We’re Here to Help You Get Ahead In Your Writing Career

Need to kick-start your writing? Looking for some advice on how to break in? The Australian Writer’s Marketplace Writing Advice archive collects the best advice from the AWM print editions, past and present, as well as some exclusive content just for our online subscribers. Whether you’re just starting out as a writer, building on your first few publications, or well into your writing career, there’s advice in our archive that can help take your writing to the next level.

With the backlog of great advice available in AWM’s from the past, we’re still uploading content into this section on a regular basis. If you can’t find what you’re looking for now, check back in a week or so, or let us know what kind of advice you’d like to see added to AWMonline and ask your fellow writers for some hot tips over on the forums.

A Beginner's Guide to Commercial Services

by Peter M Ball

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: this section of the Australian Writer’s Marketplace is not like the other sections. Up until this point you’ve been a writer looking for opportunities: places to submit your work; courses that can refine your craft; professional organisations to join.

When it comes to the Commercial Services section, you need to adjust your thinking a little. It covers services targeted at writers and publishers; services that charge a commercial fee and expect you to think like a small business owner, rather than a writer looking for a way to get published.

And for a new writer still finding their feet in how publishing works, these can be dangerous waters. The combination of ambition and naiveté about the way publishing leaves some new writers vulnerable to making easy mistakes, while others are led astray by services that over-promise and under-deliver. It can be heart-breaking talking to a new writer who chose to go with a commercial service thinking it was a path to traditional publication, or one who gave up on a project after a manuscript assessment acquired too early in the creative process.

While many professionals make use of commercial services as an everyday part of their business, they can also be a source of frustration for newcomers. Sometimes this is simply a case of honest mistakes—what seems like an ideal route to get where you’re going may instead lead somewhere else entirely. Sometime it’s a case of mismatched expectations, especially in cases where the writer’s ambition has been manipulated by advertising copy. And sometimes there are sharks in the water, preying on those who don’t know enough to recognise the fin cutting its way through the water.

  1. There Is No Magic Fix

Hiring a commercial service to work on your manuscript or publishing project can be one of the best investments you can make as a writer, but it’s important to keep your expectations in check. Publishing services boasting that they’re a sure-fire path to success are likely engaging in marketing hyperbole, hoping to draw in new writers who are willing to throw money at a short-cut that doesn’t exist.

The right commercial service can save you time and money, and it can help take your project to the next level. But if you’re reading this section looking for the short-cut that will take you from an unknown to a best-seller, it’s probably time to adjust your expectations.

  1. Shop Around

Choosing to hire any commercial service to help you with your writing or publishing project is a business decision, and it should be treated like one. Make sure you look at several providers offering the service you’re looking for, and take the time to familiarise yourself with their background and the work they’ve done for prior clients if you can. Look for qualifications and associations with industry bodies on their websites, or ask them for details if they haven’t got such details publically posted.

In short, do your due diligence. If you’re investing money in your career, it’s worth taking the time to ensure you’re investing it in the right place. As with any business purchase, shopping around and can ensure you’re getting both the best service and the best price.

  1. Look for a Track Record

Established services will have a track record you can look up. Many will trumpet these proudly, offering you samples of previous work and referrals from satisfied clients on their website, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop there. A quick internet search can turn up both satisfied and unsatisfied clients, while services such as Writer Beware (http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/) can warn you against unscrupulous providers.

  1. Educate Yourself

While you’re shopping around and doing your due diligence, it’s also a good idea to learn as much detail as you can about the service that you’re buying. There’s a wealth of information out there for writers these days, both on the internet and in form of professional organisations such as the Australian Society of Authors or your state writers centre.

You don’t need to become an expert – odds are if you’re looking here, you’ve already acknowledged the need for a professional that can fill in the gap in your own skills – but doing enough research to understand the basic assumptions of the field can be important. For example, learning the difference between a line-edit, a copy-edit, and a manuscript assessment can be a valuable thing when searching for an independent editor. Similarly, knowing a little about the way epublishing works and ebooks are created can help you determine exactly what you need to pay for and what it’s really worth.

  1. When in Doubt, Money Flows Towards the Writer

I can’t remember which author gave me this advice, way back at the start of my career, but it’s a simple and easy mantra that’s been repeated, time and again, by writers smarter and more successful than I. Money flows towards the writer, not the other way around. You don’t pay to be published; a publisher pays you for the right to produce your work. It’s advice that made sense to me, even as a young writer, and cleaving to it saved me from making some very expensive mistakes.

Like most business expenses, you invest in the services that follow because they’ll enhance your chances of making a profit in the long run. If there’s more money going out than you reasonably expect to earn back on your project, or if costs seem to be escalating beyond your initial quote or budget, it may be time to re-examine what you’re doing.

  1. Know Your Rights, Read Your Contracts, and Remember to Think Long-Term

Any writer working without a basic understanding of copyright can be easy prey for the unscrupulous. The rights to reprint, adapt, and reproduce your work are the source of income for many content creators, and it’s important to understand what you’re signing away when you agree to a contract. You rarely sell the work outright – instead, you lease the right to reproduce and distribute it to your publisher.

When engaging a commercial service, it’s important to double-check any contracts or business agreements you enter into. There is no reason that a service you’re paying for should take ownership of rights to your work, and it can be important to look at the fine-print regarding which rights you’re licensing when dealing with services that assist in self-publishing your work.

Finally, it’s important to think long-term about your project. With epublishing, especially, you can find services that may offer to take a percentage of your profits rather than an up-front fee. This may seem attractive in the short-term, but an ebook can conceivably sell long beyond the commercial life-span of a printed work, and that short-term saving could be considerably more expensive over the life-time of your project.

Peter Ball is the co-ordinator of the bi-annual GenreCon writer’s conference. His novellas and short-stories have been published in in a range of anthologies and magazines, and in 2009 he won the Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Short Story. Find him online at www.petermball.com and @petermball on twitter.

How to Write a Book Proposal

by Jane Friedman

A book proposal argues why your book (idea) is a salable, marketable product. It is essentially a business case or a business plan for your book.

Book proposals aren’t something you dash off in a day or two. They can take weeks or months to write if properly developed and researched. A proposal can easily reach 50 pages, even 100 for complex projects.

When is a book proposal needed?

Book proposals are used to sell nonfiction book ideas.

Instead of writing the entire book—then trying to find a publisher or agent (which is how it works with novels)—you write the proposal first, which convinces the editor or agent to contract you to write the book.

New writers might find it easier to simply write the book first, then prepare a proposal—which isn’t such a bad idea, since many editors and agents want assurance that an unknown writer can produce an entire book before they commit. (But having the manuscript complete does not negate the need for the proposal.)

That said, drafting a proposal first (even sketching it) can give you a better idea of what your book needs to include to make it stand apart from competing titles.

When is a proposal NOT needed?

The easiest answer is: When the agent or editor doesn’t require it in their submission guidelines. This can be the case with memoir, where the quality of the writing or manuscript holds more weight than the business case.

Generally speaking: When your book is more about information or a compelling idea, then you’re selling it based on the marketability of your expertise, your platform, and your concept—and you need a proposal.

If your book will succeed based on its literary merit (its ability to entertain or tell a story), then it becomes more important to have a completed manuscript that proves your strength as a writer.

What about “novel proposals”?

You may occasionally hear someone refer to novel proposals, which includes a query or cover letter, a synopsis and/or outline, and a partial or complete manuscript—along with any other information the editor or agent requests. This bears little to no relation to a typical nonfiction book proposal. Go here to read more about novel synopses.

Do I have to be an expert to write my nonfiction book?

Usually some level of expertise is necessary to produce a successful nonfiction book, especially for fields such as health, self-help, or parenting, where no one will trust your advice without recognized credentials. Your background must convey authority and instill confidence in the reader. (Would you, as a reader, trust a health book by an author with no experience or degrees?)

Some types of nonfiction, especially narrative nonfiction and memoir, can be written by anyone with proven journalistic or storytelling skills.

How do I know if my memoir is salable or marketable?

It’s probably safe to assume that your memoir is not salable unless you’re confident of several things.

  1. Your writing must be outstanding. If your memoir is your very first book or very first writing attempt, then it may not be good enough to pass muster with an editor or agent.
  2. You must have a compelling and unusual story to tell. If you’re writing about situations that affect thousands (or millions) of people, that’s not necessarily in your favor. Alzheimer’s memoirs or cancer memoirs, for example, are common, and will put you on the road to rejection unless you’re able to prove how yours is unique or outstanding in the field.
  3. You need a platform. If you have a way to reach readers, without a publisher’s help, then you’re more likely to get a book deal.

Do I need an agent to sell my nonfiction book?

It depends. Consider these factors:

  1. Are you writing a book that has significant commercial value?
  2. Do you want to publish with a New York house?
  3. Do you need the expertise and knowledge of an agent to get your proposal into the right hands?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you should probably look for an agent. Projects that don’t necessarily require agents include scholarly works for university presses; regional works likely to be published by regional or independent presses; and works with little commercial value.

How do I submit a book proposal?

Check submission guidelines of the agent or publisher. Sometimes you have to query before sending the proposal; often you can send the book proposal on first contact. The submission guidelines will also indicate any mandatory information that must be included in the proposal. Wondering how to find an agent or publisher to submit to? Check this post.

What does a book proposal consist of?

For better or worse, there is no “right way” to prepare a book proposal, just as there is no right way to write a book. Proposals vary in length, content, approach, and presentation. Each book requires a unique argument for its existence (or a business case), and thus requires a unique proposal. For example, a coffee table book on dogs would be pitched differently than a scholarly tome on presidents, or an expose on a celebrity.

However, here’s what an agent or publisher is essentially looking for.

Always answer these three questions

While these questions are not explicitly addressed in the proposal (e.g., with specific sections), these questions will be running through the mind of every publishing professional who considers your project. Make sure, as a whole, your proposal effectively answers them.

  • So what? This is the reason for the book’s existence, the unique selling proposition that sets it apart from others in the market.
  • Who cares? This is your target readership. A unique book is not enough—you must show evidence of need in the marketplace for your work.
  • Who are you? You must have sufficient authority or credentials to write the book, as well as an appropriate marketing platform for the subject matter or target audience.

Basic book proposal elements

Before I detail the most common elements of a proposal, I want to emphasize the following. Editors care about one thing only: A viable idea with a clear market, paired with a writer who has credibility and marketing savvy.Knowing your audience or market—and having direct, tangible reach to them (online or off)—gives you a much better chance of success. Pitch only the book you know has a firm spot in the marketplace. Do not pitch a book expecting that the publisher will bring the audience to you. It’s the other way around. You bring your audience and platform to the publisher.

  1. Cover page and the proposal’s table of contents

Long proposals should have a table of contents.

  1. Overview

A two-page summary of your entire proposal. Write it last—it needs to sing and present a water-tight business case. Think of it as the executive summary.

