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Bestselling author Rachael Johns shares her favourite writing craft books

Bestselling author Rachael Johns shares her favourite writing craft books

Writing craft books are a mainstay of every author’s bookshelf – we’re always trying to learn more and there’s always more to be learned.

But there are SO many writing craft books out there, it can be difficult to know which ones are worth it.

In October, my Write With Allison Tait group had the opportunity to have a snoop around the bookshelves of bestselling author Rachael Johns, who, along with her insider tips for writing commercial fiction, was kind enough to share with us her favourite writing craft books.

One thing that Zoom has done for us is to take us right inside the homes and writing spaces of our favourite authors, and watching Rachael rummage through her shelves for recommendations was a true moment of joy.

These are the books Rachael Johns has drawn upon – and continues to draw upon – in her journey towards becoming one of Australia’s most successful commercial and romantic fiction authors, and there are many that are beyond ‘the usual suspects, so I’ve decided to share them below.

As for those insider tips, well, you’ll have to join our happy group to watch the recording of our discussion with Rachael… and receive access to all of our previous events with everyone from authors such as Graeme Simsion, Anna Spargo-Ryan, Kate Forsyth, and Natasha Lester, to industry experts like non-fiction publisher Sophie Hamley, editor Nicola O’Shea, agent Annabel Barker, and publisher Laura Sieveking.

And don’t miss Dervla McTiernan in November! Details about the WWAT group are here.

But I digress.

Here for your collecting pleasure are the writing craft books that will always have a place on Rachael Johns’s bookshelf.

Rachael Johns recommends these six writing craft books

 

10 things about writing by Joanne Harris
The Complete Writers’ Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Carolyn LaFever, Sue Viders

 

 

Rachael Johns is the bestselling, ABIA-winning author of The Patterson Girls and many other romance and women’s fiction books, including her recent bestseller, Something to Talk About.

Jilted (her first rural romance) won Favourite Australian Contemporary Romance in 2012, and The Patterson Girls won the 2016 Romance Writers of Australia RUBY Award and also the 2015 Australian Book Industry Award for General Fiction. She continually places in Booktopia’s Top 50 Aussie Authors poll. Her latest novel is Talk To The Heart.


 

Write With Allison Tait Dervla McTiernanAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.

For full details about Write With Allison Tait, my new online writing community offering Inspiration, Motivation, Information and Connection, go here.

Our Industry Insider Zoom event on 20 November, 2023, will feature international bestselling author Dervla McTiernan, and we’re undertaking a 30-day writing challenge. If NaNoWriMo looks too daunting, don’t miss my HaveAGoMo to help progress your manuscript.

3 tips for writing narrative non-fiction books for kids

3 tips for writing narrative non-fiction books for kids

Narrative non-fiction for young readers is having a moment in the spotlight, combining facts, illustrations and storytelling in an irresistible short-form package.

But, as anyone who’s ever tried writing narrative non-fiction will tell you, getting the balance right between the information and the story is not always easy.

Bronwyn Saunders writing narrative non fictionWith her debut picture book Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey out now, Bronwyn Saunders has popped in to share her experience with distilling a dinosaur-sized pile of research into a compelling story. The picture book is illustrated by Andrew Plant and published by CSIRO Publishing.

A children’s author and passionate citizen scientist who delights in sharing facts about Australia’s natural history with readers, Bronwyn has three top tips to help you if you’re thinking of following in her footsteps.

 

Bronwyn Saunders’ three tips for writing narrative non-fiction for kids

Diprotodon: a megafauna journey by Bronwyn SaundersNarrative non-fiction is weaving a story around factual information for the purpose of being informative and entertaining. The choice of producing non-fiction is a promise to the reader that the facts you are sharing are correct.

Writing non-fiction is addictive because the truth can be more outrageous and unbelievable than fiction. Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey is a great example of outrageous facts.

Who knew Australia was once home to a marsupial that weighed up to 2,700 kilograms?

This is one of the facts about diprotodon that is thoroughly ridiculous and endearing at the same time.

I love astounding children with these unique facts, and there’s no doubt the facts compel you to share widely – but crafting a story with those facts is more than just stating (or listing) what you know.

 

Non-fiction ideas can creep up on you

My non-fiction topic found me whilst I was on holiday in Naracoorte, sparked by a statue, several facts from the tour guide and a tall tale.

The tall tale was exposed quickly, but by then I didn’t care that diprotodon wasn’t carnivorous, as the animal had already made a home in my heart.

I read everything I could find, which wasn’t much.

Then I dug a little deeper, reading scientific articles and research. Due to my research, I can verify that Latin is not such a dead language. The more I learnt, the more I had to know. I can proudly say I have read the majority of material ever written about diprotodon.

