Friday 31 August 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, festivals and conferences, workshops and article/s. 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 Twice a month there’s also an ‘Achievements’ section on this website and reviews of current children’s books. There is a team of 15 reviewers, all of whom are subscribers. And, too, the website is available for subscribers to post material, such as a blog tour, book launch or forthcoming title.

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.’  

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.

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 (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 award-winning children’s author Bill Condon; they live in the Wollongong area, NSW.

 Go to to receive a free copy. If you decide to subscribe ($48 for 24 issues pa), Di will send you a copy of her article, 'How to Get Both Feet Past Publishers' Locked Doors.'

Wednesday 29 August 2018

How to Find a Literary Agent

What can you do to maximise your chances of having your submission read and being taken on by a literary agent? Here are some hints to help:
1.    Research agencies to find the right fit. This is very easy to do, not least from looking at agency’s own websites, reference works, The Bookseller etc.
2.    Look at similar books. Look in the acknowledgements pages of books that are comparable to see who the agent was. My agency doesn’t handle poetry, short stories, science fiction, romance, fantasy, women’s fiction, religious so it’s a waste of your time to send to me.
3.    Personalise your submission. Target it to the right agent and use their name.  Show you know what they handle and suggest how your book is similar. Give the impression this is an individual and not blanket approach.
4.    Don’t submit too early. You only have one shot. Make sure your submission is grammatical and polished by having it checked by a freelance editor.
5.    Build your profile. The more Twitter followers you have and the greater your engagement with social media and sites such as Goodreads the better.
6.    Give agents what they ask for. If they want chapter synopses or first three chapters then send that. It shows professionalism and will help the agent properly assess the submission. I personally want a one-page pitch on book, a page on authors and their platform, a page with details on five similar books and how your book is positioned in the market and suggested marketing outlets for book such as organisations, websites and magazines.
7.    Network. Go to where agents gather such as literary and writing festivals, meetings of Society of Authors etc.

This is an extract from an article that first appeared in issue 7 of Publishing Talk Magazine written by Andrew Lownie, the bestselling literary agent in the world according to Publishers Marketplace, who was short-listed for The Bookseller UK literary agent of the year in 2014 and 2015. He has run his own agency, the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency, since 1988 having previously been a director of Curtis Brown and worked as a bookseller, journalist and publisher.

Monday 27 August 2018


Contract checklist (per Australian Society of Authors  -- ASA)

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).

Thursday 23 August 2018

How to Promote Your Book

There are numerous ways in which you can help to promote your book even if you are not happy or able to take part in events such as launches or public speaking.

Here are some examples
·       Promote the fact that your book will be published by (name of your publisher) on FACEBOOK groups such as Australian Picture book authors and illustrators, The Children’s Book Council of Australia, CBCA Victorian branch, Children’s Book Writers and illustrators, Writing for Children & YA, Just Write for Kids, Children’s Books, The Looking Glass magazine, Publishing Talk, CBCA (NSW) Newcastle Branch, The School Librarians Workshop, CBCA (NSW) Sydney South West branch, Children’s Writers and Illustrators’ market, Aussie Kidlit, Writers and Illustrators – your own Facebook page, Buzz Words page, and any other facebook pages which feature children’s books or authors.

Write an article:
* For Buzz Words for The Inside Scoop. This is an excellent way of promoting your book and of helping Buzz Words readers learn how a book is accepted for publication. In 250 words or less tell how your book got published. Was the publisher who accepted your manuscript the first one you submitted to? How long did you have to wait in the slush pile to get a response? Or did it go to the publisher by some other means? Was your manuscript represented by an agent? Was it your first book? (That's what most readers want to know about). How is the book selling? Have you gone on to have other books published?
(Note: This article can be adapted to suit other publications such as Writers’ Centre      newsletters)
·       Organise a blog tour (Ask me for a list of links, and when you’ve seen it, see if you can find others prepared to blog)
·       Use Twitter to tell about your book
·       Book Reviews: Make a list of publications, people and/or organisations which you think would review your book (include contact addresses). Note that before you do this, ask me for my list. It’s extensive, but you might have contacts I don’t have
·       Create an AIS for your book (I’ll send you an Advanced Information Sheet) to show you what is required
·       Write author blurbs (50 words, 150 words, 200 words)
·       Write a book blurb (25 to 50 words, 50 to 100 words, 100+ words)

 Dianne Bates
Di is the founder/compiler of Buzz Words magazine and website which is Australia's premier online magazine for those in the children's book industry. For a free issue to check it out, go to the website.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Writing as a business

You’ve now published a book -- traditionally or self-published -- so the first question for taxation purposes that you need to ask yourself is, are you a hobby or are you a business? It’s important to establish whether you’re approaching publishing as a business or a hobby early on as it will affect your tax and deductions.

