On the road to becoming an author: avoid the caravans

The transition from writer to author is strewn with rejection emails.

Being proactive, resilient and willing to learn from your mistakes will serve you well on your path towards publication. A healthy dose of optimism doesn’t hurt either. I have just completed my first career plan at an age when some of my friends are considering retirement. Here I am, sweating on my CV, while they are swanning around in their four-wheel drives with golf sticks in the boot and a caravan attached. How I pity them.

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It’s over a decade now since I first submitted a piece of writing for the consideration of strangers.

My early success with freelance pieces and a Young Adult manuscript led to publication in magazines and a couple of mentorships. Surely, I thought, finding a publisher for my nascent novel was just a matter of time. Ten years on – spent writing, writing, writing and submitting everywhere to improve my craft and earn the odd dollar –that promising manuscript remains unpublished; and my passion for writing is undiminished. My confidence in my abilities has wavered but never quite been extinguished.

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I still consider myself an author.

It’s all in the qualifying adjective. The trick is to move from ‘early’, through ‘emerging’ to ‘published’. Perseverance is one of the qualities that determines to which classification of author I belong. Note the correct use of prepositions. A skill – along with the appropriate application of hyphens, en dashes and em dashes – that I have picked up in the past four semesters studying a professional writing and editing course at RMIT. For me, it was the missing ingredient in my recipe for success.

The first thing they tell us at university is that 90 per cent of us have the talent to become published authors, but only 10 per cent of us will get there. We sit up in our seats, whiskers quivering, certain that we are in that 10 per cent. Two years on, we are all older and wiser. Some of us have changed to the editing stream and all of us have had to swallow a reality pill. But few of us have given up.

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The second lesson we are taught is the importance of networking. The person you sit next to at a seminar might be the person who reads your manuscript or offers you a job. Every book launch you attend is a potential job interview. In my case, a chance encounter at the Small Press Network conference led to a major change of focus of one of my projects and a generous mentor in Michael Webster, chair of the SPN.

In the past six months, I have submitted my book proposal to three major publishers.

Their responses have been uniformly encouraging but ultimately unfavourable, due to the ‘niche’ nature of its market. Rather than acting as a deterrent, these generous and considered rejections have guided me towards smaller to medium publishing houses, particularly those specialising in women’s issues. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll investigate options including self-publishing with a professional distributor, E-book publishing, whatever it takes. I am motivated and energised by my studies and the cohort of students and educators who surround and support me.

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Those happy campers planning their around-Australia retirement road trips are welcome to leave me in their dust. It is I who am the fortunate one. This brilliant writing career of mine has now been more than a decade in the making. I have been accepted into the course of my dreams and am currently working as a Professional Writer (it says so on the job description) for a large government organisation. I have a few more subjects to go before I can write ‘associate degree’ after my name, but it’s the letters ‘published author’ I covet. I’m on the cusp of success – I think! I know! – and I don’t doubt that I will get there.

This piece first appeared in The Victorian Writer June/July 2018 titled ‘Whatever It Takes’. It is reproduced here with the permission of Vic Writer.

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