Last weekend, over 240 writers, editors, agents and publishers packed the State Library of Queensland for GenreCon 2017; a three-day conference dedicated to genre fiction courtesy of the Queensland Writers Centre and the Australia Writer’s Marketplace.
The panels and workshops were delivered by seasoned industry players who generously shared their expertise, war stories and top tips. The program was brilliant and my only regret was that I couldn’t physically attend every session.
Considering a career as an author?
Here are a few tips and traps from the conference that I hope you’ll enjoy.
Writing is a tough gig.
‘Don’t let fear stop you from trying.’ Claire Coleman
Whether it’s a rejection from a publisher, a scathing review or the realisation that your manuscript is not what you hoped, the key to success appears to be the ability to get up, brush yourself off, learn from the experience and move on.
There’s no such thing as an overnight success
It is a truth universally acknowledged that all first drafts are awful.
Emma Viskic, described the manuscript ‘failures’ before her award-winning debut novel, Resurrection Bay, which itself took over five years to write. She eloquently compared the shiny success of that book as the tip of the iceberg, masking the years of hard work beneath.
To be an expert at anything requires at least 10,000 hours of practice.
‘You have to love what you write but expect at some point to think, herding ferrets, surely that would be easier?’ Nalini Singh
Aiki Flinthart author of the YA fantasy series 80AD, warned against giving characters instant martial arts expertise. Aiki has over 15 years of Yoshinkan Aikido with a side order of jujitsu, archery and knife throwing. It took two years of bruises and daily practice just to go from brown belt to black. That’s dedication to your craft.
Do your research
To create credible characters, locations and events you must do your homework.
‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ Foz Meadows
To portray a boy who was profoundly deaf, Emma Viskic’s research journey included learning Auslan, going about her life without the aid of her own hearing and extensively interviewing members of Australia’s deaf community.
Have a day job
No one arrived in a Ferrari.
Amy Andrews, author of no less than 60 books, courageously took us through her earnings over the span of her career. With Australian authors reporting to earn on average less than $12,000.00 a year, it’s no surprise that took many years and a clever diversification strategy for her earnings as a writer to eclipse those of her wages as a nurse.
Find your folk
It’s a team effort. Even if you self publish.
‘Publishing is about people. Connect with those who believe in your work.’ Garth Nix
Check the acknowledgement section of your next book and see who the author thanks for making the book possible. It can include editors, publishers, marketers, beta readers, subject matter experts, designers, long-suffering family and friends and readers who bought the book.
When in doubt ask
There are no stupid questions.
There are subject matter experts like literary agent extraordinaire Alex Adsett or the Australian Society of Authors who have the expertise to unpack copyright, spot scams, explain the finer points of publishing contracts and supply commercial advice.
Develop a sense of humour
In the interest of long-term mental health, have a laugh and shake it off.
Sitting alone at a book signing next to George R. R. Martin whose line of admirers stretches over the horizon? Get a review chastising you for having Christmas in summer? Receive an essay on everything you did wrong in your book?
Giggle, tell your mates and move on.
Having another book up your sleeve is always a good thing.
‘Write another book, is pretty much the answer to everything. You create possibilities with everything you write.’ Garth Nix
If your manuscript gets rejected you’ll have another to pitch. If your manuscript is accepted the first question might very well be, ‘What else have you got?’
Take rejection on the chin
It pays to be professional.
‘Australian agents, like pandas, don’t breed in captivity.’ Angela Slatter
It’s a small industry, so best keep in mind that a reputation for being difficult won’t help you in the long run as agents and publishers all talk to each other.
‘Sometimes the writer has potential but this manuscript is not the one.’ Angela Meyer
Many of the authors spoke at length about the early rejections being tough at the time but ultimately made them better writers, particularly when they took on feedback regarding their work.
There may be no new narratives but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring your own craft and interpretation to your work.
‘If you’re a writer, you’re already exceptional.’ Claire Coleman
Connect with your audience
Take advantage of promotional opportunities online or in person.
All the presenters at GenreCon 2017 could speak confidently about their work and comment on matters relating to their genre.
Particularly if you are writing for YA, you’ll generally be communicating directly with your audience through social media. Respect your readers and remember their reviews and recommendations wield more power than ever before.
‘If they keep seeing your name, eventually you’ll wear them down.’ Kylie Scott
Know what success means for you
Love what you do and feel that it matters.
‘I get to do this for a living.’ Nalini Singh
The final panel looked blankly at Jackie Ryan Program Manager of QWC when she asked what they do when they take a break from writing.
Yep, that’s my type of crazy.
PS. Looking for your next great read? If you like romance, fantasy, crime and hybrid genres, check out these excellent titles.