  1. Target market

Who will buy this book? Why will it sell? Avoid generic statements like these:

  • A Google search result on [topic] turns up more than 10 million hits.
  • A U.S. Census shows more than 20 million people in this demographic.
  • An Amazon search turns up more than 10,000 books with “dog” in the title

These are meaningless statistics. The following statements show better market insight:

  • Three major sites focus on my topic at [URLs], and none of them have been updated since 2009. When I posted current information about this topic on my site, it became the leading referral of traffic for me, with more than 100 people visiting each day as a result.
  • Media surveys indicate that at least 50% of people in [demographic] plan to spend about $1,000 on their hobby this year, and 60% indicated they buy books on [topic].
  • The 5 most highly ranked titles on Amazon on this topic are now all at least 5 years out of date. Recent reviewers complain the books are not keeping up with new information and trends.
  1. Competitive analysis

This section analyzes competing book titles and why yours is different or better. (Resist trashing the competition; it will come back to bite you.) Don’t skimp here—editors can tell when you haven’t done your homework. Also, researching and fully understanding the competition and its strengths/weaknesses should help you write a better proposal.

Whatever you do, don’t claim there are NO competitors to your book. If there are truly no competitors, then your book might be so weird and specialized that it won’t sell.

Most importantly, don’t limit yourself to print book titles when analyzing the competition. Today, your greatest competition is probably a website, online community, or well-known blogger. Your proposal should evaluate not just competing print books, but also websites, digital content, and online experts serving the same audience. Google your topic and the problem it solves. What terms would people search for if they wanted information or a solution? What turns up? Is it easy to get needed and authoritative information? Is it free or behind a pay wall?

Where do online experts and authorities send people for more information? Do they frequently reference books? Ask your local librarian where they would look for information on the topic you’re writing about.

In many nonfiction topics and categories, the availability of online information can immediately kill the potential for a print book unless:

  • You have a very compelling platform and means of reaching your target audience, and they prefer books.
  • You already reach an online market and they are clamoring for a book.
  • You are writing something that isn’t best served through an online experience.

Many book ideas I see pitched should really start out as a site or community—even if only to test-market the idea, to learn more about the target audience, and to ultimately produce a print product that has significant value and appeal in its offline presentation.

  1. Author bio and platform

Explain why you’re perfect to write and promote the book. More on this below.

  1. Marketing and promotion plan

What can you specifically do to market and promote the book? Never discuss what you hope to do, only what you can and will do (without publisher assistance), given your current resources.

Many people write their marketing plan in extremely tentative fashion, talking about things they are “willing” to do if asked. This is deadly language. Avoid it. Instead, you need to be confident, firm, and direct about everything that’s going to happen with or without the publisher’s help. Make it concrete, realistic, and attach numbers to everything.

Weak
I plan to register a domain and start a blog for my book.

Strong
Within 6 months of launch, my blog on [book topic] already attracts 5,000 unique visits per month.

Weak
I plan to contact bloggers for guest blogging opportunities.

Strong
I have also guest blogged every month for the past year to reach another 250,000 visitors, at sites such as [include 2-3 examples of most well-known blogs]. I have invitations to return on each site, plus I’ve made contact with 10 other bloggers for future guest posts.

Weak
I plan to contact conferences and speak on [book topic].

Strong
I am in contact with organizers at XYZ conferences, and have spoken at 3 events within the past year reaching 5,000 people in my target audience.

The secret of a marketing plan isn’t the number of ideas you have for marketing, or how many things you are willing to do, but how many solid connections you have—the ones that are already working for you—and how many readers you NOW reach through today’s efforts. You need to show that your ideas are not just pie in the sky, but real action steps that will lead to concrete results and a connection to an existing readership.

  1. Chapter outline or table of contents

Briefly describe each chapter, if appropriate.

  1. Sample chapters

Include at least one—the strongest, meatiest chapter. Don’t try to get off easy by using the introduction.

What are common problems with book proposals?

  • They’ve been submitted to an inappropriate agent/editor/publisher.
  • No clearly defined market or need—or a market/audience that’s too niche for a commercial publisher to pursue.
  • Concept is too general/broad, or has no unique angle.
  • The writer wants to do a book based on his or her own amateur experience of overcoming a problem or investigating a complex issue. (No expertise or credentials.)
  • The writer concentrates only on the content of the book or his/her own experience—instead of the book’s hook and benefit and appeal to the marketplace.
  • The proposed idea is like a million others; nothing compelling sets the book apart

What if I’m told the market is too small for my project?

Maybe you approached too big of a publisher. Is there a smaller publisher thatwould be interested because they have a lower threshold of sales tomeet? Big houses may want to sell as many as 20,000 copies in the firstyear to justify publication; smaller presses may be fine with a few thousand copies.

Is it possible to make your subject/topic/book more marketable by employing a sexier hook? Many times, writers aren’t looking at their work with a marketer’s eye. Think about how you might interest a perfect stranger in your topic. Have you really tapped into current trends and interests when it comes to your book project, and are you framing it in an exciting way for a publisher (or agent)? Just because you’re fascinated by your subject doesn’t mean other people will get it. You have to know how to sell it.

How big does my platform have to be before a publisher will be interested?

It depends on how big of a publisher you’re pitching, and the overall nature of that publisher. Let’s assume you want the best possible deal from a commercial, New York house.They will want to know:

  • The stats and analytics behind your online following, including all websites, blogs, social media accounts, e-mail newsletters, regular online writing gigs, podcasts, videos, etc.
  • Your offline following—speaking engagements, events, classes/teaching, city/regional presence, professional organization leadership roles and memberships, etc.
  • Your presence in traditional media (regular gigs, features, any coverage you’ve received, etc)
  • Sales of past books or self-published works

You typically need tens of thousands of engaged followers, and verifiable influence with those followers, to interest a major publisher. Make sure that every number you mention is offered with context. Avoid statements like these: I have 3,000 friends on Facebook or I have 5,000 followers on Twitter. These numbers are fairly meaningless as far as engagement. You have to tell the story behind the numbers. For instance:

Better: More than 30 percent of my Twitter followers have retweeted me, and my links get clicked an average of 50 times.

Better: I run regular giveaway events on Facebook, and during the last event, more than 500 people sent their favorite quote on [topic] to be considered for the giveaway—and to also be considered for the book.

Show that you know your market in a meaningful way, show specifically how and where the market is engaged and growing, and show the engaged role you have.

Does my book need or deserve to be in print?

Some nonfiction topics actually work better when presented on blogs, websites, or communities/forums—where interactivity and an ability to freshen up the content at a moment’s notice has more appeal to your audience.

Traditional houses are pickier than ever; producing anything in print is a significant investment and risk. They need to know there’s an audience waiting to buy. And, given the significant change in the industry, authors shouldn’t consider a print book their first goal or the end goal, but merely one channel, and usually not the best channel.

The most comprehensive guide to writing book proposals

Check out Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal, the most definitive guide on the topic since the 1980s. It will step you through every single page of your book proposal.

Jane Friedman is the publisher of Scratch, a digital quarterly magazine focusing on the business side of the writing life. She is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest and teaches digital publishing and media at the University of Virginia. Find out more at JaneFriedman.com.

How to Find Freelance Writing Work

by Nick Mamatas

LOOK FOR IT.

In 2005, for the Tim Pratt/Heather Shaw project Flytrap, I wrote an essay about freelance writing and suggested that if you could not make a living as a freelancer it is because your standards were too high, both for what counted as writing and what counted as a living. A couple of years later, a new science fiction writer (he’d debuted in Baen’s Universe) wrote me a letter of thanks. He happened to be reading the little zine in a hospital hallway while on the other side of the wall his wife was giving birth. At that moment, he decided to get together a few pieces of writing he’d completed in the hope of getting out of the job he had in a warehouse. He wrote to say that he credited my article with his new gig writing computer software manuals, which meant more money for his family.

This essay will be a little version of that. This isn’t about making a living as a freelance writer, which is more difficult right now as ad buys are drying up and content migrating online in some poorly modeled ways, but about getting some money. This is also aimed at people in science fiction, who thanks to the raft of “writer-friendly” submission guidelines and close community ties between periodicals and would-be writers, have been reduced as a labor pool to a bunch of mewling infants unable to bathe themselves without triple-checking LiveJournal and begging advice from their Clarion teachers and Twittering about how hard everything is.

So, look for it. What you are looking for, specifically, are opportunities in nonfiction, as there are a lot more of those, and they pay better.

One looks for freelance writing opportunities by looking at actually existing magazines on newsstands and actually existing electronic magazines here on the WWW. You are not looking for “market lists,” which are rife with obsolete information, and you are not looking for submission guidelines, which many magazines do not provide.

Note: you can also find the occasional gig via Craigslist. Do not write for start-ups who have yet to have a first issue. Do not send in complete articles. (They just steal them.) Do not bother with SEO nonsense. It’s rare to find anything good on CL, but it’s such a low-energy search that you may as well do it. Most recently, I found H+ via Craigslist and have made $500+ for writing fewer than 2,000 words across two articles for them.

You are looking for magazines that you might like to write for, the articles in these magazines, and then on to the masthead for either a) a submissions address, b) the contact information for the editor of the department you wish to write for, or, barring that, the c) contact information for the managing editor. Once you have your magazines, you do not want to write to the top of the masthead (editor-in-chief, publisher, senior editor,) or to the “copy editor” (who is not in charge of buying copy, but in charge of making sure copy isn’t embarrassing) or anyone else like that.

What you are looking for, for the most part, are second and third-tier magazines. This is because they often depend on freelance work and because nonfiction works differently than fiction.

When writing fiction for publication, especially science fiction and fantasy, one is told to a) finish a story and then b) send it to the magazines that pay the most and are most widely read first.

In nonfiction, this is not the done thing. You start from nearly the bottom to get a little money (and even tiny magazines generally pay better than the short fiction “markets” people are used to) and to generate clips. In nonfiction, few people buy articles. They assign articles based on ideas. The evidence that you are capable of writing an article is an actually existing and published article you have written. In nonfiction, one works one’s way up. When I was very serious about nonfiction, I turned $50 gigs from Disinfo.com into $500 gigs for the Village Voice into $1,500-3,000 gigs for Artbyte, Silicon Alley Reporter, and Razor. Note that I never made it into the top tier of slicks, mainly because that would have required a bit more party-going and shoeleather journalism than I felt like doing. But $1,000 for a few email Q&As and maybe a phone call suited me just fine.

Also note that the three slicks I wrote for regularly are now defunct. That’s fine. There’s always a lot of churn in the marketplace. All that lives must pass from life. This is God’s way. To kill you.

There are two types of magazines in the marketplace, incidentally.

The type that always need new material.

The type that run the same fifty stories over and over again over the course of say, eighteen months.

To generate ideas for the first type of magazine, think of things are either in the news or soon will be. Then forget your first two ideas and develop the third. For the second type of magazine, just think about what isn’t in the issue you’re looking at, but should be.

Another note: under no circumstances are you to suggest a “follow-up” to an existing article.

Then you write your query letter, which begins not with who you are or anything like that, but with the succinct articulation of your idea. The hook. (This hook will later become your nut paragraph in the piece itself.) In the second graf of the query, you write a tiny bit about why you are qualified. Then you offer clips—copies or URLS of published work.

Yet another note: You aren’t writing anything but query letters until you get an assignment. Almost nobody wants to see finished articles. (Indeed, most writers are very dubious of the few magazines that want finished articles, as they may end up working for free.)

In the old days, by the way, queries were even done by phone. Think of your hook in this way. You’ve got a busy stranger, not necessarily well-inclined toward you, on the phone. What do you say to keep her on the phone? Well, here’s what you don’t say:

“I’m sorry for taking up your time, but…”

“Are you taking queries?”

