The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

How to write it, sell it and market it…successfully!

By Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry



This expert guide to getting your book published is packed with helpful information for new writers, would-be writers and those who have already published. The authors are simultaneously editors, literary agents and published writers. The first edition was published in 2005. This one, updated in 2015, takes the huge shifts that happened in the industry in those 10 years into account and includes ebooks and how to deal with social media. Although it’s written for the American market, most of it applies to publishing in Australia too.

The guide pinpoints what I aim to do for my writer clients to help them to get their work into shape to submit to publishers or for self-publishing. Read about the levels of edit most professional editors offer here.

“Outside editors, a.k.a. book doctors, diagnose, treat and help you fix your book.”

One of the book’s strengths – and there are many – is that it has sound advice no matter what you want to publish, from cookbook to potboiler, business manual to poetry volume. It’s not a writing manual, but a practical (and pragmatic) how-to.

Publishing success comes from four basic principles:

  1. Research. Not just your subject matter, but what else is out there and who might publish your book. Do this and … your odds of getting published will go from nearly nil to extremely decent
  2. Network. Use your people skills to find the right publisher, create buzz, reach your readers and sell books. I believe this has become critical for successful publishing. The days of the cloistered author are well and truly over.
  3. Write. While this seems obvious, the authors say it’s the one thing published writers told them over and over. Get your ideas down on paper and keep at it.
  4. Persevere. You will have to deal with rejection. Probably a lot of rejection. As the authors say, ‘please, don’t quit five minutes before the miracle’.

Fifty Typefaces That Changed the World

By John L Walters/Design Museum



This is one I snapped up in the marked-down basket at my local bookshop, The Turning Page in Springwood, that little shiver of excitement running through my middle as I found my cut-price treasure. For a long time back in my teens and 20s, I secretly wanted to be a typographer. Lining up each Letraset letter before rubbing the black letter onto the white paper, slowly forming a heading, was how I found my ‘flow’. I used to buy The Face magazine to see what typographer Neville Brody was up to as much as for its cool content.

And then desktop publishing, and the internet. Anybody could be a typographer. We all know how to deride Comic Sans. I stuck with writing and editing. Nothing could every disrupt those, right?

I still keep my love of a good font, and this book runs through most of them, from the Gutenberg Bible’s blackletter in the mid-1400s to Ubuntu in 2011, an open-source typeface available to anybody in the world, in over 200 languages, in and for free. As the designers say, ‘The way typography is used says as much about our brand as the words themselves’.

I have more comprehensive and detailed books about typography, but recommend this one as a heavily visual introduction to the art, with an incidental history lesson attached.

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

by Mary Norris


I bought this book because a copy editor wrote a 200+ page book and it made the New York Times bestseller list. And because through it I learned that there is an Apostrophe Protection Society with a really ugly website and a chairman. And I can’t resist an editorial style guide.

Mary Norris is a copy editor with The New Yorker, and has worked there since 1978. She turns her vast, enviable experience into a funny and fascinating encounter with language. In her investigation of why Moby-Dick is hyphenated, she describes ‘…that immortal hyphen, stuck like a harpoon in Melville’s famous title…’. She has a whole chapter devoted to profanity, called F*ck This Sh*t. Sometimes you need to know how to handle that stuff.

I love her approach to language: precise, but not pedantic. I learnt so much about the origins or words, the uses of various arcane punctuation marks, and what a dream job working at The New Yorker is, and had a whole lot of fun doing it.

PS: Her new book, Greek to Me  will be published in April.

The Day We Built the Bridge

 

Children’s picture book   Written by Samantha Tidy    Illustrated by Fiona Burrows

My son was about 10 and we were crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge by train. ‘We’re so lucky to be on a world-famous landmark’, he said. We were, and we were privileged to be able to see its distinctive arch most days from the corner of the street behind our road. Now that he’s an adult, he realises that growing up so close to this iconic structure  was a huge privilege.

