Beta Readers, Casseroles and Lady Gaga

Hi all,

I’ve felt beaten lately, when it comes to my writing and the state of the publishing world in general. So many things have come to my attention that I’ve, rightly or wrongly, taken to heart.

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Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com

These range from the explosion on social media surrounding an upcoming YA novel (which was subsequently pulled from publication – for now, anyway), and insights into scammers infiltrating Amazon (one indie author’s perspective is here if you’re interested), through to my immediate writing world, including the varied feedback I’ve received on my middle grade manuscript from its first beta readers.

Ah, beta readers…

I gave the first two chapters of my latest work to three beta readers. The first two were school aged, one smack-bang in the target age and the other slightly older. The third was an adult. None are writers. I wanted them to read it for fun, for the sake of the story, as readers.

All three gave me feedback on the all important start, as well as on pacing, characters, description/setting, and the age appropriateness/suitability of the narration.

Overall, the first two liked what I’d written. I was on a high.

Overall, the third did not. I mean, really did not. I bottomed out fast, so much so that I began to question whether I could write this story at all. I then extended that to questioning whether this industry, with all its hard knocks and hardships, with those eager to take advantage of people, to take others down, was worth the effort I was throwing at its front door.

I was also left with another dilemma. When writing in a genre controlled by gatekeepers such as teachers, librarians, and parents, whose advice should I follow when feedback conflicts?

Those more likely to buy this story, the adults?

Or those more likely to read it, the children?

Or *ahem* neither?

woman looking at sunset
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When your gut tells you to, well, follow your gut, but your gut doesn’t know what to do, it’s time for a break, for distance.

Especially when you’re hit with yet another rejection for a different piece of work on the same day.

*sigh*

So yesterday, I stepped away from writing to immerse myself in cooking, choosing a different creative pursuit to distract my brain, nourish my gut, and comfort my bruised (and confused) ego.

While chopping, I flicked on the television. The Oscars telecast was on (due to the time difference, it was televised live during the day in Australia). I don’t usually watch this event, but background chatter while preparing a casserole is preferable to listening to self-doubt demons  And this is when I watched Lady Gaga’s acceptance speech for winning Song of the Year, when she said:

‘…And if you are at home, and you’re sitting on your couch and you’re watching this right now, all I have to say is that this is hard work. I’ve worked hard for a long time, and it’s not about, you know…it’s not about winning. But what it’s about is not giving up. If you have a dream, fight for it. There’s a discipline for passion. And it’s not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you’re beaten up. It’s about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep on going…’

Was she talking to me?

Hmm, I like to think she was.

Regardless, it made me finish up in the kitchen quick smart and plant my sorry backside back in the seat, in front of my screen. Don’t know about being brave, but I’m getting up. I’ll keep on going.

I’ll take my beta readers’ feedback on board, filter it, then do it my way.

And I’ll strive harder to ignore rumblings and happenings in the industry that I can do little about.

Till next time,

Rebecca

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How Do We Get Students to Enjoy Writing Again?

“There is accumulating evidence that writing instruction in schools is becoming limited and test results indicate a decline in students’ ability to write.”

A week ago, my sixteen-year-old son told me that creative writing is pretty much off the agenda for his core senior high school English curriculum. According to him, creative writing has been taken out of mandatory English in the Higher School Certificate, the credential awarded to secondary school students who successfully complete senior high school in our state of Australia. The focus is purely on structured forms of writing, namely essays.

It did not sit well with me.

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Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

A day later, I stumbled upon this article, posted by the SBS (Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service). It raised concerns that the mass standardisation and inflexibility of Australia’s school literary curriculum is stifling free-thinking and creativity, as well as running the risk of inhibiting a sense of individual identity in students. The article also suggested a correlation between the current decline in Australia’s literary outcomes and our students’ diminishing enjoyment of the creative process of writing. Innovation is being suppressed.

This is disturbing.

And this is why.

