednesday, just three days later.

“Yeah, look, I really like the story.”

Double take.  Swallow.  “Really?”  

“Yeah!  You have a crazy imagination, you know that?  Some of the stuff in this is unreal.  But I think what you write about is really similar to the message that we try to give people, about living a sustainable life in touch with the environment, and making joy and family and community first.”

I nodded, a bad habit I had had since I was five years old when I used to answer the phone and nod or shake my head without speaking.  

“I think it’s such a coincidence,  you know, because we were just thinking about doing a book too.”

“That’s great!”  I said. Finally, vocalising.  Progress! “So, how about we meet up after the markets this weekend and talk about our next steps?”

“OK, I will be at the Rocks markets until quite late, so say, 7.00?”

“That’s fine.  Can we make it Berkelouw’s?  It’s a book store with a cafe on Oxford St, not far from where the book is set.”

“OK sounds good.  See you there!”

“Great, see you Hoang!”

WOOHOO!  He liked the story, he liked the story….I did my little kitchen dance, which involves a bit of foot swinging in the air and jigging my arms around.  Then I called my affianced, who was suitably excited for me.

Saturday rolled around.  My fiance parked the car on a side street and reclined the seat to have a little nap while he waited for me.  I hopped it to Berkelouw’s.  As I walked, Hoang  called to say he was running a bit late from the markets, so I had time to order myself an LSD at the cafe.  “LSD” to the uninitiated is a “latte soy dandelion,” and is way better than it sounds.  It is creamy, and delicious.  I have espoused its virtues elsewhere so that’s enough for now.  All coffee drinkers, shame on you for sniggering.  

As I was sipping my LSD and pretending to leaf through a book about Sicilian tiles, a young, sprightly man approached.  He was Australian Vietnamese and it was impossible to tell how old he might be, given he had a shaved head and no lines on his face except for big smile ones as he barrelled over to my chair and shook my hand.

“Jackie!  I’m Hoang.”

“Great to meet you,” I said, because it was.

We chatted, and it became pretty clear pretty quickly that this was going to be awesome. We seemed to agree on everything: the proposed style of pictures, the key messages and moral of the story.  Most of all, Hoang agreed 1000% with the prerogatives for a creative life.  He told me how he had started off his business when he had moved back to Sydney from Alice Springs with his wife.  He had previously worked at an ad agency, then moved to Alice and done massage for several years (which was something else he connected with in the story, when the antagonist, Mr Richards, travels to Alice to find himself). Theythen returned to Sydney but weren’t sure what to do next, when his very smart wife suggested he print off some of the pictures he had done, which were saved on his computer.  They set up a market stall and made enough money to do it again.  And again. And again.  

Pretty soon, they found themselves doing what they had always dreamed of doing: making an income from their creative pursuits, with very strong ethics of environmental sustainability, inspiration, spirituality, and whimsy.  

I was getting more and more excited throughout this conversation.  I had never found a perfect creative collaborator before, but I thought that this might be It.  

We agreed that Hoang would create two character illustrations, one for Mr Middleton and one for Mr Richards, and three pictures from key scenes: the beginning, something from the middle when all the World goes crazy with teleporting, and one for the end, when Mr Middleton has the transformative experience of teleporting for the first time himself. He also agreed to do them within a month, which was amazing, so that we could get the pitch to the publisher before they lost interest.

Soon my affianced came looking for me.  He met Hoang and noted that things must have gone well because he “Could hear my laugh from the front door.”

Things had gone very well indeed.  Now all we needed was for Hoang to be visited by his muse, five times, if we asked very nicely, in the next four weeks.

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 8

In the last post about my quest for self-publication, I recounted my trip to Paddington markets to find the man who had done the drawing which now hangs in my study, who I knew in my heart was the person to illustrate Mr Middleton.  

It was 3.30 pm and my friend D and I had just discovered that the artist was working at the Surry Hills festival at a stall selling his prints.  We dashed off to grab the next bus.  

