Hazel Buchanan

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We are having the wrong conversations

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 7 January, 2020 at 8:25 Comments comments ()

For a great many ordinary Australians, the frustration of watching and experiencing the catastrophe playing out across our country has now become so intense, it is difficult to express our views and feelings in a calm and measured way. The discourse is not only partisan and divisive but increasingly accusatory, abusive and derisive. That people should be venting their anger and grief is wholly understandable at a time of such horrific and widespread fear and loss. Aggravating those feelings is the sense, for many, that the top leadership of the nation has failed not only to prepare and plan for the continuing crisis we are facing, but even to respond at critical times in a timely and effective fashion.


For some, particularly those who embraced Scott Morrison’s ‘daggy dad’ routine back in May, the frustration of witnessing such a leadership vacuum must have come as quite a shock. It is a sad indictment of Australian current affairs that so many of the voting public have already turned their backs on politics, either through disinterest, disenchantment or disgust. Sick of the endless, negative debates and contradictory arguments; faced with an overload of facts and disinformation, they don’t know who to trust. A number of those voters, last May, would have been influenced by the plethora of highly-funded, anti-Labour, scare campaigns. It is a moot point how many of them would vote the same way today. No doubt, a considerable proportion of LNP supporters voted for the Coalition government to maintain the status quo. They actively chose to prioritize growing the economy and returning the budget to surplus over taking any progressive action on climate change or environmental policies.


For a great many Labour and Green voters, the current situation in Australia is no less shocking but less of a surprise. The reality we, as a nation, have now been forced to face has been predicted time and time again by countless scientists and experts all over the world. The knowledge base has grown exponentially over the last forty years. The critical information has been increasingly highly publicised, particularly throughout the last decade. Warnings, forecasts and scientific data have variously been refuted, discounted and ignored, but the facts have certainly not been lacking. The evidence of its veracity is now painfully, brutally plain for all to see.


And yet, even today, we are having the wrong conversations. We are arguing about whether or not our Prime Minister has failed in his duty. We are still debating whether the majority of us want coal mining to continue in Australia. We have utterly failed to agree on a nationwide water policy, even while our major rivers have been drying up and the fish in them dying. We are now disputing the differences between hazard reduction and back burning, and whether or not enough of it has been done. We are even arguing about whether it is fair to blame the Greens, who, let’s face it, have never been in power, for the quantity of fuel on the ground. Almost unbelievably, while millions of hectares of forests are blackened or burning we are still logging old growth forests. And we are either disparaging those whose priority is feeding their family by working in a fossil fuel based industry, or denigrating climate activists who want to close those industries down.


Seriously, take a look around. Tune in the radio. Switch on your TV. The time for all of those debates has demonstrably passed.


Mr Morrison has incontrovertibly failed every test of his leadership, at the very least for the past four months. His career as a federal MP, let alone as Australian Prime Minister, cannot possibly survive. Let’s not waste any more time debating that. He needs to resign.


Australia has already warmed by 1.5°C. We are suffering through the longest and most severe drought in human history, along with the most terrifying consequence that can bring. It is simply indisputable: we have to start doing everything humanly possible to stop our country from getting any hotter.


We have to lead the world. Fossil fuels can no longer be extracted. We can’t afford to do it any more. The risks are too great. As Greta Thunberg has been telling us all year, they absolutely have to stay in the ground. We need to start transitioning our economy away from coal, oil and gas. And we need to do it now.


Renewable energy is the only way forward. We have to invest right now in vastly more production and storage.


All of our farmers, not just the forward thinking few, need to make the change to drought resistant farming techniques.


Trees must be planted as fast as humanly possible. Logging operations, outside of plantations, will have to be reduced and then banned.


We have to stop debating. The time for division is over. All Australians, regardless of previous partisan inclinations, must unite to take emergency action on climate change. We simply have no choice. In the interests of survival, climate deniers and doubters must be pushed to one side, their opinions no longer considered or given any credence.


Given the Coalition government’s record on climate policy inaction and detraction, it is unrealistic to look to anyone in the current government for leadership. Federal Labour’s recent endorsement of the Australian coal mining industry notwithstanding, the Labour opposition did demonstrate, before and during the 2019 election campaign, a strong commitment to taking effective action on climate change. The Australian Greens have not yet managed to develop a large enough support base to make them a viable option for government. The leader of federal Labour, Anthony Albanese, is therefore, by default, probably the only realistic choice for Prime Minister as the current Parliament stands.