 

Managing your research

You don’t need archival qualifications to research a non-fiction topic but you do need an information management system.

No, you don’t need to buy it from Amazon or download an app onto your phone. It can be simple as recording and cataloguing source information, in a document, in a table or on a piece of paper.

Keeping the reference material in a single place is key. Collating all the references so they are retrievable when required is the aim. The style of reference that you use to keep the reference is not important, but consistency will help.

Remember, you are not composing a paper for university and do not need to use citations but your references do need to be accurate.

Correct referencing allows the writer to locate a source to double-check the source, interpretation or intended purpose with ease.

Correct referencing also makes it easier for the editor to review the evidence that is being relied upon so they can reassure the publisher of the accuracy of the text.

 

What details do you need?

The details depend on the type of source.

This could mean:

•a web address;

•author, title and page reference;

•or author, article title, journal name, volume and year of publication.

Try to capture every necessary detail that will enable you to easily find the source again, for example chapter names, article numbers, edition, volume and year of publication.

When I find a great source,I have been known to photocopy the page with all origin details, just to be certain, as well as allow verification that the source is what I want to rely on. It then goes into a hard copy folder between its own dividers, which are titled with how I intend to refer to it.

When I compile notes from the source, I use the basic reference data at the start of the notes and add it to the folder after the source material.

Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey found a publisher five years after writing it. Experiencing the publishing process has helped me appreciate the need to give myself better clues of where within articles that I sourced information.

Your editor will appreciate your accuracy, too.

 

But what about the story?

Narrative non-fiction is not just listing facts. The facts must be used to tell a interesting story based on factual information.

The author has to take the black and white and fill the page with seamless colour.

Depending on the timeframe and the topic, knowing about the weather, the natural environment, buildings, technology, vocabulary, relevant culture and fashions are vital to capture the spirit of the story. In an historical movie or TV show there’s nothing worse than seeing an out-of-
place timepiece on the wrist of the lead actor, or for a car enthusiast seeing a classic car that was produced after the year when the production was set – and it’s the same for books.

For my story, it was important to listen to my palaeontologist advisor when he questioned my earlier use of insects to show Diprotodon toward
food. ‘Why would such a large animal pay any attention to what an insect is doing?’, he asked.

I had to be flexible with my manuscript and review what animal was available to use to guide Diprotodon to safety, which meant a return to research and drafting for the credibility of the story.

 

My top three tips for writing narrative non-fiction for children

1. Love your topic, you are going to immerse yourself in it.

2. Be methodical with your research, you may have to refer to it after many years have passed
or provide it to another person.

3. The facts need to be woven into a compelling story, the facts themselves are insufficient.

You can find out more about Bronwyn Saunders here, and watch the video below to find out more about Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey – or visit CSIRO Publishing here to purchase.

 


Diprotodon Trailer from CSIRO Publishing on Vimeo.


A. L. Tait The First Summer of Callie McGeeAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of middle-grade series, The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher, and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. My latest novel THE FIRST SUMMER OF CALLIE McGEE is out now. You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

If you’re looking for book recommendations for young readers, join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community, and tune in to the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast!

Writing tips and advice you may have missed

Writing tips and advice you may have missed

I’ve been out and about talking about writing, teaching writing, writing about writing… what I haven’t been doing is blogging about writing here, on my actual blog.

So, to make up for it, here’s a list of blog posts, full of writing tips and advice, you may have missed, plus some recent interviews where I chatted about writing The First Summer of Callie McGee, and even a chance to spend a day with me learning the ins and outs of being a children’s author (I’d love to see you there!)

 

16 writing posts you may have missed

The creative magic of the mundane

How to pitch yourself to a podcast: an author’s guide

5 short stories to read right now to make you a better writer

Want to be a children’s author? Here’s why you need to learn to present to kids

How to maintain tension in a romance novel when you know there is a happy ending

5 ways to keep your reader guessing in a crime novel

Are you a teenager who loves writing? Here are seven ways to become a better writer

How to build your author platform before your book is published

How to write your book’s acknowledgements page

Simple steps to blog your way to success as an author

10 Australian authors on Substack

How to create a book series bible

4 writing books you need

Six simple tips for proofreading

The write-changing joy of tidying your office

“It’s never too late” and other great writing tips

 

Recent podcast interviews

Allison Tait talks about writing on Reading With A Chance of TacosReading With A Chance of Tacos

Ken and I cover a lot of territory about the choices you make when you’re writing for a middle-grade audience, why Callie McGee is set in a contemporary world and not my signature ‘almost history’ and a whole lot more.

Spoiler: we did not eat tacos, so there will be no chewing in your ear.

Find it here. 

