Tuesday 29 July 2014

Writing Verse Novels

The verse-novel is not really a new writing form. Yevgeny Onegin by Aleksander Pushkin, a famous verse-novel, was first published in 1833. Some verse-novels became popular during the Victorian era, as well. But the contemporary verse-novel truly gained literary attention in 1998 when Karen Hesse won a Newbery Medal for her children’s verse-novel, Out of the Dust. A score of verse-novels have since made their way into the hearts of readers – especially young readers – all over the world.

This contemporary genre combines the power of narrative with the rich, evocative language of verse. Of course, some verse novels contain ordinary verse and little plot, but the best free verse novels are beautifully crafted, convincing reading experiences with a strong sense of voice.

Although the narrative structure of a verse novel is similar to a prose novel, the organisation of story is usually in a series of short sections, often with sub-titles. The writing style is very personal, straight-forward and often told in first-person. The chapters are commonly short vignettes, at times related from multiple perspectives. The use of multiple narrators provides readers with a cinematic view into the inner workings of characters’ minds. Most verse novels employ an informal, colloquial register. Tackling subjects for today’s young adults, these books are fairly easy to read, yet often strike to the heart of difficult topics.

There are many advantages to writing your story in verse. The very nature of writing in verse allows for more condensed language. Every word is needed and important. This type of form forces the author to think deeply on what is necessary and what is not. You also leave more ‘space’ for the reader to participate in the story-telling. This space draws the reader’s imagination into the story, filling in their own details where the story leaves it open to do so.

If you are drawn to the idea of writing a story in verse but don’t know how to get started, try reading some contemporary verse-novels to familiarise yourself with the tone and style of the form. Whether you prefer structured verse as in The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, or free-verse, as in Crank by US YA author Ellen Hopkins, read as much as you can get your hands on. With regular doses of the verse-novel in your daily diet, you will begin to hear the subtle undertones of rhythm and lyrical style evident in the various authors’ voices.  Once you’ve found the style that appeals to you most as a reader and while that wonderful feeling you get from reading that style is fresh in your psyche, try writing your first line of verse-story. Then stop. Read it aloud. How does it sound? Is it smooth or awkward? Refine your first line until you love it. Then, move on to the next line. You’re on your way to writing your first verse-novel.

If you have a YA story just waiting to unfold and find that you enjoy reading this form of story writing then this may be the springboard you’ve needed to turn that white page, once again, into literary art.

One of Australia’s best known verse novelists for young people is Steven Herrick, author of By the River (A&U), The Simple Gift (UQP) and others. Herrick says that by far the most poetic verse novel he’s read is Frenchtown Summer by Robert Cormier.

Herrick says that while he’s writing a verse novel all he wants ‘is to write characters that the reader would like to spend some time with. I don't focus that much on the storyline when I'm writing - I just want to get close to the characters. The story (such as it is) comes later.’ 

The late Dorothy Porter, an award-winning Australia poet and author who wrote for adults, said that a good verse novel is an ‘impossible’ juggling act of narrative and poetry; both have to work. ‘You can’t have a successful verse novel,’ she said, ‘where the story drags and the characters are tepidly drawn.

 ‘The same rule of narrative enchantment applies to verse novels as it also applies to prose novels. It’s the quality of the poetry that gives the verse novel its true distinction and luminous intensity.’

Award-winning Australian children’s author, Catherine Bateson started writing for young adults as a verse novelist. She had, she says, already written poetry sequences and, when the prose version of a story she was thinking about didn’t work, she scrapped the five chapters she’d completed and began it again in free verse. What she discovered in the writing of that verse first novel, A Dangerous Girl, was that the form gave her a lot of freedom. She could write from the viewpoints of all four of her characters, directly exploring their emotional lives.

When I began writing Nobody’s Boy , I knew that the story would be about a young boy and his experiences through the fostering system. The boy would not be unlike nine year old Paul whom my husband (Bill Condon) and I had fostered for some years. Paul had been living with his mother on the streets for a year, we were told, when, at the age of six he rang emergency services when his mother took an overdose. For a short while he lived with his father, but his wife gave an ultimatum: her or the boy. The father chose to send Paul into the fostering system. Paul then lived with a number of foster carers before being taken in by his maternal aunt. Here, the eldest of four boys, he was very unhappy until his aunt appealed to the authorities for respite care. It was then that Bill and I took Paul on. After a while, Paul rejected his aunt and demanded to live permanently with Bill and me.

