Don’t Give Up Your Author Dreams

When I was seven years-old I decided I was going to be a writer. When I was a teen bookworm and the most uncool girl in school, I realized that the type of writer I wanted to be was an author. I wanted to change the world with my words.

But life had other plans for me. Becoming an author is hard. Writing a book is just the start. A first book is rarely ready for publication, and it rarely earns instant income. I found myself working in insurance, which was as far away from my dreams as I could possibly get. I spent the next fifteen years or so trying to find my way back to my chosen career and in 2009 my young adult novel, Letters to Leonardo was published by Walker Books Australia, and I felt like I’d finally made it. Readers wrote to me that they loved my book. I received some very nice royalties and a lot of great reviews.

But Letters to Leonardo wasn’t published outside Australia and my dreams of reaching readers all over the world with this book didn’t eventuate.

But out of all the books I have written in the last twenty years, Letters to Leonardo is one that’s close to my heart. Matt’s story was inspired by something that really happened. His mother was based on a real person I knew, and some of the events in the story actually happened. I couldn’t let his story finish there. In the back of my mind I always felt that the journey for Letters to Leonardo wasn’t over yet.

Jump to January this year, and I was on a writer’s retreat with dear friends and fellow writers and illustrators, Edna Cabcabin Moran and Laura Elliott in the USA. Both of them had read Letters to Leonardo. Both of them wanted to see it published outside Australia. Both of them believed in Matt and his story. Edna suggested I send the manuscript to US publisher, Mazo Publishers who republish books like Letters to Leonardo.

I worked on the manuscript incorporating some of the skills I’d acquired in the last ten years.  I didn’t change the essence of the story, but I worked on the characters and events.

I submitted the manuscript to Mazo Publishers via their online form, and a month later I had a contract. They have been so wonderful to work with, so enthusiastic about Letters to Leonardo, so dedicated to getting Matt’s story out into the hands of a whole new generation of readers. And  I’ve  been  so  fortunate  to  have  my  dear  friend  and  talented  creator, Tania McCartney  design  this  cover, which I love so much.

Letters to Leonardo is now available in Australia again. It’s also available in the US, UK and other parts of the world at the publisher’s website and in bookstores.

If you have a story you believe in, and being an author is all you’ve ever wanted, don’t give up. It took me ten years to first publication in Australia and another ten to get Letters to Leonardo out into the wider world. But it has been an amazing journey and I’ve learnt so much along the way. And I’ve had letters from readers telling me how my book really did change their life.

I’d love to hear your stories about how perseverance and love for your story has led to publication. Feel free to share in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

Letters to Leonardo is the story of a boy who receives a fifteenth birthday card from the mother he thought was dead. He decides to look for her and find out why she has been absent from his life, and why his father lied to him about her death. Matt helps make sense of his feelings of betrayal and confusion by writing to his dead idol, Leonardo da Vinci. But bringing his mother back into his life doesn’t have the outcome he expected.

It can be purchased direct from the publisher, Mazo Publishers and from bookstores.

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Pitching Your Work at Conferences

Pitching your story to a publisher/agent panel is nerve wracking to say the least. I’ve done it twice and now I’m hanging up my pitching shoes, but I wanted to share the things I’ve learned to help anyone planning to pitch their work at a conference.

Although it’s scary, pitching offers a chance to hone your story concept, to get professional feedback on your work, and hopefully get some interest from the panel.

WHY YOU SHOULD DO IT

  1. It’s a chance to step out of your comfort zone, and make new publishing contacts. A little fear can be good for your creativity 🙂
  2. When you prepare your pitch it helps you get your head around what your story is really about. If you can’t summarise it succinctly enough to pitch, it might mean that you have too much going on, or that your story concept isn’t strong enough. Do you know who your character really is? Is there enough at stake for them?
  3. It helps you really own your story

The panel itself is actually the second step. First you have to get past the selection committee, and to do this your story concept needs to be fresh and clear, and your writing strong.

HOW TO CONVEY THE AWESOMENESS OF YOUR STORY

When it comes to presenting to the panel, there are some things you can do to help calm your nerves, and convey how truly awesome your story is.

