Goldie Alexander's Blog

goldie-alexander

HOW TO KEEP GOING IN SPITE OF NOT BECOMING THE NEXT J.K. ROWLING

Here is some advice for emerging authors gained from 30 years as a professional author

Ask yourself… are you really determined to keep going? I have met and mentored too many authors with enormous talent but who find the going too hard and give up. Other authors are best described as ‘middle-range’. They are known within their genre but rarely recognised outside it. Personally, I prefer not to be introduced as an author because I often perceive a puzzled expression on the recipient’s face. It’s then I say, ‘I’m the least known if most published author in Australia.’ This may not be quite true, but it’s a helluva-good-line.

 

At first let me admit that for someone in my ‘senior years’ I hate all the stuff my generation uses to stay busy. Mention Bridge, golf, meals on wheels, caravanning, general good works, museum guiding, minding grandchildren(mine are now all grown up) I feel a yawn coming on. I have been writing and publishing for 30 years. That has given me a wealth of experience, ranging from the simple instruction of “don’t repeat a telling word in the same page if you can avoid it”, to always try to ‘Show don’t tell.’ There’s lots of basic advice on ‘how to write for kids’ in ‘The Business of Writing for Young People’ that Hazel Edwards and I co-wrote some years ago. I also published a memoir-cum-how-to-write called ‘Mentoring Your Memoir’ which contains the same advice, but with the occasional twist that focuses on ‘life history’. In it I give lots of examples, mostly from stories I wrote for kids.

 

I had to quickly learn that writer’s block doesn’t exist. What does is procrastination. Even if it takes me months to work out what happens next in a story, eventually it can be found. What matters is hanging in there. I often find that it’s when I log off in despair that the next idea comes to me.

Who! What! Where! and how! Never forget those 3 words.

 

Pitching your story. Tremendously important. In recall my first attempt to sell a story t a publisher and when asked, ‘What is this about?’ I really didn’t know. An important exercise for every creative idea is to reduce your story to one or two lines.

 

One of the great things about being a writer is that you can diversity into so many different areas. If you are a skilled wordsmith, you can write fiction and non-fiction; short pieces, novels and scripts. I think I have tried everything apart from ghosting and scripts for film. Be aware of your own limitations. I’m hopeless at design and even worse with technology. I work on my strengths and recommend so do you.

 

Novel writing is like attempting a long distance swim over a cold dark choppy sea. If I hadn’t had strict guidelines for my first four novels I would never have known how to do it. It also forced me to remember the power of plot. Without narrative drive, you end up with beautiful but meaningless words.

 

In a way the ebook has become both a life saver and a curse.. We are now able to take books that have been long out of print and upload them as ebooks. I have done this to the first YA novel published under my own name. ‘Mavis Road Medley’ was originally put out by Margaret Hamilton in 1991 with a grant from the Australia Council. The first print run sold out, but then this small company was taken over by a larger company and the book sank into oblivion. Unfortunately, that’s what happens to lots of books. So the blessing of ebooks is the ability to revitalize some of our hardcopy as ebooks. The curse is the flood of ebooks now appearing on line.

 

This leads me to marketing. Not my favourite activity but totally essential. So we blog, facebook, twitter, join other writers’ blogs and letters, linked in, etc. I openly curse the time this takes. Some of you might really enjoy these activities. I prefer to use my time to write, nevertheless I do what seems to be required of me, not always with grace. I’m sure you will do far better as you are younger and more in tune with current trends.

 

My motto is, never discard anything even if you can’t find a publisher first off. A colleague had a great success with a story picture book after it was rejected 93 times then sold overseas. Nothing is ever wasted. Projects can be cannibalized and used in other ways. Recycling is useful. I have several out of print novels I compressed into short stories and a long short story that became a novel for middle grade readers: “eSide: A Journey Through Cyberspace”.

Keep records of your own ideas and agreements, as often others forget who contributed what. You may know it is legally and morally yours, but finding the right files to prove it can be time consuming. One of my novels was begun with another author who, when it became too difficult to sell, decided she wasn’t interested and I took over the project. But I made sure there was careful documentation to support my ownership.

