Tuesday 31 July 2018

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. http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com

Sunday 29 July 2018


A children's picture book needs to strike a balance between the written text and the illustrations. The text should be able to be divided up evenly, with an equal amount of text on each page. Each page - or each double page spread - has a sentence or two, or a paragraph. Each of these sentences or paragraphs must lend themselves to an illustration, and so the written text should provide a variety of scenes, characters, or actions. You could think of this as writing "captions" for the (not-yet-drawn) pictures. However, these "captions" must flow, as they should in any other well-written story, with an intriguing beginning, a rousing middle, and a good, satisfying ending.

The problem with many picture book manuscripts submitted to publishers is that writers do not give sufficient thought to the role of illustrator as co-creator of the finished book. Publishing Manager of Penguin Books, Laura Harris, has said that one of the main reasons picture book texts get rejected is that “the writer doesn’t give the illustrator enough to work with.” A writer needs to read her text with the eye of an illustrator, looking at each and every paragraph to consider what pictorial images might complement them. If she cannot imagine illustrations for each paragraph, then she can be said to have failed the illustrator, and so she must re-write.

In her book Making Picture Books (Scholastic Australia2003), Libby Gleeson writes: “In the best picture books, the illustrations are absolutely necessary. They carry parts of the story or the narrative and in some cases the language is dropped, and pictures alone are all that is needed. The process is like a film where words and pictures work together but sometimes silence is a powerful way to tell part of a story.

A picture book is not the same as an illustrated short story: in the latter words alone could tell the story and the illustrations simply break up the words or decorate the text. Illustrations in a successful picture book not only complement written text; they can, as Gleeson says, take the place of text, interpreting and extending the meaning of what the writer is trying to say in a way that might never have occurred to the writer (or to her editor). Colour – or lines or shapes - in artwork, for example, might convey personalities of the book’s characters, be symbolic of a mood (doom or humour) that the writer wishes to capture, produce an illusion (say of movement and surprise) or convey greater level of meaning.

To provide an illustrative brief or to instead allow the illustrator total freedom to make his interpretation is a problem which often besets a picture book writer. Many editors do not like writers to provide illustrative briefs. Illustrators like Shaun Tan say, “Manuscripts that pre-suppose or suggest what the visuals might be in advance, or even the breakdown of text per page, are quite uninviting to me.” In most cases where a writer has provided an illustrative brief, illustrators have totally disregarded them and gone on with their own interpretation of the written text. In any case, what is sure is that it is the written text alone which an editor judges as acceptable or not. If a creator submits a poor text accompanied by brilliant illustrations, then no matter how impressive the illustrations, the editor will have no hesitation in rejecting the submission.

And what of a picture book text? Illustrator Ann James says, “To write a picture book the writer knows less is more, but that each word is potent and a cue for interpretation by the artist.” She knows that the successful picture book writer needs to provide a strong, rich and streamlined text. Author Alan Baillie adds to this: “A picture book can only be about five hundred words, which means that every word has to pull its weight. The tension, the atmosphere, the characters, the humour.”

In general, the picture book writer needs to remember that the text is short and some of the story is contained in the illustrations. She needs to keep the language simple and direct. Not to overuse adjectives and adverbs. Not to clutter up sentences. To use simple – (as opposed to complex) verbs that are also appropriate. And, too, the writer needs to forget about descriptive language – for description is the illustrator’s domain.

Finally, here is what some Australian illustrators say about picture book texts:
Kerry Argent: “I like a text to move . . . minimal enough so that I can create extra layers and stories, visually.”
Shaun Tan: “I accept manuscripts ... that give much room for me to play and to tell my own stories visually, (that have) a certain ambiguity . . . that resist being fully explained.”
Ron Brooks: “To make a book, the words have to turn my heart around, make me go hollow in the belly, weak at the knees.”

 © Dianne Bates
To find out more about picture books and writing for children, go to www.buzzwordsmagazine.com 

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Buzz Words (All the Buzz about Children's Books)

In 2006 I started a subscriber-based twice-monthly online magazine exclusively for people in the Australian children’s book industry, such as writers (new, mid-career and experienced), illustrators, librarians and publishers – in fact, anyone interested in children’s books. As the Buzz Words’ compiler, I gather material from many sources and sometimes commission material.

