Advice for new players…

When I first started this writing lark I was given some great advice that, out of the goodness of my heart, I’m going to share with you today. There are two key elements, which will save you time, money and angst. What is more, I think you’ll find the principles apply to most things in life that you want to do well. 1. Do your homework Thanks to the marvels of technology it’s not difficult to visit the websites of publishers/agents/editors to find their submission guidelines, and what they’re looking for. If they say they want the manuscript in Times New Roman 12pt, double spaced, with no gap between paragraphs and a large margin on the left-hand side, they mean it. Don’t think, ‘That’s just a rough guideline and as long as it looks neat, it’ll do.’ It won’t. If they say they don’t do fantasy/crime/children’s/medical text books… they really mean it. Don’t think, ‘But my manuscript is so fascinating, they’ll want to snap it up.’ They won’t. 2. Try to Do it Better If you can, sign up for a workshop or two or go to some classes. If you’re agoraphobic (my big word for the week) there are plenty of online courses. Make it your aim to keep educating yourself (professional development). We should aim to continually improve at what we do. Don’t be satisfied with second-best. (You may think you’re absolutely brilliant and you know everything you need to know, but…come on now!) There are also some wonderful books on the craft of writing. My favourites are: ‘The Lie That Tells a Truth’ by John Dufresne; ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King, and ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers’ by Browne and King. If you do these two things you will impress the publisher/agent/editor with your commitment to the craft, and with your professional attitude. It’ll help lift your work just a little higher up in the slush-pool of life. Of course, once the foundations are laid; the structure’s in place, and the research has been done, you still have to produce something that will take our breath away. But, that’s for another...

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The agent said…

I finally heard from the agent. There was good news and bad news. First the bad news. She said, ‘No.’ I felt the bottom of my stomach drop down to somewhere south of my knees. I had a little argument with her email (but! but! but!). I sulked. I shed a few tears. I complained to my husband. I muttered rude things to Rex the Wonder Dog, who licked my hand and batted his eyelashes in a very sympathetic manner. I sulked some more. The next day I reread her email, with feedback attached. First of all, it must be acknowledged that this was a momentous event: she gave feedback! She is the first agent to go beyond, ‘It doesn’t suit our list’. (Agent code for: I don’t like it. I’d already checked their lists and I knew mine would fit in quite nicely, so there.) She wrote a page of feedback, and some of it was actually pretty good. Of course there was also stuff that I didn’t want to hear. I took a few moments to have another little pity party, and then I reread her negative comments and thought, ‘Damn, she’s probably right.’ I then lit the candles on the pity party cake and had another sulk. When will I ever be good enough? After a bit of melodramatic self-indulgence I regathered my couth, and wrote her an email thanking her for her honest feedback (which I really did appreciate) and for giving my ms her time and consideration. Then I mentioned that I am now working on a children’s book (age 10+) and asked if it would be okay with her if I sent it when it’s ready. (I figure it never hurts to ask.) Here’s the next bit of good news. Within minutes she replied with, ‘Yes, more than happy!’ (Her exclamation mark.) She suggested I rewrite the one I sent her, to suit the children’s market instead. Woot! Why suggest that if I don’t have some potential? HEY? So I’m back to tap, tap, tapping… Trying to get my hero out of the big pickle he’s in (about to be burnt at the stake) and safely back home. Then after a jolly good edit, a couple of readers to critique, and another rewrite, I’ll have another go at trying to catch an agent. I’m a stubborn old...

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When oceans roar.

I was going to begin a series on “How to improve your writing”. (Subtitle: things that bug the heck out of me when I’m editing/reviewing.) But then I watched the news last night. I saw that tsunami racing across the Japanese landscape, full of mud, rubbish, cars, sheds, houses, and people… And I find I just don’t have the heart to talk about that right now. I don’t live near the sea. In this area earthquakes are as rare as tigers in the wild. Sometimes we feel a vague rumble. Once in a very blue moon there’s a definite shake, but that’s about it. I cannot imagine the sheer horror of feeling the ground give way underneath your feet; or having your home or office building suddenly collapse around you; or to see that surging monstrous wave heading towards you, faster than you can run. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Although, it’s great stuff for a novel. (Sorry, can’t help myself.) The Japanese search and rescue team had probably only just got back from helping the quake victims in Christchurch, New Zealand. Now they’re looking for their own people. How do they keep going? What fortitude; what courage! I was deeply inspired by the sight of Chinese, Japanese, American, Australian and other nationalities, all working together to help the New Zealanders. It was a little picture of how the world could be and, now, we’ll see it repeated in Japan. I wish world governments could learn from this but politics is politics… Shame. This year we’ve had some serious reminders that life is a precious, fragile thing. How do you know when you’re rich? When you can take your daily routine, your home and your loved ones for granted. But, that perceived wealth is illusionary. It can all disappear in a moment; in the blink of an eye. Treasure the very air you breathe. Enjoy your loved ones, even when they drive you nuts. Do your work as if it’s the last thing you’ll ever do. And be thankful. I know I...

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Death by supermarket

Borders bookstore chain is wobbling on the brink of oblivion and considering the forces against it, I don’t think it’ll be long before it plummets over the edge. Voices lift above the muttering of the crowd: ‘They charged too much. Why pay $25.95 for a novel when I can get it at the supermarket for $10? If they’re going to rip off their customers, they deserve to go under.’ The mob brandish pitchforks and hold flaming torches aloft. ‘Tip ’em over! Tip ’em over!’ Who can compete with supermarket prices? If we can get a 4-pack of John Grisham novels for $12.95 the lot, we’re laughing all the way to the checkout. Supermarkets have already put many mum & dad petrol stations out of business; and friendly local liquor stores; and butchers; and greengrocers… Recently Woolworths have been advertising that we should go to them to get our eyes checked and buy our new specs! For goodness sake, do they want to take over everything? Where’s it all going to end? Do you realise that when you buy a book from a $5 bargain table (and I’m ashamed to say, I’ve done it too), the author gets nothing. That’s nada, zip, zilch, zero, NO MONEY AT ALL! I mean, it’s bad enough that they usually only get about $2 per book at the bookstore price. You have to sell a mega-load of books to be a rich author. Did you know that only about 6% of Australian authors make enough from their book sales to be able to give up their day job? Why do they do it? It’s their passion, it’s their calling and they love their art. I know they cost more, but when you buy a book from a regular bookstore for the R.R.P you don’t just get something that will enlarge your world, enlighten your understanding and brighten your day. You keep the store in business, you keep their staff employed, and you ensure the person who wrote the book gets to pay their bills and put food on their table. As it is, they’re only making about $2 per book, so while you’re at it, buy a few for your...

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