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.

Why School Visits Make You a Better Book Creator

Book Week isn’t just a fabulous chance to celebrate books and their creation.

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverIt’s a chance for writers and illustrators to get out into schools and connect with our readers, to talk about our books and to talk about their stories – and their creative dreams.

Yesterday I visited Gisborne Primary School. I spoke to about 120 Grade 5s and 6s about what it was like being an author, and they had some amazing questions for me.

I also presented a workshop to 15 kids in Grades 3 to 6 who had won the right to attend the workshop by creating a winning story in the school’s story writing competition.

IMAG1578These kids were amazing. They had an incredibly diverse range of characters and story ideas. Their villains ranged from wicked grandmas to a gummy bear army. Their heroes ranged from small children to adult super heroes.

Whenever I work with young writers it always reminds me of what a valuable thing our imagination is.

Kids are not restricted in their thinking by what kind of story might sell or what they think a reader might want. Kids write from the heart. They write with original voices, they write the story they are compelled to tell.

IMAG1579So apart from the magic of working with young writers, and the satisfaction we get from sharing our love of creating with them, there’s a lot we can learn from our school visit experiences.

  1.  Don’t second guess yourself – telling yourself your story idea won’t work. If you like it, run with it and see how far it takes you.
  2. Don’t be hung up on what readers or publishers might want, write the story you want to tell.
  3. Enjoy writing for the sake of writing – because it’s fun and it’s something you love to do.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and brainstorm with others if you’ve reached a dead end with a story idea.
  5. Push the boundaries of your imagination – step outside your comfort zone and try new things: new genre, new writing styles, new ideas.

IMAG1580Thanks to the staff and students of Gisborne Primary for inviting me into your school and reminding me why I love being a writer.

Happy Book Week and Happy writing:)

Dee

Letters to Leonardo Goes Global

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverI’m thrilled to say that from 1st September 2014, Letters to Leonardo is available as an e-book so it will now be available to my readers and writerly friends in other parts of the world.

You can buy a copy here:

  • Amazon
  • iTunes
  • Kobo
  • JBHiFiNow ebooks
  • Bookworld
  • Ebooks.com

Or read what readers have said about letters to Leonardo here:

Writer’s Masterclass for Teens

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverI’m going to be running a full day writing workshop for students in Years 7, 8 and 9 in July.

My workshop titled, ‘From Portrait to Prose’ will incorporate my experiences writing Letters to Leonardo.

I’ll go through the process of how I used paintings by Leonardo da Vinci as inspiration for events and settings in the story.

My workshop will take writers through the process of how to develop a character from a photo or a portrait, and how you can use this character to write a compelling story.

The workshop will be held in Oakleigh, Melbourne on 3rd July and places are limited.

For more information and bookings see the WriteAwayWithMe website

Hope to see you there.

Dee

It’s Never Too Late to Set Writing Goals

IMG_0015Yesterday I was chatting with my crit buddy, Alison Reynolds about all the things we plan to do in the next 6 to 12 months.

We are both the kind of writers who always have a lot of projects we’re working on at once – so it’s easy to get distracted from what we’re supposed to be working on.

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverIn fact, sometimes we have so much going on that it’s hard to know what to work on first.

For me, having too many things to do can be a source of procrastination – not knowing where to start causes me to not to get much done at all.

At the moment I’m working on my sequel to Letters to Leonardo, my SCBWI Nevada mentorship novel, a new chapter book series, my YA trilogy and a couple of picture books.  It’s kind of the way I work sometimes – chaos:)

That’s why I need to sometimes look to the horizon, look beyond the thing I’m currently working on and plan the journey ahead.

Lake Taupo at SunsetAlison’s list had a similar number of WIP to mine – a similar lack of direction.

So, while we sat in a cafe overlooking the Yarra river, we set our writing goals for the next six months to try and keep our projects on track.