The first challenge in writing Nobody’s Boy was, as it is with all novels, deciding whose voice the novel should be written in. It seemed natural to me that the novel should be narrated by the fostered son, Ron, and so it was. Recording dialogue is an issue in verse novels, so, instead of littering the free verse of the story with all direct speech in quotation marks, I solved the problem by putting it in italics, and by using far less speech than in a prose novel.

As with most verse novels, I broke the story into small narrative chunks, with a sub-title for each section.

It seems that the verse novel is a highly unpredictable literary form. Unlike prose novels, where most read in terms of their structure and language pretty much the same, every verse novel is different. Whether good or bad, each one is a unique reflection of the poet who wrote it and the struggles the poet had in trying to weld poetry and narrative together.

© Dianne Bates
Dianne (Di) Bates is the author of over 120 books for young people. Her latest book is a junior verse novel, Nobody’s Boy (Celapene Press, 2012) about two years in the life of a foster child. The book was awarded a CBCA Notable Award in 2013. Di’s website is www.enterprisingwords.com



Monday 28 July 2014

Roses are Blue

Why and How I Write Verse Novels by Sally Murphy


I fell in love with verse novels when I discovered those written by Margaret Wild (Jinxed and One Night). I decided then that I wanted to write in the form one day, and my love of verse novels continued to grow when I discovered works by Steven Herrick, Catherine Bateson, Lorraine Marwood and more. It took a while to find the right story for a verse novel, but when a girl called Pearl started telling me her tale, I wrote my first verse novel, Pearl Verses the World. Later, I met (in my imagination) a boy named John who similarly wanted his tale told that way, in Toppling.

 Roses are Blue is my third verse novel, and took a little longer than the others to get from early draft to publication, because it took a lot of work to find the right balance between the sad, difficult subject matter, and some hope and happiness for Amber, the main character.

When I write a verse novel, I start with a character and a situation. In this novel, I had a little girl, Amber, in the horrible situation of confronting just how different her mother is - from other mothers, and from the mum she used to be. 

I write the story from beginning to end, trying not to revise or edit until I have a first draft complete. Because I'm writing in poetry, I do consider things like line length and poetic technique, but try not to overthink these at the draft stage. I want to get the story down. So I wrote Amber’s story, of struggling with the changes in her life, and of wondering how her friends will react to Mum when she comes to school for a Mother’s Day function.

Once the draft is complete the hard work begins. Just as with a prose story I need to look at the story arc, the plot and any subplots, character development, setting and so on, but I also need to consider whether it works as poetry. Are there layers of meaning? Have I used line length to the best possible advantage? And what about poetic devices such as rhythm, repetition, alliteration, assonance, imagery, even rhyme? I consider how these can be used to enhance the story.

With Roses are Blue, I found the poetry part flowed quite naturally, but the  plot needed quite a bit of work, as I searched for more hope for Amber and for the reader. The character of Leroy became quite important too. Although he was present in early drafts his role grew in subsequent drafts. 

Of course, I also have to convince my publisher that the verse novel works. Walker Books had published my first two verse novels, and I was lucky enough to have their support in getting Roses are Blue to publication standard.  This meant that once I thought the book was as good as I could get it, I had lots of editorial input from Sue and Jess at Walker until it was ready to be illustrated (by brilliant illustrator Gabriel Evans) and then, eventually, published.

Then, of course, there’s the fun part: holding my book baby in my hands, and getting to share it with the rest of the world.

Sally Murphy is a children’s author, poet and reviewer, who lives in Western Australia. When she’s not writing verse novels, poems, picture books and more, she’s busy with her family – she has six gorgeous children, an adorable grandson and a loveable husband, as well as two dogs. Sally loves to share her poetry with the world through school visits, festival bookings, author talks and the like.

Roses are Blue (illustrated by Gabriel Evans is published by Walker Books Australia (ISBN 9781922244376) and is available from good  bookstores, and from online stores including Booktopia, for a RRP of $16.95

Sally can be visited online at her website: www.sallymurphy.com.au



Sunday 27 July 2014

Blotch: All Paws to Chile

I love dogs. I started dreaming of having a dog when I was in my nappies. 