Throughout history, the world’s greatest discoveries have occurred through imagination and exploration (physical and abstract). By limiting writing instruction to procedural formats, we risk squashing our students’ ability – and desire – to question and create (the areas of science and mathematics in particular, come to mind). And our students are the future, this planet’s future. They are the ones who will, most likely, come up with solutions to the issues that surround all of us now.

Whatever happened to thinking outside the box? I doubt we would have planes, the internet or even the modest little light bulb without it.

Like I said, disturbing.

The curriculum needs review.

Would love your thoughts…

 

Where Are the Realistic Male Characters in YA?

‘The male leads in YA are starting to look strikingly similar.  Some may be princes, some troubled youths, and some the boy-next-door, but their personality traits are incredibly similar.  Often they are misunderstood or under-appreciated.  Typically they see and value the female lead in ways no one else does.  They pair strength with sensitivity, showing that they are able to cry over a family member but also able to fix a car or fight for their girl’s honor when necessary. All of them appreciate the beauty of the female lead, but in a romantic, respectful, aesthetic sort of way.  You will never catch them looking at a girl’s assets.  In short, they are, every one of them, the perfect boyfriend. These depictions of teenage boys are fascinating because they are so obviously a female fantasy rather than attempts at realism.  The services asked of YA male heroes often seem close to superpowers.’

via Where Are the Realistic Male Characters in YA? — Pages Unbound | Book Reviews & Discussions

Yep, I’ve wondered this myself (and the full post at the above link says it beautifully – thank you, Krysta, and Pages Unbound!)

You see, I’ve wondered if female-dominated YA writing is making male leads more and more unrealistic, raising the behavior standard and thought patterns of males in YA fiction to something not likely to be true.

In the publishing world’s push for more strong independent female YA characters, are we forgetting about the REAL males? About the ones who don’t want to talk on the phone? The ones who hang out in their room, who crave their privacy above acting the hero? The ones who are awkward with words, can’t read the female mind – and really don’t want to?

Male main characters in YA fiction are becoming harder to find. Let’s at least make them authentic.

Happy writing,

Rebecca

Would love your thoughts! Have you read a recently published YA book with realistic male main characters?

Traditional or Self? Jane Friedman’s Key Book Publishing Paths for 2018

Hi all,

since 2013, publishing industry blogger and author-entrepreneur, Jane Friedman, has released an informative annual chart detailing the current book publishing paths available to authors.

This year’s chart is now available, as a PDF download via The Key Book Publishing Paths: 2018 — Jane Friedman

As Jane says in her post:

…”there is no one path or service that’s right for everyone all the time; you should take time to understand the landscape and make a decision based on long-term career goals, as well as the unique qualities of your work. Your choice should also be guided by your own personality (are you an entrepreneurial sort?) and experience as an author (do you have the slightest idea what you’re doing?)”

A huge thank you to Jane for the work she does in communicating the ever-changing publishing landscape to authors.

I hope you find Jane’s chart useful and, whichever path you take, I wish you all the success 🙂

Rebecca

 

Really, Libraries Don’t Need Reinventing, Thanks

Hi all,

the below blog post is well worth a read if you, like I, are concerned every time ill-conceived comments are made that call for the demise of public libraries.

Librarian Deb Baker rejects a recent op-ed calling for Amazon to replace public libraries: “Libraries are often the only egalitarian spaces in communities, radically welcoming of everyone who comes through their doors.”

You can read the full post here.

As its writer, Deb Baker, says so perfectly, “People who think they don’t need libraries really have no business deciding for the rest of society that they aren’t important.”

For many in our community, libraries ARE important.

So leave them alone.

Rebecca

On Food, Dinosaurs and Nuns – Best (and Quirkiest) Quotes from the 2018 WritingNSW Kids & YA Festival

Yes, it was that time again! Time for Australia’s kidlit writers to come out to play at last Saturday’s WritingNSW Kids and YA Festival.