Buzz Words aims to keep readers abreast of what’s currently happening in the children’s book industry and to give them as many opportunities as possible to advance their career and/or to keep them informed. Every issue contains markets, competitions and awards, publisher profiles, profiles of people in the industry, industry news, an interview (editors, publishers, designers, etc), opportunities, recommended books and websites/blogs, festivals and conferences, workshops, article/s, subscribers’ achievements, letters to the editor and children’s book reviews. Links are frequently provided to help readers.

Recent additions are ‘Who’s Who in Children’s Books’ (profiles of publishers, editors, agents and packagers), ‘Book Creators’ (featuring famous and outstanding children’s authors and illustrators of the past such as Enid Blyton, Dorothy Wall and Eve Pownall) and ‘Resources’ such as Australian children’s book publishers (an up-to-date comprehensive list), writing tips, income for writers, children’s bookshops, popular Facebook groups for children’s book creators and so on.

Buzz Words is as subscriber-friendly as possible. Preference for interviews, articles, profiles, etc is always given to subscribers. They are also given the opportunity to advertise for free if they have a product and/or service they wish to promote. Often publishers take up this offer as it’s a very inexpensive way of promoting their latest titles.

There are many ways readers can show-case their books and/or their writing or editing services: Buzz Words interviews both commercially and self-published authors for ‘The inside Scoop’. Questions are generally directed in such a way as readers can learn about how to get feet past publishers’ locked doors, or which resources (such as designer, editor, printer and distributor) that self-published authors used and  how effective they were. Subscribers are also invited to submit samples of their writing or illustrating to be showcased on the Buzz Words website www.buzzwordsmagazine.com Twice a month there’s also an ‘Achievements’ section on this website.

Articles are often commissioned (payment is offered) and have included ‘My Experiences with Literary Agents’, ‘How to Crowd-Fund to Publish Your Book’ and ‘The Art of Picture Books.’ ‘Classifieds’ at the foot of the magazine is free for those who support Buzz Words.

Buzz Words is exactly the kind of resource which I wish was available when I first started writing for children. And it’s ideal for anyone in the industry who wants to place their work and/or learn what the latest trends in writing for children are and/or what’s happening in the industry here in Australia or overseas.

The magazine also has a children’s book review website http://buzzwordsmagazine.com where books by subscribers are reviewed. And, too, the blog is available for subscribers to post material, such as a blog tour, book launch or forthcoming title.

If you’d like to check out the latest issue of Buzz Words, I’m only too happy to send you a complimentary, obligation-free copy; go to the website and click on ‘contact’. Cost is $48 per year (for 24 issues). The magazine is distributed on the 1st and 15th of every month.

© Dianne Bates

Dianne (Di) Bates has been in the industry for decades. She has published over 130 books for children, some of which have won state and national awards, including two children’s choice book awards (WAYRBA and KOALA). She is a recipient of the Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s book. Di is married to Bill Condon, an award-winning YA author. They live in Wollongong NSW.

Monday 23 July 2018


Not all of us are the J.K. Rowlings or Stephen Kings of the writing world. We do not have agents and publishers begging us to sign the next contract or readers counting down the days before our next title hits the shelves. We have to take the risk of submitting our manuscripts to publishers who often put so many obstacles in our path that sometimes it seems our potential best-seller will not even get read - if indeed our manuscripts ever reach the slush pile.

Writers who are prepared to put in plenty of pre-writing slog can help get their manuscripts contracted long before they have written THE END. You, too, can get past the "not taking on any manuscripts" or "work only submitted via an agent" signs which one sees posted so often on publishers’ web sites and in writers’ newsletters. You can get published, even if you have never written before.

So, what’s the secret? There are, in fact, numerous secrets, but know this – if your writing is sub-standard, if you demonstrate that you are less than professional in the presentation of your manuscript, and if you cannot ruthlessly and competently self-edit, you will never get published – never, even if you know and apply all the secrets which follow in this article. The competition today in publishing is fiercer than it has ever been. Many more writers (often with University degrees in creative writing) are submitting, and because of various factors (one being company mergers and re-mergers, the advent of e-publishing and the closure of bookshops), there are fewer books being published than ever.