For hundreds and hundreds of reasons, I didn't have a chance to share my life with a dog. Until … One night coming back home, thinking of retiring from work, I found a little Jack Russell in my backyard. The idea of writing about Blotch came up there and then! 

Blotch means Manchas in Spanish, but as she is so small … Manchitas is the right translation: Blotch = Manchas. 

(Blotch, 2011) by Australian Monica Lazma details the adventures of an energetic Australian dog en route to Antarctica in an illustrated chapter book.
Blotch is very distraught when his two-legged owner, Isabel, receives an invitation to visit her grandfather in Chile and accompany him to Antarctica, but Blotch isn’t invited because he isn’t allowed on the airplane! Horrified by the idea of being without his girl for two months, the innovative dog stows away on the airplane and gets himself a free ride to Chile. Isabel is eventually delighted to have her dog with her, and her plucky grandfather is thrilled to have them both. The author does a wonderful job weaving in rich details about Chile via Blotch’s observations and reactions to his environment.

When Blotch is abducted, he resourcefully escapes and befriends a Husky heading south. They encounter adventures on their way to finding their loved ones. Blotch’s ebullient warmth toward all living creatures is endearing, as is his vulnerability when things get too scary, whether it’s a huge ferryboat to Antarctica or a life-sized statue of a creature resembling a bear. Like many dogs, Blotch pees where he shouldn’t, digs up old bones and almost falls off a boat in his effort to bond with the dolphins, making the book realistic fun for young dog lovers. Sant’ Ana’s illustrations are charming and endearing.

Despite the rich culture and high adventure, the tale is primarily a series of episodic events without much conflict or growth, aside from the achievement of short-term goals. The fast-paced adventures keep things moving fairly well, however. At times, the story reads a little like a tour book, with Isabel often looking up things on her iPad and reading facts aloud. Unfortunately, a key mistake—Antarctica’s coldest season is cited as being minus 8 degrees Celsius instead of minus 80—casts shadows on the accuracy of the facts about Chile and Antarctica that fill the book.


Monday 21 July 2014

Manuscript Rejection no Big Deal!

Many new writers are often discouraged from furthering their careers because publishers reject their manuscripts. The successful writer is often one who persists in the face of rejected manuscripts – and repeated rejections at that. My YA novel, The Last Refuge, a book about children who are victims of domestic violence, took five years of submissions before it was placed with the 16th Australian publisher to whom I sent it. Hodder Headline published it in and subsequently sold rights to Denmark and Italy. The book was highly commended in the Australian Family Therapy Association Awards.

Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God published by my husband Bill Condon was entered in eleven different book competitions by his publisher (Woolshed Press); it was short-listed in only one (which it won – the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Award). It didn’t even get a CBCA Notable Book Guernsey!

In this article I tell of other children’s authors’ quests to have book manuscripts accepted, who persisted despite numerous rejections to finally receive a publishing contract.

Escape by Deluge by Edel Wignell was rejected for seven years by every Australian publisher, many of whom cited it as being 'too local'. Finally it was accepted; rights were then sold to the UK, USA and Sweden, and the book remained in print for five years. Edel reports that one of her manuscripts went out 53 times before acceptance!

Vashti Farrar has found that manuscripts she submitted many years ago which were rejected as too way out at the time, have in most cases found a niche somewhere. At that time she was writing a number of spoof fairy tales before Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes appeared, although her efforts were not in verse. One case in point was the original version of Princess Euphorbia – then called The Prince Frog, which Vashti wrote when Princess Anne got married to Mark Phillips. “Amusing, but too extreme” was the basic rejection message. However, she eventually sold it to NSW School Magazine as “Green Piece” and then resold it to Addison Wesley Longman as a SupaDooper: it was then re-issued by Pearson Education as a play. By this time of course, it was no longer seen as too way out, just wacky.

 Another manuscript, Vashti says, was rejected by a publishing house with the message it would never be accepted by teachers because it used words with dropped h’s and g’s. Again, NSW School Magazine snapped it up and reprinted it and it has also been taken as a play by Pearson. Vashti says, ”Apart from all the usual reasons for manuscripts being rejected, one should not forget that writing themes and styles do go in and out of fashion and it might be wise to stick it in a bottom drawer and try rewriting it in 6 months or a year’s time.”

