It’s hard to believe, but Valerie Khoo and I have been presenting our podcast So You Want To Be A Writer for more than 18 months now. In that time, we’ve talked to some amazing people about all facets of writing and publishing. In this new (no doubt semi-regular) series, I’ll bring you some of the best industry insider quotes about various aspects of those subjects.
I’m starting out with ‘how to get published’ because I know it’s something that’s top-of-mind for many writers. The first rule: write a great book. But you knew that already, right? Here are some things you might not have considered. Follow the links on each ‘insider’s’ name to listen to the podcast interview or read the full interview transcript.
“At the beginning it wasn’t necessarily my aim to be a comedy writer, it was to be a serious writer. I thought, ‘Oh, this comedy stuff is all very well, but you really have to write literary short stories to get people to take you seriously.’ The tendency [when we’re starting out] is to copy other people and to sound like, for me it was Raymond Carver.
“I did that, but my heart wasn’t it. It was always this lunatic tone that coming through and breaking it, and wrecking everything that I tried to do. At that point I went, ‘Yeah, I get it. I’m a stirrer and a comedian at heart, and somebody that just likes, in its purest form, entertaining my reader.’ That was kind of news to me after trying lots of different styles.
“I think … what we’re all craving as readers, is for someone to be utterly themselves in the fiction.” – Andy Griffiths, best-selling children’s author
Know when to get professional help.
“I think the problem with some manuscripts is they’re workshopped to death. They go through kind of writing groups. You’re not working with an editor, but you’re kind of editing — you’re receiving editorial feedback that you’re probably comfortable with because it’s Sue down the street or Dan from university. They’ll give you kind of different opinions and often conflicting opinions or vanilla opinions. The next thing you know you’ve ripped out all of the originality out of the manuscript.
“Being an editor, it’s a trade, it’s something that you hone over time. … It’s a craft, it is. It truly is. It can really take your manuscript to places that you hadn’t imagined them. To help you find your own voice within yourself and your writing.” – Brandon VanOver, managing editor, Penguin Random House Australia.
Don’t wear your influences on your sleeve.
“I would say what I’m looking for primarily is really good writing with a really strong voice, something that just speaks to me very directly and feels new in some way. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be a completely brand new genre that the author’s invented, but the voice is a voice that feels fresh to me, you know? I get a bit tired of reading things and going, “Oh, yes, I recognise exactly who your influences are.
“I think it’s a thing that comes with practice and with revision and with rewriting. The more people write the better they get at creating their own voice.” – Suzanne O’Sullivan, associate publisher children’s books, Hachette Australia
Make sure you’re approaching the right publisher.
“I have to be honest and say there’s some manuscripts you read the first five pages and you think, “I’m not going any further,” but that’s not always to do with the quality of the writing. Sometimes you might read something and think, “This is really good, the writing is good, it’s just not the type of book that I would publish or that the company would publish.” That’s an easy one to stop reading, because you can explain to the author that they should persevere, but find a publisher more suited to their work.
“The easiest way [to find the right publisher for your work] is simply to go into a good bookshop and look at books that are similar to yours, that either you’ve written or you intend to write and look at those books and see who published them. The imprint page in a book is a valuable thing. It’s the page just after the title page, and that tells you who the publisher is, often gives their street address, and now will always give their website address. It will also let you know whether the book was published in Australia or whether it was brought into Australia on distribution from the UK or the US.” – Bernadette Foley, presenter ‘What Publishers Want’, Australian Writers Centre
Be connected, interested and informed.
“[When I look at taking on new clients, I look at] story first, obviously, and then my motto: “engage, entertain, inspire.” [I look for] evidence of reading widely and knowledge of the current market in your genre, and showing that you’re connected in the industry … member of a writing group, active member of say, the RWA, if you’re a romance writer, or CBCA in your local area if you’re in children’s writing or SCBWI, ASA. There are so many ways in being able to be connected, and interested and informed.
“I think that’s important to agents because the relationship is a collaborative one and we’re actually working together to get the best results for an author or illustrator. So [I want to be] working with someone who’s connected and motivated and not just sitting back and hoping that everyone will tick the boxes for them. It’s more rewarding if you work together, and you definitely get better results.” – Jacinta di Mase, literary agent