So, Mr Albanese, how about this for a plan?


Make a simple public statement to the effect that the Australian Labour Party will henceforth hold effective climate change action to be its number one priority.

Acknowledge that this new direction will be based on a commitment to phase out all fossil fuel based industries in Australia by 2030.

Commit to providing retraining and new job opportunities to everyone currently employed in fossil fuel industries, whose jobs will inevitably be lost. New industries will need to be created and developed enabling Australia to reduce and repurpose or recycle all of its own waste, with the intention of leading a global revolution on waste management. Investment will need to be redirected from fossil fuel based industries into effective waste management technologies, non-fossil fuel based transport and renewable energy production and storage.

Commit to debating and enacting a nationwide water management policy as a matter of the highest priority.

Commit to an overhaul of logging regulations to restrict operations to plantation forests.

Commit to providing overwhelming incentives for Australian farmers to transition rapidly to drought resistant farming techniques, including reforestation and renewable energy farming.

Ask the Governor General to sack the current government for its failure to put the interests of the Australian people ahead of its own narrow minded, coal supporting agenda.

Direct each of your current federal MPs to make a choice: either leave the Labour party immediately or fully commit, in public, to the new direction.

Invite any of the current Independents and Coalition MPs who are genuinely committed to doing everything possible to limit the effects of climate change to join the ALP.

Form a new Labour government.

Instruct every newly committed Labour MP to propose at least one new initiative that could realistically and practically either facilitate Australia’s rapid transition away from fossil fuels or improve and enhance Australia’s action on climate change.

Who are we punishing: the children or ourselves?

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 27 July, 2016 at 16:40 Comments comments ()

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s statement on ABC News radio on Tuesday morning, that children should always be treated humanely, raises two important questions. Firstly, is showing compassion and benevolence to children a realistic ambition while simultaneously consigning them to a facility like Don Dale in the Northern Territory? And, secondly, is ‘humane treatment’ a worthy standard for the custodians of troubled, damaged children to aspire to in Australia in 2016?


Following the exposé by Four Corners on Monday evening, Australians far and wide are vocally expressing their outrage, horror and shock at the documented treatment of children in custody in the Northern Territory. And yet, it seems, the most pertinent question is still not being asked. A child who perpetrates assault, damage to property, or theft, is a child in trouble. If the child is caught, they are in trouble with the ‘Law’; but on a far deeper level, such behaviours indicate conflict with society, family, community and, indeed, with self. A child in trouble is a child who needs our help. As parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, as grown-up children ourselves, we are rightly disgusted and appalled by the violence, abuse and mistreatment we were confronted with in our lounge rooms on Monday night. But surely the question we ought to be asking is, ‘Why are we locking children up at all?’ What endemic failures in our society and our criminal justice system have allowed us to accept the premise that a child of ten should be imprisoned for stealing a car? Who among us could cogently argue that locking up an already troubled child in the harshly intimidating environment of a prison could ever result in their rehabilitation?


Children, as we all know in our hearts, need loving care. Children respond positively to warmth, kindness and love, and thrive when given clear and reasonable boundaries and the appropriate opportunities to succeed. Children who are treated with scorn and contempt learn to disrespect others; children meet anger with anger; children who learn to be frightened of adults look for opportunities to put others in fear. When we choose to lock up our most deeply troubled children in an environment that offers them no prospect of rehabilitation, in the short term we are inflicting a devastating punishment. In the longer term, we are punishing ourselves.


When a child commits an offence for which he or she is caught, society is presented with a golden opportunity - the chance to intervene, to make a difference not just to one life but potentially to many. As a nation, it is entirely up to us whether or not we choose to squander that opportunity.

What About When They Come Out?