When running a business, you pay tax on the money you earn, can claim for deductions on your expenses and generally need an Australian Business Number (ABN). These do not apply if your activity is a hobby. Read the Australian Taxation Office (ATO)’s Are you in business? page to help you decide whether you’re running a business or a hobby.

Once you’ve decided that you’re a business, how do you go about setting it up? While the specifics can change from state to state in Australia, the information below will give you a rough guide to go by. You can of course be in a partnership, company or trust, but this article deals with the author as sole trader.

As a sole trader, you are your publishing business. Many author-publishers choose this option for its convenience and simplicity. This is a simple and straightforward process and is completed by the author-publisher through the Australian Business Register. Essentially, to conduct a publishing business in Australia, you’ll need an Australian Business Number (ABN). Applying for an ABN is free. 

The next step is to give your Australian Business Number a name. A good idea is simply to use your published name (mine is Dianne Bates). When creating a publishing business name (other than your own legal name), check that no one else has the name you want using the ABN Lookup or ASIC Online Services, and creatively explore.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) offers a business assistance program for small businesses. Learn more on the ATO Business Assistance Program page.

As a newly formed publishing business, there’s a checklist of things you may want to consider and register for. The list is quite extensive and can be overwhelming, but it is better to know your legal responsibilities upfront and then adjust if need be. For instance, an internet publishing business has fewer regulations than a publishing business with commercial premises. You might like to check out the Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS) website. It is important that you understand your taxation obligations, record keeping requirements, and any additional taxes you may need to pay (such as GST). Will you trade as a home-based business, an online business, or will you lease a business premise? Whichever option you select, you need to ensure it is properly insured and registered accordingly. Once again check the ABLIS website if you are home-based as local councils have rules in place. 

For more information, watch the tax basics for small business videos at ATO or phone the ATO business tax enquiries line on 13 28 66.

As a traditionally based sole trading author, I have an ABN (which is very helpful when claiming money from school visits, festival speaking, etc). For tax-keeping purposes, I use e-records, provided by the ATO (not sure if it is still available), and record all income from writing and writing-related activities (such as my online writing for children courses).

As for tax deductions, there are quite a few ranging from stationery, postage, computer repairs, capital expenditure (a new printer, for example). Some of my deductions, such as use of home office, cleaning office, cinema and theatre attendance, electricity and phone are made on a percentage basis (worked out by my accountant, whose bill is also tax deductible).

As for my Buzz Words business, I make deduction claims when paying contributors and prize winners when they receive cash awards.

You might like to check out a series of free webinars on a variety of taxation topics. You’ll need to register online on the ATO webinars page.

If you have any tax questions, check with your accountant. I have been working as a writer/author/magazine producer/manuscript assessor for many years, always listing all my income (including Lending Rights, Copyright Agency Limited monies` and prize-monies) -- and claiming as many deductions as I can -- without any problems. I’ve had one tax audit in 30 years+ and there were no problems there, either. According to the ATO, you are legally advised to keep your tax receipts, cheque books, bank statements and so on for a minimum of seven years.

NOTE: If you would like an article titled ‘Money Matters for Self-publishers’, please send an email with this as the subject to

© Dianne Bates                                                                                                                                                
Dianne (Di) Bates has published 130+ books over the past 35 years. She is compiler/founder Buzz Words and operates a handful of online businesses connected with writing. Please note that Di is not a taxation consultant, so you should always contact either the ATO or your taxation accountant for specific queries.
This article first appeared in Buzz Words magazine. If you’d like a free copy of this twice monthly magazine, go to

Here’s another article by children’s author Sandy Fussell you are sure to find helpful with your writing finances:

Sunday 19 August 2018

To the Moon and Back

To the Moon and Back by Dianne Bates (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-925520-29-3

Reviewed by Stacey Gladman

Dianne Bates’ To the Moon and Back was not what I was expecting - in all the right ways. In the first few chapters I was captivated and very much a part of the story.

