Sunday, January 14, 2024

How To Be a Successful Writer – Advice From 30 Years of Writing and Publishing


I have never met a novelist, either in person or online, who doesn’t want to get their novel/s published. They might not come right out and say it, but you can tell. And it’s a valid dream. Why the hell not?

I was like that, too. And I got there in the end.

After so many years of writing and publishing, you’d think I could just sit back now and spin out the words and my books would be selling like hotcakes. Like 98% of writers, it’s not the case.

On the other hand, I do have 75 books published! So what gives?

Publishing is a business and it works on trends. Remember Twilight? Go The F** To Sleep? The Hunger Games? They all did fabulously well in their time – they hit their moment and took off. But they’re what the business world calls unicorns. Rarer than you think.

Some of my books have won awards, or been shortlisted. That helps a lot. But none have been huge bestsellers. Am I giving up? No. I’m buckling down and forging on, and continuing to do as many of these things as I possibly can. I think if you do them, too, you’ll eventually get there.

I.                 Keep learning and listen hard. I have always gone to conferences (when I can afford it), seminars, classes, and studied writing. I take advantage of free webinars offered by my writers’ associations, look for useful books and articles, go to writers’ and literary festivals.
I listen hard to what published authors say about their writing lives, their paths to publication, their publishing experiences. I don’t speak unless there is something I really want to ask that will be useful.

II.               Look after your health. Too much coffee, alcohol, sugar, drugs – they might make you feel inspired, keep you writing far into the early hours, fuel your ideas – eventually they make your brain tired and depressed. You don’t sleep well. Your body complains. How can you focus then? I mean focus 100%. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that giving my writing 100% is the only way to produce really good stuff. Yes, true.

III.             Keep ideas notebooks. People say they do this, but do they truly? I have a notebook for each novel. I often get ideas for my current novel at odd times, and if I don’t write them down, they die. What’s more important is when I suddenly realize I have a plot hole, or a character glitch, or I have forgotten to set up an important clue. Then my notebook is vital.

IV.            Take decent breaks. Don’t break for half an hour and take your novel with you to work on some editing, for example. Give your brain a total rest and do some gardening or go for a walk or have a power nap. When you finish a novel draft, go away for a long weekend if you can. Those breaks will mean you come back ready and fresh, and you will be surprised at what’s been going on in your brain that can’t wait to emerge.

V.               Don’t try and write like everyone else. Oh boy, it took me years to learn to have confidence in my own voice. To stop self-censoring and thinking things like – that doesn’t sound literary enough. Write and write and find your own voice and then power it up with more writing.

VI.            Stay off social media. You have a lot of creative energy. But it does run out each day, believe it or not. Do you want to spend the best part of it responding to idiots on SM? And the time! We say, “I’ll just spend ten minutes on Facebook” and suddenly it’s two hours later. Social media is a sinkhole. Leave it for when your creative energy is done and you can afford some silly time. (And yes, I know about marketing yourself etc, but again, is that more important than writing?)

VII.           Read widely, read critically, but don’t use it as a procrastination tool. Same with research.

VIII.         Write and submit small things. I’ve always written poetry and short stories, on and off. I’ve now got right back into flash fiction. I submit a lot more now that I used to, and write more of these things, because they make me feel good. It feels great to finish and rewrite them, and then submit, and it feels wonderful to get accepted for publication.
It also reminds me what it feels like to be rejected, and to shake it off and keep going. You need that perseverance for your novels as well. It’s good to learn it now.

IX.             Don’t hang out with writers who whine a lot. Sure, getting published is hard. Sometimes it feels impossible. But if it was super easy, would you still want it? Part of getting published is validation. Other people think what you have written is darned good and they want others to read it. And they will pay you! How amazing is that?
But the downside is pretty rough. All the same, whining gets you nowhere, and hanging out with whiners actually pushes you backwards. It’s fine to have a rant for a few minutes, with writer friends who understand, but then you have to learn to move on and get stuck into your writing again. Whining drains your energy.

X.               This is the tough one. Don’t self-publish just because you have had a hundred rejections. You know what? A hundred rejections, almost all of the time, is telling you something. Your book isn’t good enough yet. Yes, there are a lot of writers who self-publish and do OK, but the really successful ones? They’re unicorns, too.
Use those rejections as a spur – pay for a professional critique, if you can. If you use beta readers, you HAVE to find ones that are experienced and can tell you what’s wrong. What is the point of beta readers who can’t tell you which bits suck? And how to fix them?

So there they are – my ten bits of advice, gleaned from many years of writing, reading, listening, thinking and being tough on myself. I don’t write every day, but I write most days, even if it’s only a few hundred words. I guess that is No. 11 – write. That’s what writers do, isn’t it?


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Trust your gut: how a Debut Dagger longlisting led to a publishing deal


People often ask me where the initial idea for “Trust Me, I’m Dead” came from, and I talk about an article I read many years ago where one snippet caught my eye, and then stuck in my brain. It was a small thing, about a man who’d left behind a tape of secrets that his family knew nothing about. I kept that article but of course now I can’t find it!

The first draft was written back in 2008, I think, and a few people read it over the years, giving me all kinds of feedback. “The voice is too YA”, “It’s not dark enough”, “It’s a fast read – too fast”. Although I didn’t always agree, I knew within each comment was a kernel of truth, feedback that went deeper than fixing grammar and punctuation. So what do you do? You keep revising, deepening, working in complexity.

And then along the way, because it still wasn’t right but the characters well and truly had their teeth into me, I started a sequel and wrote about 30,000 words. My writers’ group read most of it, and wanted more, but other things got in the way. I was teaching and studying, but I rewrote “Trust Me’ yet again. And I saw the ads for the CWA Debut Dagger. I wasn’t ready. The book wasn’t ready!

I had been writing children’s books for quite a few years. They were short, sometimes only the length of a short story, or a long poem if it was a picture book. My adult novels had taken a back seat all along.

Life changes. My writing changed. Perhaps it was the academic writing I did while I was studying, but when I revised “Trust Me” again, I felt more in charge of the sentences and I had more confidence in Judi, my main character, and her voice. This, I decided, was how she wanted to tell her story, no matter what. I would trust my gut and keep at it. Then I went and did one of those coaching courses that showed me it was time to get off my rear end and try – seriously try with this manuscript. The coach’s advice? Yep, stop f****g around. (Thanks, Craig Harper.)

When I entered the Debut Dagger, what I really hoped for was to be shortlisted (never mind winning!). The opportunity to get the judges’ feedback and also have my novel put in front of a number of UK agents and publishers was crucial to me. What I didn’t expect was that when the novel was longlisted, the news was reported in the Australian Bookseller & Publisher, and several Australian publishers jumped in and asked to read it.

Some said no, or sat on it for ages. But Verve Books asked to read the whole manuscript after I was shortlisted, and were so enthusiastic that I knew they would be great to work with. I signed up for a two-book deal and “Trust Me, I’m Dead” was published in July 2019. It’s all been absolutely brilliant.

And that sequel? Well, it was initially lost, and then I found about 80% of it in files on an old USB. So now my writers’ group (and eventually everyone else) will find out what happened to the body in the dumpster!


Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The basics of book contracts, part 3 - the promises made and what they mean


What you promise the publisher

Warranties are also your promises

Now, what does the publisher promise you?

The takeaway from all of this

Continuing the basics of books contracts - "show me the money"


RRP — what is it?

So what does Net Receipts mean?

Why a Huge Advance is Not Always Wonderful

So I should be grateful for a $4000 advance?