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The path to publishing my first children’s novel has been littered with obstacles and broken bridges. The good news? At each rickety stage, I collected tips (and anti-tips) that I’m happy to share with everyone…

Read

For me, this was the easy stage! Aspiring writers need to read like crazy to learn about the work of other writers, both locally and internationally. There’s no point writing a killer story if it looks like something already published. Sadly, that means there are no scarred teenage wizards named Barry.

Write

Here’s a simple equation: the more you write, the better you get at writing. By the time I was ready to hatch, I had already completed my first three manuscripts (I spent most of my time looking for a place to plug in my laptop). When the doctor punched me in the back, I narrowed my eyes at him and said, ‘Waaah!’ Which of course meant: ‘Oh, you must be my agent!’ I switched to doodling home comics throughout my childhood before starting writing for surf magazines at the age of 17. Since then, I have published thousands of articles and pieces of fiction. Many were ‘hacking’ stories; some won me prizes and contests. It all helped develop my writing skills and voice.

Comment

A local teacher read my first manuscript to his class (thanks, Bob Swoope). The response was excellent. One boy enthused: “It’s like Harry Potter, only more fun!” I ate that compliment for a month.

I’m lucky ten-year-olds believe that paying in Paddle Pops is the industry standard for publishers, otherwise I’d already be broke (well, actually I’m broke). I read all my stories to my daughter, her friends, and any young relatives I can rescue. Every time my youth focus groups go to the nearest TV, I know the chapter I’m reading needs a major rebuild. Whenever kids get glued to their chairs and demand more, I know my story is headed in the right direction (and I’ve bought the right glue and popsicle sticks).

It is also helpful to let adults participate in your story. Adult writers, that is. I’ve learned that it’s best to avoid family and friends, unless you enjoy making these people run away every time they see you. Join a local or online critical group instead. Having a thick skin like an elephant will also help you at this stage.

Write again

Finally, you think your book is ready. It isn’t. It’s time to let the manuscript breathe for a month, before reviewing it with fresh eyes. Be ruthless. Hack those excess adjectives that publishers loathe. Eliminate all the scenes that don’t shine, advance the plot on multiple levels and compel the reader to keep reading.

rewrite again

As a children’s writer, you’re not only competing against the mutant sludge pile of Hell and other children’s books, but also against the 24-hour Internet, computer games, and cartoon networks. Remember: the modern child is smarter, smarter, and easily bored than any previous generation.

Submission

Crisis time. When you submit your first manuscript, get right to writing your second. When your manuscript returns unloved, send another shipment the same day (or even better, send two). For every five rejections, rewrite. Never give up.

Over the course of several months, I sent my manuscript to every agent in the country. They all rejected until I was rejected. So I went straight to the editors instead. I almost fell out of my computer chair when the second one responded immediately. The wonderful Ibis Publishing in Melbourne liked my story so much that they asked me to commit to writing two more in the same series. The truth is, if published, I would have committed to writing a sequel naked in a bubble in the middle of Pitt Street. Luckily, they didn’t. But I still have my bubble.

pre-publication

It has been over a year since my book was accepted. My patient editor, Belinda Bolliger, has taken me through two more rewrites to add backstory, remove my ellipsis fever, and tone down my more extreme jokes. My main character has become less hateful and has changed gender from a girl to a boy. Because? Girls will apparently read about boys; but boys don’t like to read about girls.

I originally named my book after the planet of talking horses and mutant chooks at the center of my story. However, Uponia (too weird) was changed to Planet Horse Fart (too rude) to ZAPP to Planet Horse (too fart) to Raz James and The Amazing ZAPP Discovery (too vague) to Erasmus James and the Galactic ZAPP Machine (too. …wait, that’s it!).

The cover has changed almost as many times, while the release date has been pushed back from last Christmas to May, June and September. Fingers crossed for the latter!

It is vital to remain flexible and positive through such changes and delays. Yoga helps. It’s better to get everything right than to rush out an inferior product. The extra time has also given me time to set up a website, come up with a battle plan with the Ibis marketing team, Anthony and Paola, and watch my hair turn even grayer. Meanwhile, my bank account has plummeted, but who really needs modern conveniences like electricity and food?

On the road

Last month I drove to Sydney to brainstorm the sales team at Pan Macmillan. I performed a ten-minute stand-up comedy routine and was more surprised than anyone when the friendly crew laughed at my weak jokes and seemed excited about my book sale. On the long drive home, I realized that this would be the first of many promotional trips: to schools, book signings, anything and everything that will help me sell a few more copies and keep doing what I love so much. Then it started to rain heavily and my front tire blew out. As I bounced off the bush, I realized I was about to experience another first at the scenic byway known as Publication Road.

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