To the Moon and Back is aimed at readers aged eight to 12 years that deals with a sensitive subject - parental divorce and its impact on children. In the first two chapters alone I was taken on a ride of emotions and went from thinking how powerful the story was, putting myself in the shoes of young Claire, whose mum is having an affair and ultimately moving in with her lover.

Claire is taken on a roller-coaster ride, moving from her family home to a lodging in Sydney, and just when she is feeling comfortable, another upheaval and she's forced to move into Mum’s boyfriend Mac's house in the country.

Before long Claire begins to make friends, but she longs to be with her Dad who has gone missing. Can she begin to see Mac as a father figure, or will she resent him for taking her Mum away?

I adored the book. Its topic, which I think has been dealt with sensitively, makes it a unique niche read, and certainly something many young readers will understand. The story line is well written, and I could certainly emphasise with Claire which are some hallmarks of a beautiful story.

I think the target market will be enchanted with this heart-warming story, with a number of key themes really standing strong including change, forming new friendships, relationships and parenting struggles.

A beautiful and well-rounded story!

Wednesday 15 August 2018

50 Best Tips and Information for New Writers

1. Invest time and money in your career: this means subscribing to industry newsletters, magazines (such as, and journals, as well as joining relevant organizations (for example, your state’s writers’ centre, the Fellowship of Australian Writers, the Australian Society of Authors, The Arts Law Centre of Australia).

2. Always act professionally in your dealings with fellow writers, publishers, and others in your industry. Acting professionally is essential when it comes to signing contracts. Do not sign a contract just to get signed. You can always negotiate clauses (publishers expect you to!), and if you don’t know anything about writing contracts, employ a professional to do so (eg Arts Law Society, ASA, or a solicitor who specializes in arts’ contracts.)

3. Create your own resources. This includes creating a manuscript dispatches’ file or tracker, index cards (or computer generated file) for each manuscript submission, a list of relevant addresses, contact details for publishers, and a library of relevant books and magazines. 

4. Attend writing workshops, conferences, and book fairs (see #1. to find out where and when).

5. Your own writing space is essential. Organise it so you know where everything is and make others respect it. Put a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door (and in your head!)

6. Call yourself a writer. Believe it! Make it happen by writing regularly and submitting frequently. Create a signature on your emails which declares you are a writer, for example:
Yours sincerely,
Sally Smith

My signature is
Dianne (Di) Bates
29 Creekrun
Cordeaux Heights
NSW 2526 Australia

02 42716168

When I wish to promote a book, its details are included on the signature, eg
(Crossing the Line, Ford Street).

7. Set yourself writing goals and deadlines. Write them down. Keep to them. Goals can be both short-term (I will complete my short story by 20 March) or long-term (By 30 December 2019, I will have finished the first draft of my novel.)

8. Never, ever hassle publishers. After you submit and record date and place of submission, move on to your next writing project. If your publisher has not responded after 8 – 12 weeks, then send a brief, polite email or letter of enquiry. If the publisher ignores your correspondence, then send your manuscript elsewhere, and cross them off your list of would-be publishers.

9. Make and write down decisions about what you expect and will tolerate as a writer. This will help you formulate how professional you will be in your dealings with publishers and the public in general.

10. If you are writing for a market (especially for young people), read as many of the recently published, best selling and old favourites books as there are in that genre. Note who the publishers are: their addresses, if the book is recent, are always available to you on the book’s information (also called imprint) page.

11. Get a business card with your name and contact details on it. You can buy sheets of make-it-yourself business cards from a stationers’ and create the card yourself with your computer (go to Labels, located under Tools on the Menu bar).

12.  Network! The more people you know in the industry, the more resources you have available. At conferences, fairs, etc don’t be nervous about approaching people – even the speakers – and giving out your business card. If anyone gives you their business card it’s a good idea to follow-up with an email. If they respond, keep in touch. You never know what it can lead to!

