Saturday 19 November 2016

Motivating Yourself to Write

‘Superglue’, that’s the answer I give when people ask how I motivate myself to write day after day. ‘Apply it to the seat of your pants and face the screen.’ It’s a glib answer, but basically this is the surest way to achievement.

There's nothing like the feeling of starting to write a brand new story. You’ve probably been thinking about it for days or weeks before you actually sit down at your computer and start tapping away. The characters are real in your head; the plot sounds promising, and you are motivated. This is going to be The One, the great international best-selling novel.

Your initial feeling of excitement can last for weeks. It's rewarding to see the word count increase as days pass. It's a joy to open your laptop and spend hours in your fictional world, forgetting all your everyday chores.

Comes the day, though, when you turn on your computer and instead of having fun writing the next scene, you stare at the screen and find yourself thinking about anything other than your story. Visitors are coming for tea, your carpets need vacuuming and your garden is neglected.  You type a few sentences, but when you read them through they sound about as interesting as last week's shopping list. Is it worth pursuing, you ask yourself. Perhaps it’s just one of those days. You write in your diary, make a cuppa and bring in the washing. All the time you’re thinking about how difficult it is to write, how nobody said you ‘have to’ write, that getting published is almost impossible given bookshops are closing. Doubts and negative thoughts crowd your head.

Before too long, this becomes the pattern of your days. Sometimes you manage to write a description - even finish a chapter - but more and more, you find reasons not to write. You moan to your family and colleagues about how you’re procrastinating and you ask yourself ‘how can I get over this writer’s block?’

Here is the cold, hard truth: motivating yourself to do anything that’s hard work, like losing weight, doing your taxes, exercising daily – and yes, writing -- is not possible.
You cannot motivate yourself to write. What you can do, is put a plan into action. Work out a system to get what you want.

First, know that the rewards have to be greater than the pain, or you won't do it. We spend our lives trying to avoid pain and to seek out that which is pleasurable. Yes, it’s true! The good news is that once you realise this, you've just taken a giant step towards your ultimate goal - getting your book finished and then getting it published.

Here are a few tips on how to reach your writing and publishing goals. First of all, you need to get serious. This doesn’t mean enrolling in countless courses, networking, going to writers’ festivals or reading writing magazines: none of it will do any good if you don't get serious about the actual WRITING. To have finished pages mounting up, you have to write. To get a manuscript complete enough to submit to a publisher, you have to write. You have to write regardless of whether you’re in the mood; whether or not there are family dramas or you’ve got a head cold. Superglue time is the published writer’s bottom line!

What are some ways of getting out that tube of glue? As indicated above, you need to put writing first. Make it your daily priority. Give it at least an hour a day. One hour out of twenty-four is doable. If you can't spare just one hour a day for your writing, then you are simply not serious.

If the reason you can't spare an hour a day is due to a genuine emergency (a serious illness, for instance), then that's different. Give whatever the crisis is your full attention, then get back to being serious about your writing as soon as it’s passed. Set up a routine for your writing until it becomes a habit. Don't let anything get in the way. If something totally unexpected comes along to derail you and sabotage your writing time, then make that time up before the week is out.

Map out your road to publication. You need to go through a process to do this, so be businesslike and create a checklist. This might include necessary research, writing crucial scenes, finishing a chapter at a time, finishing the first draft, editing the draft, getting feedback (perhaps paying for a manuscript assessment), re-polishing the draft. Make checklists not only for characters, but also for setting, plot, completion dates for scenes (or chapters), editing and polishing your work. Also rough out deadlines for each list. Goal-setting – setting up systems -- needs to be a priority.

One of the best ways of motivating continuity on your writing project is to find support, either with a writing buddy or through a workshop group that meets regularly. It really helps to be accountable to someone, to have support in setting up good writing habits and maintaining discipline with the goals and deadlines you’ve set up, and to critique each other’s work. Your writing support can be a single person whose opinions you trust (perhaps someone else on the path to publication), or it can take the form of a writing course with set tasks, an online assessment/editing forum, or a reputable critique service. Beware, however, of ‘supporters’ who don’t take the writing as seriously as you do: some forums can generate into chatty emails that aren’t focused on achievement.

