Lessons Learnt at Writers’ Unleashed

Writers' Unleashed

Saturday was that time of year again, the annual Writers’ Unleashed Festival. For those who couldn’t make it, I’ve saved you the entry fee and listed tips and insider information shared at the various individual sessions on getting your debut novel published.

Get Published and Stay Published
Rural romance author Pamela Cook shared her insights on how much you can expect to earn as a published author.

  1. Authors earn approx. 10% of RRP per hard copy book, and 25% per eBook, regardless of the actual sell price (Note: The RRP of books on my shelf range from $14.99 to $32.99, that’s an author earning of $1.499 to $3.299 per hard copy book sold)
  2. Publishers often pay you in advance plus 10% for books sold over the minimum. If you don’t reach the minimum, you don’t have to pay the money back
  3. Selling 5,000 copies of your book in Australia is a pretty good effort (Note: Based on a RRP of $14.99 to $32.99, that’s a total author earning of $7,495 to $16,495 per book published)
  4. Print runs vary, typically 8-10,000 copies are printed with a shelf life of a few years

Structuring Your Novel
Novelist and journalist Emily Maguire gave us the low down on plot, story and structure.

  1. Plot – what happens and why. Plot is linear, it’s about consequences
  2. Story – why any of the plot matters. It will only matter if it impacts on characters the reader cares about
  3. Structure – how the plot and story is presented. In most cases, readers expect things to get worse and worse before they get better. You can also have a non-linear structure, e.g. one event told from multiple perspectives, or you can start by telling the readers the end and then go back to explain how the characters got there
  4. Most authors still abide by the three act structure:
    • Act 1 – Beginning, 25%
    • Act 2 – Middle, 50%
    • Act 3 – End, 25%

Characterisation
Women’s fiction author Ber Carroll provided tips on creating believable characters.

  1. Less is more. Stick with a couple of physical features and focus on the unusual and less obvious, e.g. facial expressions, involuntary actions
  2. Show how your characters acts and reacts in different situations, e.g. show the character at home, at work, and with friends and family
  3. Make characters sound different. The reader should know who is speaking even if there were no dialogue tags
  4. Know your characters arc. There must be something about the characters life or attitude that needs improving. Readers need to see what the character has learnt at the end

Editors’ Panel Session
Four successful editors’ – Heather Curdie, Beverley Cousins, Zoe Walton and James Read – opened up about what they look for in a manuscript, and the basic process of going from script to published novel.

  1. Editors want to see quality writing, an original voice (regardless of whether it’s an original story), a compelling plot, a satisfying ending and an engaging first chapter
  2. When you submit your manuscript include:
    • Synopsis – this is not the blurb that goes on the back of the book, rather a complete summary including climaxes and the ending
    • Bio – a detailed author biography that highlights your marketability, how the publisher can work with you to sell your book, and what books you have planned for the future
  3. Even if an editor loves your manuscript, there’s no guarantee of it being published. An editor will take your manuscript to an acquisitions meetings for approval from other departments such as sales and marketing
  4. Editing process involves:
    • Structural edit – delete unnecessary chapters and characters
    • Copy edit – check plot holes, consistency in voice
    • Proof read – check spelling, grammar

To conclude, the most important lesson of the day….

“Publishing a book comes down to talent, persistence and sheer bloody luck.”
~ Beverley Cousins, Fiction Publisher at Random House Australia

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