 

We are always told to update ourselves with new technology, and to know the technical jargon. Though I find this hard, I recommend that others go to digital classes and become familiar with the potential of digital gadgets so you can write better for new mediums. I wish I knew how to create apps and youtube videos but I plead ‘old age’ as an excuse. The truth is that I am hopeless when it comes to technology. Nevertheless I can’t recommend strongly enough that new writers learn these as much as possible.

 

When an ms doesn’t get picked up, change titles. For example an early novel that began as “Best Friends” became ‘Schoolies Week” before reaching the final “Dessi’s Romance”. That was because my “Body and Soul: Lilbet’s Romance” published as hardcopy in 2003, was being republished as an ebook titled “Lilbet’s Romance’ and we wanted to show the connection.

 

Learn from your mistakes. I tend to get seduced by an imaginative idea and then land myself in a heap. Don’t rush into it too quickly. Let it linger about somewhere in your subconscious.  Recognize your obvious weaknesses (mine is marketing, though I am sure there are lots more) and collaborate and discuss with others who are expert in that area. Buy or swap skills if necessary.

 

Decide on a general direction, genre or format, and keep moving that way, even if detours occur. Learning about e-books is on-going. In the end I collaborated with a publisher who knew a lot about technology, and together we put up on Amazon my adult “Grevillea Murder Mystery Trilogy” and adult three short stories. Your ‘bottom drawer’ is likely to be your hard drive, but some of those projects, which didn’t get up in their original formats are not a total loss. Try and recycle them into new mediums.

Edit, edit, edit. I rarely send out an ms again without going through it first. And read, read, read. I belong to two book clubs, one aimed at reading adult books, the other at reading and discussing books for kids. I call them my unofficial university course as they force me to read books I might otherwise miss. Remember that ideas can be translated from one audience to another. It’s just a matter of how you do it.

 

Teaching and mentoring. Because I had taught English and History in secondary schools for some 28 years, it seemed natural to move into teaching creative writing and mentoring emerging writers. They taught me more than I taught them. There’s an old saying that those who can’t succeed become teachers. But I see these two aspects as hand in hand. eg When a class critiques an individual’s work, your own mind takes on that same critique and uses it to think about your latest ms. Nurturing new talent has been and still is, enormously rewarding and I watch with pleasure many of my ex students win awards and write wonderful novels. It’s interesting to note that it’s not always the most talented who do well, rather it’s those that have the necessary passion that makes them want to continue to write in spite of often difficult odds.  I have had students who can assimilate with a few well chosen words how a piece of fiction could be improved. Often that same critical voice would stay in my mind when I went back to my own work.

You may occasionally have to alter your audience. When I had a long lull with my kids books I went onto writing memoir and I have now found  a huge audience. In this way I also introduce an older generation to my kids’ books so they will buy for their grandchildren. But when it comes to them buying ebooks, it’s still an uphill battle. Ultimately what keeps me going is the passion, something I can’t pass on because if you don’t have it, I suggest you try something else. A new idea will always present itself, such as my latest YA SHAKESPEARE NOW! trilogy, a contemporary retelling of three well known plays using young protagonists.

Finally, never give up. If one project is hard to sell, leave it for a while and return and re-edit. In the end writing brings its own rewards, even if one doesn’t become the next JK Rowling.

WHAT MAKES A CHILDREN’S AUTHOR

coversketch52-XS

It’s been some time since I last wrote  a blog. My excuse is that I was busy completing a trilogy. More about that later.

Presently, the following is on my mind:  I recently offended someone in a writing class by pointing out that there is a vast difference between an amateur who creates a few poems or a few short stories and a ‘professional’. Also, that if this person is writing for children, that the difficulties multiply. People often assume a children’s author only writes texts for story picture books, often unaware that these are as difficult to produce as a perfect haiku. Some still believe with the aid of a computer that they can write a publishable text for their children/grandchildren. I wonder if those same people who will one day ‘write a book’ could claim to be able produce a saleable painting, or play an instrument in front of an audience without years of practice and experience?

They often seem unaware that children’s authors produce work for differing age levels, though movie makers use books aimed at a young adult audience for their terrific plots and characters.