Top secret

Okay! Secret number one to becoming published is knowledge. You need to know all the publishing houses in your area of writing interest and what they specialise in (for example, not all children’s book publishers take on picture books or YA novels). You need to know who the key people are in the publishing houses you want to submit to. You need to know how to approach these people so they respond to you. You need to know the writing genres you wish to specialise in. You need to know the "gaps" in that market. And you need to know what readers will want to read in the future (even if they don’t know it themselves).

As a full-time freelance writer and author who specialises in writing for children and makes a decent freelance writing income, I keep myself informed about all these things. It is not easy (especially in the early stages) and it requires constant vigilance and often distracts from the task of writing. But it does bring contracts and sales if you work at it.

If you want to be as informed as I am, then you need to outlay some capital: subscribe to the really important magazines (such as Australian Bookseller and Publisher) and zines (such as the Publishers’ Weekly on-line newsletter), both of which are available from Thorpe-Bowker, Melbourne. Join professional organisations such as the Australian Society of Authors, or the Children’s Book Council of Australia, the Australian Writers’ Guild, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and so on. I advise you to network extensively by contacting other writers, publishers, illustrators, librarians and so on, and by attending writing courses, conferences and festivals. Don’t just listen: approach people in the industry -- published and unpublished – talk to them, offer them a cup of coffee and/or swap business cards. Swap information constantly. Don’t just take, but share generously.

Another thing: get in first. By this I mean when you see an opportunity, grab it immediately. Don’t wait until the last date stipulated, but show your keen interest and enthusiasm by submitting your manuscript to the market or in the competition straight away. And never, but never, miss a deadline.

The major players
Learning what the publishing houses are and their catalogue of publications is as easy as surfing the net. Check out the imprint (information) pages of newly published books. However, staff members change constantly; thus you need to invest time and money to keep up to date. Obtain copies of (or create) bookseller and publisher directories. Check out publishers’ and editors’ current names and addresses; ask your booksellers and librarians for help.  Phone up or email publishers and ask them to send you their catalogues and staff lists.  Up-date your information regularly.

Networking is without doubt one of the best ways of keeping your finger on the pulse of the publishing world.  Buzz Words is a monthly online networking newsletter for people in the children’s publishing industry. I founded it (and previously CAINON, now called Pass In On) in order to keep in touch with what is happening in my writing world (and because I live in a regional area where writing conferences are never held). Publishers, booksellers, film producers and others in the children’s book industry are Buzz Words and PIO contributors, reviewers and recipients. You too can establish your own network, even if you are house-bound. Join the committee of your local CBCA sub-branch. Being pro-active is one of the keywords to being successful. Nothing will land in your lap – or rarely: I’ve found from years of experience that if you want something to happen, you need to make it happen!

Key personnelGetting to know key people in publishing houses can take time, but it is do-able.  Meet them at conferences, seminars, book fairs. Invite them to speak at your writers’ groups (pay their expenses and buy their books, at least!) Give them your business card while you hand them a drink or snack. Follow-up any contact.  Keep emails and letters to them short and succinct. 

Getting publishers to know you is a matter of getting your work noticed.  Establish a reputation by writing letters to and/or getting stories, poems, reviews and articles published. Enter and win writing competitions! Numerous magazines and on-line websites need volunteer reviewers: you will get your name well known this way, especially if your approach is professional and your writing sparkly and erudite.
You can get your name imprinted in the minds of key industry personnel in many ways: a bunch of flowers works wonders for a jaded editor! Remember that publishers and their staff are people first and foremost: like you and me, they want to be treated with kindness.  If you read and loved a publisher’s new title, why not let her know with a personal letter/email?  Let the author know too! Good, sincere public relations never harmed anyone. Oh, and be nice to the publisher’s assistants – they are often editors of the future!

You can use these tactics to find a literary agent, but agents are harder to crack.  Learn about agents – not all of them represent your area of writing expertise – and then approach them.  Novelty is good, but the better, safer way of making worthwhile contact is via a third party, preferably a published writer. By the way, new writers are over-anxious to have an agent represent their work, but it is generally more difficult to get an agent on-side, unless you wave a contract in front of their faces (that is, you place the manuscript first and then find the agent!)

