How did you get published? Part 2 of an interview with author, Chrissie Michaels

In part 2 of my interview with author Chrissie Michaels, Chrissie explains how she does historical research and how she plans to promote In Lonnie’s Shadow to schools.

Do you ever encounter obstacles when writing for publication? 

Time is my greatest enemy. Where does the time go when you are on a computer? You look up and several hours have passed. I become obsessive and bossy to the extreme—‘Who took the Do Not Disturb sign?!’ When the computer crashes; the printer runs dry; the internet won’t work; there’s a paragraph to finish but I just can’t get it right; ‘Who’s taken the Macquarie?’… 

At this point I take a break—a walk on the beach, do some gardening, go on a short holiday…

Cover for In Lonnie's Shadow

Cover for In Lonnie's Shadow

How do you tackle historical research?

I really enjoy the thrill of discovery in historical research. In Lonnie’s Shadow is the second of my published historical novels, although it is my first novel for young adults pitched at the more mature reader.  The other novel is On Board the Boussole, the diary of Julienne Fulbert, written for the 12+ age group and based on the French explorer, Lapérouse’s tragic voyage in the 18th century. This is part of the Australian, My Story series by Scholastic Australia. 

Melbourne’s State Library has been an invaluable resource for both novels. The Argus newspaper was an important reference for me when researching Lonnie. I trawled the microfiche at the Library, referred to academic papers about the archaeological digs, checked out the ephemera section. I also visited Museum Victoria and studied their exhibition on Melbourne. Many artefacts from the digs are part of this display. In fact this was the source of my inspiration for Lonnie.

While writing Boussole, the rare books section of the library was invaluable for research on Lapérouse.  I corresponded closely with Reece Discombe, who rediscovered the site of the shipwrecks near Vanikoro in the 1960s. Reece gave me some of his photographs, sent me photocopied material and gifts, such as a book signed by the French admiral who oversaw the French navy’s dives to the wrecks (which I now treasure). Pierre at Albi sent me a wonderful limited edition print of the Boussole (ship) commissioned by the French government, as well as one for the National Maritime Museum in Sydney which I sent on to them. Jean from the Association Salomon sent me copies of his own novels on the subject. I also visited the Lapérouse Museum in La Perouse, NSW. 

Without a doubt, I get carried away doing research. Here’s an example of what I mean—when researching the cost of an apple for Lonnie, I came across a reference to the gangs who roamed around Melbourne at that time. It was like falling into a vat of scrumpy in the form of my gang leaders, George Swiggins and Billy Bottle, who must have been fermenting somewhere in the back of my mind. Believe me, they poured out that day, packing a punch and set for a bottling. At the time, I forgot about the apple…

Do you do book proposals for your work?

I always try to follow the submission guidelines that a publisher has. If this calls for a book proposal then I will do it. I try to present manuscripts as professionally as I can and always include a return envelope with the required postage, unless stated otherwise. 

Why do you write under a pen name?

Really just because I can… it fits into where I am at this point in my life. If you do write under a pen name you should inform Public Lending Rights; Educational Lending Rights and Copyright Agency Limited. Also I always put my ‘real’ name along with my other details on a manuscript’s cover page.

Do you have an agent?

Because we do still have a range of markets here in Australia I have been happy to do it alone. However, I’ve just sent some material to a US agent. I saw an advertisement in one of my network newsletters. But this is the first time I’ve done so. 

For your latest book, what aspects of publicity and promotion will Ford Street handle? What do you plan to do?

Paul Collins my publisher at Ford Street is supersonic. He has sent off stickers, bookmarks, set up interviews and provided contact points. He provided the opportunity for my involvement in the cultural exchange of Australian books to the Shanghai and Nanjing Libraries. The exhibition is called ‘Finding Gold’ and is associated with the current Shanghai World Expo. I am very excited to be one of the featured writers. 

