- Improving My Writing
- Freelance Writing
- Copyright & Contracts
- Building a Career
In this section:
- I want to know if my writing is any good.
- I want to attend a writing course. Which ones are good?
- How do I edit my own work?
- I’ve never written before. How do I start?
I want to know if my writing is any good.
It can be difficult to accurately judge the quality of our own work, and sometimes we need reassurance that we are on the right track.
Writers groups are an excellent source of feedback. Most writers groups will focus on workshopping pieces until they shine through a process of constructive group critique. One particular benefit of writers group is that they are generally places with positive, non-judgemental attitudes – after all, everyone there is there to learn how to get better at writing. These groups are excellent for giving you meaningful feedback on your work, and are also often great sources of support. To improve the quality of feedback you get, choose a writers’ group made up of people who write in the same form and genre as you. Look for groups with cultures that are welcoming, supportive, and at roughly the same stage of their writing practice as you. You can find a list of writers groups from around Australia here on AWM.
Other options for getting feedback on your writing are workshops and classes. Many writing classes offer plenty of opportunity for feedback from your peers and tutors, and are also great places to help you extend and improve your writing practice. Your local state writers’ centre will run a yearly program of classes, workshops, and events. If you’re interested in studying writing at a higher level, many universities and TAFE campuses now conduct diplomas and degrees in creative writing.
You can also try submitting your writing to competitions. Placement in competitions can be an excellent way of judging the standard of your writing, and some competitions provide judge’s feedback on your entry. Most competitions also come with a cash prize, or with the prize of a mentorship, or even publication.
I want to attend a writing course. Which ones are good?
Everyone’s needs and expectations are different.
First of, you must decide what you want out of the course, and what level you would like to study at. Your state or local writers’ centre will put out a yearly program of classes and workshops that cater to various levels of writing competency. If you’re interested in pursuing tertiary study in writing, you may prefer to look at the writing courses offered by TAFE or universities.
When making inquiries about a course you’re interested in, ask who the tutor is and research that person’s career. Investigate the company or organisation hosting the course to see if they align with your goals as a writer. Ask to be referred to someone who has completed the course. Ask for details about participants who have been successful as a result of the course.
And of course, we’re happy to recommend our own courses. You can view a complete list of AWM courses on our online learning centre, here.
How do I edit my own work?
The capacity to edit one’s own work is perhaps the best skill a writer can possess.
Writers often talk about self-editing as having three stages: structural editing, copy editing, and proofreading. While each writer has a different approach to self-editing, generally they will progress in that order. To give you more idea of what each stage entails:
- Structural editing – altering the fundamental structure of the piece. This can involve shifting around scenes or chapters, adding or removing scenes or chapters, adding or removing characters, modifying themes, expanding or contracting narrative arcs, substantial rewriting, or any other significant changes to the work.
- Copy editing – on a smaller scale, ensuring the language is consistent and elegant, maintaining voice, making pleasing language choices, correcting small errors and infelicities in both the language and the narrative.
- Proofreading – correcting grammatical errors, misspellings, and errors in punctuation.
There can be substantial overlap between each of these stages. When editing your work, it’s best to take an iterative approach that looks to correct big problems first and progress down to smaller problems. After all, it can be frustrating to spend hours agonising over the word choice in one sentence, only to realise you need to remove that whole chapter to make the story work.
After you’ve written your first draft, it’s a good idea to put it away in a drawer or a folder on your computer and leave it for a period of time. Depending on the length of the work, and the amount of time you have at your disposal, this can be from a few days to a month or two. This process will allow you to develop a bit of distance from what you’ve written.
Once you’ve given your work time to incubate, take it out and read it over fully without changing anything. If you like, take notes in a separate document, but do not alter the manuscript until you have read the whole thing.
Now you can come up with a plan of attack. What are the top level problems that you can see? Identify them as specifically as you can. How do you think you can fix these problems? Try to be as specific as you are able: instead of saying ‘make Anne more likeable’, try saying ‘make Anne more likeable by giving her an extra scene with Omar where they discuss her dream of playing the clarinet’. The more direction you give yourself at this stage, the easier it will be to fix later down the path.