13. Share! So many writers keep markets to themselves for fear others will get published. If your work is good enough, your work will be accepted. Competition is inevitable. If you are generous, then other generous people will reciprocate; you will also be creating goodwill among contemporaries, and potential readers!

14. It is wise not to consider editors, art directors, publicists, market directors and literary agents as personal friends. Be friendly but crossing the fine line can create problems further down the line.

15. (This should probably be #1!) Learn and practice how to self-edit! So many new writers learn about writing but neglect the skill that makes the difference between a good manuscript and a GREAT manuscript. Editing is not just spelling, grammar and punctuation: looking at every single word and sentence, and the overall structure of your work is what editing is about. Not many teach it, but you can find books to help you self-edit.

16. Never, ever submit a manuscript which is less than the very best you can do. This means re-reading it many times for errors. Don’t rely on a computer spell-check.

16. Self-publishing is possible, but the most difficult aspect is distribution. If you use a distributor to get your books into Australian bookshops, be aware that they charge upwards of 60% discount, and not many will handle one-off titles. If you intend to self-distribute, you need great promotional abilities and lots of time and energy.

17. If you donate materials relating to Australian children’s books, such as letters from publishers, manuscripts, proof pages and so on, you might be eligible for the Government's Cultural Gifts Program, a scheme by which your collection is valued (no charge to you) by independent assessors, and a certificate issued to you which will enable you to obtain tax relief. For more information, or to donate a collection, contact the Field Officer of the Archives division of your state library or the National Library of Australia. Keep all of those letters, royalty statements and stuff you might otherwise throw out!

18. Remember that the Australian book industry is a small one and many people know one another: be discrete when talking of others!

19. It is okay for you to thank an editor or publisher or others on the publishing team if they produce a book for you which you think is great, or if a magazine has chosen a great illustrator to go with your story. A nice gesture is a card, a bunch or flowers, bottle of wine, chocolates – but bribes are not a good way to go!

20. If you are lucky enough to get a mentor whom you don’t have to pay, try to do something for him or her. Perhaps you could offer to undertake some research on the internet…

21. Keep all your receipts which you can claim as tax deductions against your writing income – even if you don’t make very much. I can legitimately – and honestly – claim deductions in the tens of thousands of dollars so get a good accountant or seek the advice of someone who makes writing expenses’ claims.

22. Spend more time writing than you do going to workshops and conferences!

23. Keep a time-sheet is a terrific way of seeing just how much time you really “work”. My husband and I are full-time freelancers, who each spend an average 40 hours a week at our writing desks.

24. If you are asked to speak as a writer, do not do it gratis (unless it is your child’s school); your time is valuable, so value it yourself. I charge per child per hour, with a minimum charge per hour.

25. If you intend to publicise your book/s, then undertake a speaking course. Toastmaster International is a great organisation, which will teach you how to make butterflies fly in formation, and to speak impromptu to an audience. (Deduct the cost of joining and meetings against your writing income.)

26. Set small achievable goals and try to write undisturbed regularly. Give yourself an allotted time where writing is your only priority.

27. Keep a despatches’ book or spreadsheet which shows when and where you send out manuscripts.

28. Keep a record of each manuscript’s history: record how long the piece is, when you finished it, places to which it has been sent and if it has been accepted or rejected.

29. Do not sit beside the phone or hang out at the mail box when you submit a manuscript: get to work on the next one!

30. Do not take it personally when your work is rejected by a publisher. There are many reasons why work is returned. Quality of writing is not the only factor: it could be that the publisher has only the day before accepted a similar piece to that which you’ve submitted.

My highest number of consecutive manuscript rejections is 47! One of my published books was rejected by 15 publishers over a six-year period, but when it came out, it was not only very popular, but was accepted for overseas’ translation.

31. Do not be fearful of submitting a manuscript: there are only one or two (usually anonymous) people who will read it, and you will never know who they are. The worst that can happen is that your work is returned. Also, don’t worry about © copyright: it’s rare than anyone in a publishing house will “steal” your idea.

32. Recycle: when your manuscript is rejected, re-submit it the same day to another publisher. If it is your 6th or 7th rejection, then the chances are it’s not the best writing in the world.

