Saturday, 29 October 2016


1. You Were Born With a Pen in Your Hand
Well, not literally of course... but close! If you remember eagerly uncapping your pen at school to write about 'What I Did in the Holidays' or 'My Big Adventure', then you probably had no chance from the start - a writer you were destined to be! (No doubt your idea of a fun school vacation was to sit in a room and write stories all day, too...)

2. You Were Always Lost in a Fictional World
Did people have to come right up to you and shake you to get your attention when you were reading?

Did you ever pull a book out of your bag and wander to school with your eyes fixed on the pages (dodging death from skateboarders and cyclists because you simply didn't see or hear them?)

Did you often stay up so late reading that you went to school with a headache or bleary eyes?

If you say 'yes' to all three, no writer will be a bit surprised. It's more than likely that even today you always have a book or three by the bed, and panic at the thought of running out of reading matter...

3. You Find That All the World's a Stage
Sometimes it seems like the world is filled with characters just for you to draw on for your novels. You can't sit in a coffee lounge without wondering about those around you, and a snippet of overheard conversation is enough to have you busily giving them all stories and backgrounds that would probably amaze them if they only knew. And as for relatives - well, they know by now that their lives provide you with a fertile source for your novels.

4. You Keep Notebooks Everywhere to Grab Those Fleeting Ideas
Never let it be said that you let a good idea go to waste. You scribble down interesting news stories, scraps of conversation, plots prompted by the latest celebrity scandal - and yes, you even have pages of illegible scrawl from fragments of dreams that you record in the dark at 3 am. And where DID you put that TV magazine with that amazing idea scribbled in the margin...?

5. You're a Writing Resource Junkie
You can't help it. Your shelves are groaning with Writing "How To" books; you've signed up for dozens of workshops and short courses, and you can't resist nifty software that helps you to brainstorm ideas and to organise your plots. You have a house full of books, hardware, software and manuals - even video tuition - but you can't get enough. Every birthday is a great reason to spend up on more to feed your habit: a new laptop computer or a ticket to a writer's retreat. All perfectly understandable...

6. You've Given Up Writing at Least a Dozen Times
... but you keep coming back for more: writing is like a drug to you. You just can't NOT write! It's frustrating, heartbreaking, exhausting, and you think you must be crazy to keep going back to the computer - but you do anyway. It's in your blood and there's absolutely no cure. None.

7. You Are Secretly Convinced That You Can Write As Well as...?
J.K. Rowling, Patricia Cornwell, Maeve Binchy, Jennifer Crusie, Janet Evanovich, Jack Higgins, Kathryn Fox, Jeffrey Archer... YOU fill in the blanks! You 'know' that they have just been lucky; they came along at the perfect moment. If you can only catch a break, it will be your name in the best-seller lists, right next to theirs.

And that might well be true. Not that they've 'just been lucky' (how often have you heard the saying: "The harder I work, the luckier I get"?) but it's quite possible that you can write just as well. All editors know that there are many, many talented writers out there who simply gave up too soon.

So right here and now, resolve that you won't be one of them. If you recognise most of these '7 signs' (and yeah, okay, they ARE a bit tongue-in-cheek!) then... there's nothing for it but to take a deep breath and get to work.

No use fighting it. You're destined to be a writer. The computer's waiting for you... so off you go. 

© Marg McAlister McAlister and Writing For Success
Marg McAlister's writing sites and ezines are full of up-to-date, practical advice for writers. Get timely tips to ensure writing success both online and in print:

Thursday, 27 October 2016

10 Ways Get Rejections (and how to prevent it)

Everyone has heard the saying, "I could paper my walls in rejection slips." If that’s your decorating plan, it’s easy to do. Or, you could do the opposite and paper it with acceptance letters.

1. Dash off a quick query letter. Make sure that in your letter you beg the editor to read your article, bribe them with bikkies squeezed into the envelope, and let them know that your mum loves the story idea. (Alternative: Create an enticing, exciting, well-thought out query that makes the editor want to see your article or book. Let your writing, idea, and credentials speak for themselves).

2. Start with the A’s. Don’t research for the best publisher, just keep sending your manuscript or query out to everyone under A, then move on to B name publishers. (Alternative: Spend time researching the market for your type of idea, article, story, or book. Study similar pieces and learn the name of the editor).

3. Your story or article is great the way it is and you don’t want anyone telling you to change anything. Never let anyone read your work before you mail it out. (Alternative: Join a critique group. Be open to suggestions from other writer’s and listen, consider, and rewrite).

4. Assume that you know best what the magazine wants. You’ve been a reader for a long time, so make sure and send in your completed article whether it’s what they usually buy or not. Let the editor know you think they need a change and your piece is just what they need. (Alternative: Be flexible and send a query first. Maybe the editor will like your idea, but not your slant. Maybe she will want different experts or require them if you haven’t suggested using them in your piece. A flexible writer is one an editor comes back to again and again.)

5. Send an epic when they want a skit. The magazine may say they want stories from 1000-1500 words, but they just don’t know how wonderful your 6,000 word story is unless they read it. After all, their guidelines aren’t written in stone, are they? (Alternative: Believe that editors mean what they say. Don’t send a manuscript if they want a query. Keep to word counts. Always send a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope. Make an editor’s life easy and they’ll remember you.)

6. Guess your facts. Who will know? You are pretty sure you heard somewhere that all dogs are color blind, but you can’t remember if it’s a myth or a fact. But since lots of people say so, it’s probably true so just put it in that way. If it’s wrong, an editor will fix it. (Alternative: Talk to experts when you are stating facts or statistics. Keep records and contact information. Your editor will probably check up on these things and will know if it’s been guesswork on your part.)