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 31 May, 2016 at 4:05 Comments comments ()

With the election into its fourth week, the focus continues to be the state of the economy and which party is touting the most reckless ‘Spending versus Revenue’ plan. But did you know that it costs a billion dollars a year to run the correctional facilities in New South Wales alone? And that’s before escalating capital expenditure. Actually, it's a billion dollars and counting, given that the state’s prison population grew a staggering fourteen percent during 2015. Those two figures alone should surely be enough to make our politicians question what exactly is being achieved. Shouldn’t we, as ordinary citizens, also be asking what our tax dollars are paying for? At the very least, wouldn't you like to know whether you are getting value for money?

In order to measure the system’s success, there first has be a statement of intent: a declaration of the underlying justification for the sanction of imprisonment. In other words, what is our purpose in locking people up? Are we sending people to prison as punishment or for punishment - how much do we intend them to suffer? And what do we expect the outcome to be? Do we as a society have any genuine desire to rehabilitate offenders or are we merely seeking vengeance?

If the goal were retribution pure and simple, the current system could arguably be said to be meeting its aim. Despite the claims that are spuriously made from time-to-time likening modern prisons to motels and holiday camps, the truth is that, for the vast majority of people, prison is a punishing place to be. But even theories of retributive justice require that the punishment ‘fit’ the crime. Lawmakers go to some lengths to estimate the seriousness of the harm caused by a particular offence, and then attempt to translate that into a ‘fitting’ sentence. In reality, of course, the resulting level of injury from a crime varies according to the victim. Equally, the full impact of the punishment imposed may correlate far more closely to the offender’s own innate characteristics than it does to the nature and seriousness of the crime they were convicted of.

Does that matter, though? If imprisonment is all about punishment, does society care if some convicted criminals are effectively dealt with more harshly than they ‘deserve’? The answer would surely have to be a resounding ‘No’. But the flip-side tells a different story. The outrage commonly expressed when an offender is perceived to be ‘getting off lightly’ demonstrates that some concept of fairness is important after all. But where do we stand on rehabilitation? The very title ‘Corrective Services’ implies that deterrence and rehabilitation are intended to be part of the system. Indeed, the official guidelines spell it out. Custodial correctional services apparently exist ‘to assist the rehabilitation of prisoners and offenders by providing opportunities…to reduce offending behaviour’. The same document states that prisoners should be ‘Actively engaged to make positive behaviour change (inclusive of accessing intervention programmes, education, vocational education and work opportunities) with the aims of preparing them for their participation in and return to the community, as well as reducing re-offending behaviour’.

Fact or fantasy? The statistics speak for themselves. Sixty percent of those currently being held in Australian prisons have been locked up before. And in New South Wales, nearly half of all adult prisoners released are back inside within two years. On these measures alone, it is clear that the system is dramatically failing, the implication being that for a significant proportion of people, sending them to prison simply doesn’t work. They are neither being rehabilitated nor deterred.

The knee-jerk reaction of politicians, when faced with unpalatable crime rates or a perceived increase in lawlessness, is to seek to lock more people up for lesser offences and a longer stretch of time. That is certainly what has been happening in Australia for years, despite the studies that show how ineffective it is. The result of flying in the face of the research is the ever-increasing problem of overcrowding in our prisons. Governments are spending a fortune, with no end to the funding increases in sight. And when three men are forced to share a cell designed for one, is it really any wonder that riots break out?

So what about these ‘programmes’, and the ‘positive behaviour change’ that is supposed to be being wrought? Many of the inmates of our jails are there on remand. As remand prisoners, they have no access to rehabilitation programmes and are highly unlikely to be given the opportunity to work. Convicted inmates are expected to work, although there are rarely enough jobs to go around. The majority of tasks are menial and require little or no training. Rehabilitation programmes are available only to inmates serving sentences of six months or more. The waiting lists for these programmes in most Correctional Centres are so long that it is not uncommon for an offender to have finished their sentence or to have been transferred to another facility by the time their name comes up.

There is just so much potential, given the general population of our prisons, to improve the outcomes not only for a lot of very disadvantaged people but also for the communities they are eventually going to rejoin. It is hard to imagine finding a better opportunity to address a whole range of social issues - drug and alcohol dependency, lack of education and training, poor nutrition and dental health, inadequate life skills, a diversity of mental illnesses, rock-bottom self-esteem. Instead of paying inmates a pittance to fix Qantas headsets, why isn’t more emphasis placed on helping them find gainful employment after their release? Why is the chance to get involved in a trade open to so few? Why is the funding so limited for improving inmates' life skills and teaching them to read. Why would you lock anyone up only to release them back into the community hardened, perhaps brutalized; quite possibly infected with Hepatitis C; maybe even HIV positive; and in possession of a greater criminal skill set than when they went in?


