While all fiction and creative non-fiction requires strong characters with something to say, my next novel, a strained family saga, is especially character driven. I’m reading The Art of Character by David Corbett to extend and deepen my abilities, and (in theory), liberate my creativity. What are you doing to improve your work?
‘Life is like riding a bicycle.
To keep your balance you must keep moving.’
Publishing in Australia
The novel I’m trying to get published now is an Australian story, with universal themes and appeal of course, but there’s much in the subject matter that Australians will relate to. This means I’m touting it in Australia first before looking elsewhere.
But getting anything new published in Australia can be challenging. It has been for a long time, but with foreign competition, it’s even more difficult.
Some publishing facts (and some opinion too):
- Big W is reportedly the single biggest book retailer in Australia, so if you don’t write commercial fiction of 70-90,000 words that Big W wants to sell, you may be at a disadvantage
- The price of books has gone down with overseas competition, putting greater commercial pressure on publishers
- If you write literary fiction (my novel is literary-commercial crossover) places reserved for new voices are very limited, as in maybe 5 novels per year one publisher claimed. Yes – 5!!
- Fulfilling publishers’ commercial requirements seems more front of house than ever with increased competition
- Character and plot rule, so if you’re attempting to push the boundaries and break some rules, your first novel may be considered too risky, but then again maybe not if you’re brilliant
- All this competition has in my view pushed the Australian mainstream publishing industry towards conservatism. I find a lot of new Australian formulaic and disappointing
- That said, small, independent publishers are taking risks that are paying off. These are the books I tend to find inspiring. Perhaps this is where the future lies for Australian writers whose work may not satisfy mainstream commercial criteria?
- The pool of book readers isn’t growing in Australia
- Bricks and mortar booksellers are the key to sales for debut novels by Australian authors
- Around a third of trade (commercial) books published in Australia are fiction
- Print books remain the most popular, with e-book sales decreasing before plateauing
- How many times have I heard publishers say they’re looking for the next Bryce Courtenay or Andy Griffiths or Fleur McDonald? Interestingly, I’ve only ever once heard them say they’re looking for the next Patrick White or Geraldine Brooks.
So what can you do to get published?
Should you tailor your fiction to what you think publishers want? Should you cut your text back to fit the word length, make your characters more mainstream, latch on to the latest trend and write in that genre?
Not unless that’s where your passion lies or it will improve your work. Your writing must be the best you can make it, which demands authenticity and tenacity. Writing is testing at the best of times, let alone if you’re not working on something that fires you up, even during the dark times. First and foremost, love what you’re doing.
Don’t compromise, improve your work
Instead focus on making your manuscript the best it can be. Then continue to seek a publisher until you find someone who believes in your work. There are alternative publishing routes you might consider too, which I discuss here.
Publishing is a business, but never forget that writing is an art.
This is my very first post and I thought I would start with something that’s relevant to just about every writer. How to establish—and stick to—a writing routine.
People can have romantic ideals about writing. While your first draft of your first novel might be inspired and flow from you easily like water in spring down a stream because you haven’t yet let the critical editor in you take over, much of writing comes down to discipline, commitment and hard work. That’s perfectly normal so instead of blaming yourself for not being one of those naturally ‘inspired’ people, build a writing routine and see what happens. What have you got to lose?
- No more excuses
Writing is like exercise. You can always find reasons not to do it whether it’s because you’re tired or a family member is ill or you’re working long hours in your day job. Writing can be hard at the best of times, but in the end it’s your choice. You either write or you don’t. What if you wrote for even fifteen minutes a day, or thirty? Bit by bit you would end up with a lot more on the page than if you waited for the perfect time. As they say, writing is showing up on the page and it requires bum glue.
- Be realistic
Don’t set yourself up for failure by telling yourself you’re going to write for two hours every day when realistically this isn’t going to happen. Set achievable goals. That way when you reach them you’ll feel good about yourself and will continue to meet even build on them. Some people say you should write every day but I believe what works for one person might not work for another. Get to know your writing self and act accordingly.
- Define your goals
Work out what kind of writer you are to determine the best goal for you. It might be to write for one hour five days a week or three hours two days a week. Others like to set a word goal. Alternatively, you might like to work out how many words your book is going to be, what your deadline is and work back from there. Whatever you decide, stick to it as best you can. You can always build on success by pushing yourself a bit harder. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you can achieve.
- 21 days to develop a habit
It takes 21 days to create a habit. When something becomes a habit, you’re more likely to stick to it because you don’t have to think about it.These days I go to a café to write two to three times a week, which is non-negotiable. Whether I’m in the mood or not I walk to a café, sit down, get my computer out and write non stop for two hours. This particularly helps me on a Monday when I need to get back into the writing mode after the weekend. It isn’t a cheap way to write, but I forgo other things because it works best for me. Other places you might try are a public library, a park or even a mall. On non-café days I write at home, sometimes not as successfully because I get more easily distracted or interrupted there, but again whether I feel inspired or not, I just do it. What comes can be surprisingly good or disconnected rubbish. Either way, it’s something to build on.What might work for you? Half an hour early in the morning or at night when everyone’s in bed, two hours each Saturday and Sunday when you can find some clear space? Decide and do it.
- Diarise your writing time
Schedule your writing time in your diary and treat it as seriously as you would an outside appointment. Yes you can always ignore it, but just as you wouldn’t like to let someone else down, why would you let yourself down? How important is your writing to you, really?
- Get into the zone
Find ways back into your writing each session. Some people meditate or do yoga breathing, others go to a particular physical place like a desk or room, some free write for ten minutes or two pages because they find that stream of consciousness gets their creativity flowing. Again, create routine. Write it down so you don’t forget it and put it somehwere you can see it as a constant reminder.
- Unplug, of course!
Turn off your phone/email. You can warn people beforehand in case they might want to contact you. If that’s not possible, there are all sorts of apps and buttons you can use to allow only specific calls or emails. This is your time, use it well.
- Forgive yourself for not being perfect
Some days your routine might not work. If that’s the case, don’t beat yourself up. Be constructive instead. Try to identify out what went wrong so you can remedy it. Did you get out of your routine, did you go to bed too late, did you eat the wrong food, have you had a long break from writing?Also remember that sometimes thinking about writing is writing. Perhaps your brain is working through a structural challenge or character problem. If you feel blocked, it often means something is wrong with what you’ve written. Work out what it is and fix it so your writing flows again.