“I’m Smedley Vanblunderchump and I’ve published a lot of science fiction short stories in magazines you never heard of and I want to set your readers straight on the LIE of global warming, because I think Sierra Magazine needs to run articles on the other side of the debate, aka THE TRUTH…”

Here’s an example of a query letter (yet another other note: I didn’t attach clips to the bottom of this one because it was my second piece for The Smart Set):

 

2009 is the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe, arguably the most famed and influential writer in American history. Not only does his work entirely limn the culture, he created no fewer than two genres of popular fiction—mystery and modern horror—virtually by himself. His poetry is still widely read, his personal life and discontents inform the clichés of the starving writer in his garret AND the mad genius, and it’s virtually impossible for someone to graduate from an American high school without having read Poe.

Not bad for someone whose themes represent a near-total amorality, a distaste for Enlightenment values, and a complete separation from American society. Unlike other early American writers, Poe’s material cannot even be used in schools to teach about Puritanism or slavery or any of that other social science stuff that has colonized the Language Arts departments. Poe has nearly been defanged by grade school teachers, but he is too darkly vibrant to be put down for long. Poe, in his rejection of all things “American,” IS needed by America. He is the antidote to cultural complacency.

I propose a think piece on Poe from a reader’s point of view. I’m a horror writer myself, so will make some mention of his connection to the popular culture, but am primarily interested in digging up the Poe that rests partially occulted under a big pile of fourth grade school assignments and such. Why are we teaching kids how to read with stories of uncomplicated revenge and slaughter, and teaching how appreciate critical reasoning by playing with the absurd. (It was an orangutan!)

About 2500 words’ll do me. What do you think?

 

 

So, as you can see: there’s a news hook (200th birthday), applicability (everyone is familiar with Poe), a twist that makes the idea new (reclaiming Poe from schoolteachers), and a bit of why I am the one to write the piece (I write horror). If it’s a bit more casual than you expected, that’s only because I’d already worked with the editor before. (And I’m awesome.)

Then you are good to go. This went well enough that after “Poe at 200” came out and I collected my $400 for half an afternoon’s work, the gang over at The New Humanist asked for a Poe article—like the one they’d read but aimed for their audience—and offered $150 for one quarter of an afternoon’s work.

Not famous. Not a big deal. Perhaps not even magazines you’d ever heard of. But they pay well, quickly, and are eager enough for work that they may solicit based on a published clip. This is what you want when you want money for freelance writing.

Which magazines should you query? Well, in the second and third tier there is no reason not to query all of them. Send the same query to a bunch of places, with tweaks necessary for slightly different audiences. It’s fine. Everyone knows that queries are non-exclusive. Indeed, everyone knows that ideas are non-exclusive. Your contract may say that you should not publish a similar story to the one you sold for thirty or ninety days. The second magazine may demand fresh quotes from various sources (just keep a few good quotes to yourself so you won’t need to re-interview anyone), but it’s not a big deal.

The late, great D. G. K. Goldberg was a travel writer, and she once told me of the Smartest Writer in the World. He, too, was a travel writer, but he never left the house. He lived near Orlando and wrote the same broad strokes article once a month, every month, for his entire career. He did service journalism about Disney World and the various other attractions in the area.

 

“Going to Disney for Christmas?”

“Five Best Hotels for Your Disney Trip.”

“Plan Your Summer Trip to Disney!”

“Five Can’t-Miss Disney Attractions!”

 

Who bought these articles? Well, parenting magazines, family magazines, travel magazines, regional magazines (all regions), religious magazines, airline magazines, community newspapers, and daily newspapers.

Did the editor of Magazine B ever see this guy’s story in Magazine A? Surely. Hell, that’s probably how the Smartest Writer in the World got the gig at Magazine B.

Moving on.

Once you get a nibble on a query, write the article on time and to the specifications agreed upon. Once the piece is published, that is your clip. So, if we’re talking a paper magazine, get copies and save some, then scan the article or at least get some decent photocopies for faxing. With this clip, aim upward to the next tier of magazines.

If it’s online, just use the URL. (It might be smart to print out a few copies though, as websites go away sometimes.)

And soon, the world will be yours.

Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including most recently Love is the Law and The Last Weekend, and of short fiction that has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories and other anthologies and magazines. His essays and reportage have appeared in The Smart Set, Fine Books & Collections, In These Times, Village Voice, Psychology Today Online and many other periodicals.

Sample Submission Synopsis

by Kim Wilkins

A synopsis is like an extended back-cover blurb, that gives a sense of the shape and feel of the story.

 

Feel 

  • Look at the example synopsis (next page). Note how many words invoke the mood, e.g. shadows, nightmares, brutal, cruel, love, fate. Circle them all. Do they distil the essence of the story’s “feel”?
  • Brainstorm a list of words and phrases that encapsulate the “feel” of your story. Aim to use as many of these as you can when you write up your synopsis.

 

Shape

  • Look at example synopsis. Note how it’s divided into beginning (introducing characters and conflict), middle (developing the story), and end (resolving the story).
  • Note the kind of language used to summarise the middle: increasingly, soon enough, in time.
  • Note how the ending section gives a sense of the drama and excitement of the denouement.
  • Divide up a page into three parts. Make some notes on the beginning, the middle, and the end of your story.
  • Write up your synopsis using the language cues you brainstormed above.

 

GIANTS OF THE FROST

Synopsis

Victoria Scott has given up on love, and relishes the isolation of her new job at a remote weather station in the Norwegian Sea.  But there are shadows outside her cabin window, rumours about a hag that visits in nightmares, and a disturbing sense of familiarity in the deep, haunted forest.

In Asgard, the world of the old gods, Odin’s son Vidar has exiled himself from his cruel family to await the reincarnation of the woman that he loved; the woman that his father mercilessly slew a thousand years past.  After centuries of waiting, she finally returns to Midgard… and her name is Victoria.

Aud, his bondmaid, is serving a thousand years away from her home and her infant son for making a deal with Fate.  Deep in the black, twisted roots of the World Tree, the three Norns spin and weave the destinies of everyone, and only Aud knows where they live.

Vidar is determined to cross the bridge of frosted light to Midgard, declare his love for Victoria and finally make her his.  But only Vidar’s unpredictable cousin, Loki, can help him across Bifrost undiscovered by his brutal father.  Both Vidar and Aud are drawn into Loki’s web of deceit.

When Victoria and Vidar meet, she feels strangely drawn to him.  In time, the years dissolve and their love is renewed, and finally Vidar can reveal to her the tale of their first love affair in the 11th century, and Vidar’s journey to the underworld of Niflheim to beg for the life of his beloved.

Soon enough, through Aud’s naivete and Loki’s trickery, Odin discovers the truth about Victoria and demands that Vidar give her up or see her die.  To remain in Midgard with a mortal woman would threaten the existence of Asgard.  Vidar knows he must escape his destiny, but can only do so at enormous cost.  He makes a deal with Fate that threatens to undo them all.

As a huge storm closes in on the tiny island, Victoria realises that Odin has come once more to claim her life.  Fearful for the safety of those locked down in the weather station with her, she takes her courage in her hands and walks out into the freezing night.  A great frost steals across the island, and she throws herself on the mercy of the supernatural beings which haunt the forest.  But who will find her first, Odin or Vidar?  And what awful sacrifice will Vidar have to make in order to save the life of his beloved?

Giants of the Frost is a dark fantasy novel, approximately 120 000 words in length.

Making the Cut

by Grant McDuling

If you’ve paged through the latest edition of The Australian Writer’s Marketplace: Freelance Opportunities, you’ll probably have been amazed by the number and diversity of publications out there that accept contributions from freelance writers. You’ll also no doubt have been encouraged to fire up the laptop and begin writing.

But before you get carried away diving head-long into your article, do you understand exactly what it is that editors want from you, a potential freelance contributor? Or are you like most writers who simply think you know? Don’t make the fatal mistake of submitting what you think they need; it’ll most likely result in yet another rejection letter.

So how do you find out what editors want?

Simple. How about asking them? You could also check out the publication’s website for guidelines.

Remember, at this point it is the editor who is your target market and not the readers of the publication. The readers are merely your secondary target. That’s not to say you should disregard them as it is ultimately their requirements you’re aiming to satisfy, albeit via a gatekeeper – the editor.

So what do editors want from you, a freelance writer?

Here’s my experience:

  • Editors want you to approach them correctly in the first instance, with a query letter/email/phone call stating clearly what your story idea is, why it would suit their publication and how it would appeal to their readers.
  • Editors want strong stories with real substance.
  • You must be able to do justice to a good story idea.
  • Stick to the story. Avoid drifting from the point or waffling.
  • Of course, editors do not tolerate plagiarism because it can potentially cost them dearly. They also don’t like articles that have simply been rewritten from a different angle or perspective. There are exceptions, but generally they are looking for originality because they are aiming at creating a competitive edge for their publication in a cluttered marketplace.
  • Editors want you to understand fully the audience you are writing for.
  • Editors expect you to produce every article you write to the very best of your ability.
  • Most editors will EXPECT you to be a talented writer.
  • Editors will also expect you to TARGET their magazine. They will not take kindly to ideas or articles that do not fit in well with overall feel of the magazine.
  • The other thing most editors want is a writer with a track record. It gives them some reassurance that you know what is expected of you, and that you can deliver.
  • Editors will generally expect you to earn your pay cheques. They will expect you to offer value for money and good service.
  • Editors also expect to be treated with respect and as an authority in their field. Don’t presume you know better than they do when it comes to what their readers want, what type of angles work and how each article must be written. Treat them with dignity and be courteous – they are, after all, the ones who’ll decide your fate in this business.

When all is said and done, it comes down to decency and common sense. Develop good relationships with your clients (the editors) and you’ll go a long way. Produce what they want, sooner than they want it and at a fair price, and you’ll survive in one of the world’s toughest professions.

Grant McDuling is a Brisbane-based writer who is working on his 46th book. Grant has been writing since 1978 and is a full time writer. He has written, and sold, hundreds of articles to newspapers and magazines all over the world. His other interests include amateur radio, computers, electronics and classical music.

Skin Deep: the year of the Grant

by Gary Kemble

It seems hard to believe, but the Federal Government is handing money out to writers, purely to give them time to write. Up to $15,000 for emerging writers, $40,000 for developing writers and $50,000 for established writers.

For a long time I knew nothing about the Australia Council New Work grants and then, when I did know something about them, I thought I had no hope of getting one. Then in 2010 I attended a grants seminar with QWC CEO Kate Eltham and thought, ‘This is worth a shot’. I followed her advice, put together my application, and crossed my fingers. I didn’t expect to get the grant but I hoped to get an indication of how close I was to snaring a grant.

You can imagine my surprise and delight when a few months later I received a letter informing me that of the 71 Australia Council New Work grant applications, mine was one of the 13 funded.

As Kate said at the seminar, there are no guarantees when it comes to grants. It all comes down to how many people apply for the grant (in 2009 there were more than 200 applications), the mix of projects that apply, and how much money there is to go around. However, I’m hoping that by sharing what I know – both about applying for the grant and about my grant year – I can help you out in some way.

 

Getting ready

I was working towards my grant application many years before I applied – I just didn’t realise it. In 2001 I started taking my writing seriously – using short stories as a way to hone my skills, reading and writing every day.