If you want to be part of a writing workshop that meets regularly to critique works-in-progress, and you don’t know of one, then find one. This might involve putting a notice in your regional newspaper or library, contacting the nearest writers’ centre or asking your council’s community arts officer for local writers’ groups. A good size
group is four to five. Meetings might be once a week, month or fortnight.

Ready to get serious? Then stop reading this article, and clear the decks - mentally, socially and physically. Arrange a quiet writing area that is yours alone. Commit your writing plan and time to paper. Find a writing buddy or writing critique group, then START!

Discipline and good habits will get your book written, and motivation will come from seeing the results.

© Dianne Bates 

A former magazine and newspaper editor, Dianne (Di) Bates is author of over 130 books, mostly for young readers. She has also published How to Self-Edit (To Improve Writing) and Wordgames: Creative Thinking and Writing (Five Senses Education)  Di is the founding editor of Buzz Words, an online twice monthly magazine for those in the children’s book industry. Her 
website is  

Thursday 17 November 2016

All of Us Together

Today's guest is CBCA multi-award winning author Bill Condon whose latest book, All of Us Together, was recently published by About Kids Books ( Bill kindly offered to answer some questions about this family story which goes straight to the heart.

Why did you set your book All of Us Together in Australia during the 1930s Great Depression?
I suppose the main thing was that it seemed a very interesting time in Australia’s history, and one that was brimming with possibilities for a writer. Also, today’s children probably don’t know much, if anything, about the hard times their ancestors lived through. I thought that writing a family story set in that time was a good way to give them an understanding of the Depression. But I should point out that I wasn’t interested in giving any kind of history lesson. For me, the historical aspect is very much in the background. First and foremost, I tried to write a story that would keep kids turning the pages.

The seeds of this book were probably first sown when I was in my teens, perhaps even younger. Back then my parents used to tell me about their experiences in the 30s. Like most young people, I probably didn’t listen very closely, but I must have been tuned in subconsciously. And so, when I was hunting around for a new project, the Depression gradually bubbled up to the top of the list.

Was your own family anything like Daniel's?
In lots of ways, yes. Like Daniel, the main character in All Of Us Together, I have two sisters. In my story, Daniel is the oldest, whereas in real life, I was the youngest – and I still am! My mum and dad were working class people, the same as Daniel’s parents. And the really big similarity between his family and my own is that, like Daniel and his sisters, we had the great good fortune to have loving and kind parents.

What would you say are the themes of All of Us Together?
I didn’t set out to write a themed book, or to be moralistic or preachy. I think that would be death to any story. However, themes do emerge. Daniel’s parents teach their children to be honest and to respect others. Of course, honesty is not always easy, so when Daniel makes mistakes, he knows he has to take the consequences. The love and support one gets from family is also evident, as are issues related to mateship, bullying, and coming to terms with grief.

How long does it take you to write a book?
It’s very hard to give an accurate answer. I started All Of Us Together last year, and worked on it for several months before consigning it to the Too Hard Basket. In January of this year I changed it from third person to first and dived back into, starting all over again. This time I didn’t quit and it took about seven or eight months to finish. So with this one it’s been well over a year. Some of them take a lot longer.

You have won quite a few book awards: how important are they to you?
I’d be lying if I said they didn’t matter. Just about every writer surely dreams of winning the glittering prize. However, I think there is a lot of luck involved in it. The year I won the Prime Minister’s Award (2010) all the other shortlisted writers had reason to be confident. Each of them had won other awards or been shortlisted. Mine was the only book that hadn’t had any previous success. I’m sure if there had been betting on the result I would have been a rank outsider. There are so many good books that I feel should have won awards, but which missed out. What I try to remember is that the glitter vanishes quickly, and few remember who won last year’s big prize. And too, just being published is a pretty big deal.

Have you started on your next writing project?
Not yet. It isn’t that long ago that I finished All Of Us Together and so I think I’m a little more brain-dead than usual. Hopefully that won’t last much longer.

Saturday 12 November 2016


I have published over 130 books, mostly for young readers. I'm constantly searching for publishers appropriate for the book I'm writing or planning to write. Hopefully these clues will help you, too, track down a publisher. Good luck!

1) Write your book.
When you're starting out, publishers want to see a finished product, or at least part of a finished product. They want to know that you're capable of writing the whole novel. So before you approach a publisher or, even research the market, write your novel.