Once you’ve identified and suggested solutions for the major problems with the manuscript, go through and start making those corrections. The draft may get very messy at this point! Make sure to save each version separately. If you make a mistake, you need the option to go back to a version before the mistake was made.
Once you have finished making those changes, read through your draft again. Is it better? Can you see any more changes you might need to make? You can go through this process multiple times until you are sufficiently happy with your manuscript, each time honing in on smaller and smaller details.
Of course, this is merely one method of editing your work. You may find it works for you, or you may discover another process that suits your style better. As you develop your self-editing skills, you will naturally find a process that works for you and the project you are working on.
If you’re looking for direction on editing a novel or memoir, you may be interested in AWMonline’s Year of the Edit program.
I’ve never written before. How do I start?
First, define what it is you want to write, and why. Do you want to write fiction, non-fiction? Short stories, novels, science articles, poetry, screenplays, videogames, history textbooks, car manuals, your family history, blogs? Do you want to write as a creative pursuit, for fun, for profit, for fame and glory (ha!), to share your ideas with the world, to convince others of your arguments, to spread knowledge, to make people laugh or cry? Once you have identified your reasons for writing, you can target your writing practice to that.
Writing is really as easy, and as difficult, as picking up a pen and putting words down one after the other. Of course there is more to constructing a text than just that, but beginning to write is simply about… well, beginning to write.
If you want to learn to write and write well, there are two basic tenents you must become familiar with:
- write every day
- read a lot
In writing, everything else is optional except those two.
Writing every day doesn’t have to mean literally every day, but it does mean being consistent and disciplined with your writing practice. It means sitting down and turning up, no matter what, even if you feel empty. Writing every day means trying every day to get better at what you do. You probably won’t be very good when you first start out – in fact, you’ll likely be terrible. That’s okay! Nobody is naturally brilliant at something without working hard at it first (anyone who says otherwise is selling you something). The more you work at it, the better you’ll get.
Read a lot means exactly what it says. The more you read, the more familiar you will get with the structure of a text, how to develop ideas and concepts and build on them to make your meaning clear. Read deeply and widely in the type of text you aim to write. Read outside as well. The more you read, the more you learn and the better your brain gets at picking up textual patterns and structures. You should also read because you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy reading, why do you want to write?
In this section:
- How should I present my work for publishers and competitions?
- I’ve just finished writing a manuscript. Which publishers should I send it to?
- I don’t know if my work is ready to send to a publisher. Should I send it anyway?
- What’s the difference between solicited and unsolicited?
- Should I have a literary agent and what do they do?
- What’s a book proposal and how do I write one?
How should I present my work for publishers and competitions?
There are a set of traditional rules for how to lay out a completed long-form manuscript. In general, you should format your manuscript in the following way:
- white A4 paper
- double line spacing
- print on one side only
- use a plain, serif, 12 point font (Times New Roman is industry standard)
- 3 cm or 1 inch margins
- Indent first lines
- Number all pages
- Cover page containing title of work, author name, and author contact information
- Headers containing author name and title of work
- Don’t decorate or illustrate your manuscript
- If you’re submitting your manuscript in hard copy, do not staple or bind – use an easily detachable clip, such as paperclip
Only deviate from this formula if the publisher’s guidelines expressly request it. Resist the urge to format your manuscript differently – what you may think of as eye-catching and memorable, publishers will see as annoying and proof you can’t follow directions. Remember, publishers see thousands upon thousands of manuscripts a year, and have neither the time nor the patience to deal with writers who think they are special cases. The best way to get your writing to stand out is to write the best story you can.
If you are submitting a short story to a literary journal or competition, the rules are much the same with the exception of the first page. Instead of having a dedicated cover page, short stories usually begin directly under the title and byline.
Queensland Writers Centre has two downloadable examples of standard manuscript format.
I’ve just finished writing a manuscript. Which publishers should I send it to?
Unfortunately, there is no stock answer to this question. Finding the right publisher takes research. Learn the market and establish networks.
Visit bookshops and investigate which publishers are publishing similar work to yours before making contact. Don’t send your work to a publisher who doesn’t represent work like yours – you’ll just waste their time and yours. A publisher of children’s picture books is not just unlikely to be interested in your hard-hitting military history, they’re also unlikely to be able to sell it to their established audience. If you don’t like the kinds of books that a particular publisher produces, it’s unlikely that they’ll be a good fit for you, or you for them.