Where is the sense in that? Where is the economic value? Let alone the morality.

Spare a thought for those inside

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 24 May, 2016 at 4:35 Comments comments ()

With the election campaign now into its third week, it is clear what the major topics for discussion are shaping up to be. One of those issues, the plight of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, is looking no less divisive, and we are apparently no closer to achieving any meaningful resolution. While the focus is squarely on offshore detention centres and the awful predicament of those inside, the only significant mention of Law and Order, so far in this campaign, has revolved around border security and potential acts of terror. For once, crime statistics and other issues associated with more conventional offences have not had a look in.


The appalling situation Australia has created for itself with regard to offshore processing is surely one that deserves to keep making the headlines. There is a risk, though, that in focusing on the would-be Australians we detain, we overlook the ever-increasing number of people confined in our jails. Admittedly, prisoners are a group who have traditionally been easy to ignore. 'Lock them up and throw away the key' is the age-old cry. And the one thing on which all politicians can agree is that 'there are no votes in prisons'. Generally, as a society, we would rather not trouble ourselves with what goes on inside. Most of us believe that prison is a place where wrong’uns go to be punished. And frankly, if a criminal doesn't want to be there, they should have thought of that before committing the crime.


In my experience, the vast majority of the people who hold those views have never been inside a prison. Without question, there are hardened vicious criminals for whom long-term imprisonment is the only viable sanction. But even the most cursory look around a correctional centre reveals a disproportionate percentage of the sort my grandmother would have described as ‘less fortunate’ than herself.


Mental health, having finally been afforded some column space in the media in Australia, is beginning to gain a fraction of the public and government awareness it so desperately deserves. Spotlights are regularly being shone these days on bipolar disorders and suicide rates. New commissions are recording the most horrifying details of childhood sexual abuse. Stories of domestic violence and ice-induced psychosis are daily in the news. Distasteful as they are, we need to know about these issues. We need to discuss them, consider the underlying causes and work out how to address the problems that threaten our society. But while we do, it is also worth remembering that there is a wretched group of individuals who never make the headlines. People who, right from the outset, have never been given a 'fair go'; people whose formative years were so abusive, drug-affected or neglectful that, while their own poor choices are never excusable, they may at least be deserving of a little understanding. And perhaps even our help.

Three questions I would like to ask Turnbull and Shorten

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 26 April, 2016 at 3:30 Comments comments ()

Whatever the official government line, everybody knows the Federal Election campaign is already upon us. In the lead up to 2nd July, as the media interest inevitably intensifies, there is a strong likelihood that public disaffection will proportionally grow. Why? Because over the last ten years, political standards in Australia have nosedived, particularly in terms of quality, respect, leadership and, as a consequence, authority. To bastardize a favourite Turnbull line: there has never been a more pertinent time to be cynical about Australian politics.

The argument is occasionally floated that we are inclined to expect far too much of our politicians; the implication being that we are setting them up to fail. But is this really true? Coming from Britain (where MPs are still inclined to conduct their debates with a modicum of decorum) to Australia in the Hawke/Keating era was an eye-opener for me. It was years before I was prepared to take either of them seriously. Listening to the way they spoke both to and about other people, they were easily dismissed in my mind as 'Yob' and 'Thug'. Now I see it differently. Hawke's popularity is still something of an enigma to me, although I do get the 'fallible man of the people' idea. Keating, I admire for his enormous intelligence and passion, his incredible ability to think on his feet, and his merciless wit. Were it an option, my vote would go to him.

It seems then that, as a nation, we don't demand politeness, tact or even sobriety from our politicians. We are willing to accept their human traits and that they are going to make mistakes. What we can't abide, as Rudd, Gillard and Abbott found out, is being lied to, feeling conned or being treated with contempt. Does that really amount to an unreasonable expectation?