Wendy Orr’s junior novel, Ark in the Park was rejected by “about” six publishers, with comments such as “too sad for children to relate to,” and “a sweet story but an awkward length” before being published by HarperCollins in 1994. It went on to win the 1995 CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers, and has since been published in the UK, USA, Japan, France and Italy. Although Wendy is not sure of the book’s total figures, it is still in the Educational Lending Rights’ top 100 list (that is, books purchased by educational libraries in Australia.)

Sue Bursztynski has had experience of submitting a children’s non-fiction manuscript several times and not succeeding with the book itself, but using the material from it for something she did succeed in selling. Her book proposal on the subject of horses didn't go through, but the re-written sample chapter on the Australian champion race-horse, Phar Lap, became an article which not only sold, but was requested for e-publishing in the US. Sue’s archaeology book proposal ended up as a book for the education publishing industry and she got an article out of it.

Sue says, “I wrote a couple of books for Allen and Unwin, for the True Stories series, back in the early/mid '90s. One was on monsters (Monsters and Creatures of the Night,), the other on women scientists (Potions to Pulsars: Women Doing Science). Bits of both books have been re-printed elsewhere, by the publishers' arrangement, and she later received a couple of hundred dollars from the re-print of a chapter of her first book in an Asian school textbook.

Sue submitted a proposal for a book on horses. Editor Sarah Brennan liked the idea, but the book didn’t proceed, so Sue re-worked the chapter on Phar Lap and sent it to the NSW School Magazine, which published it. “They don't care what you do with an article after they've published it,” Sue says. The SM editor passed on to her the information that a company in the US called SIRS.COM wanted to re-publish it on CD ROM. They search children's magazines around the world and ask for materials they like. Sue received another US $100 for it. SIRS.COM re-published a few of her articles.

Sue also produced a proposal on archaeologists, but Omnibus, her publisher at the time, had decided not to do any more books in the Extraordinary series, so she peddled the proposal around until she sold a shortened version to Nelson for an education book. That book has since sold over 31,000 copies. A section of the original proposal became an article for Sydney Morning Herald.

HarperCollins simply loved Sue’s proposal on the subject of freaks and medical curiosities. Unfortunately, it was too politically incorrect for Book Club and they simply couldn't raise the money to publish it. She re-worked the sample chapter, did further research on another proposed chapter and sold two articles to School Magazine.

The message from Sue – also from Edel Wignell and other children’s writers is, if you don't sell your book, don't despair – you can always re-cycle!

Janette Brazel reports that two of her books were 'grunge' in nature and had been doing the rounds of publishers for over 12 months. Hector the Protector and Leave it to Weevil  were both accepted by Limelight Publishing, the sixth publisher to which they were submitted.

Pam Graham tells that ten years ago she wrote a story for nine to twelve-year-olds: over the years she submitted it to fourteen publishers.  After a few rejections, a letter came offering to publish her story.  “I was elated until I read that I was expected to pay $8,500 for them to go ahead with it. Nowhere in the info about this publisher did it say they wanted the author to pay costs,” said Pam. She continued submitting her story to other publishers, both small and large.  Some time later, after reading the first three chapters, Macmillan asked to read the rest of the manuscript.  She sent it off but it was returned about eight months later.  Then, after reading the complete manuscript, Queensland University Press asked if she could add about 10,000 words and re-submit it.  She did so, without success. 

Pam says, “When I first began writing, I was told it was a definite no-no to send a manuscript to more than one publisher at a time.  Because I stuck to this 'rule', by the time I got each rejection it meant that an average of six months had been wasted.  This really eats up the years.  

“A few months ago I submitted it to a publisher who organises primary school reading series for a major publisher and was rewarded with success.  Admittedly, publishers' requirements change as do their editors, and I have now signed a contract with one of those fourteen who had already rejected it.”

These are just a few tales from published Australian children’s writers who have persisted with submission – and also recycled rejected material – until they’ve succeeded in selling their work. My most consecutive manuscript rejections is 47 – and then, voila! Success!