SOME GOAL SETTING TIPS

  1. Be specific about what you want to achieve.
  2. Identify the steps you will need to take to achieve this – split your goals up into achievable  stages.  For example, first draft, critique, edit first draft, write next draft, write next draft, write synopsis, write query letter, identify potential markets for your work, submit, follow up etc. Set a deadline for each of these tasks.
  3. Be flexible – don’t be afraid to change your goals according to circumstances. For example, when my feedback comes back from my mentor, I’ll be going back to working on my mentorship novel.
  4. Talk over your writing goals with a writing buddy. This can help you get things in perspective and work out where your priorities are.
  5. Set goals that inspire you. Your goals have to be meaningful.
  6. Commit your goals to writing – this makes them more ‘real’.
  7. Share these goals with someone – this makes you accountable for achieving them.
  8. Regularly review and update your goals.
  9. Set some goals that are very easy to achieve – this will give you a sense of satisfaction – something to ‘tick off’ – something to give you incentive to keep going.
  10. Set short term and long term goals that can be measured. Short term goals might be things like how many hours you are going to devote to your writing each week. Long term goals would include submission and editing deadlines that you set yourself.

If you have any other goal setting tips, feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and goal setting:)

Dee

P.S. if you are looking for a crit buddy, you may find one here: https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/find-a-writing-buddy/

 

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

Dee's book covers

HOW TO DISGUISE THE TRUE BITS IN YOUR STORY – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

A lot of what I write is based on something that actually happened. My YA novel Street Racer was written after I read an article in the paper about someone involved in a street racing accident.

Hope for Hanna is based on real events that happened to a number of people and Harry’s Goldfield Adventure (coming out August 2010) has a factual setting, but the story is purely fictional.

My YA novel Letters to Leonardo, started with a story that was told to me by a friend, and one of the book’s characters is a person that I actually know.

SO, WHY CHANGE FACT INTO FICTION?

If you’re writing a biography or an autobiography there is no need to turn fact into fiction – in this instance, it’s best to stick to the facts.

When I wrote A Duel of Words, I had to be creative about the way I told Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson’s story, but I had to be meticulous about the factual detail.

But if you’re writing a novel and making things up about your characters, you need to change the facts because:

  • What you make up could offend or hurt someone if you name a real person.
  • Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction and people wont’ believe it. In high school I had to write a love story so I wrote about how my parents first met. The teacher’s comment was that the story was well written but ‘not credible’. (Even though it was all true).

HOW TO CHANGE FACT INTO FICTION

To me there are two steps you need to take to disguise the true bits in your story.

  1. Make the physical changes to the detail.
  2. Make the emotional changes inside you.

HOW TO MAKE THE PHYSICAL CHANGES

Letters to Leonardo is based on some real people, real events and real places. I spent a lot of time creating new scenarios, places, people and events so that I could disguise the things and people that could be recognised. Here are some of the steps you can take to hide the ‘true bits’.

  • Change names of characters and places
  • Add or remove people from the event
  • Change the setting
  • Change the time/era in which the story took place
  • Combine real events from different sources
  • Change the details of the actual event – eg a cat stuck up a tree could become a dog stuck in a drain pipe.

It’s all about using your imagination. Look at it as a challenge. How could you tell someone’s story without them recognising it? How could you tell your own story and people not know it’s you? Think of your facts as being treasure that you have to bury beneath ‘creative’ detail.

Sometimes it can help to draw up a two column table with the real events/people/names etc in one column, and the second column devoted to the ‘made up’ bits.

HOW TO MAKE THE EMOTIONAL CHANGES

I find I’m only able to fictionalise ‘true events’ in my life once I have been able to emotionally distance myself from them.

Maybe this is the same for you – maybe you need time to allow something to become a story in your mind rather than a traumatic event.

Fact can be a great basis for fiction – it’s just how you handle it.

I hope that you have found these tips helpful.

Happy writing

Dee:-)