I have had a lot of people asking me lately about how to begin writing a story. In particular, a number of readers have asked me about sharing parts of their own history. So, I thought I would share some tips from my personal experience. I began writing stories when I was just a little girl, and in fact, won a book week competition when I was only 6!
Here is me, not yet at school, busy reading and writing. And below that, the story I wrote and illustrated for a CBCA book week competition, which won me the lovely book next to it – Barnaby and the Rocket. I have wanted to be a children’s writer and get one of those gold stickers on a book ever since!
Now, I am one of those authors who has always wanted to write, who has always been a voracious reader and a seeker of stories. But you do not have to have this history with books, in order to write one. You do not even have to write a book for publishing reasons. You do not have to follow rules about what and how and who to write. You can write your story for yourself, for someone you love, or simply for the process.
In this instance, if you are writing without publication in mind, just begin. Make notes of ideas, start writing, and then see where it takes you. Don’t worry too much about the organisation of the work at this stage. The first draft, or draft zero as some people like to call it, is just for you. I still recommend you learn some about the craft of writing. It will support you to get the ideas in your head, out on paper. But there is no need to try and perfect everything. Imagine you are writing a personal journal of events. Have someone to read drafts for you, someone you trust who will give useful feedback. There are many online writing courses and workshops you can attend as well as local writing groups. Your community library is a great starting point.
If you do want to work towards publication, there are many tips, depending on whether you want to go self-published or traditionally published. Both have positive and negative aspects. Both are valid. Some people opt for a hybrid publishing route and will venture into both. I have self-published and it wasn’t for me. I could write many blog posts on these topics, but in this post, I am going to give a short summary of some of the basic tips for traditional publishing, which is the way I have chosen to go with my work.
Ten Tips for Traditional Publishing
- Never submit to an agent or publisher until you are very sure it is your best work. That does not mean your final work. There will be many rounds of edits and changes if you are picked up by an agent and/or publisher. But make it the very best you can do, now. I pitched too early when I first began trying to seek traditional publishing, and the works I pitched have been developed extensively since then. I must say, that despite being mortified later by my performance in the pitches, it was a great learning experience.
- Always check out the publishers and agents thoroughly. The Australian Literary Agents’ Association is the best starting point for Australian agents. Some authors choose to pitch to overseas agents and this is also a fine way to go, especially if you are writing in a genre that sells best, say in America, for example. But do your homework.
- Read the requirements for submission for each agent or publisher. These vary. Never send unwanted information or work in a format they have not asked for. Follow their guidelines for the synopsis and pitch. Most do not want the full manuscript to begin with, so you have to capture their interest with your synopsis and pitch. Some people like to write these before the manuscript, others write them when they have completed it.
- Make note of when agents and publishers open for submissions. Again, this varies. Some agents and publishers are open all of the time, some only have windows, or are seeking particular manuscripts. You don’t have to have an agent. Many people approach publishers directly. I have found my agent to be invaluable.
- If you plan to make a career out of writing, network and get to know the literary community. Be kind, be professional and support other writers. Don’t endlessly blow your own trumpet and forget to share other people’s works. Don’t DM people about buying your book as soon as you connect. Just. Don’t…
- Develop your writing skills and industry knowledge. Attend writing workshops and events and book launches. Join your local state writer association and writing groups. Find us on twitter via #6amAusWriters and #AusWrites There are also genre specific organisations, such as Romance Writers of Australia and the Historical Novel Society. SCBWI and the CBCA are great to join if you are writing children’s books. The Australian Society of Authors has many resources for writers. The #LoveOzMG and #LoveOzYA communities are wonderful on Twitter.
- Be serious about your craft and expect to be in this for the long haul. Publishing is a lot about waiting. And waiting some more. And then waiting…It is not a quick process and there is no way around it – you have to write the manuscript before you approach publishers. Unless you are writing non-fiction, in which case you need a few chapters and a full chapter outline. But for fiction, you have to write the manuscript.
- Set up an author profile – at least a basic website. You don’t have to write a blog. You don’t have to be on every social media platform. This will take you away from writing anyway. Work out where your audience hangs out and aim to develop that particular platform. Twitter is wonderful for connecting with other authors. I find Facebook and Instagram good for connecting with readers.
- Create routines and identify things that support you to get the words down. Some people need music, others need quiet. Some people write best early in the morning, others late at night. Some people plot, some go with the flow, others do both. Some have a place to write, others like to mix this up. Some people never edit as they go, others do. Some people write every day, others fit it in when they can. Do what works for you, but if you are aiming for traditional publishing, be patient, do the work, be professional, take it seriously, seek support, always be learning, get feedback, connect and be kind.
- Read and read widely. If you want to be a published author, I believe you must read other people’s books. I don’t understand authors who say they never read. Some people find they can’t read or can’t read similar books to theirs, while writing. That’s cool. Read at other times. Personally, for me there is hardly a day goes by without reading, even if it is a few pages. Reading is not just about pleasure and supporting other writers – it extends your brain, develops your craft, shows you how other people write, sparks ideas and validates your place in the literary scene. So, go read!
These are just a few of the things I have learned. There are many more and I am aiming to share some further posts, so stay tuned and sign up to my newsletter here for more tips