For the past 30 years I have kept records of my manuscript acceptances and rejections. Looking at records for the past seven years, I note that my average acceptance rate is 12.5%; this means that for every eight manuscripts I submit, one is likely to be accepted. Whether this indicates I’m a ‘successful’ writer or not, I don’t know. What is a fact, though, is that in 30 years I’ve had well over 120 books published and countless stories, poems and articles.

If you want to succeed as a writer, you need to be aware that publishers reject more manuscripts than they accept; consequently you will also receive more rejections than acceptances. Persistence is the name of the game!

Some of Dianne (Di) Bates' books have won national and state literary awards; others have sold overseas.  Di has received Grants and Fellowships from the Literature Board of the Australia Council and has toured for the National Book Council. Di worked on the editorial team of the NSW Department of Education School Magazine; she was also co-editor of a national children’s magazine, Puffinalia (Penguin Books) and editor of the children’s magazine, Little Ears.

In 2008, Di was awarded The Lady Cutler Prize for distinguished services to children’s Literature. Her latest book is a junior novel, A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press). Currently Di works as a freelance writer and manuscript assessor. Her website is www.enterprisingwords.com.au  


Friday 18 July 2014

Getting Your Children's Book Reviewed

Reviews on children’s hardback picture books and novels are important for many reasons – but one of the most important is that it gets your books noticed by school and public librarians. Hardback book sales are not limited to libraries, but they are often the backbone that prepares the way for purchases by children and parents, as well as future paperback sales.

Many librarians go by the ‘rule of 3.’ They will only purchase a book from the many listed in publishers’ catalogues if they have been reviewed at least three times. When your books are purchased for libraries, the possibilities for school and library visits (and more sales) are endless.

It is less important that the reviews are positive or negative, more important that your book has been reviewed. A Starred review or special mention beyond the basic listing of your book is even a bigger coup.

Book reviews give your book an advantage to perspective parent buyers. If you are planning to promote your book through school programs and book signings, placing positive comments in reviews into your promotion packet, on a flier or on your website is an extra endorsement for your book

As an author, reading reviews of children’s books is helpful even before your book is sold and published. It is a way to find out what is liked, what is needed, or what is overdone. It is also a good way to gain ideas for writing a short ‘review’ of your book in your cover letter, as well as a jacket blurb if you are asked to provide one.

Since most print review publications print their reviews the quarter or month of a book’s publication, your book must be sent to the reviewer ahead of time. Some review sources must be done through your publisher, while others will accept books from authors. Check websites or call for information well ahead of your book’s publication date.

There are numerous magazines which review children’s book. Here some of the top ones:

BUZZ WORDS (THE LATEST BUZZ ON CHILDREN’S BOOKS) www.buzzwordsmagazine.com                                                                             This fortnightly online magazine publishes more reviews annually of children’s books than any other Australian publication. It has a voluntary reviewing staff, mostly freelance writers and children’s book authors.                              
Vicki Stanton, Compiler/Editor                                                                                          

Aussiereviews (http://www.aussiereviews.com) is an independently run, not for profit website which reviews Australian books of all genres, with a special focus on children’s and young adult titles. Reviews are written with a wide audience in mind, but many of its hits come from education-related hosts, suggesting that they are regularly read by educators and students. At present the site is averaging about 500 hits per day

The online website does review most books received, but stresses that receipt of a book does not guarantee a review – most reviews are written by the one reviewer, and so it is not possible to read and review every book published in a year. They are more likely to review a book if they first receive an email from the publisher (rather than the author) in the form of a media release, with details of how it can request a review copy. This allows it to select those titles it is most interested in. This contact between publisher and reviewer also removes the personal contact between reviewer and author which can make impartiality difficult. Review requests can be emailed to webmaster@aussiereviews.com



The official journal of the CBCA is a periodical called Reading Time. Published quarterly, its brief is to review all books for children and young adults published in Australia, many from New Zealand, as well as any other high quality international publications.
Dr John Cohen
PO Box 4062
Ashmont NSW 2650


Subtitled Talking about Books for Children, this magazine is available by subscription and is published five times a year. It has an online subject guide to children’s literature called The Source.
Rayma Turton
Email proprietor, James Turton: james@magpies.net.au
PO Box 7128
Leura NSW 2780