It’s hard to believe two years have passed since the last Kids and YA Festival at WritingNSW (you can read my round-up of the last festival here if you’d like your memory jogged.) This year’s event was just as wonderful, with quotes flying left, right and everywhere. Some of you know how much I love a good writing quote, so I thought I’d base this year’s round-up on the best (and quirkiest) quotes I heard.

Here are a few of my favourites from the day:

KYAFest18 JacquieJacqueline Harvey, best-selling author of the Alice-Miranda, Clementine Ross, and Kensy and Max series (with me in left pic), on how to have a best-selling series – “Fall in love with your characters and have great plots. Don’t dumb plots down; they can be complicated.”

And Jacqueline doing a little cheeky name-dropping – “Marcus Zusak (author of the best-seller, The Book Thief) told me to think of the obvious and do the opposite.”

Belinda Murrell, author of the Lulu Bell, Timeslip, and Pippa’s Island series (with me in pic below), gave some cold hard facts – “In 60% of kid’s books, males are the central character. 20% had no girls who speak.” KYAFest18 BelindaAnd if that’s not disturbing enough, Belinda (who was also Festival Director) added that, “Boys speak twice as often in books as girls do.” Gender bias rears its ugly head again…

But on a lighter note from Belinda: “You must back your protagonist. And include yummy food.” 🙂

KYAFest18 OliverWhich led us to hilarious comedy writer, Oliver Phommavanh (in right pic). When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up – “A dinosaur.” 🙂

Yvette Poshoglian, author of the Ella and Olivia series, on growing that thick skin – “You never get the words to the page without critical feedback. Sometimes you just have to back yourself as a writer.”

Then there was writer, publisher and educational consultant, Louise Park – “Education publishing is a good way to get published. And it’s usually a flat fee so you know what (and how much) you’ll be paid.”

And YA writer, Megan Jacobson – “We do teen readers a disservice by not writing about the dark issues.”

As well as YA debut author, Eleni Hale – “Imagination is something we don’t talk about enough.”

And novelist and critic, James Bradley – “All writing is about vulnerability.”

KYAFest18 GarthBefore we came to Aussie fantasy writing legend, Garth Nix (in left pic). Garth on writing voices – “I’m often asked how I write women’s perspectives but never asked how I write the voices of fantastical monsters.”

And Garth on writing fantasy – “When I start out trying to work contemporary realism, something creepy always happens…and once I draw the map, it’s all over.”

KYAFest18 KateThen there was Kate Forsyth, Australia’s historical fiction queen (in right pic), on the business of writing – “An author needs to be the engine of their own success.”

And Jaclyn Moriarty (yes, one of those Moriarty sisters) on writing rules – “You often read rules about writing, like ‘write every day’, which makes me feel insecure, because I don’t.”

The very funny R.A.Spratt on earning a writing income – “Being a children’s author is like being a nun…you get no money and you’re basically doing it out of the goodness of your heart.” 😉

As multi-media creative, Graham Davidson, noted – “This is the age of digital disruption, after all.”

So what entices the reluctant reader? What drags kids away from their gadgets and devices?

Laughter.

Of the Top Ten children’s books sold in Australia last year , nine were humorous (all with male authors). The other was fantasy (with a female author). Go figure.

And the quote to end all quotes must come from Belinda Murrell: “I met my publisher in a pub”. Yes, people, it can be done…

On that note, until next time,

Happy writing, 🙂

Rebecca

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlotte Wood – on Luck, Longevity and Tribes

Hi all,

last week I spoke about my experience listening to the lovely Julie Koh at WritingNSW’s Forest for the Trees publishing industry seminar at this month’s Sydney Writer’s Festival. If you missed my take on Julie’s writerly words of wisdom, you can find it here.

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Charlotte and Julie in conversation

Julie followed her quote-packed session with a chat with fellow Australian award-winning author, Charlotte WoodCharlotte is  the author of five novels and two books of non-fiction. Her latest novel, The Natural Way of Things, won the 2016 Stella Prize, the 2016 Indie Book of the Year and Novel of the Year, and was joint winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction (whew!)