Contacting authors
It is easier to get to know and curry favor with authors than with anyone else in the book industry. Authors are the bottom of the industry food chain (wrongly, of course, but the fact is that not many call the shots).  Most authors are approachable. Go to their book launches, book signings, places where they present, send them friendly emails via their web site (or their publisher’s).  Talk to them enthusiastically about their work, buy their books and ask for an autograph. Take them out for a meal.  You will generally get a friend for life!  Keep in touch with the author, and become needed before you even begin to ask for favors -- for example, offer to read and comment on works-in-progress.

Author as mentor
Most authors know their industry. They can inform you about publishers and their staff and make representations on your behalf (as I do with those I mentor if their work is of high enough standard); they can direct you to manuscript assessment and to editorial services.  Once I heard well-known literary agent Selwa Anthony tell her clients that she would be willing to look at manuscripts that they had personally read and approved of: “do NOT,” she said, “give third parties my contact details.”

Some manuscript assessors offer to write a letter of recommendation if the work is outstanding. One well-published writer I know highly recommends that new writers pay for professional editing of their work before submission in order to get the best chance of acceptance.  (I think he has a point there; as you know, it is extremely difficult these days to break into book publishing, especially if you are an unknown.) Even before the said writer submits to his agent, he gets a range of (voluntary) readers to read and comment on his manuscript.  Invariably he takes their opinions on board when re-writing. 

Manuscript-in-progress reading is one (of many) services you could offer a writer who mentors you.  Too many beginner writers accept mentoring but give nothing in return. It has happened to me time after time that I have expended much time and energy helping new writers to find publishers to take their work, see them get their books published, and then I observe they do nothing to help other new writers. Those whom I now mentor help me out personally in numerous ways, for example by passing on children’s writers’ newsletters and magazines, photocopying, undertaking on-line research, reading and commenting on my manuscripts (as I do for them, free of charge) and so on. Too many writers ask me for help and when I oblige, often at great length, they do not even bother to thank me. I would suspect that this lack of good manners from writers they have helped in the past is why some well-published authors ignore letters and emails from fans and new writers.

The market

Many authors write the book, and then look for the market. My approach is often to find a gap in my market: if I am passionate about the subject, I then write to fill that need.  Recently, when I enquired about gaps, an educational book-seller told me that he cannot sell a book about Australia’s involvement in the Korean War to the young adult market - because no such book exists.  A librarian friend is constantly begging me to write a children’s novel set in a rain-forest, another “hole” to be filled. These projects do not interest me, but for every need, there is a potential writer.  Seek and you will find!

Currently my “niches-to-fill” completed manuscripts include a three book non-fiction series about children’s achievements: there are no books like these so far published in Australia. I am also trying to place a children’s poetry anthology, Our Home is Dirt by Sea, which features poetry by as-yet unpublished poets, some of whom I mentor. (Note: This latter book was in fact published by Walker Books Australia after this article was written. Interactive Publications also published Aussie Kid Heroes which covers the remarkable lives of many Australian children past and present.)

Non-fiction market
Professionally presented publishing proposals which show you’ve discovered a gap, undertaken market research, found any competing titles (and their drawbacks), and have a solid knowledge of proposed contents and approach can – and do – appeal to non-fiction publishers. It is not difficult to get an up-front contract before you write the main text. The main thing to know is that your proposal must show the publisher the possibility that it can make profits; this, after all, is why the publishing company is in business!

Social Media
It has become necessary these days to promote yourself as an author on social media, something you didn’t need to do when I first started getting published more than 30 years ago. This means having your own webpage and/or a blog (to which you contribute regularly) and a Facebook presence. Many authors are active, too, on Twitter and Instagram. Numerous articles written by proactive authors recommend building up a rapport with your readers rather than constantly promoting your books. Others write about creating a ‘brand’ for yourself, as though you are a marketing brand, which of course you are. There are numerous articles about self-promotion on social media: it’s recommended that you read them.

Future trends
Knowing what readers will want to read in the future is a matter of informed intuition. One has only to astutely keep in touch with current news to know what are going to be next season’s “hot topics”.  It is clear now, for example, that if you are writing for the e-book market that series of short non-fiction books create the most readership – and wealth. Whatever your interest, there is always something that is evolving in that area: it is really a matter of thinking about the ramifications and acting on them quickly. Being proactive is what being a published writer is all about, not sitting and waiting for prospects to land in your lap.

