How did you get published? Interview with Kissing Frogs author, Andee Jones

Author Andee Jones

Author, Andee Jones

Today, I’m talking to Andee Jones. Andee is a psychologist, author and former academic based in Melbourne. Andee’s first memoir, Kissing Frogs, is published by Finch Publishing.

Andee’s stories have been published and awarded, and her articles have been published in academic and professional journals in psychology, health, and education.

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

I was working in the publish-or-perish world of academia, so getting published was part of the corporate-university power game. Submit paper; wait 6-12 months to receive anonymous scathing criticisms including ‘hasn’t cited Smith’; rewrite (citing Smith); resubmit; wait 6-12 months, and so on, ad nauseum.

Fortunately, with the help of some terrific creative writing teachers, I trained myself out of the turgid academic style, started writing more accessible stuff for popular magazines, and then fell into writing memoir.

Did you have a deliberate strategy to develop your writing career?
Not at the start. Fifty years of schooling and academic training told me I couldn’t write creatively. But the more I learnt about creative writing, the more I practiced it and the more I enjoyed it — so liberating compared to the academic straitjacket.

Once published, I started thinking about how to keep going. Unfortunately, it includes promoting and marketing, which isn’t as interesting as writing.

I write in my ordinary speaking voice … I want the writing to sound natural and conversational.


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

I write for the story, and then think about whether anyone else would want to read it. Trouble is, the story usually doesn’t fit neatly into a publishing category. But I have no choice; I could never write for ‘the market.’

How do you find switching between different forms of writing, such as stories and non-fiction? Does working in one form help with working in another?
I’m drawn to life writing, and most of my recent work is in this genre, even my fiction.

Your book
Kissing Frogs is based on your internet-dating experiences. Do you have any anecdotes you could share about this?
I like to think I’m getting braver as I get older … though others might call it something else entirely. Perhaps dating at 50-something is what happens when you stop working full-time and start your second adolescence. I was curious about what I’d find. Not that I necessarily wanted to find ‘BigBoy’, ‘MrCharisma’, ‘Guyloveskissingwomen’ and a personal favourite, ‘Justwarm’.

My first date had received 80 responses and dated 30 women in 30 days.

One guy left a voice message apoplectic with rage: ‘Cor’, he said,‘You’re so far up yourself. I’ve never met anyone so far up herself! Cor!’

The next one said ‘I don’t care if your mind is open, are your legs open?’

Next came a guy I’d dated for two years a while back, but he didn’t recognise me.

Then came the blind-date sex party.

I mean, how much more fun could one have in a week?

Where did the idea for Kissing Frogs come from and how did you get it published?
Kissing Frogs is the story of my four-year experience of looking for love online. The idea for the book came out of a breakup toward the end of this stint. ‘Why don’t we write a book about this stuff?’ I said to my ex-date. ‘Sure,’ he said, and promptly got busy dating. So I got writing.

I sent the m/s to 23 publishers, waited 9-12 months, and received 23 versions of, ‘Sorry, it doesn’t fit our list’. My daughter thought the book was a goer and persuaded me to self-publish. Finch responded to an ad I placed in a trade magazine. I sent Finch a copy, and Bob’s your uncle.

How did you go about structuring and organising your material for Kissing Frogs?
With difficulty. An early false start was to construct the memoir in two distinct voices, one of which I then had to rewrite in order to achieve flow and unity.

Now, I write in my ordinary speaking voice. No matter how complex the ideas, I avoid jargon and long words. I want the writing to sound natural and conversational. This is no mean feat for an over-trained academic.

How did you research potential places to submit your manuscript?
The manual The Australian Writers’ Marketplace is invaluable — everything’s in one place.

Did you have to do much rewriting or reworking of material during the editorial process?
All the hard work was done for the self-published version, so when Finch took it on, little editing was needed.

Perhaps dating at 50-something is what happens when you stop working full-time and start your second adolescence. I was curious about what I’d find.

Did you do a book proposal? Was it helpful?
Yes I did, and yes, it was very useful for me to clarify what the book was on about. Sheila Hollingworth’s short course and book A decent proposal were very useful. Similarly, Euan Mitchell’s course and book Self-publishing made simple were invaluable for my self-publishing project.

Do you have an agent?
No, I don’t have a paid agent, but I do have very good friends in the book trade who offer advice very generously.