2) Research the market.
First you need to know what sort of book you've written. Who is your reader? Males? Females? Both? What is the age of your audience? Is your book genre fiction? What genre? What about the length?

Visit local book stores and look for books similar to your own in length and genre. You'll find the publisher's information easily, both on the cover and inside the book. Write down a list of the publishers you find that might be interested in work similar to your own.

3) Research the publishers.
I own a copy of The Australian Writer's Marketplace. You can buy Writer's Marketplace reference books for other countries as well, including the US and UK. You'll find details of many publishers in this reference resource. These details include their address, phone number, email address, website and submission requirements.

Create – and keep up to date - your own list of publishers who publish in your chosen genre. As a writer of books for young people, I have a comprehensive contact list which I regularly update by keeping my eye on publishers’ details in trade magazines, by swapping information with other writers with whom I network and by phoning publishers at least once annually.

The Internet has made finding publishers a much easier task. If a publisher has a website, and most of them do, then visit the website. Research what they are publishing. And look for submission information. Firstly, do they accept unsolicited manuscripts? Your manuscript is unsolicited if a publisher or editor hasn't requested to read it. In other words, your manuscript is unsolicited if you're sending it to a publisher without their prior knowledge.

A lot of publishers include submission guidelines on their websites, which you can easily downloaded. Always read a publisher's guidelines and always follow their instructions. Give your manuscript the best chance. If guidelines aren't readily available on a publisher's website, then send them a polite and professional email asking for a copy of their guidelines.

The reason you conduct research on publishers before you submit a manuscript is to save you time and money. There's no point sending your horror novel to a publisher that only publishes romance novels. There's no point sending your children's picture book to a publisher that doesn't publish children's books or picture books. There's no point sending your unsolicited manuscript to a publisher that doesn't accept unsolicited manuscripts.

4) Be professional
When you deal with publishers or anyone associated with the publishing industry it pays to always be polite, friendly and professional. Publishers are looking for writers who can produce great novels and conduct themselves professionally. This includes submitting your work in a professional manner. A neatly formatted manuscript, accompanied by a well-written query letter will be more readily accepted than a hand-written, unedited story!

You can find plenty of articles about query letters, manuscript submission and formatting here:

5) Be Realistic
Biggest does not equal best! Almost every writer wants to see his or her own book up there on the best seller lists. But aiming your book at the biggest name publishing house you can locate is not always realistic - nor is it always the best possible publishing home for your precious work. In many cases, a smaller, more specialised publisher might have a better chance of placing your book in front of the right readers for your particular genre.

6) Research again!
Just because you may have found the name of a publisher willing to publish a book similar to your own does not necessarily mean they are still accepting submissions! Keep a close eye on websites that list publishers actively seeking manuscripts. Some of these even list publishers who are no longer accepting submissions, so you'll at least have some idea of where NOT to send your work.

Here are some links to help you find a publisher's website:

Naturally there are many more websites on publishers that you can find for yourself by searching the Internet.

You can also access the names of Australian publishers by purchasing the Australian Publishers’ Association annual list of members.

You are in the driver's seat of your writing career. Take control and target your submissions to the best of your ability. And that means researching the market and researching publishers.
© Dianne (Di) Bates                                                             

Thursday 10 November 2016

3 smart ways to crank up your creativity

Expand Your Know-How
If you want to excel at something, learn as much about it as possible. "It doesn't do much good to simply say 'I'm going to be a painter,' " says neuropsychologist Dr Rex Jung."You have to know about colour blending and brush strokes." Biology backs this: When we're being creative, our frontal cortex (the part of the brain where memory is stored and retrieved) is activated. That makes sense, because in order to come up with ideas, you need to have info from which to draw. "The more you try, the more knowledge you'll have at your disposal when dreaming things up," he says.

Make Problems for Yourself
Challenge your brain by coming up with what-ifs. You might ask yourself, What if I had to throw an impromptu dinner and all the guests were vegans? Or, What if I needed to look great for an event but didn't have time for a blow-dry?
"By inventing problems and then figuring out solutions to them, you build brainpower," says Dr Mark Runco, a creativity researcher at the University of Georgia, US.

