How did you get published? Interview with novelist and travel writer, Cameron Rogers

Today, I’m talking to author Cameron Rogers. Cam has had two novels and two YA novels published. Currently he’s travelling and writing travel articles for newspapers such as The Age in Melbourne. Cam’s unusual background includes being a motion capture model for computer games and a ‘crime management officer’ for the Queensland Police.

Cam, can you tell me how you first came to be published?
The short story is this: in the mid Nineties I’d been writing and trying to sell stories to magazines for a while, so when Gary Crew asked to see some of my stuff I had a catalogue I could show him. He liked what he read, suggested I write something for Lothian’s After Dark series, and it went from there.

I learned years later that, apparently, Gary took to me because I was a Goth but, strangely, wasn’t a wanker. I hope he doesn’t mind me saying that. That first publication got Penguin interested, which led to The Music of Razors, Nicholas and the Chronoporter and my current one, Fateless.  I’m hoping that’ll be out within twelve months.

Cameron Rogers near Reykjavik, Iceland

Cameron Rogers, near Reykjavik, Iceland

How did you approach Lothian and Penguin Australia when you started out? Was there a particular method that’s worked for you?
I’m not someone who networks easily. The idea of schmoozing, of meeting new people with some selfish ulterior motive, squicks me out. Then I realized that ‘networking’ was just code for ‘having friends’. We help each other out, it’s all good, and when we’re not doing that – which is most of the time – we’re just doing what friends do.

I keep an eye out for the lateral, the beautiful, the unexpected.

Do you ever encounter obstacles (in terms of craft) when writing for publication?
Only when writing stuff for kids.  They don’t need to be patronized, they’re fine with being challenged, but the parents and librarians who buy the books often don’t seem to think so. So it can be a balancing act.

Nicholas and the Chronoporter almost didn’t see print because part of the plot involved the main character dealing with the death of his mother, for example, and then being presented with the chance to save her at great cost to everyone else. That right there almost killed it.

How do you tackle research for your fiction writing?
I do, and I’ve learned it’s possible to research to a fault.  There’s a real craft to knowing when enough is enough when it comes to info-mining. Too little and the book feels flat or doesn’t ring true, too much and it either paralyses you with choice or you disappear down the rabbit hole of researching the details of your research, ad infinitum.

I fell into that trap working on my latest book, Fateless. A section of the book has to do with the ‘Pals battalions’ raised by Kitchener in WWI.  I was so engrossed by the idea of fathers and sons and brothers and cousins – the male population of entire families sometimes – being recruited and banded together and then shipped off to the front lines, that I felt I’d lost the right to use their stories if I didn’t do it justice. I lost a year on that, only to realize that if I supplied just enough detail the reader would get it; that less really can be more, and that maintaining a good signal-to-noise ratio is absolutely critical.

I have two credos when it comes to travel: Say Yes, and Embrace Random.

It doesn’t matter how fascinating you think the subject is, if too much research makes it to the final page you run the very real risk of fatiguing, and losing, the reader.

Apart from visiting the place you’re writing about, how do you research your travel articles?
I probably do about as much research on a destination as any other traveler. I have two credos when it comes to travel: Say Yes, and Embrace Random. Those two things, I’ve found, have generated more interesting material and experiences than any amount of reading-up and planning.

Everywhere I go I take a Moleskine notebook and a camera. I keep an eye out for the lateral, the beautiful, the unexpected. I note down odd things that are said, little details that snag the attention, and photograph anything that suggests itself: sights, sounds, smells, textures, observations, snatches of conversation. Then at the end of the day I write about it, for myself, using the notes and photos as aids.

I realized that ‘networking’ was just code for ‘having friends.

At some point later I read back over all that material, isolate the articles that seem the most interesting, and then I rework those for publication. It’s really about capturing the immediacy of the experience. At the end of the day all anyone has is the experience of something, and for me the soul and purpose of good travel writing is to convey your experience to someone who can’t be there. That requires an eye for the hidden, the unexpected, the taken-for-granted, the poetic, the lateral. The tiny thing that makes the moment.

I could talk about the Eiffel Tower, for example, or I could talk about gangs of scruffy men on Parisian street corners selling cartons of stolen cigarettes and stashing their supply inside cast-iron art deco lampposts. The Eiffel Tower is common knowledge, shared culture, wallpaper, but you can smell those men. You wonder about them, who they are, their pasts, why they do what they do, how that slots with the life of the neighbourhood. It’s new, unseen … it’s engaging.