I am one of 16 writers selected to launch their book during the Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne. My timeslot is Thursday 27 May, 7–8pm. Estelle Tang is hosting these ‘15 Minutes of Fame’. There will be book sales and a book signing at the end. More details are available on the EWF website. Please come along if you can. A launch is a real celebration, like a birthday because our characters are like our own children (almost).

What do you plan to talk about to school groups?

I am happy to speak to school groups. Lonnie is for the more mature adolescent reader as it has some gritty and violent moments. Some of the characters are hard done by but they are resilient and determined and don’t give up. 

I have a Lonnie collection of my own to act as writing inspiration. My favourite is the phrenological head (chapter: ‘Skull’ from In Lonnie’s Shadow) which I picked up at a market over one summer holiday. I also have an old brown bottle with ‘not to be taken’ on it (‘Bottle for medicine or poison’). I’ve got some great old coins (‘Three coins and a token’). I have some great photos of the area around Little Lon as well.

There’s the book trailer to show and extracts to read, language to explore… 

There are also stories to tell. Just yesterday I had a phone call from a lady whose mother spent her early childhood in Cumberland Place (part of the setting in Lonnie). She told me how her mother wandered down to the nearby theatre and watched Pavlovna dance. I was so thrilled to hear from her and even more that she was really excited by my book. She is going to keep in contact by email and tell me some more stories. I can’t wait.

Tomorrow, Chrissie explains more about how she plans to promote In Lonnie’s Shadow.

In the meantime, take a look at the trailer for the book, along with Chrissie’s article about using book trailers in the classroom.

How did you get published? Interview with YA & children’s author, George Ivanoff

Today, I’m talking with children’s and YA author George Ivanoff. George’s novel, Gamers’ Quest, has just been released by Ford Street Publishing.

Author, George Ivanoff

Author, George Ivanoff

George, can you tell me how you first came to be published?

It happened slowly. Throughout the 1990s I was writing for amateur publications, while also sending out stories to professional markets and building up my collection of rejection letters. Then one day I hit the right publisher with the right story at the right time. I got a phone call. They wanted to see more. I sent them more. Next thing you know I have a book of short stories — Life, Death and Detention (Margaret Hamilton Books, 1999).

At around about the same time, I discovered the education market and wrote my first education book — Real Sci-Fi (Horwitz Martin, 1999). I discovered I had a knack for writing for this market and I continued to get more education books. A couple of years ago I was able to give up working a day job and concentrate on my writing.

I see you’ve had lots of short stories for kids, teens and adults published. Was this part of a deliberate strategy to develop your career as a writer?

Yes and no. I’ve always loved short stories and have been writing them for years. As a format it forces you to cut the waffle and get straight to the guts of the story. But yes, I did make a conscious effort to submit some stories to some high-profile anthologies, to get my name out there.

Did having the short stories published help you when you approached publishers about your novels?

No! Gamers’ Quest is my first published novel and it went through a different processes. As for my earlier unpublished novel, the short stories haven’t helped me sell it yet!

How did you approach the education publishers you’ve worked with?

I’ve approached education publishers in two ways. The first method is simply that of looking up their websites, seeing if they publish the sort of material I could write, and then emailing… “Hey there. I’m a writer. I could write for you. Call me!” This method has worked on a few occasions. The second method is that of networking. My first education book was through the recommendations of a friend. And since then, I’ve gotten a fair bit of work simply by meeting people and being nice to them.

As a writer, what qualities are required for writing fiction and non-fiction for the education market?

You need to be able to work to a brief and you need to be able to meet deadlines. Briefs can be very specific. Things like word-count and age-level are easy enough, but sometimes the requirements of the text can be a challenge. Sometimes the requirements are simple, like “we want a story about a magician” or “we need a super-hero story”. Other times, they get more specific. I once got a brief wanting a fiction book dealing with self-esteem and positive older role models. The result was House of Cards, a story about a bullied kid who is interested in being a writer, but lacks the self-confidence. He strikes up a friendship with an elderly author who gives him the confidence to pursue his dreams. And the author also learns that she still has a lot to offer the world.