It’s also worth considering the size of the publisher that you’re hoping to place your book with. Large international publishers such as Penguin RandomHouse, Pan Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, Harper Collins and Harlequin Mills Boon have international distribution networks, large advances, high prestige, and big marketing budgets. However, these publishers also produce hundreds of books a year, and it’s easy to be forgotten under the crush of big-name authors who will get most of the financial attention. Smaller, well-respected independent publishers such as Text, Black Inc, Scribe, UQP and the like have national distribution and more modest advances and budgets, but offer a more personal and supportive experience. And micro-presses can be even smaller, with more limited distribution and no advances paid, but a highly passionate staff whose values and vision may align most closely to yours. It’s important to consider what you want most from your publisher when you’re considering who to submit to.
It’s also worth being aware that some publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. This means that they are uninterested in reading manuscripts submitted to them without being requested. You will usually need an agent to represent you to these publishers – this is especiallly true if you are trying to sell your work to a publisher in the US or the UK. Other publishers, especially here in Australia, periodically open to unsolicited manuscripts.
You can find a list of publishers on AWM here.
I don’t know if my work is ready to send to a publisher. Should I send it anyway?
First impressions are crucial, so it is important to present your best possible efforts when approaching a publisher for the first time.
Never send a first draft to a publisher. If you’ve just typed ‘the end’ on your manuscript, congratulations! You’ve worked hard and done something few people ever manage. Now is the time to celebrate. But it’s not the time to start composing your cover letter. Try putting your piece in a drawer for a week or a month to help yourself develop some space from your manuscript.
Professional writers often say ‘90% of writing is re-writing’. Most first drafts are very rough, because you’ve been working so hard to get the ideas down on the page you haven’t had the luxury of focusing on how those ideas knit together. For many people, the redrafting/rewriting stage is often much more exciting than the initial draft because its the process of turning the raw clay of your draft into a sculpture.
Many writers take an iterative approach to their redrafting process, going over the manuscript again and again with an increasingly fine eye. Once you’re satisfied with how the story looks, turn your eye to the language you use to express your ideas. After that, tackle the grammar and punctuation of the work, buffing out any mistakes or infelicities.
Remember that there is a difference between finished and perfect. If you try to make your work perfect, you’ll never be finished! But you need to ensure your manuscript is as good as it possibly can be.
Editors and publishers look at thousands of manuscripts a year. Of these, they only select the manuscripts that align best with their vision and present themselves professionally. By ensuring your manuscript is as good as it can possibly be, you present yourself as a professional. You can’t guarantee you’ll align with a publisher’s vision, but you can ensure that they take you and your work seriously.
You generally only get one chance to present your work to any given publisher. If they reject your manuscript, they will most likely refuse to look at it again unless you make such substantial changes that it is essentially a different thing altogether. Why would you want to present publishers with a sub-standard product?
Still, it’s often difficult to gauge for yourself whether your work is as good as you can make it. If you’ve rewritten, edited, and buffed your manuscript as well as you can but you still aren’t certain, you may find it useful to hire a manuscript assessment. Manuscript assessors are usually freelance publishing professionals who can give you an indication of the standard of your manuscript. If you’re looking for a manuscript assessor ensure you do your research. They are often expensive, and you don’t want to waste thousands of dollars on a poor service.
Another option is to find beta-readers. Beta-readers are readers who will read through your manuscript and offer feedback to give you an idea of what works and what might still need fixing. If you’re a member of a writers group you can likely turn to your fellow members for beta-reading, or other people in your writing network. Try to to ask your family members or close friends for feedback, unless they have substantial experience in the literary world and you trust them to be unbiased.
What’s the difference between solicited and unsolicited?
An ‘unsolicited’ manuscript is one that doesn’t come to a publisher through the petition or recommendation of an industry professional. These manuscripts generally end up in what’s call the ‘slush pile’. Historically this was a literal pile of manuscripts, which editors periodically pick through looking for good work. It’s often very difficult to get attention when you are in the slush pile, unless your work is amazing. Editors are unlikely to be forgiving to manuscripts in the slush – there are just too many, and editors are not familiar with the sources. It’s certainly not impossible to be picked from the slush: many great books have been found that way. But it’s certainly more difficult.
