Sunday, 30 June 2013


Should you have a book launch? Do you need one? If you do want to launch your book, who organises it and pays for it - you or the publisher? What do you do at a book launch? Who should speak?

These days, publishers do not generally become involved in book launches (especially for first-time authors) so it will be up to you to organise your own. Many writers consider a book launch to be essential to help promote their work as well as being fun - and a validation of all the work that goes into a book!

Luckily writers are becoming a lot more proactive about marketing and selling their books. As someone who has organised a few launches of her own books, I offer here the benefit of my experience and some words of advice. Let’s take my most recent launch, of The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia) which was held in my home town, Wollongong, in July 2013.

As the launch was of a cross-over novel (suitable for young adults and adults), the best venue seemed to be a high school. Luckily I have a friend, the retired librarian of a local co-ed school, who agreed to host the launch. In turn, she enlisted the services of the current librarian and the Head English teacher, who organised the seating and selected two classes of Year 10 students to attend.

My main job was to publicise the launch to the general public. To this end, I sent emails to everyone on my local database; I posted a notice in the South Coast Writers’ Centre online newsletter and on council branch library noticeboards. I also invited the local TV news station to film the event (they didn’t turn up, despite promising to do so.) My publisher kindly paid for the refreshments and my husband, award-winning YA author, Bill Condon, agreed to launch the book.

On the launch day the weather was atrocious – wind and rain – so fewer adults turned up than had said ‘yes’ to the RSVP, but I was happy to see so many supporters there, mostly friends.

We allowed an hour for the launch. First my hostess friend introduced me and then I thanked my helpers and those attending, following which I delivered a 15-minute power point presentation that focused on where the idea for The Girl in the Basement came from, what research I did prior to and during writing, and how the book’s cover was chosen. Next, Bill gave a short and witty launch speech after which I answered questions for about 15 minutes.

Book sales and signings followed, as well as refreshments (hors d’oeuvres, cakes, tea and coffee) and an opportunity for people to talk informally to me and to each other.

My latest launch was quite different from a few of my other book launches – for example, one involved the literal launch of a two-metre paper champagne ‘bottle’ on a pulley into my waiting arms; another saw a play adaptation from a scene in the book; another saw me arriving at the launch on a Harley Davidson motorbike. Probably the most interesting part of my latest talk was the photo I showed the audience of a teenage girl and boy bound and gagged, which was found as a Polaroid in a car park in America many years ago, the first indication months later of what had happened following the disappearance of the respective children: this photo (and newspaper article) was the impetus for writing The Girl in the Basement.

Was the launch a success? Insofar as a large group of people were introduced to my latest book -- yes. Everyone said how much they enjoyed the presentations. And it was great seeing many friends. But a success in terms of income? No. The sale of books on the day did not cover the cost of the refreshments. However, in the words -- post-launch -- of my publisher: ‘Don't be too disappointed about the number of sales. The impending holiday could have been a huge influence. Students might turn up with money tomorrow or they might go to the bookshops. It is not always an immediate result.’

How might I have increased sales? Having the launch at 2 pm on a week-day meant that many people couldn’t make it. (More would surely have come at night or on the weekend). The inclement weather was unavoidable. There was no street parking; people had to walk in the rain some distance to the school from their cars. Although students had been given flyers about buying books, only one student remembered his money. (Perhaps I should have asked for a notice to go home in the school newsletter). If I’d organised it earlier, the newspaper article (I’ve been promised) might have appeared before the launch and attracted more people. I could also have followed up on the letters I posted to the three local radio stations – more free publicity.

Life is full of should have’s and could have’s. Next time I’ll do it better. But here are some suggestions if you are planning a launch:

·       Design an invitation that can be emailed as well as posted as this represents a cost saving and is also more efficient in terms of receiving and chasing up RSVPs.

·       Get invitations out in plenty of time and include an RSVP: say it is for catering purposes

·       Try as many ways as you can to maximise publicity

·       Try to find a venue where access and parking are easy

·       You can often link your launch into big occasions (such as a festival or conference)

·       Keep the launch venue up-to-date with information about progress

·       Offer an incentive to your hosts (for example 20% of my book sales were donated to the school library; I also gifted it several copies)

·       Make sure you have copies of your book available for purchase on the day. (It’s a good idea to sign them the night before to cut down on waiting time for those wishing to buy them.)