 

Allison Tait on Healthyish podcastHealthyish

Host Felicity Harley and I take a dive into how to tap into creativity (and it’s probably not the way you think).

If you’d like to harness more creativity – and write more – within your busy daily life, this one is for you.

Listen here. 

 

The joy of escape reads for kidsYour Kid’s Next Read

I always forget to mention my own podcast, but in this episode my co-host Megan Daley asks the questions educators want to know about The First Summer of Callie McGee.

We also have a chat about the importance of ‘escape reads’ for kids.

Listen here. 

 

So you want to be a children’s author?

Children's author writing workshop at SCWCHave you been thinking about writing a children’s book? Or maybe you’ve started and don’t know what to do next?

Join me at the South Coast Writers’ Centre, Coledale, NSW, on Saturday 7 October, 10.30am-3pm, and let’s talk about ALL THE THINGS!

In the first part of this half-day workshop, I’ll share my insider secrets and practical tips on writing for children. All the things I’ve learnt through hard-won experience.

I’ll look at the top 10 questions you need to ask yourself in order to write a great book for kids – as well as answering any burning questions you might have.

In part two, we’ll dive into how to build a successful longterm career as a children’s author. From promoting your work to writing the next book, get the inside track to save you time and heartache.

Come along and say hello!

Find out more and get tickets here.

 

Allison Tait on why children's literature mattersAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.

Subscribe to my newsletter for updates, insights and more amazing writing advice.

Or check out So You Want To Be A Writer (the book), where my co-author Valerie Khoo and I have distilled the best tips from hundreds of author and industry expert interviews. Find out more and buy it here.

5 tips for finding your writing voice

5 tips for finding your writing voice

One of the best – and most difficult – things to develop as a writer is your own ‘voice’. That X factor that makes your writing inherently, well, yours.

I’ll be visiting schools up and down the coast over the next few weeks, giving talks and presentations, including my very popular Find Your Writing Superpower workshop. (You can read the basic principles here.)

I always tell kids that the greatest writing superpower of all time is your own writing voice.

Write so that people know that the story is yours – even if they haven’t seen the byline (or, in my case, the cover).

Write like you talk, only better.

It sounds straight forward enough, but the reality is that it takes a LOT of courage to bring yourself to the page. Your sense of humour. Your way of thinking about the world. The quirky things you know and love.

Your feelings and emotions.

Fortunately, it’s a writing superpower we can all develop – we just have to dig down into those dark recesses of who we are and be happy to present them on the page for all to read.

Seriously, though, it’s about working your way past all the influences – every writer you’ve ever read and loved – and the obstacles – fear being the biggest one.

These five tips might help.

 

My top 5 tips for finding your writing voice

Tip #1: Start a journal

Your writing voice is like a shy child, hiding away behind your everyday conversations and communications. To coax them out of the dark recesses, you need to create a comfortable, cosy, quiet place.

For most writers, that’s a journal. Your journal can be a file on your computer or a beautiful notebook with fancy pen. Whatever works best for you to unlock the ability to get your thoughts on the page.

This is not a place to think about a reader. The relationship here is strictly between the writer and the page.

Write what you actually think. Capture snippets of your day. Write down thoughts, ideas, things that turned your head or captured your attention.

For me, as a working journalist at the time, it was a blog that helped me discover the intimacy I needed to tap into my fiction voice. As a professional journalist, I was used to writing – but I was not used to the intimate honesty I needed to bring to the page to make my stories sing.

Blogging gave me that (and I wrote about it here).

 

Tip #2: Try different things

Often, as writers, we form strong ideas very early about what we should be writing.

Just as often, this is what we love to read – and that’s a great place to start.

But it pays to experiment with different types of writing. You may have a very clear picture of yourself as a writer of literary fiction, but when you sit down to journal, what you’re actually loving is writing funny character studies or strong responses to opinion pieces you’ve read that day.

I was convinced I was going to be a writer of romance novels or commercial women’s fiction – until one day I sat down to write a middle-grade adventure novel and became consumed by it.

Write poetry. Try a screen play. Write short stories, or crime novels, or picture books.

Every time you try something new, you expand your writing muscles – and you’ll hear your voice more strongly.

 

Tip #3: Trust the writing

I wanted this tip to be ‘get out of your own way’, but I thought I’d best stick to the polite.

Finding your writing voice takes time and patience. Be kind to yourself and trust the process. Every word you write brings you closer to understanding how you write and what you want to write about.

You’ll know when you’re there because the idea will sing to you and, no matter how difficult the writing becomes (and it can be difficult, trust me) you’ll keep showing up to your desk or your notebook to push through.

More about this here.

