Today marks 20 years since my first piece of writing was published, which, quite frankly, is terrifying.

I was 12 years old and in Grade 6 when I was selected to take part in a ‘Newshounds’ program run by our local paper, the Maroondah Mail. Four students from local schools were chosen to write one article per week for six weeks, under the supervision of a journalist.

Newspaper articles
My ‘Newshounds’ articles in the Maroondah Mail, Oct-Dec 1996

Newspaper articles

I’d always loved writing, but this was the first time I’d seen my name in print, and the feeling has never really left me. It was this experience that started a passion for professional writing and, although I’ve moved away from straight journalism, I’ve continued to publish. Including Greythorne, I now have 114 publications to my name (1 novel, 3 academic book chapters, 4 academic book reviews, 5 academic journal articles, 11 conference papers and 63 media articles – details here). I hope to make it 115 by the end of the year, with the upcoming release of my new non-fiction book, Communications for Volunteers: Low-cost strategies for community groups. The little girl who wrote those Newshounds articles can hardly believe it.

Incidentally, in the first Newshounds article introducing myself, I note that my favourite books are The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, All in the Blue Unclouded Weather by Robin Klein, and Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody. All three remain favourites, and I was especially excited to meet Isobelle Carmody at the Canberra Writers Festival in August this year, where we got talking and I gave her a copy of Greythorne (which she asked me to sign!). I won’t lie – my inner 12 -year-old completely fangirled. I like to think I hid it well, but I suspect I didn’t.

isobelle-carmody-canberra-writers-festival-2016
With Isobelle Carmody at the 2016 Canberra Writers Festival.

So anyway, it’s been a bumper two decades. Who knows what the next two will bring?

 

Dragonscale
This, incidentally, is why authors should never design their own covers!

When my husband Tristan and I first started dating three years ago, we had a ‘food-for-stories’ deal – he’d make me dinner and in return I’d read him the next chapter of Dragonscale, the long-running young adult fantasy novel I’d been writing off and on since 2007. We each thought we got the better end of the deal, although I’m still convinced I ultimately did. The unconditional support he expressed for my writing in those early days was one of the many things that convinced me this relationship was going places.

But over the intervening years, life got busy and Dragonscale lapsed. I went through a rough time at work and a period of quite crippling creative drought where I found it very hard to apply myself to anything; it took a new idea in a completely new genre – which ultimately became Greythorne – to snap me out of it. In the meantime, Tristan and I moved house, got married and I got the contract for Greythorne while on our honeymoon, so poor old Dragonscale languished in a corner of my hard drive.

It wasn’t until I went back to it earlier this year that I realised how close to finished it actually was. During a particularly obsessive phase I’d mapped out the content chapter by chapter, so I knew exactly where it was going and what needed to be done. Then I had a brainwave: Tristan and I were coming up to our first wedding anniversary in April, which is the ‘paper’ anniversary, and what gift could be more ‘paper’ than a manuscript? Finally I’d complete my end of the food-for-stories bargain and he’d get the ending he’d been waiting patiently for for three years.

I only made this decision in March, so it was a bit touch-and-go as to whether I’d finish it in time, but there’s nothing like a deadline to motivate you! And I got there…just. Here it is, all nicely finished and bound.

Dragonscale bound

As to what will happen to it now, that’s a good question. It needs a lot of editing, and Tristan is the only person I trust to read what Anne Lamott aptly calls ‘shitty first drafts’, so no one else will be getting their hands on it for a little while. I’m off to a retreat at the end of April where I’ll give it the first overhaul, and then we’ll go from there. Hopefully by the second half of the year it’ll be in decent enough shape that I can begin shopping it to publishers, so watch this space. I can’t lie though, it feels pretty damn good to have finally finished a book that’s been nearly 10 years in the making.

In this series of posts, I’m going to be taking you behind the scenes of Greythorne and the process I went through to write it. Click to read Part 1 (The Idea), Part 2 (Plot and Structure), Part 3 (Setting), Part 4 (Characters), Part 5 (Writing) and Part 6 (Revision).

Well,  I can hardly believe it – tomorrow Greythorne will be published! I’ll have to wait another month or so before I get to hold the paperback (out 12 November), but even so…My 10-year-old self (whose dream was to get a book published) would be super proud right now.

