How did you get published? Pt 2 of an interview with Australian children’s author, Marianne Musgrove

This is part 2 of an interview with Adelaide-based author, Marianne Musgrove. Marianne’s work is published with Random House Australia.

Marianne, does your background as a hospital social worker and social policy writer inform your writing?

Most definitely. I’m interested in issues that affect children and these were brought to my attention in my work as a social worker. That said, for me, the story is paramount. I set out to tell a good story and if children learn something along the way, all the better, but it’s not my primary goal. Kids can always tell when an adult is preaching at them.

Marianne's latest book

My background has certainly informed the kind of stories I write, whether it’s coping with worries in “The Worry Tree” or dealing with a grandfather with dementia in “Don’t Breathe a Word”.

Was it your idea or your publisher’s to submit The Worry Tree for the Family Therapists Award?

Generally speaking, the publisher is the one who submits books for awards although some awards allow the author to submit their work too.

Tell me about how The Worry Tree came to be translated into German and Bahasa.

Every year, there are several bookfairs around the world, eg, in Bologna, Frankfurt and Taipei. Publishers and agents go along to try and get each other to buy the rights to their titles. In this way, my other books were signed and will also be translated into Hebrew, Italian, Korean and Chinese.

I notice Henry Holt (an imprint of US Macmillan) are publishing The Worry Tree and Lucy the Good. How did that come about? 

Random House Australia has an agent who operates in the US (sounds like a spy operation!). She pitched “The Worry Tree” to Henry Holt who signed it and printed an Americanised edition, only making minor changes, eg, ‘favourite’ became ‘favorite’. As for “Lucy the Good”, Holt wanted to make some changes to the plot so I rewrote it for the American market, a very common practice.

Did you set up your website or did your publisher help you with this?

I paid someone to do it. (I’m a bit of a Luddite, I’m afraid!) I had to negotiate with my publisher to use the text (you can download the first chapter of all my books) and graphics as I do not own the copyright to these.

How did you decide what content to put on your website?

I looked up many children’s authors’ websites and wrote a list of what I liked best. Then I looked at my budget and scaled back my grand plans. (Alas, the interactive worry tree will have to wait …) My main specifications were that it had to be funny, entertaining, useful and hopefully encourage people to keep buying my books.

Who is the main audience for your website?

Children, teachers, parents/guardians and aspiring children’s authors.

Did you have input into the teachers’ notes for Don’t Breathe a Word?

I didn’t write the first draft but I did have input after that. The notes were written specifically for a company called Australian Standing Orders aka ASO (a division of Scholastic Australia). At the time, I hadn’t heard of Australian Standing Orders so when I was told ASO were buying my book, I couldn’t understand why the Australian Symphony Orchestra would want so many copies!

Have you spoken to children in schools?

I’ve conducted a few school visits (mostly in Adelaide), generally for Years 3-5. I try to keep things interactive as there’s nothing worse than a grown-up standing up the front droning on for forty minutes. Amongst other things, we make a living Worry Tree and I teach everyone “The Irritating Song” which goes down well with the kids, though less so with the teachers 😉

I also promote my books at festivals and fairs.

Do you market yourself to teachers and librarians? If so, how?

My website and word of mouth. I’m fairly busy writing but if a local school contacts me, I generally accept as I really enjoy the contact with the students.

How would you describe your ‘brand’ as an author? What is it that differentiates you from other children’s book authors?

In a nutshell, I write funny books that help children. It’s strange to think of a person being a brand but, in this day and age, it’s how things are marketed. When I set up my website, I thought about calling it http://www.worrytree.com.au but was advised against this as my ‘brand’ is my name, not the title of my first book. As I was going to write more books, I went with http://www.mariannemusgrove.com.au instead.

I do write under a pen name. (I chose ‘Musgrove’ from the novel Persuasion.) I didn’t want my real name to become a brand.

Have you given up your ‘day job’ to write full-time?

I do write full time.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?

Get a manuscript assessment done first before sending it off to a publisher. Also, I’d tell myself to be patient.

Marianne, thank you.

Biography

Marianne Musgrove wrote her first full-length novel at the age of eleven: a romantic thriller featuring her unfortunate classmates. Although the unpublished manuscript met with only localised acclaim, she never gave up her dream of becoming an author. Marianne’s first children’s novel, THE WORRY TREE, is the winner of the Australian Family Therapists Award for Children’s Literature 2008 and has been shortlisted for three other awards. Her latest novel, DON’T BREATHE A WORD, is a 2010 Children’s Book Council of Australia notable book. She is also the author of LUCY THE GOOD and the soon-to-be-released LUCY THE LIE DETECTOR.

Click here for Marianne’s website.

How did you get published? Interview with Australian children’s author, Marianne Musgrove

This is part 1 of an interview with Adelaide-based author, Marianne Musgrove. Marianne writes children’s novels and her work is published with Random House Australia.

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

Marianne Musgrove

Marianne Musgrove

After four years and fifteen drafts, I sent my manuscript (read: baby) off to be assessed, first by children’s author, Ruth Starke, and, several drafts later, by Create a Kids’ Book (CAKB). Virginia Lowe (who runs CAKB) wrote me a letter of recommendation which I sent off to an agent who rejected me (very nicely). The second agent I sent it to signed me. It was she who sent off my book to Random House Australia. Prior to this, I had been rejected by about four publishing houses, some kindly, some less kindly.

Have you ever done a book proposal?

No, never. I think about my target audience after my first draft. Then, I edit for age-appropriateness.

It sounds like a fairly painless start to your writing career.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of pain involved! And yes, I do continue to have my work rejected. I don’t just write novels but short stories and poetry so I have a constant stream of rejections flowing into my letterbox with the occasional beautiful acceptance. It’s a bit like being an actor. No matter how good your last work is, you still need to audition for the next play. At times, I’m nervous about the stability of the career I’ve chosen but it’s my dream and all dreams are hard won.

Do you have an agent? Why/why not?

My agent looks after the difficult stuff (negotiating contracts, keeping up with which publishing houses are looking for what). This frees me up to do what I love best which is create stories. Writing is one of those strange professions where there is no clear line of progression. A lot of it is finding your way by chance so having someone in the industry with lots of contacts is immensely helpful.

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

I wrote a few articles for the excellent children’s publishing e- newsletter, Pass it On, about how I was going about trying to get published. I have since met people who recognised my name because of these articles.

What aspects of publicity and promotion has your publisher handled? What have you done?

The publicity officer at my publishing house sends our early copies of my books to reviewers around the country. Sometimes, she is asked to suggest a speaker for a conference and, if I fit the bill, I may be asked to run some sessions. Sometimes, they have an added extra to the book, eg, Worry Tree posters, Lucy the Good stickers.

My publisher funded my book launch which I organised. There’s a lot of talk about book launches being a waste of time. Personally, I disagree. For every person who attends, they will tell several people about your book. If you’re not a big name (like me), word of mouth is going to be one of the main ways you get your name out there so I say, if you want to launch your book, launch it!

I also contacted my local paper, put up posters around the area (library, butcher, shoe shop), paid for bookmarks to be printed (my publisher designed them for me for free), and participated in as many interviews as possible.

Part 2 of this interview to come tomorrow. Marianne will explain how her prior work experience helps with her writing … and more!