Writing as a business: Part 2 of an interview with Rosanne Dingli

Today Rosanne talks about working with her publisher, the writing community in Western Australia, and how she promotes herself as an author.

Rosanne, why did you choose to publish with BeWrite Books rather than an Australian publisher?
Jacobyte Books, an Australian publisher, published Death in Malta in 2001. When they amalgamated with BeWrite Books in 2005, I was one of the Australian writers that moved to BeWrite. Jacobyte subsequently closed its doors. So it was less a choice of mine than the realities of the world of publishing.

What was it like working with an overseas publisher? Were there any differences compared to working with an Australian publisher?
No difference at all! Jacobyte were based in South Australia, and I am in Perth, so correspondence was always by email and post. It’s the same with BeWrite. There are no real obstacles, and because Neil Marr and his colleagues are so professional and so nice to deal with.

If you read something by Rosanne Dingli, it’s bound to have something markedly European in it!

Will your books be available for sale in Australia?
Yes. BeWrite publishes globally and online. Online bookshops such as Angus & Robertson and Amazon stock my books.

According to Luke, my forthcoming thriller, will be available as a paperback in bricks and mortar shops in Australia.

How did you go about negotiating your contract with your publishers?
Not much negotiation was required. They sent me an identical contract to the one I have for Death in Malta, with which I am quite happy, so I was very happy to sign on the dotted line.

Tell me about the writing and literary community in Western Australia. What kinds of activities and events are organised for writers?
Western Australia has given us such successful writers as Deborah Robertson, Joan London, Tim Winton, Anna Jacobs, Gail Jones, Janet Woods, and many others. Our writing scene is very vibrant and there are many annual and regular events to which writers and readers flock.

We have a Books Festival, many prestigious writing prizes, and a host of writing organizations and clubs: the Katharine Susannah Prichard Foundation, Tom Collins House, which hosts the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Peter Cowan Centre, the Karrinyup Writing Club, and more.

I have given time to all of them, by sitting on committees, editing newsletters, hosting talks and workshops and contributing to periodicals, through the years.

You are a member of many professional groups. How have they been useful for you?
In a number of ways, but that is not how I see them. Although they are useful for networking, I find they are also a place where new writers go for advice and knowledge. And although I don’t call what I say advice, I do like to share my observations about the publishing industry.

Writing … cannot be judged by standing back and tilting your head, as you can with a painting.

What’s happened in the past with publicity and promotions for your books? Have you had assistance from your publishers?
For Death in Malta, my publishers helped financially with the launch expenses, made sure the book was sent out for review, and so on. My part consisted in submitting to interviews and attending the launch, signing copies and so forth.

This time, for According to Luke, BeWrite books is very much in on promotions. Although we have not reached the stage yet, I am doing all I can to raise my visibility so that when the campaign starts, awareness of the book will already exist.

Why did you choose a website and a blog for your online strategy?
Being a writer, hosting a blog is second nature. I have always had a website of some sort — the one you see now is a vehicle for my giveaways, information about my books, various links, and I will attempt to put up some good information for writers soon.

More than just a strategy, it is a very personal choice: I find I can easily maintain a blog and a website with some level of genuine enjoyment. Although it is time consuming, I find I am good at it. I am still not sure about the more direct social media that are available.

I notice you have author pages at a number of online bookstores. Have these been effective?
Yes, even if only to make readers and other authors aware that it is possible to make use of publisher and retailer facilities when they are offered.

In the online environment, people look in one place and purchase at another. They chat in one place and leave comments in another.

Being visibly available in more than one bookshop means your books are widely available, and readers and purchasers are not restricted for choice.

There is another bonus: being on many sites makes a Google search of my name very productive.

Mystery, the church, Europe and a thrilling chase … there is more to look forward to after According to Luke.

You are offering free samples of your work on your website. How well is that working?
I wonder! I have not put a counter on the free pages, which is remiss of me. I have no idea how many times the free stories have been read. But I do get occasional emails to thank me and say something nice about my writing.

Many people have said they are waiting impatiently for According to Luke, based on what they have read of mine.

What else do you plan to try for your online promotions?
I am trying to rationalise things: first, by trying to find any sort of indication that a presence on some online social media does translate to actual sales of books. A bit of research might come in handy and show me what next to try.

Are you a full-time writer? How do you stay motivated?
Yes, but it naturally only makes me part-time income! Apart from writing books I do occasionally write articles and reviews, so most days will find me glued firmly to my computer.

There is no structure to my days — having teenage children sees to that. And I am easily distracted from writing; sometimes even housework seems more attractive.

How has your background shaped your writing?
Probably completely. I come from a highly literate European background and spent most of my youth and childhood with my nose in a book. My schooling was tightly wrapped around the arts, languages and literature.

I grew up in Malta which is steeped in history and churches, and because it’s a tiny island, I was never far from the sea. So these things are difficult to hide if you are a writer. I have never tried; they surface time and again, and have rather become my trademark.

If you read something by Rosanne Dingli, it’s bound to have something that is markedly European in it!

What is it that differentiates you from other writers? What is your ‘author-brand’?
And that brings us to brand! European atmosphere, arty inclusions like music, painting and history of art. The sea … Malta! All my books mention Malta, because it makes a really good location for a mystery, being steeped in such old stories.

I like to write mysteries and thrillers that involve some question about a piece of art. According to Luke is also controversial, and includes an alternative biblical interpretation. My work in progress also concerns mystery, the church, Europe and a thrilling chase, so there is more to look forward to after According to Luke.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t do it! But I wonder if writers can help themselves. I have given up more than just three or four times – it is a thankless task, unless you count the sincere praise you occasionally get from readers.

Writing is extremely hard work that cannot be judged by standing back and tilting your head, as you can with a painting. You can never really tell whether your book is going to please your public, it’s a fickle industry that has obstacles even seasoned established writers find to be trying.

Some of it is fun, but it is certainly no picnic. It also involves a very high level of rejection, so if you are not a confident person, it’s not for you. I am more stubborn than confident, that is why I am still doing this after more than 20 years.

Cathryn – I must thank you for this marvellous opportunity! It is great to chat with someone so interested in what I do and what I write.

Rosanne Dingli

Author, Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne’s bio
Rosanne Dingli is a Western Australian writer to whom inspiration means location and experience. Her novel Death in Malta has received critics’ praise, and her prize-winning short fiction is very popular. Three out-of-print collections will be reprinted shortly.

According to Luke, Rosanne’s puzzle thriller, will soon be released by BeWrite Books.

Click here
for Rosanne’s website.
And here for her blog.

Visit the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre.
Fellowship of Australian Writers, Western Australia.

All photos of Rosanne are courtesy of Jill Beaver.

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.