Posts Tagged With: writing tips

Children’s Publishers

Hello All You Wannabe Children’s Writers,

Today I’m going to tell you all about publishers who focus on children’s books.  Now, are you sitting comfortably?  Can you see the pages?  Let’s begin…

First up – you need to know that I’m focussing on Australian publishers and I’m zoning in on those publishers that are accepting unsolicited manuscripts.  Does everybody know what that means?  In case you don’t – unsolicited manuscripts are those that arrive to the publisher unsolicited.  That means the publisher didn’t ask for them, they simply ‘arrived’.  Unsolicited manuscripts are different from solicited manuscripts – solicited m/s may have been introduced to the publisher by an agent or the publisher may have requested the manuscript based on you having previously published with them.  You’ve got to remember that publishers aren’t just sitting around waiting for your novel!  They’re working hard on putting together and promoting their current list, they have their ‘family’ of authors that have already been solicited (so to speak) and they have lots of other work they attend to.  Literary Agent and author Virginia Lloyd has written about the path of the solicited/ unsolicited manuscript on her blog which you can read here.

Anyhoo – for the purpose of this blog, let’s pretend you have written a sensational children’s book and you’re looking for a great Aussie publisher.  Who might you approach?

Well – the first stop would be to purchase the terrific e-zine subscription called Pass It On.  Pass It On is organised by the totes excellent children’s author extraordinaire Jackie Hosking. Each Monday, Pass It On lands in your email inbox and is jammed full with the latest info – specifically for authors of children’s and YA – on literary competitions, societies, groups, workshops, poetry, news, book launches and publisher information.  Pass It On will provide you with a way to build your writing network as well as offering all the links you need to polish your story and prepare it for submission to a publisher.


After that – you might consider approaching some of the following…

Allen & Unwin’s The Friday Pitch – make sure you follow all their guidelines and formats.  You want them to take you seriously!  I notice that The Friday Pitch is open to non-fiction and adult as well so if you’ve got some of those manuscripts kicking around the bottom drawer….

EK Books is an imprint of Exisle Publishing.  Their motto is ‘great story, great characters, great message’ and their books are mainly aimed at children aged 4-8 years.  They also describe themselves as the new kids on the children’s publishing block – so you might consider getting in on the ground floor with them as they build their lists.

Like Allen & Unwin, Freemantle Press are looking for all kinds of manuscripts – not just children’s.  They are especially interested in work that has a strong Western Australian flavour or that has been written by a WA writer.

Harper Collins Publishing offers The Wednesday Post where they accept unsolicited manuscripts on a Wednesday.  At the moment they are not accepting children’s but they are considering Young Adult so… worth a try there.

New Frontier Publishing is looking for children’s books to educate, uplift and inspire.  I also notice that you can purchase their author submissions pack which costs $60 but includes a variety of their books (around 5 ) and a description of why each of those were chosen for publication.  A good learning curve and a few books to add to the shelves!

Pan MacMillan Australia has Manuscript Monday and while they aren’t accepting children’s picture books they are considering YA, crossovers and junior fiction.  They emphasise that you must be familiar with the work they publish (it’s always a good idea – so you find the right publisher for your story).  Do your homework before you submit!

Random House Australia has a couple of imprints that will publish children’s books.  They request a query email first ( so work on your pitching skills and make that initial email something impressive!

text publishing is interested in fiction and non-fiction for junior and upper primary as well as YA.  These guys are a personal fave of mine – they publish some great stuff and I love that they’re a little bit old school – they want you to post a hard copy, in the mail.  I love that – whenever I have to send anything in by hard copy I always give it a squeeze and a kiss before I slip it in the post! *blush*

Okay – so there are many more but I think this gives you a good starting point.  If you would like to know more, you can purchase (for a measly $5) the AUSTRALIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK PUBLISHERS ACCEPTING UNSOLICITED MSS pdf from Jackie Hosking at Pass It On (you’ll find it on the side bar)


Good luck and let us know how you get on submitting your story to a real, live publisher! *squeee*



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Romancing the Reader: How to Write Swoonworthy Love Scenes


Whether writing about sweet first kisses or passionate embraces, here are five tips and tricks to make your love scenes sizzle…

1. Turn up the tension from the get-go

Just like any real-life love affair, it’s not all about the destination – half the fun is getting there. When developing a romantic relationship in your novel, remember to build tension over time, from the first encounter all the way through to the fireworks. That way, when hearts finally collide, the reader is just as invested in the romance as the characters.


