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Dr Anita Heiss

It’s great to be involved in Aussie Author month, and what better way to begin than by having a brilliant Aussie author visiting my blog. Anita Heiss is an inspiration  – her books are fabulous, her work rate incredible, and  her gratefulness blog perfectly reflects her positive take on life. Her energy is at whirlwind level, as I discovered first of all at Perth Writers Festival, where I was lucky enough to be on a panel with her. I’ll always remember how supportive she was to this first-time author.

Anita’s latest book, Paris Dreaming, has just been released. Here’s a teaser:

Libby is on a man-fast: no more romance, no more cheating men, no more heartbreak. After all, she has her three best girlfriends and two cats to keep her company at night and her high-powered job at the National Aboriginal Gallery in Canberra to occupy her day – isn’t that enough? But when fate takes Libby to work in Paris at the Musée du Quai Branly, she’s suddenly thrown out of her comfort zone and into a city full of culture, fashion and love. Surrounded by thousands of attentive men, nude poets, flirtatious baristas and smooth-tongued lotharios, romance has suddenly become a lot more tempting. On top of it all, there’s a chauvinist colleague at the Musée who challenges Libby’s professional ability and diplomatic skills. Then there’s Libby’s new friend Sorina, a young Roma gypsy, desperate to escape deportation. Libby must protect her work record and her friend, but can she protect herself from a broken heart?

I asked Anita what Libby was most grateful for in life, and here’s what she said:

1. CIRCLE OF FRIENDS: Libby is grateful for her circle of friends she calls her ‘tiddas’. In Canberra her bestie is Lauren, a visual arts curator who believes in romantic love. Her ex flat-mate Denise is a primary school teacher, who’s witnessed both Libby and Lauren’s relationship sagas over the years, and yet she still believes in ‘the One’. And the latest addition to the posse, Caro, is a lawyer with a dry sense of humour who likes to wet-her-whistle often. Together they unpack the serious issues of life: relationships, careers and good food! When Libby moves to Paris, her new tidda is Canelle, a sleek-bobbed black woman from Guadeloupe with a passion for bling, who ups the fashion-and-fella-anti!

2. A COMPLETE LIFE: Libby has her core group of friends and an active Canberra social life. She has a healthy long-distance relationship with her mum and five brothers in Moree. She’s got a tertiary degree and has excelled in her job as Manager of Educational Programs at the National Aboriginal Gallery in Canberra. Libby isn’t that interested in children just yet, but loves her two cats – Bonnie and Clyde. She’s fit from running and riding her bike around the streets of Braddon, on a total man-fast and is grateful for her complete life, until…

3. PITCH FOR PARIS: Libby is grateful her Pitch For Paris – to work at the stunning Musée du Quai Branly – is successful. She gets to do what she loves best: promoting Indigenous arts, this time on the international stage. But once arriving in the city of love with its cravats, culture and classy men, the ‘man-fast’ isn’t that easy to stick to. But she’s grateful that at least she’s a long way from home… and so no-one will ever know what she gets up to, or will they?

4. NUDE POETS: Libby is grateful to a new friend, Ames from Burgundy, because he introduces her to the revolutionary Maximilien de Robespierre. But the most revolutionary thing about their English and French poetry readings is that they are all done in the nude. Libby says: ‘I liked the feeling of freedom in being without clothes just for the sake of it.’

5. MOULIN ROUGE: Libby goes to the Moulin Rouge with staff from a job she ends up doing through the Australian Embassy. While she gets a tad jealous of the barely covered dancing girls, she’s grateful she won’t have to do any can-can moves to impress her fella. She simply says she can’t can’t and won’t won’t.

To find out more about Anita, visit www.anitaheiss.com and http://anitaheissblog.blogspot.com/ I’d highly recommend going to one of her events – you’re guaranteed a fun evening.

Thanks for dropping by, Anita, and wishing you every success. xx

I was very excited this morning to read Jessica Rudd’s blog on Mama Mia, speaking out in defence of chick lit and commercial fiction. Go Jessica! While my books don’t fall easily into the chick lit category (they are a bit too dark, although they usually have at least one female chick-lit-style character doing her utmost to lighten things up) they are certainly commercial. And I’m very proud of that. I want everyone, and I mean everyone, to read them!

The joy of reading is that it’s such a personal experience. We form relationships with the characters we read about, and we have our own reactions to the journeys they are on, which are interlinked to our own feelings and experiences. Stories are places of freedom, of escape, and of personal interpretation, so it’s a sad state of affairs when any kind of snobbery begins to try to dictate our reading passions. Besides, sweeping whole genres into generalised definitions is plain daft. I’ve read some brilliant chick-lit that has had me crying with laughter – Watermelon by Marian Keyes springs to mind. I’ve also read plenty of books in the same genre that I thought were a load of old rubbish (and will therefore remain nameless!). It’s the same with ‘lit fic’ – I’ve waded my way through a few prize-winning, critically acclaimed doorstoppers wondering why I felt compelled to waste my time; and yet other books have had me in awe – Swimmer by Bill Broady, and Beloved by Toni Morrison are two of my all-time favourites. But I should add that I did my dissertation on Beloved. It was by studying it that I got such a lot out of it. In fact, I think I gave all my friends copies of Beloved for Christmas that year, and, in hindsight, since most weren’t doing English degrees they would probably rather have had the latest Bridget Jones.

