Wednesday, July 29, 2020

It's not who you know, it's the opportunities they tell you about...

Part 3 in the 'It's Not Who You Know Saga...'

While approaching publishers the traditional way through the submissions process is a legitimate way to get published, (and it's still the way I generally follow and the way I am most likely to be published) there are additional opportunities that you can try.  There are competitions like all the ones run by Storylines and I know folk who've had books published this way. There is a window of opportunity for submissions to Scholastic NZ on Valentines Day each year - follow them on facebook to find out more. Two friends of mine had new work picked up through one off competitions to pitch to an agent and a publisher respectively, both part of author events and organised through the New Zealand Society of Authors over the last few years. From a distance these things can look like special treatment or like they are part of the the whole 'who you know' vibe, but the bottom line is people gave themselves a chance to hear about these competitions or opportunities, entered, and were selected because of the strength of their stories and the quality of their writing. Joining organisations like Storylines and the NZSA give you access to more chances. But joining also makes you part of a community of like-minded people who share information on other opportunities that are available. Of course belonging to these communities also helps you persevere when the going gets tough. Make no mistake. This career is a long game. Assume years are involved. And there is luck involved. But I do find luck is more likely to strike when you stand in front of the opportunities. And you do it repeatedly.

Sorry I'm such a nag. But I kind of nagged myself to stick at it and take chances and I'm still going. Yesterday another publisher said yes to another story of mine. I'm on a wee roll at the moment but I've been banging away at this for just over twenty years. My current luck might run out tomorrow but I won't be letting that stop me. Not for a good while yet anyway.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

No secret handshakes required

I made the comment in my last post that you don't need to know the 'right' people to get published. It's not how I first got published and it isn't true for many other writers I know either. But I know this can be hard to believe when you've been submitting your work through the traditional channels and nothing has been happening.

I understand that burning desire to be published. I felt it when I started out and the intensity of the feeling hasn't changed or gone away at all over the years (I guess if it ever does that might be the time to stop writing). But there is no secret hand shake, or introduction by an already published writer necessary. You don't have to have met the publisher beforehand or have the name of someone on the inside. I've seen a lot of picture book manuscripts over the years from a variety of sources. And in all my reading I've come to believe that ...

... these are the things most likely to get you published

1. Polished writing. The kind that acknowledges the rules of grammar; of punctuation and sentence structure. Writing that flows with a natural easy rhythm. But writing that also makes the words used feel fresh and alive, and the way they are combined makes you excited and delighted about language and its potential. Sometimes its just that the writing has a certain charm. I've seen a lot of passive writing over the years. I've seen a tendency to over-simplify and speak down to children. I've seen a lack of acknowledgement that picture books play out over  28 to 30 pages (in a 32 page book), with a need for the story to allow for variation in the illustrations from page to page. Good writing is a winner. But it's not enough on its own. You also need ...

2. ... a strong, original, exciting idea. The comment is often made that there are no new ideas, but there are. Themes might be recurrent but we want the vehicle that carries them to surprise and satisfy us.

The best way to avoid rehashing well worn ideas is to read widely, but especially the award winners and the well reviewed. Know your category so you can push the boundaries and explore fresh ground. Of course re-tellings and the repeat of classic ideas will also sometimes get published but these too need a fresh angle. And your idea needs to be relevant and strong - why will a child care? Is it exotic, or relatable? Does it tell them something worth knowing, sufficiently explore an issue they worry about, or that will grow their minds, or empower them to fight their own battles, or solve their own problems? I've seen many lovely stories that don't quite have the muscle to be accepted. And ones that just aren't as fresh as the author hopes they are. And even if your writing is terrific and your idea is gripping, you also need ...

3. ... it to fit with what the publisher is looking for. And a lot of things can influence their decisions - sometimes they don't know what they're looking for until they see it. Sometimes it feels too much like something they've already published (both recently and years previously if the book is still in print) and they don't want to have titles that compete with each other. Sometimes its part of a trend and while we haven't seen the trend play out, the publisher, who knows what is on their publishing list for the next two years, knows it is already too late. Sometimes it's just not to their taste because publishers are also humans with their own likes and dislikes. Sometimes it is great writing and a great idea but the focus is too narrow or the potential audience too small so it won't cover its own costs. And sometimes they just can't say why it isn't right for them, and there is nothing wrong with the story and nothing you could change to change the result.

Don't send your work to one publisher and give up if its a no. Try other publishers. Talk to other writers about where they send their work. It might not seem like it but new opportunities are popping up all the time. And keep writing new material because maybe the next thing you write is the 'one.' And don't give publishers a reason to say no, like submitting differently to what they ask for, or getting frustrated with a rejection and telling them they're wrong. Be the person they want to do business with. Have faith. You can do it. No secret handshakes required.

And competition results? Unfortunately no one guessed correctly which book of mine has been most printed. I'm keeping the answer to myself and may run this competition again next month. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Look out for the competition lurking at the end of this post ...

Look out Milford!! I'll be up your way this Sunday reading my books aloud at the Mall. Check out details here - -  if you want to come along and say hi. I'd love to see you.

Things are falling back into the normal pattern of things. I've visited a few schools (shout out to Botany Downs and Remuera Primarys), been reading books, reviewing, writing content for talks and workshops, attending some zoom meetings and doing a spot of mentoring.

Truth is though that things are also not normal. If you are feeling like the publishing landscape has become much harder to traverse, you are not alone. It feels bleak. But I've heard several good news stories from writer friends (new AND mid career) over the last week about work they've had accepted. And I've also recently heard some positive numbers regarding sales for New Zealand books. The call to shop local has had an impact for local content.  But if you are finding it tough you are in good company.

Hang in there. It can feel like its hard to justify keeping going, but you don't need a reason. Just keep going if you want to. If you are a seasoned campaigner keep in touch with the writing community. If you are new to the business, come join us. Realising your experience is shared by others is kinda comforting. Groups like Storylines, KIWI-SCBWI and Kiwiwrite4kidz (all can be found on facebook) are a good place to start.

If you are new to the business, give yourself a decent chance to hone your writing skills. Don't lose heart if your first manuscript doesn't get anywhere. It can take time to strike the perfect balance with a breathtaking idea and the right combination of words to make that idea really shine. And if the first publisher you send it to says no, send it to another one. They tend to like different things. True story.

You don't need to know someone in the industry to get a manuscript accepted. I didn't, and I know other published writers who've had the same experience as me. There will always be exceptions. I do know somebody who's first book was the result of a friend showing her manuscript to someone else who showed it to a publisher who said yes. But I remember that because it's uncommon. And the manuscript was great. And it was still a lucky coincidence.

Literacy is the cornerstone of education. Reading is proven to have postive impacts on academic, social, and emotional intelligence. People still need books. And publishers still want new content.

I thought I'd do another giveaway competition. I'm giving away a copy of both Time Machine and Other Stories and Sharing with Wolf to the person who correctly guesses which one of my titles (going right back to the beginning) has had the most copies printed over its life time. I'll accept answers posted in the comments below, on facebook or twitter. If more than one person guesses correctly I'll pick the winner out of a hat. The competition closes 5pm Saturday 11th of July. And GO!