Samantha Tidy and Fiona Burrows have captured the outlines of the story of building the Sydney Harbour Bridge through the eyes of a child, from the need in 1890 , the idea, to the construction and finally to the cutting of the ribbon in 1932. The text is sparing, and just as the bridge’s two sides curved across the harbour to create connection, the words come together with the illustrations to tell a story of need, idea, effort, dreams, longing, striving and achievement.

The hardcover book is beautiful to hold and the illustrations are filled with detail that slowly reveals itself, from the endpapers illustrated with native flowers to the period posters for Arnott’s biscuits and Koala tea. It’s a lovely book for sharing with children in your life and will appeal to a wide age range, including children older than the traditional picture book reader. The book is a good spur for family discussions about a range of topics, from history, the First World War and construction methods used in the 1920s, to the place of dreams, needs, effort, achievement and celebration in our lives.

Publication date is 1 February 2019, and you will find teachers’ notes and be able to order signed copies at samanthatidy.com.

 

How to interview like a maestro

Sarah Kanowski is a presenter for ABC Radio National’s very popular Conversations. This was in the Review section of The Australian, May 11-12 2019. It sums up beautifully how to interview somebody.

“Find someone who has an interesting story to tell. This will be almost everybody. Greet your guest warmly, offer them a cup of tea and make sure they are sitting comfortably. When they are ready you may begin. To ask a question, make it a question – not your own opinion. It works best if the questions are short and open-ended: Why? What happened next? What did you see? What could you hear?  Have a sense of where you want the conversation to head but keep an ear out for the unexpected. Don’t worry about what you are going to ask next, listen instead to what you are being told. Listen also to what your guest is perhaps not saying in the answers they give. Ask about that. Look for stories, zoom in on the details that shine, but don’t get stuck on the trivial. Notice when your enthusiasm sparks. Let curiosity and empathy be your guides. Prodding is OK, pushing is not. Don’t approach  your guest like a boxer in the ring; don’t try to make them trip on their shoelace. If they sit back in their chair and gaze out the window while talking, this is a good sign, They are turning away from you and walking back into their memories. If they find themselves hit with grief, don’t interrupt. Give that sadness space. Join them in the joy. Without leaving your seat, stand next to them as they look (with wonder, curiosity, regret) at this thing that is their life.”

8 things an award-winning author can teach you about being a writer

Mark Brandi is the author of the award-winning novel Wimmera, described by one reviewer as ‘a dark and disturbing story from a substantial new talent’. It’s both a crime thriller and a coming of age story, set in rural Victoria. Recently he discussed what it’s like to be an author at a wonderfully relaxed session at Varuna the Writer’s House in the Blue Mountains.

Picture of cover of Wimmera by Mark Brandi

Wimmera by Mark Brandi

1. It’s true: write what you know.

This maxim holds if you want your work to be the best it can be. Wimmera’s closely observed reflection of small-town life feels all the more real because the author grew up in rural Victoria. He captures both how free this life is for kids, who can go yabbying and stay out until dark; and how claustrophobic it is for adults when the world closes in on them. He also draws on his experience in the criminal justice system as an advisor to the police minister, and the experience of his three brothers, all of whom work in the police and justice system. But remember, you don’t have to have experienced every single thing you write about either.

2. Find a way – and it might be unconventional.

Mark gave up a full-time job as a policy advisor, enrolled in a writing course and – wait for it – WON $50,000 ON MILLIONAIRE HOTSEAT!* And by guessing the final answer! He could have ignored the entry form his brother sent him, but instead, without telling anybody, he applied for this most unlikely source of literary funding for his new life as an author. He doesn’t suggest you give up your day job, but the point is to make it happen if you’re serious about being an author. Find an hour a day or a couple of hours at the weekend. Join that writer’s group. Apply for those residencies that will give you some time out to focus on your writing.

3. Use the support and inspiration that’s out there.

Attend courses and writer’s festivals. Take a look at everything Varuna has to offer, from one-off events to fellowships. Two residential fellowships at Varuna helped Mark to develop the manuscript for Wimmera. Join Writing NSW. See what the Australian Writers Centre has on offer.