Of course, Keating and Howard, and the others before them, enjoyed the tremendous advantage of being covered by a far more respectful and tolerant media. Whether Howard could have survived for as long as he did in the current climate has got to be a moot point. Leaving the Fairfax/Murdoch politics well out of the equation, it seems to me that the intrusive, urgent fascination of the media for every crumb of a political story isn't necessarily such a bad thing in itself. What destroys the process is the media's insistence on adding sensationalism to everything like a dose of chicken salt.

So great is the focus of attention on trapping politicians into making ill-judged 'newsworthy' comments, even the top interviewers of the day are largely failing to elicit any actual information. In fact, it has gone well beyond that. Most politicians are now so scared of being misquoted, taken out of context or accidentally giving something away, they simply regurgitate that day's chosen slogans and meaningless messages regardless of the question they have been asked. Which actually doesn't do anybody any favours.

With regard to the current election, I have two specific gripes. For the first, I hold the journalists who interviewed Tony Abbott during and after the 2013 campaign particularly responsible. Why, oh why, did they let him get away with pretending that the last Federal Election was a ballot on climate change? Why, when he claimed ever afterwards that the Australian people had given his government a mandate to reverse all of Labour's policies on the environment, was the obvious never pointed out? If there was one major issue in the 2013 campaign which facilitated the voting-in of the most unelectable PM in our country's history, it certainly wasn't climate change. It was Labour's unprecedented and utterly embarrassing stint of stabbing one another in the back.

The result of this failure of the media to hold Abbott to account is the now established precedent that governments can claim to have an unequivocal mandate for every single policy they take to an election. As a piece of logic, let alone a political argument, it is flying in the face of reality. And it raises my blood pressure, besides.

The other is more of a plea. If the media is determined to inflict on us an ever-increasing number of political interviews over the coming weeks, could it please become journalistic policy to interrupt every time a politician mentions the failures, real or imagined, of another politician or political party? That way, we might just have a chance of learning whether or not they actually stand for anything themselves.

In the interests of moving forward from the stalemate position we are in, below are three of the questions I would like the leaders of the two major parties to be asked.

Questions for Malcolm Turnbull

1. With the benefit of hindsight, has it been a worthwhile exercise to trade-off the principles so many ordinary Australians used to applaude you for, namely your stances on climate change, marriage equality, asylum seekers and refugees, the NBN and data retention laws, in order to pacify the right-wing of your party and gain the keys to the Lodge?

2. If you win the 2016 Federal Election, what specific strategies, if any, do you intend to implement in order to move forward on those erstwhile principles of yours outlined above?

3. If you were to lose this year's Federal Election, would you consider yourself then to be in a stronger or weaker position vis-à-vis your party's right?

Questions for Bill Shorten

1. Given that the vast majority of public school funding is already allocated and distributed by State governments, would it not in fact be far more efficient and cost-effective for the States to take over management of the whole amount?

2. Do you, as a Federal politician, believe that the current political strategy of publicly decrying one's opponents rather than focussing on making a statement of one's own beliefs and intentions is capable of raising a politician's standing in the public eye?

3. What do you believe is the future for hospital funding in this country given that costs are expected to rise exponentially in the coming decades?

It's arrived!

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 7 April, 2016 at 4:00 Comments comments ()

The paperback of Surviving Anna is finally here!

When you can't see the wood for the trees

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 21 March, 2016 at 9:05 Comments comments ()

You have to have a brand.

That's the gist of all marketing advice, these days, for anything, it would seem. Apparently, if you want to be successful as an author, you need to have an 'author brand'. But what does that mean? And how can you 'write to your brand', if you've already written the book before you discover the need?

If you pare back the advertising jargon, you get down to words like 'image' and 'identity', which (am I showing my age?) make a little more sense to me. Except that the rebel in me is screaming "I'm not into image!" and "Identity surely just means 'me'!" So that's pretty much how I've ended up interpreting 'brand'. I have to market me. And that's really the crux of the problem. It's the book I want to sell, not Hazel Buchanan.

Then I get to thinking about our current world-renowned authors. I bring up names like JK Rowling, of course, and John Le Carré and Isabel Allende. And I see not so much a 'brand' as a theme running through their work. It's that theme that becomes their writing persona. So much so, in JK Rowling's case, that she had to invent a new persona (brand) to write her private detective stories that have nothing to do with children or magic. While Le Carré, who has spent a lifetime hiding from the media, openly acknowledges his anger that his writing persona, 'British spy turned writer', was entirely based on his books and created quite independently not only of himself but of the truth.