How did you go about negotiating your contract with your publishers?
With I can’t tell you how much difficulty. From my very limited experience, it seems publishers have it all their way. Unless they’re fighting over a potentially lucrative author, publishers can get away with saying to a lesser known author, ‘Take it or leave it.’

I’ll put up part two of my interview with Andee on Saturday. In it, Andee explains what she does to promote her book.

In the meantime, you may like to checkout a memoir-writing prize being offered by Andee’s publisher, Finch Publishing. The closing date is the 15th of October, 2010.

How did you get published? Interview with author, Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Author, Rosanne Dingli

Today, I’m talking to author Rosanne Dingli. Rosanne’s first novel, Death in Malta, and her newest thriller, According to Luke, are both published by BeWrite Books, a global publisher with offices in England and Canada.

Rosanne is also the author of two collections of short stories and a poetry book. She has worked as a journalist, feature writer, editor, manuscript assessor, slush pile reader, editor-in-chief, literary editor and book reviewer.

Rosanne is based in Perth, Western Australia.

Rosanne, you’ve obviously been involved in the publishing industry for some time. Can you tell me how you first came to be published?
It’s a very long story that can be summarised in this way – praise for my letters home after emigrating to Australia got me thinking. In 1985 I read a book by Elaine Fantle Shimberg (which I still have) about being a homebound writer, and also the introduction to the Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets.

The two pieces gave me the first impetus. I wrote a lot of poetry and short fiction, and was successfully published in a number of journals and anthologies in a reasonably short time.

After that, it was easy to move on to freelancing for magazines and newspapers, so I established myself as a professional, which got me a teaching position at TAFE, and soon after, a lecturing job at ECU.

I take one or two ideas to the breakfast table on a Sunday, and by about 11.00am we have a fully plotted novel!

Did you have a deliberate strategy to develop your career as a writer? How did you go about achieving this? Were the short stories and poetry part of this strategy?
It was deliberate, but if you can call it a strategy … I don’t know!  It was a bit haphazard and random, but well directed in the main, and because it showed a modicum of success, I stayed encouraged. I am easily motivated by success, and because I got some, I kept going. Winning literary competitions can be quite motivating.

Do you ever encounter obstacles in terms of craft when writing for publication?
They were always obstacles that could be overcome with a measure of purpose, discipline, and a sense of humour. I always did work seriously and professionally, but never took myself too seriously – after all, this is a fickle industry, and one must keep at it in order to succeed. I have gone through phases of dejection, and I have given up about 20 times. It’s par for the course.

How did you go about plotting your puzzle thriller?
Plotting is a family affair! I take one or two ideas to the breakfast table on a Sunday, and by about 11.00am we have a fully plotted novel! All the family have something to contribute, and it can be fun and quite boisterous. I take it with a pinch of salt, but never discount even the most outrageous suggestion.

After a month of this, the scribbled plot is written out, and I start seeking jump-words to set me off. I am most inspired by actual words. Invariably, the vital ‘twist’ that really makes the story comes as I am actually writing. It is always a revelation, even to myself.

How do you find switching between different forms of writing, such as short stories, novels and poetry? Does working in one form help with working in another?
I have not written any poetry since 1993. I find I do get the mental rhythms that I used to work on, but I am a novelist now, and need bigger things to work on. Besides, poetry does little to promote me within the market I want for myself.

I used to find short stories very easy to write, and did write an enormous number of them, mostly based on atmospheric places in Europe, food, art and music. They can be fun, but do limit the writer in terms of background, because of the length restriction.

I rarely write short fiction now, but am trying to republish the out-of-print collections I have as eBooks.

Do you do research for your fiction? How do you tackle it?
Sometimes I feel I do more research than writing! I research a lot on the internet and our personal home library. We have fiction and non-fiction, lots of art and European literature, and guide books to all the destinations we have visited.

I immerse myself in the atmosphere when we travel, and take in important things about how the locals live. This filters back into my writing. It is an invisible thing that makes a reader feel I know what I am writing about, I hope!

I read very widely within my genre, and also non-fiction books about art and interiors, and map and reference books without which it would be impossible to write what I write. For my latest book, I even used the New Testament!

The vital ‘twist’ that really makes the story comes as I am writing. It’s always a revelation.