A good love scene should explode off the page…

Which brings me to point number 2…

2. Let the relationship progress naturally, whatever pace that may be

Every relationship is different. Every Antony has his own baggage, every Cleopatra her own insecurities, every Bonnie and Clyde, their own romantic pace. Some characters fall in love instantly, while others burn hotter over time. Some are inhibited by fear, others jump in feet first.

Don’t force a love scene. Let the story guide you.

Wedding dance lovers man and woman pop art retro style. Feelings emotions romance. Art music ringtones. Girl and marriage. Couple dancing

A good love scene should leave the reader wanting more…

If the characters aren’t feeling it, you can bet your reader won’t be either.

3. Reveal character – no sauce for the sake of being saucy

You might have an Ice Queen who’s cold and distant on the outside, but when you get her alone with her flame she melts like a marshmallow (Frozen 2, perhaps?). Alternatively, Mr Prim and Proper who always plays nice in the boardroom might break all the rules behind closed doors (yes, I mean you, Mr Grey).

Love scenes are an amazing opportunity to reveal character and show an alternative side to your Juliets and your Romeos. It’s also a good way to expose the underlying motivations of characters – motivations they otherwise work hard to conceal.

A good love scene should reveal more than just skin…

Spies have been utilising the age-old art of pillow talk for centuries to acquire classified information. You should use it too.

4. Don’t get caught up in play-by-play action

There’s nothing worse than a love scene that reads like a how-to manual – “She touched him here, he caressed her there, and then they kissed…” and so on and so on.

Show the reader what’s going on inside Rhett’s head. Describe what Scarlett is feeling. Examine the way Tristan and Isolde’s encounter changes everything between them.

Teleport your reader into the story by describing sounds, smells, tastes.

A good love scene should ...

A good love scene should explore the physical and the emotional…

Remember, a really good romantic interlude evokes the senses and explores emotions.

5. Read novels by authors who do it well

Everything you need to know about writing love scenes you can find on the pages of your favourite books. So dig up that romance novel you adored as a teen and that steamy suspense that kept you up all night, and study the art of composing love scenes.

A good love scene should leave a reader satisfied...

A good love scene should leave a reader satisfied…

Your bookshelves are a treasure trove of writerly wisdom.

Some of my favourites for sweet kisses are the works of Maggie Stiefvater and GJ Stroud (you read her extract last week, right? PURE love scene magic right there!). For steamier scenes, I definitely recommend Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I have to admit, I also have a soft spot for anything penned by Johanna Lindsey (the first romance novel I ever read was Silver Angel). Although, be sure to keep in mind, the kind of writing readers enjoy changes over time. Techniques that may have been popular back in the 80s and 90s, may no longer hold the same appeal.

Do you have a favourite author who composes loves scenes as potent as Cupid’s arrows? Be sure to share them with us below…


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Scenes – to be or not to be? That is the question…

Revision. It’s something every writer must face at some point in their writing journey.

This month, Fiona, Gabbie and I will take turns delving into specific aspects of the revision process.

That is the question...

That is the question…

Scenes. The building blocks of a novel. A well-written scene captures the reader’s attention, holds it and then leaves the reader wanting more. But what makes a scene well-written?

From what I have gathered over the years, from participating in writing courses, researching on the net, and trial and error, is that it boils down to one thing: a scene must move the story forward. Of course, other things are important too – like good grammar, interesting dialogue, vivid world building and all that jazz.

But if a scene doesn’t move the story forward, it’s pointless. It’s weak. It’s failing to live up to its potential. Effectively, the writer is taking a huge risk that they will lose the reader’s attention, and the reader will put down the book, walk away and never return. They’re also squandering the opportunity to make their novel a page-turner.

Scenes are the building blocks of a novel...

Scenes are the building blocks of a novel…

So how does a writer who is revising their novel determine whether their scenes advance the story?

A scene that moves the story forward has three elements:

(i) Setting and Action – it informs the reader of where the character is and what they are doing.

(ii) GMC (goal, motivation and conflict):

  • Goal – what the character wants;
  • Motivation – why the character wants to achieve this goal;
  • Conflict – the obstacle preventing the character from achieving this goal. This can be another character (whose goal is at odds with the main character’s goal) or an external obstacle.

(iii) Twist – something that changes everything.

It can be something that surprises the reader or raises new questions. This is the element that drags the reader into the next scene and makes your novel a page-turner – by making the reader want to know more.

The twist is the key to page-turning scenes...

The twist is the key to page-turning scenes…

A good place to study scenes is – surprise, surprise – in movies and television series. Screenwriters are very adept at crafting effective scenes. It might have something to do with the fact that time restraints (and therefore screenplay length) are extremely limited, so every scene must count.