 

Tip #4: Show your inner editor the door

I don’t have a study to prove this but, anecdotally, I’m going to say that nobody ever found their writing voice with an editor sitting on their shoulder telling them that the last sentence wasn’t ‘perfect’.

Your journal doesn’t need to be grammatically correct and neither does the first draft of your novel or memoir. That first draft is about you learning what the story is about – even if you’ve planned it down to the last T on a spreadsheet.

Things change.

Stories are like life, messy and complicated. We all begin with the vision of what the story needs to be perfect – and then characters start to make their own plans.

But, unlike life, with stories, we get to finish the first draft and then go back and try to make it match up to the perfect vision.

Bring the shouty voiced editor into the picture at that point and not before.

 

Tip #5: Don’t show anyone too early

Finding your writing voice is a solo adventure. Yes, feedback is essential at different points along the journey of any manuscript, but if you ask for it too early, you’re in danger of sounding like a choir, rather than the prima donna soloist you need to be.

Going back to the idea of intimacy and trust, trust yourself. At least until you’ve got enough of your story on paper to feel confident you know what you want to say.

Until you can hear yourself thinking in the words on the page.

Then a reader will be able to hear you too.


 

writing group Allison TaitAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.

For full details about Write With Allison Tait, my new online writing community offering Inspiration, Motivation, Information and Connection, go here

How to promote a book: write outside the box

How to promote a book: write outside the box

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writing a book is one thing – promoting that book is quite another..

But thinking outside the box about book publicity can give an author more avenues to promote their book, and is also very satisfying. All too often new authors worry about what’s not happening with their book, so taking control of what you can do really helps.

Nobody knows this better than Dani Vee, whose first picture book My EXTRAordinary Mum was published in 2022, and whose second book My EPIC Dad! Takes Us Camping (book one in a six-part series) is out now.

With many strings to her bow, including podcaster and commissioning editor, Dani was better placed than most debut authors to understand the nuts-and-bolts of book promotion – but even she found herself having to think outside the ‘publicity’ box to maximise her efforts.

Fortunately, she’s dropped by to share her experiences in this guest post.

 

How to promote your bookThinking outside the ‘publicity’ box as a newbie writer!

By Dani Vee

The excitement of signing my first book deal lasted about 10 seconds before the terror hit.

What if it didn’t sell and no-one ever signed me again?

Ten seconds. The exact amount of time we allow ourselves to celebrate!

Leaving nothing to chance, I created a juggernaut of a spreadsheet of all the bloggers, reviewers, podcasters and book people I could contact.

I planned book shop visits, a book launch, social media posts and contacted local newspapers and magazines.

But I also watched others, and what I noticed was that the most successful people were creating content outside their books. They were creating a story around their story.

My picture book My EXTRAordinary Mum had been written from my own experiences of motherhood – and I realised that created an opportunity I hadn’t yet tapped into.

 

Creating stories around your book

I started writing articles about identity after motherhood, the expectations of motherhood and who you’re ‘supposed’ to be, the challenges of single motherhood, feminism, and even what it was like having a Gwyneth Paltrow LAT (Living Apart Together) relationship.

In other words, I wrote about the ideas, thoughts and feelings that were behind my picture book. When it comes to publicity, you have to work to your strengths and show an authentic and vulnerable self. I think the more Instagram posts we like and the more filters we use, the more authenticity we crave – and it seemed to work.

Those articles were published by Mamamia, MamaMag, local newspapers and magazines and other media outlets interested in stories about motherhood, women and feminism.

Even though the articles were not directly about the book, they were topical. And they all featured my byline and my bio at the end – a bio that related directly to my book and led interested readers to my website to find out more.

 

How to find your story

You can do this too – all you need to do is to find an angle.

We know what your book is about, but what is it really about? What’s the story around the story?

What inspired it?

What is it about you and your experiences that resonate, inspire or interest others?

Sit down and brainstorm a list of the things that drove you to write the book, as well as a list of the themes and ideas that developed as you wrote it.

Once you have those lists, think about how they might crossover into articles or blog post – and which publications and bloggers might be interested in running them.

You’re not always going to get it right when it comes to publicity and promoting your book, but thinking about different ways of presenting your work is probably a good start!

 

Dani Vee is the podcast host of Words and Nerds, and author of picture books My EXTRAordinary Mum and the My EPIC Dad! series. She also works in publicity and acquisitions at Larrikin House, judges books for crime awards and may just have a crime novel in her somewhere one day. She is currently working on her first junior fiction novel. Find out more.

 


Allison Tait how to promote a bookAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of middle-grade series, The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher, and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries.

My new middle-grade novel THE FIRST SUMMER OF CALLIE McGEE is out on 1 August. You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

 

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