Pick a Letter, Any Letter
"This puzzle exercises both sides of your brain," says psychologist Dr Shelley Carson. Set a timer for three minutes, then jot down all the nouns you can think of that start with a certain letter.

Set the timer for another three minutes and think of two categories the nouns would fit into-it might be places (Florida, France, forest) or parts of the body (finger, foot, face). When you're done, set the timer for three minutes again; re-ategorise the words into two more groups.


Contract checklist (per Australian Society of Authors)Before you sign, make sure you understand the implications of these clauses
Where your publisher offers their standard contract, check that it:
  • Has a firm date for publication
  • Has rising royalties, paid on recommended retail price, not net receipts
  • Gives approximate price and minimum print run
  • Has a revision clause
  • Binds the publisher to show you proofs
  • Defines responsibility for the cost of illustrations, indexing, photographs and so on
  • Has at least two accounting periods per year
  • Makes the publisher responsible for the loss of manuscript or book stocks
  • Has an effective termination clause.
Check also that it does not:
  • Assign copyright to the publisher
  • Assign digital/electronic rights to the publisher
  • Allow alterations without your consent
  • Allow royalties calculated on the price of sheets sold
  • Allow overstock or remainder sales within two years
  • Set a price for future Book Club sales
  • Take a share (other than agent’s commission) of non-print rights
  • Hold reserves beyond the second accounting date
  • Ask extended rights such as overseas rights without proof of ability to exploit them
  • Purport to assign or waive your moral rights
  • Include a consent to an act which otherwise would be a breach of your moral rights.
From Barbara Jefferis, Rob Pullen and Lynne Spender Australian Book Contracts 3rd edition (Keesing Press).

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Titles That Sell

"I can't think of a title. Do you have any ideas?" 
I've lost count of the times someone has said this to me! I usually roll my eyes and groan. Do I have any ideas? Not likely. Coming up with a title is hard work. Oh, sure, sometimes the perfect title seems to appear from nowhere... but more often, it involves a lot of brainstorming and some pretty dodgy choices in the beginning.

A pet hate of mine is what I call the 'Nothing' title. You know the kind of thing: "Treacherous Heart"; "Deception"; "The Wedding". When looking at the books I own before sitting down to write this, I actually spotted two novels on my shelves both entitled "The Wedding." Please, a bit more imagination! (Of course, if you're a best-selling author already it doesn't matter much. Your name is going to be twice the size of the title anyway. All your readers want to know is: "Have I read this one before...? No? Great, I'll buy it.")

Your book title is very important, so it's worth spending a bit of time on it - no, a LOT of time on it! Your title needs to sum up the theme of your book in a few words... yet be 'different' enough to stand out. There's no doubt that a good title can help to sell a book, although a bad title won't necessarily affect your chances of acceptance.

FOR NOW: if you're having trouble, at least call the book *something*. That helps you to see it as an entity. It's much easier to imagine it as a finished product when it has a title. You can always change the title later, but meanwhile you can be thinking of your novel by name instead of just 'my book'.

FOR LATER: keep in mind that your name is going to be associated with the title of your book forever more. You will be sending out press releases about your book; you may be doing radio or TV interviews; you are likely to be introduced at author talks and on panels as "Jane Writer, Author of "How to Make a Million Before Breakfast". Your title will be OUT THERE.

Now that you're thoroughly intimidated, let's think about how you can make your title (a) grab attention and (b) have something meaningful to say about your book. ("The Wedding" might say something about the book, but it's too generic - hardly a 'grabber'. Sure, romance readers like to read about weddings... but which novel would you pluck from the shelf: "The Wedding" or "Too Wild to Wed" (a book by Jayne Ann Krentz)? Your title should make people want to pick up your book and read more.) Here are some titles I found on my shelves that are intriguing, or full of promise, or maybe just quirky:

=== Non-Fiction ===

The One-Minute Millionaire by Mark Victor Hansen and Robert G. Allen. (No comment necessary about why this is effective.)

You'll See It When You Believe It by Wayne Dyer (A clever twist on the standard saying)

Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus (An inspired choice that has paid off big time)

=== Romance ===

Vows Made in Wine by Susan Wiggs. (This one came from a quote from Shakespeare: "I am falser than vows made in wine". Intriguing both on its own *and* if the source of the quote is recognised.)