·       Have an MC who can introduce the speakers

·       Invite a high profile person to launch your book: this will help attract an audience. At the very least, chose someone who is a confident and entertaining speaker.    

·       Recruit a team of support people, such as family and friends, so that you can delegate some of the responsibility to make organising the event as stress free as possible

·       Remember to thank everyone who attends and who helps you

·       Offer your guests refreshments at the end of the show

Some authors like to decorate their venue. Here is what Tricia Stringer, author of Changing Channels wrote about her experience: ‘My book is an adult romance set on a farm and the cover is hot pink. The launch was in a shearing shed, cleaned but not bereft of things like wool press, brand templates, shears and a pen of live sheep. We decorated with touches of pink.’

The launch of The Girl in the Basement was a low-key event. Other launches I’ve organised have attracted hundreds of people (two book launches were televised on national television), but it suited my purpose: it introduced the book to friends, old and new and provided another memory for me to savour in my 30+ writing career.

The Girl in the Basement is available in paperback for $24.95 and can be bought from Morris Publishing Australia, Dennis Jones and Associates, James Bennett Library suppliers and The Nile Bookshop. You can also purchase an e-book version for $4.99 via Amazon, Smash words, Kobo, Apple and other online stores.

Saturday, 29 June 2013


1. Invest time and money in your career: this means subscribing to industry newsletters, magazines, and journals, as well as joining relevant organizations (for example, your state’s writers’ centre, the Fellowship of Australian Writers, the Australian Society of Authors, The Arts Law Centre of Australia).

2. Always act professionally in your dealings with fellow writers, publishers, and others in your industry. Acting professionally is essential when it comes to signing contracts. Do not sign a contract just to get signed. You can always negotiate clauses (publishers expect you to!), and if you don’t know anything about writing contracts, employ a professional to do so (such as the Arts Law Society, ASA, or a solicitor who specialises in arts’ contracts.)

3. Create your own resources. This includes creating a manuscript dispatches’ file or tracker, index cards (or computer-generated file) for each manuscript submission, a list of relevant addresses, contact details for publishers, and a library of relevant books and magazines. 

4. Attend writing workshops, conferences, and book fairs (see #1. to find out where and when).

5. Your own writing space is essential. Organise it so you know where everything is and make others respect it. Put a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door (and in your head!)

6. Call yourself a writer. Believe it! Make it happen by writing regularly and submitting frequently. Create a signature on your emails which declares you are a writer, for example:

Yours sincerely,

Sally Smith



My signature is

Dianne (Di) Bates

PO Box 2116
Woonona East
NSW 2517

Ph (02) 42843020

Latest Books: Nobody's Boy (Celepane Press)
The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia)
Erky Perky Silly Stuff (Five Senses Education)

You’ll note that when I wish to promote a book, its details are included on the signature (see above).

7. Set yourself writing goals and deadlines. Write them down. Keep to them. Goals can be both short-term (I will complete my short story by 20 November) or long-term (By 30 December 2013, I will have finished the first draft of my novel.)

8. Never, ever hassle publishers. After you submit and record date and place of submission, move on to your next writing project. If your publisher has not responded after 8 – 12 weeks, then send a brief, polite email or letter of enquiry. If the publisher ignores your correspondence, then send your manuscript elsewhere, and cross them off your list of would-be publishers.

9. Make and write down decisions about what you expect and will tolerate as a writer. This will help you formulate how professional you will be in your dealings with publishers and the public in general.

10. If you are writing for a particular market (especially for young people), read as many of the recently published, best selling and old favourites books as there are in that genre. Note who the publishers are: their addresses, if the book is recent, are always available to you on the book’s information (also called imprint) page.

11. Get a business card with your name and contact details on it. You can buy sheets of make-it-yourself business cards from a stationers’ and create the card yourself with your computer (go to Labels, located under Tools on the Menu bar).

12.  Network! The more people you know in the industry, the more resources you have available. At conferences, fairs, etc don’t be nervous about approaching people – even the speakers – and giving out your business card. If anyone gives you their business card it’s a good idea to follow-up with an email. If they respond, keep in touch. You never know what it can lead to!

13. Share! So many writers keep markets to themselves for fear others will get published. If your work is good enough, your work will be accepted. Competition is inevitable. If you are generous, then other generous people will reciprocate; you will also be creating goodwill among contemporaries, and potential readers!