To illustrate, let’s analyse a scene from a TV series many people are familiar with – Buffy the Vampire Slayer – written by, none other than screenwriting legend, Joss Whedon.

Scene 1, Episode 1 – Welcome to the Hellmouth.

Setting and Action
A boy and a girl are breaking into a school at night.

GMC – this scene is stuffed full of GMC.
The boy wants to go up on top of the gym. He says it’s because the view up there is amazing. But really he wants to get the girl alone and make out.
The girl doesn’t want to go up there. She’s scared and doesn’t want to get into trouble. Or maybe she simply doesn’t want to make out with the boy – after all, if you can see the whole town from up there, the whole town can probably see you.
They hear a noise. She thinks it’s something to be concerned about. He doesn’t.
Conflict, conflict, conflict.

Then BOOM!

She is a vampire. So there was something to be concerned about – just not what the boy (or viewer) was expecting.

Joss Whedon: The Boring-Scene Slayer...

Joss Whedon: The Boring-Scene Slayer…

Some things to keep in mind:

  • A scene must end after the twist – if the scene continues, you lose the I-have-to-read-more effect on the reader.
  • The twist doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering event – it can be subtle (eg. a new character arriving on the scene, the main character becoming aware of something previously hidden to them). For example, in Scene 2, Episode 1 of Buffy, Buffy is trapped in a nightmare. She wakes up and then her mother calls out “you don’t want to be late for your first day”. This new piece of information is the twist and pulls the viewer into the next scene – Buffy’s first day at a new school.
  • A good way to determine whether your scene moves the story forward is by looking at your character. Does your character arc within the scene (ie. do they feel/act/think differently at the end of the scene than they did at the beginning)?
  • Action doesn’t have to be a car chase or a fight scene. It can be introspection or dialogue, BUT ONLY if it moves the story forward. This can be through character development or by revealing backstory – but this new information must be critical (ie. it affects the main plotline or a subplot). Simply revealing generic information about a character or their past is not enough. For example, if your entire scene comprises your character waking up, eating breakfast and engaging in small talk with her mum about how the toaster keeps burning the toast, you need to get rid of it (even if the banter is witty and clever*) – UNLESS the overzealous toaster is critical to the story line (ie. your character suspects her mum is having an affair with the pool boy who just so happens to prefer his toast burnt)

* in the event that the witty banter reveals something cool about a character or relationship and you REALLY don’t want to throw it away, take that banter from the pointless scene and merge that into a scene that moves the story forward, or salvage the scene by adding some conflict and a twist.

Often pointless scenes creep into our stories because they are transition scenes – boring scenes we think we need to write to fill a gap between two incredible, story-changing, can’t-put-the-book-down scenes. Just get rid of them. Go directly from one critical scene to the next, and only write those scenes you can’t wait to write – these are the scenes the reader can’t wait to read. You can always add a few sentences to explain what happened in between if you feel it’s necessary.

And remember, scenes that are boring to write are boring to read.

Make your novel a page-turner by injecting conflict into your scenes...

Want to make your novel a page turner? Inject some good old-fashioned action and GMC into your scenes… with a twist!

So that’s it from me.

In the next two weeks, Gabbie will be sharing some of her secret revision wisdom, and Fiona will be delving more deeply into the concept of GMC and how it relates not only to scenes but to the story as a whole.


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A camera, a pen and an ear for detail…

Like Yanicke, I was given the old adage ‘show don’t tell’ pretty early on. But I never knew how to do it until one day, I went to my local Writers’ Group. It was a workshop by author Celestine Hitiura Vaite. She’s a Tahitian author – ‘Breadfruit’, ‘Frangipani’ and ‘Tiare’.

Celestine told us her house was spotless when she was working on a novel because she’d resort to sweeping when she was trying to establish a character or untangle a plot. She was the kind of writer who kept the momentum of her writing going even during the mundane domestic tasks, actually embracing them and using them as a tool to support her writing hurdles. I’m drawn to that kind of practicality and to this day I think about my characters while I vacuum the house, imagining how they would vacuum, thinking about their opinions on house cleaning and dreaming up scenarios they will face. But housework wasn’t the gemstone of advice Celestine gave me that day. When she promised us very practical advice on how to “show and not tell” I leant forward in my seat, pen poised over notebook.

“Imagine a video camera is strapped to your character’s head,” Celestine said and mimed attaching a strap around her chin. “Now, imagine what the character can see, touch, smell, feel and hear. This is how you’ll show your reader – because you’ll describe the beauty of the baby they’re looking at or the icy breeze that’s slicing through them or the steam from the pot that’s making their eyes sting.” It helped me understand how I need to ‘get under the skin’ of my characters if I want to write with authenticity… if I want to show without telling.