© Dianne Bates

Dianne (Di) Bates is the author of 130+ books for young people. She has worked as a newspaper and children’s magazine editor, and as a manuscript assessor and online writing tutor. Di is a recipient of the Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s literature. In 2006 she founded Buzz Words, an online magazine for those in the children’s book industry. Di lives in the Wollonong area with her award-winning YA author husband, Bill Condon

Saturday 21 July 2018

Help Through the Rough Patches

Not so long ago, my award-winning children’s author husband Bill Condon and I began to meet fortnightly with three other local children’s writers, one being Ann Whitehead (Dangerous Places, Hachette Livre Australia) and the other two who are unpublished, to workshop our writing. Each brings a major current project to the table, talk of the problems we are experiencing, read sections of our work-in-progress, and open the floor to comments, criticisms and suggestions from the others.

It is over a year now since I left a well-established workshop group*; I had forgotten how helpful and inspiring it is to have the support and insight of others, and how inspiring a workshop session can be. Between now and our next workshop meeting in a fortnight’s time, I will be re-working my blighted YA novel, preparing it for re-presentation to the group. Even if you are an unpublished writer, can I suggest that you find – even advertise – for some writing buddies? It can be extremely motivating, to say the least, to have even one supporter, someone you can bounce ideas and writing drafts off of.

Reading what other published authors have to say about their methods also inspires me with my own work. One of my favourite American writers is Lois Lowry, twice winner of the prestigious Newbury Medal (I especially love her book, The Woods at the End of Autumn Street.)  Below are some answers I found this week that she gave to common writing problems: her answers helped me with some questions I am grappling with at the moment. I hope you find it helpful, as well.
What advice do you give to authors who would like to develop their writing voice? 

As for "voice": I feel that you should write a book as if you are writing a letter to a friend: telling about something interesting, something meaningful, that has happened. It should be an intimate and private telling, friend to friend. It should be YOU, laughing, crying, teasing, angry, relating events, inviting your close friend to pay attention, to empathize. That will be your voice, a recognizable one.

What suggestions do you have for creating self-discipline at writing? 
The question about self-discipline is a tough one for me. I don’t think self-discipline is a problem if you are doing work that you love and that you feel is important. I can’t imagine anyplace that I’d rather be than right here, at my desk. I need self-discipline to make me get up and take the dog for a walk, or to cook dinner!

How do you get beyond just an idea? How does an idea become a story? 
Some ideas don’t. Sometimes what seems like a wonderful starting point - a wonderful idea - turns out to be no more than an anecdote. You have to look beyond a "beginning" to see if there is any depth to it, any reason for sitting at a desk for month after month laboring over it, any reason for a publisher investing thousands of dollars into it, any reason for kids to pick it up and care about it. Does it have anything to say beyond the superficial? I think that’s the key, for me.  

What do you think are the key elements when writing a book? When you have your ideas do you write a set plan of what will happen in the plot of the story? 
I have occasionally listed the elements - each of them leading to the next - of a successful book as 1. character; 2. quest; 3. complications and choices; 4. catastrophe; 5. conclusion, and 6. change.

I think most writers and teachers of writing would probably agree that some similar list applies.
But - in my opinion - it doesn’t work to make the list and then try to create the story to fit it. You create the story first; later, you see how and where it fits the pattern; finally, you make the necessary revisions which will become apparent at that point. You may find, for example, that the catastrophic event (#4) - upon which the concluding events (#5) should be predicated - occurs too early. Or (and this is quite common a flaw) that the character, who should have experienced growth as a result of the events throughout the narrative, has not really undergone a change (#6).
© Dianne (Di) Bates

 * This workshop, which met fortnightly for five years, and was originally composed of six children’s authors, folded when some of the members moved to mostly writing adult science fiction and fantasy. There are now two groups – one writing for adults, and the other, to which I belong, are writing for children.