14. It is wise not to consider editors, art directors, publicists, market directors and literary agents as personal friends. Be friendly, by all means, but crossing the fine line can create problems further down the line.

15. (This should probably be #1!) Learn and practice how to self-edit! So many new writers learn about writing, but neglect the skill that makes the difference between a good manuscript and a GREAT manuscript. Editing is not just spelling, grammar and punctuation: looking at every single word and sentence, and the overall structure of your work is what editing is about. Not many teach it, but you can find books to help you self edit.

16. Never, ever submit a manuscript which is less than the very best you can do. This means re-reading it many times for errors. Don’t rely on a computer spell-check.

16. Self-publishing is possible, but the most difficult aspect is distribution. If you use a distributor to get your books into Australian bookshops, be aware that they charge upwards of 60% discount, and not many will handle one-off titles. If you intend to self-distribute, you need great promotional abilities and lots of time and energy.

17. If you donate materials relating to Australian children’s books, such as letters from publishers, manuscripts, proof pages and so on, you might be eligible for the Government's Cultural Gifts Program, a scheme by which your collection is valued (no charge to you) by independent assessors, and a certificate issued to you which will enable you to obtain tax relief. For more information, or to donate a collection, contact the Field Officer of the Archives division of your state library or the National Library of Australia. Keep all of those letters, royalty statements and stuff you might otherwise throw out!

18. Remember that the Australian book industry is a small one and many people know one another: be discrete when talking of others!

19. It is quite in order for you to thank an editor or publisher or others on the publishing team if they produce a book for you which you think is great, or if a magazine has chosen a great illustrator to go with your story. A nice gesture is a card, a bunch or flowers, bottle of wine, chocolates (but bribes are not a good way to go!)

20. If you are lucky enough to get a mentor whom you don’t have to pay, try to do something for him or her. Perhaps you could offer to undertake some research on the internet…

21. Keep all of your receipts which you can claim as tax deductions against your writing income – even if you don’t make very much. I can legitimately – and honestly – claim deductions in the tens of thousands of dollars so get a good accountant or seek the advice of someone who makes writing expenses’ claims.

22. Spend more time writing than you do going to workshops and conferences!

23. Keep a time-sheet is a terrific way of seeing just how much time you really “work”. My husband and I are full-time freelancers, who each spend an average 40 hours a week at our writing desks.

24. If you are asked to speak as a writer, do not do it gratis (unless it is your child’s school); your time is valuable, so value it yourself. I charge per child per hour, with a minimum charge per hour. 

25. If you intend to publicise your book/s, then undertake a speaking course. Toastmaster International is a great organisation, which will teach you how to make butterflies fly in formation, and to speak impromptu to an audience. (Deduct the cost of joining and meetings against your writing income.)

26. Set small achievable goals and try to write undisturbed regularly. Give yourself an allotted time where writing is your only priority.

27. Keep a despatches’ book or online register which shows when and where you send out manuscripts.

28. Keep a record of each manuscript’s history: record how long the piece is, when you finished it, places to which it has been sent and if it has been accepted or rejected.

29. Do not sit beside the phone or hang out at the mail box when you submit a manuscript: get to work on the next one!

30. Do not take it personally when your work is rejected by a publisher. There are many reasons why work is returned. Quality of writing is not the only factor: it could be that the publisher has only the day before accepted a similar piece to that which you’ve submitted.

My highest number of consecutive manuscript rejections is 47! One of my published books was rejected by 15 publishers over a six year period, but when it came out, it was not only very popular, but was accepted for overseas’ translation. Another of my books was taken by the 32nd publisher to whom I submitted it.

31. Do not be fearful of submitting a manuscript: there are only one or two (usually anonymous) people who will read it, and you will never know who they are. The worst that can happen is that your work is returned. Also, don’t worry about © copyright: it’s rare than anyone in a publishing house will “steal” your idea.

32. Recycle: when your manuscript is rejected, re-submit it the same day to another publisher. If it is your 6th or 7th rejection, then the chances are it’s not the best writing in the world (but it might be you haven't found the right publisher).

33. Most authors worry about multiple submissions, or sending the same manuscript to two or more publishers at the same time. My usual approach is to multiply submit as book publishers are notorious for taking a long time to respond to unsolicited submissions. However, it is a courtesy to let the publisher know that they are not the only company looking at your work. Someone once said, what to do if you get two or more publishers wishing to publish your work, is to celebrate. The advantage of competing publishers for one work is that you have leverage regarding contract negotiations.