And yes, during her chat with Julie, Charlotte was kind enough to share her own (and in some cases, similar) wisdom pearls. Here they are:

  1. Prize culture is good for morale but can be meaningless (it swirls around and may do little for sales –  this one is strangely similar to Julie Koh’s Quote Number 15. Food for thought).
  2. You must learn to hold your nerve (her second book was rejected after the first was published).
  3. The process of writing is all you can control (not whether your work is traditionally published).
  4. People who say luck doesn’t play a part in this industry are deluded (this one drew more than a few chuckles from the audience 🙂 ).
  5. Be prepared for how greedy success can make you (Charlotte confessed that she first heard this quote from Christos Tsiolkas, award-winning author of The Slap. I don’t blame her for “re-using” it – it’s a great reminder that we are all human, susceptible to succumbing to the flaws that plague us).
  6. “Write every day” is bullshit (thank you, Charlotte, for alleviating the pressure many writers feel, that they MUST write very day to be worthy of this craft. Besides, Charlotte confessed that her life is so full of other author commitments – such as festival talks 😉 – that she is unable to write every day anyway).
  7. To sustain longevity in a writing career, you must have curiosity in the work itself (it’s that need to write. Although, in another confession from Charlotte, she admitted that she would probably stop if she wasn’t being published).
  8. Tenacity and perseverance are more important than talent (keep at it, if it is what you want to do. Once again, persistence is key).
  9. You need a tribe at the same writing stage as you (I hadn’t heard this one before but it resonated with me. Find those at similar stages of your writing journey, who read and write in your genre, who GET WHERE YOU ARE AT).

And on that note, I’m out of here – to touch base with my tribe…

Hope your tribe is terrific,

Rebecca

Julie Koh’s Reality Rules for Writers (A.K.A. Koh Quotes)

Hi all,

I spent last Thursday soaking up words at Forest for the Trees, a whole-day seminar conducted by WritingNSW as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Forest for the Trees brings together writers, publishers, and industry representatives to discuss the state of writing and publishing in Australia.

The program commences with a writer describing their journey to being published and how they stay on their path through the forest that is publishing. While the speakers’ pathways to getting published are as interesting as they are diverse (in the three years I have attended, vastly different pathways have been revealed), it’s the quotes speakers use to push their point home that I remember most.

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Lovely Julie Koh in action

So much can be relayed in a few well chosen words, and this year was no exception, with Julie Koh, author of Portable Curiosities and Capital Misfits, and one of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists of 2017, dishing out quotes thick and fast, telling it like it is.

I thought I’d share them, along with my own two cents worth of comment 🙂 :