Surry Hills was aswarm with too many groovy people.  I looked down at my comfortable shoes and tried to look defiantly nonchalant next to the red-booted, high-booted, platform-booted around me.  D, noticing my anxious face and dwindling blood sugar, led me without further ado to the foodstalls serving Thai noodles and Japanese balls of rice.  That girl knows the right thing to take me out of my worries.  Soon, fed and refreshed, I was ready to seek the artist and be my charming, relaxed self.  

We sauntered towards the area where the bands were playing, scanning the stalls nearby in as non-stalkerish a fashion as possible.  There he was!  The stall was perched on the edge of the line of wares, and was doing a roaring trade.  They seemed somewhat inundated with funky young things, palming their way through the boxes of prints and treating themselves to the artist’s personal version of whimsy, just as I had done.  

“Why don’t you go over?” D asked as I stood, staring from about 50 metres away.  

“Oh, he looks too busy.  How about we wait awhile and listen to some music, and then go over?”

D nodded, because she is an understanding saint, and we took a seat on a patch of vacant grass.  A band playing plugged in electric guitars was on stage, but they weren’t obnoxiously rock, instead creating a lovely, late afternoon relaxed vibe with their slightly reggae beats.  I bobbed my head obediently to the music, D genuinely enjoying it as she reclined next to me, kicking off her flip-flops.  Occasionally I would look over and notice with a mix of relief and increasing anxiety that the traffic to the stall had not slowed down.  What if they pack up and leave while I am sitting here, pretending to have fun?  I thought.  But the idea of going over and standing around awkwardly was too much for me.  I stayed put.   

After about 20 minutes of becoming increasing cognitive dissonance between what I actually felt and how I wanted to look like I felt, I stood up.  

“I think I better go over now, before they leave.”  D hopped up obligingly and came with me for moral support.

When we got to the stall, there were only two or three people looking through the pictures, and the stall-holders were indeed starting to pack up.  

“Um, hello?”  I mustered my introverted self into a posture of courage.  “I’m Jackie.  I think your brother might have called to let you know we were coming?”

“Oh yeah, Jackie.”  The artist, an Australian-Vietnamese man who could have been any age between 20 and 30, held out his hand.  I shook it.  

“I’m Hoang, and this is my brother Hieu,” a smaller fellow with a big, friendly grin waved.  I smiled back and started to relax.  These guys were genuine, nice people, not too cool for a conversation.  They didn’t look at my comfortable shoes once.  I had a good feeling about this.

“Yeah, I’ve got a story I was wondering if you would be interested in taking a look at.  I have the interest of publisher X, and I want to present them with an illustrated version to see if they will go for it.  I bought one of your pictures and I really love your work.  I think it would really go well with the story.”

“OK, yeah, I’ll take a look at it.”  Hoang held out his hand and I handed over the masterpiece, which now looked ridiculously small, and I felt ridiculously self-important, all of a sudden, asking someone to illustrate my story, as if I had some sort of right to do that sort of thing.

“Thanks!” I said.  “I mean, there is nothing certain with the publisher, but if you like the story,we’ll take it from there.”

 “Yeah no worries.  Yeah I was approached at another time by another lady who wrote a story, but it just wasn’t the right time, you know?  But now, we’ve been thinking about doing a story, so it’s funny that you should have come up right now, you know?  It’s almost like it all fits together.” 

“Yes!  I know what you mean!” I felt exactly the same way.  “It was like that when I bought your picture, and then only a couple of weeks later this opportunity came up, and I was wondering, who can I get to illustrate this?  And then I saw your picture!”  I nodded vigorously, then tried to slow my neck down and calm my excitement.  You’re an author, Jackie, not a crazy lady,  I told myself.  

“Ok cool,” Hoang said.”I’ll read the story, and then maybe we can talk about it in a week’s time?”

“OK.  Maybe we can meet after your markets close next weekend?”

“Sounds good.  I’ll be in touch.”

