Tania McCartney is an author, editor, publisher and founder of well-respected children’s literature site, Kids Book Review. She is an experienced speaker, magazine and web writer, photographer and marshmallow gobbler. She is the author of the popular Riley the Little Aviator series of travelogue picture books, and is both published and self-published in children’s fiction and adult non-fiction.
Tania is visiting my blog on her tour to celebrate the release of her latest book, Riley and the Grumpy Wombat (published by Ford Street Publishing)
As well as being an inspiring creator and marketer extraordinaire, Tania is also a kind and generous person and has agreed to share her tips here today.
Some writers started young. Some started yesterday. Some are starting as I type, but they all have one thing in common: they write. And so begins the first of my Top 10 Writing Tips for anyone keen to make a dent in this tightly-crammed world of fabulous literary talent.
Tip Number 1 – Write
Yes, that’s right. Writers write. And they do so with tenacity, chutzpah and unfailing self-belief. Well, that’s the ideal, anyway. Truth be told, even the most established, successful and famous authors have doubts about their work.
Doubts, insecurities, uncertainty – any creative endeavor is fraught with these very real emotions – but it’s the writers who manage to overcome emotion and focus on productivity and writing from the heart, that truly succeed.
Work can always be edited and improved upon. It can’t be edited or improved upon if nothing has been written.
Write about the things that interest you, the things you adore, the things that make you smile, laugh or enliven you. It will show in your writing. It will make the words come alive.
I know some authors will tell you to explore what you don’t know – but I prefer to call this ‘research’. Sure, I could research and write about the evolution of the V8 engine, but I just don’t want to, thanksverymuch. I don’t know anything about V8s but I also don’t WANT to know. I want to write about what I know and love because I will do it well and here’s a thought – I’ll have fun doing it.
Writing should be fun, not a chore.
Tip Number 3 – Be Original
Don’t be tempted to ‘copy’ a successful idea that already exists on the market. Firstly, it simply may not resonate with your style, your voice or what you love to write about. Successful books are those written from the heart and with passion about the subject matter – not formatted against a pre-existing idea.
Publishers are always on the lookout for something ‘new’ – something that will stand out in an overstocked market… think outside the square when it comes to your book idea. Do we really need another fairy book on the market? What about a book on pixies instead? Often the greatest ‘original’ shift can be very simple.
Tip Number 4 – Develop Your Voice
Even the most original, clever and perfectly woven stories can suffer if they don’t ring out with a unique and beautiful voice. Incandescent, original writing that doesn’t rely on stereotypical or adjective-laden descriptives or mundane structure, allows the reader to skip along merrily with the text, and truly become absorbed in the storyline.
A book that plods along with clumsy or complicated writing is the equivalent of a popcorn-munching neighbour in a movie theatre – whose every crunch hauls you away from the magic of the film and back to ‘reality’.
Write clearly and creatively. Learn to edit and rework. Do it over and over again. Let your writing simmer, then come back to it later. Toss it up in the air and restructure it, if need be. And learn to let it go, if need be, and start all over again.
Work on the ‘voice’ of your work until it flows and meanders and doesn’t in the least bit get in the way of a great story.
Who are you writing for? Young adult? Primary school age? Toddlers? Who?
Carefully ponder this as you write and hold it close as the plot unfolds. Be certain you’re able to drag yourself back to this market as the story develops. Keep an eye on the words you use, the nature of the plot threads, the voice, the characterisations. Hone these elements to suit your audience, and you’ll save yourself a lot of rewrites later.
Never talk down to nor patronise when you write. Not even to toddlers.
Tip Number 6 – Watch Your Word Count
Whatever the style of book you’re writing, word count is a surprisingly large consideration.
Picture books should not exceed 500 to 600 words (for someone who reviews hundreds of children’s books a year, there’s nothing more frustrating to me than a picture book that is superfluous with the text, and fails to let the images do the talking). Junior Fiction generally runs between 10,000 and 30,000 words, depending on the age, and young adult may run anywhere from 30,000 to 70,000 words. Adult fiction – 70,000 to 100,000.
Whatever you write will probably be cut considerably by either yourself or your editor, so going a little over these figures is okay – but save yourself the time and energy of over-writing (and potentially complicating the plot) by keeping a solid eye on your word count.
Tip Number 7 – Push Through
Writer’s block? You better believe it exists, particularly if you’re working on a complicated novel.
Storyboarding or keeping a spreadsheet of the plot and characters may be helpful, but my own personal strategy for those agonizing moments of Blankdom, is to push through. Just keep writing. Don’t avoid writing, whatever you do. Don’t do the washing or go out. Keep going. It’s not easy, sure, but for me – pushing through and persisting, even if it means writing drivel, works every time. Suddenly, things begin to magically unfold – and the synchronicity and ease with which this happens never fails to astound me.
Tip Number 8 – Let it Simmer
So you’ve written a best seller and you think you’re kind of done, but you’re still not sure. OR you’ve sent it to a million publishers and you’ve got nothing but rejections. What to do?
Put it away. Let it simmer. Let the flavours deepen, and go back to it later. This could be a month later, or twenty years later. Looking at your work with a fresh eye is often just the tonic a book needs to become something More – something publishers will want to publish.
Tip Number 9 – Network
Share the agony with other agonized writers. Get some empathy happening here. Groan, moan, laugh, share, learn. Join your local writers’ group. Set up your own group. Network online and in person. Sharing your processes, your frustrations, your joy – your WORK – with others is absolutely priceless for your work and your sanity.