34. If you prefer to submit a manuscript to one publisher at a time, it is a sound policy to set a deadline. Tell the publisher that they have exclusive rights to read your work until… then name a date, say 6-8 weeks hence. If you have had no response by the date, wait 2-3 days, then make a polite phone call or send an email or card, asking if there is any interest. If there is no response, immediately send your work on to the next publisher.

34. Never expect a publisher to write a report on why they have rejected your work. It is not their job.

35. If a publishing house rejects your work and says why, then your work obviously had some merit: most rejected manuscripts are not commented on. Feel encouraged, but work even harder to improve your work!

36. If your manuscript is rejected with notes from the publisher, it is quite in order for you to re-write, using the publisher’s suggestions, and then to re-submit. The second time around address it to the editor who sent you the letter, and remind him/her that you have re-worked your manuscript based on their earlier comments.

Even if you did exactly what the publisher suggested, they are not legally bound to accept your re-submission.

37. How do you know which publisher is right for you? This is where your market research comes into play. Look at who is publishing what and see if you like the standard of their book design and the quality of the work they publish. Read your trade magazines; ask published writers about publishers and what they would recommend.

38. The best way to get on side with a published author is to read his/her work, and let them know if you enjoy it. You will find most writers – especially children’s writers – friendly and approachable.

39. If you meet someone in the publishing business – such as an author - do not ask them to read your manuscript, even if you paid once upon a time for a course they conducted. Pay for a manuscript assessment.

40. If a manuscript assessor writers a favourable report on your work, then it is okay (in fact a good idea) to submit a copy of the report with your manuscript when you submit it to a publisher.

41. It is not good policy to sign an option clause on a contract, even though it sounds good. The option clause says that the publisher has first right of refusal on your next work. If you sign it, you can be in for trouble in future. If you want to, you can always approach your existing publisher with a new manuscript.

42. Study publishers’ catalogues: quite often you can get a good idea of what they are likely to accept, and sometimes you can see a “gap” in their range. This is particularly the case with educational publishers.

43. If you want to write a non-fiction book, you are advised to create a proposal before you write the book. The proposal will report on matters such as your book concept, your expertise in the intended subject and/or your qualifications, the book’s target market, competing books, reasons why your book will sell well, an outline of the books’ contents and a sample chapter. An interested publisher will likely talk to you about your ideas and even offer a contract before you proceed.

44. Never, ever, ever miss a deadline! Professionals will work around the clock rather than miss one. I once worked with a new illustrator who missed important deadlines, which held up the publisher's schedule. It was her first and last job as an illustrator: news travels in the publishing world.

45. Many writers want to know how long a story or a book should be. It depends on who you are writing for, and what kind of book. If you don’t know, go to the people who do know, or check out submission guidelines on the internet.

46. If you don’t have a computer, you should forget about being a writer. Learn to back up work-in-progress constantly. Most publishers these days require a hard copy of your work as well as a soft copy.

47. When I send bulky manuscripts to publishers, I tell them I do not require return of manuscript. Instead, I include a ssae (stamped, self-addressed envelope) with 50 cent postage stamp, and also invite the publisher to report to me via email, if they prefer. This saves a lot of money in postage.

48. A writing buddy is very motivating, if you can find one. The idea is that you swap work-in-progress, and motivate and encourage one another. If you don’t know any other writers, then advertise for a buddy. In most states there are writers’ centres which have newsletters. I have used the Public Notices’ pages of my local regional newspaper to find writers (and succeeded!) A writing group I founded about 20 years ago is still running, though I long ago left it.

49. If you can find like-minded writers, form a writers’ work shopping group which meets regularly. Up to six members is fine; personally I prefer 3-4. The idea is to meet in someone’s home, or perhaps a public place such as the meeting room in the local library. Each person takes reads his or her work to the group, and then members of the group offer constructive criticism. In setting up a workshop group, it is advisable that members are of a similar writing level and write in the same genre, such as short stories or novels. You would also be advised as a group to decide on a list of criteria for assessment before the work shopping begins. A certain level of trust needs to exist for a workshop group to function effectively.