In that year I had my first short story published and won my first short story competition. By the time I applied for the grant, I had acquired more than 20 publication credits and won a couple more competitions (including two One Book Many Brisbanes wins).

One of the things that put me off applying for an Australia Council New Work grant was this wording in the eligibility criteria: “10 short works of fiction or literary non-fiction (minimum 1,000 words) published in professional literary journals, edited anthologies, major newspapers or general national magazines”.

I always figured that because my stories had been published mostly in small press magazines that weren’t widely circulated outside the speculative fiction community, they wouldn’t count as ‘professional literary journals’. It turns out that a ‘professional’ publication doesn’t have to be Meanjin, it just has to be one where there’s a professional approach – an editor or editorial team who are choosing work based on merit. In other words, not a blog/website where you’re publishing your own work, or a mate’s website who’s publishing your work.

I’ve heard people say there’s no point bothering with short stories, because publishers aren’t interested in publishing short story collections. That may be true, but short stories are an excellent way of improving your writing skills, and also at building your writer’s CV so that when grant opportunities arise, you’re ready.

So, my first piece of advice would be (if you’re not already) get writing, and get those stories out to suitable markets/competitions.

One final thing about preparing. I had the idea for Skin Deep quite a while before applying for the grant. I didn’t have time to write it, but I remembered Kim Wilkins saying that if you didn’t have time to write, you could still work on your novel by thinking about it every day and jotting down ideas. So this is what I did. I had a notebook for ideas, and I’d regularly transfer them to the computer. By the time I sat down to write, I had the main characters, key scenes, and a strong idea of the book’s three acts.

 

Applying

At the grants seminar Kate told us something that was quite a revelation (even though it shouldn’t have been): organisations such as the Australia Council want to give you this money, they want to help you apply for these grants.

The Australia Council has help on its website: eligibility criteria, FAQs, videos from past successful grant applicants. Read all of this stuff, watch the relevant videos – it is worth your time.

If you have a question about the grant, pick up the phone. I wasn’t sure whether I should apply for the emerging or developing category, because I’d racked up a word count that could have put me in the frame for ‘developing’, but it was split up into many short stories, instead of one big work. (The advice was to apply for the emerging category).

You’ll need to submit an application form outlining your eligibility (including publication credits), 10 pages of writing, and a two-page outline of the project and how it will help you develop as a writer. The two-pager is part bio, part synopsis and part aspiration. Give yourself plenty of time to work on your application. Even though I’d been fairly fastidious about keeping track of my publication credits, it still took a bit of time digging out all of the details. And the project outline is particularly challenging because there’s a lot of information to cram into two pages.

 

Grant year

Congratulations! You received a grant. Now what? The Australia Council is basically paying you to write. Beyond that, it’s up to you how you spend your time.

My pitch was that even though I can (and do) write during the evenings, it’s hard to do proper research late at night. For Skin Deep, I wanted to do library research, spend time with tattooists (tattoos and tattooists feature prominently in my story) and interview people, as well as scout around taking photos of locations that would feature in my book (so I could refer to them while writing).

The Australia Council would have been just as happy for me to take my writing time in one block as spread out over the course of the year. Given I’ve got a young family I decided that it would be risky taking three months off work. All it would take is for one/both of the kids to get sick and I’d basically lose a week of writing time. So I decided to spread my writing days over about two-thirds of the year, taking three days off a fortnight.

Did it work? Well, one thing I learnt was that life has a way of intruding, no matter what you do. The kids got sick, as kids do. My Mum passed away during the year after battling lung cancer. There were a thousand and one distractions.

However, having said that, spreading my writing time over a longer period had an unintended consequence – it gave me more thinking time. Real life filtered into the project. I had longer to think about where the book was heading. Stuff that was happening in the real world – relating to the SAS in Afghanistan and refugees arriving on Australian shores – filtered into my writing. So I felt that spreading the writing out over a longer period of time benefited the project.

Another thing that caught me out slightly was the amount of time I’d need to spend on the second draft. I wasn’t naïve enough to think I’d nail it in one go, but I still didn’t fully appreciate the extent of work that would go into my second draft. Working with a friend of mine who’s doing the WEP course out at UQ, I realised there were whole storylines that had to go, characters that needed to be cut or amalgamated, and many, many scenes that would be consigned to the recycling bin.

 

Next steps

I wanted to have a polished manuscript by the end of my grant year, even though the grant didn’t require that. Did I get there? Not quite.

At time of writing, Skin Deep is out with beta readers. After that, I would imagine there will be another draft required (but hopefully just one more), then another line-edit, and then it will be ready to send out.

I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for the Australia Council grant, Skin Deep would not exist. And for that, I’m eternally grateful, but I’m also really determined to see this project through to publication and to justify the Council’s decision to invest resources in my professional development.

It has been an amazing year. Applying for the grant has been a potentially career-changing decision, and I can’t recommend applying for these grants strongly enough.

Editor’s Note: Recent changes to the Emerging Writer eligibility criteria for New Work Grants removed the short story criteria and shifted the focus to practitioners with at least one book-length work (or the equivalent) in publication.

Gary Kemble’s short fiction has been published in more than 20 magazines and anthologies, including two incarnations of One Book Many Brisbanes and the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror. You can follow him on Twitter @garykemble

Pop Goes the Author

by Tim Kroenert

Pop culture expos such as Supanova are one way for writers to connect with a new audience, as Tim Kroenert discovers

Rowena Cory Daniells descended from the bus into a barrage of flashing cameras and screaming fans. Not her own fans, mind you; much of the contingent, Daniells muses, was there to greet fellow convention guest Tom ‘Draco Malfoy’ Felton. But she got a buzz nonetheless. ‘I figured I might as well enjoy the experience,’ Daniells says.

The Brisbane speculative fiction author is a veteran of Supanova, the pop culture expo that attracts close to 80,000 people each year across events in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. In truth, and the aforementioned brush with Harry Potter fame notwithstanding, Daniells is not that interested in the celebrity side of the expo.

‘It was fun to be on the guest bus and hear some of the stars from Buffy doing an online Buffy quiz,’ she admits, but mostly, ‘I like meeting writers … overseas writers, as well as catching up with the many wonderful Australian writers.’

On the face of it, Supanova – a paean to big- and small-screen geekdom, where costumed fans will queue for hours to get within sniffing distance of their genre film and TV idols – might not seem like a natural stomping ground for writers. But in recent years the organisers have made an effort to boost the author presence.

‘Authors are of great importance to Supanova,’ says author liaison Ineke Prochazka. ‘Most of our fans are avid readers so they expect that they will have the opportunity to meet one of their favourite authors, or, better yet, discover a new favourite.’

The benefits cut both ways. ‘It is a wonderful opportunity for fans to come and meet authors of their favourite genres and be able to talk about writing and publishing,’ says Prochazka. ‘But Supanova is also an amazing way to market your books, with access to thousands of fans who read horror, fantasy, sci-fi or just great novels.’

There are two levels of involvement for authors: firstly, as (invited) literary guests, who participate on panels, read from their work and answer audience questions; and secondly, by buying a stall and selling and promoting their own stock.

‘Being a Supanova literary guest is great fun,’ said Prochazka, ‘a whole weekend of signing and meeting new and existing fans. These guests are supported by the Dymocks bookstore, which provides copies of their works for sale.

‘Authors with their own stall can sell their own stock. This is great for authors who are self-published or have a lot of author copies they want to sell. We’ve had authors who are not published in Australia import their own stock and sell it, and see that as a better financial option to being a guest.’

Daniells has attended Supanova as both a guest and as a stallholder, so has a perspective on both approaches, although her experience is ‘not typical’.

‘My books don’t get great distribution in Australia, so when
I attend as a guest, I supply the bookstore with the books so the owners don’t have to take the risk if they don’t sell.

‘I’ve attended several times as a guest, where I sat on the author table at the bookstore. The staff would sell my books so I didn’t have to worry about that. But the bookstore took 50 per cent.
I ended up being out of pocket to the tune of interstate airfares and accommodation, and the cost of the books plus couriering them interstate.

‘Recently I’ve changed my policy. From now on I’ll be hiring a table, still paying all my costs, but taking all the profits. I will still reach new readers and, if I’m lucky, I might make $100 for sitting behind a dealer’s table. The most important thing is reaching new readers. If they like one of my books, they might buy others.’

While Daniells’ perspective is decidedly pragmatic, fellow Supanova veteran and Brisbane sci-fi author Marianne de Pierres sees Supanova as akin to a spiritual experience.

‘It’s a happy event … a meeting of like minds,’ she says. ‘For writers with a love of genre, it’s a kind of nirvana. And because it has grown so much it’s a unique opportunity to talk about your work to large numbers of potential readers.

‘I was invited to my first Supanova quite by accident,’ recalls de Pierres, who replaced another literary guest who had to pull out at the last moment. ‘I didn’t know what to expect. The hardest thing was to talk to strangers and promote my own work. But the fun and creative stimulation I experienced far outweighed the fear in the end.’

De Pierres sees Supanova as a great marketing and networking opportunity, though it comes down to ‘your willingness to talk to people’.

‘If you don’t enjoy chatting to strangers in costumes then it is not for you. But if you embrace the atmosphere, it’s like a weekend-long party. Surely it’s not right to enjoy your work that much?’

Author Chris McMahon, also of Brisbane, might consider ‘party’ an overstatement, though he agrees there are benefits if you are willing to put in the work. A Supanova newbie, he bought a table at the Gold Coast event last April to promote his self-published heroic fantasy series The Jakirian Cycle, ahead of the publication of the second and third volumes.

McMahon warns that it is worth being aware of the financial and logistical prerequisites ahead of time. ‘I only realised as the event drew closer that I was required to have stallholder’s insurance. This essentially doubled the price of having a table. You also need to complete a safety course online. If you turn up without a high-vis safety vest, you can’t enter the hall to set up. Thankfully I was forewarned.’

In the end, ‘the event was pretty much what I imagined’, he continues, ‘although I was amazed how packed the hall got at around 11am on the Saturday  – standing room only! I was happy with the number of copies I sold, and to be able to promote the series. As it turned out, the second and third volumes weren’t available by November as originally planned, otherwise I would have attended the Brisbane Supanova, too.’

Melbourne’s Alison Goodman is similarly upbeat about her own recent Supanova experience. She launched her contemporary crime novel, A New Kind of Death, at Supanova Brisbane in November – the first time she’d held a launch at such an event.

She was allocated the central ‘wrestling ring’ area as the venue for the launch and, along with John Birmingham – author of He Died With A Falafel In His Hand and The Axis of Time trilogy, who launched Goodman’s book – set out to create a scene.

‘Supanova is so colourful and full of constant activity and jaw-dropping costumes that it is necessary to put in some effort to create a spectacle,’ says Goodman. ‘I threw out some chocolates and John did some amazing body slams in the ring. We also had a large pop-up banner with the book cover.’

While ‘the atmosphere was good – generous and interested’, ‘in terms of sales it wasn’t huge’, Goodman admits. ‘But I knew Supanova wasn’t really the target audience for a contemporary crime book. It would be a viable marketing avenue for books that are squarely in the interests of the Supanova audience.