And you may just make some lifelong friends.
My number one piece of advice when it comes to writing books is one word: tenacity. If at first you don’t succeed… If it took Andy Griffiths ten years to have Just Tricking! accepted for publication, then you simply must accept, in your heart, that a rejection slip simply DOES NOT define the quality of your work.
Keep at it. Dust yourself off and keep going. A wise golfer once said “a hole-in-one is absolutely achievable – it just depends on how many times you’re willing to hit the ball.”
Polish up those golf clubs and keep on swinging.
Writing a book? EASY! Selling it? Not so easy. Whether you’re published or self-published, these tips on marketing your work effectively will hopefully nudge your sales in a positive direction.
Tip Number 1 – Branding
Your book is important, but let’s face it – it’s often the name of the author or illustrator that really carries the majority of sales. Thinking of yourself as a human ‘brand’ can help you maximize exposure so that every book you produce will fall under the umbrella of your authorship, and so attract a potentially larger market. People relate to people – and developing a personable presence is a wise and unexpected way to maximize your marketing potential.
Branding involves visuals – logos, colour, images – in a consistent, repetitive way. Do you have a logo for your business as an author or illustrator? Do you have a website and blog and other online presence that are visually tied together with colour or images or style? Are your book covers reflective of your brand (picture an Andy Griffiths book cover and you’ll know what I mean)? Do your emails have branded signatures? Your business cards and flyers and book trailers?
Think about this branding issue and how you can hone it to work for you. When someone glances at your book, do they instantly know it’s yours?
Tip Number 2 – Excellence
Always, always, always do everything with excellence. Dedicate your time and energy to your interviews, your websites, your events, your readings. Half-hearted effort will reap parallel results. Do a great job and you’ll be asked back again and again and will develop a reputation for being wonderful to work with – and producing great work. Make yourself an asset.
Tip Number 3 – Events
Events are a truly fabulous way to promote your work. And they don’t have to be expensive or difficult to produce. Book readings at schools, libraries or bookstores usually cost nothing but your time. Organising sponsorship for book launches (food, giveaways, goodie bag stuffing, entertainment) is surprisingly easy – and cost free.
Online events like this blog tour require nothing more than dedication to writing a stack of great articles.
This, of course, is a given. It’s almost free – just takes a little time – and has the potential for world-wide, constant market saturation.
Websites are nowhere near as daunting as they used to be. Blogger offers incredibly simple blog templates that can be played around with before publishing online, and for just US$10 a year, can be converted to an official website domain, complete with email addresses. For those not-so-confident net-users, almost any website-production process, like writing html, can be googled for instant answers.
It’s well worth the time investment of exploring the option of running your own site – it will save you much time and money – and is an essential and far-reaching marketing tool.
Tip Number 5 – Networking
Priceless. It’s the new word-of-mouth. Not only does it help you with market saturation, it is the best writing and book marketing school in the world. Authors and illustrators are notoriously supportive of each other (they ‘know what it’s like’!) and you will only be failing yourself if you don’t get involved on the social networking scene. You don’t need to live and breathe it – but at least set it in place and contribute regularly. You may just make some glorious friendships, too.
Number 6 – Book Trailers
Book trailers are the new calling card. They are quick and easy to make – you can either learn to do it yourself (Windows Movie Maker is good) or source someone to do it for you, relatively inexpensively. And trailers are yet another avenue for marketing your work. Kids and teachers love them and you can splash them all over YouTube – one of the busiest ‘marketplaces’ on the web.
Number 7 – Author Photo
Do you really want to represent your brand with a blurred, be-sunglassed photo of you on holiday in Ibiza fifteen years ago? That’s not branding.
Get yourself a bottle of wine, a friend who’s slightly handy with a camera, a neutral backdrop (bookshelves and a white, collared shirt, if you really must) and a series of props that relate to YOU and your work – and get snapping. Taking hundreds of photos, in natural light – and you’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll achieve a great author shot with little effort and expense.
If you create illustrated books, consider asking your wonderful illustrator to draw in your book characters, as Kieron Pratt has so expertly done with my own author photo. Oh – and keep the photo current.
Number 8 – Ancillary Products and Resources
You don’t need to set up a production line in China, but offering that little something ‘extra’ – whether it be teachers’ notes, magnets, printable paper dolls of your book character, colouring sheets, online writing workshops (the list is endless) – is a prime way to attract a whole other market to your work. Offering ’something for nothing’ is a great route to more market saturation.
Product sells product. This is why book series do so well – both from a branding perspective and from a ‘well-stocked’ perspective. If you have more in the pipeline, more on the shelves, more coming, you will receive more exposure, and each book will link into the next. You don’t want to be a one-hit wonder – more books sell more books.
Number 10 – Keep At It
Unless you want to change your career path, you can’t stop marketing your books. Ever. A publisher can only do so much (they have other books to promote, too, and most books have a relatively short shelf life), and a proactive self-promoting author can sometimes make or break a book’s success. Commitment to promoting your own work is a truly vital marketing component.
As you can see, Tania is a wealth of information and ideas. If you’d like to follow the rest of her blog tour, you can find her itinerary here. Tomorrow, Tania and Riley are visiting my other blog, Kids’ Book Capers on their journey through cyberspace.