I. I usually start with my personal connection to the story … this tells the publisher something about me and why I had to write this piece … and why I am the person to write it. For example, when I pitched my WW2 holocaust novel, Beyond Belief, I mentioned that my father had fled Austria because of Hitler, and this was my connection to the story.

2. Don’t try to tell the whole story. You need to say who your main character is, and what their story problem is and how it’s about to get even worse. Leave the panel wanting to know more.

3. Keep it simple. Don’t confuse people with detail. Focus on the high points of your story – the best bits, these are probably the parts you enjoyed writing most. You have to convey the essence of your book.

4. Make your pitch clear and coherent. In a way, the publisher panel is under just as much pressure as you are. They have to listen to your pitch, and give ‘on the spot’ feedback. Make it easy for them. Give them a story concept that can be summed up in a short paragraph, one that’s easy for them to comprehend.

For example, 12 year-old Abby is mortified when her embarrassing parents sign them all up for reality tv show, Happy Families. To make matters worse, Abby discovers one of the other contestants Is her arch enemy Melissa Hill with the perfect family. Melissa is going to make her life hell, but Abby can’t back out now because her parents desperately need the prize money to save them from bankruptcy.

Here I introduce the character and her story problem. I make things even worse for her, and I show what’s at stake and why she has to work through her problem.

5. Go to bookstores and libraries and research competitor books in the marketplace. If you have time, in your pitch, state why your book is unique and why it will appeal to readers.

6. Remember that agents and publishers are real people. They can relate. They may have a dog like yours, an allergy to capsicums or suffer from bad hair days. They are people and they want to hear your story so be proud to tell it.

7. Be prepared for questions. You know your story backwards, but the people you are pitching to won’t have read it. So try and anticipate questions that might be asked and have answers prepared.

8. Plan to read about one page of your work. You only have three minutes to sell yourself and your story. Your writing will speak for itself so one page is plenty. If you try to read too much, you’ll find yourself talking too fast, and the beauty of your writing won’t be clearly conveyed. Allow yourself time to get the panel connected with your character, engaged with your story and wowed by your writing. 3 minutes is not a long time.

You might decide to edit the first pages just for the pitch … so you can give your reading the most impact. You don’t have long to introduce the main character and hook people into their story.

9. Prepare and practice your pitch. Don’t go in cold turkey. Prepare what you are going to say in advance and practice, practice, practice. Practice it in front of your mirror, your dog, your cat, your goat or anyone who’ll listen.

10. When you practice your pitch listen to feedback. If someone says they’re not sure about something, your concept is unclear or your story doesn’t excite them … then keep working on your pitch. All is not lost. Your pitch just needs honing.

Even if you don’t plan to pitch publicly, preparing a pitch is actually a great activity to do in order to help you get to the heart of your story.

EXPECTATIONS

Even if publishers love the sound of your story, don’t expect them to sign you up on the spot. They will want to read the whole thing. The pitching helps them get to know you and whether they think they could work with you … and it helps them get to know your story.

Don’t be disappointed if they don’t jump on your pitch straight away. Look at it as information gathering … it’s a chance to test the viability of your concept … and for you to assess which publishers you might like to work with.

Have fun and be proud of your story … and the fact that you have taken this brave step.

Good luck 🙂

If you have any additional tips on pitching, please feel free to include them in a comment below.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this post if you think it might be helpful to others.

Dee

A Children’s Story in Sand

Last weekend I experienced the Enchanted Forest Sand Sculpture Adventure at Dromkeen in Riddells Creek.

The exhibition has been sculpted by 11 incredible artists from around the world, each one making a contribution to a wonderful children’s adventure story, The Enchanted Forest, using 300 tonnes of sand.

The eleven sculptures are such a unique and beautiful way to tell a children’s story. There was a unicorn, and all sorts of wonderful fantastical characters created in sand.

Each sculpture was completed in just 10 days by artists who travel around the world creating masterpieces from sand, snow, ice, and sometimes, concrete and even pumpkins.

