Do you remember the first time?

Kirsten Krauth
Go Zoolander. My author headshot.

When I was sitting in that limbo-land of trying to get my book published, I would hear established writers on Twitter and Facebook moaning about having to meet deadlines and go through laborious edits with publishers. The pressure, the pressure! And all I could think was, let it be me! Put me in that position! Is it so easy to forget how damn hard it is to get a book deal? The agony of the wait.

It took a long time for me. And as always it’s about who you know. Let’s face it. I was also plagued by indecision. Do I try to get an agent first? If a publisher doesn’t get back to me in six months, do I call and hassle (I’m not the type)?

Today is the last day I have to make any changes to my manuscript. I’m learning how to let it go. After seven years, the final copyedit seems a frantic flurry. Even though I’m an editor in my other life, I see only a sea of track changes.

For all you aspiring writers out there, I thought I’d get it down. What I’ve learnt from writing my first novel.

Do the novel as part of a postgrad university degree.

I started my novel as a research masters in creative writing at University of Sydney. If you do a research masters degree you don’t have to pay any uni fees (or this used to be the case), and I took extra joy in the fact that John Howard (yes it’s that long ago) was funding my future writing career. It also means you have one-on-one with a supervisor (in this case, the wonderful Sue Woolfe), can get your feedback in private, and have to meet deadlines. This last point was the most important in my case. I had to write four thousand words a month. By the end of the year I had a novella. Bingo.

The most important thing to have is a business card (from a publisher).

If you meet an editor or publisher in person and they offer you a business card, this is your golden ticket. Don’t lose it. It has the most important thing you will need: a direct email or telephone number. The publishing world is like some spy network where everything is secret. Once you have a direct email, things change. Doors open.

If you have a publisher contact, you don’t always need an agent.

I know everyone talks about having an agent, but my personal experience was that it was completely demoralising dealing with agents direct, and almost put me off trying. The publishers and editors were respectful and kind. The agents were aloof, conservative, and often just plain rude (this is when they bothered to reply to my emails). They talked about the market a lot (and I’m sceptical about this kinda talk). I know agents are busy, but so is everyone else. One agent asked me to pay so he could get the manuscript sent to another reader. Come on! In the end, I got a publishing deal, and then sought an agent (note: she was nothing like the above). Not ideal but it worked in a roundabout way.

When the structural and copy edit comes back from the publisher, don’t put your defence shield up.

Okay, I did. It’s not easy to invest your soul into something and see it torn apart in front of you. But if you’ve got a bit of time, sleep on it. Have a cry and scream if you need to, but come back to it in a week. Copy the manuscript into a new file that you call ‘just for practice’. Have a go at what your editor suggests. Does it help characterisation? Clarify things for you? It’s likely the answer will be ‘yes’. But also listen to your gut. Some things might not feel right. You can absolutely refuse to change something. Save these for special moments. It’ll make you feel better.

If a number of people start making the same suggestions, listen hard. It’s time to change tack.

Get a professional author headshot.

As an editor of a magazine about writers, getting author headshots via email can be challenging. Many authors have no idea about resolution for print and send images of themselves taken sitting in front of their computers. Nope. Find a friend or a professional photographer and get some high-quality shots taken. Try and make them visually interesting in some way. Avoid the cliches. Don’t sit in front of your bookshelf or with your chin resting on your hand as if you are the study of a brilliant thinker — unless you always pose that way or you can make it mockingly cool. I’m not happy being photographed so I dreaded this bit. My husband can take a good shot but even with him I was awkward. My tip? Go Zoolander pose. I found as soon as I started being stoopid the shots were better. And you’ve got to straddle that line. You don’t want your author shot to look so young or Photoshopped that no-one recognises you when they meet you in person.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR ASPIRING WRITERS TRYING TO GET PUBLISHED? OR ARE YOU A WRITER LOOKING TO GET PUBLISHED? I’LL HELP IF I CAN…

27 Comments

  1. Philip & Margaret March 4, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    What does zoo lander mean?

    Sent from my iPad

    Reply
    1. Kirsten Krauth March 4, 2013 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks for the reblog! I think that’s a first time for me, too!

      Reply
  2. Megan Rogers (mother ode) March 4, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    This article was so wonderful…I completely empathise with the ‘I wish I could complain about that’ feeling when you see successful audiences waxing lyrical about protocol!

    Reply
    1. Kirsten Krauth March 4, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      Thanks so much Megan, yeah, I guess you get jaded as you move through the publishing world if you’re lucky enough to have a few books published. But I want to try to remember how exciting it was to get published the first time.