The Mist and the Magic by Susan Wiggs. (This is the blurb on the back cover: THE MIST: Caitlin MacBride, mistress of the beleaguered Irish stronghold Clonmuir, made a wish one evening at sunset. "Send me my true love," she whispered. THE MAGIC: As she watched, a man walked out of the mist that rolled in off the water. In John Wesley Hawkins, Caitlin saw a magic she thought had been lost to Ireland forever...)

A further note on Susan Wiggs' titles: Susan has chosen to stay with the same rhythmic pattern for some of her titles, using the formula "The XXX and the XXX". As well as "The Mist And The Magic", she has written "The Raven and the Rose" and "The Lily and The Leopard". (She also has what I call a 'nothing' title: "Embrace the Day" so it just goes to show you can't win all the time.)

Moving right along: Several authors choose to use well known song titles or excerpts as titles. This works well if it's tied to the book's theme. Included in those are:

Nobody's Baby But Mine (Susan Elizabeth Phillips)

It Had To Be You (Susan Elizabeth Phillips)

Walking After Midnight (Karen Robards)

=== Crime ===

A - Z titles

Some of the best known mystery titles are Sue Grafton's books featuring PI Kinsey Milhone. Grafton started with "A is for Alibi" and is working her way through the alphabet. The formula is simple: "[alphabet letter] is for XXXX". So far we have: Burglar, Corpse, Deadbeat, Evidence, Fugitive, Gumshoe, Homicide, Innocent, Judgment, Killer, Lawless, Malice, Noose, Outlaw, Peril, Quarry and Ricochet. (There may be more out that I haven't seen yet.) Naturally you can apply this formula to any genre: fiction or non-fiction.

=== Short Titles (2 or 3 Words) ===

Greg Iles, a popular writer of thrillers, likes short, punchy titles. People now associate this type of title with his books. It's much more of a challenge to relate the title to your book if you choose an ultra-short title, but it can be done. Greg Iles has written "Sleep No More", "Dead Sleep", "24 Hours"; "The Quiet Game", "Mortal Fear", "Dark Matter" and "Blood Memory". The danger of very short titles is that they can become 'nothing titles' very easily, but in Greg Iles' case, each title does relate to the theme of the book.

=== Humour ===

Everyone likes a quirky, humorous title. One I liked was "The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing" by Melissa Bank - which is a humorous novel related to the mating game, not activities in the wild! Other humorous titles that worked for me are: Getting Rid of Bradley (Jennifer Crusie) and "When She Was Bad" (Jennifer Crusie). There are many more... try going to the library for an hour or so and doing nothing but write down titles that 'grab' you. Then classify them: humorous, song titles, eerie, adventurous and so on. You'll learn a lot.

"How To" books are ever-popular, and these two words in a title often impel readers to make a purchase. Often the "how to" is in the subtitle - for example: "The Perfect Pergola: How To Build Your Own Pergola in 10 Easy Steps".

Pick your own "how to" topic! You might find it effective to link the word "Secrets" with a "How To" title - people love to feel that they're learning something that most other people don't know. (Example: "The Secrets of Property Investment for Retirees: How To Triple Your Nest Egg in 12 Short Months".) A subtitle is an excellent idea for non-fiction - it allows you to choose a shorter, punchier title for the main impact, then add clarification for the reader.

=== How To Find a Good Title ===

1. Spend an hour at the library browsing the shelves and writing down titles that appeal - and why. (You're expected to browse in a library. In a book store you might get a few funny looks.) See if you can figure out, by reading the back cover blurb or reviews etc, how the title is relevant to the subject matter.

2. Use the Internet. Google your way to and do the same thing... just research titles. You'll be able to look at magazine titles as well as book titles.

3. Browse at the newsagent. You can often get ideas for titles from the titles of articles in magazines. Check out the phrases used as 'grabbers' on the magazine cover, too.

4. Write down every title you can think of, and all variations of that title. Add different nouns and verbs. Think of how you might be able to use words that relate to colours, numbers, emotions, people and animals.

And After All That...