“Great!  And if you have any questions about the story at all, just give me a call.  My number is on the front there.” I pointed at the manuscript, which so far had only been read by me, my fiance, the editor and my friend who had given it to her.  It was a funny moment, handing it over wilfully to a stranger.  Almost like it was a real book, and I was a real author, and it was going to take on a life of its own, and this was the first step in it becoming something beyond my reach or control…

OK, I was over-thinking things again.  D and I left them to it, me smiling and waving as we departed.  I owed D a drink.  It was time to go and get it.  I had the whole of the next week in which to worry and wonder, but mostly, I felt pretty good, as if this was really meant to be…then of course my brow furrowed in concern.  Hopefully, when he actually read the story, he would like it and not, for example, decide I was an odd-ball who was too old to believe in the power of fairy-tales. 

To be continued.

To see Hoang’s work, go to www.studiooat.com.au.  It’s pretty ace stuff.  You won’t regret the click.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 7

I took a detour in Part 6 of this journey, talking about an alternate reality game which we are trying to make to emulate the world of Mr Middleton. But I still haven’t told you about how I finally found the illustrator of my dreams…

In Part 5, I at last realised that the answer to my prayers had been right in front of me the whole time – I had to find the artist who had drawn the print I had bought at the Paddington markets.

My mission was this: go to the Paddington markets, and try to find the same stall. This was not as easy as it sounds. Market stall holders change all the time, and the markets themselves are a riot of colour and confusion, each laneway lined with noise and objects and distractions, to the point where you could easily spend half a day, walking up and down, never finding the place you had last been just ten minutes ago, every again.

I geared up. Saturday arrived. I donned comfortable walking shoes. I limited the amount of discretionary spending money in my wallet to $20. I checked and re-checked that I had my ten-trip bus pass. On my way out the door, I slathered a dollop of sunscreen on my permanently sun-damaged nose (a product of a childhood spent in Queensland, back in the days when the local radio station would broadcast at twenty minutes intervals a little dinging sound to remind sunbathing girls to turn over for an even tan). Then, halfway down the stairs, I ran back up again, grabbed the copy of the story from my desk, and ran back down, the door slamming shut behind me and echoing down the stairwell.

My friend D met me at the North Bondi bus stop. She was dressed in summery singlet and jeans and on her feet, carefree flipflops in place of sensible shoes. I wondered if she understood the situation. But then I remembered that it was of utmost importance to the gods of destiny that I had to act carefree and open to grace. I wished I had worn flipflops too.

We chatted on the bus, D skilfully keeping me relaxed, as if this was just a regular, girly excursion to the markets. “They have that delicious thai food, yum,” D chatted. “Maybe we can buy a stick of fishballs.” I nodded. Fishballs as a reward. That was good motivation.

Finally, the bus pulled up. I made a bee-line through the sauntering, loitering crowds, past the faces of relaxed and happy Sydney-siders doing what they love best – shopping outdoors. D’s flipflops flipflopped behind me, trying to keep up.

Down one alley, past the red handbags, the smell of incompletely treated leather…past the jewelry shop where we had considered and dismissed gifts for jLo only six weeks ago…past the shop full of mirrors, past the shiatsu, past the plants, past the hand-made lamp shades….

And there they were! Neat and clean frames of professional quality, and in them, those lovely, wistful faces…elephants, and lovers, and my solemn little man, my apple-offering pixie…

OK, now Jackie, I told myself storecialis.net. Be cool.

“Hello, I bought a print here about six weeks ago…”

“I remember. Cherry blossom, wasn’t it?”

The young Australian-Vietnamese fellow remembered me! And the girl with the beautiful long dark hair who worked with him smiled encouragingly! These people were nice! They didn’t think I was crazy!

Yet, I cautioned myself. Take-it-easy…

“Yes, that’s right,” I smiled. “I was just wondering. I have written a story, it’s a fairy-tale really, and major publisher X is interested. I would like to present it as an illustrated book. Do you think you might be interested in taking a look at the story?”