Unicorn

The Enchanted Forest Sand Sculpture Adventure is an inspiring example of how vision and passion for your art can lead to something truly beautiful.

Baby unicorn

Two-time Australian Sand Sculpture Champion, Leo Vamvalis was our tour guide, explaining how each sculpture was created, and what it represented.

Pegasus

The Enchanted Forest Sand Sculpture Adventure  is open at Dromkeen in Riddells Creek from Wednesdays to Sundays, 10.30 am to 5.00pm and you can buy tickets here for just $15 for adults, $7 for kids under 13, and children 3 and under are admitted free.

Whether you’re an art lover, a lover of children’s stories, an adult or a child, you will love this exhibition. It’s under cover, so it’s open all weathers.

How amazing is the detail on this sculpture made of sand?

Mentone Public Library – A Hidden Gem

Last weekend, I had the most wonderful visit to the Mentone Public Library.

I had been asked to talk about my writing journey by Julia Reichstein, a volunteer at Mentone Public Library, and also at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick, which provided so much support and assistance with my research for Beyond Belief.

Earlier this year, when I mentioned to a Mentone resident at a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting that I was going to be speaking at her library, she looked at me bewildered, and said, “You must mean Cheltenham. Mentone doesn’t have a library.”

But it does!

Mentone Public Library is situated in a quaint little building in the middle of the Coles Car Park, not easy to find unless you are ‘in the know’. Thanks to Julia’s efficiency in making sure that everything was perfect for my visit, I was able to find my way. She had given me great directions explaining exactly where to go.The library has been running since 1925, just prior to the beginning of the Great Depression. It was started by a group of people seeking to lift flagging spirits and provide community support for locals who had fallen on hard times.

Today, the library is still run by volunteers, and going strong. It collects and preserves works by local historians, and is an enthusiastic supporter of local (and visiting) authors and their works. It is funded by annual subscriptions, and is an intimate and inspiring space with an eclectic collection.

I received a warm welcome from Julia, and President, Tony, and a room full of book lovers and writers.

It was so much fun to talk books and writing with such an enthusiastic group of all ages.

Afterwards, there were book sales and signings, followed by lunch at a quaint Mentone Cafe.

Thanks Julia and Tony for inviting me to visit your fascinating library. I enjoyed becoming part of its history.

Photos courtesy of Julia Reichstein.

Welcome Amber Jepsen

Recently, I was so lucky to spend time with talented writer and reviewer Amber Jepsen. Amber’s first book, Highshire Farm – Poultry Passion was published when she was 12 years-old.

I’ve invited her to visit my blog and share her writing story and her wonderful reviews of  At the End of Holyrood Lane and Midnight At The Library.

MEET AMBER

My name is Amber Jepsen and I’m a 15 year old student in Year 10. I’m currently completing my work experience with Dee White, which has been an amazing opportunity and has allowed me to develop in my writing.

I’m a keen writer myself, with a particular interest in creative writing and story telling. Writing has always been a passion of mine, writing my first children’s book at the age of 10 and publishing at 12.

I use writing as a way to unwind from my constantly busy life of being in senior years at high school, living on farm with many animals and being in a wheelchair. Whenever inspiration hits me from the world around, I find myself writing away.

AT THE END OF HOLYROOD LANE

Dimity Powell’s At The End Of Holyrood Lane depicts the beautiful story of a girl named Flick, who struggles to cope with the frequent storms that throws her world into darkness.

Alongside Nicky Johnston’s gorgeous watercolour illustrations, Powell captures the sheer vulnerability and isolation that children can experience when they feel as though they are no longer in control of the world around them.

The story explores the idea of facing our problems and seeking help when needed, one which we can all relate to at some point in our own lives. The simple imagery and evocative descriptions convey the central message that when you’re feeling helpless and insignificant, reaching out for help can make everything that little bit better.

At The End Of Holyrood Lane is written by Dimity Powell,  illustrated by Nicky Johnston, and published by EK Books, and is a wonderful read for all.

– Reviewed by Amber Jepsen

MIDNIGHT AT THE LIBRARY

Midnight At The Library by Ursula Dubosarsky tells the tale of a little book’s journey from being written and read and forgotten and lost.

