Friday, 30 May 2014

Giving worthwhile advice, or being a bit of a fraud? Lari Don

I love writing. I love talking about writing. I love writing about writing.

So when people ask me questions about writing, I will blether away happily about how I write, why I write, where my ideas come from, what my writing process is, and how I edit. Whether I’m talking to 500 pupils in a theatre, or 15 kids at a workshop, or 1 child in a signing queue I also ask about how they write, how they feel about writing, what they enjoy about writing …

I also try to remember to give the usual health warning: there are lots of ways to write, I can only talk about how I write, don’t assume I know everything. Over time I’m gathering examples of writers who work differently from me, so I try to give glimpses of their methods too. I’ve recently discovered that the lovely Roy Gill, who is also published by KelpiesTeen, writes at the other end of the pantsters / plotter spectrum from me, so we are able to chat to kids together about our different methods and how we wrote Mind Blind (my one) and Werewolf Parallel (his one), which is a lovely way to show that there really is no one way to write.
So, talking about writing, to other passionate young or old writers – that’s fine. Because I’m a writer. I know (a bit) about writing. 

But I don’t know a THING about publishing!

Yesterday an aspiring writer (an adult, not a child) came up to me after an author event to ask for advice about getting published. This is a question I am fielding more and more often. Yet it’s not something I know anything about at all! I am published, yes, but I still don’t entirely know how it happened. Unlike my close personal relationship with my own writing process, every time I get a book published it seems like a bit of a miracle which I only had a small hand in, and the elements of success and failure seem to be completely different with every book. So I only know how I got published and even then, I’m not really sure how it works! (That’s why I have an agent, so I don’t have to know more about publishing…)

Therefore I don’t feel even remotely qualified to give advice on getting published! I tend to witter on about writing the best book you can, and persevering, and the market changing all the time, and finding an agent being the best thing I ever did. But I feel like a complete fraud.

So, apologies to the chap I waffled at yesterday.

And what do other writers do when asked for publishing advice? Do you waffle, or do you have any really useful to say (and if so, can I borrow it?)

Lari Don is the award-winning author of 21 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers. 
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Joan Lennon said...

Waffle. And look slightly shifty.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Yes, its tricky. And as you say it happens by some miracle process. Why do some stories just hit the right heartbeat with a publisher and others equally good don't? I think it boils down to luck and timing. The right book in the right niche at the right time with the right editor reading it.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book 'Outliers', he talks about how success comes not just through genetics or hard work but through context — the situations we stumble into fortuitously.

So here I am wittering away without any good advice either! I continue to stumble along fortuitously and hope for surprises along the way.

Lari Don said...

Oh I'm so glad I'm not the only one who finds it tricky! And Dianne, you are so right about luck and timing - but that's probably not what the aspiring authors want to hear... And I don't tend to look shifgy Joan, so much as a bit gormless!

Lari Don said...

Actually I don't know how to look 'shifgy'. I can look a bit shifty though, especially when explaining spelling mistakes!

Stroppy Author said...

If you write something really good, and commercial enough, and send it to the right publishers, one of them will take it. If you write something good enough (rather than outstandingly good), you need to send it to the right publisher and be lucky. It might be what people want to hear, but there's no point telling them things that aren't true.

More usefull, Lari, you could direct them to really good resources like Nicola Morgan's Help! I need a publisher blog.

Stroppy Author said...


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I've seen you look shifgy on more than one occasion, Lari.

Penny Dolan said...

When children ask you this question they are often spurred on by the "we are all authors" angle from the teachers, and/or the "my aunty/uncle/gran wrote a book and had it published" personal angle.

It is really hard to answer this simply, as the true answer is so complex. I often explain, during my general chat, that I have a person like their teacher, who is called an editor and they are on charge of the books. Just as teachers put up SOME work on the limited space of the classroom wall, so the editors publish SOME of the stories they get sent. And that if the editor already has a book about teddies or space rockets, they might not want another one, no matter how good the story. My way of showing that it's not just up to the writer. Nice post, Lari. Thanks.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I sold my first novel after many years of trying to get it out there, by luck, yes, and purest chance. A publisher who had had to reject it some time before for reasons unconnected with the quality, had a hole in her publishing schedule and needed a complete MS. I've sold short stories that had been lurking on my computer after many rejections when the exact right market came along.

I can understand why you'd want an agent to do all that stuff for you so you could get on with the writing. It's why I wanted an agent, but alas, I never got one, so had to do my own submitting, and probably learned more about publishing and publishers through trial and error than if I'd ad an agent. I'd still love to have one.

What children have asked me is, not usually how to get published, though that might be what they meant, but hw to be a writer. And I get out a notebook and pen and say, "You need one of these and one of these. Then write."

And come to think of it, these days a lot of teenagers, at least, know how to get published, if not in the traditional sense. They join online writer communities and post their fiction there.

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