Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pearl Versus the World Blog Tour with Sally Murphy

Welcome to Writing Children's Books with Robyn Opie. I have a special treat for readers - a guest blogger, Sally Murphy, Australian author of many fine children's books. This is the final day on Sally's blog tour to promote her latest children's book, Pearl Versus the World.

Now over to Sally.

Welcome to my blog, Sally.

Thanks for having me here today, Robyn. I am really enjoying touring the Net promoting my new baby Pearl Verses the World, and thought I’d share today some hints on getting published – since it’s the key to being a successful author. Pearl Verses the World is my twenty-eighth published title, and naturally I am delighted about that – but I want to start by letting readers know that, no matter how many books you’ve had accepted, each acceptance is hard won. I still get many more rejections than I do acceptances. Whilst you will hear stories of authors who wrote their first manuscript, submitted it and it was accepted, so beginning a stellar publishing career, for every author with a story like this there are thousands who have submitted and been rejected over and over. In the middle, there are authors like me who have been – and still are – rejected regularly, but along the way manage to sell some books. So yes, it can and does happen.

So what can you do to increase your chances of being published? This is not an exhaustive list, but the following tips will help you on your path to publication.

1. Be Persistent and Resilient.
If you want to be published you need to keep writing and submitting. When you get rejected, you can choose to give up – or you can choose to send that manuscript out over and over until it finds the right home, and to keep writing and developing new manuscripts, too. It is easy to feel discouraged from time to time. Pearl Verses the World is my first trade publication since 2006.

During that three year ‘drought’ I seriously wondered if I should give up. Perhaps my time had come and gone? One of my publishers (Banana Books) had closed down, weeks before the release of a contracted book, and another book was selling poorly because of distribution problems. To make matters worse, I just couldn’t land another acceptance, in spite of regularly submitting and writing new things. I was filled with self doubt, wondering if my earlier successes were flukes, and contemplated giving up. I’m glad now that I didn’t – as well as Pearl, I have another verse novel and three picture books in production. My star is rising.

So how did I overcome those feelings? With persistence and resilience. I kept writing and submitting. I kept researching markets. I kept reading – both to study the craft of writing and to keep in touch with the market. Most importantly, I think, I kept in touch with fellow writers, through email and in person. By being a writer, and communicating with writers, I was able to work through periods of despair and keep going. And, as I said, I am very glad that I did.

2. Keep Writing.
Many beginning writers make the mistake of writing one book, sending it off, and waiting for it to be accepted before beginning the next. The problem here is that, even if that first book is accepted, the submissions process is long and slow. It rarely takes less than six weeks for a publisher to respond to your manuscript – and it can take much, much longer than that.

Generally, the response time is three to six months, but it is not unheard of to wait a year or more. So, if you are going to wait six months for a response, then use that time to work on the next book – and the next. Then, not only will you have the next book ready if your submission accepted, but you will also have developed your writing skills further. And, if it is rejected, then you know you have something else to submit – soon you’ll have two manuscripts seeking publication – or three, or...

As soon as I finish one project, I try to start work on the next. Since I finished writing Pearl I have finished a second verse novel (Toppling, to be published in March 2010), a collection of poems (not yet placed) and two picture books (also unplaced). I have also started work on a new novel and am planning a nonfiction title. I aim to work on my current project each day and, although that doesn’t always happen, I do make sure to set time aside for writing several times a week. As a result, my writing skills keep growing and so does my number of completed works.

3. Know That Rejection is not Personal.
Okay – this one might not help your chances of getting published, but it will definitely help your chances of sticking it out long enough to get published. When a publisher rejects your work they are not rejecting you. Nor is there some plot or secret society involved. So many would be authors feel that there is some secret being kept from them – that you need to be famous, or have an agent, or know some sort of secret code in order to land an acceptance. Wrong on all counts. With the exception of the occasional celebrity author, most authors are not famous (either before or after publication). Having an agent may help, but it is entirely possible to get published without having an agent. I’ve sold all my books without having an agent. And there is no secret code.

The reality is that every publisher receives far more manuscripts every year than they can publish – one publisher told me they receive more than 4000 manuscripts per year, and only publish 40. So your manuscript might be brilliant and still get rejected because there are other equally brilliant manuscripts amongst that 4000 – or your topic might have been covered in that publisher’s list, or they may have too many picture books already under contract or... So get rid of that chip on your shoulder and do everything you can to keep your manuscript moving until it does land on the right desk.