All this leads me to comment on how little children’s authors are respected. How many names – apart from JK Rowling – can even a dedicated reader come up with? Note how very little space is devoted to critiques of children’s books in newspapers and ezines. Children’s books are often placed at the back of a book store, and too many are an imported series. Yet when overseas book sales are studied, books aimed at children head the list.

But my reason for this rant is the vast number of schools presently turning their libraries into computer rooms. Reading encourages a child’s imagination and an ability to see beyond the immediacy of an illustration or a photo. I watch too many toddlers being distracted with pads and mobiles, the same children who should be listening to someone reading aloud or playing with actual toys. Without fostering the imagination of our youngsters from the very start, we will lose our future creators, and that includes those that work in technology. It seems that we are transforming children’s brains in ways we can’t foresee and we can no longer predict the consequences. If we don’t want to breed a generation of kids who think all knowledge and imagination can be found via Mr Google, we’d best do something very quickly about it.

 

 

 

Will Self and the difficulties of being a Mid-Range author

 

Hanna-mediumin-hades-covercover image for That Stranger Next Door

After attending 2 talks given by the fascinating Will Self at the Melbourne Writers Festival, and understanding the difference between someone like him and the rest of us, it led me to ponder the difficulties of being a mid-range author. Thus the following article appeared in ‘Buzzwords’, an ezine for those interested in anything to do with writing and illustrating for young people.

Given I have written many books for readers of all ages, I classify myself as a midrange author. Mid-range means I have books in many genres, but haven’t remained with one company and my name doesn’t run off everyone’s lips.

I have always viewed being an author as a tripartite process: writing, finding a publisher, and marketing. These days it is increasingly difficult to succeed unless you are outstanding. Everyone owns a computer; there are too many creative writing classes, and even programs that will write for you. Thus publishers are flooded with manuscripts they probably don’t have time for more than scan.

So, if you are under the illusion that if you can only sell that first novel your life will be easier, unless you sell heaps of copies, have won or been shortlisted for a major prize, selling your second and future manuscripts will continue to be a battle. I know of a prolific author who submitted an idea ninety six times before it was picked up.

Each book will be chosen on its own merits – (unless you are a famous pop, movie, or sport star). It’s all about perseverance, the word I display above my desk. We mid-rangers are also up against another oddity. Some publishers and many writing competitions only want non-published authors to submit. If I ever win a lottery I will donate a goodly part to mid-range authors who still struggle to sell their work.

Nevertheless we mid rangers have many virtues. Because of our years of  experience, we handle editors and publishers with diplomacy. We instruct and mentor emerging writers. Above all we know when to stand up for our rights. We refuse to be regarded as ‘nice’ and then give our services for free.  We know not to be cheated because we are so excited at having our manuscript/s accepted. We understand that if it is rejected that it may be that the company has something similar, or that this is not in their range of interest- though we often suspect that marketing has too large a say. Our major grievance is when we do submit a story, it then falls into a black hole. We suspect there are few other professionals treated this way.

The upshot of this is that these days, though I have lots of time to write, and not too many other pressing commitments, now that I have completed my latest young adult novel after six months of very hard work, I feel somewhat depressed at facing the second and third part of this inevitable process. Thankfully, it hasn’t stop me working on a new idea. There is always the hope that this last effort will be picked up and become a winner. If there are any other midrange authors who would like to argue with this message, please email me.

Today I received this lovely response from Emma Cameron:

 Thanks so much for your recent BuzzWords Have Your Say contribution about the difficulties of being a mid-range author. As I began reading I immediately felt compelled to email my thanks. Then, reading your request that mid-range authors wanting to argue with the message email you, hesitated. I’d not dream of arguing against your words. I agree with them. Still, after some thought, I decided there was no reason I shouldn’t email anyway.

 Your words provided a timely lift, coming a day after I received rejection to a submission. I’m fairly new in the industry with only two novels to date and, forced to take time out due to health issues, returned to writing only recently. I feel the same frustrations you expressed about increased challenges we now face in these times

 I wanted you to know how much I appreciated what you said and, keeping your words in my heart to remind me that I am not alone, I shall persevere. Thanks again, Goldie.

 

 

 

Back to Top ↑