Month: May 2014
Welcome to the Busybird blog, where you can find helpful articles, updates, industry news and more. Make sure you stay up to date by signing up to our newsletter below.
If I asked you what the literacy rate in Australia is, you might respond by saying that most Australians can read well. The fact is that 46% of Australian’s do not have good enough literacy skills to do what many take for granted, such as reading a bus timetable, understanding instructions on a medicine bottle or reading the paper. This is so appalling. Australia is the so-called ‘Lucky Country’ and yet we have that many people who are disempowered because of their lack of literacy skills.
You might think, So what? Imagine a life where you are disadvantaged by not being able to read. This affects chances of employment as well as so many other things. Being able to read is directly related to a sense of good self-esteem. A community of readers is empowered and resilient.
Busybird Publishing is all about books – just in case you hadn’t noticed. Our mission is to find a way to make books special in people’s lives no matter what their situation is. We believe that the sharing of books is very important to the community because the sharing of stories is a basic human need.
Part of our mission, apart from helping people publish their stories, is to find ways to get books into people’s hands. It’s not a new idea. It’s not revolutionary. In fact it is so basic. But if it were happening everywhere, there would not be these horrendous statistics.
In order to start making this mission a reality, we are starting at the ground roots level. We plan to build a mini library (in the shape of a birdhouse, of course) that will live out the front of the Busybird studio and house free books. This will act as a meeting point for a book exchange. So if you want a book, you need to put a book in. It is hoped that this idea will grow in our community, then branch out in to others and then on to regional area where getting books is harder.
To this end, we have applied for a community grant with Leader Newspaper. It will still happen without a grant but it will take longer. We’d love to hear of other ideas of how we can make changes in the community in terms of literacy, so pop in to our studio or email us if you have any.
Look out for voting at http://www.leaderlocalgrants.com.au to help us get this project off the ground.
Blaise van Hecke
May 27, 2014
Pause for a moment. Take a breath before you hit ‘send’.
While we’d all love our first drafts to be perfect they almost never are. Here are five small tips I’ve learned (often the hard way) about ensuring your story is the best it can be.
1. Leave time
After finishing your draft leave it alone, for a few days at least, preferably longer. Some stories develop over months. When you re-visit you need to switch from ‘pure writer’ mode to ‘writer/reader’ mode. Try – and it’s very hard – to read your story as a reader.
Read with care but with your critical faculties switched on. If any parts leap out as false, clunky or dull, mark them. Your instincts are probably right.
2. Get an outside eye
You know what you want to say with your story and think it is crystal clear. But remember the reader is not inside your head. The only way to know what’s actually coming across on the page is for someone who is not you to read the work.
Ask a writer or reader you respect and who isn’t scared to offer constructive criticism. Having someone overly worried about hurting your feelings won’t make you a better writer. Ask them to mark parts they love and parts that confuse them or they don’t ‘believe’ (i.e. don’t seem to be true to the world you have created).
Be prepared to make some changes after this stage. Even if you feel what you’ve written is fully finished, this feedback may help you discover you’ve got more revision to do.
3. Use feedback to engage more fully with your work
Learning what to do with feedback is a real skill that takes a long time to develop. Some of us overreact – changing every word. Others are stubborn, refusing to budge on anything. The answer is somewhere in between.
If an intelligent reader queries a part of your story, they are usually right that something is awry. They are not so often right about how to fix it. You must learn to use your own judgement. It’s a challenging but exciting process. It demands that we ask of ourselves: what is at the heart of my story? Does every word support that premise?
4. Send out with care
Only send out work you feel is as good as you can get it. Polish your words, take care with grammar, spelling and structure. Even then, sometimes a story just isn’t ready. The ideas are strong but the language isn’t singing. You know your character but haven’t yet found the heart of the story. Don’t send that one out. Not yet. There will be plenty more opportunities and the extra few weeks or months may reveal a deeper truth to the story.
5. Embrace failure
Not every story is a success. Some are ‘learning stories’ – we’re trying a new technique, a different genre, a shift in how we write. They are equally as valuable. Every piece of writing adds to our experience. Old drafts and failed stories are like compost. Even though they sometimes smell kind of whiffy they’re essential for growth.
The scale of a short story means we can write a lot of them and go through this process again and again. The more you do it the better you get. Like an athlete or a musician, becoming a good writer takes many years and much dedication. And while the flush of first draft creativity is intoxicating, the rewards of reflection and revision are rich and will help you gain maturity and confidence in your craft.
May 22, 2014
I’m Erin, an editorial intern at Busybird Publishing and I’m writing my first blog. Ever.
Why did I make the decision to become an editor in the first place? Writing and editing go hand in hand and without an editor to circle, analyse and fix up a piece of written work it may never be published or be deemed worth publishing.
The importance of writers editing their own work became evident when I was part of the exciting responsibility of choosing which [untitled] short story submissions would make the shortlist for this year’s short story competition.