A ‘solicited’ manuscript is presented to a publisher by a known and respected contact, such as a literary agent or an established author. It can also refer to work that a publisher has commissioned, or work that a publisher has requested to be sent through. So if you meet an editor at a convention and they ask you to send in your manuscript, this would be a solicited submission. Solicited submissions skip over the slush pile and land directly in front of the editor. Editors are more likely to be forgiving of a solicited submission, as they know the source and trust the people who have recommended it.
Increasingly publishers are no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts. This is especially true for large publishers in the US or the UK. In Australia, some publishers open periodically for unsolicited submissions. If you want to beat the slush pile, your best option is to find a literary agent who will represent you and your work. You can find a list of agents on AWM here.
You can also approach publishers and editors at conventions and festivals through publisher introduction panels and pitching sessions. This is another way to get publishers to pay attention to your manuscript without needing an agent.
Should I have a literary agent and what do they do?
Many publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts i.e. not specifically requested by the publisher or not submitted by a literary agent. Finding a literary agent to represent you to publishers is similar to approaching a publisher. Literary agents look for talented, marketable writers who generally have a publication history.
Literary agents act as a conduit between authors and publishers: they sell projects to book publishers, or television and film producers, and they negotiate contracts for their clients. Some agents look after a variety of writers, including non-fiction, poetry, screen writing, adult and children’s fiction, while others choose to specialise in a particular genre or area.
As well as bringing you and your work to the attention of publishers, your agent will use their industry knowledge and contacts to protect your financial and legal interests, making sure that you, and all the authors on their list, get the most out of their contracts. Opinions on the importance of agents vary among established authors; some writers prefer to negotiate for themselves, but most find their agent an invaluable part of their business team.
Agents only get paid if they sell your work. Typically they receive 15% of whatever you earn in advances or royalties. They should not receive any more than this, and they certainly should not be paid any upfront fees or reading fees – this is the sign of a huckster. Getting paid on commission encourages agents to invest in authors they believe in and work hard to sell your work for the best deal possible. If you pay an agent upfront fees, they have no impetus to sell your work.
In the US and UK markets, it’s almost impossible to be published without the aid of an agent. But in Australia it’s quite possible to find publication without agent representation. The agent market in Australia is quite small. Remember to always research agents before you sign any contracts. A good agent will have strong industry contacts, and has usually worked in the industry themselves. Check their latest sales: a good agent will be able to sell work to big publishers.
The Australian Literary Agents’ Association has a list of qualifying member agents, along with information about how agents function. They have exacting guidelines for who can join them. Not all reputable agents are members of the ALAA, but all members of the ALAA are reputable agents.
You can find a list of agents on AWM here.
What’s a book proposal and how do I write one?
Pitching a non-fiction book is a little different to a novel. For fiction, generally publishers will request sample chapters, and then the whole manuscript, on the understanding that the entire work has been completed and polished already. This is not necessarily the case with non-fiction manuscripts.
Publishers often purchase non-fiction books on the basis of a book proposal. Essentially, a proposal is a series of collected documents that, taken together, outline in detail the plan for the writing of a book. Very often the proposal will contain information about the potential market for the book, and information on the author and why they are the right person to write this book. Essentially, the book proposal is an argument to the publisher – you should publish this book because it meets these market needs, and the author has the authority to write it because of these reasons. The book proposal aims to convince the publisher to purchase the book.
Different publishers will have different requirements for a proposal, but there is a general set of standards. Often they’ll require a few sample chapters, to ensure that your writing is strong. Unlike with fiction, these don’t necessarily have to be the first few chapters of the book. Publishers may also require evidence of market research, where you demonstrate knowledge of similar titles (because publishers don’t want to publish a work with no precedence) and how your book fills a market space that these titles don’t (because publishers also don’t want to rehash established ground – yes, it can be frustrating).
You’ll also need to write a chapter-by-chapter proposed outline for your book, so that publishers can envisage the book as a finished product. Along with all of this you’ll likely need to provide a relevant author resume as well, to prove your qualifications. For example, if you are writing a book about stellar composition, you’ll want to show your qualifications as a astrophysicist, and any previous writing credits you have. If you have an extensive media or social media presence, publishers will want to know about this too. This would indicate a pre-existing audience who are likely to purchase your work.