Within this book, Dubosarsky has crafted a beautiful style of storytelling, one that lets the imagination run free as you follow the seemingly harsh lifecycle of a book.

With Ron Brook’s captivating illustrations, you find yourself lost within the story as a connection is built between yourself and the little book.

It really is a beautiful tale told through the perfect combination of visual and written storytelling. Midnight At The Library is written by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Ron Brooks and published by NLA Publishing. This is a tale that will not be forgotten.

– Reviewed by Amber Jepsen

Presenting at the 2018 Sharjah International Book Fair

I was lucky to be invited to present writing workshops for kids at the 2018 Sharjah International Book Fair, the third largest in the world after Frankfurt and London.

It was huge … and amazing.

Finger puppets were popular inspiration for stories

I presented 12 writing workshops over 6 days to children aged 4 to 14.

On Kid’s Day, 50,000 young book and writing enthusiasts swarmed through the doors. It was so wonderful to see so many kids inspired by books.

The 2018 Sharjah International Book Fair had well over  2 million visitors ( just under 1/12 of Australia’s entire population).

The young writers loved my Australian puppets

The kids in my workshops were so beautiful and enthusiastic, and although there were some language barriers, puppets and rainbows seemed able to traverse them.

Writers performing their stories.

It was such a great experience for me as a writer … and also as a workshop presenter … improvising to meet needs I had not previously encountered.

With Heba my wonderful Sharjah helper

I was fortunate, to have two amazing helpers, my husband, Michael and my collaborator, Heba.

She made sure we had everything we needed for the workshops. She adores children, and you could see that the feeling was mutual.

It was an inspiration for me to see so many kids getting excited about books and reading.

 

The kids loved Reena’s Rainbow and were so creative, writing about and drawing rainbows. There were amazing stories, poems and even an acrostic rainbow song by the very talented Ishana.

She wrote this song in our one hour workshop and then performed it. I’m sure we will see her books on the shelves one day … or hear her on the air waves.

There were so many other inspiring and talented young writers at the book fair.

SIGHTS OF SHARJAH

Sharjah was a beautiful place, and we received a very warm welcome.

The buildings with the domed roof and the one to the left of it (partially in the pic) are the book fair. It was huge.

So wonderful to share this experience with other very talented Australian Kidlit creators, Catherine Pelosi, Kat Apel and Claire Richards

 

 

 

 

International Author Sails in to DeeScribe Writing

Today I’m very excited to welcome dear friend and fellow SCBWI Nevada mentee, Mina Witteman to my blog.

Mina is an amazing international author and editor, and today she’s sharing the inspiring story of how genetics, a love of books, and a lifetime of sailing led to the creation of her hugely successful Boreas series for middle grade readers.

Mina will tell us how she weaves facts and reality into her extraordinary fiction.

ABOUT MINA

Mina writes in English and Dutch, and has seven middle grade adventure novels out in the Netherlands, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book. She is currently working on an English novel for Young Adults and an English middle grade novel.

She debuted in 2005 with De wraak van Deedee (Deedee’s Revenge), followed by two more middle grade adventure novels with Van Goor Children’s Books. In 2010 she transferred to Ploegsma Children’s Book Publishers, one of the oldest and most prestigious children’s book publishers in the Netherlands, where her Boreas series is published. The Boreas series tell the story of twelve-year-old Boreas who circumnavigates the world with his parents on a sailboat. The first book, Boreas en de zeven zeeën (Boreas and the Seven Seas ), came out in June 2015 and received rave reviews. Boreas en de duizend eilanden (Boreas and the Thousand Islands) was published in April 2016 and was equally praised, just like book 3 in the series, Boreas en de vier windstreken (Boreas and the Four Winds) that saw the light in 2017. Book 4, Boreas en de vijftien vrienden (Boreas and the Fifteen Friends) is scheduled to come out in 2018.