I’ll put up the second part of Cam’s interview on Friday. Cam talks about why he used a pen-name, the benefits of having an agent, and what promotions support writers get from publishers.

In the meantime, click here to visit Cam’s website/blog. He’s got some great photos of his travels.

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Spotlight on … emerging writer & illustrator Lucienne Noontil

Today I’m speaking to Lucienne Noontil. Lucienne is one of the writers to be featured this evening (Monday 24th of May) in the ’15 minutes of fame’ section of the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne. Lucienne will appear at 7pm at the Wheeler Centre, 176 Little Lonsdale Street.

Lucienne, how did you first come to be published?

I don’t think it was because I was a standout writer, but more the fact that I could follow instructions. I was in a Writing for Children class and my teacher, who was also a small publisher, asked me to source a true story of a boy’s bravery and then write it to their format. I had very little control.

Lucienne Noontil

Lucienne Noontil with her book, Possum Tale

 

Possum Tale was a different scenario. I had been rejected numerous times and still felt the story was worthy and in 2008 I won an award which would assist me to publish the manuscript. I had control. Yippee.

Tell me about the process of completing Possum Tale.

Being a picture book, I did long stints painting possums, weighing up the best options for the visual spreads to compliment the words. I toyed with the wording as it is imperative to be precise when children are formulating their language. 

I had a great team of ‘experts’ guiding me including a project advisor, cover designer, children’s librarian … and of course my own young kids!

My focus was to produce the best product I could so I had to keep an open mind and firm in my resolve.

What are you planning to do for your ’15 minutes of fame’ at the Emerging Writers’ Festival?

I will be using the platform as a way to build confidence in myself as an author. If you think you have a worthwhile project, do your best to get it ‘out there’. I wasn’t sure if I could paint possums, but on having a go and practicing, I found it wasn’t beyond my capabilities at all.

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 hang off that one manuscript. Whatever the result, just keep on writing.

Click here to visit Lucienne’s website.

Jackie’s recommended resources for beginning writers

Here are Jackie Hosking’s recommendations for beginning writers – particularly those interested in writing for children. The list was compiled with the assistance of Pass It On subscribers.

1. The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. Maass gives many examples of each technique he addresses then finishes each chapter with a number of exercises. Not aimed at children’s writers but applicable to chapter books. 

2. Mem Fox’s website talks about creating picture books.

3. On Writing Books for Children by Jenny Wagner, published by Allen & Unwin.

4. Professional organizations such as: the Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), Australian Society of Authors (ASA), The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA), Local Writers’ Centres. There’s a list on Jackie’s blog of these types of organisations, under ‘Useful Links’.

5. Richard Harland has put together a website of writing tips – also available as downloadable PDF. (I notice that he’s got some tips specific to writing steampunk fiction.)

6. Lightning Bug website.

7. Hazel Edwards’ website has lots of useful information for new writers.

8. Jill McDougall has a terrific e-book that can be downloaded from her website called Become a Children’s Writer.

9. Andrea Shavick has also written a book called Get your picture book published – there’s a link on Jackie’s blog to it.

10. Nancy I. Sanders’ award-winning book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, published in 2009 by E & E Publishing.

11. Rachel Burk’s blog has 27 different categories of writing info listed, with new stuff added all the time.

12. Writing for children by Pamela Cleaver.

13. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

14. How to Become a Children’s Writer by Bren MacDibble, published by Australian Associated Publishing House, ISBN 0-9758004-4-2.

15.Robyn Opie’s website: How to Write a Great Children’s Book. Also available as a published book from Magellan Books.

16. As well as being an annual publication, The Australian Writers’ Marketplace is online.

17. Open Office is free and good alternative to Microsoft Office; it has an inbuilt PDF creation feature. 

18. Aviary is a desktop publishing program which is now free . It’s a good alternative to InDesign and Quark Xpress if you also illustrate your work. 

19. John Marsden’s book, Everything I know about writing

20. Tom Chiarella’s Writing dialogue

21. Tracey Dils’ You can write children’s books

22. Jean Karl’s How to write and sell children’s picture books

23. Joan Aiken’s The way to write for children.

24. Hazel Edwards’ The business of writing for young people.

25. Celia Warren’s How to write stories.

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!