Thursday 19 July 2018

Grabbing a Young Reader by the Throat

We often write our stories then later decide upon the title. Why not do the opposite? Start with a zinger of a title at the top of the page to keep reminding yourself of your focus. You might change it several times while writing, but it can be your rudder as you weave from one paragraph to another.
A title can put you in the right mindset. That handful of carefully selected words can energise you; make you pound keys to make the point. If they can impact you, they can likewise seize an editor and a reader.
In writing for children, key words to use in titles are: words to use are
SECRET                MAGIC
MYSTERY            GHOST
WITCH                  WIZARD
DRAGON              DINOSAUR
NAUGHTY           RUDE
Use the following tricks to make a title sparkle. They have been collected from actual children’s books and magazines. You have to admit, most of them make any child want to turn a page.

Naughty Words: Bumosaurus; On Your Potty!;The Buggerlugs Bum Thief; Bums, Tums, Toes and Tails; Nude School; The Naughty Book                                                                     

Promise: How to Make Your Parents Love You; Read Me and Laugh; The Birthday Tree; How to Speak Dog; The Power of Your Big Toe; How to Be Top of the Class                                                                                                                                                 Alliteration: Big Bad Bruce; Perky Little Penguins; Dare Devils; Captain Congo and the Crocodile King; Ratbags and Rascals; Fidgety Fish and Friends; Basil Bopp the Burper                                                                     
Mystery: Hide Till Daytime; Step on a Crack; Clinton Gregory’s Secret; Ruby Rosemount and the Doomsday Curse; Things in Corners; The Case of the Kidnapped Brat
Numbers: Ten Ways to Get Out of Cleaning your room; Eight Biggest Homework Excuses; Five Simple Ways to Get Your Teacher to Like You; 101 Revenge Tricks; Six Seconds to Midnight; One Minute from Death                                                                        
Play on Words: It’s Time to Sleep, You Crazy Sheep! The Illustrated Mum; Don’t Throw Rocks on Chicken Pox; Our Home is Dirt by Sea; Erky Perky Silly Stuff                                                                          
Immediacy: Give Me Truth; Countdown to Trouble; When you’ve Run Out of Fun; When Toys Come to Life; Now is the Time! Hands Up!

Contradiction: A Cage of Butterflies; Come and Play, Mr Croc; Deep Sea Doctor; Perfect Horror; Sink or Swim; The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Miracles: How I Got My Life Back; Saved from the Bully! Sam and the Killer Robot; My Uncle’s a Werewolf; Miraculous Miranda; Rescuing my Teacher; Real Magic

Humor: Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeballs; The Incredibly Boring Monotonous Family; That Smell is my Brother; The Undertaker’s Gone Banana; Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God                                                                         
Action: Freak Street: Meet the Zombiesons; Splash; The Running Man; Escape by Sea; Boy Overboard; Blink and You Die; Roller Girl                                                                                 

Common Expressions:No Worries; To the Moon and Back; Just in Time; Excuse Me, Please; Out of Bed, Now!

Questions: Whose Eggs; Whose Knickers? Where’s Mum? What is Poo? Ask Me Anything; What If? Can I Catch it Like a Cold?                                                                            
If you want to find out how effective your proposed title is, Lulu.com has a http://www.lulu.com/titlescorer/

Writer of this article, Dianne (Di) Bates has published 130+ books for children over a career lasting more than 30 years.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

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 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 www.Amazon.com 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

Sunday 15 July 2018


As an author, the most frequent complaint I hear from fellow authors about a publishing house is ‘nobody tells me anything’ so my first suggestion to any publisher is to send authors a list of where their book has been sent for review and what promotion has been planned for it.

The best, most proactive and communicative publisher I have ever worked with is Paul Collins (Ford Street) for my  YA novel, Crossing the Line (*see note at foot of this article). We worked hard and productively as a team. First, Paul asked me to send my contracted but unpublished manuscript to two people who we hoped would give us quotes to help promote the book. I chose two high-profile authors whose work I admire – Margaret Clark, whose books are for the same demographic as mine, and Elizabeth Fensham because her Helicopter Man deals with mental illness, as does Crossing the Line. In the first few weeks that the book came out, thanks to publisher and author working as a pro-active team, I had at least 17 book reviews and 12 interviews/articles (radio and newspapers).

Basically all PR comes from the author and so he/she must be motivated. Quite often an author, especially a new one, has no idea of how they can promote their latest title, so it behoves the marketing and publicity department to provide authors with a promotion pack. This could include the press release that is sent out to the media and a high resolution copy of the book cover. I use the press release Paul Collins prepared for my book again and again.