So, reluctantly, I get to work on putting into words what, instinctively, I know to be important to me. I list character traits and qualities, values and aspirations. Essentially, I write my own philosophy. And, suddenly, I'm seeing the point - not from a marketer's perspective but purely from my own. I have actually gained some greater knowledge of myself and my own beliefs from the process of writing the important bits down. Perhaps there's something in this…

(I still can't bring myself to like the word 'brand'.)

The next step, I'm told by the gurus on Google, is to come up with a marketing plan. Well, sure, I can see that makes sense. It's just that the words 'marketing plan' have always triggered a physical reaction in me which causes my brain to shut down. It isn't just that I haven't known how to make one, it's more that I've never wanted to know. And there's an infinite list of things that I'd rather be doing. Until a couple of months ago. Then, I needed a marketing plan. So I started checking out how to make one. Gradually, I came up with a list of tasks, some of which I had already completed or begun.

1.  Write a great book. (Not just any book, the professionals advise. It has to be a great one!) Edit, re-edit, proofread; offer it up for others to tear down (haha!); reduce and edit again.

I've lost count of the number of drafts Surviving Anna and I have been through. The manuscript, which was once 160,000 words has been systematically eroded to 91,000. It's been read, re-read, edited, reduced and proofed so many times, I can honestly say this box has been ticked as well as it's ever going to be.

2.   Prepare the manuscript for ebook and print format. This includes, of course, designing a cover. It also involves purchasing ISBNs for print and ebook versions; decision-making about pricing & royalties; uploading tax & bank info; writing a cover description; deciding on categories and keywords and whether to enroll in KDP Select.

Tick. (See my earlier blogs for the low-down on all of this). Huge amount of work. Huge.

Thanks to my graphic designer seventeen-year-old son, I have a unique and stunning cover. (Yay!)

3.  Set an advertising budget, strategies and goals.

Enrolling the ebook in KDP Select gives me access to a couple of Amazon promotions: pay-per-click advertising (which has so far yielded me nothing) and KDP Countdown Deals (which I don't want to utilize until I have amassed a lot more reviews.) Once the print version is available, there are many other avenues to explore, including sites such as Goodreads and BookBubs, as well as giveaway promotions. I will also be able to use selling platforms other than Amazon.

4.  Create a website and start a blog. Include an excerpt from Surviving Anna, and links to purchase the book.

Tick. Ongoing, of course, but essentially underway. An enjoyable exercise in many ways, but also very time-consuming.

5.  Create a dedicated Facebook page.

Tick. Ongoing, again, because all of these things require maintenance and updating.

6.  Compile a mailing list of everyone I know.


7.  Publish the ebook through KDP on Amazon.

Tick. This was the good bit. It took a bit of nerve - because now Surviving Anna is out there for anyone to judge. But, by this stage, I had gone so far, I couldn't really pull back!

8.  Email everyone on my mailing list to tell them about the ebook launch.

Tick. This has probably been the most disappointing part of the process so far. I did have a few very prompt and positive replies, and a handful of people have definitely gone out of their way to help me. I'm extremely grateful for their support. It's a pretty small handful, though.

9.  Seek out book reviews. Without a publishing house to draw in editorial reviews, I'm relying on multiple other sources: book review websites; Amazon top reviewers; book bloggers; friends of friends.

Very definitely ongoing. And seriously hardgoing. In fact, without a doubt, the hardest part of all.

10.  Publish the print-on-demand version with CreateSpace.

This box is very nearly ticked. I'm expecting the proof in the post any day now. Hopefully, all of my formatting efforts will have paid off and I'll be able to make Surviving Anna available to purchase as a 'real' book online. I'm certainly looking forward to holding it and turning the pages!

In a nutshell, this marketing challenge I have taken on is an enormous and hugely time-consuming task. I am convinced the key to success lies mainly in getting reviews. So that is where my energies are currently directed. Any offers of help will be most gratefully received!

Welcome to the marketing forest maze

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 19 March, 2016 at 7:35 Comments comments ()

From the formatting jungle to the marketing forest maze. (And, believe me, I'd happily go back.)