If you want to know more about writing a book proposal, Queensland Writers Centre has information guides on writing non-fiction.
Or you may be interested in our Pitching to Publishers course.
In this section:
- What is involved in self-publishing?
- What’s an ebook? How do they work?
- How do I promote my book?
- What’s a vanity publisher?
What is involved in self-publishing?
Self-publishing is a commercial transaction—the process will cost you money—and involves personally managing production, marketing, distribution and the selling of your book. Talk to other self-published authors about their experiences, and do not enter any transaction without a signed agreement clearly defining the terms and conditions of the work undertaken.
Beware of vanity presses, which are self-publishing services that present themselves as traditional publishers. Often these services prey upon uninformed and naive writers, and often charge thousands of dollars to produce an inferior product by using a combination of flattery and pressure tactics. Remember that in traditional publishing, money always flows toward the author, and you will never be asked to pay for your own publication.
One of the benefits of self-publishing is that you are in complete control over ever aspect of your book. Unlike with a traditional publisher, you do not have to cede control of marketing, design, or editorial to a corporation. Instead, you are at liberty to pick and choose professionals to work with, or even not to work with anybody if you so desire.
A drawback is that self-publishing a print book or ebook to a professional quality can be extremely expensive. You’ll also need to work hard to promote and distribute your book, as you likely won’t have the distribution lines or marketing budget available to a traditional press.
Still, if you are willing to put in the effort, self-publishing can be extremely rewarding.
If you want to learn more about ebooks and self-publishing, you may be interested in the Amplified Author course offered on our online learning centre.
What’s an ebook? How do they work?
An ebook is an electronic book, a digital file that can be read on a computer or on a handheld device such as an ereader. Ebook files come in a number of different file formats, which are varyingly compatible with specific dedicated ereader devices.
After the initial proliferation of dedicated ereaders, a small handful have demonstrated staying power. The Kindle, Kobo, and Nook tend to be the most popular dedicated ereaders available on the market. However, it’s also possible to read an ebook on an iPad or iPhone.
As a rule, ebooks have quite pared-back formatting. Most ereaders will allow readers to alter the size and font of the text for ease of reading. Because of the variable ‘length’ of books bought on by user-governed changes in font size, most ereaders do not have page numbers but rather a percentage bar showing what percentage you’ve read and what you have left to go.
Unlike print books, ebooks are instantly available around the world. They also have no shelf-life and can exist in perpetuity on the web, whereas print books often have only a few months to make an impact. Likewise, due to the lack of distribution or printing costs, authors receive a larger percentage of royalties. However, the cost-per-unit of an ebook is much smaller than a print book.
It is extremely cheap to create a basic ebook – in fact, it’s possible to make them for free using programs or websites such as Pressbooks, Amazon or Kobo. With that said, creating a good ebook takes time, attention to detail, planning, and often quite a bit of money. If you’re electing to self-publish, remember that you’re competing against everyone else who has ever self-published, as well as against traditionally published books. With that in mind, you’ll want to create the best product that you can.
How do I promote my book?
There are a number of great online resources for authors looking for information on how to promote their books, both self- and traditionally-published.
- Queensland Writers Centre has a series of writer guides on organising author talks and book signings, among other promotional activities.
- Writing WA has a set of resource sheets about self-publishing.
- NSW Writing Centre also has some resources directly related to self-publishing.
What’s a vanity publisher?
In essence, a vanity publisher is a publisher you pay to publish your work for you. They tend to have a less-than-sterling reputation in the publishing industry.
Don’t confuse these with honest self-publishing companies. With a company that provides self-publishing services, fees are upfront, straightforward, and obvious. You pay for services rendered, and this is the extent of your relationship – it’s a business contract. These sorts of companies are things like freelance book designers, freelance editors, printers, some distribution companies, and so forth.
A vanity press is different. They are particularly insidious because they often work hard to convince naive or uninformed writers that they are legitimate, traditional-style publishers. Often they lure writers in with expansive and impossible-to-fulfill promises. They also often mislead writers about how traditional publishing works, so take heed: a traditional publisher will NEVER ask you for money. They will never ask you to help finance the publication of your book.