33. Most authors worry about multiple submissions or sending the same manuscript to two or more publishers at the same time. My usual approach is to multiply submit as book publishers are notorious for taking a long time to respond to unsolicited submissions. However, it is a courtesy to let the publisher know that they are not the only company looking at your work. Someone once said, what to do if you get two or more publishers wishing to publish your work, is to celebrate. The advantage of competing publishers for one work is that you have leverage regarding contract negotiations.

34. If you prefer to submit a manuscript to one publisher at a time, it is a sound policy to set a deadline. Tell the publisher that they have exclusive rights to read your work until… then name a date, say 6-8 weeks hence. If you have had no response by the date, wait 2-3 days, then make a polite phone call or send an email or card, asking if there is any interest. If there is no response, immediately send your work on to the next publisher.

34. Never expect a publisher to write a report on why they have rejected your work. It is not their job.

35. If a publishing house rejects your work and says why, then your work obviously had some merit: most rejected manuscripts are not commented on. Feel encouraged but work even harder to improve your work!

36. If your manuscript is rejected with notes from the publisher, it is quite okay for you to re-write, using the publisher’s suggestions, and then to re-submit. The second time around address it to the editor who sent you the letter and remind him/her that you have re-worked your manuscript based on their earlier comments.

Even if you did exactly what the publisher suggested, they are not legally bound to accept your re-submission.

37. How do you know which publisher is right for you? This is where your market research comes into play. Look at who is publishing what and see if you like the standard of their book design and the quality of the work they publish. Read your trade magazines; ask published writers about publishers and what they would recommend.

38. The best way to get on side with a published author is to read his/her work and let them know if you enjoy it. You will find most writers – especially children’s writers – friendly and approachable.

39. If you meet someone in the publishing business – such as an author - do not ask them to read your manuscript, even if you paid once upon a time for a course they conducted. Pay for a manuscript assessment.

40. If a manuscript assessor writes a favourable report on your work, then it is okay (in fact a good idea) to submit a copy of the report with your manuscript when you submit it to a publisher.

41. It is not good policy to sign an option clause on a contract, even though it sounds good. The option clause says that the publisher has first right of refusal on your next work. If you sign it, you can be in for trouble in future. If you want to, you can always approach your existing publisher with a new manuscript.

42. Study publishers’ catalogues: quite often you can get a good idea of what they are likely to accept, and sometimes you can see a “gap” in their range. This is particularly the case with educational publishers.

43. If you want to write a non-fiction book, you are advised to create a proposal before you write the book. The proposal will report on matters such as your book concept, your expertise in the intended subject and/or your qualifications, the book’s target market, competing books, reasons why your book will sell well, an outline of the books’ contents and a sample chapter. An interested publisher will likely talk to you about your ideas and even offer a contract before you proceed.

44. Never, ever, ever miss a deadline! Professionals will work around the clock rather than miss one. I once worked with a new illustrator who missed important deadlines, which held up the publisher's schedule. It was her first and last job as an illustrator: news travels in the publishing world.

45. Many writers want to know how long a story, or a book should be. It depends on who you are writing for, and what kind of book. If you don’t know, go to the people who do know, or check out submission guidelines on the internet.

46. If you don’t have a computer, you should forget about being a writer. Learn to back up work-in-progress constantly. Most publishers these days require a hard copy of your work as well as a soft copy.

47. A writing buddy is very motivating, if you can find one. The idea is that you swap work-in-progress and motivate and encourage one another. If you don’t know any other writers, then advertise for a buddy. In most states there are writers’ centres which have newsletters. I have used the Public Notices’ pages of my local regional newspaper to find writers (and succeeded!) A writing group I founded about 20 years ago is still running, though I long ago left it.

48. If you can find like-minded writers, form a writers’ work shopping group which meets regularly. Six to eight members is ideal. The idea is to meet in someone’s home, or perhaps a public place such as the meeting room in the local library. Each person takes turns to read his or her work to the group, and then members of the group offer constructive criticism. In setting up a workshop group, it is advisable that members are of a similar writing level and write in the same genre, such as short stories or novels. You would also be advised as a group to decide on a list of criteria for assessment before the work shopping begins. A certain level of trust needs to exist for a workshop group to function effectively.