Publishers, ask your author to contact all of their local media with the press release and their contact details. Recently I contacted a number of other proactive children’s authors for their take on promotion in the educational market. Here is what they said:

Jan Latta (a highly successful self-published author) Today, for 5 hours, I have been emailing every principal, or librarian, about my books for my next visit to Hong Kong. If the timing is too tight for the school to book me for a presentation, I send a set of books for their approval. I've only had one book returned! In HK I never charge a speaker's fee as I have great success with book sales. Usually over 1,000 books sold a week.

Hazel Edwards: Offering discussion notes is a way of value adding to your book and publicising it long term by word of mouth.

Edel Wignell: One of her strategies is to write articles for a whole range of magazines in Australia and overseas that in some way link with her current publication.

Susanne Gervay, Tristan Bancks, Paul Collins (and numerous others): They make themselves available and actively promote themselves as being available for writers’ conferences and festivals all over Australia.
Sandy Fussell: For her Samurai series (Walker Books) she has created an interactive website. She offers competitions and continually updates the site. Her launch party, which she organised, was the best I’ve ever been to. She sold over 80 books on the night.

Patricia Bernard and DC Green: Both of them travel extensively around Australia offering author talks and writing workshops, and both sell many thousands of dollars worth of their self-published books during their travels. Patricia once paid to have an advertisement placed on Sydney buses!

On looking at some publishers’ websites nowhere did I see links to their authors’ and illustrators’ websites. Nor did I find any indication whether or not their book creators are available for school visits, festivals, etc. However, one publishing house which does this very well is Allen & Unwin: their website is very easy to navigate.
I would advise publishers’ marketing departments to make a clear distinction between their adult and the children’s authors. Teachers and teacher librarians don’t have the time to work their way through publishers’ websites: they want the information at their fingertips.

One way in which any book itself can be a marketing tool is for the publisher to print on the back inside pages website details where teachers can find teacher notes, or print the teacher notes in the book itself as well as printing the author’s website address and the publisher’s website address. DC Green of Barrel Books makes full use of his books to show the above details.
If the book’s content is linked in any way to the school curriculum, it is a good idea for publishers to provide teaching resources that are appropriate for immediate classroom use (e.g. web quest, worksheets, word searches). This can even go on the blank pages at the end of the book!

When I asked a group of primary teacher-librarians about how to make children’s books school-friendly, they said:
1. Publish portrait books, not landscape. (The latter stick out from the library shelf and are difficult to shelve)
2. Publish books that link with the HSIE
3. Offer free author talks to schools
4. Arrange pre-publication talks

One teacher-librarian wrote to me: “The thing that stands out for me above all others is someone who knows their books and knows (enough) about education to make connections and answer intelligent questions. If I get an email or flier that just has the publishers’ blurb about the product and the price, then the consultant rings and says “Hi did you receive….do you want to buy…” I always say NO. It’s been filed in the recycling long ago. I need to be able to TALK and LOOK and TOUCH (failing this, to return if unsuitable). There is a limited library budget and we need to take care that what we get is great not just OK or even good, for our educational purposes.”

What publishers can do to promote their authors is to first establish a relationship: find out what the author wants or is willing to do, for example:
- school/ teacher talks
- author tours
- book fairs
- promotional tour
- sending press releases to local media
- presenting at festivals and/or conferences
- presenting at Staff development days, at Regional librarian meetings
- talking to local organisations, for example VIEW clubs

The publicist can ask the author to write articles for industry magazines e.g. Scan, Magpies, The Literature Base, Practically Primary, and Buzz Words about aspects of their new book. The author can also write articles that link with special days, (for example, I wrote a number of articles for Mental Health Week, which linked with my book Crossing the Line). Arrange a 'connection' with an excursion destination (once again curriculum link is great). The best example I can think of here is a big one (but it doesn't need to be this scale): to promote her book, author Felicity Pulman organised a tour of the Sydney Quarantine Station, the setting of her children’s book Ghost Boy. Make sure books are available for sale where the author is presenting. Link up with another of your publishing house’s authors in the same education area/topic: this way you can provide a 'dual package' to schools, i.e. two authors on one school visit.
Target special interest groups e.g. English as a Second Language or Gifted and Talented Children. Be aware of any special focus or special projects the Department of Education is undertaking – check their websites all the time and make contact at any opportunity. Be part of initiatives by education-related groups such as PETA - once again, check their websites all the time and make contact at any opportunity.

