How to be an author


girl-writing-paintingDuring the first of the HARDCOPY workshops we studied how to write well.  The second workshop, though, is all about how to be an author.

It is not at all the same thing.

With a day still to go, my head is swimming with information.  In the days and weeks to come I will try to distil it and present the key messages from each session.  But for now, some key messages in rough note form.

When choosing a publisher – will my book help the publisher to achieve their goals?  Will it slot easily into their list?

A good title is crucial.

Networking is crucial.  Incidental meetings can lead to important connections.

A good agent will ensure you skip the publisher’s slush pile and that your MS at least gets read by the right person.

Pan MacMillan has the best publicist in Australia.

Authors need to do much of their own publicity work – lining up interviews, for example.

Don’t sign a contract with a publisher that contains a reversion clause linked to the book’s availability or remunerative value. (Yes, now I actually know what this means and why it’s important!)

The words to the Happy Birthday song are owned by Time Warner and subject to copyright.

There is no copyright in titles, slogans, ideas or facts – it lies in the expression of ideas, in the structure and composition.

Watch out for contracts that seek to consult with the author rather than obtain the author’s consent.

When first published it may feel like the publishers know everything but actually you are in an equal partnership.  It’s OK to push back.

Writing a book is legitimate work.

Those who read books also spend more time than average online – the two activities are not incompatible.  In fact Australian non-fiction readers spend an average of 18 hours per week online: more than the national average.

Know your online audience.

Your website/blog is an island.  Use Facebook, email, Instagram, etc to jet ski people to the island.

Do not look to book reviews for validation of your work, or yourself.

Ensure your publicist has a list of appropriate media contacts (for me that might include rural radio, newspapers and magazines as well as popular history magazines).

When you are interviewed on radio you need to be able to describe the book in the 30 seconds that the interviewer will allow you.  If you are on talkback, write down each caller’s name.

Every author suffers from self-doubt.

By the time you publish you are a world expert in that subject.  Revel in that and draw confidence from it.  It gives you a certain power.

Writing a book is important because something you care passionately about has a life of its own, out in the world.


16 responses »

  1. Hope the job part of being an author doesn’t get in the way of the joy of writing, And you imply, and it seems to be increasingly true, that the Work now consists of the Book plus an interactive website – another way of defying the Death of the Author.


    • Apparently it’s all about “engagement with your readers through a variety of social media platforms.” Or, you know, chatting with people online. Hmmm, shall see how it goes, I suppose.


  2. I feel the same Michelle. My mind is brimming with information from these last few days that needs to settle, sort and find a place in my writing life. The HARDCOPY program is such a great program.

    I really like that analogy of the blog site being an island and other social media mediums being jet skis used to carry people there. it puts it into perspective… gives it a purpose that’s relevant – a place from which to manage it and balance it with writing.


  3. Yes, I liked the island analogy too – it gave all that online busy-ness some sort of purpose. But today’s comments from Mary Cunnane, about not getting too carried away with all, were reassuring. I had lots of discussions with people about balancing it all, did you too?


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  5. Enjoyed this too Michelle. The reference to Titles interested me. I mean it makes sense but did the person have any criteria for what makes a good title? I’m always fascinated with books are published under different titles in other markets, e.g. America. It shines a light on the importance of titles, although it’s not always immediately obvious why.

    I didn’t know that those who read books also spend more time online. I wonder what other information the people who researched that have?

    Good point about reviews. I’m reading the biography of Thea Astley at present. Reviews really had an impact on her, but really you can never please everyone so you really just have to have faith in yourself don’t you?


    • We didn’t actually discuss what makes a good title but the message that a book needs a good one came through loud and clear. What do you think is the secret to a really good one?


      • I hope you wouldn’t – ask that because when I saw that comment I started to think about it. Long ones are out, though they can sometimes be entertaining and catchy BUT I have a few in my mind now except I can’t remember them exactly! You know, like The man who threw himself out of the window… Or the one about Marilyn Monroe and Maf the dog.

        I think, generally, short and catchy … And relevant of course to the topic … is best. For biographies, I think the subject’s name should really be there whereas for autobiographies and memoirs that’s not so essential.

        Unique … Not another Into the forest, for example! (I think I’ve seen a few of those).

        I think you have to be careful about those titles comprising common words that you can never quite remember the order or which common words are there … You know, like The lives of others, This is how. I remember these now because I’m trying to, but not necessarily when I’m thinking of the book/film .

        Did they talk about covers, over which authors often have little control. Boy, can that skew marketing.


  6. All the best biographies have just the name of the subject, and for EM you don’t even appear to have a middle name (or choice of middle names as in Roe’s Stella Miles Franklin). You can have fun with subtitles though, how about “first woman of education and sensitivity” which is from the ADB entry, or “the Kardashian of her Age” might google well.


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