The good news is that, having finally finished formatting my ebook for KDP (with quite a bit of help at the end from Calibre), it's actually out there. From 1 March, Surviving Anna has been available to purchase in digital form. And a few people have kindly downloaded it - 29 to be precise, at the last count. So, no, it hasn't exactly gone viral. But, as everyone I speak to consistently points out, I've got to be patient. (The 'p' word again. It's really not my favourite.)

Since 1 March, I've been torn between two competing tasks: continuing to prepare Surviving Anna for its print form, and marketing the ebook. (There is a reason why publishers exist.) Over the last few years, I've read quite a number of articles about self-publishing and marketing. In fact, until the beginning of this year, I had read enough to convince myself not to venture down that path. The knowledge isn't buried way down deep in my heart of hearts - I'm fully aware, and always have been, that I'm a writer not a marketer. I'm certainly not given to self-promotion. But there are some, no doubt well-meaning and positive-thinking, people out there who insist on voicing the view on the intimate worldly-wise-web that writers, simply because they are writers, ought to be able to brag about themselves and their work in such a way as to attract an audience of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands.

Curiously, if you listen to most book sellers and publishers, not even the experts are reliably able to do that.

So, marketing my ebook… Where do I start? My Amazon-retailing son made a few helpful suggestions, one of which was to investigate pay-per-click, an Amazon advertising promotion which involves authors bidding against each other in an automatic auction situation, which to be honest I don't entirely understand. I have signed up to it nonetheless, since it seems to be one of the few benefits available to me after enrolling my ebook in KDP Select. So far, it has yielded me 958 impressions - which I believe means my advert has appeared on potential customers' browsers 958 times. From that, I have achieved 3 clicks - so 3 people have investigated my advert further - and zero sales. Not a great outcome so far, but it has only cost me $0.06, so I'm not really complaining.

One of the keys to successful selling on Amazon is attracting positive reviews. Once I've amassed a handful of these, I can start more actively promoting the book to people I don't know rather than simply to family, friends and acquaintances. Amazon hinders that process to some degree by imposing some quite restrictive rules on who can upload a review. Close family is definitely excluded, which, I guess is fair enough. Potential purchasers could be forgiven for thinking that my own mother's review of my book may not be totally unbiased. But in a, perhaps understandable, overreaction to the fake paid review scandal of 2015, Amazon seems to have adopted a draconian approach to book reviews that particularly impacts indie authors and self-publishers, who obviously do not have access to the same resources as large publishing houses. Essentially, any customer who reviews a book on Amazon is likely to have their opinion removed if Amazon can link them in any way at all with the author. Not only that, but if multiple reviews are put up using the same IP address (eg same home wifi), they will all be taken down.

Taking the advice of other self-publishers faced with a similar problem, I set myself the task of soliciting at least half-a-dozen reviews from total strangers. Having trawled through various lists of bloggers and Amazon top reviewers who are willing to provide an honest opinion in exchange for a copy of a book, I sent out the first ten requests to reviewers I thought might be interested. Only one deigned to reply. And she was too busy.

Another day, another directory of book reviewing bloggers. Wading through the list, it dawns on me that 85% of them will only read fantasy, romance, YA or sci-fi, and of the remainder at least 50% are not currently accepting submissions. After several hours of reading the assessment policies of self-annointed reviewers - who cover the whole gamut from highly experienced and co-ordinated groups with easy-to-navigate websites right down to the fantasy devourer who can neither spell nor construct a grammatically correct sentence - I end up with a list of 5 or 6 who might be worth contacting. The experience leaves me so cold, I have to leave submitting my request for another day. At this stage, if I manage to gain one review from the hours I have spent searching for prospects, I reckon I'll be doing well.

A further frustration is that even though I am using the Amazon platform to sell in the USA (amazon.com), the UK (amazon.co.uk) and Australia (amazon.com.au), I need to get multiple reviews in all three locations, as reviews written in one country do not show up in another. So far, 5 kind souls have come up with the goods. A few others have promised, and several say they are waiting for a print copy because they don't get on with Kindle. A couple have even told me they would like to review the book with their book club later in the year… Later will be great. I appreciate everybody's interest. I understand their reasons. And I know just how busy many people are.

But I want reviews now!!!