49. Most new writers desperately want an agent. Agents are not always what they are cracked up to be. I know of authors who regret having agents because they have become bound by agreements which they cannot escape. Your best tool for success is brilliant writing! There are loop-holes when it comes to publishers saying they will only take work from agented writers. (See my article, How to Get Both Feet Past Publishers’ Locked Doors. I have testimonials which state that lateral thinking and actions, as suggested by the article, does work.)

50. If you hear about a new market or opportunity, attend to it immediately. This is one of the main reasons why I get so much work published! I am constantly ferreting out markets. When I find a new one, I make contact that very moment. Often my work is the first submitted to a new publisher. Move quickly. Don’t leave deadlines to the last minute. It’s a trite but absolutely true saying, “The early bird gets the best (juiciest and sometimes only) worm.”

ALL THE VERY BEST OF LUCK WITH YOUR WRITING CAREER! (Remember, you can make your own luck…)

© Dianne Bates

Di offers a twice monthly online magazine for those in the Australian children’s industry. Go to to receive a free copy. If you decide to subscribe ($48 for 24 issues pa), Di will send you a copy of her article, 'How to Get Both Feet Past Publishers' Locked Doors.'

Monday 13 August 2018

Writing Workshops

The great American writer Samuel Clements (Mark Twain) once wrote, “I like criticism, but it must be my way.”  Most people would agree with this sentiment, particularly new writers showing their work to others for the first time. When you have slaved, perhaps for months over a piece of writing and you cherish what you have written, it is difficult indeed to accept the criticism of a reader, even if such criticism is constructive and delivered with kindness and/or love. I well remember my first poetry-writing attempts as an unpublished adult: when my partner, a much-published poet, put red lines through my precious words I was aghast. If I was not in love with him, I might easily have wanted to wipe him off the face of the planet! He was, however, giving me my earliest editing lessons. They were valuable lessons that I treasure even now thirty years later when I’ve had over 100 books published.

Many writers, particularly beginners, find it difficult to be critical about their own work. This is because they are too close to it and thus they cannot be objective. Frequently they do not see ambiguities in their work. The piece reads perfectly to them because they know it so well. However, what they have written may not communicate clearly to others. The outside, objective reader can only see what is written on the page before him or her, and perhaps it does not make sense.

Any reader who is asked to make critical comments of a written work has a difficult task: this is because people – especially those who are new to having their writing critiqued – are hurt by criticism (some more than others).  However, all writers need another “eye” to assess what they have written: this ensures that what they have written is accessible to others. The eye can be one, that of an editor. Or it can be the “eye” of a group.

As a beginner writer, you can help to improve the quality of your writing by using a workshop approach. My author husband Bill Condon and I take part in weekly writing workshop groups; we are always helped in them by the critical observations of our fellow writers who are both published and unpublished.

To workshop, a group should consist of about six people: (personally, I find that four is an ideal number). Every member must be prepared to share their work and to comment on the work of others. Decide how much time should be given to each writer for the reading of their work and the subsequent critiquing. A good time frame is twenty minutes to half an hour per person.

Workshopping requires tact and honesty. In making comments, group members should consider the written material, not the personality that produced it. To this end, it is more helpful to say, “The story needs a tighter ending,” rather than “You can’t write good endings.”  Always give the presenting writer the first opportunity to comment on their work once they’ve read it aloud – they may have heard problems they hadn’t seen earlier. Sometimes the way in which others in the group respond will signal to the writer what works and what doesn’t.

If you are critiquing, it is okay to make notes during the reading. These are points you might consider:
·      Was the title effective, appropriate, a fair indicator of the     contents?
·      Was the opening engaging?
·      Was the writer able to sustain the tone from start to finish?
·      Were there memorable phrases or unusual details, words that surprised you with their originality?
·      Were there parts you didn’t understand?
·      Was the tense consistent throughout?
·      What was the major conflict?
·      Did you care about the characters?
·      Did the writer achieve his aim?
It is as helpful to tell the writer what works for you in the story as it is to say what you have problems with.

If you are presenting, don’t make apologies for your work before reading it. Let the others decide if it works or it doesn’t.  Before you begin to read, don’t spend precious time talking about it, what inspired it, how long it took, what you are trying to say: let the writing speak for itself. 