4. You can start with a short story.

Mark’s book began as a short story called To Skin a Rabbit (click to listen to the RN audio version).  Two of the main characters in the novel continued to haunt him after he had written the short story. He pursued them, and Wimmera is the result. Often aspiring writers are told to focus on either novels or short stories as their demands are so different. Break the rule. If finishing a short story will inspire you to get that novel out, go for it!

5. Enter competitions and awards.

If nothing else, it will give you the discipline to work to deadlines and get your writing finished. You may even win! Plus, you will attract interest from publishers if you are shortlisted. When Mark won the 2016 Debut Dagger, publishers contacted him. But…

6. Get used to rejection.

Don’t take it personally. Use any feedback you get to learn and to improve your writing. Mark submitted his book to different publishers and programs and got plenty of what he described as ‘nice rejections’. Some of them contained useful feedback, which he took into account as he reworked Wimmera. Instead of regarding rejection letters as negative, consider what they have to say and try to act on the feedback. Publishers may say no for a range of reasons, and many of them have nothing to do with the quality of your work. Keep going.

7. Enjoy the editing process.

I know, it can feel a bit like the teacher got out her red pen and pointed out all your errors, but editors bring perspective and loads of experience to your work as well as fixing your grammar and punctuation. Mark described how an editor researched and corrected details in a scene in which he described a cricket match on TV in the background to a scene in Wimmera. You can be sure one reader will be an expert in almost anything you write about and errors undermine the quality and credibility of an author’s writing. I recently read a book which had the name of one of my uni mates spelled incorrectly. It’s not hard to check that. My reaction was to wonder what else in the book was inaccurate. A good editor will fact check everything as well as look at the broad scope of your work, switching between a sweeping overview and a microscopic focus on detail

8. Revel in being an outsider and an introvert, if that’s what you are.

Mark was from the only Italian family in town. School was tough and he was bullied and excluded. But, as he said it, the excluded tend to be sharp and thoughtful observers. Use what you see and hear around you every day to inform your characters and your stories. Mark does this so well, conveying how children cannot and do not understand adult motivations, how the adult world is inscrutable to his characters in boyhood, and using this point of view to drive the narrative in Wimmera.

Varuna The Writers' House in Katoomba

Varuna Writers’ House

I learned so much from Mark Brandi’s generous sharing of his experience at Varuna’s Open House Day. There were other sessions, including one that explained Varuna’s programs and included a speaker from the Australia Council who fund writers and writers’ organisations. Above all, it inspired me to stop dreaming get back to my desk and write. I hope these 8 tips help you do the same.

*Writer Melissa Lukashenko also won big on Millionaire Hotseat. Read about it here.

YA novel Freefalling wins CBCA award for best unpublished manuscript

Maura Pierlot is this year’s Charlotte Waring Barton Award winner

Maura was announced as the winner of this award from the Children’s Book Council of Australia (NSW Branch), which is given annually for an unpublished manuscript. Maura wins a mentorship with  a well-known children’s writer. I was at the award ceremony in Sydney, and I think I might have let out a little shout when Maura’s name was read out as the winner – she had told me she definitely wasn’t going to win.

Maura Pierlot wins award

Maura Pierlot (centre) wins the CBCA NSW award for best unpublished manuscript.

I was lucky enough to copy edit the manuscript and I’m confident that it will be snapped up by a publisher.  It’s the contemporary story of Harley:  year 10 student, friend, sister, daughter and granddaughter, and her struggles with self-image, friendship, love and acceptance. Maura writes with great insight and sensitivity about eating disorders, disloyalty and grieving in a compulsively readable way.

Last year’s winner, Danika Hall, discussed her mentorship with Jen Storer as part of a great night at the offices of HarperCollins, whose children’s division sponsors the award.

Charlotte Waring  Barton was the writer of the first published children’s book in 1841, published anonymously as A Mother’s Offering to her Children: By a Lady, Long Resident in New South Wales. But more on that later, as it’s a story in itself.

Maura has also recently published the lovely children’s picture book The Trouble in Tune Town. It would be a great Christmas present for the music loving kids in your life.

 

Once, I was fourteen. Remembering growing up under apartheid


I wrote this from a prompt – The first time – at a class on Writing the Real with Mark Tredinnick.

