Kind of obvious, I know, but reading broadly can really fuel your writing. It gives you ideas for structure, voice, point of view – all the things that make a great book.
A couple of other points:
Join a book group. The beauty of belonging to a book group is it forces you to read books you might not otherwise read. I have found this to be a tremendously liberating and fun experience. And again, it fuels your writing brain.
Read what you want to write. I have a sneaking suspicion that there are plenty of wanna-be children’s writers out there who aren’t particularly familiar with modern children’s literature. It is essential to read what you want to write. If you want to write picture books you need to read what’s being published – now, not when you were a kid.
Don’t torture yourself trying to write something that’s just not you. The secret to good (and hopefully easy-ish) writing is to write what you like to read. Okay, you’ll be glad to know I do read things other than The Famous Five but I am aspiring to writing children’s adventure/mystery stories and have been reading a lot in this genre.
Try (and this is something I’m still struggling with) to get into a writing routine. Even if you can carve out an hour a day, you’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve
I once had this written on a sticky note and stuck to my desk. If you don’t write anything… you don’t write anything. Get it? Agonising over that perfect first line can cripple your writing. Take it from one who knows. The key is to get something down. Once you’ve written something, then you can revise and hone and make it brilliant. But when you’re starting a piece, just work on getting down the basics.
And once you have the basics, then you can finesse. It pays to be able to put your writing aside and then go back and have a look at it with fresh eyes. Even if it’s just typos, you really want to be putting your absolute best work forward when you submit to a publisher.
That said, make sure you take a broad overview look at your work, as well as the little things. If it’s a longer piece consider – does enough happen, are my characters engaging and true to life, is the structure working? These are big questions that can lead to a lot of reworking but hopefully a much stronger piece.
One of the most common reasons publishers give for rejection is ‘this does not suit our list’. What this means is ‘It’s not enough like the other stuff we’ve published’.
I have to admit this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Publishers insist that they’re all looking for something original and fresh but then trot out the ‘does not suit out list’ line.
So what you need to do is look at publishers websites. Check out what kind of books they’re publishing in the genre you’re hoping to crack. Sometimes you can find the most recent catalogues on-line. Make a list of the books they’re publishing in your genre and borrow them from the library. Get a feel for what they want. This puts you in a much better position to target your manuscript to a particular publisher. Then, in your covering letter you can say my book is in a similar vein to (insert title of a book they’ve published) but is different and fresh because ***
The other thing is by looking at publishers websites and finding the ‘manuscript submissions’ tab (often very difficult to find), you’ll know if their open for submissions and what they’re looking for.
When you’re researching publishers you will discover that those who are taking unsolicited manuscripts will specify how they want their submissions to arrive. Things like double-space, include a synopsis or not, include a stamped-self-addressed envelope, only submit by email…Each publisher has their own set of guidelines. I can’t stress this enough – STICK TO THEIR RULES. It’s a pretty simple thing that you have control over (unlike whether or not they accept you) so you may as well get it right.
A Killer Covering Letter is also great – although I must admit most editors I’ve spoken to say they’re primarily interested in the work, THEN if they like the work they’ll go back and look at the covering letter.
For a comprehensive guide on how to submit I strongly recommend:
A Decent Proposal : How to sell your book to an Australian Publisher or Literary Agent by Rhonda Whitton & Sheila Hollingsworth
Some writers I know of have husbands who earn enough to allow them to stay home and write. But not everyone has this luxury…
In 2011, the average income for an Australian writer was $11,000 – and that’s a ‘successful’ writer. The reality is most of us will need to keep our ‘day job’ and that’s okay.
Think of your ‘day job’ as a source of good material. I’m lucky that part of my job involves talking with lots of different people – they’re all potential characters (don’t tell them I said that!)
Keeping your day job will also help you stay sane while you wait for that magic phone call or email!
Listen to the way people talk, observe mannerism, take in your surroundings – everything can be used in your writing.
Also, particularly for children’s writers, I suggest hanging out with kids. I volunteered for a while with the Girl Guides and this gave me a great insight into modern kids – their speech, what they’re interested in and how they interact with each other.
If you start thinking about yourself as a professional, others will too. Read books about writing, consider doing a writing course, join a writers group…all these things will feed your writing.
Consider blogging, making business cards, attending conferences – get out there in the world of writers, it’s amazing how one thing leads to another.
Some useful organisations:
Victorian Writers Centre
Australian Society of Authors
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
This is perhaps the hardest thing of all. When the rejections are rolling in and you wonder if you’re wasting your time and who are you to think you’ve got any talent anyway? You get the idea…
I bought myself a pack of A for Attitude cards – they’re actually designed for kids but they’re full of little motivational sayings which really helped me.
Read about other writers stories of rejection – I find them quite consoling.
And try and find some writing buddies who can share your highs and lows.
And as my writerly colleague Candice Lemon-Scott puts it – when all else fails pull out the wine and/or chocolate!