50. Most new writers desperately want an agent. Agents are not always what they are cracked up to be. I know of authors who regret having agents because they have become bound by agreements which they cannot escape. Your best tool for success is brilliant writing! There are loop-holes when it comes to publishers saying they will only take work from agented writers. (obtain my article How to Get Both Feet Past Publishers’ Locked Doors from for free. I have testimonials which state that lateral thinking and actions, as suggested by the article, does work.)

51. If you hear about a new market or opportunity, attend to it immediately. This is one of the main reasons why I get so much work published! I am constantly ferreting out markets. When I find a new one, I make contact that very moment. Often my work is the first submitted to a new publisher. Move quickly. Don’t leave deadlines to the last minute. It’s a trite but absolutely true saying, “The early bird gets the best (juiciest and sometimes only) worm.”

ALL THE VERY BEST OF LUCK WITH YOUR WRITING CAREER! (Remember, you can make your own luck…)

Don't forget to leave a comment if you found this article helpful!



Thursday, 27 June 2013


Many new writers are desperate to find an agent to represent their manuscripts to publishers. They believe that only via an agent can their work be ‘discovered’ and published. Getting published this way certainly results in success for some authors, but my experience might result in you changing your mind if you are desperately searching for an agent. Over a long, successful literary career in children’s books, I’ve had three agents; however, I have managed to place all of my manuscripts – fiction and non-fiction – by myself.

It was easy enough to find my first agent (Ms X) and to have her represent my interests. Ours was a verbal contract; she was to place my work and to charge 10% of my income if successful. It didn’t take me long to discover that I actually knew more than she about the Australian children’s book market. In fact, I soon discovered that I was the first – and only – children’s author she represented. This was pre-computer days so our communication was via phone and letter. However, Ms X was difficult to contact by phone, and she did not answer letters. One day, while I was attending a writers’ festival, I saw her and tried to engage her in conversation. At the time she was accompanying a highly regarded author; in passing, she promised to ring me ‘soon’. There was no phone call. Consequently, I wrote her a polite note letting her know I preferred to go my own way. I have no idea whether she ever sent off any of my manuscripts to publishers. The bottom line was that she did not sell anything I wrote.

For a long time after this, I continued to represent my own interests and was very successful, sometimes placing up to seven or eight book manuscripts a year (mostly to the educational market which was flourishing at the time). However, a time came when I was very ill and needed help. When I rang Mrs Y, a highly regarded agent, and told her I had four contracts that needed to be negotiated, she expressed surprise that I’d contacted her. ‘Di,’ she said, ‘you know more about publishers than most writers.’ When I explained why I needed her help, she agreed to represent me. Before long the four contracts were signed and delivered.

I then began sending manuscripts to her. A publisher was interested in a joke book I’d compiled but, because the jokes were culled from various sources and were not ‘original’, the company offered only a paltry royalty which I would not accept. Mrs Y was unable to change the publisher’s mind, so the manuscript was withdrawn. She submitted other manuscripts of mine, but without success, though I managed to place some manuscripts and she negotiated those contracts. Royalties and royalty statements began to come in via this agent. It was fortunate that I took the time to check the statements because there were mistakes in payments. Mrs Y had negotiated a rising royalty on contracts, which meant that after a certain number of books were sold, the royalty would rise from ten to twelve and a half percent of RRP. My sales on several books exceeded the ten percent number; however, the publisher had not paid the twelve percent. Mrs Y had not bothered to check my contract against the statements. It was then I realised that not only was she not thorough in handling my affairs, but she was over-worked with too many clients. As well, she had not managed to place any of my manuscripts. I decided to terminate our relationship, though she continued to handle royalties on those books she had negotiated contracts for.

Notwithstanding these two poor experiences with agents, I nevertheless decided, many published books later, to secure the services of an agent who might be able to sell my manuscripts overseas. Mrs Z had a good reputation and had even managed to negotiate film rights for a colleague, so I wrote and asked her to represent my overseas’ and local interests. No problem there. The problem, however, was Mrs Z’s lack of communication. She was very slow to respond to emails (when she did) and phone messages went unreturned. On the positive side, it seemed that she did have publishing contacts, especially in America, and, when she bothered to contact me, she did let me know where my manuscripts were sent, and how the overseas’ publishers had responded. Unfortunately, Mrs Z was unable – as I had been – to place any of my novels overseas. Meanwhile, in Australia I had managed to interest a publisher in one of my books; however, the publisher was dragging its heels with a contract. It was when I caught Mrs Z out in a lie about communicating with this publisher, I decided the time had come for us to part company; thus I wrote her a short yet hopefully tactful letter terminating our verbal contract.