And sales! Sales would actually be awesome. Sales would make it all worthwhile.

Which brings me back to marketing…

The more I learn...

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 7 March, 2016 at 3:30 Comments comments ()

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.”


Was there ever a greater truth? I would love to be able to attribute this quotation accurately, but for once the Genius Google has let me down. Socrates or Albert Einstein? It remains a moot point, doubtless with passionate debaters on both sides. I find myself leaning towards Socrates, on the simple basis that someone must surely have said it long before Einstein was born. But I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter. It shouldn't have required a genius to articulate for the rest of us such a profound but obvious truth. It is comforting to conjecture, though, that even some of our greatest thinkers and philosophers have been painfully aware of the limits of their own learning.


Music, which I teach for a living, must be the archetypal rug-puller when it comes to discovering our own limitations. Every day, I'm working with students - often very smart, switched-on, focused kids - who are right at the beginning of their journey with the musical instrument they have chosen to play. Just occasionally, a student will come along who seems almost tailor-made to play the clarinet or sax they have just picked up. And sometimes a child doing particularly well on one instrument decides to take up another, and does it with panache. But even for the ones who find the initial process relatively easy, the learning curve of studying a musical instrument is steep and never smooth.

It's just as well that so many of us start out in blissful ignorance. The belief that the hill we are setting out to climb is fairly small with a relatively gentle incline is surely the only reason we consider the attempt. If the entire rocky mountainside, with all its pitfalls and plateaux, crevices and cracks, was revealed from the beginning in full dramatic splendour, who among us would dare to take those first tentative steps? I wouldn't have very many students, of that I'm sure.

As it is, a music student's view of the landscape ahead of them is, nearly always, mercifully blinkered. Wilfully so, in fact. If not humouressly. I've lost count of the number of primary kids who've come along to their first or second lesson and announced that they want to play jazz or 'the sax riff from that Dire Straits' track'. And, look, I'm all for having ambition and identifying a dream; but I know they mean they want to learn it now or maybe, at a stretch, next week.

"Sure," I tell them, with (what I hope is) an encouraging smile. "And we'll get to that. But you'll need to learn a few more notes first. How did you go with B, A and G? Have you been practising what I showed you?"

"Oh, I didn't have much time this week..."

Time - efficient and effective practice time - is what it's all about. Perhaps it's the cynic coming out in me, but I've never really figured out what's so mystifying about that. I would like to be able to say I've found a way to communicate that concept to all of my students and their parents.

"Just imagine," I often say to them, "that a kindergarten child is trying to learn to read, but the only time they get to see and hold a book is for one half hour session a week. How long would it take them to grasp even the very basics? Now, imagine how much difference it would make if that same child was able to spend an additional 10 to 15 minutes practising their reading at least 5 times a week."

For some, the penny drops. But for far too many, just taking the first few steps up that hill is going to be a long, hard, painful slog. And it's for those kids, in particular, that it's just as well the bulk of the mountain is shrouded in fog. Of course, a few of them will plod along for a bit, making little or no progress, and inevitably give up. The motivated ones, having started, will surge ahead regardless of how rocky the path ahead appears in the little glimpses they get through the mist. The rest will have to be nurtured if they are ever going to advance a reasonable distance along their own path. They'll have to be encouraged, cajoled, rewarded, inspired and, at times, not so gently prodded. And that, in a nutshell, is my job. Except that it's also the job of their parents. And too many of them aren't even looking at the same hill.

So what's the point?

For the ones who give up before they've even started? Absolutely nothing.

For those who race ahead, leaping the smaller obstacles and accepting a hand with the bigger ones? Everything. The joy of making music; the indescribable gratification that comes from producing a beautiful moment of sound with a group of other people; the satisfaction of learning and moving forward; the achievement of success; the ability to work in a team; discipline; self-motivation; a one-on-one evolving relationship with a dedicated teacher; the development and maintenance of cross-brain connections; a glimpse of the top of the mountain... The list goes on.

And for those who will never reach the top, but make a bit of headway with an awful lot of support? Well, they get a commensurate share of the rewards. As the conductor of the Youth Symphony Orchestra I attended always used to say, "You only get out of life what you're prepared to put in."

The further you go up the mountain, the clearer that becomes.