A picture worth a thousand words can inspire a thousand more…

Here’s a hangover as experienced by my protagonist ‘Mop’ from my current work Downhill.

The house was silent when I woke up. I must’ve followed Gus’s advice because there was a glass of water by my bed and a box of panadol that had been ripped to shreds. I sat up carefully and had a drink. My head was throbbing and even cracking open the foil on two tablets sounded like a roaring ocean. I rubbed my hair and squinted around the room, trying to remember who I was and how I got there.
Our dog, Nuts, wasn’t by the back door. Mum and Dad must’ve gone out to the paddocks. They’d said something yesterday about checking fences. I slumped on the lounge, flicking through crappy Sunday television, trying to find the cricket. The screen wasn’t even visible with the glare of sunlight invading the room.
Through the window I saw the Hilux tearing up the road, dust was billowing behind it. I heard the tread of boots up the back steps and a pause while they were hinged off. Next came the gasp of the fridge door being opened, the clink of a bottle.
“Hair of the dog?” Gus held up a beer and looked at me.
“Nuh.” I couldn’t think of anything worse.

The screen wasn’t even visible with the glare of sunlight invading the room.

The screen wasn’t even visible with the glare of sunlight invading the room.

My second piece of advice is something I’ve just learnt along the way. It’s pretty unorthodox but I’ll share it anyway.


That’s it.

I think good old fashioned eavesdropping helps me to write authentic dialogue. I often listen to other people’s convos and then make a note of what they said (so watch what you say around me!). It’s interesting to consider their word choices, when they use names, how they interrupt each other and how they start a new idea before finishing the last one.

If you are going to eavesdrop, try not to get caught...

If you are going to eavesdrop, try not to get caught…

Again from my WIP Downhill:

“How’d you go?” Mum was at the stove and threw one arm around me while stirring the mince.
“Pretty crap, I rekon.” I stripped off my shirt and headed for the bathroom.
“Hey,” Mum stopped stirring. “Come here.” She held her arms out and I took the hug. “Yuck! You’re all sweaty and disgusting.” She went to the sink and washed her hands.
“How’d you go with those pickets?” Dad asked, picking up the chook scraps and heading out the door.
“Yeah, nah, alright. Vince took care of it. They’re still in the Hilux. Do you want me to-”
“Nuh, it’s right.” Dad was already out the door.

So that’s my advice – strap on a go-pro and eavesdrop. Give it a try and let us know how you go!

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Two Rules to Write By

When I first started writing I wrote with abandon. Armed only with an academic background and a love for books, I composed sentences on a whim, letting the rhythm of the words guide my fingertips across the keyboard.

Little girl running on meadow with sunset

This is what writing with abandon feels like…

Throughout my years as a writer I’ve been influenced by authors I’ve been reading. I think it’s something a lot of writers do when they’re learning to find their voice. You try out the style of writers you admire, discover what works for you and what doesn’t. Over time your own style emerges, incorporating little bits and pieces of techniques learned along the way.

In the early days, I read a lot of Diana Gabaldon, so back then my prose included a lot of adverbs and adjectives, and long sprawling scenes.

Then I discovered Maggie Stiefvater and filter words slipped into my writing, as well as unusual details and personification to bring the setting to life and make it a character rather than just a backdrop.

I also devoured lots of writing guides along the way, learning the “rules of good writing”. One of my faves (which I’m sure most writers are familiar with) is Stephen King’s On Writing. I usually re-read this masterpiece every year at Christmas when I visit my parents in Tasmania and have a little extra time up my sleeve. And, let me tell you, it’s not just the writing advice I enjoy, it’s the fascinating story of Mr King himself (yes, I admit it, I adore reading about other writers’ journeys to success. It gives me hope that one day I might find success too).

It wasn’t until I finished writing my first novel, though, and embarked on the long and seemingly endless journey of revising, querying and pitching my manuscript that I really began to discover my voice. Which, when you think about it, sounds kinda crazy because you’d assume the time you’d learn the most about writing would be when you are actually writing. But in all honestly, I think I’ve learned more about writing in the past 18 months than I ever did in my life previously as a student, reader and budding writer. The reason? Because it wasn’t until I put my work out there for others to critique that I got objective feedback. And feedback was the key.

One thing I learnt was that you can read all the how-to and rule books in the world, memorise the list of no-no’s and go over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb hunting for the sneaky little bastards (excuse my French), but no matter how hard you focus you’re not always going to be able to identify the problems in your own writing. Sometimes, when you are learning, you need somebody to point them out. Then, once you can see the “rules” in the context of your work and not some generic example in a manual, they become a hell of a lot easier to identify.