She was honored to write a series of 21 short stories with illustrations of famous Dutch illustrator Fiep Westendorp. The series was published in Bobo Children’s Magazine. Recent short stories are published in the famous read-aloud anthologies of Ploegsma Children’s Books. She is the proud author of a Dutch Little Golden Book, Mia’s Nest (Rubinstein Publishing, 2014), followed by a full-version Spanish edition, El nido de Mia (Panamericana, 2016).

Mina is a seasoned book editor, trained through the University of Amsterdam’s Dual Master Book Editing. She is an certified teacher creative writing (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) and teaches and coaches budding and published writers alike. Mina is SCBWI’s International Published Authors’ Coordinator and a founding member of the successful SCBWI Europolitan Conferences. Mina is member of the EU Planning Committee of the SCBWI British Isles’ Undiscovered Voices Competition for unagented and unpublished writers and illustrators and a nominating body for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and a long-time jury member for the Young Authors Fiction Festival of the American Library in Paris. She is the Program Associate Children and Young Adults for the Bay Area Book Festival, and lives in   Berkeley, California.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WRITING – Mina’s story

I grew up in a small town in the Netherlands. Tucked away in the crown of a knotted linden tree, I read book after book, fiction and non-fiction, books that landed me in adventures on far shores, books that taught me history and mythology, books that let me explore nature and science. I loved these books and their exciting unfamiliar worlds. I often wished I could live in them for a while. Reading sparked a fire that, to this date, hasn’t gone out. But there was more that ignited this longing to look further than my own world. My father was an architect and a sailor with a lifelong dream to sail around the world. He instilled in me a love for science, for the sea and the wind. My mother showed me how to catch the tiniest details of life and nature, like a caterpillar on a tree branch or a quicksilver rabbit in a faraway field, gone in an eye’s blink. She also had the gift of storytelling, which she passed on to me. With strands like that coiled around each other and forming my DNA, it was inevitable that some day I myself would write thrilling adventures on far shores.

It wasn’t until I had scattered my mother’s ashes in the sea and bid my father fair winds and following seas, that Boreas was born. Boreas, a young boy named after the Greek god of the northern wind, who circumnavigates the world with his parents on their sailboat the Argo. I couldn’t be happier when Ploegsma, one of the oldest and most prestigious Dutch children’s publishing houses, decided to publish the series.

I wanted the series to appeal to all children, no matter where they lived, to girls and boys, to sailors and to readers who prefer solid ground. Like the stories that captivated me when I was young, I wanted Boreas’s journey to reflect life and the real world in all its facets. I could not just include fun and games; I had to add life’s hardships and the world’s challenges, as well. My biggest hurdle was that I love—as in LOVE!—facts. If I come across something, say celestial navigation, I find out every little detail about it. And I’m super eager to share that knowledge. But I didn’t want to scuttle Boreas’s fast-paced adventures by dumping facts.

My mother’s storytelling gift threw me a lifebuoy. While perusing the logbooks she kept during the twelve years she and my father spent sailing, I realized Boreas had to keep a logbook, too. So, I alternated riveting adventures, ashore and at sea, with more reflective logbook pages where I could sprinkle in my fun facts, ranging from the use of marine signal flags to, yes, celestial navigation, from recipes of dishes typical to the countries Boreas visits to wildlife to plastic pollution.

Most important to me was that I portrayed events, countries and cultures without cloaking the harsher sides of life. I juxtaposed bleaker stories with lighter ones to find a healthy balance in presenting the good and the bad for my young middle grade readers. My Dutch candor keeps me from prettifying the truth. If there is no happy end in real life, like when Boreas and his parents crash into the self-built raft of a young refugee, trying cross the English Channel, I won’t forge a happy ending nor will I leave my readers in despair. I do want to give hope and the logbook pages turned out to be a perfect tool for that. Boreas looks back on events like this, asking himself questions: What is fair and what is unfair? How would he solve the situation if he were in charge? Readers, but also teachers and librarians love the books, as they not just give the joy of reading, but offer talking points for discussions, while sneaking in information and facts that can deepen my readers understanding of the world.

Thanks, Mina for sharing your amazing story with us. If you have questions for Mina, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this blog.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee