1. Invest time and money in your career: this means subscribing to industry newsletters, magazines (such as www.buzzwordsmagazine.com), and journals, as well as joining relevant organizations (for example, your state’s writers’ centre, the Fellowship of Australian Writers, the Australian Society of Authors, The Arts Law Centre of Australia).
2. Always act professionally in your dealings with fellow writers, publishers, and others in your industry. Acting professionally is essential when it comes to signing contracts. Do not sign a contract just to get signed. You can always negotiate clauses (publishers expect you to!), and if you don’t know anything about writing contracts, employ a professional to do so (eg Arts Law Society, ASA, or a solicitor who specializes in arts’ contracts.)
3. Create your own resources. This includes creating a manuscript dispatches’ file or tracker, index cards (or computer generated file) for each manuscript submission, a list of relevant addresses, contact details for publishers, and a library of relevant books and magazines.
4. Attend writing workshops, conferences, and book fairs (see #1. to find out where and when).
5. Your own writing space is essential. Organise it so you know where everything is and make others respect it. Put a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door (and in your head!)
6. Call yourself a writer. Believe it! Make it happen by writing regularly and submitting frequently. Create a signature on your emails which declares you are a writer, for example:
My signature is
Dianne (Di) Bates
NSW 2526 Australia
When I wish to promote a book, its details are included on the signature, eg
(Crossing the Line, Ford Street).
7. Set yourself writing goals and deadlines. Write them down. Keep to them. Goals can be both short-term (I will complete my short story by 20 March) or long-term (By 30 December 2019, I will have finished the first draft of my novel.)
8. Never, ever hassle publishers. After you submit and record date and place of submission, move on to your next writing project. If your publisher has not responded after 8 – 12 weeks, then send a brief, polite email or letter of enquiry. If the publisher ignores your correspondence, then send your manuscript elsewhere, and cross them off your list of would-be publishers.
9. Make and write down decisions about what you expect and will tolerate as a writer. This will help you formulate how professional you will be in your dealings with publishers and the public in general.
10. If you are writing for a market (especially for young people), read as many of the recently published, best selling and old favourites books as there are in that genre. Note who the publishers are: their addresses, if the book is recent, are always available to you on the book’s information (also called imprint) page.
11. Get a business card with your name and contact details on it. You can buy sheets of make-it-yourself business cards from a stationers’ and create the card yourself with your computer (go to Labels, located under Tools on the Menu bar).
12. Network! The more people you know in the industry, the more resources you have available. At conferences, fairs, etc don’t be nervous about approaching people – even the speakers – and giving out your business card. If anyone gives you their business card it’s a good idea to follow-up with an email. If they respond, keep in touch. You never know what it can lead to!
13. Share! So many writers keep markets to themselves for fear others will get published. If your work is good enough, your work will be accepted. Competition is inevitable. If you are generous, then other generous people will reciprocate; you will also be creating goodwill among contemporaries, and potential readers!
14. It is wise not to consider editors, art directors, publicists, market directors and literary agents as personal friends. Be friendly but crossing the fine line can create problems further down the line.
15. (This should probably be #1!) Learn and practice how to self-edit! So many new writers learn about writing but neglect the skill that makes the difference between a good manuscript and a GREAT manuscript. Editing is not just spelling, grammar and punctuation: looking at every single word and sentence, and the overall structure of your work is what editing is about. Not many teach it, but you can find books to help you self-edit.
16. Never, ever submit a manuscript which is less than the very best you can do. This means re-reading it many times for errors. Don’t rely on a computer spell-check.
16. Self-publishing is possible, but the most difficult aspect is distribution. If you use a distributor to get your books into Australian bookshops, be aware that they charge upwards of 60% discount, and not many will handle one-off titles. If you intend to self-distribute, you need great promotional abilities and lots of time and energy.
17. If you donate materials relating to Australian children’s books, such as letters from publishers, manuscripts, proof pages and so on, you might be eligible for the Government's Cultural Gifts Program, a scheme by which your collection is valued (no charge to you) by independent assessors, and a certificate issued to you which will enable you to obtain tax relief. For more information, or to donate a collection, contact the Field Officer of the Archives division of your state library or the National Library of Australia. Keep all of those letters, royalty statements and stuff you might otherwise throw out!
