Thursday, 29 March 2018

"Things I wish I'd known..." Hilary Hawkes

I was eight years old when I decided I was going to be a ballerina, marry a prince and become an author.

Sadly, in time I had to admit defeat with my first two ambitions. Unrealistic things like that just don’t happen, right? With perseverance though, the last one eventually did, on a smallish scale. I was nineteen when a magazine published my twelve part story serial (well, it turned out to be thirteen because they accidentally published part nine twice). But I was in my thirties before my first children’s books were published by, what was then, Scripture Union Publishing. 

Setting out to achieve something you’d love to happen isn’t necessarily easy. It often involves all sorts you never imagined it would involve when you were there at the starting point.

There are certain things I would love to have known about being an author and so here is a  post for new writers just starting out and for other authors, like me, who are at a crossroads in their writerly lives.

Being at a crossroad phase or the starting point of something new is the perfect time to stop and pause and decide what’s really important and what isn’t. 

This, I find, can save a whole lot of false starts, going in wrong directions, holding of unrealistic expectations and all sorts of other angst.

What better way to pause and ponder all this than to ask a wonderful bunch of  children’s authors (mostly Scattered Author members, but others too) what they wished they’d known when they’d been at a starting point or the beginnings of a new phase in their careers.

So here is the wisdom and insights they discovered along the way - and comments in italics are mine:

Believe in yourself and persevere. Don’t make excuses for not pursuing your dreams.
Being published won’t change your life – you’ll still have the same stresses and you’ll have a new set: sales, reviews, future book deals.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t take criticism too personally. You need to be thick-skinned. A book is only a book and life is what matters.
Being published is not the end of rejection. And rejection is all part of it.
Being an unknown author IS being an author too. And is actually rather nice.
Sign up for PLR and ALCS straight away – very few authors make a living from writing.
Books go out of print really quickly and publishers don’t keep you on for ever. It is so easy to author-publish your out of print books though.
Writing subsequent books doesn’t get any easier.
Not everything you write has to be published.
School or book shop visits get easier and more fun with practice- but you don’t have to do them if they’re not your thing.
Don’t underestimate the amount of public speaking involved.
Don’t do it for the approval of others because depending on other people’s approval is a highway to misery.
Publishers may be genre restrictive and if that happens find a second/another publisher or other options for your work.
It never gets boring seeing your book on the shelves of a bookshop or library. It never gets boring when your friends send you photos of your book in their local Waterstones.
Writing is like snakes and ladders. When you start you think it will be all ladders. Then you meet the snakes. Keep going though because there will eventually be another ladder.
Do not expect to see your books in bookshops for long – if at all. (It’s ok to take photos of them or do a happy dance right there and then when you do see them).
If you stick at it and learn your craft it will happen.
Your creative friends will hold you up when you’re down and carry you higher when you’re up. Make friends with other authors – they are the best kind of friends.
Writing is absolutely the best thing ever when it’s going well.
Don’t take edits personally.
Having a good agent helps. If you don’t have an agent then the Society of Authors will check contracts and offer all kinds of support.
Each book has to be better or at least as good as the last.
Listen to advice but trust your own instincts.
Stay positive or at least pretend you are.
You’ll need to write a lot of drafts before you have the one that will be published and hopefully you’ll be thrilled with the final one.
If you ever stop writing the world will NOT come to an end.
Be prepared for emails and  bizarre requests from readers etc
Join a critique group - for example a SCBWI group.
Have contact with children and your reader age group. There are lots of ways this can happen – school visits, library story times, bookshop signings, volunteering with reading charities etc.
Specific to self-publishing:
                Get your books properly and professionally edited.
                Bookmark anything helpful you find online for future reference.
                Don’t try to illustrate your own books unless you are a talented artist.
                Offer your book in different formats in as wide a selection of different markets as                    possible.
Don’t give up your day job until your advance is three times your salary. This is not likely to happen!
Persevere. Find the way so you don’t give up on your dream.

If you're one of the lovely authors who contributed to the above then thank you! And if you've just read this and have a further snippet of wisdom you can share then please do so.

For those embarking on their writerly journey, or about to discover the next ladder: onwards and upwards.

Picture credits:


Damian Harvey said...

Lots of good advice there Hilary... I've received lots of wonderful advice, tips and reassurances from fellow SAS members over the years. One that always sticks with me was from the wonderful Adele Geras - "you can only write what you can write." It sounds simple and straightforward enough but can be quite reassuring at times. Thanks Adele...

Hilary Hawkes said...

That's wonderful. Thank you Damian - and Adele :)

Rowena House said...

Lots to ponder there. At a cross-roads too, so very timely. Great post.

Lynne Benton said...

Plenty of good advice, Hilary - thank you! And thanks for passing on Adele's comment, Damian. Useful to remember.