‘My next series is set in London in the early 1800s and is a supernatural adventure (think bonnets, small swords and demons),’ adds Goodman, ‘so it will fall within the interests of the Supanova audience. I have already put up my hand to be a Supanova author in 2014 and I will be looking for an opportunity to launch (the series) in each city.

‘And this time, I’ll be in full regency costume with demon hunting gear attached. When in Supanova…’

Tim Kroenert is assistant editor of the online news commentary journal Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in ASIF, Melbourne’s The Age and Brisbane’s The Courier-Mail. His short fiction has appeared in Macabre, Black Box and Crossroads anthologies, as a special features to Brett McBean’s Concrete Jungle novella, and in Ripples.

Working with Digital Publishers

by Joel Naoum

The last few years of the Australian book trade has been a tumultuous time. The decline of REDgroup and the loss of shelf space that used to be offered by Borders and Angus & Robertson has been felt by many authors around the country, particularly those in the traditional midlist as well as aspiring and debut authors.

It’s natural, therefore, to look to new models to see whether there are innovative ways to get published in the ebook era. The first of these new publishing models is the digital self-publishing movement, which has defined the ebook experience for many readers and writers since Amazon launched its Kindle in 2007. However, self-publishing is not for every writer. It’s time consuming, intensive and (in some cases) lonely, and it requires a level of self-discipline, knowledge and plain hard work that some writers can’t commit to if they actually want to have time to write books.

This is where digital publishers come in. Positioned somewhere between traditional print and self-publishing, digital-first or digital-only imprints have been launched around the world in response to the changing marketplace.

Digital publishers vary from each other even more than traditional publishers do. There are many different models on offer, all of which give new and established authors alike hundreds of options that simply didn’t exist five years ago. For example, Unbound, a UK-based publisher, funds its projects by using a Kickstarter-like crowdfunding model. Then there’s Entangled – a digital publisher in the US – which pays every contributor to its titles on a royalty basis (not just the author).

However, the majority of digital publishers follow a more simple model. They generally pay a higher royalty rate than the standard offered by traditional publishers. The standard royalty rate for digital in traditional publishing is 25% of net receipts (net receipts being the money received from a retailer after discount or commission). The other element common to most digital publishers is that they don’t pay advances. With these components aside there are still massive differences in what’s on offer, however, so it pays to do your homework. Below are some things to look out for.

Pay to Publish

A publishing house should not charge you for its services. Companies that do offer paid editorial, design, typesetting and distribution services are known as publishing services providers. A publisher (even when not paying an advance) should be risking something by taking your book on and will therefore be incentivised to help make it as good as it can be, and sell as many copies as possible in order to recoup their investment and make a profit.

Editorial

How much editorial work does the digital publisher you’re looking at do on their titles? It’s a question you can ask during the commissioning process before signing a contract. There are generally at least two or three rounds of editorial work on a book – structural or developmental work, copy or line editing and proofreading (not including the many rounds of corrections and checks that editors in-house do on a manuscript that the author tends not to see). Although most publishers are attracted to clean manuscripts, which might mean your book doesn’t require extensive editing, it still helps to know how much intervention your publisher is willing to make to improve your book.

Marketing and Publicity

Does your digital publisher have a dedicated marketing and/or publicity department? What kind of marketing support do they give their titles? Most digital publishers will be looking for smart, enthusiastic authors who are willing and able to help promote their own books online, and it’s certainly something to emphasise if you have those qualities and are pitching to a publisher. However, it’s still important for your publisher to have some resources and a very firm idea of what they will do to help promote your book.

Territorial Rights

Many digital publishers acquire global rights to their titles. This isn’t unusual, but it’s worth finding out what kind of expertise your publisher has in selling your book to different English-language markets.

Subsidiary Rights

Subsidiary rights refer to the rights related to your book such as audio rights, digest and extract rights as well as things like film and television rights. A good rule of thumb is not to sign a subsidiary right away to your publisher if they don’t have a way of selling it on your behalf.

License Terms and Reversion

Many traditional publishers offer to license your book for the life of copyright (which is until the author’s death plus 70 years). It’s more common to see restricted license terms for digital publishers so that authors can reclaim their rights after a certain amount of time has passed. If the license term isn’t restricted, make sure that the reversion clause in your contract allows for you to get your book back if the publisher hasn’t sold a certain number of copies in a certain amount of time. If you’re at all unsure about a contract it can’t hurt to get some help looking over it from a lawyer or a service specifically dealing with publishing contracts.

Competition

The competition clause in a publishing contract dictates how, when and where you’re able to sell other works that aren’t explicitly licensed in the contract. Some publishers would like to restrict your ability to sell competing works to other publishers within a certain amount of time of your current book, if it’s subsequent titles in a series or they’d just like to have the first right of refusal on your next book. There are lots of variations in these kinds of clauses. However, with the number of options available to writers looking to get published nowadays, it’s tough to make a good argument in favour of an extremely restrictive competition clause among digital publishers. Proceed with caution.

Distribution

Be sure to look into which ebook stores your books will be available from should you publish your book with a particular publisher. The biggest ebook sales channel is Amazon, but there are lots of others, including Apple’s iBooks Store, Kobo, Google Play, Overdrive and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.

It’s also worth asking about whether your book will be sold with DRM (if this is something you care about). DRM stands for digital rights management, and is software used to restrict copying of ebook files. It isn’t uncommon for digital publishers to sell their ebooks without DRM, as many authors and readers find it too restrictive when transferring books between ebook reading devices.

Print and Print on Demand

Many digital publishers style themselves as “digital-first” publishers, with an eye to moving some authors into a print program if they are successful enough in digital. It’s worth asking about this if it’s something you’re passionate about, but don’t be surprised to hear how tough it is to transition into print. One of the reasons digital publishing imprints exist is because of how punishing the print market can be to new and midlist authors.

Another option is print on demand (POD), which is a relatively new and rapidly improving technology that allows print books to be created as they are ordered (usually from online physical booksellers). The big distinction with POD is that you generally won’t see your book on the shelves at your local bookstore, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a good compromise option between digital and print.

Submission Guidelines

It sounds obvious, but do follow the submission guidelines of whatever publisher you pitch to. The guidelines are there for a reason, and many publishers have so many submissions that not following the guidelines will mean your manuscript won’t get read.

Trends

Most publishers are reluctant to predict publishing trends or try to encourage authors to write in a particular genre, and this article is no different. However, in general, the digital marketplace is a more forgiving place for genre fiction than it is for literary fiction, children’s or non-fiction titles. This is particularly true for romance, thrillers and sci-fi and fantasy. If you don’t write in one of those genres it doesn’t mean you won’t find a publisher, but keep it in mind when you’re deciding what path to choose. Most ebook readers decide to buy a book on their own steam – there isn’t a very vibrant gift market for ebooks. Have a think about how your book fits into the general book marketplace before pitching it and try to make sure that your publisher of choice is interested in the type of manuscript you’ve written before submitting.

Joel Naoum was the publisher of Momentum, Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital-first imprint. You can find out more about Momentum at www.momentumbooks.com.au.

Four Writing Habits to Develop Now

by Peter M Ball

There are all sorts of things you never get told about being a writer when you’re first starting out. For me, one of those

surprises came when I encountered a print proof for the first time. I sold a story to an anthology and 21 A4 pages showed up in my letter box, covered in unfamiliar editor’s marks with no instructions beyond a date the editor needed them back by. Fortunately, a few hours on the internet and the intervention of a more experienced writer helped me figure out what to do.

The whole experience did teach me a valuable lesson: while there’s plenty of advice for people trying to figure how to write, useful information on how to be a writer is somewhat harder to track down. I’d spent the better part of a decade learning the craft of writing before selling my story, but no-one ever thought to explain how proofs worked.

The Australian Writer’s Marketplace exists to help writers find markets for their work, but it’s also a community and a resource for writers trying to work out what comes next. In addition, our market listings, both print and online editions, include essays, articles and templates writers can use to further their career.

It’s with this in mind that I wanted to kick my inaugural column off with four habits to establish now, particularly if you’re at the beginning of your writing career.

One: Track Your Submissions

Every time you send work out into the world, track all the details about your submission. If you want to get fancy you can search the internet for specialised tools, but you can get away with a spreadsheet (or a notepad and pen) that notes what you’ve submitted and to where. When you get a response, record that, too. If it’s a rejection, find a new market and send your work back out again.

This is one of those habits that’s easy to ignore when you start out. When you’re only mailing out a single story or novel, it’s easy to remember where you’ve sent it and when you sent it.

The same isn’t true once you’ve sent out 10 stories, especially once the responses start rolling in and you start submitting your work to more markets.

Be kind to your future self and start tracking submissions now.

Two: Track Your Rights

Given our obsession with words, writers are often woefully inaccurate with their terminology when discussing their careers. We frequently talk about selling work to publishers, but really the vast majority of the time we’re leasing a specific subset of rights, allowing the publisher to print and distribute our work for a period of time.

Every contract you sign will detail which rights the publisher is asking for and when they’ll revert to you – if your contract doesn’t mention it, think twice about signing it. These will frequently include details about audio rights, e-book rights, reprint rights (particularly for short stories and poems) and more.

Licensing and re-licensing the rights to their work is how many writers make money, so it’s worth setting up a system to track which rights you’ve given over, who you’ve leased them to and when the rights revert to you.

Start this process early, right from your first sale. It may be a year or more before this becomes useful, but it’ll save you from hours spent digging for contracts in your filing cabinet when someone asks if they can reprint something you’ve written.

Three: Back Up Your Work

I encourage all writers to live by this simple rule: you do not back up enough. You only need to have your computer fail once, taking all your work with it, to realise exactly how much of your life and your income is reliant upon having access to your files. Don’t focus just on backing up your work, either: copies of systems you use to track your submissions, contracts and your rights-tracking document are just as valuable as those half-finished novel drafts.

How you back up doesn’t matter. There are plenty of online services that are willing to help on this front. I do recommend having an off-line back-up on an external hard drive as well, since the kinds of problems that wipe out your data can also take out your internet connection, and I like to keep a file with paper of my work just in case.

The important part is figuring out a back-up routine and sticking with it.

Four: Always Read and Follow the Guidelines

When submitting work to a magazine or publisher, always read the guidelines and follow them, particularly in regards to formatting your manuscript. It’s a simple thing, easily overlooked, but you’d be surprised how many writers ignore this step.

Know Your Product

by Peter M Ball

I recently attended an online workshop where the instructor offered the following advice: everything you write is a business asset as well as a story. It’s a simple idea, but a tough concept for many writers to accept.

Aspiring writers tend not to think about the business side of their job, and when they do it’s often a daydream about setting aside the career that’s paying their bills in order to write fulltime.

This isn’t entirely their fault, as western culture discourages writers from thinking of their job as something that earns money, championing the idea that art is driven by passion rather than commerce.

At the same time, writers are expected to become a small business once they start selling their work. They register for ABNs, chase outstanding invoices and dedicate time to the administration and promotion of their business in addition to the hours spent at the keyboard. Some resist it, hating every moment dedicated to the administrative aspects of their career. Others love it, studying their industry and planning ahead just as if they were running a business in any other field.