THE READING STACK                                                                                         The Reading Stack is an on-line book review magazine distributed monthly to a free subscriber based mailing list. Review titles can be sent to The Reading Stack, PO Box 142, Bulli NSW 2516. Because we have limited space and we only print reviews for books we recommend, we cannot guarantee a review. Review copies are donated to local schools and libraries but return can be arranged if sufficient postage is included. For further information email thereadingstack@people.net.au or visit the website www.thereadingstack.com

This is ‘the’ industry magazine subscribed to by most booksellers and publishers, and many others, including authors. It has a quarterly supplement JUNIOR BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER which has a wide readership.
PO Box 101
Port Melbourne Vic 3207

Pam Macintyre
PO Box 4286
The University of Melbourne,
Parkville  Vic  3052

Dr Gloria Latham
RMIT School of Education
Building 220,
Level 3, Room 02
Bundoora Vic  3083 

The magazine for book lovers
Rowena Cseh
22 Booth Street
Balmain NSW 2041

Peter Rose
PO Box 2320
Richmond South Vic 3121

Ken Merrigan
Editor 'Education Age'
GPO Box 257C
Melbourne 3001

Tania McCartney
15 Nugent Close
NSW 2619

Don’t forget also to submit your review copy to the Education Editors of major newspapers, such as Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Canberra Times, Newcastle Herald and West Australian. Local newspapers and magazines can help you promote the word about your book, especially in your area. Many times a review may be picked up by another newspaper. You might also consider submitting copies of your book to writers’ centres around Australia for review in their newsletters.

AMAZON.COM:                                                                                             The online mega-bookstore has become an important tool for writers and publishers. Not only can book reviews from print review magazines be placed on the site with your book, but readers can also review and rate your book. For information on how to put your reviews on your site, go to the Help menu at Amazon.com. From there click Send Email. In that menu go to Author & Publisher Services. Here you can list your book in the Amazon.com catalogue, correct information on your book’s page, and enhance your book’s detail page in many ways.

WRITINGFOR CHILDREN                                                                                    This blog site you are currently viewing also showcases new Australian children’s books. Contact dibates@outlook.com if you’d like your book reviewed or to take part in a blog tour.

Dianne (Di) Bates is the author of over 120 books, mostly for young people. Her website is www.enterprisingwords.com.au 


Monday 14 July 2014

A Game of Keeps

It arrived today and I was as thrilled as I was when my first book for young people (Terri) was released by Penguin Books in 1980. ‘It’ is my latest book in a long list of publications – A Game of Keeps, published by a small, proactive publisher, Celapene Press. To unwrap the parcel, pick up the book for the first time and check out whether or not the publisher has printed on good quality paper after many months of waiting for its publication, is an author’s joy.

The book, to suit readers aged 8 to 11 years, is based on a child whom my husband and I informally fostered for a few years while her drug-addicted (single) mother got her act together (which she did eventually, hooray!) In the book Ashley is often left alone by her mother; the child has a pet guinea pig for company and sometimes, when she becomes distressed, she visits an elderly woman in the block of flats where she lives. Under a program known as ‘Aunts and Uncles’, Ashley goes to stay for weekends with a retired couple who introduce her to activities she’s been denied. Ashley is a cheerful, resourceful eight year old who wants nothing but more of her mum’s time. And for her divorced parents to reunite – but to her dismay, Mum finds a new boyfriend whom Ashley detests.

The last book that Celapene Press published of mine was Nobody’s Boy, which last year was awarded a CBCA Notable Book sticker. I sent this manuscript to the publisher, Kathryn Duncan on 12 July 2010 and it was published in September, 2012. A Game of Keeps had a short gestation; submitted on 5 May 2013, and released August 2014.

I’m always interested in the process of submission; how long it takes for a publisher to respond to a manuscript submission, and then how long it takes for an acceptance to lead to publication. As you can see from above, Nobody’s Boy took 25 months, A Game of Keeps 15 months. (Meanwhile, I have written teachers’ notes for both books.) Last year I submitted 71 manuscripts to publishers (books, short stories, articles). Of this number I had 24 rejections and 34 publishers to whom I submitted did not bother to reply. Overall I had 13 acceptances, which is a success rate of 18%.