This is because traditional publishers and vanity publishers operate on two different business models. A traditional publisher leases the right to publish your work from you, puts their own money into editing, design, marketing and distribution, and makes a percentage profit on the sale of the book. They will pay you an initial advance upon purchasing the rights, and/or they will pay you a percentage of the book earnings, called royalties. In this case, you make money, and spend nothing, because you are selling a product. You receive money for products that you sell. Because the publisher is shouldering the entire financial burden of producing the book, authors often only receive a small percentage of sales (around 10% RRP), but this is offset by the high professional standard of the product, strong marketing, excellent distribution, and no costs to the author.
In a vanity publisher’s case, they make money not from book sales but from defrauding writers. If you are paying a publisher upfront money, you are removing their impetus to actually work to sell your book. After all, if you will pay them $9000 to create your book, why would they need to put any effort into selling it, when it could very easily flop or do poorly? Often vanity publishers will produce inferior products and do little in the way of marketing or distribution, leaving authors feeling upset and much poorer. Vanity publishers can often get writers to sign contracts that are extremely author-unfriendly, meaning writers can sign away their rights without realising it. These contracts can be very difficult to get out of. Vanity publishers also often offer a low rate of returns on the sold product, sometimes as little as 10% RRP, despite shouldering none of the financial burden of publishing.
Remember, a publisher is not doing you a favour by publishing your book, even if you feel intensely grateful that they’ve picked you up. A publisher is leasing the rights to your product. Always have your contracts looked over by a legal professional first. If in doubt, the Arts Law Centre of Australia and the Australian Society of Authors can help you look over a contract and can likely give you advice on the legitimacy of a publisher. Always research a publisher before signing with them.
The NSW Writers Centre has a resource sheet about vanity publishers if you need more explanation.
In this section:
- How do pitches work and how do I write them?
- What should I be paid for my freelance writing? (And how do I negotiate?)
- How do I build a freelance career?
How do pitches work and how do I write them?
A pitch is a query a writer sends to an editor. Essentially, a pitch is a short summary of a writers idea for a story or article that they think the editor might want to publish. Look to submission guidelines on the websites or AWM for details on what kind of pitch a publication takes. Submission guidelines differ between publications, ranging from a brief one-line idea to a dot-point email to a detailed summary. It’s rare, but not unheard of, for a publication to request a writer submit only a finished draft.
The initial pitch should answer all the questions the editor would need to ask before they could say yes or no to your idea: what is the story about, what is your unique take on it, why should you write it (i.e. who are you, what is your writing background, what is your expertise in this area), what format do you expect it to take (length, style etc.), how long will it take you to write it. If your topic is particuarly timely, take into account print lead times. Web based content, by contrast, can sometimes have a lightning-quick turnaround.
All writers are rejected, and often. This is particularly true when you start out as a freelancer, as you likely haven’t yet built up a reputation or list of publications that would make an editor unfamiliar with your work want to publish you. Many freelancers suggest pitching your work to smaller publications and working up to larger ones in order to develop a good work schedule and strong body of work.
What should I be paid for my freelance writing? (And how do I negotiate?)
There are no set or recommended rates for freelancing. The size and reach of a publication will likely influence how much they pay. A very large magazine, such as National Geographic, will likely be able to pay much more than a small regional newspaper. Many magazines and websites don’t pay at all. It’s up to you to determine whether you want to give away your hard work for free. You may decide it is worth it for the pedigree of the magazine, or you may decide you deserve to be paid for your work. It is up to you.
Publications either pay per word (i.e. 25c/word) or a flat fee (i.e. $100 per article). If the magazine or website doesn’t specify a specific payment, then you are likely able to negotiate. Consider what your time and effort are worth, without being unrealistic (if you are starting out, it’s unlikely your work is worth $100/hour). Negotiate rates from the start. Ask “what is your budget for this type of article” in the pitch, or in reply to the positive commission email from the editor. Submitting without asking about payment is a great way to not get paid.
Usually you will need to invoice the publication for payment. If payment terms are not given by the publication (i.e. we pay on the first Monday of every month), dictate them on the invoice (i.e. payable within 30 days).