What are the differences between writing for the education market and trade?

The main difference is that the education market is brief-driven. An education title is not normally published in isolation — it’s usually part of a series of books, each with a different author. So you need to write something that fits in with the rest of the series…which is why you get a brief.

With the trade market, you can write whatever you want. But then you have to try and sell it to a publisher.

Do you come up with the ideas for the non-fiction books or does the publisher commission you? 

Education books, non-fiction and fiction, are usually commissioned. There have been a few exceptions along the way. I wrote a few books for graded reading series of fiction chapter books called Fast Forward. This was a competitive process. For each level, the editor sent a brief about style, word-count and grade level to a whole bunch of authors. The genre and topic of the stories were up to the authors. Then the editor would pick the 5 stories that best suited the needs of the series. All up I made 10 submissions, selling 5 of them.

How did you come to be published in New Zealand?

This was something I initiated. I read a note in a writers’ newsletter that mentioned a publisher in New Zealand was looking for authors to write books for reluctant teen readers. I contacted them, pitched an idea and was contracted to write Cory Jansen – Teen Spy. It was a set of 5 chapter books. Each book was a small story in its own right, but also part of a larger story. So it’s actually a short novel split into five non-threatening, slim chapter books. I was very pleased with these books. They were very nicely designed and the comic-book style of illustrations, from artist Christian Schwager, were perfect.

Were there any difficulties working with an overseas publisher?

No difficulties. I do most things via email these days, so it makes no difference where the publisher it located.

Do you ever encounter obstacles (in terms of craft) when writing for publication? If so, how do you address them?

Well, there’s always the occasional bout of writers’ block. And it’s often not that I don’t know what to write, but that I just can’t get it out. I find the best thing to do is just leave it for the moment, go do something else, like the washing or the cooking, and then come back to it later. 

What do your publishers expect from you in terms of rewrites?

This can vary greatly. Often, with educational publishing, I’ll submit a manuscript, get some feedback, re-write and re-submit, and that’s it. An editor will go through it later with a fine-tooth comb and make any necessary amendments.

With trade publishing there is a lot more back and forth happening. Gamers’Quest went through 9 drafts. I started with an outline and sample chapters, which the publisher gave me some feedback on. I then wrote 5 drafts of the novel before submitting it. The publisher then gave me some feedback and I re-wrote it. He then gave me some more feedback and I re-wrote it again. Then the editor went through it in great detail and I did another draft. Then the publisher gave me some more feedback and I did the final draft. But through the design and proofing stage a few more little amendments happened.

Do you do book proposals for your books?

I do for the education books. After receiving the brief I will write a proposal. Then, based on the proposal, the publisher will commission me…or not. 

Tomorrow, George talks about how he moved from writing for education publishers, to working with Ford Street Publishing. He also discusses his book launch and signings.

Click here to visit George’s website.

How did you get published? Interview with YA fantasy author, Adam Stiles

Today I’m talking with young adult author Adam Stiles. Adam’s first novel, The Uniques, is fresh off the press from Zeus Publications.

Adam, can you tell me how you came to be published?

Funnily enough the journey began with pictures, not words. During my downtime at university and on my lunchbreaks at work I used to enjoy sketching characters on whatever paper I had available. After I had a decent collection, I began wondering who they would be, what sort of personalities would they have, and how they would interact with each other if they were to meet. If they met, in what setting would it take place? Would they be related? Would they be friends or enemies? Eventually I purchased three little notepads (that I labelled plot, characters and settings) and began to write down all of my ideas and the series grew from there.

Cover for The Uniques

The cover for Adam's new book, The Uniques

The next step was to decide whether or not the ideas were good enough to warrant taking them any further. I told myself that I would start writing, and if the process seemed to be going well and I was enjoying myself, then I would finish it.

