Monday 28 March 2011

Guest Post by Alex Scarrow (Author of TimeRiders)

A while ago I approached Puffin and asked whether Alex Scarrow, the author of the brilliant TimeRiders series, would be interested in writing a guest post for The Book Zone. With Alex really busy visiting schools to promote the release of the third book in his series, I left the decision regarding the subject of the post entirely up to him. What I have since received is a great piece about what a modern-day kids' author has to go through once their book is published: 


These days your average writer can no longer afford to be the shy and retiring mole-man (or woman) who hides away in some darkened room to emerge blinking into the sunlight once a year with another finished book. Oh no...those halcyon days are long gone. An author in this new multimedia world has also to be a one-man (ahem...or woman) marketing and PR machine. More than that, somebody willing to stand on stage and present - or in some cases even, perform - to an audience of hundreds.

The book industry in some ways mirrors the record industry. Before there were MP3s, a rock band could record an album and spend the rest of the year living off the money of CD sales while they casually dabbled with ideas for their next album. But since the advent of MP3s, bit torrent, ipods and rampant piracy bands can no longer afford that kind of luxury and has to now generate their income from a steady stream of paying gigs. So with the book industry going the way of the record industry and novels now being digital (ebooks) or being discounted and sold at virtually the cost it takes to print them (thanks Big Supermarket and Online retailer who's name reminds me of a South American river) authors are having to do the same to stay afloat. Very, very few of us writer-types earn enough from the sale of books for writing to be our only job. In most cases, we all have a second job. In my case that's visiting schools, promoting reading and talking about TimeRiders as well as the idea of books being, quite honestly, the best entertainment hardware in the history of mankind. (But then I'm biased).

I do know a lot of writers who find this part of the job very hard; they're uncomfortable with the idea of standing on stage and pontificating about their craft, being the centre of attention, an' all that. But me? Good grief, I actually love it! I guess it's a result of all those gigs I used to do in various rock bands. There's nothing quite like the buzz of being on stage. But you know it's something I think we all enjoyed once, back when we were little kids. Didn't we all love showing off? Didn't we get a thrill out of everyone's 'coos' and 'ahhhs' at our funny pudgy faces or our first faltering baby-steps? The sad truth is though that either we grow out of it or maybe in this country we're educated from a young age not to express ourselves so wantonly. So we all learn to be shy, quiet, not make fools of ourselves. To fear more than ANYTHING that fate worse than death....being embarrassed. It's a quite paralysing fear that most of us Brits seem to suffer from. It stops us daring to sing on a karaoke night, it stops us from saying the things we most yearn to say to our nearest and dearest. It stops us following our dreams.

Totally daft, that. Ah well, who cares really, right? I mean I embarrass myself all the time. I love it. It's liberating. So it really hasn't been a problem doing school visits. Hasn't been an issue for me when technical problems have resulted in me having to keep 200 primary school bottoms from fidgeting while the tech-guys fix the problem. Yes, I've resorted to doing my Orangutan and appalling Marge Simpson impersonations, all in the name of promoting books. 

Sigh. And there was me thinking that being an author was just about the writing. Actually, I'm glad it's more than that. Glad I get a chance to meet and talk to readers.


Huge thanks to Alex for taking time out to write this. Many people incorrectly think that authors are huge earners - they read about the likes of JK Rowling and believe that this is the norm. We recently had William Hussey visit school, and when asked how much he earned he informed a shocked audience that the average annual earnings of a children's author in the UK is approximately £7000. School visits are incredibly important: for an author it can help supplement their income so that they can afford to continue devoting time to writing the books we love, and for the pupils it helps create an excitement for books and reading. I have seen this time and time again, and if I had my way we would have authors in every week. 


  1. This is a great peek behind the curtain. I'm wondering what it says about me that, unlike many would-be authors, I'm actually pretty comfortable in front of a crowd of kids.

  2. Really interesting guest post! Although I do suspect Alex must look for excuses to bring his Orangutan impression out. ;-)