Ever wanted to be a stand up comedian?
Nope, me either. Yet, here I am on stage, with a gang of other authors and illustrators, waiting for my turn to make a hall full of teenagers laugh.
I don’t remember this being in the job description when I signed my first book deal.
The nerves in the back of my neck are tingling as I’m handed the microphone. I open my mouth, and to my great relief – out comes a vaguely coherent stream of anecdotes that mostly hit the mark.
I tell the audience about the time I was almost kidnapped by an orangutan in Borneo. Then there was the day I was bullied by a sea snake on the Great Barrier Reef, and who could forget the time I was mauled by a garfish at Port Douglas. OK, the last one isn’t a very funny story – but it proves that the truth is stranger than fiction and real life is a great place to start a work of fiction.
By the time I get through my brief presentation on me – I’m actually enjoying the moment. That’s lucky really because being a writer for children and teens isn’t just about sitting behind a computer day and night, it also involves a lot of entertaining. And it’s not a lot of fun if you only enjoy half a job.
I’ve had eight books published in the past three years – an adventure series for primary school readers called Hazard River and two titles in a series for teens called Smitten. Of course that means I’ve done a lot of writing, editing and rewriting, but I’ve also covered a lot of other territory. I’ve run writing workshops for students, done author talks at libraries and festivals, written countless blogs, made book trailers and set up websites.
I’ve also found myself teaching (very, very) basic Cantonese to grade threes, leading prep students in a zombie dance, and drawing monsters that may or may not inhabit the centre of the earth. Who knew being an author would be so diverse?
Actually, I didn’t give the idea much thought at all when I started out. I began, like a lot of other people – writing a story for my own sons. I was inspired by a family holiday on the Noosa River and I wanted to write about it. I didn’t have a long-term plan, or contacts, or much of a clue at all. I’d done a lot of writing as a news reporter, but I wasn’t even sure I could make up a story.
That turned out to be the easy part. Then came the tough slog to find a publisher – long waits, punctuated by painful rejections, rewrites, flickers of hopes, followed by disappointment, and finally a lucky break. If only I knew then what I know now!
So, here are a few points that might be useful if you’re starting out as a writer.
- All publishers are not the same. It is useful to check out their websites, go to conferences and read interviews to find out what editors and publishing houses are looking for in a manuscript.
- Publishers can take months (and months and months) to get back to you on a submission, so you need to aim your manuscript at the best possible publishing house for your story.
- Write about something you care about, rather than something you think is trendy. Tastes change quickly, but publishers mostly work slowly, so something that’s really hot right now could be stale by the time it finds its way to the submissions desk.
- Just because an editor likes your work, it doesn’t mean that the story is perfect. Be prepared for several rewrites and try not to take them personally.