In no time it seemed Act I was complete, and within about a month of sending a three chapter sample to Zeus I was signing a publishing contract.

Tell me about the process of completing the book.

The actual writing process only took me a couple of months, but the planning stage was quite substantial. It was during the planning that I became my own main obstacle. I was quite harsh on my own ideas and could never settle on anything, which eventually began to frustrate me greatly.

In the end, to save me from myself more than anything, I launched into the writing process without having finalised all of the world rules or events. It was a risk, but my thought process was that I would let everything evolve naturally while I wrote and hopefully whatever I came up with would feel more ‘integrated’ with the world because they were being defined at the same time.

This turned out to be the jumpstart that I needed, and I am extremely satisfied with the finished product.

What did your publisher expect from you in terms of rewrites?

Zeus didn’t ask me to rewrite anything. They edited the manuscript to their house standards and then (after I made a few final changes myself) it was good to go.

Did you do a book proposal for the book or your projected series?

I just did a proposal for the first book, Dawn, but made it clear that it is part of a series. I’m happy to take things as they come instead of having the added pressure of a ticking clock in the background. I work better that way.

The Uniques is a planned series of five books. I believe this will be the perfect length for me to flesh out the world, story and characters without stretching my ideas thin. I have a detailed spreadsheet with a breakdown of the overall tale across these five books, so I just have to get stuck into writing the rest of them. Having said, I made sure that I left enough holes to allow for story improvisation as I go, since that strategy seemed to work very well for Act I.

 At this stage I am about 35,000 words into Act II.

Why did you choose Zeus Publications?

Becoming an author was never something I expected to happen, so I had little knowledge about how to find a publisher. I did an internet search on Australian publishers and chose Zeus for several reasons. I had already heard of them, which was of course a strong start because I wasn’t aware of a lot of the publishers on the list I found. They are based in Queensland, which is where I live, and I am the sort of person who values being associated with the ‘locals’. Their website and submission guidelines were very professional, and they were extremely quick to respond to my submission and the questions that I had.

Do you have an agent?

I currently do not have an agent. At this early stage I feel I will be able to handle everything by myself. When things start to take off I may consider using an agent, but I will cross that bridge when I get to it.

Did you do anything to build your profile as a writer prior to getting published?

The basic idea was just to tell anyone and everyone about the novel before it was actually released. I am thankful to have contact with a lot of very helpful and supportive people who have been more than happy to help me spread the word, and you can never underestimate the power of the internet.

My friends and I joke about how often I plug my own series in general conversation (the amount of times I have worked the word Unique into a sentence…), but you have to get the word out there by any means.

Tomorrow, Adam explains the strategy behind his online forum for The Uniques.

How did you get published? Interview with historical fiction author Richard Blackburn

Today I’m talking with author Richard Blackburn. Richard’s historical fiction trilogy for young adults is published by Zeus Publications.

Richard, can you tell me how you came to be published?

When I was sure I wanted to publish my story, I was totally unaware of how the publishing industry operates. I didn’t understand the role of an agent so I didn’t try to get one. I did have a bit of help from articles I’d read on the subject. So I looked through bookshops to find names of publishers for my genre. I looked them up on the internet and guess what. Most of them wouldn’t accept work from an author direct. They would only deal with an agent. A couple of major publishers which would look at my manuscript required exclusivity – I couldn’t send it to any other publishers until they had made a decision. So I wasted a year sending my manuscript to two publishers who took six months each to reject it. I became impatient – I didn’t want to be published posthumously!

Cover for Richard Blackburn's 'The Regiment'

Cover for Richard Blackburn's 'The Regiment'


Then I was at a meeting of the Fellowship of Australian Writers Queensland and heard a published author discuss the advantages of going to a smaller publisher, even if it meant making a monetary contribution to the cost of getting published. He’d been published three times by Zeus Publications and so I approached them. I was immediately accepted by their literary assessor and was eventually in print! In Australia my books are called The Gatekeeper, Rudigor’s Revenge and The Regiment; die Kompanie. Zeus pays royalties and contracts to have sufficient books for market demand for a three year period.