I’m well aware how lucky I am in that my road to publication was a relatively straightforward one. Although I worked hard to give myself the best chance I could (by making sure the manuscript was in the best condition I could get it before I started submitting it), some of it – as with many things in life – was simply right place, right time.

As I wrote about here, I’m a member of the Australian Society of Authors, and one of the activities they run every year is something called ‘Literary Speed-Dating’ – they get a bunch of editors and agents in a room and aspiring authors get three minutes with each of them to pitch their work. I attended in November 2014, which was my goal from when I started writing Greythorne back in November 2013 – my editing schedule was built around having the manuscript ready in time for the pitching day.

The day itself actually felt a bit anticlimactic: my first pitch was disastrous, and the event was a real wake-up call as to how tough this industry is to break into. But by the end of the day I had editors from two publishers (Pan Macmillan and another that I won’t name) ask to see the first three chapters, so I counted that as a win.

One of the publishers never got back to me – never even acknowledged she’d received my manuscript. The editor from Pan Macmillan, however, let me know she’d received it and to get in touch if I hadn’t heard from her within 8 weeks. At this time Greythorne was also under submission to an agent from a major agency, who had asked for the full manuscript, so I settled down to wait.

The agent replied first: she liked the story and the style, but she didn’t think she’d be able to sell it. It was my first proper rejection and it stung for a few days, because it felt so close and yet so far. But as I later found out, even the writers of now-classics had their books rejected multiple times.

Then the editor from Pan Macmillan got back to me a month or so later – she wanted to see the rest of the manuscript. I tried not to get too excited, given the result with the agent, so I sent it to her then tried to forget about the whole thing. This was actually quite easy as I was planning my wedding at the same time.

She came back to me a week or so later (far quicker than I’d expected) and said that she loved the story and, although she didn’t think it was quite right for Pan Macmillan, she also acquired for their digital-first imprint, Momentum Books, and would I be ok with her taking it to the Momentum acquisitions meeting?

Would I be ok with it? Let me think about that for just a second…

As it turned out, on the third day of our honeymoon I got an email offering me a contract with Momentum. So I got a husband and a book contract in the same week – not a bad deal.

Actually, negotiating a book contract without an agent turned out to be pretty intimidating. The first thing I realised pretty quickly is that authors (especially new authors) hold very little power in this situation and basically you take it or leave it. The Australian Society of Authors’ contact appraisal service was very useful, but in the end only minor changes were made. The contract negotiation actually took longer than the copy-editing in the end – around two months.

The other thing I soon realised is that very few publishers have proper marketing budgets any more, especially for new authors. I had to get very familiar very fast with how to publicise my book on various online and social media platforms, as well as trying to get my head around things like organising book launches. It could quite easily be a full-time job, except I already have a full-time job, plus plans for the next novel. Learning to balance all this is one of the major skills the twenty-first-century author needs – and I’m still figuring it all out. It’s been quite a ride though, and I’m hoping this is just the beginning!

How do you prefer to engage with books and authors?

 

As of last week, Greythorne is now available for pre-order. I wrote a little while ago about the culture shock that comes with a book contract and being thrown into the big scary world of sales figures and royalties. One thing I didn’t understand was the importance of pre-sales, until an author friend shared this helpful article from Musing. Author Tony Earley (pictured) explains why pre-sales matter so much to authors these days.

What’s the Big Deal About Pre-Sales? An Author Explains.

SideBySide

One of the hardest things about being a writer is, of course, dealing with rejection. It can be pretty gut-wrenching when that manuscript you’ve slaved so hard over is returned to you with barely a comment (or, even worse, vanishes into the void without a trace). So central is rejection to the publishing experience that one enterprising blogger turned the whole sorry saga into a support hub for writers, literaryrejections.com. They provide a comprehensive database of literary agencies in 11 countries and interviews with literary agents and publishers, but my favourite part of the site is Best-Sellers Initially Rejected: Some of the Biggest Errors of Judgement in Publishing History. Everyone knows that J.K. Rowling had Harry Potter rejected 12 times before it was picked up by Bloomsbury, but did you know that Dr Seuss (who has now sold over 300 million books) once received a rejection letter with the advice that his manuscript was “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling”, or that Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows was called “an irresponsible holiday story that will never sell” – until it sold 25 million copies? This website is guaranteed to make any writer who has ever been rejected feel immeasurably better.