... be prepared for your wonderful, quirky, clever title to be changed. Aaarrgghh! Sad but true.
Often it will simply not appeal to an editor. Sometimes there will be another book about to be released with a similar title. Sometimes you'll be asked to change it because the title gives away too much! (This happened to me. I gave one of my books for kids the title "The Haunted Concert". I thought it was a great title: kids love ghost stories, and most have experienced being in a school concert. The editor pointed out that most of the way through the book the main character was convinced that his substitute teacher (who was very 'different') was an alien. Instead, she turned out to be the ghost of one of the first teachers at the school. By calling the book "The Haunted Concert" I had given the game away. Duh!!! After beating myself around the head a few times, I changed it.)

Can you fight for your title? Hmmm... not likely. Unless you hate it, it's best to accept the change and move on.

Finally, here's a few words about book titles from well-known fantasy novelist Cory Daniells (Author of The Shadow Kingdom).
You want something that will leap off the shelves and stick in people's minds. You spend hours puzzling over just the right title for your book, you consult friends and family. And then, when you get accepted, the marketing people change the title. This happened to two out of three books in my trilogy.

But it is still worth taking the time to come up with the best possible title for your book. Why not surf the net and compare book titles by your favourite authors: authors whose books will be on the shelves with yours. Which titles would make you pick up the book?

If you are writing a series, you'll need to think of a series title and individual titles.
·        Can you draw on the theme of the series for inspiration?
·        Can you link the titles so that the readers will have no trouble remembering them? Think of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books. 'One for the Money' etc.
·        Can you set up a conflict in the title by using two words that contradict each other? I sold a story recently called 'The Nameless King and the Faithless Priest'.
But remember, don't get too attached. The marketing team will have their own ideas... but whatever it is called, it is still your book!
© Marg McAlister

Saturday 5 November 2016

Authors in Schools

Let’s say you want to get into the schools and have a captive audience for your brilliant work of literature. How do you do it? 

1.) If you aren’t vivacious, quick on your feet, and a strong public speaker, it’s probably not a good idea to get into classrooms. Kids expect to be entertained as much as informed (usually entertained more). You need to bring your best attitude to work with kids—they deserve no less. Connect kids with what you know, what you’ve written, what they’re learning, and what they care about and be enthusiastic about all of it and you should be well received.

2.) Know who you’re contacting. Don’t do the ‘To Whom It May Concern’ thing because you can bet it won’t be of any concern to anyone then. Do some basic research. If you’re aiming to speak to the classes of a certain subject or grade level, know who to send your pitch to. Usually the best person to contact (in primary school) is the teacher-librarian; in high school, try the head of English department.

3.) Offer to tailor your presentation to the class’s needs, but also provide the teacher or staff member you’re pitching to with some examples of presentations you can do. Keep it simple for them.

4.) Make sure your materials (emails, pamphlets, flyers, whatever) are professional looking and free of typos. They are frequently your first impression, so make it a good one.
5.) As above, if you plan to give a power point presentation, make it as visually attractive as possible.
6.) What you charge is up to you. At the moment most school’s presenters charge either Australian Society of Authors’ rates, or on average $3.50 per student per hour for performance/talk, with a minimum number of students. I charge $3 per student with a minimum of 90 students. For writing workshops I charge $5 per student for an hour with a maximum of 30 students.
7.) Be clear about what you will and won’t do. For example, I only give writing workshops for students from Year 3 and up.
8.) Arrive at least 30 minutes at the school before your first presentation. This gives you time to meet your school organiser, sign in at the front office and to set up. If there are technical hitches, say with your computer/power point presentation you won’t have children arriving in the middle of the crisis.
9.) Some schools are kind enough to allow you to sell your books. What I do if given permission to sell is send copies of the books to the teacher-librarian. If it’s okay with the TL, I also send flyers with book covers, blurbs and prices to her, asking her to please give to the students. Some TLs are kind enough to save you the time and expense; they will put a notice on your behalf in the school newsletter. The best time to sell books is immediately after school when parents come to pick up their children.

Did you get the gig? Awesome! Touch base with the school and the teacher who is hosting you about a week before you go. If there are things they need to provide (ideally, all they need to provide is the space you’re presenting in), gently remind them of that. Ask if there’s anything specific they want you to reinforce. Check over the schedule and general expectations. Know where you need to check-in (closest cross-street and parking availability).

