HOW TO WRITE A PUBLISHABLE PIECE

Recently, I came up with what I thought was a great idea for a non-fiction children’s book.

It was on a subject that kids at my writing workshops had asked me to write about – all good so far. This was a book that kids had actually REQUESTED!

I already had a market for my book so how hard could it be to get it published? As with most writing projects, I soon discovered that it wasn’t that straight forward.

Being a non-fiction book I thought it would perfectly suit the educational market. I had my proposal – my complete outline of the book chapter by chapter. I’d written a sample piece and I knew exactly what this book was going to be about.

But when I enquired with educational publishers I soon discovered that it just didn’t fit. The topic was great, the kids wanted a book like this, but the problem was that the target readership was across two age groups – primary and secondary school.

The publishers I approached didn’t do both – at least not within the same department. They could publish it as a book for primary kids or a book for secondary kids, but NOT both.

My dilemma was that I wanted all kids regardless of age to have access to this book that THEY had requested.

I have to admit, I was taken aback. I had a market and a concept that I thought would be PERFECT for the publishers I approached. Unfortunately, I was wrong. But I was determined not to let a couple of rejections put a dampener on a project that I really liked and that kids had asked for.

So I had to adjust my thinking and go back to my computer. The new version of the book has virtually the same content, but it has been re-written in a humorous and very visual way to suit the needs of the trade market.

The book is still under consideration from the trade publisher I submitted it to – and might not be accepted by them. But even if it’s not, I’ll keep trying and submitting it elsewhere. Kids I have spoken to in various states of Australia have convinced me that this book is worth pursuing.

I have used this example because it covers a number of things you need to consider if you want your work to be published:

  1. You have to consider your potential readers – is anyone going to want to read this book?
  2. You have to consider potential publishers – is this the sort of thing they publish? Is it in a format that will work for them?
  3. You have to be flexible? If you discover that the concept is great but it doesn’t FIT with any publishers, you have to be flexible – be prepared to change the format.
  4. You have to believe in your project and in yourself as its creator.
  5. You have to be persistent. If at first you don’t succeed, KEEP TRYING

There are some other things you can do to improve your chances. These include:

  1. Be prepared to rework an idea if you discover it’s similar to something else that has already been published.
  2. Do your research and find out which publisher is most likely to consider your work in a positive light? Go to bookshops and libraries and see who is publishing your ‘type’ of book. Find out what their submission guidelines are? Are they accepting unsolicited manuscripts?
  3. Don’t be afraid to ring an editor/publisher before submitting to discuss whether this is a project they might consider. Take on board the advice they give you.
  4. Have your work critiqued by writers whose talents and confidentiality you respect.
  5. Meticulously EDIT your work before you submit it. There’s nothing more unappealing than a manuscript that’s riddled with typos or grammatical errors.
  6. Have other markets in mind – just in case your manuscript is rejected.

None of my books has had a straightforward path to acceptance. Letters to Leonardo took over ten years to write and about 30 drafts, A Duel of Words was rejected for a particular reading scheme but one of the editors liked it so much that she convinced the company to publish it further down the track. Harry’s Goldfield Adventure started out twenty years earlier as Cassie and the Convict.

I look upon writing as being a bit like painting. An artist does not pick up a brush and paint the perfect picture with the first brush strokes. He or she keeps going over it, painting over the bits they don’t like, standing back to look at what they’ve done and working out how they can make it better.

Just like writing, a work of art has to have colour, depth and great composition. It has to be worked and reworked until it’s the best it can be. It has to be something that people want to look at. It has to have content that inspires and engages them.

Writing is an artform – and just like a painting, it can often take time to find the perfect wall on which to hang it.

Happy writing:-)

Dee

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:-)