Under the direction of Les, we were told that the submission (for the competition) had to be worthy of going to print as is. This relies heavily on the writer performing his or her additional role as an editor in bringing their work up to an acceptable standard of publication, which can present critical challenges for the writer and exemplifies the crucial importance of an editor’s role in the publishing process.
Writers bear a huge burden in that they are expected to be able to both write and edit competently, which is unfair when a competition such as the [untitled] short story competition is meant to expose and showcase writing talent rather than how correctly they place full stops and commas in a story. I can see why our selection process had to be cut so finely due to the enormous wealth of talented writers and how many submissions there were. But not every writer is an editor, or wants to be. This is where I am very sympathetic towards upcoming writers, as it must make their chances of ever getting read or published feel like a futile pursuit.
I understand that life is not fair and the stories are written for the purposes of competition, which means that a cutthroat selection process must be applied so that the best short story wins. I became an editor so that I would have the opportunity to read through and edit works to make them ready for publication and the opportunity to read through these short stories has been stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable.
It made me both question my position as an editor and reaffirm my role and how important editors are in working with writers, rather than against them, in editing their work to a point where they can be published and read by an audience which will appreciate their talent and the subject matter they choose to write on. Editors relish the opportunity to help written work achieve its full potential, whether they are working within a publishing house or operating on a freelance basis.
Unfortunately, short stories (for the competition) are judged not only by the quality of their writing but how well that writing is coupled with a brilliant edit. If young writers today want to have any chance of succeeding in the fiercely competitive world of publishing they must be prepared to write, rewrite and proofread their work to a standard where the work can be read clearly and easily, or even go the extra mile and hire an editor to edit their work first before anyone else reads it.
May 20, 2014
It’s one of the repeat-ad-nauseam lessons of being a writer: read. Constantly. Incessantly. Passionately. Fanatically.*
Reading is important, and not just for brownie points on how many Russian writers you’ve checked off your to-read list. It teaches you about writing and grammar. It teaches you about what works on the page and what doesn’t. It’s first-hand experience on how to tell stories.
And for writers, the material one reads is the material one often mimics, whether it’s deliberate or completely inadvertent. For better or worse, there will be books that stand out from the shelf and mark your writing, style and interests in a way that can be extremely difficult to change or remove entirely. You are what you eat.
Let’s take my way of writing, for example. Even this blog post. It’s conversational, but not entirely pedestrian in its use of language. It favours fractured sentences and phrases – strictly speaking, they’re not grammatically correct. Whatever subject I discuss, and whatever literary tricks I use to freshen up my approach to that subject, there’s a degree of style that I can’t shake without conscious effort. (There’s a lot to talk about here on identity and an author’s voice, so stay tuned and I’ll come back to this in future posts.)
I didn’t develop in a bubble. I didn’t develop my way of telling a story cross-legged on the top of a mountain. I owe a lot to the books that have influenced me – whether it came from their stories, their method of storytelling or their general character.
For the sake of argument, here are some examples from my own development:
- Stephen King: probably an obvious one, but if writers go through several different ‘voices’ through their initial development, then my first voice was parroting half of Skeleton Crew.
- J R R Tolkien: The one saving grace is that I didn’t learn dialogue from Tolkien. But The Lord of the Rings was the first epic I ever read. I dabble in fantasy writing from time to time, and I still haven’t moved out from Tolkien’s shadow.
- Bret Easton Ellis: I’ve spoken before (No Offense?) about my fandom for American Psycho. After first reading it I experimented endlessly with my own takes on the relentless passages of stream-of-consciousness, and the sharp-tongued dialogue of the characters.
- Knut Hamsun: Probably not a widely-known name outside of northern Europe, Knut Hamsun was a Norwegian writer in the first half of the twentieth century. I only discovered him after a friend at university gave me a spare copy of Hunger. I read it in one sitting, and it left a footprint on everything I wrote for years to come.
Of course I read material from many other writers at the same time. But those other works didn’t leave the same kind of impact on me. That isn’t to say that I liked their material any less, or respect the writers any less. The books that influence us can’t be chosen. They strike us without warning. And in the context of discussing influences, it doesn’t matter whether I like Clive Barker’s Weaveworld or Neil Gaiman’s American Gods more than Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – LOTR is the one that came at the right time, in the right way, to echo through my own material.
I think a lot of writers, while they’re developing, make two errors in judgement where their sources of influence are concerned (omitting the obvious one of copycatting other authors):
1) They force themselves to be ‘inspired’ by classic names and iconic books, because they think emulating these writers is the necessary step to both development and wider acceptance as a writer (a good example might be Lovecraft for horror).
2) They have natural sources of inspiration that they’re ashamed of admitting to, usually because of negative public perception (e.g. Twilight).
And both are utter bunkum.
The first point is garbage because you can’t ‘decide’ to be influenced or inspired by anything. By all means, read the classics and maybe you’ll enjoy them, but don’t pretend they hold the answers to every one of your writing woes. Lovecraft has a lot to offer, but even after schooling yourself on Cthulhu you need to leave yourself open to the possibility that a cheap pulp novel from a second-hand store, by a writer you’ve never heard of, might have a more natural influence on your development and sense of experimentation.