18. Remember that the Australian book industry is a small one and many people know one another: be discrete when talking of others!
19. It is okay for you to thank an editor or publisher or others on the publishing team if they produce a book for you which you think is great, or if a magazine has chosen a great illustrator to go with your story. A nice gesture is a card, a bunch or flowers, bottle of wine, chocolates – but bribes are not a good way to go!
20. If you are lucky enough to get a mentor whom you don’t have to pay, try to do something for him or her. Perhaps you could offer to undertake some research on the internet…
21. Keep all your receipts which you can claim as tax deductions against your writing income – even if you don’t make very much. I can legitimately – and honestly – claim deductions in the tens of thousands of dollars so get a good accountant or seek the advice of someone who makes writing expenses’ claims.
22. Spend more time writing than you do going to workshops and conferences!
23. Keep a time-sheet is a terrific way of seeing just how much time you really “work”. My husband and I are full-time freelancers, who each spend an average 40 hours a week at our writing desks.
24. If you are asked to speak as a writer, do not do it gratis (unless it is your child’s school); your time is valuable, so value it yourself. I charge per child per hour, with a minimum charge per hour.
25. If you intend to publicise your book/s, then undertake a speaking course. Toastmaster International is a great organisation, which will teach you how to make butterflies fly in formation, and to speak impromptu to an audience. (Deduct the cost of joining and meetings against your writing income.)
26. Set small achievable goals and try to write undisturbed regularly. Give yourself an allotted time where writing is your only priority.
27. Keep a despatches’ book or spreadsheet which shows when and where you send out manuscripts.
28. Keep a record of each manuscript’s history: record how long the piece is, when you finished it, places to which it has been sent and if it has been accepted or rejected.
29. Do not sit beside the phone or hang out at the mail box when you submit a manuscript: get to work on the next one!
30. Do not take it personally when your work is rejected by a publisher. There are many reasons why work is returned. Quality of writing is not the only factor: it could be that the publisher has only the day before accepted a similar piece to that which you’ve submitted.
My highest number of consecutive manuscript rejections is 47! One of my published books was rejected by 15 publishers over a six-year period, but when it came out, it was not only very popular, but was accepted for overseas’ translation.
31. Do not be fearful of submitting a manuscript: there are only one or two (usually anonymous) people who will read it, and you will never know who they are. The worst that can happen is that your work is returned. Also, don’t worry about © copyright: it’s rare than anyone in a publishing house will “steal” your idea.
32. Recycle: when your manuscript is rejected, re-submit it the same day to another publisher. If it is your 6th or 7th rejection, then the chances are it’s not the best writing in the world.
33. Most authors worry about multiple submissions or sending the same manuscript to two or more publishers at the same time. My usual approach is to multiply submit as book publishers are notorious for taking a long time to respond to unsolicited submissions. However, it is a courtesy to let the publisher know that they are not the only company looking at your work. Someone once said, what to do if you get two or more publishers wishing to publish your work, is to celebrate. The advantage of competing publishers for one work is that you have leverage regarding contract negotiations.
34. If you prefer to submit a manuscript to one publisher at a time, it is a sound policy to set a deadline. Tell the publisher that they have exclusive rights to read your work until… then name a date, say 6-8 weeks hence. If you have had no response by the date, wait 2-3 days, then make a polite phone call or send an email or card, asking if there is any interest. If there is no response, immediately send your work on to the next publisher.
34. Never expect a publisher to write a report on why they have rejected your work. It is not their job.
35. If a publishing house rejects your work and says why, then your work obviously had some merit: most rejected manuscripts are not commented on. Feel encouraged but work even harder to improve your work!
36. If your manuscript is rejected with notes from the publisher, it is quite okay for you to re-write, using the publisher’s suggestions, and then to re-submit. The second time around address it to the editor who sent you the letter and remind him/her that you have re-worked your manuscript based on their earlier comments.
Even if you did exactly what the publisher suggested, they are not legally bound to accept your re-submission.
