…if you ever asked me the dreaded “So, what do you write?”, I’d stare into my shoes and mumble “middle grade fiction,” three words that mean pretty much nothing to most people, and absolutely nothing to the rest.
Or, I’d spend five minutes waffling and reaching and trying to summarize the bizarre complexities of my latest novel in a way guaranteed to bore you sideways. “Well, it’s inspired by blah and there’s this blah who blah and then blah because blah and…oh, you have to leave so soon?”
You, the writer
This week, after a day’s intensive workshopping with Hachette Australia’s Jaki Arthur and 14 other West Aussie authors, I can now (almost) look you in the eye and say: “I write zany adventures for kids aged 8 to 12.”
There, now doesn’t that feel better?
Sponsored by The Australia Council for the Arts (mwa! mwa!), the day was billed as a Market Development Skills Workshop for Australia Authors. It was AWESOME! Jaki was so personable and friendly and called a spade a spade (you should’ve seen her face when I mumbled “middle-grade fiction” at my shoes)(I couldn’t actually see her face, because of my shoes, but you get the idea.)
Here are my Top Tips from the day:
1) WHAT DO YOU WRITE?
When someone asks you “What do you write?”, roll out your premeditated one-liner. It needs to be short and easy to understand. “I write for children” could mean anything from “Guess How Much I Love You” to “The Day My Bum Went Psycho.” It’s important you clarify.
So, what do I write? Repeat after me: Zany adventures for kids aged 8 to 12.
2) WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?
If someone is interested, they may follow up with “What are you working on?” in which case, roll out your premeditated sentence-long strapline. Like the words in a well-loved picture book, this strapline should roll off the tongue. It needs to be slick. It should also communicate the gist of your story: What is it about? Will it be funny? Gripping? Sad?
My own strapline? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’m working on EXPLOITS, the tale of how a mutated boy, a damaged kitchen-bot and a computer-savvy seagull bring down capitalism.
Or something like that. It still needs thought, but you can see how it works to give you an idea of the type of book you’ll be reading.
3) WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Let’s say the someone liked your strapline. Let’s say the someone wants more: an interview, perhaps, or a chat about festival appearances. The next thing they want to know is what can you talk about?
Jake recommends you find at least seven themes in your book: seven things that journalists and festival organisers can call on you for.
TAKESHITA DEMONS, for example, is about Japanese mythology, cross-cultural friendships, courage, changing schools, the migrant experience, monsters and ghosts, and family. You want me to speak on a panel about Japanese mythology? Sure! You want an interview about the migrant experience? Right up my alley! But you want me to talk about grief or blackmail or privacy laws? Um, nup. I’m not the author for you. See how it works?
4) WHO ARE YOU AGAIN?
So let’s say you’ve got the gig: you’re about to appear on TV or speak at a festival or catch the eye of some hotshot producer. You’re going to need a writer’s biography. Jake recommended a 30-word bio, an 80-word bio, and a however-long-you-like bio. And 30 isn’t a typo. You have 30 words to sell yourself.
What not to do: I have degrees in X, Y, Z and my books won awards A, B, C.
What to do: I have three left toes and was charged by a bull elephant while researching this book.
The lesson: We don’t care about your degrees or your awards. We just want a ripping great story.
So, in the interests of demonstrating Jaki’s point….here’s my old bio:
Cristy Burne is a science writer, presenter, and author of the award-winning Takeshita Demons series. She has degrees in biotechnology, science communication and professional writing.
And here’s my new bio:
Cristy Burne has been a science circus performer, garbage analyst, Santa’s pixie and atom-smashing reporter. Takeshita Demons was inspired by Cristy’s years in Japan, her fear of ghosts, and a plastic head she found in her rubbish bin.
5) BUSINESS CARDS
Let’s just say, I have business cards, but I only hand them out under duress, because I’m so embarrassed by them.
Post-Jaki, I have rectified this: I ordered new cards yesterday, and I can’t wait to use them. Watch this space!
Want more tips from Jaki’s workshop? Check out these posts by fellow authors Satima Flavell (who writes “high fantasy, elves and stuff”) and Guy Salvidge (who writes “suburban noir” slash “crime fiction”).