9.) Support what the teachers are teaching with your presentation. Make their lives easier and they’ll be more likely to bring you back and/or recommend you to other schools.
© Dianne Bates
Do you have a specific query about presenting in schools? If so, send it to and there will be a reply in the next issue of Buzz Words (http://www/ Buzz Words is an online magazine for those in the children’s book industry which Di founded in 2006.

Wednesday 2 November 2016


Most people would define a picture-story as a unity of text and illustration. If that's
so, writers and illustrators of children's books should collaborate, but it doesn't always happen. In Australia, collaboration is common in trade publishing, but less likely in education where authors regard themselves as fortunate if publishers send dummy roughs for approval.

Trade publishers, who usually work on one book at a time, are courteous, and see the author's input as vital. The problem is that education publishers usually work on large projects - ten, twenty or thirty titles in a series. If they are running late with their production schedules, it's easier to publish without consulting authors.

Dummy rough stage
At the dummy rough stage, the illustrator has made rough sketches of the story, omitting detail. If writers are given the opportunity to see these, they are able to correct mistakes and make suggestions.

Several of my education titles have inaccuracies which I would have detected if I had been shown the work at this stage. (See examples in the Side Bar list below.) Later, when I pointed them out, the publishers said, 'Sorry - we checked, but we didn't notice.'
Authors should check, for they pick up inaccuracies immediately. The author, the illustrator and the publisher should feel proud of a title. It is disconcerting when children in schools point out mistakes in a new book when you are on an author visit. I hate having to apologise. It's worse when you are too embarrassed to introduce a book to children.

Contract clause
I try to obviate the problem by requesting the insertion of a clause in my education contracts - for both picture-stories and titles with line illustrations. The publisher undertakes to commission illustrations for the Work, and the Author shall be given the opportunity to approve the illustrator's first dummy roughs and final presentation (including text).

At page proof stage, it is important to see the final text and illustrations together - hence 'including text'. In an illustrated non-fiction title, for example, a caption may be misplaced or inaccurate or contain print errors. When final text and illustrations are approved separately, mistakes may not be discovered until the book is released.

In practice
While the above clause is always acceptable to publishers, unfortunately it does not always solve the problem. In large publishing houses contracts are negotiated by a Contracts and Rights Officer. The publisher and editors may not see my requested extra clause. Therefore I try to keep informed on my projects by phoning the publishing house so that I know when my text has been sent to an illustrator. I talk to one of the editors rather than to the publisher, and ask the date of the dummy rough deadline. I request a copy for approval and, if there is some hesitation, I mention the extra clause in the contract.

Now the advance copy of a book is rarely a complete surprise for I have seen both dummy roughs and final page proofs. But occasionally one escapes. I was lucky recently. One zoomed through the system, circumventing my extra clause, but the illustrations are a delight!

Checking dummy roughs and page proofs 
Authors need to approve illustrations twice during production: at dummy rough and page proof stages. Here are a few examples from my experience of the kinds of mistakes which may slip by when the author is not consulted.
* The text of a picture-story was in correct sequence, but the illustration for the second double page spread (pages 4-5) were placed first in the book, followed by those for pages 2-3.

* The text of a picture-story about King Beast, a boasting lion (called King Boast behind his back by the other animals), had a twist at the end. Courageously, the animals sang 'Happy Birthday King Boast'. A twist was lost when the illustrator put the words into a speech balloon, with 'Beast' instead of 'Boast'.
* In a picture-story about three children, aged 4, 6 and 8 years, the eight-year-old was variously represented in appearance as 8, 10 or 12 years of age.
* On one occasion, page proofs for a non-fiction book with line drawings and photographs were sent, but did not include captions to the illustrations. Errors discovered on publication included: misplacement of two captions, three grammatical errors in captions, and several spelling mistakes, one being: 'A penguin's leg is branded...'
* And now for a lucky picture-story in which a beetle and a spider were two of the characters in a cumulative tale. The illustrator had depicted the beetle with four legs and two body parts, and the spider with six legs and three body parts. Luckily the sketches were sent to me at dummy rough stage. Saved!
© Edel Wignell
Note: This article was first published in the SCBWI Bulletin in 1996, and then in New Writer Magazine (Australia) in 2002.