How do you research settings?
Nothing beats being there. Luckily, my husband and I have travelled quite widely, even with the children, and I make sure that each opportunity finds itself included in a book.

I am blessed with a good memory, so I remember things like street names, cafes, museums, churches,  and so forth. I have often stood somewhere – such as a bridge in Venice, a wharf in Malta, a square in Belgium or a narrow street in Amsterdam, for example, and imagined some character of mine standing there in my place.

I take that feeling home, and without even thinking about it too much, it finds its way into my work.

If a piece is accepted for publication, do you often have to rewrite or rework material?
Re-working is very often part and parcel of what writers do. This is less about the quality of the work, or the actual language, but more a matter of tone or voice. It must be compatible with the periodical or publishing house.

Professional writers do not take it personally: they come to a point of agreement with the editor, and the published work is better as a result.

I have often stood somewhere — a bridge in Venice, a wharf in Malta, a square in Belgium or a narrow street in Amsterdam — and imagined some character of mine standing there in my place.

Have you ever done a book proposal for one of your books? If so, was it helpful for yourself or your publisher?
Book proposals are generally required for non-fiction rather than fiction. But yes, I have made a book proposal once: I was editor of a local history for the Bi-Centennial of the Shire of Narrogin here in WA. It’s a long time ago, but I do remember the care and attention that went into such a proposal. It was hard work.

The discipline and attention to detail required for a proposal teaches you a lot about what goes into a published work of any kind.

Do you have an agent?
Whether you have an agent or not is less a matter of choice than people think. I have approached a number of agents in Australia, the US and in the UK. I got a moderate level of interest at the initial stages, but I found that none wanted to represent the manuscript I had at the time. Agents must feel they can sell what you have, so I got no offers. I did get several invitations to approach with another future manuscript though.

I’ll post the second part of my interview with Rosanne later this week. In it, Rosanne talks about working with her publisher, the writing community in Western Australia, and how she promotes herself as an author.

In the meantime, click here to check out Rosanne’s blog.

Albury City Short Story Comp: Prize money now doubled

The open category for the 2010 Albury City Short Story Competition now has prize money of $1,000 for first place. There’s also a primary section (up to and including kids in Grade 6) with a first prize of $100. And there are prizes for highly commended stories.

Judges this year include writers Ian Trevaskis and Kate Rotherham for the open section and Susan Berran for the primary section. The theme is open and entries close Friday 23 July.

The competition is part of the Write around the Murray Festival which runs from Wednesday 8 to Sunday 12 September.

Click here for the guidelines and application details for the short story competition.

Did you know … the EJ Brady Competition accepts YA fiction?

I don’t normally bother with short story competitions (I’ve always had better luck getting work published than winning anything). However I notice that the EJ Brady Short Story Comp allows work ‘in any genre in adult or young adult literature‘.

Is this a chance for the likes of me?

The question is, can I write the sort of story that will impress the judges enough to win the $1500 first prize?

Personally, I’d prefer an all-expenses paid holiday in Mallacoota, possibly the most beautiful spot in Victoria, and the home of the EJ Brady competition.

Click here for more info on the competition.

Click here to ‘visit’ Mallacoota.

And if you’ve any tips on how to write competition-winning short stories, I’ve love to hear them!

How do you promote your books? Pt 3 of an interview with YA & children’s author, George Ivanoff

Yesterday, I dropped by at George’s book signing in Ringwood. It was lovely to meet him, and sales were going well. George had a great display of posters with the Gamers’ Quest cover, a laptop showing the book trailer, and some freebies: bookmarks and stickers.

Today, in part 3 of my interview with George, I ask him more about his book promotion plans, especially his online strategy. George also talks about his life as a writer.

Cover for Gamers' Quest

The cover for George's new book

Will you sell or promote your book outside of bookstores?

I’m happy to promote where ever I can. I’ve done talks and signings at science fiction conventions and at the Melbourne Science Fiction Club. Recently I did a reading as part of the children’s program at the Bright ‘n’ Sandy Food and Wine Festival. So if there’s anyone out there reading this, who would like to book me for a festival or school or library or whatever… drop me an email!

Are there plans to sell your books overseas?

My publisher has the book with an overseas rights agent. So it’s a matter of wait and see. If there are any o/s publishers reading this who would like to bid huge sums of money for the right to publish Gamers’ Quest in their country, please contact Ford Street. 