Not one of the three agents – all respectable and with many clients – managed to place one of my manuscripts. However, I have placed over 120 children’s books in the past 30 years. Yes, it is more difficult these days to get publishers’ locked doors. But it can be done. I do it all the time, even when publishers’ websites indicate they don’t take unsolicited manuscripts and will only accept them through an agent. I have written an article, ‘How to Get Past Publishers’ Locked Doors’, giving tips on how to succeed and am happy to send it to you free of charge if you write to me c%

Getting an agent is sometimes as difficult as getting a book acceptance. Agents can be, so I’m told, very helpful. Some are more proactive than others, but some, I think, represent too many clients and as a result are over-worked and not as effective as a writer can be who is talented and determined to have her books published.

Monday, 24 June 2013


‘Superglue’, that’s the answer I give when people ask how I motivate myself to write day
after day. ‘Apply it to the seat of your pants and face the screen.’ It’s a glib answer, but
basically this is the surest way to achievement.
There's nothing like the feeling of starting to write a brand new story. You’ve probably
been thinking about it for days or weeks before you actually sit down at your computer
and start tapping away. The characters are real in your head; the plot sounds promising,
and you are motivated. This is going to be The One, the great Australian novel.

Your initial feeling of excitement can last for weeks. It's rewarding to see the word count
increase as days pass. It's a joy to open your laptop and spend hours in your fictional
world, forgetting all your everyday chores.
Comes the day, though, when you turn on your computer and instead of having fun
writing the next scene, you stare at the screen and find yourself thinking about anything
other than your story. Visitors are coming for tea, your carpets need vacuuming and your
garden is neglected. You type a few sentences, but when you read them through they
sound about as interesting as last week's shopping list. Is it worth pursuing, you ask
yourself. Perhaps it’s just one of those days. You write in your diary, make a cuppa and
bring in the washing. All the time you’re thinking about how difficult it is to write, how
nobody said you ‘have to’ write, that getting published is almost impossible given
bookshops are closing. Doubts and negative thoughts crowd your head.
Before too long, this becomes the pattern of your days. Sometimes you manage to write
a description - even finish a chapter - but more and more, you find reasons not to write.
You moan to your family and colleagues about how you’re procrastinating and you ask
yourself ‘how can I get over this writer’s block?’

Here is the cold, hard truth: motivating yourself to do anything that’s hard work, like
losing weight, doing your taxes, exercising daily – and yes, writing -- is not possible.
You cannot motivate yourself to write. What you can do, is put a plan into action. Work
out a system to get what you want.
First, know that the rewards have to be greater than the pain, or you won't do it. We
spend our lives trying to avoid pain and to seek out that which is pleasurable. Yes, it’s
true! The good news is that once you realise this, you've just taken a giant step towards
your ultimate goal - getting your book finished and then getting it published.
Here are a few tips on how to reach your writing and publishing goals. First of all, you
need to get serious. This doesn’t mean enrolling in countless courses, networking, going
to writers’ festivals or reading writing magazines: none of it will do any good if you don't
get serious about the actual WRITING. To have finished pages mounting up, you have
to write. To get a manuscript complete enough to submit to a publisher, you have to
write. You have to write regardless of whether you’re in the mood; whether or not there
are family dramas or you’ve got a head cold. Superglue time is the published writer’s
bottom line!

What are some ways of getting out that tube of glue? As indicated above, you need to
put writing first. Make it your daily priority. Give it at least an hour a day. One hour out of
twenty-four is doable. If you can't spare just one hour a day for your writing, then you are
simply not serious.

If the reason you can't spare an hour a day is due to a genuine emergency (a serious
illness, for instance), then that's different. Give whatever the crisis is your full attention,
then get back to being serious about your writing as soon as it’s passed. Set up a
routine for your writing until it becomes a habit. Don't let anything get in the way. If
something totally unexpected comes along to derail you and sabotage your writing time,
then make that time up before the week is out.