The young fellow did not shake his head dismissively, or pull away. He…nodded! “Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “My brother does the illustrations, but it’s funny, we were just thinking of branching into books. People are always asking us for them. He’s over at the Surry Hills Festival today, but I can call him and let him know you dropeed by?”

I turned to D. “Or maybe, we can go to the Fesitval? I asked her.

D agreed immediately. Turned out she wanted to go the Festival all along, couldn’t think of anything better to do than trek another forty minutes across Sydney to catch the tail end of the Festival festivities. Bless her.

“I’ll tell him you’re coming,” he said, pulling out his phone.

“Thanks!” I called, trotting back down the laneway. It was already 3.30 pm, getting close to closing time, and we had a bus to catch.

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 5

In Part 4, I recounted my phone call with Shaun Tan, asking if he might be interested in illustrating my book, Mr Middleton’s Teleporter.  He politely told me that he couldn’t do it, which led my fiance to suggest that we advertise in order to find an illustrator in time for my deadline with the interested publisher.    

Where do you advertise for an illustrator to do something for nothing but the possibility of hard work and glory?

Where else but ArtsHub.

Accordingly, we purchased an ad on ArtsHub, calling for “illustrators with a sense of whimsy, similar to the styles of E.H Shepard, Shaun Tan and Michael Blake” to send examples of their work to “mmillustrations.”

I hoped for maybe a dozen responses, enough to choose from and hopefully one that would fit the bill.

I received thirty-five responses.

That’s a lot of responses for an unpaid job with only the whiff of potential work.  There were a lot of artists out there, looking for a foot in the door, and here was I, in a position to crack it open for long enough to give them a chance to lunge through.

There was a real range of stuff out there.  There was frou-frou, and a little bit of country (stuffed bear still lifes were remarkably popular).  There was Goth, and there was fairy.  There was manga and there was watercolour.  

There was nothing I liked.

I am a bad, fussy and ungrateful person, I told myself, scanning the submissions, looking for something that had a clue to the kind of feeling I was hoping for.  Stomp on that silly feeling, I scolded.  Choose from this banquet! Look at the colour, the audacity, the sheer volume!  Be amazed!

It was nearly midnight, three weeks almost to the day since I told the publisher I would go away and think about whether I would submit a collection of stories or an illustrated stand-alone work for consideration.  I sat at the computer and half-heartedly opened two of my other short story files.  Not bad, I thought, scanning the lines of natural realism and semi-autobiography.  I re-opened the Mr Middleton file and glumly closed the others.  They were too different in style.  A collection would never work.

But neither would the pictures!  I argued it back and forth.  Finally, exhausted, I collapsed into bed.  The room in my then-apartment in North Bondi didn’t have curtains, so I used to always sleep on my side, one arm flung up to cover my eyes from the moonlight.  I turned over and took one last, heavy-lidded glance at a framed print I had bought about six weeks ago at the Paddington markets.  I had bought it for my friend, jLo, for her 3oth birthday.  It was a milestone gift, along with a non-trashy piece of jewelry, which I and a couple of other girlfriends had pooled our money to buy for her: nice jewelry and art, meaning, you have arrived.  I had liked the picture so much that I had bought myself another in the series.  It had a black background, with a swirl of white butterflies clustering on the branches of a dark grey oaktree.  A little, solemn looking fellow stood in the sky, to the left of the tree, holding the one thing of colour against the darkness: a tiny red apple.  He held the red globe out to the tree and its swathe of butterflies as if it were an offering to the night, or the light, or both.  

Since buying the picture, I had taken to looking at it when I wrote, just for a moment now and then.  My breathing would deepen, and I would remember in my gut and the smoothing of my forehead that this was all about saying thank you.

In bed, past midnight, I closed my eyes.  I knew exactly what I needed to do.  This picture, which had been right in front of me, was the answer.  I would find the artist, and I would ask him to illustrate Mr Middleton.  I would ask him to bring Mr Middleton’s world to life, and all I had to offer in exchange would be my gratitude.  Maybe, together with his, that would be enough.

To be continued.