37. How do you know which publisher is right for you? This is where your market research comes into play. Look at who is publishing what and see if you like the standard of their book design and the quality of the work they publish. Read your trade magazines; ask published writers about publishers and what they would recommend.
38. The best way to get on side with a published author is to read his/her work and let them know if you enjoy it. You will find most writers – especially children’s writers – friendly and approachable.
39. If you meet someone in the publishing business – such as an author - do not ask them to read your manuscript, even if you paid once upon a time for a course they conducted. Pay for a manuscript assessment.
40. If a manuscript assessor writes a favourable report on your work, then it is okay (in fact a good idea) to submit a copy of the report with your manuscript when you submit it to a publisher.
41. It is not good policy to sign an option clause on a contract, even though it sounds good. The option clause says that the publisher has first right of refusal on your next work. If you sign it, you can be in for trouble in future. If you want to, you can always approach your existing publisher with a new manuscript.
42. Study publishers’ catalogues: quite often you can get a good idea of what they are likely to accept, and sometimes you can see a “gap” in their range. This is particularly the case with educational publishers.
43. If you want to write a non-fiction book, you are advised to create a proposal before you write the book. The proposal will report on matters such as your book concept, your expertise in the intended subject and/or your qualifications, the book’s target market, competing books, reasons why your book will sell well, an outline of the books’ contents and a sample chapter. An interested publisher will likely talk to you about your ideas and even offer a contract before you proceed.
44. Never, ever, ever miss a deadline! Professionals will work around the clock rather than miss one. I once worked with a new illustrator who missed important deadlines, which held up the publisher's schedule. It was her first and last job as an illustrator: news travels in the publishing world.
45. Many writers want to know how long a story, or a book should be. It depends on who you are writing for, and what kind of book. If you don’t know, go to the people who do know, or check out submission guidelines on the internet.
46. If you don’t have a computer, you should forget about being a writer. Learn to back up work-in-progress constantly. Most publishers these days require a hard copy of your work as well as a soft copy.
47. A writing buddy is very motivating, if you can find one. The idea is that you swap work-in-progress and motivate and encourage one another. If you don’t know any other writers, then advertise for a buddy. In most states there are writers’ centres which have newsletters. I have used the Public Notices’ pages of my local regional newspaper to find writers (and succeeded!) A writing group I founded about 20 years ago is still running, though I long ago left it.
48. If you can find like-minded writers, form a writers’ work shopping group which meets regularly. Six to eight members is ideal. The idea is to meet in someone’s home, or perhaps a public place such as the meeting room in the local library. Each person takes turns to read his or her work to the group, and then members of the group offer constructive criticism. In setting up a workshop group, it is advisable that members are of a similar writing level and write in the same genre, such as short stories or novels. You would also be advised as a group to decide on a list of criteria for assessment before the work shopping begins. A certain level of trust needs to exist for a workshop group to function effectively.
49. Most new writers desperately want an agent. Agents are not always what they are cracked up to be. I know of authors who regret having agents because they have become bound by agreements which they cannot escape. Your best tool for success is brilliant writing! There are loop-holes when it comes to publishers saying they will only take work from agented writers. (See my article, How to Get Both Feet Past Publishers’ Locked Doors. I have testimonials which state that lateral thinking and actions, as suggested by the article, does work.)
50. If you hear about a new market or opportunity, attend to it immediately. This is one of the main reasons why I get so much work published! I am constantly ferreting out markets. When I find a new one, I make contact that very moment. Often my work is the first submitted to a new publisher. Move quickly. Don’t leave deadlines to the last minute. It’s a trite but absolutely true saying, “The early bird gets the best (juiciest and sometimes only) worm.”
ALL THE VERY BEST OF LUCK WITH YOUR WRITING CAREER! (Remember, you can make your own luck…)
© Dianne Bates
Di offers a twice monthly online magazine for those in the Australian children’s industry. Go to www.buzzwordsmagazine.com to receive a free copy. If you decide to subscribe ($48 for 24 issues pa), Di will send you a copy of her article, 'How to Get Both Feet Past Publishers' Locked Doors.'