And yes, I’m still writing! At the moment I have two junior novel manuscripts with publishers and I’m working on a third. Some new writers ask about multiple submissions – should they or should they not send the same manuscript to publishers simultaneously. I generally submitted to multiple publishers because of the ‘no reply’ problem. Also, one can be left waiting for many months for a response for a publisher. Whichever publisher offers me a contract first is the publisher I chose.

I’m so pleased about A Game of Keeps. I think it’s every bit as good as Nobody’s Boy, and I have high hopes for it. Now the publisher and I have to work as hard as we can to draw attention to its release – and hope that the awards’ judges give it a short-listing or two!

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Demands on Authors

So much is demanded these days of book creators, more than ever in the history of publishing. Once all a writer had to do was to write his book and submit it to a publisher. Most publishers ‘in the good old days’ responded to submissions within a reasonable time, usually from six to eight weeks. When his book was accepted, the author would correct two sets of proofs – the galley and the page proofs -- and then wait for his book to be published, at which time he usually joined with his publisher to launch his book, such expense being borne by the publisher.

The author did not have to worry about his book’s blurb: even his back cover biographical blurb was done by his editor. Back then all publicity was handled by the publisher. Usually the author was paid a 10% royalty on recommended retail price and received an advance in excess of $3,000. And, too, most commercially published books were reviewed within a short period of time, most likely because there were fewer publishers which meant fewer published books.

Nowadays it is simply not enough to write and/or illustrate one’s book and hope that reason will prevail and that one’s book will be treated with respect. First, there is the question of submission: with most publishers sitting on manuscript slush piles for many months, sometimes years it behooves the author to make multiple submissions. Even then it can seem like forever before a publisher actually reads and responds to one’s submission, even if one has already published extensively. Acceptance is made difficult in these days by the plethora of writers, many graduates of university and college writing courses and by the high standard of submission required. Once editors would work with new authors, helping to shape and reshape promising manuscripts: nowadays it is practically expected that one’s manuscript has been professionally assessed and/or edited prior to submission.

If one’s work is accepted, then begins the difficult task of negotiating one’s contract with many publishers pushing for net receipts or less than 10% RRP receipts. Advances are generally poor and there's none at all for e-books. However, when the book is published is the time of the hardest work – helping to market and publicise one’s work. Most publishing houses expect authors – even established authors – to fill in multi-paged documents that reveal every personal detail, as well as any contacts, especially media contacts, made during their careers. Sometimes – and this has been my experience – publicists ask the author to fill in the media document every time a new book is accepted, even when he has already done this previously for that company.

Then there is the expectation that the author will work relentlessly to publicise his book. It is essential he has a website. It is also expected that he should use all electronic gadgets to promote himself and his work – with a blog, and on Facebook, U-tube, Linked-In, Twitter, and so on. There is also the expectation that the author be available for interviews, conferences, seminars, workshops. All of the above is usually at the author’s expense. More recently my publisher expected me to fly interstate – at my own expense – to launch my latest book. No mention was made of who was to handle accommodate and other travel that would be involved. This for a book which attracted an advance of only $500!

It is rare, especially in the children’s book industry, for there to be launches – unless the author not only organises but pays for one. One first time author I know spent all of her $3,000 advance catering for her launch: the publisher’s only contribution was to help with sending out invitations! This is not unusual in the industry.

When authors publish book series, it is not uncommon for the publisher to expect them to set up a series’ website. In any case, if the publisher plans to promote the book or series via its own website, the author is expected to provide plenty of material to be downloaded onto that site – including photographs. One author I know paid for a professional team of actors, dancers and camera crew to create a video to go on to U-tube to promote her book – at her own (very considerable) expense, of course. Other authors I know have paid for their own bookmarks, stickers, even posters to promote their books. Authors are also asked to be speakers at conferences, but rarely are they paid for their appearances – unless they are media personalities or from overseas.

These days the energy required for an author to promote one’s book doubtless costs more in energy, anxiety and out of pocket expense than the creation of the book in the first place. When will it all ever end?