Map out your road to publication. You need to go through a process to do this, so be
businesslike and create a checklist. This might include necessary research, writing
crucial scenes, finishing a chapter at a time, finishing the first draft, editing the draft,
getting feedback (perhaps paying for a manuscript assessment), re-polishing the draft.
Make checklists not only for characters, but also for setting, plot, completion dates for
scenes (or chapters), editing and polishing your work. Also rough out deadlines for each
list. Goal-setting – setting up systems -- needs to be a priority.
One of the best ways of motivating continuity on your writing project is to find support,
either with a writing buddy or through a workshop group that meets regularly. It really
helps to be accountable to someone, to have support in setting up good writing habits
and maintaining discipline with the goals and deadlines you’ve set up, and to critique
each other’s work. Your writing support can be a single person whose opinions you trust
(perhaps someone else on the path to publication), or it can take the form of a writing
course with set tasks, an online assessment/editing forum, or a reputable critique
service. Beware, however, of ‘supporters’ who don’t take the writing as seriously as you
do: some forums can generate into chatty emails that aren’t focused on achievement.
If you want to be part of a writing workshop that meets regularly to critique works-inprogress,
and you don’t know of one, then find one. This might involve putting a notice in
your regional newspaper or library, contacting the nearest writers’ centre or asking your
council’s community arts officer for local writers’ groups. A good size group is four to
five. Meetings might be once a week, month or fortnight.

Ready to get serious? Then stop reading this article, and clear the decks - mentally,
socially and physically. Arrange a quiet writing area that is yours alone. Commit your
writing plan and time to paper. Find a writing buddy or writing critique group, then
Discipline and good habits will get your book written, and motivation will come from
seeing the results.

Saturday, 22 June 2013


The Girl in the Basement is now available from Di for $25 posted.                                           
The Girl in the Basement is now available from Di for $25 posted.
Pay online: Account name: WS Condon & DN Bates                                                                                                                      BSB: 814 282                                                                                                      
Account number: 42 18 18 13  
Bank: Credit Union of Australia
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Saturday, 1 June 2013

The Girl in the Basement


Dianne Bates, is well-known in the children’s book world, having published over 120 books and won the Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s literature. She lives in Wollongong NSW with her award-winning YA author husband, Bill Condon.

Di has won numerous grants and awards for her books, some of which have sold overseas and in translation. Her latest title, a YA novel, The Girl in the Basement, is released this month by Morris Publishing Australia and is now available online and in bookshops. You can find out more about Di, her books and other projects at:

Di, your new novel is very timely with the recent release of the three women kidnapped in Ohio. Where did you get the idea?

The Girl in the Basement is based on the real-life discovery in 1987 of a Polaroid photograph picked up by a shopper in a Florida (US) car park. It showed a girl around twenty, and a boy around ten who were both bound and gagged and who appeared to be in the back of a van. Disturbed by the photo, the finder took it to police.  Hundreds of stories with the picture were run in national media, including a TV program, Missing People. This resulted in the parents of both children contacting police. The boy was said to be Michael Henley, who had gone missing from a camping trip 17 months earlier. The girl, identified as Tara Callico, had disappeared 75 miles away a year earlier while out cycling. Both Michael and Tara were from New Mexico but were unrelated. For their parents, it was the first inkling of what had happened to them.

I remember being very distressed by the story and often wondered if either of the victims were ever found. As it turned out, there were numerous unconfirmed sightings of Tara in 1988 and 1989, mostly in the southern half of the United States. However, she has never been found, alive or dead. Remains found in the Zuni Mountains in June 1990 were eventually identified as Michael’s. It is believed he died of natural causes. Thus the identity of the boy in the photo is still unknown.

In The Girl in the Basement the story is narrated by a teenage girl, Libby, who is kidnapped on the night of her 16th birthday, and by her kidnapper who is a serial killer looking for a ‘family’.

It must have been difficult to get into the minds of two such different people.

Yes, it was. I must say I struggled more with the teenage voice than I did with that of the kidnapper who Libby thinks of as ‘Psycho Man’ but whom she eventually comes to call ‘Papa’. I was helped in my writing to understand the psychology of a captive by reading several books written by Jaycee Lee Dugard, Natascha Kaumpsch and Sabine Dardenne who were held by different psychopaths at different times.

Why do you think teenagers would want to read a book about a kidnap victim?

Wikipedia reports dozens of cases of kidnapped victims over the past century; some have been found alive, but many were murdered. More than any demographic, young women are likely to be victims of crime, especially kidnapping so it’s not surprising that teenage girls would have a fear of being abducted by a stranger.