  1. It’s okay to start late, and it’s okay to fail (something I struggle to remember).
  2. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices (and don’t we know it).
  3. Learn about writing and the industry ie. from festivals, courses, reading, twitter, professional memberships (let’s face it, finding out how the literary world works can be fun, and painful).
  4. Butter your own toast ie. don’t obsess how other writers work (my new favourite writing, make that life, quote. This one’s going up on my office wall).
  5. Book deals can be accidental (don’t you all wish one would accidentally drop into your lap?)
  6. It’s all about connections (you connect with people who understand your crazy need to do something that may not make you much, if any, money).
  7. You gotta have the hunger and the hustle. (Julie also said: “Preparation meets opportunity”, another good line to remember. There’s no shame in approaching key people).
  8. “When the Lord closes a door, he opens a window” (one straight out of The Sound of Music. Julie – Koh – referred to it as the scatter gun approach, spreading your work out wide. I must admit, I had a fleeting picture in my head of Julie – Andrews – fleeing from her hilltop meadow at the sound of gunfire 😉 )
  9. Your first book is probably not a magic bullet (speaking of gunfire…but seriously, don’t we all wish for the first book to strike it big? Yeah, probably not gonna happen).
  10. Know that the joy of writing is in the writing. Everything else is noise (yes, yes, yes! And that’s why I blog, for the sheer joy of it – and to get out of housework).
  11. Say “Yes” until you can say “No” – but preserve your sanity first (in other words, do all you can in the quest for success but don’t run yourself into the ground for it).
  12. Get your financial house in order first (this is something I haven’t heard from many writers. Julie said: “You don’t know how hard it is until you try…I may become super famous or super homeless, or both”. It’s extremely hard to make a living from writing, so it is wise to ask yourself why you are doing it).
  13. Realize that the literary world is no mythic garden of noble unicorns (I wish, you wish, my daughter wishes…)
  14. Be savvy about publishers, agents, and contracts ie. what type of relationship do you want with publishers and agents? (Julie employed a publishing consultant to go through Julie’s first book contract).
  15. Don’t get sucked into the prize culture (it’s important to keep in mind the subjectivity that may come into play when awarding winners – each panelist has their own taste and bias).
  16. If you’re a writer of colour, know it will be harder for you eg. you may be defined by it when asked to appear on panels/as a speaker (and the times are not a-changing fast enough).
  17. Your book can be a business card (it may be the BEST business card for your writing career).
  18. “Writing is like driving at night in the fog.” (Ah, what a great one to end with, that famous quote from American novelist, E.L.Doctorow, the second line being: “You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”)

I’d like to add, and maybe make a career of it that way too.

juliekohtwitterHope you’re driving well,

Rebecca

P.S. Writing quotes that mention food strike a chord with me. For some reason, I’m more likely to remember them. Wonder why 😉

Do you have a favourite writing quote? If so, I’d love to hear it!

 

The Writing Break I Had to Have

Hi all, and a huge welcome to 2018,

sunset 2

The sun set on 2017 with me in desperate need of a creative recharge after a busy year of writing, editing, querying and travelling. When you’re a mother of three juggling work-from-home commitments with a family life reminiscent of an out-of-control octopus, the brain can feel a little fried come December – especially when you top off your year with a NaNoWriMo 50,000-word burst. Just to add more to an already full plate. 

Sorry to complain but, come December, I felt that I’d done a bloody lot of work with minimal result, other than a spreadsheet of queried agents for one manuscript (not to mention 50,000 words requiring major editing for the next).

You see, there was the querying for my completed YA novel. I’d extensively researched the publishing industry and picked agents I believed (and still believe) to be the best fit for my story. I’d prepared query letters specific to each agent, detailing why I was querying them, and had sent accompanying manuscript pages to those who preferred them. I’d received some partial and full requests for my manuscript, much to my excitement, and had promptly sent them off.

Fast forward to today: I’ve yet to hear back from several of the agents who requested my material, even after a polite follow-up many months after it was sent. Other agents have responded, all with a pass, but many with comments that implied I was close, soooo close. Two commended me on the strength of my writing, asked if I was working on anything else, and followed that up with a request to read my next work when it is ready. Positive stuff. But still a pass so far for my queried manuscript.

As the end of the year loomed, I sat back and thought about all of the work I had done in 2017 and on what had, and had not, come to pass. So to speak.

And I realized something.

For the first time in years, I wasn’t enjoying my writing. I wasn’t having fun. Why? Because my year had centered around output: what I produced, how much I produced, how many agents I queried. Yes, I’ve had many stories and feature articles published, but I yearned to be a published novelist. Writing became a pursuit of this goal, a goal I have yet to attain. It simply became work. And all work, no play, does not a happy writer make.

I remembered writing the first draft of my YA novel. I’d head to the library or cafe with no preconceived ideal of what I would achieve, not in terms of word count or completed scenes, not in terms of viability and publishing. Although I had an outline, I wrote the detail of my story from the well of inspiration that bubbles to the surface once words start to form on the page. I wrote for sheer joy. (Actually, most of my published work to date has been written from this place.)