I’m on the side that advocates embracing this aspect of the writer’s job. In fact, given the state of the industry, it may be a necessary skill. Publishing’s current state of flux means there are considerable opportunities out there for writers beyond the traditional models, from indie publishing to the rise of digital imprints to a growing number of small presses. Writers are increasingly called upon to make decisions about the best way to deploy their work, both new and out of print.

What’s the best option? There are no easy answers, but some opportunities are better suited to a particular writer’s long-term ambitions and goals. ‘How can I get published?’ is no longer the best question to ask once you finish your latest project; it’s being superseded by, ‘how can I use this particular asset to move my writing business forward?’

Most business owners can answer that question. They have plans, goals and mission statements to guide their decision making and determine which opportunities are best suited to their needs. Many writers faced with these questions for the first time are flying blind, having never articulated their goals beyond their initial dreams of being published.

Writing and publishing is a business that’s driven by passion. The passion is important, but it’s also worth acknowledging that business is an important part of the sentence.

The Rules of Persistence

by Peter M Ball

‘HEINLEIN’S Rules’ for getting published was one of the most useful pieces of writing advice I’ve received. To get published, you:

1) Write

2) Finish what you write

3) Refrain from rewriting unless an editor asks

4) Submit to the best market you can find

5) Keep submitting to markets until an editor says yes.

Robert Heinlein isn’t alone in this. Ask most writers how to get published and they’ll offer up words such as persistence, warn you of the inevitability of rejection letters, then advise you to keep going and start producing the next thing. As tips for new writers go, it’s as ubiquitous as thou shalt write every day.

Heinlein’s rules do have a flaw: they’re offered as one-size-fits-all proposition, assuming you’re in agreement with his basic philosophy of building a career. His approach puts a premium on prolific output: the more you have out there, the more you’ll earn and the more readers you’ll pick up over time.

This doesn’t make it bad advice if ‘become an enormously prolific SF writer’ is on your bucket list, or even if you’ve taken up this writing gig in order to earn a little cash, but here’s the kicker: good advice needs to sync to your goals as a writer and to the genre you’re working in.

These days Heinlein’s approach is mirrored in a lot of the advice about indie publishing. Once again, it’s not necessarily bad advice if it syncs with your long-term goals, but in the debate that’s cropped up around the issue, the smartest responses come back to an important question: what do you want from your writing career?

Knowing what kind of writer you want to be is an important part of figuring out the advice that’s worth following and the advice that’s leading you some place you don’t want to go.

Further information Heinlein’s Rules (Robert Sawyer)

Good Stories Still Get Rejected

by Peter M Ball

Back in 2004, one of my favourite short story writers, Elizabeth Bear, posted a trunk story titled ‘High Iron’ to her website, along with an explanation of why she’d been unable to sell it. ‘The problem with this story is not that it does anything wrong,’ she wrote, ‘but that it doesn’t do enough right.’

Most published writers will have similar tales about work that never quite sold, even if the rejections were glowingly positive. Good stories often get rejected because editors aren’t really looking for good stories. Instead, they’re looking for very specific good stories – the kind that appeal to the sensibilities of their readers and the current needs of their market.

This means there are all sorts of reasons a story can get rejected that have nothing to do with quality. Sometimes the rejection comes because your work isn’t a perfect fit for the market.

Sometimes the rejection comes because your story is 5,000 words long and the editor only has space for 3,000. Sometimes an editor loves your novel, but isn’t sure they can get it through an acquisitions meeting.

Sometimes you can even submit a near perfect story that meets all the editor’s requirements, but you’ve had the misfortune of submitting a story about, say, wolverines in space just a few hours after they’ve already accepted a completely different wolverines in space story.

Good stories get rejected all the time. It’s frustrating, but it’s worth keeping in mind that rejection isn’t always about the quality of your work. The process by which an editor moves from ‘I really like this story’ to ‘I’m going to buy this’ involves many considerations, and quality is just one of them.

Your best response to the frustration is persistence. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Elizabeth Bear never sold ‘High Iron’ to a magazine, but it eventually appeared in print when she sold her first collection and she’s published a lot of other fiction in the past nine years.

Dealing with Setbacks

by Peter M Ball

Setbacks are a part of every job, writing included, and there will always be periods where it seems everything goes wrong and you lose track of what you’re doing. There are plenty of potential causes: contracts fall through; your personal life gets increasingly chaotic; sales of your latest book tank and your publisher starts dodging your calls.

Whatever the reason, your momentum stalls and you find yourself wondering if your career is finally done. It’s not. Every writer has these moments if they’ve been writing long enough, and plenty of writers have come back from the kind of failure that felt career-ending. This month and next, we’re going to look at some things to consider doing when your prospects as a writer seem bleak.

1) Don’t panic

Now’s the time to put your setbacks into perspective and ask why you failed and what you can do differently. If you don’t know, do some research into the industry so you’ve got a better understanding of what went wrong.

2) Focus on process

Also known as: go write something. Yes, right now. Sometimes writers stall because they’re too focussed on the long term. This is especially true in those moments when you feel like your dreams have fallen down, or you’ve let life distract you from the regular routine that makes up a writer’s career.

This usually means it’s time to knock out a couple of sentences just for the sake of writing some sentences. You don’t need to write a lot. In fact, dreaming of those days when you belted out a thousand words is probably counter-productive. Aim small. Write a hundred words. Two hundred. Heck, just aim to write for 15 minutes. Getting something down is all that matters.

3) Reprint markets, ahoy!

If you’ve been published before, pull out your contracts and look for any available rights you may be able to resell to reprint and audio markets. Sending submissions out, even if it’s for something you’ve already been paid for, is a great way of taking back some of the control you feel is missing in your career.

Defining the Amplified Author

Defining the Amplified Author is an excerpt from if:book Australia’s Amplified Author: How to Create Your Own Ebooks program. The full course features over three and a half hours of content, giving a deeper understanding of ebook hardware, formats, and production, but we’ve included this excerpt for AWM subscribers because it covers a cultural shift in publishing that will affect writers whether they’re traditionally or indie published.

Amplified author is a term that comes to us from Chris Meade at if:book in London. The term encompasses a set of traits shown by successful authors who are making a career in the rapidly changing environment of published work and finding a readership. For wont of a better term, an author is a ‘brand’, and the person doing the writing is the guardian of that brand. Companies go to extraordinary lengths to protect their brands’ identity.

Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be an amplified author:

  • The Amplified Author doesn’t wait for a publisher to decide if his or her work deserves a readership or not. The author controls his or her own career and chooses publishers as partners in order to further that career.
  • The Amplified Author sees a book not as an end goal, but one of many means by which he or she can reach readers. Before sending a manuscript to a traditional publisher, the writer may have built a readership and tested out their ideas via a blog, social media, and a variety of online networks.
  • Acceptance from a quality publisher gives a boost to profile and reputation, but the amplified author doesn’t need to limit their work to traditional publication. A writer who has one book bought by a conventional publisher might want to independently publish the next one, freed from the constraints of editors and marketing departments who have a view on what kind of book they think they can sell most effectively.
  • Where the publisher’s and the author’s goals diverge, an Amplified Author simply moves on; the author is not dependent on a publishing partnership to maintain a connection with the audience (or to find a new audience).
  • An Amplified Author can be any author (emerging, mid-list, established), at any stage of their career.
  • For people who don’t get a lot of money, writers are sure obsessed with the stuff. Amplified Authors recognise that the money isn’t just in ‘books’; it’s in events, teaching, special editions, and community.
  • Amplified authors drive their own careers forward.

Publishing is a risky enterprise and publishers are businesses that seek to minimise that risk wherever they can. These goals don’t always mesh with a writer’s creative direction. We’ve seen mid-list authors abandon their publishers – whether for Amazon or elsewhere – just as we’ve also seen one-time independent authors sign contracts with the one of the Big Six corporates.

The change in publishing is as much about change in relationships as it is in technology. Where authors may once have felt that negotiating with a publisher was the only way to reach readers, they now have a myriad of options to achieve that same goal. Amplified authors consider themselves less as supplicants to publishers and more as partners.

It’s not easy building a community of readers, but readers can show tremendous loyalty to works and writers they love. US publisher and entrepreneur, Richard Nash has highlighted the power of long form narrative, equating the reading experience to someone “whispering in your ear for ten hours”. The reader’s connection to the text – and by extension to its author – as a result of that experience has the power to build an audience with tremendous loyalty. Such loyalty is not just given to authors with titles in bookshops.

Being an Amplified Author is an acknowledgement that the reader is central to an author’s success.

How to Develop a Regular Writing Practice

Forming a writing practice

Sitting down to write takes courage. Sitting down to write day after day takes discipline and determination.

There are a few steps you can take to make it easier to find the courage, and make room for the sort of discipline you need to become a writer.

It’s easy to start projects when you have a new idea, but here at QWC we have a saying – writers write, authors finish, and if you want to be an author and dream of getting read one day, it’s not just a matter of getting words on the page, it’s the hard work of finishing, then rewriting, revising, editing, then editing again and again, before submitting, when, if you’re successful, you’re probably going to be asked to rinse, and repeat.

This is where forming a regular writing practice will help you get to the finish and save your sanity through the endless rewrites and edits. There are lots of strategies that will suit new to established writers, and here are a few.

Forming creative habits

Ideas can strike you at any time, and it’s important to record them whenever they come to you – or it’s likely you’ll forget them. Likewise, if you have a few spare, unexpected moments in the day, it’s great to be able to use them to write down ideas for characters, or snatches of dialogue, or plot twists, or descriptions for settings and mood.

Giving yourself permission to write

Everyone has work, family, sport, and other commitments, all contending for a slice of their day, and it’s often the sad case that writing is pushed towards the bottom of a very long list of things to do.

Often this is because we feel that writing is an extra, leisure activity, undeserving of a higher rung on the priority ladder.

If you’re reading this, you’re already taking steps to acknowledge yourself as a writer. And just as golf enthusiasts, or musicians, or film buffs make time to go and participate in activities they’re passionate about, so should writers recognise and accept how important writing is to them. Go ahead and bump writing up a few levels of priority. You’ll need to give yourself permission to write before you can go ahead and make the changes in your life that will help you find the time and space to do so. The first place to make time and space is in your mind – by accepting that writing is important to you, and something you want and need to do, whatever the outcome or goal – be it keeping a journal, getting published, or finishing a short story, or recording your family’s history.

Letting people know

It can be difficult enough to acknowledge how important writing is to you, but once you’ve reached that point, it’s vital to tell your loved ones about your project and your goals and ask for their support.

Finding time and space

It’s important to find a place to write – a quiet room, the library, on the bus, and a time to write – be it in the morning before the family is awake, in the evening instead of watching reality TV, or on the weekends for a few hours.

Writing plan

Remember the old saying ‘you don’t plan to fail; you fail to plan’? The best way to tackle problems of procrastination and internal bargaining is with a writing plan. Set out when, where, how, and what you’re going to write, then think about what obstacles you might encounter – from other people, from inside your head, from other commitments, etc. then work out how you’re going to overcome all these obstacles as they arise. If you’re prone to procrastination, you can try strategies like making yourself accountable to other people, setting a timer and writing for just 5 or 10 minutes (you’ll often find you can’t stop! Don’t!), or just plain self-bribery. Always build a reward into your plans, if you reach your goal, say, of finishing a chapter, reward yourself with something nice.

