What is your writing and publishing process

Questions for Rosanne about publishing and writing process.

1 How did you first get published?

I always wanted to be a writer but didn't get an impetus until my daughter wanted me to write down a story I had told her. Storytelling was my way in so to speak. I might still be fiddling around if my daughter hadn't made me type it up for her and send to publisher etc. It was rejected of course; it was awful, just a draft. But I learned on the run. At that time one publisher liked the story (it was set in Afghanistan) but didn't think their readers would know where that was (pre Sept 11). So they said they'd look at something else set in Australia. I basically wrote one then that was set here, still with a theme I felt like doing writing, and they took that one. Basically in the beginning I got from MS to book by doing a lot of re-writing. I attended workshops, read every book I could find on writing. It wasn't until much later (after I was published) that I went back to Uni and did my PhD in creative writing.


2 How did you get an agent?

I got a fellowship at Varuna House and I was talking to Peter Bishop there one day and he said I should have an agent and suggested one to ask. That made it easier to do. They were full (or didn't want me) and so I asked them to suggest someone else to ask. This is always the problem isn't? Knowing who to ask. So they suggested someone (Jenny Darling & Assoc) and they took me. What may have helped was that I had a book just accepted. I now have Jacinta di Mase because she is a children's book specialist and she was looking after me when I was with Jenny Darling. So when she branched out on her own to go part time, I joined her after a while.


3 Did you have work professionally assessed?

I did show that first MS to a journalist friend. He hadn't written a novel but he knew what a good one was, and mine wasn't. He introduced me to POV. You wouldn't believe it I had it all up the creek. Once I got the POV thing right, my manuscripts were a lot better.

Now I will show my MS to someone in the field, a friend perhaps, (or these days, a student who wants the practice) to check it is okay before I send it off. But I don't do that professionally as the agent is like an assessor as well now.


4 How do you know when you have finished editing?

In the early days I hoped for the best but I have learnt so much through editors over the last ten years. I try to have a clean copy but I still miss stuff. I tend to know when it is ready to send off when I can't find too much to change and I start thinking about the next story that I've had on the back burner in my head while I've been writing this one. I like learning things off editors. I try not to make the same mistakes twice. And I get very nervous if I think I know more than the editor. I have had some great editors.


5 What is your writing process, ie how do you get your manuscript ready for publishing?

I do try to be persistent, and I read a lot too, to see how others do things. In the beginning I'd be reading a book and realise I didn't have enough character development in mine, or that I didn't have good dialogue beats, or images to lift the writing like some writers do. I think we learn so much from reading. Not to copy of course but to see how it's done, how come it works. I'd try to work out what it was I liked about a book. I remember once actually pulling the whole book apart in my notebook i.e. where in the plot did this happen or that, how many times did this character come back in etc. I thought structure was difficult. Sometimes I would miss out a character for too many chapters. I'm more careful about things like that now. I can remember asking my lecturer but how do you structure your novel, and he'd say very wisely, 'It's all concerned with the character. The character will structure the book.' That works in character driven stories of course but kids (and me) like something to happen as well. But I do start with character. I try to learn as much about my characters as I can what they want, what they're scared of etc, and that means I will know what they need to know or do by the end. It helps me finish a book. It helps me to know what to structure into the plot.


I try to get that first draft down so I can play with it later. Not everyone works like that I know. I'm almost finished a first draft now but I can't get the last few chapters right so I'm going back to the beginning on Monday to start the re-write and I hope by the time I get through it again I'll know how to do the end. I'm waiting for some research info to help and it hasn't come yet. There is something wrong with my email.


Once the first draft is done, I do a structural edit and check characters, plot balance, etc. Are chapters in the right spot, do they follow on to the next? Are the chapter endings the best I can make them, have I left a character out in the cold?


When I'm happy with that, I start the edit for the best verbs, the best writing, putting in images, cutting unnecessary words. I always hope symbols and images will arise naturally from the text. If these things are forced, they usually look like it. Afterwards I do the proof reading. I go through it quite a few times before the proof reading though. And some of this all gets mixed together, i.e. if I see a comma in the wrong place when really I'm thinking about the writing and polishing it, I'll grab the comma at the same time.


Editors will still find other things to fix. My last book was too long I was told 'Get rid of a few thousand words'. And I did it when I was told to. Keeping it tight is always a good thing to do. It was a much better book for it.


A few good books to help get a manuscript accepted are:

Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages (agents and publishers can reject by the first five pages this book by an agent shows how not to give them that chance)

Browne & King's Self editing for writers

Elizabeth Lyons, Manuscript Makeover

Another great book on writing is John Defresne The Lie that tells the Truth. I learnt a lot more about dialogue from this one as well as from the others.