The first time I went into the black part of Pretoria, I was fourteen. My friend and I were bored by the boys we hung out with, tired of their talk of 50cc Hondas and Deep Purple and the Northern Transvaal rugby team. We wanted an adventure. So we decided to go to Marabastad, a kilometre or so from the city’s cold heart, Church Square.

We took the whites-only bus to our usual stop and walked the rest of the way. Department stores and record bars gave way to a street of little shops selling shiny two-tone shoes, colourful saris and rough grey blankets. Indian shopkeepers tempted us with cheap Levi’s and novelty tee-shirts, but we weren’t there to buy. We were exploring. As we walked down Boom Street, the dead air began to carry the tang of masala and coriander. Soon these gave way to the herbal smells for which we had no names that drifted from the stalls where traditional healers bought their muti.

Gone were the empty, silent streets we knew. Marabastad was full of people who looked like our maids and gardeners, but weren’t. Women strolled past with babies in blankets tied to their backs. Old men called out to one another across the street. I knew the sound of their words, but I didn’t know their language.

Here, nobody adjusted themselves to the expectations of white girls. Teenage boys kept on slouching down to the takeaway. Children giggled in surprise at seeing us there, then mock-shimmied and jived to the kwela music bubbling from a narrow doorway. That afternoon, for the first time, I understood that I was the minority.

The Soweto uprising was still a year away. Apartheid would endure another twenty. Visiting a black township would become fraught and often dangerous. But on that afternoon in 1975, I saw life, real and throbbing and fragrant and unconcerned that I was an ignorant fourteen-year-old white girl from the suburbs.

When ‘giving’ isn’t really giving at all

Recently I attended three local events at which I learnt important things from three passionate people.

The first was Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk. I first read about her book in the New Yorker, and added it to my absolutely must-read pile. So when I saw that she was talking about her book in Katoomba, I reserved my spot in the front row. To say that Helen’s memoir is about how she trained a goshawk is to ignore that it is also a treatise on grief, literature of immense poeticism and an intense meditation on being human. The New Yorker called H is for Hawk ‘an improbable and hybrid creature’, as well as ‘coherent, complete, and riveting, perhaps the finest nonfiction I read in the past year.’

The second was Simon Cherriman, West Australian environmental biologist, who answered questions after a screening of his documentary about fitting GPS trackers to wedge-tailed eagles, Where do Eagles Dare? While Simon’s documentary is less perfectly formed than H is for Hawk – he is young, give him time ­- it is beautiful, absorbing and worth watching for the six-foot-eight naturalist’s extraordinary tree climbing ability alone.

The third was Anne Manne, who spoke eloquently about the culture of narcissism as written about in her book The Life of I at an event hosted by Korowal School in the Blue Mountains. Anne spoke about narcissism at both individual and societal levels, and, based on solid research, argued that self-absorption is on the increase in western culture. The antidote lies in changing both the way we rear and nurture children and in ending our worship of neoliberal economics and the culture it engenders.

Wedge tail eagle

The parallels between Helen Macdonald and Simon Cherriman’s work are obvious. Both have presented work about birds of prey in creative form. Both have held on to and nurtured, and finally shared, a passion for huge and magnificent raptors.  But if they are just two lovely people (and they are) who are passionate about birds, why did their ideas and their work leave my brain zinging? Why did what they shared make me want to grab every passer-by, maniac-like, and tell them ‘Read this book. Watch this film. You have to.’?

Both have made something of immense beauty. Both made me more aware of the magnificence and slight ridiculousness of these two giant birds of prey, with their unthinkably powerful wings grounded by legs that appear to be dressed in feathered pyjamas.

What captivated me was that each had had a very specific passion since childhood, and pursued it. Macdonald started her self-education in the art of falconry aged six. By her own admission, she was ‘the most appalling falconry bore’ before she hit adolescence. Lucky for us. Cherriman grew up with a love of the West Australian bush, and was only 15 when he found an eagle’s nest that began his passion for them. He describes wedge-tailed eagles as gentle and nurturing parents, despite their immense strength and predilection for a fresh kill.