Sample writing plan

 PlanObstaclesStrategies to overcome them
WhenWeekends 4-5pmFamily commitmentsPlan ahead – arrange childcare in advance
WhereThe libraryTransportBorrow the car
HowQWC notebookNearly fullHave a ready supply of more QWC notebooks!
What? Goals300 words an hourProcrastination, internet, self-editingDo not take computer or phone into library, do not read over any of my writing, set timer, etc.
RewardIcecream on the way home

Training like an athlete

The most important qualities an athlete brings to their training are persistence and dedication. If you want to be a writer, you’ll need to accept that, like getting fit for a marathon, it takes a lot of regular training to improve and reach your goals. Just like an athlete trains 6 or 7 days per week, so should writers develop a regular writing practice and write as often as possible, preferably every day. Developing a routine will help with this, it’s much easier to stick to your writing if you build some structure into your writing life – try sticking to the same times on the same days, and s

Creating a routine

It’s easy to do this once, but the most difficult thing about writing is going through the motions again, and again, to face those demons of self-doubt day after day. It can get easier with practice, but experienced writers grapple with the same problems as beginners. Some writers develop elaborate rituals to help them settle down to write, and many, if not most, have rigid rules around the time they spend at their computer, the number of words they write, the number of drinks they imbibe, etc. Stephen King describes sitting down at 8:00 – 8:30am every day, at the same desk, with papers arranged in the same positions, every day. Anthony Trollope was so rigid with his routine that if he finished a novel even minutes before his allotted writing time was up, he simply took out a new piece of paper and started on the next one, without missing a beat.

You don’t have to take your writing to this extreme, but the principles are useful – rigid discipline, treating writing like a business and a job, and removing oneself from the emotional dialogue, are all essential to a writer’s practice.

Pathways to Publication

by Meg Vann

A career in writing can seem a formidable task, or even an impossible dream, for most aspiring writers. But with The Australian Writer’s Marketplace (AWM) in hand, you have the contacts and information you need to succeed. Come with me now on a quick tour of the many treasures awaiting you in these pages…

Research potential markets for your work in AWM‘s ‘Magazines and Journals’ and ‘Newspapers’ sections. The sheer number and range of opportunities here gives hope to the budding writer—build your niche expertise by targetting titles which draw on your skills and interests. Learn from professionals: Sally Collings and Lea McInerney contribute articles to set you on the right path as an effective freelance writer whom editors adore.

Australian writers need to be aware of the breadth and depth of the publishing industry. AWM includes top tier, independent, small press, generalist, and specialist publishers – we deal with all these publishers directly, so we keep you in the loop. Kate Eltham’s fantastic article on digital publishing will blow your mind wide open to the possibilities for you there (as well as reassuring your anxieties about the death of the book).

One popular Australian literary agent tells me that five thousand unsolicited manuscripts cross her desk each year, in addition to requested material, and on top of her core work of advocating and managing the successful careers of the authors already on her books. So how do you find this rare creature? How do you best approach them? Don’t panic, it’s all here. And Angela Slatter’s article will help you avoid the pitfalls that beset some writers as they negotiate this vital yet misunderstood sector.

A member of our AWMonline community recently asked me: will the next edition of AWM contain a definitive list of print-on-demand (POD) printers? To which I reply: the new AWM includes an extensive list of more than a hundred publishing services, including POD services, self-publishing, design, printing and distribution. The Publishing Services industry is evolving rapidly, with new business models and technology for publishing. These developments can be bamboozling even for established authors, and frightening for writers making a first foray into print. Fortunately, AWM also includes an article by specialist adviser Alex Adsett, to let you know what to look for in a publishing contract.

Do you have an idea for a book? Maybe you’ve made a start. Maybe you have even completed your manuscript (in which case, congratulations!). This is where our Writers’ Services section can help you. Find a mentor, attend a retreat, consult with an editor, have your work proofread, and generally work with experts to help make your manuscript shine. Famous and flamboyant accountant to the arts, Brian Tucker, has given us a fabulous article on ‘taxing’ times, to help you take care of the business as well as the craft of writing.

The stereotype of the lonely writer isolated in their garret is one that sometimes feels all too true. Whatever you write, AWM provides extensive information for you to get connected. Industry organisations abound – you will be surprised at how easy it is to find your tribe, and how much this enhances your craft and professional opportunities. Suzanne Oberhardt explains how you can get involved in the new A State of Writing initiative.

In an exciting coup, our Script Markets section is graced by Anthony Mullins, Creative Director of the award-winning entertainment company, Hoodlum. Anthony shares his cutting edge knowledge of how script markets are flourishing and diversifying with the development of multi-platform storytelling.

Savvy writers know it takes months, even years, of planning and development to be ready to enter a competition or apply for a grant or fellowship. ‘Literary Awards, Competitions, Fellowships and Grants’ puts your finger on the pulse of what’s coming up and when. We even include top tips by regular competition judge, Dianne Bates, on how to win those competitions.

Find the course that will nourish you as a writer in all the ways you need, with the level of commitment of time and funds that you feel comfortable with. University lecturer and creative writer, Cynthia Tait, provides an article which gets to the nitty gritty of how to assess the suitability of online courses, which seem to be multiplying in availability faster than vampire novels!

Australia is blessed with a vibrant and accessible literary culture of festivals and conferences – great places for you to learn your way around the Australian writing scene. Learn how to schmooze with the best of them: Ronnie Scott, editor of The Lifted Brow, gives us the benefit of his extensive involvement with writers festivals.

Now that you know your way around AWM the book, come and say hi to us online at www.AWMonline.com.au, where an active community of writers awaits, with additional resources to guide you through the literary labyrinth.

Meg Vann is the former CEO of Queensland Writers Centre. You can read more from Meg on her blog: mamaguilt

The Story of the Amplified Author

By Simon Groth

 

Imagine a time when a “book” was necessarily a physical thing, when the only way an author could reach an audience—any audience at all—was by reproducing words on ink and paper, binding the pages together and moving around the resulting block of cellulose.

Professionals who specialise in editing and what we would come to know as “marketing” gathered around the manufacture of ink-and-paper and called themselves publishers. Other professionals popped up as a point of liaison, an agent between the writers and these manufacturing types. People who specialised in logistics figured out how to warehouse all that paper and distribute it around the globe. And entire shops dedicated themselves to these narrowly defined “books”, bringing them to a community of readers. Together, this parade of intermediaries built a series, a chain of jobs to ensure a steady supply of books to the public.

In order to access the skills and expertise of the people in this chain, writers sold the right to publish a work to a single point and, in the process, ceded control over much of how the book would be represented and how it would cost. The supply chain created things like “percentage royalties”, “sale or return distribution”, and “loss-leading retail discounting”, all of them predicated on the movement of physical objects.

I know it sounds crazy, but this was the only way writers and their stories could reach an audience. There was no alternative. But under this regime, when everything worked, a lot of books were sold and everyone benefited. A lucky few authors grew very rich.

The rest, not so rich.

But what’s really funny about how that system worked is that the readers had no idea about all those intermediaries. Readers with a block of ink and paper in hand only noticed the author, with whom they made a direct connection via the story.

Eventually, computers arrived. They were built into more and more of our daily lives and networked to each other globally. In a short space of time, stories were able to break free of paper and exist independently of their container. The block of ink and paper became one of many ways to reach readers.

People could reach almost anyone else in the world relatively easily. Some of them created web sites and blogs to talk to a large audience of people. To do this, they didn’t need anyone from the old supply chain, just stories and some technical tools and skill. Some of them sold advertising via new intermediaries to support their work. A lucky few of these bloggers grew very rich.

The rest, not so rich.

Although the core relationship between readers and writers changed little, the means by which the two parties found each other had fundamentally altered.

Some writers figured this out very early, people we sometimes refer to as “Amplified Authors”. These folks realised that they could find a balance between working with the more traditional supply chain and newer technology to engage deeply with the widest audience possible. They realised they had choices.

The traditional intermediaries were still great at mass producing stuff—blocks of paper still had their place—and sometimes authors chose to still hand over broad ranging rights for access to that expertise. Other times, the same authors might decide to retain control over how their stories looked, or how they were marketed to their potential audience. And all the while, the same authors would maintain a direct connection to their readers via social platforms in an unfiltered environment where each party had complete control over their engagement.

These Amplified Authors were not bound to any third party, claiming complete control of their career and assuming the responsibility for its success, for better and for worse.

You may choose not to believe me, but that’s how it was back in the day. In these enlightened times, of course, we don’t call them “Amplified Authors” any more. We just call them “authors”.

Simon Groth‘s fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Meanjin, Overland, and Island, among others and his novels have been shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and the Text Prize.  Simon is the manager of if:book Australia. One of if:book’s major achievements has been the publishing of complete book from concept to print in twenty-four hours.

Getting Solicited

by Katherine Lyall-Watson

So, you’ve finished the great Australian novel and you’re ready to send it out. But when you look through The Australian Writer’s Marketplace to find out which agents and publishers to approach, you get a rude shock – many of them say something along the lines of ‘no unsolicited manuscripts’. What exactly does unsolicited mean, and how do you get yourself on the solicited list? Katherine Lyall-Watson goes through the process with Louise Thurtell (publisher at Allen & Unwin) and Tara Wynne (agent at Curtis Brown).

First things first: when you say you’ve finished your manuscript, what exactly do you mean? Is this the first draft you’ve finished or the twelfth? Have you had someone else go through it with a fine-tooth comb looking for any typos? Has an editor, assessor or industry professional read it and given you their honest opinion and constructive criticism?

If it’s your first draft then the first thing you need to do is put it away for a few weeks and then read it again. Is it still as great as you thought it was? How can it be improved? Write, rewrite and rewrite again.

Kate Grenville’s celebrated and multi-award winning novel The Secret River was her twentieth draft of the initial manuscript. When asked about doing that much rewriting, she said: ‘My feeling is that learning to write is learning how to rewrite. Early drafts are just like an artist’s sketches – a place to start and move on from, a place to get things wrong, a place to try things out.’ It makes me wonder how many authors scuttle their chances by sending out these early sketches instead of doing the hard work and finishing a painting.

Tara Wynne from Curtis Brown agrees with this. ‘The true professionals change and grow with each writing experience and the challenges that are put to them,’ she says. ‘Even the talented people have to work bloody hard to get things right.’

So, let’s assume that you’ve done the hard work. You’ve rewritten, redrafted and revised until you reach the stage where all you’re doing is moving commas and you’re ready to send your baby off. Hmm, no. After that much work it can’t be a baby anymore. This is more like sending your teenager off. You’ve been enamoured and infatuated and you’ve gone through periods of just being frustrated and infuriated but he’s all grown now and you’ve done the very best you could.

After all these years of work you want the best university for your child that you can find. You start looking around and they all say that they’re full. Sorry – no more applications accepted.

How can this be possible? If they’d only look at your talented teen surely they’d make room, find space to squeeze him in…

This is the situation so many authors find themselves in when they start to look for an agent or a publisher to take on their manuscript. It seems as if every door is barred shut with a large sign saying ‘Our books are full’ or ‘No unsolicited manuscripts accepted’. What exactly do they mean?

Louise Thurtell, publisher at Allen & Unwin, explains that solicited manuscripts are those manuscripts that the publisher has asked to see. Often the publisher will approach a particular author and ask them whether they are interested in writing a particular sort of book for them.

