Saturday, 22 February 2014

Things I Wish I Knew As a Beginning Writer

I was 29 years old and all I’d achieved until then was to become a wife, a mother, and a school teacher. I wanted my life to mean something more so I resolved to write my first (children’s) book and have it published by the time I was 30. I did this and subsequently the book was published by Penguin Books (Puffin imprint). Since then -- I'm now 66 -- I’ve published 120+ books, mostly for young readers some of which have won state and national awards, including children’s choice book awards. Nowadays I make a living from writing.
So this advice I give you about what I wish I'd known when I first started writing and getting published:

1. Learn the fundamentals of writing before you even attempt a writing career. I cannot stress this enough, even if you feel that writing comes naturally to you, learn grammar and the mechanics of writing. Take classes, attend workshops or read books on your own. You will need to do so eventually and getting it out of the way first will save you much precious time. I was very lucky to have been taught the fundamentals of grammar at high school.

2. Polish, polish and polish. A piece is almost never done after the first draft is complete. The longer you keep a piece of writing, the more mistakes you will see in it. After you have some years of writing under your belt you know when a piece is complete and until it isn’t, the piece nags at you and you can’t stop thinking about it.

3. Accept feedback from others and pay heed to what they have to say (except those closest to you who love you, hence they will love what you write). For more unbiased feedback post your work on message boards or social media. Writers groups are also helpful. Even after 30+ years of writing, I still workshop my writing-in-progress with other professional writers.

4. Diversify. It’s wise to create multiple revenue streams if you plan to make a comfortable living at writing. If you want to write books also consider seeking freelance writing jobs and/or speaking engagements. Establish yourself as an expert on what you write about.

5. Work to overcome trepidation about public speaking. Many writers are introverts by nature. You need to work to become more outgoing and be ready at any moment to speak enthusiastically about your work. Begin with baby steps and each time you step outside of your comfort zone you will build confidence. You must become your own biggest fan and best salesperson.

When I first realised the value of speaking publicly about my life as a writer and about specific books I’d written, I joined Toastmasters International and learnt how to train the butterflies in my tummy. There is an incredible amount of competition out there for the attention of readers and it doesn’t matter how good your work is: if it isn’t getting in front of readers it will never get noticed.

6. A writing career is not easy. It’s very easy to romanticise the writer’s life but most times it is far from glamorous. To be a successful writer requires a mega dose of hard work, commitment, good networking skills, optimism, and also a healthy dose of luck. If you have the discipline to hone your craft, writing can be equally as rewarding as it is often difficult.

7. Beware of any publisher or agent asking you for money from you to do business with you. There are plenty of unscrupulous individuals and companies out there who prey on both the vanity and naiveté of aspiring writers. Thankfully, reviews are now just a click away on the internet. Even if you are self-publishing your work, invest the time in reading online reviews before you sign a contract or upload your work.

8. Read voraciously. Reading the work of other authors will expand your vocabulary and will make you a better writer. Often when I’m about to write in a particular genre, I will read books in that genre for weeks beforehand; it helps put my head into the right mood.

9. Develop your own unique voice and learn how to spark creativity. Your style is what eventually will set you apart and allow you to develop your niche which will ultimately develop into your fan base.

10. Don’t believe in writer’s block as an excuse not to write. Superglue is the answer (paste it on your backside and get in front of the computer and write!) I’ve learned it’s best to do anything that has nothing to do with writing if you hit a stumbling block, and pretty soon the ideas start flowing freely again.

10. Writing is not only a form of personal expression, it is therapeutic and it is also a lifelong journey of self discovery. If I stop writing I feel there is a huge void within me, life doesn’t seem as fulfilling. Take your craft seriously, create a space to write that is quiet and free from interruptions.  Although writers spend lots of time crafting fictional characters, ironically, the act of writing develops the character of the author more than anything else.

11. Get involved in the writing world. Make contact with other writers, if only online. Join the Children’s Book Council of Australia if you are writing for children and become proactive in book events. Accept invitations to speak at festivals and conferences. Help newer writers than you. Get yourself a business card with your contact details on it and hand it out to new writing colleagues and readers.

12. Get yourself a website, a blog and a Facebook page. Be proactive in promoting your books. And be thankful and supportive of publishers who invest time and energy into publishing your books.