Dianne (Di) Bates is the author of 120+ books, mostly for young people. Her most recent (junior novel) is A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press)
Di’s website is www.enterprisingwords.com.au  



Monday 7 July 2014


Lately I’ve been dipping into a new book on the market titled The Adaptable Author: Coping with Change in the Digital Age by Sophie Masson (Keesing Press, 2014). Masson has interviewed many authors and some publishers and literary agents asking them about issues that make it difficult in these changing times to stay published and asking what’s happening in the publishing industry.  It’s fascinating and illuminating reading and ought to be on the reading list of any author wanting to make it in the publishing industry.

In the ‘Staying Published’ interviews, Masson interviewed Australian and international authors with long (commercial publisher) careers, as well as a few Australian authors, all of whom give their reasons why they have continued to publish for many years. Interestingly, most of the authors (including a few anonymous authors) write for the children’s and YA market. In the third part of her book, Masson summarises practical, successful strategies for a long career as a published author.

Today I thought I’d repeat some comments made by publishers in the book. An (anonymous) multinational publisher says, ‘the market is very tough at the moment... we rely more and more on key retailers (such as Big W) to sell in volume. This in turn puts an emphasis on tried and tested authors – i.e. brand names – who are seen as more predictable and less of a risk to a retailer.’ Asked how he saw the publishing industry in the future, he said, ‘I think the move towards the DDS (Big W, Kmart, Target) as book retailers will continue. But hopefully independents will find a way to survive as they are key to spotting and building new authors.’

Digital only publisher Joel Naoum from Momentum gives the following advice to writers having trouble maintaining publisher interest: ‘Get better at self promotion and try to make your book available in as many territories as possible. Many writers don’t like promoting themselves, but most traditional publishers (especially in Australia) are squeezed thin just trying to stay afloat.’

Answering the above question, small specialist publisher (of Pitt Street Poetry), John Knight says, ‘Change publishers. Just as people with mortgages are notoriously reluctant to change banks, some writers are reluctant to change publishers, even when they are not being treated particularly well. But it seems to us that it is perfectly reasonable to shop around, for both mortgages and publishers, to stimulate demand and create a little competition for your work. If the work is of real value and there are readers out there for it, then market forces mandate that there will be a publisher for it somewhere.’ Incidentally, John’s wife is Linsay Knight, former children’s publisher at Random House.

Author of 120+ books, mostly for children, and writing for over thirty years, Dianne (Di) Bates is interviewed in The Adaptable Author which is available through the Australian Society of Authors.

Thursday 3 July 2014

PItching to Publishers

Years ago I used to network widely, attending conferences, workshops and festivals. But more recently, as I no longer live in Sydney (now Wollongong), I tend to network online. However, last weekend I attended the Kids and YA Writers' Festival held at the NSW Writers' Centre in Rozelle as I particularly wanted to catch up with manuscript assessment and course clients face-to-face, as well as to see author friends old and new.

About 120 people attended, most of whom I didn't know which indicated that many were would-be writers. The publishers' panel session was packed with writers hanging on to every word. 'We'll know it when we get it,' was the message about how publishers accept manuscripts, which confirms what I've always suspected. I think that publishers looking in the marketplace for books are like a woman in a dress shop knowing what the occasion is but not knowing exactly what she wants until she sees it.

Someone asked why publishers couldn't reply to manuscript submissions. 'We send out automatic acknowledgements,' one publisher said. The questioner continued, 'Why can't you do the same with rejections?' (which I think was a reasonable question) but she was fobbed off. Once in publishing, when an author submitted a manuscript not only was there an acknowledgement letter, but always there was a rejection (or an acceptance) letter. What has changed over time but manners?

The  most interesting aspect of the day for me was the picture book pitch. All writers were invited to write their names on slips of paper earlier in the day. Three publishers sat on a podium as names were drawn one at the time from a hat. Those whose names were called were then given three minutes to pitch their picture book manuscript. About eight were chosen. All but one of them talked about their picture books. The odd person out did what seemed to me to be the most logical thing -- she used her three minutes to read her text. As a result, the audience (and the publishers) knew exactly what the book was about and how it was written. And the author had time left over.

I cannot understand how anyone with a picture book text does not read it when given the valuable opportunity to pitch. For me it's the difference between telling and showing. I highly recommend this method if you are ever given the opportunity. And then give a copy of the manuscript (with your contact details) to the publisher.