Tuesday Writing Tips – The Journey to Publication

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverAs we all know, getting published is hard…very hard.

This post is dedicated to Kelly McDonald, a dedicated and very talented emerging author and illustrator who asked me to post about my journey to publication.

So, Kelly, here’s the story of how my debut YA novel, Letters to Leonardo came to be a published book.

In 2000 I started developing the plot for a story idea that had been in my head for some years – ever since a friend told me about a man she worked with who thought his mother was dead. When this man turned 21, he received a letter from his mother and it turned out she wasn’t dead, but had been in a mental institution all that time.

I wanted to write for young adults so I decided that my story character would be fifteen, and in 2001 I started writing his story in earnest.

In 2002 I was awarded a mentorship through the Vic Writer’s Centre. I highly recommend mentorships and I know writers who have had fabulous experiences, but unfortunately, my mentorship for Letters to Leonardo was not a match made in heaven.

My mentor was nice, but she didn’t share my vision for my story. In fact we didn’t really agree on anything. She thought my story should be in third person, I had written it in first. She didn’t want me to use Leonardo da Vinci as a mentor figure for my character because she said that teens would not have heard of him – she talked me into using Buzz Aldrin instead. She thought my main character shouldn’t be artistic because she said there were too many stories about artistic teens.

So, after my mentorship, I ended up with a book called Space about a boy who was mad about astronomy and had Buzz Aldrin as his mentor.

It didn’t feel like my book anymore but being a very new writer, I believed that my much published mentor knew best.

I received some positive feedback from publishers about the quality of the writing, but the astute publisher at Allen & Unwin pointed out that something was missing. She was right, that missing something was ‘me’. It wasn’t my story anymore. The publisher suggested that I go back and rewrite the story the way I had originally intended. So back I went to my original manuscript Letters to Leonardo and started again from scratch.

In 2006, Letters to Leonardo came 3rd in the YA category of the CYA competition.

Encouraged by this, I spent the next 18 months or so rewriting and working on my manuscript. Then in 2008, I had it assessed by Margaret Hamilton at the SCBWI Sydney Conference.

Margaret loved the manuscript and she very generously took me around at the conference and introduced me to publishers and suggested they read my work.

3 months later, Walker Books Australia offered to publish Letters to Leonardo and it was released about 12 months later.

From initial draft to published manuscript, I’ve estimated that  Letters to Leonardo took about 1000 hours and a million words on paper.

So you can imagine how thrilling it was for me to finally see my book in print:)

Based on my experience, here are my tips on navigating the road to publication.

  1. Never give up
  2. If you believe in your story, be patient until you find someone else who believes in it too.
  3. Rework and rewrite your story until it’s the best it can be. Try not to think about how long it is taking. You usually only get once chance to submit to a publisher or agent so don’t blow it. Don’t send your manuscript off too early.
  4. Don’t lose sight of your vision for your story.
  5. Go to conferences so you can meet the publishers who actually publish your kind of story. But be strategic. Do your research. Find out who is publishing your kind of story and what conferences they are going to. Alternatively, if you have found a conference you like the look of, then research the delegates from that conference and find out which ones would be best to pitch to, or get an assessment from.
  6. Take advantage of manuscript assessment and pitch opportunities at conferences but only if they are with publishers or agents who you actually want to publish with – they need to be experienced in and have a love for your genre.  There’s no point in getting your fantasy novel assessed by a non fiction picture book writer.
  7. Do a professional writing and editing course. TAFE courses are particularly useful because the classes are usually taught by writers who are working in their field so you get lots of practical advice.
  8. Find a group of likeminded writers who will give you honest, constructive feedback on your work – writers who want the best for you so they will support you in a positive way.
  9. Read and read and read – particularly in the genre you are writing. Study the books you read – look at how other authors have written your favourite books. Why did you like these books? How did the author hook you in? How did the author keep you hooked? How did the author bring everything together for a satisfying resolution?
  10. Once your manuscript is ‘finished’ don’t send it out straight away. Put it aside for a couple of months and if you still love it when you get it out again, now could be the time to send it.

I hope you found these tips helpful. If you have other questions about my road to publication, please feel free to ask them in the comments section of this post.

If you have additional tips to share based on your road to publication, we’d love to hear them too.

Happy writing:)

Dee

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15 thoughts on “Tuesday Writing Tips – The Journey to Publication

  1. Thanks Dee! Wow, that was a long road to publication, but so worth it! I am glad you re wrote it back to Leonardo, it worked so well.
    I really enjoyed reading this, and once again you have inspired me to dust off my pants and keep on chugging.
    I often make the mistake of writing something new, getting all excited, flinging it to my writers group, and then realise a week or so later that the idea might be wonderful… but boy do I need to work on it.
    It is now apparent why when you asses my work, you may make a suggestion here or there, but ultimately leave the story in my hands. I like that, very much. As a newbie trying to get it right, you do tend to take on board everything thrown at you, and i like how you guide me, but dont take over. Helps me to learn too.
    Thanks Dee, loved this.

  2. Thanks Kelly,

    I’m so glad this post inspired you.

    I am conscious of trying not to interfere with your vision for your story, and I think part of this does come from my own experience of having mentored someone who took over my manuscript.

    You’re right, when you first start out, your first instinct is to take on the advice of experienced authors, but now I always try to measure that advice against why I am writing this story and how I want it to develop,

    Unfortunately, the journey to publication is rarely easy for anyone, but it’s definitely worth it when people read and respond to what you have written:)

    I did a lot of research for Letters to Leonardo and discovered that Leonardo da Vinci did a 13 year apprenticeship. That helped me be patient and realise that the writing of the manuscript was a learning process – and couldn’t be done in a hurry:)

    I hope you have a great writing week.

    Dee

  3. Great recounting. I totally agree that you should write the story as YOU see it, not follow someone else’s idea for your story. And your tips are great, too. Thanks for this post.

  4. Thanks for sharing your journey, Dee, that’s a really interesting experience. I love reading about writers’ paths to publication, everybody’s is different. I guess the point of a mentor is someone who not only shares your vision, but with the benefit of their experience can see further than you; it must have been very disappointing to have your judgement questioned in htat way. Ah, well, at least she didn’t suggest replacing Leonardo with a dead rock star.

  5. That’s true Jo,

    A mentor also has to be able to see beyond. All was not lost. The mentorship was a really good learning experience for me in so many ways. I learnt a lot about Buzz Aldrin for starters – never know when that information will come in handy:) But seriously, it taught me a lot about myself as a writer and about the writing and mentoring process. And yes, I’m certainly glad Leonardo wasn’t replaced with a dead rock star:)

    Dee

  6. I really enjoyed reading your journey to publication and the tips you gave. And I’m glad that in the end you were able to write your story the way you wanted to. Interesting to hear that you got your story idea from something that really happened. I had been wondering how you came up with the idea. I need to read the newspaper more often and look for interesting titles that could be turned into a story.

  7. Thanks Rachel:)

    I learnt a lot from the experience.

    Real life and newspapers are definitely great sources of inspiration for stories.

    I hope your writing is going well:)

    Dee

  8. Thanks for sharing your journey Dee, it is always encouraging to hear other people’s road to success. Thanks too to Kelly for suggesting this post be written.

  9. “From initial draft to published manuscript, I’ve estimated that Letters to Leonardo took about 1000 hours and a million words on paper.”

    Wow! That is amazing. Well done for reclaiming your story and seeing it to publication.

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