Once my first book had sold around 3,000 copies, I looked overseas. Again I was lucky. In the ‘Opportunities’ section of QWC’s magazine, Writing Queensland, was an ad for Lachesis Publications. I contacted them and was accepted. They are a ‘traditional’ publisher and pay royalties. I don’t pay anything – they get their profit by selling my book and that is a good outcome as far as I’m concerned. It is also important for things like getting the books into British libraries, many of which will not buy a book if the author has made any payment for getting it published. In Canada/ USA the first book is called The Guardian of the Gate and it is available there in paperback and e-book format.

Tell me about the process of completing your first published book.

I’d always been a story teller. My father had told stories on cold and windy nights when the family huddled around a fire in pre-TV days. I told stories to my children who grew up in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea where there was, again, no TV. My wife told me I should write down the stories and as you know, a man always does everything his wife tell him to. So about thirty years later, when I started to retell my yarns to my granddaughter, I decided to write them down. I was happy with them and thought up a few new ones but then I had an idea which I was very interested in. I thought this might be THE story for me. But I had been in the public service for so long I was sure all my creativity had been crushed, so I took a couple of courses with the Open Learning Institute of TAFE. I passed with flying colours so continued to write.

After completing a few chapters, I told my wife I wanted to pursue this project to publication. I had been warned me not to give my writing to family members because they would probably be biased. I’m lucky, though. My wife has never had any problem with criticizing me, so she has been a very useful beta reader. She doesn’t usually read this genre so she can be even more objective. I’ve also had great help from my daughters and their school friends, so that gave me a lot more feedback.

At this time I had a full time job and a family to look after. Time to write was sometimes a problem. The worst thing was that we only had one desktop computer with internet connection – and my wife is an internetoholic. I had to nip in from time to time to do any research, and I needed a lot of that. One piece of luck is that I found out two of my friends from work were members of historical reenactment groups. They were happy to read my manuscript and confirm that I’d made no historical blunders.

One trick I’ve found to be of great value is reading my work out loud. I wait until I have the back veranda to myself and start. The dog always looks confused. ‘Who’s he talking to now?’ But he soon walks away. If the words don’t flow well, reading them out loud will really accentuate that. If I have any problem reading my own work, my readers will have real trouble.

I also read my work over loads of times. If I find I’m having trouble writing, it is usually because there is a problem with what I’ve already written. Before I start, I write a brief biography of my main characters. Probably half a page each. Most of what I write will never be in the book – the school environment, bullying as a child, deprivation as a serf etc. But I really know my characters. So if I start writing something uncharacteristic, I’ll know in my subconscious. I’ll also know if my story is going away from its logical course, even though that was my planned course. This is a great gift I have. It saves me finding out later when correcting the problem would be a lot of work.

What did your publisher expect from you in terms of rewrites?

Zeus’ editor required very few alterations to my work. I’d edited it myself so many times, it was as good as my skills could take it.

Lachesis, Canada, was different. There was translating it into the Canadian idiom (not as bad as if it was the USA). And Lachesis is a stickler for correct English as far as modern publishing is concerned. I wasn’t allowed to use dialogue tag adverbs or said bookisms. I had to be very careful because I’d been guilty of head hopping. So there was a lot of editing but no re-writing.

Did you do a book proposal?

Here, again, I was lucky. I was advised to buy the book A Decent Proposal and it helped. I stuck religiously to the requirements listed on the website of the publisher I was targeting. For Lachesis this was very specific. It means every proposal I sent had to be written individually but luckily there have only been a very few of those. But A Decent Proposal explained what (and why) the publisher wanted and how to supply it. It took a bit longer to write the proposal but I’m sure it was worth it.

Tomorrow, Richard talks about how he promotes his books – about his popular book signings and talks to groups.