How did you decide on the elements of your online strategy?

It was a matter of doing whatever I could do myself and whatever I could get other people to do for free. Back when I had a real job, I used to work in web development, so I was able to put the website together myself. Unfortunately my skills in that area are sadly out-of-date — so the website is put together in rather old-fashioned way. But it works!

The Gamers’ Quest theme music was composed and performed by my brother-in-law Marc Valko, member of the Melbourne band Thrashing Zombies.

I was going to do the book trailer myself, using my very limited knowledge of the web animation program Flash. My first attempt was pretty crappy. Then my friend, H Gibbens, stepped in and saved the day. He’s a CG animator…  click here to check out his website.

I wanted a book trailer because I wanted to pursue as many promotional avenues as possible. And I like watching book trailers… so I assumed there must be other potential readers out there who also like watching book trailers.

The book trailer was entirely conceived and made by H Gibbens. He read the book, then came up with a script and story board. I was happy to leave it in his hands. He thinks in a very visual way and I trusted his judgment.

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

I just asked myself what sort of info I’d want from a website about a book I was interested in… and that’s what I put up. Then my publisher suggested I should include some short stories. That was a great idea. I loved the opportunity to revisit some of the characters from the novel.

The website is mostly aimed at potential readers — kids and teens — hence the colour and movement and sound. Time was pressing, so I didn’t end up doing any research other than testing the site out on some kids I knew and then modifying it accordingly.

How are you integrating your online promotions with your ‘real world’ promotions?

All the bookmarks include the website address. Every time I do an interview or write a guest blog, I mention the website. And on the website, I announcement any upcoming events and signings, as well as quoting a whole bunch of reviews.

Do you market yourself to teachers, librarians or any other groups?

Not as much as I should be. It all comes down to a matter of time. I’m trying to promote while also writing and taking care of my two kids (I’m a stay-at-home-Dad). But I do send out promotional material to schools, especially those in an area I’m about to do a signing in. And my publisher has sent out a huge amount of material to libraries all over the country.

Did you write the teachers’ notes for Gamers’ Quest?

Yes. I’ve done quite a few writing workshops in schools, which has given me a bit of an insight into the way a book can be used in classroom discussions. I applied this when writing the notes.

Are you a full-time writer? How do you structure the days that you write? 

I’m a stay-at-home-Dad, so I write around the schedules of my children. My eldest daughter is at school, but my youngest is still at home. So, apart from the one day a week she goes to childcare, when I have the whole day to write, I write during her nap times, in the evenings and on weekends. Sleep? Who needs sleep?

How does your background inform your writing?

In every way possible! How can you write and not be informed by your background. My opinions creep through, even when writing fiction. My likes. My dislikes. Certain characters are inspired by people I’ve met and certain plotlines are inspired by events from my own life. My very first book, a collection of short stories about high school, Life, Death and Detention, was heavily inspired by my school experiences.

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

I’m not sure I have a ‘brand’ as such. Writing for the education market means that I write a huge variety of stuff in differing styles. With my trade writing, I hope what manages to come through is a certain off-beat sense of humour… particularly in terms of character. Edgar the dragon, for example, from Gamers’ Quest. He’s old, grumpy and sarcastic, and married to an enormous, human-looking woman named Vera, who has a liking for interior decorating and floral patterns.

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

Two main bits of advice:

1. Be prepared for rejection! There will be a lot of it.

2. When you do finally get a book published, be prepared to promote it. When my first book was published I naively thought that was it — I went back to my computer and went on with my writing. Meanwhile, the book went on to get a couple of good reviews but languish, unread, on bookshop shelves. I stupidly though the publisher would do all the promotion. Experience has taught me that I need to get out there and promote. Which is exactly what I’ve been doing with Gamers’ Quest.

George Ivanoff, thank you!

George’s bio

George Ivanoff is an author and stay-at-home Dad residing in Melbourne. He has written over 40 books for children and teenagers. His latest novel, Gamers’ Quest, is currently in bookstores. Two of his books (Life, Death and Detention and Real Sci-Fi) have been on the booklist for the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge since its inception in 2005.

George has also had stories published in numerous magazines and anthologies, most recently in Short and Scary and Belong. Check out George’s website at: www.georgeivanoff.com.au

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.