7. Make sure you work stands out. How about a cool looking font? If you print in 8 point you can get more on a page, or in 16 point your editor can read it really well. What about a colored envelope or cute drawings on the corner of your query letter? Getting noticed is your first line of attack. (Alternative: Keep everything professional. Use 12 point, Courier or Times New Roman, and stay away from the hot pink and eye-popping purple stationary and envelopes. Your ideas and writing should be what stands out.)

8. Bug the editor. Check every week on the status of your work. Gosh, if it’s online, they should be faster, so email them every day in case they forget you. (Serious alternative: Never harass an editor. If your idea has been on their desk for a lengthy period of time, perhaps 2-4 weeks beyond their listed response time, send a polite letter or email, then give them another 2-4 weeks to answer. When you decide to withdraw your manuscript, be tactful and don’t burn your bridges.)

9. Send your first draft. After all, it’s straight from your heart. If they like your idea, then it’s time to dash out the manuscript and send it in immediately. (Alternative: Look over any ideas they might have mentioned for changes in your original query. Think about the best way to set up, research, and write down your article. Keep your promises. If you promise 101 Ways, don’t give 85. Let your writing cool and take a fresh look at it before dropping it in the mail or hitting that send button.)

10. Send out dozens of copies of your story or article to every magazine you can think of at once. You’re not getting any younger and you can’t afford to wait 3 months to hear back. (Alternative: Keep accurate records of when and where you’ve sent your writing. Unless it’s time sensitive, give the editors a chance to get to, read, discuss, and consider your piece. Don’t be afraid to follow-up, and then send your piece elsewhere if you get no response. Instead of shooting one manuscript 20 places, try working on another while the first is being considered. And another, and another, and another.)

Your office doesn’t have to be papered in rejection slips. Think of the alternative instead. And find some soothing wallpaper for the office.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Publisher’s Perspective

As most readers will know, I have a children’s book imprint, About Kids Books ( ). I recently published the first title (All of Us Together by Bill Condon), an exceptional family story for readers aged 8 to 12 years set in Australians set during the 1930’s Great Depression. This novel is so good that it pre-sold almost 3,000 copies to book clubs and I have entered it in a number of literary awards. Bill’s previous junior novel, The Simple Things (A&U), was CBCA short-
listed in 2015. I am a huge fan of his multi-prizewinning novels for both children and young adults.

Recently I received an email from a newish children’s author. Below find her question -- and my answer.

I was wondering if it okay for me to ask you something as a publisher, please? If you don't mind sharing, what is it about the manuscripts you've received thus far, that hasn't appealed to you? What should I avoid?
Most of the stories I receive don't have a vivid, memorable voice. Often the language used is pedestrian, the storytelling not at all compelling. Often there is a lot of telling rather than showing. And opening paragraphs are lack-lustre and don’t grab one’s attention. Too often, as well, the punctuation – particularly paragraphing and dialogue -- is appalling!
Today, a children’s author friend sent me the first three chapters of her new novel today and eight hours later I am still thinking about it. That's the sort of story I want! The setting of her story is unusual (in a graveyard), the narrator is a boy ghost who meets a very eccentric girl (not sure if she's human, yet). My friend’s last manuscript, which I'm sure she'll get published, features, in an Australian country setting, a girl with synaesthesia who has a relationship with her family’s Japanese exchange student: both are keen on the history of the girl’s town.
What most attracts me is a story such as Maya Angelou said: 'The idea is to write it so people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.'

I want to be moved by a story, whether it is deep and meaningful or full of imagination and fun (like Will Mabbitt's Mabel Jones books). One of the best books I read this year is by Linda Coggin. That Dog, Ray tells of how a girl gets 'inside' a dog; she tells the story from a girl's point of view, but as the story progresses the dog takes over the human in thinking and feeling. An amazing read! Another graveyard book, for older readers, which impressed me, is Magritt by Lee Battersby (Walker Books Australia).
So what I want is some -- or preferably all -- of the following -- a main character who totally engages the imagination and is memorable, prose that is rich and succinct, storytelling that sweeps the reader along, a setting that is unusual. It can be a story about anything! Originality is the key. Oh, and the book must be child-friendly (some authors focus too much attention on parents in stories).
An Australian debut author's book I'd have greedily grabbed with both hands is Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu (Omnibus Books). Set in Africa about a small girl who goes with her goat looking for America so she can get medicine for her ailing grandmother (but the child has no idea where America is, only that the country has specialist doctor.) I am also a big fan of junior novels by Ursula Dubosarsky and Glenda Millard.

I’m still seeking a seeking a second manuscript to publish (after receiving and rejecting 160 manuscript submissions) and yes, I would take a debut book: I have one at the moment which interests me and I am now getting a second -- and maybe a third -- opinion. It is set in Rome, has a third person narrative, and is from the point of view of a dancing cat which saves the day. It’s written by a debut author but the story is different from any other I've read. The author has absolutely no social media presence: until I asked her to do so, she didn't even have her own email address!
Finally, two other  manuscripts which interested me: one was a legend and far too short: I asked the (well-known) author for another story of the same size but she didn't have one. The other very interesting and well-written story, by someone who has published and is well known as an editor, was set in medieval England, but it needed a glossary:  this turned out to be 135 words, far too long. She says she is 'dumbing it (her story) down' which sounds sad, but I'll take another look if she resubmits. There was a third book by someone whose books I love, but this writer is in grieving and she just couldn't manage to re-write: maybe one day she'll get back to her humorous junior novel.
As a reader, my preference is for social realism books but anything that's terrific is of interest.

Note: When the writer asked which of my own books I thought was worth a read, I told her A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press). It’s a book I think worthy of the About Kids Books imprint! Go to and scroll down the page. You will see also that Celapene published Nobody’s Boy, a junior verse novel and CBCA Notable.
by  Dianne Bates