Wouldn’t it be great if all types of writing could simply co-exist and try not to squabble? But it’s unlikely, isn’t it. Life just isn’t like that, at least not yet. In the meantime, I have made a conscious choice to try to write the kind of books I love to read. And there is nothing I enjoy quite as much as a spine-tingling mystery with characters you can’t stop thinking about. If that makes my stories your guilty pleasure, then so be it. I promise you’ll get your money’s worth!

writing (2) 75 dpiPeople who work in book publishing always have a ridiculous amount of reading to get through. I once worked on what is pejoratively termed the ‘slush pile’ in the HarperCollins fiction department, where I would often be the first reader. As such, I would get to decide if the story was worth further consideration by those higher up the chain. There were so many submissions I don’t think I was ever on top of it.

So, when submitting your work, to give yourself a head start you need to make your book stand out. Why does the publisher HAVE to read it? (If you’re not sure, how can they be?) Why do you believe in what you are doing? What is it about this book that warrants the attention of the book-buying public? If you are able to provide an agent or publisher with this kind of information BEFORE they look at it, then – as long as they are enthusiastic, of course – you’re a step ahead.

How can you make a potential agent or publisher want to read a script? It’s a big question, and you should take your time and consider your approach. First and foremost you need to stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like a marketeer. Can you condense your story down into one or two awesome sentences? If you can, you’ve developed a pitch, and depending on the policy of the publisher/agent in question, you can use this to get people interested – either on the phone or via cover letters/emails. I realise this can be scary, as you might get an immediate no. But the pitch will remain important right through to the book-buying stage, because in this frenetically paced market you never have very long to grab anyone’s attention.  Don’t start pitching until you’re ready, as a publisher isn’t going to take very seriously the person who develops a new pitch every few weeks. They want to know you are focused and serious about what you are doing.

Do you know which market you’re aiming for? Have you thought about how your book will compete with others on the shelves? Why is it different? Why will readers pick up your travel book on Rome rather than the Lonely Planet’s? If you can give a publisher answers to these kinds of questions (without them having to ask), you will pique their interest. Otherwise, if such questions come up and you have no reply, you will look naïve.

Look at submissions policies very carefully and use them to your advantage. A script that comes in clean, tidy, correctly formatted according to guidelines, and with a concise covering letter will get more attention than the dog-eared, single-spaced tome with a rambling two-page explanation. Are there small embellishments you can use to draw people’s attention – artwork, for example? Be careful with using unusual fonts – only attempt it if they fit the kind of book you are working on, and remember they must still be easily readable. If you make the presentation too much of a challenge for a publisher, you are shooting yourself in the foot before you’ve begun.

Can you do anything else differently to get people’s attention? Your ploys need to be subtle, as at this stage a busy agent/publisher is doing you a favour by reading your work. When I worked in-house we would get writers ringing up demanding why we hadn’t yet got to their synopsis and outline, and that didn’t go down well. Never mind the writing, who wants to work on publishing a book with a stroppy, argumentative author. If you haven’t heard anything for a while, keep your inquiry courteous. You can remind them why they really should read your book, but be careful how far you push.

The submissions stage is one where books and dreams are made or broken. Success is a combination of skill, perseverance, patience and good fortune (and much more besides) – but the only way the final line is ever drawn is the moment you give up. Good luck!

Book pages 1This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 9th April 2010

I was recently asked advice on how to become a published writer.

Here’s my take on what it takes:

Originality
In general, the more original your concept, the better. But originality must still be able to be placed within the market. Sometimes what’s original to one person can be just a bit too way out to the next reader, so don’t go too far. Alternatively, you may want to follow a trend – vampires, anyone? – but you still need an original take on it. And you need to get the timing right, so the market isn’t oversaturated by the time you finish your book.

Determination
You have to really want to succeed, be prepared for knockbacks, not get bogged down in them but use them to make you stronger.

Stamina
First of all to finish the book. An enormous feat. Then to go over and over it yourself, figuring out how you can make it better. Then to allow other people to do the same.

Enthusiasm
To learn from those who have been there. Listen to published writers. They can give you so many ideas, and to hear them talk is often inspirational. No one begins life as a published writer, they were all once in unpublished shoes, without exception. Read lots of books. They all have something to inspire you – even if it’s only, ‘I could do better than this!’

Listening skills
Listen to critique. While it’s great to wholly believe in what you have written, it’s also good to remember that your readers might just have a point. Try to look dispassionately at your writing, and pay particular attention if you hear the same comment more than once, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

Insight
Put yourself in a busy publisher’s shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? I can guarantee you that it will usually be the one sent with a bit of razzmatazz from an agent. So then perhaps you should find an agent. If you decide to go this route, put yourself in their shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? The one that’s double-line spaced, interestingly presented, with a quick-to-grasp concept. And a covering letter that stands out. From someone who phoned or emailed first with a great, succinct pitch (although do check what type of contact each agent prefers before doing this)? Or the single-spaced scruffy sheaf of papers, appended to a meandering cover letter, from a person they’ve never heard of or from. I know which I would choose.

And finally: Passion
For the written word. For writing for writing’s sake, not just for publishing’s sake. Because that joy and commitment will be immediately recognisable to the reader, and there is little more compelling than that.