How do I build a freelance career?
The best way to start any kind of writing career is to start writing and submitting your work. Improving your pitching skills is key to becoming an effective freelancer. Check with your local writers centre for courses and resources that might help you develop your pitching and writing skills.
Another key element of building a freelance career is learning to accept and grow from rejection. As a freelancer, you will be rejected. A lot. This is not personal – editors have only so much space to fill, and tight deadlines to fill it in. They can’t accept all the work that is pitched to them, nor will they want to commission work that will take them a long time to make publication-ready. Take a rejection in good faith. It’s good practice to think of rejection as an opportunity: yes, you were turned down from this publication, but that frees you up to pitch another story to them, or to pitch this story somewhere else.
As with all writing, read widely. Read good writing in your subject area, and consider what makes it so effective. Read the publications you want to be published in so you can pitch the right kind of articles to them. Targeted pitching is always more effective than a scattergun approach. Not only are publications more likely to accept your work if they can see you understand their brand and voice, it’s likely to make a good impression on the editor, something you can leverage for future pitches. Once you have built up a portfolio, consider asking for more money for your work.
Build a good relationship with editors by being reliable, submitting on time, submitting error-free work and being a professional and friendly. Make connections – on social media, at writers centres, at festivals, at events. If you know editors, you can find out the sorts of articles they are looking for. Forming good relationships with the people who publish you will serve you well throughout your writing life.
Being a freelancer often means diversifying your work. Don’t just limit yourself to magazines and websites. Consider other kinds of freelance work, such as copywriting, corporate writing, grant and tender writing, and so on for private individuals and companies. These opportunities often pay well and are more stable and consistent than pitching to magazines. Advertise your services on your blog or linkedin, so that people who search for you know that you are amenable to such work.
Finally, the best way to build a freelance career is to pitch, pitch, pitch. The more you pitch, and the more you write, the better you get at it, the stronger your relationships with editors grows, and the larger your portfolio becomes.
In this section:
- How do I copyright my work?
- I’ve been offered a contract for my work. Should I sign it?
How do I copyright my work?
Copyright is automatic. Once you have produced a piece of work, you own the rights to it, free of charge. You do not need to take any action to register copyright, and Australia has no copyright register. Some people like to place the copyright symbol © on their work, or send the work to themselves by email or post. Some people even self-publish their work under the erroneous assumption that publication will guarantee copyright. All these moves are unnecessary – you will automatically own copyright even if you don’t do these things.
According to the Australian Copyright Council’s booklet An Introduction to Copyright, “something that is a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work for copyright purposes will be protected if it is ‘original’. In copyright terms, it’s not hard for something to be original: it means that the work isn’t a mere copy, a requisite level of skill and effort has been exercised in its creation, and it has been created by a human author.”
Copyright only protects the work itself, and not the general ideas, information, styles or techniques used to create the work. Nor does copyright protect names, titles or slogans. That is to say, if you have written a story about a shark named Mirabelle, this does not mean that nobody else can write a story about a shark named Mirabelle. If you have written an outline for a novel, that written outline is protected but the ideas themselves are not: somebody else can legally read the outline and use your ideas to produce their own text.
If you are producing work in your own time and of your own volition, you own the copyright. However, there are a few specific situations in which you will not own the copyright of your work. If you are an employee of a company and are producing work for your employer, there may be a clause in your employment contract that specifies that the company posesses the copyright to that work. Likewise, if you have been employed as a ghostwriter you may have a clause in your contract specifying that copyright belongs to the person you are ghostwriting for. Always check your contracts to ensure you are clear on who will own the copyright to the work you have created.
Publishers, magazines, and blogs merely lease the rights to publish your work – they do not, and should not, purchase your copyright unless this is something you have explicitly agreed to and you are happy to give up all future ownership of that work.
In Australia, as in the USA, copyright extends for seventy years from the death of the author. This means that your estate can continue to possess the copyright to your work after your death, and therefore can continue to collect any income your work may generate.
If you need more information about copyright in Australia, contact the Australian Copyright Council
If you need more information about licensing and rights, contact Viscopy
If you need more information about publishing contracts and the law as it pertains to art and artists, contact the Arts Law Centre of Australia
I’ve been offered a contract for my work. Should I sign it?
