Other Worlds and Book Promotions with prolific author George Ivanoff and Penguin Random House publicist Talie Gottlieb
A spotted bow-tie. A big grin. A blood-curdling scream.
George Ivanoff had just wrapped up a tour of schools in Queensland, and had obviously kept a bit of that magic for us. We were thrilled to have him at our August Write Links meeting where he took us on a tour of his career as a children’s author, which includes several successful middle grade series. Accompanied by Penguin Random House publicist Talie Gottlieb, they also gave us pointers about promoting books.
Although George started his career authoring a collection of YA short stories, he only hit his stride thereafter, spending a decade writing almost exclusively for the education market, amassing a staggering 86 titles, and counting!
In 2009, he found his way back to the trade market with the Gamer’s Quest trilogy, published by Ford St. Though it performed well, it was mere an inkling of the success that would come with the incredibly popular ‘You Choose…’ series, published by Penguin Random House.
It was interesting to explore the interactive format of the ‘You Choose…’ books, written in the 2nd person point of view, allowing the reader to direct the course of the story by choosing one of 2 options when they faced with a conundrum or a fork in the road. Their chosen path is assigned a page number further along in the book, and they navigate their way through a progressively exciting plot, or end up in a dead end.
On the author’s part, it requires complex planning by way of plot points written out on cards, pasted on a white board and connected with different coloured markers. I did see George grinning nervously at a picture of one of his storyboards, strung together with bits of string and looking suspiciously like a crime investigation.
The ‘You Choose …’ books cover a range of topics from dragons to spiders to footy, and have shortlisted and won R.E.A.L awards based on nominations from avid readers four years in a row.
Series seemed to agree with George. He went on to produce the RFDS series in conjunction with the Royal Flying Doctors. Having been a history major, he relished the intensive research of medical conditions and locations of his stories, many of which he visited during an extended family road trip.
He followed this up with the picture book ‘Meet the … Flying Doctors’, illustrated by Ben Wood.
It was surprising to learn that George was not a voracious reader as a child. He agreed with teachers in the group that some students are such reluctant readers that just finishing a book would give them a huge sense of achievement. George says that it motivated him to write books that were immediately engaging, rather than intimidating.
His newest ‘Other Worlds’ series explores the concept of portal fiction in some of favourite sub-genres. ‘Perfect World’ is set in a utopian future (or dystopian, depending on whose side you’re on), ‘Beast World’ holds a cast of steampunk animals, ‘Game World’ is his video game alter ego let loose, and ‘Dark World’ is his take on a zombie apocalypse.
Once again, he was exuberant about his research, and clearly revels in casting light on a subject in a way which enriches the story, his own life and the experience of the reader. Even the characters’ names had been imbued with significance, such as the name Keagan to symbolise holder of a key, and a sidekick whose name in Vietnamese means ‘to conceal’.
George is an advocate for diversity, and he has weaved it beautifully into his stories without ostentatiously planning to. Aside from ensuring that the main protagonist in his series are alternately male and female, his books also feature characters from other cultural backgrounds and include a protagonist with a physical disability, recognising the importance of young readers being able to identify with characters in mainstream media.
Both George and Talie gave us helpful advice regarding book promotions. Talie advised communicating regularly with the publishing house publicist, as there is no single formula that works for every author. Blog posts, launches, reviews and school visits do help, as well as engaging directly with bookstores and libraries, as hand-selling is so important. When answering a query about book trailers, they both cautioned against length and DIY!
‘Capitalise on anything that’s slightly unusual about yourself,’ George added. He reported that earlier in his career, many publicity pieces focused on his role as a stay-at-home dad, and I am guessing that his self-acclaimed Doctor Who obsession may have worked into his promotional persona as well.
We gained a lot from this session, and a thread that ran through George’s myriad achievements was the passion for his stories and the great connection with his readership.
By Inda Ahmad Zabri
Inda Ahmad Zabri believes in a world of wonder. She lives in Brisbane where she writes and illustrates for children. Her stories are inspired by natural and cultural gems curated from her travels and lovingly added to her Malaysian heritage. She is also a surgical doctor, swapping her writer’s hat and paintbrush for scrubs and scalpel when duty calls. You can find her at www.indabinda.com where she regularly blogs about the treasures of nature and her love of books.