Monday, 17 February 2014


Further to my blogs on writing a book series, I would like now to report how the series Bill (Condon) and I are co-authoring. Today, 18 February, we have posted the first two completed book manuscripts in what we are calling Wild and Wacky Adventurers to a publisher. Along with the manuscripts is a publishing proposal which details such facts as the books’ and the series main strengths, viability of making income from the series, titles of all of the nine proposed books and the authors’ biographies.

The titles of the submitted manuscripts are Tazzie Wallaroo and the Abominable Snowman and Captain Offensnotty and Giddi Giddi Zombies. The books are between 3,500 and 4,000 words. They are chapter books, each with six chapters and are for readers aged 7 to 11 years. They are fast-paced, humorous and full of absurd situations and wacky characters. Our vision is that the books will be illustrated with black and white cartoons.

In our proposal, we have given the draft titles of the other seven proposed books which are:

1.    Bin Bin Ooligah and the Butti Butti Bigfoot

2.    Yungdrung Wung and the Watta-Wopping Volcano

3.    Hardnut Hannigan and the Jewel of the Jungle

4.    Oscar Bubblesquirt and the Pharoah’s Curse

5.    Belinda McGoo and the Planet of Peril

6.    Chumlee Crum and The Underground Lost City

7.    Major Hootensnooten and the Year 2500

While we await a decision from the (Australian) publisher, we will continue writing these books. I’ll keep you advised when there are further developments!

Monday, 10 February 2014


This blog has always been for children’s writers, especially those who work in isolation and appreciate sound advice from someone (me) who has been publishing books for young readers for over 30 years, and who makes a living from writing.

So far I have posted 65 blog entries. Some of them have been author blog tours but more often than not they focus on the craft of writing. Of how to improve your writing, of how to make an income from writing – the sort of information I wish I’d had when I first started authoring.

So far I’ve had fewer than 10,000 hits on my blog. When a friend told me the other day that she gets 4,000 hits a week (for a site dedicated to children’s writing), I felt very discouraged.

I’ve been asking myself since if keeping a blog going is worth the time and effort I put into it. Perhaps my time would be better served writing articles about writing and editing and publishing and submitting them to magazines for payment...

So, depending on the feedback to this entry, I will – or will not – continue writing my blog.

Make a comment, if you care. If you don’t, I don’t.

Saturday, 8 February 2014


This week I had an email from a very talented children’s writer
who is thinking about writing a humorous book series. His
questions were how long should each book be in a series.  And how
many books should he write before presenting them and a series
proposal to a publisher.

The books in the Wild and Wacky Adventurers’ junior series I am currently writing with my husband Bill Condon are about 3,000 to 4,000 words long (which allows plenty of space for illustrations). Of my two other series books, the 11 Bushranger books were about 3,000 words  and the four Grandma Cadbury books were about 25,000 words each.

1.    What Bill and I are doing is ‘perfecting’ the first three Adventurers books and submitting them to a publisher with a proposal for another six in the series. For these other six, we’ll provide draft titles, settings, and a brief description of each book. So far, the first three books are titled Bin Bin Ooligah and the Butti Butti Bigfoot, Tazzie Wallaroo and the Abominable Snowman and Yungdrung Wung and the Watta-Wopping Volcano. How we have written them is outlined in an earlier blog,

 I think writing two books in a series before submitting is a very good idea. (We are submitting three as we plan to have a nine book series all up.)

However, I would perhaps think again about your idea set in outer space as that topic is popular (I know because I borrowed space and alien books from the local library and there were lots of them) ... but that’s not to say it can’t be done again, and done better. I believe you ought to come up with something that’s not been done, or much done such as stories about cavemen, circuses, cooking school, rebellious convicts, rock and roll legends, acting/dancing school, quirky teachers, jungle stories, postman adventures, etc; there’s a zillion possibilities.

I think you are probably better off having each book a stand-alone, rather than a continuous narrative series. The reason for this is there’s more saleability in stand-alone books in a series, plus if the series takes off, you can keep on writing more and more books whereas a narrative series (with books one through to five – which is what my writer friend had suggested) has to eventually finish.

Series books such as Duncan Ball’s Selby the talking dog, Sandy Fussell’s Samurai Kids, Bates’ Grandma Cadbury et al all have the same characters but each book is a stand-alone. Stand-alone books can always be read in any order.