The second point is garbage because it’s self-denial. Maybe something in Stephenie Meyer’s books inspired you to write – even if you don’t have the confidence to proclaim that in a writer’s circle, at least be comfortable with that in your own way. It’s still a popular series, and a lot can be learned from them – even if it’s what not to do in some respects. Plenty of people got something out of reading the books. You might as well.
So if ‘you are what you eat’, why am I telling you to not exclusively go for fine dining? Why am I telling you that it’s okay to sneak a McDonald’s meal while sitting in your car even if your friends will smell the synthetic meat on your breath and tut-tut disdainfully?
Because you won’t learn anything by eating only fine dining, in the same way that you won’t learn anything by eating only McDonald’s.
Read, but read as wide a variety of material as possible. Don’t let preconceptions stop you from a book you might enjoy, and might give you something you never would have expected. And never fight what influences you just because you feel like it’s the wrong book to be influenced by. Maybe you’ll look back in years to come and loathe the material you wrote as a result of the spell a particular book cast on you, but then you’ll look at the material that comes after and see the evolution of your own voice.
Feel free to comment below with the books and authors you’ve been influenced by, whether they’re predictable or totally unlikely. Share what influenced you, what stayed with you, and where that influence led you in your own writing. Or, just take a moment to think about it – and see the stepping stones in your own development as an individual, unique writer.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen
*Another common lesson is to use adverbs sparingly. Irregularly, even.
May 15, 2014
Years ago, the only viable and credible alternative when it came to publishing was to submit to a commercial publisher and hope your book got accepted. Self-publishing (also known as vanity publishing) existed, but it was expensive, and there was no quality control. You could knock out an incomprehensible first draft and publish it. Self-publishing was also descried by the greater public.
Then partnership publishing came into vogue. There are some good people working in partnership publishing, but – unfortunately – there’s often little (if any) transparency from a lot of the partnership publisher themselves. Some partnership publishers will ‘invite’ authors to publish, as if those authors have passed a rigorous screening process. Nope. Many partnership publishers will invite you to publish that incomprehensible first draft, interested instead only in your money. You pay for a package of services (e.g. editing, layout, design), and then the partnership publisher collects a fee from that package, as well as (usually) half your royalties.
Think about that: unlike a commercial publisher, the partnership publisher invests none of their own capital in this venture. A commercial publisher carries all the financial risk of producing your book and working with you to get the best product possible. In return, you get only a small percentage of royalties (usually about 7–10%). Consequently, the commercial publisher profit or suffer depending on the fortunes of your book. With a partnership publisher, you pay for the services they provide, they pay subcontractors (usually at the lowest end of their pay-scale) to carry out those services, and then the partnership publisher collects from fees and half your royalties. If your book flops, that’s money out of your pocket, not theirs. The partnership publisher is bulletproof. You’ve paid them.
Most authors want to be accepted by a commercial publisher. There’s a branding in this acceptance, as if to say, You made it. You’re good enough to be accepted. And that’s fair enough. It’s like being accepted into an exclusive club. But whilst a stigma still exists when it comes to self-publishing, there’s also a growing acceptance – especially since the quality of the physical product can be comparable to a commercial product. More and more writers are pursuing this as a valid alternative. Matthew Reilley’s career began by self-publishing. There are any number of authors making a living out of self-publishing digitally through Amazon – and some are making fortunes. As technology progresses, it’s becoming easier and easier to do it ourselves, so why not?
If you’re tired of trying commercial publishers, and if you’re considering alternatives, you might want to control your own destiny. A partnership publisher provides services that you could easily solicit yourself – editing, layout, design, etc. Also, remember, a partnership publisher isn’t interested in quality control – most will tell you exactly what you want to hear, because once you start the process with them, they profit from fees.
Potentially, the hardest part of the whole rigmarole would seem distribution. However, you can actually approach distributors yourself. Promotion? Well, even commercial publishers are leaving that more and more in the hands of their authors; partnership publishers don’t provide anything in this regard. So you’re not any worse off alone. You can do all this yourself.
The reason for this blog isn’t to bash partnership publishers, although there are a number of unscrupulous ones out there – even operating as imprints of very credible and very, very rich publishing houses. Understand most will tell you exactly what you want to hear. But if you’re looking for a route other than hoping a commercial publisher accepts you, you can control every aspect of your book’s production, end up with a better product, and the profits will be entirely yours (outside of what bookstores, etc., might take). Or you could go straight to digital through Amazon, (which costs nothing to put a book up there).
But if you’re going to do it, make sure your book’s the best it’s going to be. Don’t just write something and publish, or redraft a handful of times or get your mum, your cousin, or your dog to edit it (unless they’re thoroughly qualified). These are contributing reasons to why self-publishing gained that stigma. If you’re going to do it, source the right people for your needs.
You get one chance to impress, so do it right.