I missed that experience.

And I realized something else. I wasn’t reading half as much as I used to – between researching and querying, there was little time for that. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading.

So I decided to take two months off, two months away from my self-imposed treadmill. Other than a couple of blog posts, I have not written ANYTHING since November. Or queried any more agents. I’ve done other things – celebrate Christmas, for a start, and take an interstate family trip. Things that remind me I am not only a writer.

And I’ve read. And read. And read. I’ve read a stack of novels, for the first time or the second, for fun or to examine. I’ve read writing books and taken notes on key points. I’ve also consolidated agent comments, and pinpointed areas in my writing to strengthen. And bookmarked upcoming conferences and workshops to help rectify weaknesses as well as build on my existing writing community.

I’m reminding myself what I love about writing.

I’m doing all this as, at the end of the day, any book of mine that is published is nothing without ME. It’s nothing without someone who relishes what she has created, who is confident in what she has created, and who enjoys the process of creating it.

Kallista sunset

When the sun rises on February, I’ll return from my self-imposed exile. I’m reinvigorated. I feel I’m ready. And I plan to have fun.

I hope you have fun, wherever your creativity takes you,

Rebecca

P.S. Apologies – this post is longer than most, but it was important to say 🙂

Have you ever taken a break from your writing or other creative pursuit? Why did you take it, and was it beneficial?

 

 

2017 – the Year I Accelerated my Leaps of Faith

Whew!

It’s hard to believe that the door will soon close on another year. For me, 2017 has many highlights, mainly because it’s the year I’ve accelerated my leaps of faith, trusting myself to take chances I’d previously hesitated to take.

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My watershed actually occurred in August 2016, when I traveled from Australia to New York to attend and pitch my first novel manuscript at the Writer’s Digest Conference. It was the first time I’d actively promoted my writing and myself as a writer, face to face, to industry insiders. My publishing success up to that date had all come from submitting articles and short stories via email (let’s face it, it’s easier to put yourself out there when cyberspace is between you and those you hope to impress).

I made countless friends at the conference, and learnt soooo much about the world of writing and publishing. I also realized how much more I needed to do, to practice, to learn.

And how much I wanted to do it.

Upon my return to Australia, I made a conscious effort, wherever possible, to eliminate the negativity that had previously attacked my self-esteem, and threatened to derail my hopes and dreams. I actively connected with writer friends, joined Facebook groups, attended more workshops and conferences, and discovered the world of podcasts.

Climbing into the query trenches, I sought strength from passes on my manuscript, considered constructive comments, and experienced joy with positive feedback and offers to consider my next work.

And I’ve continued to write.

Blog posts.

Short stories.

And a new novel, middle grade this time. I thrashed out its outline a few months ago and wrote most of a first draft during NaNoWriMo in November. I’ll revisit it – hopefully with fresh eyes – in the New Year.

The writing community, within Australia and abroad, has been wonderful in its willingness to support, advise, and encourage emerging writers such as myself. In turn, I have tried to pay it forward, offering whatever help I can to others on this roller-coaster journey. We’re all in this together.

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This time, my trip to the Colosseum included a visit to the dungeons and the third (top) tier. Incredible.

My other leap of faith this year was deciding the bills could wait and revisiting Europe, nineteen years after my first jaunt there and nineteen years after I met my husband (also there). We returned this time with our three kids in tow!

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The view from our Paris apartment – a special surprise for my daughter.

On this glorious seven-week trip, I met a nephew for the first time, re-experienced architectural and natural wonders through the eyes of my offspring, and even found some time for writing research 🙂

Leaps of faith can offer wonderful opportunities and experiences, even in a year where parts of the world appear to have gone mad.

Hope your year has been memorable, and your 2018 brings you everything you desire.

Chat then,

Rebecca

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Canal boat cruising across the Pontscyllyte Aqueduct in Wales, the highest aqueduct in the world. Cheers, while my fifteen-year-old son steers!