 In my Bushranger books and our Wild and Wacky Adventurers, we have different main characters in each book (and different locations, such as outer space, arctic region, volcanic region, etc), so that each book is part of the overall series (that is, they fit under the series category) but each book is a stand-alone.

One good thing about writing a book in a series is that you can get it finished quickly – plus you can put all of your wonderful zaniness and wild humour into it.

Dianne (Di) Bates has published 120+ books for young readers and has won state and national book writing awards.

NOTE: If you have a query about writing a children’s book, feel free to send your question/s to and Di will attempt to respond in a future blog.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Writing for Children: STARTING A NEW BOOK

Writing for Children: STARTING A NEW BOOK: For over 30 years I’ve been authoring books (now numbering over 120 and counting). And yes, I make a living from being a full-time autho...

Monday, 3 February 2014


After my blog a couple of weeks ago on starting a book (see, I have been busy writing most days, working on a new book series. As with most manuscripts, ideas change, words change during the writing; and, in this case there have been a lot of changes! The main one is that my husband, Bill Condon, well-known for his humorous writing (and for his prize-winning YA novels), has agreed to co-write the series which now seems more focused on thrill-seekers than explorers.

This is great news for me as I know Bill’s input and our mutual trust of one another’s writing and editing talents will result in much better books than if I had sole authorship.

What’s happening now is that basically I am writing the first draft during weekdays (with suggestions from Bill), and then Bill re-writes that draft on weekends. The second draft comes back to me for editing and further re-writing; then that draft goes to our weekly workshop group. After that, Bill and I keep passing the manuscript back and forward until we have something we are both happy with. (Meanwhile, Bill is working weekdays on a YA sequel to A Straight Line to My Heart, CBCA Honour Book of the Year, and short-listed for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award.)

To happily co-write with someone can be a tricky business if there is not complete trust, plus a willingness to have most -- or parts of -- your hard-worked-at-draft overturned and replaced. One cannot afford to be precious. I have huge admiration for Bill’s creativity; his mind is truly original. Both of us love wordplay and bouncing ideas off one another. We work very well as a team. In fact, when we first met over 30 years ago, we wrote a few children’s novels together and several books of plays for young people. I don’t once ever remember us having an argument, or being defensive about our respective writing efforts. We have, of course, had differences of opinions but they’ve always been resolved amicably. Since 23 January (it is now 4/2/14), we have finished writing the first book (Bin Bin Ooligah and the Butti Butti Bigfoot) in the series to our satisfaction (though we will re-visit it some weeks hence, and make minor changes, including giving it a new title – perhaps.) I have written the first draft of the second book (draft title: Tazzie Wallaroo and the Abominable Snowman) which Bill is still re-working. And I am now writing the first draft of the third book (draft title Yungdrung Wung and the Watta-Wopping Volcano). All of the books will be about 4,000 words long and it’s anticipated they will be heavily illustrated with black and white cartoon pictures, such as in my Bushranger books. (Note that four of the 11 Bushranger books were co-written with Bill; they are still in print with Five Senses Education and you can check them out on our website

When we have completed the first three books to our mutual satisfaction, we will send them, plus a proposal for at least another three titles, to a well-known Australian publisher who has in the past asked for us to submit to her company.

When Bill read what I’d written of the first draft of the second book, he told me it was ‘too ordinary’, with not enough sparkle and fizz. He recommended I read a recently published children’s novel (Monster School by our friend DC Green, published by Ford Street). This book rockets along with absurdist action, a cast of wacky, totally off-the-planet characters and is full of laugh-aloud humour. DC has a gift of originality and really knows how to plot well. By the time I finished reading his book, I had made lots of notes to myself and was totally inspired.
I love co-writing our zany, funny books. They make me laugh out loud, especially when I read what Bill has contributed. My hope, too, is that the publisher will laugh, too, and immediately snap up the series. But in the meantime, there’s lots of writing and re-writing to be done. I’ll keep you informed of further outcomes!

(By the way, if you’d like to read – and perhaps critique the first thrill-seekers' book – feel free to contact me and I’ll email the manuscript to you.)

Dianne (Di) Bates is a full-time, productive Australian author with over 120+ published books. She offers online creative courses for adults wanting to write for children, as well as for children aged 8 to 14 years. Also on offer is a manuscript service for junior novels and picture books.