When others are presenting their comments on your work, don’t become defensive. Listen respectfully to what they say. You may not agree with them: when all is said and done, you are the final judge of whether or not to accept their advice. However, if more than one group member is critical of the same point in your story, chances are that you have not communicated that point clearly enough.
Workshopping is a valuable means for all writers, even the most experienced, to learn how to self edit and to improve story elements such as structure, characterisation, style and so on. When you workshop long enough you will very likely become a far better editor than you can ever become by reading books on the writing and editing processes. However, books on editing are invaluable. Wishing to help new writers who today work in a hugely competitive market is one reason why I wrote How to Self Edit (To Improve Writing Skills, Five Senses Educationwhich contains 500 editing exercises (and suggestion revisions). Not all of us have access to lovers who are ruthless editors, nor to other writers who wish to workshop with us!

© Dianne Bates

Dianne (Di) Bates is the author of over 130 books for young people. She produces the fortnightly online magazine, Buzz Words ( for people in the children’s book industry.

Saturday 11 August 2018

Writing Verse Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Australia’s best known and prize-winning verse novelists for young people is Steven Herrick who spoke to Di Bates about his writings:

Steven, how would you define a verse novel?
A narrative written in verse! Is that a bit too glib? But really, that's it. My favourite verse-novels tell a story in the first-person through multiple perspectives. "Cold Skin" has eight narrators, for example.

What verse novel do you wish you'd written, and why?
Frenchtown summer by Robert Cormier – is probably the shortest, but definitely most poetic verse-novel I've ever read. It’s about a boy and his father - a subject I've written thousands of pages on - and Robert Cormier does it all in 105 pages.

Which are you most conscious of while writing a verse novel - voice, language or storyline?
I'm conscious of all those things, but really all I want to do is write characters that the reader would like to spend some time with. I don't focus that much on the storyline when I'm writing - I just want to get close to the characters. The story (such as it is) comes later. 

How much editing do you need to do?
I have found it easy to write verse novels, I must say, although, I'm trying to wean myself off them at present. My latest book is a prose fiction called Rhyming Boy for children (UQP) and I’ll probably follow this with a book of short stories. I'm keeping black painted fingernails in reserve for a year or two. Some books are heavily edited (or rewritten, or more precisely, have lots of poems added) - By the River and Naked Bunyip Dancing were both much shorter when first sent to my editor: she just loved the characters and encouraged me to write more - which in both cases I willingly did! Some other books didn't need as much editing. I'm a lazy writer, I reckon: I send a manuscript off before it's ready and do the extra work afterwards.

Dorothy Porter, the award-winning Australia poet and author who writes for adults, has the following to say about verse novels:
“A good verse novel is an impossible juggling act of narrative and poetry. They both must work. They both must pull together. You can’t have a successful verse novel where the story drags, and the characters are tepidly drawn. The same rule of narrative enchantment applies to verse novels as applies to prose novels. There are plenty of boring, unreadable novels around. I have no desire to add to their number. But there is no point in writing a verse novel at all if the poetry is dead doggerel or suffocating obscurity.

The quality of the poetry gives the verse novel its true distinction and luminous intensity. Poetry burns for longer than prose. There is nothing hotter than a terrific verse novel. There is no better read. A wonderful and enduring example is Alexander Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” which changed the course of Russian prose fiction. Pushkin’s verse novel set a very high bar indeed. And it continues to do so.

The verse novel is a highly unpredictable literary form. Unlike prose novels, where most read in terms of their structure and language pretty much the same, every verse novel is different.

Whether good or bad each one is a unique reflection of the poet who wrote it and the struggles the poet had in trying to weld poetry and narrative together. Even though a verse novel claims to be fictional no literary form is more revealing of the thrashing cries of the author behind it.

I am never more myself than when creating the characters of my verse novels. To give them authentic voice is like writing intensely personal operatic arias. I have to find a new pitch and a greater stretch and courage in myself.”

© Dianne Bates

Dianne (Di) Bates is the author of over 130 books for young people including the verse novel, Nobody's Boy (Celapene Press). She produces the fortnightly online magazine, Buzz Words ( for people in the children’s book industry.