New Gameplan

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Hi, I�m back, but not quite as before.

It�s been a good break. The longest interruption since ACHUKA began, and the rest has been very enjoyable. When I posted the Summer Recess message on the Blog, Peni correctly identified a sense of fatigue. But it�s proved much more than that. I�ve known for some time that much of the work connected with the site was becoming a chore and there were fewer and fewer excitements (in the shape of new authors with genuinely individual voices and fantastic books) to compensate. Some will say that it�s just the result of being jaded, but it doesn�t seem to me that we have any author who has emerged in the past few years (I would say four or five) who can compare with the likes of David Almond, Philip Pullman, Anne Fine, Kevin Brooks, Sonya Hartnett � well, the list could go on and on. Of course there are newer authors who have their followings and who are perfectly good storytellers and entertainers � Philip Reeve would be a prime example � but I get no sense of that frisson of individual genius from their work. And then there are the one or two who have been absurdly overpraised. There are always those.

I am jaded, yes. And I sense others in the children�s books world are as well.

So it is time to take stock of ACHUKA�s future.

The immediate reason for a summer recess was a short holiday to Marseille, and then a visit from family and grandchildren. It was interesting that in the brief times I had available during the grandchildren�s visit (apart from the daily grind of weeding out spam subscriptions to the forum, deleting spam entries to the wiki and clearing the achukastore cache) I remained active on Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/achuka/ - rather than posting to ACHOCKABLOG.

I needed that longer break. I heard, just before going away, that Geraldine Brennan had left the TES. In fact, I had been on the point of telling her that I felt I needed a break from reviewing. [I stopped doing picture book reviews for Carousel six months ago. I�m undecided about continuing to do teenage fiction for The Scotsman.] For the first time, the last pieces I had done for her had felt like heavy-going. Geraldine�s role at the TES and her contribution to children�s books both in terms of commissioning reviews and attending launches and other events has been hugely significant.

I have explained before that fees paid to me for reviewing have always been counted as ACHUKA income and have played a significant part in funding the website. In the last tax year ACHUKA�s business expenses ate up all but �200 of my earning from reviewing. Without the reviewing the ACHUKA budget would therefore be a few thousand pounds in the red. To that extent, Geraldine and the TES have been bankrolling ACHUKA�s existence for the past several years.

There was a brief time a few years ago when publishers began advertising on the site, but it is ages since anyone placed a banner ad there. Everything related to the site is expense and time. Income from Amazon commissions has nosedived, as it has done mysteriously for many other Amazon affiliates.

So, just from the purely financial point of view, I need a new gameplan. That bears repetition. So, just from the purely financial point of view, I need a new gameplan.

ACHUKA has never had a business plan. There hasn�t been any time for that. [Just in case any of you don�t know, I am a fulltime deputy head of a large primary school. Back at work tomorrow.] Although, as the site grew in popularity in the early days I suppose I did envisage a time when it might slowly become profitable. I definitely daydreamed of a time when it might become profitable enough to be able to retire early from teaching and dedicate myself fulltime to the site.

Every time I attended a function in London I was secretly hoping I would bump into someone who would say, �Great little site you have there, now what you really need� �� and then proceed to give me the business plan we�ve never had.

To some extent the purpose for which ACHUKA was established no longer prevails. When I started the site 10 years ago this month there was no other UK website dedicated to children�s books. The profile of children�s books was generally low. My motivation was simple � to �big up� children�s books and their authors, with an ephasis on the teenage and young adult readership.

In the first half of that decade ACHUKA was received with open arms by publishers, authors and illustrators alike.

Now, although ACHUKA remains unique in its coverage, it is not the only site that promotes UK children�s books. So authors can be forgiven for thinking that they get plenty of coverage thank you very much and for being less than excited when their publicist suggests an ACHUKA interview. My appetite for doing author interviews on the site waned when the length of answers authors gave began to be exceeded by the length of the questions. I think if you go into the archive and read some of the early interviews and then compare them with later ones you will see the difference I�m talking about.

Increasingly, my own direct contributions to the site have been confined to the blog. I haven�t been conducting interviews. I have had to reserve my review judgements for the TES and The Scotsman. My ACHUKA time has been spent doing predominantly geeky stuff like page design and database scripting.

I want to rediscover, if possible, the early spirit of the site. There is no way this is going to be the end of ACHUKA. I have invested too much of my time in it and it has too big a dedicated audience for that.

Having had this rest I can see clearly that as the site has developed so have I attempted to do far too much, without any office staff assistance. I have, for example, tried to maintain a unique ACHUKA catalogue, comprehensive in the sense that it has included every book submitted for review. At times of spring and autumn deluge 90% of my time has been spent doing routine database entry. Free reading time, aside from commissioned review reading time, has been almost non-existent.

That is going to stop. ACHUKA will from now on only list a small selection of titles � basically, recommendations only.

I shall be writing to publishers separately to explain the new policy, so that they can make appropriate decisions about what to submit.

I produced a podcast and established a dot.mobi site. Both these enterprises foundered at birth through lack of response from publishers, but I�m keen to revisit and rethink both of these options.

With a new direction will come a new look. ACHUKA will be streamlined to fit its newly defined purpose.

That purpose is no longer to �big up� children�s books, but to review and comment on them as the big things and big people they already are.

For that reason the scope of ACHOCKABLOG will broaden to bring in more of my own interests alongside children�s books. Specifically, expect more coverage of poetry, photography and music.

None of which addresses the financial imperative of keeping the site functioning. No more free publicity on the eLetter I�m afraid. All event postings will have to be paid for. And contributions towards establishing a new financial gameplan for ACHUKA will be very gratefully received.

Apologies to all those whose communications with ACHUKA at the tail end of the summer were ignored. I really was in need of that rest. Do resend messages if they were important and didn�t receive a response.

Thanks for listening.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by achuka published on September 2, 2007 4:18 PM.

Summer Recess was the previous entry in this blog.

Julia Donaldson Webcast is the next entry in this blog.

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