      Reply
  3. Jenny Ackland March 4, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this Kirsten. All good info and tips, and all best wishes to you for when your book comes out later this year. Now that I have an agent after several years of trying to get somewhere, my tip would be: don’t give up and don’t stop writing. I look forward to reading more about your experiences as you move through the process of being a published author. Very exciting!

    Reply
    1. Kirsten Krauth March 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks, Jenny. And congrats on getting an agent. I think it’s harder than getting published! Yes, the key is to not give up. It’s not easy sometimes but if the most important thing is the process, then you’ll keep on going.

      Reply
  4. angelasavage March 5, 2013 at 12:21 am

    Great post, Kirsten. Totally agree with an agent being an optional extra. I’m coming up for 10 years as a published author and I still don’t have one — although if anyone out there is interested, I’m free…

    Despite my occasional tweet/post about deadline stress, I have never lost the sense of privilege that goes with being a published author. I put the harshest edits in this context, too: someone is willing to devote time and energy to helping me improve my writing – WOW!

    Fingers crossed I will get to write my fourth novel as part of a university postgrad degree, though scores of feral ducks will need to agree to line up neatly for it to happen.

    Reply
    1. Kirsten Krauth March 5, 2013 at 12:55 pm

      I think agents are great obviously for the contractual obligations but if you can sort those out yourself, then you’re fine. Yes, I get the sense from you, Angela, that you REALLY love what you do, and wild horses couldn’t stop you from doing it. That’s the kind of passion that results in a fourth novel on the way…I’ve learnt so much from you and your blog and comments…

      Reply
      1. angelasavage March 6, 2013 at 12:07 am

        What a lovely thing to say, Kirsten. You’ve made my day.

        Reply
  5. Virginia Lloyd March 5, 2013 at 6:17 am

    Hi Kirsten,
    This is a great post – I was wondering how you’d feel about me reposting it on my website as a bit of client promotion and congratulations?!

    Reply
    1. Kirsten Krauth March 5, 2013 at 12:52 pm

      Sure, I always love to be reposted! I’m glad you weren’t upset by the agent comments:-)

      Reply
  6. Michael March 5, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    I’m a big fan of the Zoolander pose. I see you dialled it back quite a lot though. Looks more Magnum to me. You look great. Nice shot D !

    Reply
    1. Kirsten Krauth March 7, 2013 at 12:14 pm

      Yes, I have a Moroccan photo of you in Zoolander mode. I knew I should have kept the moustache!

      Reply
  7. nikki March 6, 2013 at 12:35 am

    unexpectedly, really, as i was not planning to write my memoir before at least another decade of personal distance (then of course it will be mind-blowing..) but this is another interesting post.
    I have a non-fiction project i initially put together for my son (it’s an early reader asperger’s manual). it’s in a very early stage but i would like to at least try to get it published at some point, as i think it fills a gap between picture books and more advance reading on the subject.
    as i am still shifting graphics and textbubbles around, i am wondering if that’s something i should only approach special needs publishing houses about or if more mainstream publishers are also opener for this type of thing now.. ?

    Reply
    1. Kirsten Krauth March 7, 2013 at 12:16 pm

      I would go for the niche marketing first. I’d also get in early before you do too much of the graphics work. I know for children’s publishers they often like to see the story/concept and choose their own designer/illustrator…

      Reply
      1. nikki March 11, 2013 at 11:42 pm

        Probably good advice.. I have been thinking that, with graphics. but it’s a big part of the project and i am a bit torn to give that out of hands..
        I have shown it to some other mothers of children on the spectrum and they gave me some interesting input. i think i will work through it all with a little bit of distance, and then see what publishers in Australia could be interested. maybe.
        (the thing is to actually go through with it too, right ?)

        Reply
  8. Peps March 8, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Whole his life my father have dreamed to write a fictional novel book. Now he is over 60 years and retired and soon he is publishing his first book 🙂 It has been a long way to get to this point. I’m so happy for him!

    Reply
    1. Kirsten Krauth March 10, 2013 at 3:52 pm

      How exciting for your father, and you! Tell me more! What is the name of the book and when is it coming out?

      Reply
      1. Peps March 10, 2013 at 9:41 pm

        I can’t tell the name yet. But the book is a fictive story which happens in 1400s’ Florence. It comes out at the end of the summer but I guess it’s published only in Finland.

        🙂

        Reply
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  10. annabelsmith March 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Great post Kirsten, and good advice. I especially agree with the first comment – I wrote my first novel as part of PhD and the guidance of my supervisor, Richard Rossiter, was invaluable. I definitely wouldn’t have made it to the end without him.

    I agree too about agents – though I’d love to have one, I managed to get my first two novels published without one.

    Reply
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