Writing detective…

I swear on more than one occasion I was certain I’d weeded out a certain kind of faux pas only to have someone else point it out after a single read through. And I’m sure there are still many more lurking in my prose – I just haven’t learned to effectively identify them yet. But I will keep on soliciting feedback and learning from my mistakes – because I know in the end it will make my writing that much stronger.

So without further ado, I introduce to you my two favourite pieces of advice I have picked up along the way that have improved my writing significantly.

1. Strong Verbs

To me strong verbs are the holy grail of powerful writing, and when I discovered these little beauties I couldn’t get enough of them.

Strong verbs can take a simple ho-hum sentence and give it oomph. And since they also make the use of adverbs and adjectives superfluous, you effectively kill two birds with one stone.

For those of you unfamiliar with strong-versus-weak verbs I will give you a few examples from fiction I love – namely The Wolves of Mercy Falls novels by Maggie Stiefvater (in my opinion, Miss Stiefvater is the queen of writing with verbs that kick ass – particularly of the personification kind):

Instead of writing “I angrily closed the phone” she wrote: “I snapped the phone shut.” (Forever)

Instead of writing “I sat lazily on my stool” she wrote: “I slouched on my stool.” (Shiver)

Instead of writing “I quickly got out of bed” she wrote: “I tumbled out of bed.” (Forever)

Instead of writing “She closed her locker roughly” she wrote: “She shoved her locker shut.” (Shiver)

As you can see, in all examples you get rid of a pesky adverb because the verb itself describes the action so well on its own.

And here are some of my favourite examples of personification using strong verbs:

Night crouched in the trees. (Shiver)

His expression poured back into his face. (Sinner)

The heat crept in around the door. (Shiver)

The music slapped its hands against the car windows. (Forever)

Here are some useful links to articles about strong verbs:

Super Verbs

Super Verbs

2. Filter Words and Naming Emotions

This is really two things, but I lump them into one because I learned about them at the same time. Back in August 2014, I entered an online event called PitchPlus5 where I submitted the first five pages of my manuscript and competed against 49 other writers for the chance to win an agent critique and free query pass. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it past the first round, but I was offered some of the most valuable feedback I’ve ever received.

It was actually just a short email, but the advice contained therein really spoke to me and changed the way I’ve written and edited ever since.

Namely, cut out the filter words and don’t name emotions, show them.

Filter words are words such as looked/saw/felt/knew/watched/wondered/thought and they distance the reader from what is happening. Instead of saying “I felt a hand on my shoulder” you should say: “A hand touched my shoulder” – it is more immediate and, especially in the case of first person POV, helps the reader become the character.

As for naming emotions (ie. saying “I was shocked” or “he sighed with relief), this is a prime example of telling instead of showing and should be corrected immediately. You can do this by describing the body language a person would use when feeling that emotion, or making sure the dialogue between the characters conveys that emotion without having to spell it out.

For example, in my submission I had written:

Susan and Breanna exchanged glances before turning to see who’d spoken. I was shocked to see it was Lachlan MacLean, and shocked further still to realize it was me he was addressing.

After receiving this feedback, I changed it to read:

Susan and Breanna exchanged glances before turning to see who’d spoken. I just stood there, blinking up into a pair of ice-blue eyes. Lachlan MacLean was asking me to dance? This had to be a mistake.

See how more vivid the passage is now?

Here are some links to articles about filters and naming emotions and body language:

emotions cloud

Pesky emotion-naming words

On a final note, you might have noticed I mentioned some of these so called writing “no-no’s” when describing how the works of my two favourite authors influenced me. I think the thing to keep in mind is that the “rules of good writing” are not really rules per se but guidelines. Successful authors break them all the time (which can be a bit confusing for us newbie writers), but they get away with it because they do it well – it’s a part of their voice. But not all of us can pull it off.

I think knowing how and when to break the rules, and doing it in a way that is effective, is what ultimately defines a writer’s voice.

I mean seriously, if we all followed the rules strictly we’d probably all sound the same. And that would be sad.

Sad puppy :'(

Sad puppy 😥

And here is a little addendum I found waiting for me on my computer when I returned from putting my boys down to sleep, courtesy of my cheeky, wannabe hubby (he often sneaks onto my computer and hides messages for me in my writing):

But for me, when it came to discovering my voice, I found the two rules above really helpful. The other was a loving partner who gave me the encouragement I deserved. Wow he is amazing! Love you darling xxx

And he thought I wouldn’t notice…


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