Good question. Although being offered a contract can be extremely exciting, don’t get ahead of yourself. Contracts are difficult legal documents and you need to know what exactly you’re signing over, and what you’re agreeing to. Read through the contract carefully, making note of any clauses that are less than clear to you. You are always entitled to ask about the contract you have been offered, and you are also encouraged to negotiate if you feel you are being treated less-than-fairly. It is not unprofessional to query clauses you disagree with.
If you’ve been offered a contract you are unsure of, don’t understand completely, or by a company that you don’t know very well, consult a legal professional who specialises in publishing contracts. They will be able to explain what are industry-standard clauses and what might be cause for alarm. They will also be able to explain to you what confusing clauses mean, and help you advocate on your own behalf.
If you’re offered a contract and you have a literary agent, your agent should take you through the contract and explain how everything functions. They should also negotiate the contract on your behalf. Ensure that you read the contract for yourself, however, so that if you have any questions you can be assured of having them answered.
If you’re offered a contract and do not have an agent, you might want to seek out an organisation or professional that can help you. The Arts Law Centre of Australia and the Australian Society of Authors are both organisations that provide resources and help for authors who need assistance understanding and negotiating their contracts.
In this section:
- I want to meet with other writers. Where can I do that?
- What opportunities are available to develop my career?
- My work has been rejected so many times. Should I just give up?
I want to meet with other writers. Where can I do that?
Although writers are often stereotyped as introverts who toil in obscurity, there is a great sense of community in sharing and networking with other people practicing your art.
Courses, workshops, and writers’ groups are a great way to meet other emerging writers who are at a similar stage of their careers to you. Many writers’ communities have begun to develop online as well, so this can be a good way to connect with writers from around the world.
Literary festivals, conventions, and conferences are one of the best way to network with writers from all stages of their careers. Every capital city in Australia conducts a literary festival, and there are many regional shires that put on festivals as well. Festivals tend to be focussed on readers and reading, and are great places to watch author talks, discover new books, and connect with readers.
Conventions and conferences are more focused on the writing business and craft and tend to cater soley to writers. These events are usually filled with a mixture of writers of a particular form or genre, and offer more opportunities for emerging writers to mingle with established names. Some of the big Australian and Australasian writers’ conventions and conferences are:
- Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Conference
- Australian Theatre Forum (for playwriters)
- Children’s Book Council National Conference (for children’s and YA writers)
- CYA Conference (for children’s and YA writers)
- GenreCon (for writers of genre fiction – science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, crime, and romance)
- National Screenwriters Conference (for screenwriters)
- National Writers Conference (for emerging writers)
- Omega Writers Conference (for christian writers)
- Romance Writers of Australia National Conference (for romance writers)
- Romance Writers of New Zealand Conference (for romance writers)
What opportunities are available to develop my career?
Lots! Your local state writers centre should be your first port of call when looking for ways to expand your career. They’ll host classes throughout the year, along with other programming to support emerging and established writers. Many writers centres have programs that match emerging writers to professional mentors. They’ll also have resources they can point you towards to help you with different writerly skills: writing author bios, applying for grants, formatting manuscripts, writing cover letters, and so on.
Large competitions are also great opportunities to grow your career. Not only can being shortlisted get you noticed by publishers and agents, but if you win you might get a large cash prize, or even publication. Even smaller competitions are a great way to build your confidence and get you used to the submission process. You can look through AWM competition listings here.
Attending writers festivals and conferences, either as a general audience member or as a guest/panelist is also a great way to build your career. AWM has a list of literary events here, and an event calendar here.
You can also develop your career by winning residencies, grants, and fellowships. These are designed to support you during your writing career for a specified period of time, by guaranteeing you a level of income or providing you time and space to work away from your usual hectic life. You can check out a list of residencies, grants, and fellowships on AWM here.
Queensland Writers Centre also has a guide on developing professional relationships.
My work has been rejected so many times. Should I just give up?
Most writers will be rejected hundreds of times throughout their careers. You can’t control whether you are published or not – all you can control is whether you write the best things that you can. Accept that rejection, however uncomfortable, is a healthy part of your writing career. Push through it. Keep writing and submitting. Write lots of different things.