4. Be professional and realistic.
When your manuscript is ready to submit, be sure to present it as professionally as possible. Follow the publisher’s submission guidelines (if you haven’t read them, you are not yet ready to submit), including a professionally phrased cover letter, SSAE and so on. At the same time, be realistic. If you are seeking publication, your work must be of publishable standard. Is your story simply good, or is equal to or better than other books published this year? In spite of what I said in number 3, manuscripts are often rejected because they are not good enough. The best way to be sure your manuscript is good enough is to work and rework it until it is perfect. A critique group or manuscript appraisal can help you see both whether your story is submission ready, and what can be done to improve it if it’s not. And, in spite of what I said in number 2, if you are becoming a manuscript mill, churning out a new book each week or each month – and none of them are being accepted - then it may be time to stop submitting and start revising and growing your craft.

5. Try something new.
This is a big lesson I learned from writing Pearl Verses the World. Although, I’d long loved the verse novel form and thought I would one day try to write one, at the time I wrote Pearl I had been focusing on picture books and short chapter books, because those were the things I’d had published previously. Once Pearl was written, it took a little courage to submit it, because it was so different from everything else I had written – but it was accepted. If I had not been willing to try a new form, then Pearl would not have seen the light of day.

If you see yourself as a picture book writer, that’s great. But why not challenge yourself to try writing a chapter book? Or a poem? Or a nonfiction article? You don’t have to abandon your favorite – but diversifying may open up a new market for you, and will also build your writing skills. There are few children’s book writers who write only for one age group or market – more often they will write a blend – perhaps picture books and chapter books, perhaps YA and middle grade. My own books range from educational resource books, fiction and nonfiction readers, picture books, chapter books and, of course, a verse novel.

A word of caution though – whilst diversification is good, be sure that whatever new form you try, you do take the time to study and know the form. If you have never read a verse novel, don’t try to write one. If the last teen novel you read was Trixie Beldon, then you probably won’t succeed in writing for the current YA market.

I could go on all day with tips and hints on getting published – but following these five tips will certainly prove a good start for anyone struggling to get published. Most of all, dare to dream and to follow that dream. I grew up knowing I wanted to write for children. Along the way my life has taken lots of twists and turns, but I never stopped believing that I would do it – and now I am living the dream. The publication of Pearl Verses the World is a dream come true, and I’m delighted to share my pleasure with others.

Again, thanks for having me here, Robyn...

Thanks for being here, Sally, and sharing your experiences with us. It's great to read your tips on how to get published. Best of luck with Pearl Versus the World. It's a beautiful book. A delight to read. I enjoyed every second of it.

You can read more about Sally Murphy's blog tour of Pearl Versus the World by visiting the following blogs:

May 1 Spinning Pearls http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com

May 2 The Writing Life http://www.bjcullen.blogspot.com

May 3 Tips for Young Writers http://www.tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com

May 4 Persnickety Snark http://persnicketysnark.blogspot.com

May 5 Let’s Have Words http://www.letshavewords.blogspot..com

May 6 Just listen Book Reviews http://justlistenbookreviews.blogspot.com/

May 7 Look at That Book http://lookatthatbook.blogspot.com

May 8 Write and Read With Dale http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale/

May 9 Tales I Tell http://belka37.blogspot.com/

May 10 Robyn Opie’s Writing Children’s Books http://www.robynopie.blogspot.com

And for more information on Sally and Pearl, please visit the following sites:

Sally Murphy’s Author Site http://www.sallymurphy.net

Sally Murphy’s Writing for Children Blog http://www.sallymurphy.blogspot.com/

Sally Murphy’s Review Site http://www.aussiereviews.com/

Walker Books Australia http://www.walkerbooks.com.au/

Buy Pearl Versus the World Online

Thanks for reading!

Best of luck with your writing,
Best-selling author of more than 75 children's books and the critically-acclaimed "How to Write a Great Children's Book".
for more information on "How to Write a Great Children's Book".


Belka said...

Thank you Robyn and Sally for a great run down on the perils, strategies and joys of writing for children. And hooray for Pearl!

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing all that wonderul information with us, Robyn and Sally. I'm taking it all in.

Congratulations, Sally, it sounds like a wonderful book too. It is already on my list of books to buy.

Robyn, my copy of Black baron has been delivered to the Book shop at Tuncurry, and I'm picking it up tomorow. I can't wait to read it. I also recieved books for Mother's Day. Yey!

Can't wait to order Pearl Versus the World.