Publishers ought to prepare an author kit giving advice on where to go for publicity and how they can represent their book. One of the very best things publishers can do for an author is to arrange for him to speak briefly to their book reps. This gives the reps some anecdotal information and enthusiasm they can pass on to teacher-librarians. The reps can also give the TLs a sheet which provides information on how to contact the author for a school visit and where to look for teaching notes. On the day the author visits the publisher’s office to talk to the reps, it’s advisable to have the publicist and author sit together so that between the two of them they organise strategies for promoting the book. So often publicists work independently of authors: they usually don’t even get to meet those whose books they are paid to promote!

Allen & Unwin and Walker Books Australia send me great online newsletters every month with details of their new titles, as well as news such as author tours, author interviews, competitions and giveaways. I often order books as a result of reading these newsletters. Ford Street also sends out a very good online newsletter promoting its recent titles.

Teacher-librarians love to be signalled out for the work they do. Every region has a teacher-librarian network. In the Illawarra there is the Illawarra School Librarians Association with 120 members. It would be a worthwhile exercise once a term for a publishing house to offer a night highlighting: invite an author, illustrator or designer along to talk about their work. Offer refreshments and discounts. These nights can be held in bookshops and serve a double function, making the bookshop a profit and strengthening the bookseller/publisher bond.

Publishers could have a ‘meet the children’s authors’ event. This is an excellent way for a publishing house to get their writers to meet the general public (including teacher librarians and book reviewers, as well as the publishing house’s staff, e.g. marketing and publicity people).

It is a good idea to support book launches in schools. Richard Harland’s launched the Wolf Kingdom series in a Wollongong school. Richard organised a bookseller for the day who in turn contacted the school and sent order forms. On the day of the launch, 350 copies of the book were sold. At a second launch, at another school, 300 additional copies were sold.

If they are proactive, authors can sell a lot of books; therefore it seems sensible to allow them to do so, so make provision for this in their contracts. Give them the same discount as booksellers. When my author husband Bill Condon and I worked in schools as performers, Bill would speak in the morning to infants’ students, I’d speak to primary. At lunch-time we sold our remainders, usually for $3 or $5 each. It was not unusual to sell over $1,000 worth of books in the one hour lunch-time period.

Publishers, encourage your authors to attend functions such as literary lunches, festivals and conferences. Publisher Paul Collins writes to each of his Ford Street authors asking them for a few lines of biography and then sent them collectively to all writers’ festivals around Australia saying these authors are willing to appear at your festival. There are dozens of festivals and conferences and all of them have large audiences.

Publishers, make a list of all of your children’s authors, along with their Send this list out to CBCA regional branches, conference & festival organisers, and regional teacher librarian groups indicating that the authors are available for visits. When authors speak at conferences, provide bookmarks and promotional material. Give the author a list of local media (and contact details) when they are to appear at a festival, conference or literary lunch. The author can organise interviews – or, if you are accompanying author, you can organise them

When authors send emails, encourage them to have a signature on each email which includes not only contact information, but the name of their latest books. A website is an author’s best investment in PR as it is that author’s shop front. Hazel
Edwards recommends that authors give added value. ‘Have ready on your web site well-labelled activities which relate to that book title. This can be sent to schools, libraries or bookshops which have newsletters or events to which the author is invited.’ Publishers, give teachers' notes or additional resources to the author to put on his website. Encourage the author to have a generic 'How to'' or “How this book was written”, a 1,000 word article for easy sending to interested parties. As well, have a hi-resolution author photo on your publishers’ web site so it can be down-loaded by festival organisers and save you e-mailing.

· School visits or writing camps (talking to children)
· Staff development days
· Regional librarian meetings
· Conferences and festivals
· Articles in teaching industry magazines
· On your website
Will publishers implement many – or any – of these suggestions? Hard to tell. However, every author I’ve discussed these ideas with has been fully supportive, and a happy author ought to be one of the main aims of every publishing house.