And that’s where Anne Manne comes into the picture. She described parenting that combines strength and gentleness as one way to step back from raising another generation of the self-obsessed. Her work highlighted for me that I had loved those two incursions into the world of raptors not because of some latent ambition to be an ornithologist (although, in another life…) or because I realised I should follow my childhood passion (I don’t think I had one, unless you count reading).

It was because for an hour or two I listened to somebody with complete mastery of both their subject and its expression talk about it without any narcissism. Their subject was bigger than their ego. They were there to give and to share. Promoting their book and DVD sales was incidental.

It struck me that so much of the ‘giving’ we do in the course of our work and on social media is not really giving at all. That many of the ‘8 great free tips’ and ‘download my free guide’ gifts are only thinly disguised and often rather grandiose marketing. Of course we need to market our skills and to reach out to new customers. But let’s be more real in our giving, more altruistic and less narcissistic in our sharing, liking and linking.

Anne Manne said this that really resonated with me: the assertion that we don’t need things from others is narcissistic in itself.  We are social creatures, and none us can go it alone. Whether it is help at work or support in our private lives, we benefit from connectedness.

Manne’s book ends with the argument that society’s collective narcissism is affecting our ability to take care of the very earth we live on. We need to turn our attention away from ourselves and towards caring for our environment; to stop believing that we are entitled to all the earth’s resources and to start sharing the commons. Just ask the eagles.

Once the cash is in the bank, what makes the job you do really satisfying?

Research has shown that for most of us, the ideal job combines meaning – the idea that doing our job makes the world abetter place – with a decent income. The emphasis on one or the other depends on our values, priority, career stage, and individual factors such as our family situation and spending habits.

The evidence about the link between money and happiness is confusing and even contradictory. Some studies have shown that more money only brings a certain kind of happiness, others that once our lives are relatively comfortable, more money makes little difference to our level of happiness. The amount of money that brings happiness in the US has even been quantified: US$75,000 per year.

It’s even been suggested that happiness buys money, as studies have shown that happy people are better at earning more.

And then there’s the downside: generally, better paid jobs bring with them longer hours, more responsibility, less leisure time and more stress. A marketing executive who moved cities several times with his family in pursuit of the highest-paying job recounts how once he had reached his target income and moved for the fourth time in as many years, his job with a company in the manufacturing sector almost immediately came under threat. The long hours and the daily commute were exhausting him.  It took years of upheaval for him to realise that money can’t buy you job love.

Job satisfaction, in the sense of your work feeling meaningful to you and making a difference in the world, may well be easier to pursue, and more within your control.

1. Work for an organisation with values aligned to your own

First understand your own values: family? Career progression? Spirituality? Health? Then explore the values of any organisation you might work for. Do they offer generous parental leave? Are religious holidays observed and respected? Is there a mentoring program in place? Is going for a run at lunch time facilitated and encouraged? It will increase your satisfaction if not only the role, but also the culture is matched to what you find important in life.

2. Understand why you work (other than for the money)

Of course being paid is crucial. But there must be other reasons to drive you out of bed in the morning. Is it the challenge and the opportunity to prove yourself? Do you need to be with other people, cooperating to get things done? Do you need to be creative, or to help others? Look for the motivating forces behind the job itself. If your urge is to be creative but you spend most of your day managing people, you are less likely to be satisfied.

3. Place value on the work you do

Almost invariably your work will add value to the lives of others. The trick is to see it. An insurance salesperson reported finding no meaning in her job until a client pointed out to her that the recommendations she had made saved his business and his livelihood when a fire destroyed his takeaway shop.  Take time to seek out the value in your work if you feel it may have little, and you may well be surprised.

So who are the most satisfied workers? It depends who you ask, but the occupation that most consistently scores the highest in surveys is clergy, with around 98% of clergy members of all faiths reporting that their work makes the world a better place. Farmers and fitness instructors did pretty well too. This is not to suggest that you move to the country or give it all up for a position in your local gym, but it’s well worth looking more closely at what job satisfaction means to you.