The Girl in the Basement sets a scenario of how the combination of being a teenage girl, over-indulging in alcohol, being alone, being in the wrong place and being very unlucky can predicate abduction. My book also shows a young woman’s resilience in dealing with her captor and how she lives with hope of being rescued; (in the end, though, it is her own initiative which leads to her escape).

It’s good to know there is a hopeful ending to your novel!

More than anything, I think a young person reading a book is looking not just at problems but at how to solve them; life is difficult enough -- the reader deserves to arrive at a hopeful ending. Libby is like most teenage girls; she is fiercely independent, brave and resourceful.

Can you talk about the writing of the book and the drafting processes?

Finding the impetus for writing was easy enough; the first real problem was to decide on and find the narrative voice. Both Psycho Man and Libby demanded to be heard so I finished up having multiple voices, Libby telling her story in first person present tense, the kidnapper’s story being told in third person present tense. I wanted show Libby always living in the moment whereas the kidnapper, being more elusive and anonymous, needed to be presented in a cloak of mystery. The use of present tense means there is more immediacy to the story as events unfold.

There were countless drafts of this book. Before submitting it to a publisher, I not only underwent weekly copy-editing workshops, but I also paid for the finished draft to be assessed by a professional, in-house editor. She made many suggestions, all of which I followed to finish with a manuscript I finally decided was publishable.

So the manuscript was accepted by the first publisher to whom you sent it?

I wish! I submitted it to a small publisher who had published my previous YA novel (Crossing the Line) and who was extremely proactive in marketing and publicity. Unlike most commercial publishers I didn’t have long – just a few months – to get a response to my submission; three readers commented on numerous aspects of the manuscript they thought needed to be remedied. I took all of their comments on board and totally re-wrote the book. When I re-submitted it, the manuscript was rejected. I was devastated as I had followed all advice to the letter.

What did you do then?

By this time I had spent about five years writing and re-writing the manuscript.  My experience with major publishers is that they invariably spend up to (and sometimes more than) 12 months sitting on their slush piles. I wasn’t prepared to wait this long for a reply, so I took a gamble on a new publisher, Morris Publishing Australia based in Brisbane. Luckily I received a reply before too long and it was positive.

Publisher Elaine Morris has been easy to work with and has produced a book with a cover and design that I’m really happy with. Her distributor is Dennis Jones and Associates http//  

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

I always seem to be working on a book! Currently I’m about halfway through my first adult novel, a crime thriller titled The Freshest of Flesh.

My last two books are the junior verse novel, Nobody’s Boy (Celapene Press), winner of 2013 CBCA Notable Book and Erky Perky Silly Stuff (and other ridiculous verse) (Five Senses Education), so you can see I don’t restrict myself to any one kind of book, though generally speaking I write fiction for children.

So you would suggest that new writers should look at different genres?

Not necessarily. Some people are really most comfortably with picture book texts, others with YA fantasy. What I believe you should write is what you are excited -- even passionate -- about. If you as the writer feel ho-hum about your story, then that attitude becomes evident to the reader. You may as well stop writing and go walk your dog if you can’t be totally involved in your writing project.

Do you have any other advice for new writers who want to get published?

Lots of advice, but the main things are to believe in yourself and your work, and to be persistent. Finish projects! Get critical feedback, even if you have to pay for assessment of your final draft before you submit it. When (and it will happen) your work gets rejected, find extra resources of determination and either re-write or re-submit. I once had 47 successive rejected manuscripts before an acceptance. One of my (non-fiction, children’s) books was accepted by the 32nd publisher to whom I sent it. Nobody but yourself makes you write so you need to be incredibly focussed and determined.

Keep abreast with what’s happening in the publishing market. Now is a time of great change as e-book and book app publishers spring up alongside print book publishing houses. Check out publishers’ websites; see what they are currently seeking and/or publishing. Whenever you can, pitch book ideas to publishers at festivals and conferences. Network; get to know people in the children’s book industry both in person and online.

Finally, read widely and read the best of the type of genre which you are writing. If, for example, you are trying to get a picture book published, read every prize-winning picture book publishing in Australia, UK and USA in the last five years. De-construct text, analyse why the book has succeeded; learn from the masters! Treat writing as a full-time occupation. Once again, always but always be persistent.