‘Sometimes the publisher has a clear idea of what sort of book they want,’ she says. ‘Sometimes they just want to buy any book by that author. If the author is interested in going ahead, then the publisher makes an offer and negotiations follow.’

Interesting, but it doesn’t help our new author with the manuscript they’ve slaved over. But it’s not all doom and gloom, there are other avenues you can follow. The first is to get an agent.

Publishers’ doors may be closed to individual authors but they are open to agents. The second is to approach a willing publisher with a partial. This is where you send off a synopsis and the first chapter(s) of your manuscript and, if the publisher is interested, they will request to see more. Louise Thurtell is one publisher who is willing to read partials (more details later).

Whether you’re sending one page, one chapter or the entire manuscript it’s vitally important that you follow industry guidelines.

FORMAT: (According to Louise Thurtell)

  • Manuscripts should be printed on A4 paper, single-sided with 1.5 line spacing.
  • The typeface should be clear (Times New Roman or Arial) and 12 points in size.
  • Don’t use lines between paragraphs, unless it’s to indicate a new section, timeframe or character.
  • All paragraphs would have their first lines indented 1 cm, except for opening paragraphs, which are set full left.
  • Margins should be about 2 cm top and bottom and about 3 cm on both sides.
  • NOTE: The industry standard is normally double spacing instead of 1.5 and a minimum of 2.5cm margins. Some companies prefer standard serif fonts, which means Times or Courier, not Arial.

‘Think about what you’re sending in,’ says Tara Wynne. ‘Make sure it’s beautifully presented, spellchecked, neat, single-sided A4 and is the best that it can be. Don’t be slapdash about the material you send or hope that an agent will edit you and therefore it doesn’t need to be word perfect or carefully presented. You get only one shot at grabbing someone’s attention so presentation is important.’

She gives an example of one clever submission that caught her attention: an author sent in a children’s book with a soft toy of the character and a map of the world in a box with seashells.

‘It was so cute,’ she says, ‘and so beautifully put together that I immediately wanted to read the stories and see if they matched up to the package itself. They did. If they hadn’t I wouldn’t have offered representation.’ Apparently she has been sent many bribes in the past, but they didn’t influence her in the slightest. The only thing that matters to her is the quality of the writing.

‘I have a first paragraph, first page test’, says Tara. ‘If it hasn’t grabbed me by then, I am not so keen to read on.’ The only time this alters is if you have an impressive track record as a published writer, or if you’ve been short-listed for an award, in which case she might read a bit further.

Tara says that having an original story is not the main thing – what she’s more interested in finding is a unique voice. ‘There are only a few stories to tell in different ways, so originality is not necessarily what we expect but voice is the key thing that agents look for and an interesting voice always stands out in the reading pile.’ So, what makes for an interesting voice? ‘It’s just the ability to write naturally in an engaging way. You either have that talent or you don’t. Not many people really can tell a story and grip an audience.’

If you think you’re one of them then follow Louise  and Tara’s top tips:

Make sure the writing you are sending is the best it can be. Format it correctly and present it well.

Katherine Lyall Watson is the Editor of ourbrisbane.com. Previously she worked at Queensland Writers Centre as the Membership Manager and Editor of Writing Queensland magazine. She edited Mending Matters, an anthology of women’s writing, and Swallow the Sound. Katherine has a Masters in Playwriting and was a finalist in the 2008/09 Queensland Premier’s Drama Awards.

Competition or Scam

by Katherine Lyall-Watson

One of the questions we are frequently asked at Queensland Writers Centre is how to judge whether a competition is bona fide or a scam. We usually recommend checking the ASA guidelines for acceptable fees in competitions, and there are several other websites (see the end of this article) that specialise in keeping track of hoax competitions.

It’s always a sad moment when we receive a proud letter from a member detailing their achievement and we discover that the prize they’ve been awarded has come through an acknowledged scam company. Should we tell them the truth and burst their happy bubble or should we keep quiet and let them go on thinking they are international stars? I have tried both tactics and feel lousy whichever path I take.

So here is an exposé on some of the scams out there – if you’d rather stay happily in the dark, please don’t keep reading…

If you see a competition that charges $5 or more per entry and that has only one prize for $100, then you can be pretty sure that the competition organisers are making money out of your entry. This isn’t necessarily a problem – they might be a writing group or a company you’d like to support anyway – and the prize might have credibility that outweighs the monetary value. But do select carefully which entry

-fee charging competitions you enter.

Then there are the web-based competitions. The ones that don’t charge a fee but which automatically accept every entry and offer to publish it, providing that you buy their very expensive hard copy edition. And once they have you on their mailing list you’ll receive constant email updates, inviting you to attend their international symposia – registration can cost US$595 and that doesn’t include accommodation or airfares. Then you’ll start to receive emails telling you how wonderful your entry was and saying that they want to reward you with a special medallion or trophy. You guessed it – you have to pay for this too.

To find out how it all works and to see if the bad press I’d read was really true I decided to submit the worst poem I could write to poetry.com.

Here it is in all its ghastliness (I warn you – it is vomit-worthy!):

My Love Waits For You

Twelve years ago

you left me

here alone, on my own.

I will wait for you

for ever more.

My love, my dear, is true.

Katie Leigh Watson

(I couldn’t possibly put my own name to it, hence the nom-de-plume.)

Imagine my surprise when I received an email saying that I’d been short-listed and that I had an excellent chance of winning the US$10,000 grand prize. I could now purchase a copy of Immortal Voices, featuring my poem for US$49.95. But wait, there’s more … I was notified that my poem ‘was selected for publication, and as a contest semi-finalist, based on [my] ‘unique talent and artistic vision’. I was starting to feel pretty good about myself and wondered whether perhaps I’d been wrong and my poem was actually a masterpiece, but I re-read it and quickly came back to earth.

I went onto their website to see if I could find out how many semi-finalists were chosen. In their FAQ section I found this answer:

Question: How many semi-finalists are chosen from all the contest entries?

Answer: Those entries that exhibit a unique perspective or artistic vision are advanced to semi-finalists in the contest.

Hmm – not exactly a clear answer. I guess that every entry exhibits a unique perspective…

As I hadn’t responded to any of the emails and hadn’t ordered any of the publications or trophies offered to me, their emails increased to fever pitch. I was being offered hotel discounts, Las Vegas show discounts, early-booking discounts and pre-publication special prices. Every day there was another email in my inbox, telling me this was my last chance to register, with another incentive thrown in. Now they’d give me $1,000 to spend at Las Vegas while I was there – but I had to respond immediately. When I didn’t, the next email said how sorry they were that I wouldn’t be there, but I could still participate by electing to have my poem read out aloud on the day and I would still receive my trophy and medal in the post. (For the ‘small’ price of US$169 plus postage.)

One burnt poet has set up a website to try to expose poetry.com – it’s called poetrynotcom and you’ll find it at the following link: http://poetrynotcom.tripod.com/ – it’s well worth a visit. He states that in 2002, the year his poem was published in their anthology (yes, he paid for it), they published 52 other anthologies. Each anthology contained about 1,500 poems.

And the only poems published were those where the poet pre-ordered a copy of the book, so the organisation was making approximately US$98,000 per anthology published. Not bad money…

I went online to try to find out how many anthologies were published this year, but they no longer list their titles on their website, so you have no way of knowing. It would also appear that you have no way of having other people find out about or order your anthology unless you pass the ISBN details on to them.

Competitions like these offer writers no favours. They might make you feel good about yourself and your writing, but you are paying for every accolade awarded you. My suggestion if you need this sort of a boost is to by all means submit your poem to them online and then enjoy all the rave emails you’ll get about your prodigious talent, but don’t order anything or pay for anything from them. The nameless, faceless company behind the contest is laughing all the way to the bank thanks to the poor writers and poets who fall for their ploys. One editor’s conservative estimate of how much money poetry.com made in one year was over US$10 million. No wonder they can afford to pay a grand prize of US$10,000.

To read an article written by one poor poet who paid to attend the International Conference go to

http://www.windpub.com/literary.scams/bigmoney.htm

For further details on scam competitions visit:

http://www.sfwa.org/Beware/

http://windpub.com/literary.scams/

http://www.winningwriters.com/contests/avoid/av_avoid.php

Remember that it’s always wise to do some research before sending off your cheque or credit card details. Ask questions, send enquiry emails and, if you’re at all dubious, contact your local writers centre to see if they can offer any advice.

Good luck!

Katherine Lyall Watson is the Editor of ourbrisbane.com. Previously she worked at Queensland Writers Centre as the Membership Manager and Editor of Writing Queensland magazine. She edited Mending Matters, an anthology of women’s writing, and Swallow the Sound. Katherine has a Masters in Playwriting and was a finalist in the 2008/09 Queensland Premier’s Drama Awards.

Writers' Festivals - Networking Your Way to Publication

by Katherine Lyall-Watson

A literary festival is one of the most important events a writer can attend, offering as it does an invaluable opportunity for networking with agents, publishers and other writers. Play your cards right and your meeting could give you the chance to send your manuscript to the head honcho at your dream publishing house. But there are many traps to snare the unwary writer, and some of them are hard to avoid. Here are a few tips to remember for your next festival, to make the most of the opportunity.

Do’s

  • Surround yourself with other writers. You can observe and learn a lot from the different ways they approach their craft.
  • Ask relevant questions during the Q&A time at the end of each session. This is a good time to gather information.
  • If there are publishers appearing at panels who deal with work similar to your own, take note of their names so you’ll know who to try and contact after the festival.
  • Have your own business cards easily accessible, so you can quickly offer your contact details.

Don’ts

  • During the Q&A sessions, don’t ask long, rambling questions, or questions that aren’t relevant to the topic. Don’t try to air grievances. Don’t try to use the time to talk about your own manuscript, as it isn’t an appropriate forum and will make a bad impression.
  • Don’t try to give your manuscript to publishers at the festival. No matter how good it is, they won’t want to carry it around with them all day.
  • No matter how frustrated you are, don’t become too pushy, hostile or aggressive with an agent or publisher. It defeats the purpose of approaching them, as they will never publish your work if you behave badly.

Tips for approaching an agent or publisher:

  1. When you meet a publisher or agent, be pleasant, be interested in their work, chat about the festival, but don’t monopolise them.
  2. Ask them about their list of authors, their reading preferences, and whether they accept unsolicited manuscripts.
  3. If they don’t, ask them if they would mind if you emailed them in a little while and gave them a brief description of your book. If they are agreeable to this you can then ask for their card and give them yours.
  4. Be prepared, as they may ask you to give them a brief synopsis of your book then and there. Remember, ‘brief’ is the operative word, and try to make it tantalising.
  5. If they say it’s not for them don’t despair, but ask if they can recommend a good agent for your genre.

After the Festival: Follow-up

If you were fortunate enough to get the contact details of an editor or publisher, wait a few days and send them an email. Tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them, jog their memory with something you talked about at your meeting, and mention that you have a manuscript that you’d like to show them. Include a one-paragraph synopsis and ask if they would like to see your manuscript or if they could recommend someone else for you to send it to.

 

Katherine Lyall-Watson is the former Membership Manager and Editor at Queensland Writers Centre. This article first appeared in The Australian Writer’s Marketplace, 2007/2008 edition.