Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
May 2011

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER


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Amra Pajalic is the author of The Good Daughter, a young adult novel published by Text in 2009. She holds a Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing from the Melbourne Council of Education. In the first of what we hope will be a series of articles, Amra offers aspiring writers advice to help them break into the competitive world of writing. 

Insider Tips

This article aims to provide you with information on how to find markets for your writing and how to submit your work for both short story and novel. My pointers are based on what worked for me, and what I have gleaned from speaking to professionals in the industry. I hope you’ll find them useful. 

One of the great benefits of my writing course was learning how to navigate the publishing world, something these writing courses excel at. There are drawbacks of course: the emphasis on professional writing opportunities that are paid only, and the competitive nature of being in a roomful of aspiring writers who see anyone else’s success as an obstacle to their own—but that’s another topic for another article.

Finding markets for your writing

There are numerous ways you can find markets for your writing:

  1. Join a writing centre or writing organisation in your state. You will receive a monthly newsletter that will list submission opportunities and guidelines.
  2. Go on-line and research submission opportunities by Googling short story competitions or going to websites that list this information.
  3. Buy books like the Writer’s Marketplace or a directory listing writing opportunities. There is a downside—the information will eventually become outdated.
  4. Enrol in a TAFE or university writing course where you will be introduced to market opportunities and taught professional practices.
  5. Submit your work to short story competitions. Once you are on their mailing list they’ll send you entry forms to future competitions.

Researching your market

Before submitting any work you need to take the time to research the market. This means reading the publication you want to submit to, understanding what they are looking for, and then, when you have found the right fit, submitting your work.

The Novel

If you are submitting a novel, read widely in the genre. Get a feel for what is presently on the market, what has done well, and where the untapped niche market exists that you can contribute to.

Read the acknowledgements of novels that match your manuscript and discover the agents and editors who are responsible for bringing this work to the market.

Your manuscript needs to contribute to the market, be something new and unique. You don’t want to market yourself as the next Stephen King because, after all, there already is one. But you do need a term of reference to market your book, as a form of shorthand, when submitting to agents and/or publishers.

For example, when I submitted my young adult novel The Good Daughter, I compared it to Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Ali Brandi and Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Does My Head Look Big in This? Both of these books are seminal young adult novels. My book The Good Daughter had the ‘outsider to her culture’ angle similar to Marchetta’s novel; and a Muslim community perspective reflected in Abdel-Fattah’s novel.

Short Story

Submitting short stories is a great way to develop your craft, build up a portfolio and learn how to professionally prepare submissions, not to mention developing a thick skin that a writer needs, as you learn to live with the inevitable rejections.

Short story publication opportunities in Australia are shrinking and short story competitions are the way to gain exposure. There are numerous  competitions sponsored by local councils, universities, publishing companies, journals, bookshops and writing organisations.

Some of the short story competitions have an entry fee, some don’t. In some instances you will need to weigh up whether the entry fee is worthwhile compared to the prize involved.

To maximise your chances, when submitting to short story competitions, you should read the previous winning entries. These days you might be able to do this on-online. Some competition organisers sell anthologies with the winning stories that include the judges’ report. Wherever you can, buy these anthologies and examine them.

Research the judges: read their work and find out what their writing style is, and what type of themes they explore in their own writing. Submit a short story that you feel best matches their personal style to your chances of winning, or being shortlisted.

In most instances, organisers only inform entrant winners. Track the date when the winners will be announced so that you know whether you have won or not. If there is an awards ceremony drop your sour grapes attitude and attend. You will find out what the judges were looking for and, hopefully, hear the winning entries. This is all part of the learning process.

If you wish to submit to a journal, you must read the journal. You can either subscribe, or read it in a library. Most educational libraries or the writer’s centre will have copies of the journal. Get a feel for the type of fiction they publish and submit a story that matches this style.

Submitting

When you are ready to submit your work, there are formatting guidelines you need to adhere to. Now is not the time to develop a gimmick, or format your submission so it stands out. Your aim is to present a professional submission that will be taken seriously by editors; this gives you the best chance of being considered.

Basic formatting guidelines are:

  • 2.5 cm margins
  • 12 point Arial or Times New Roman Font
  • double spaced
  • indent first line of paragraph or a hard return at the end of a paragraph
  • cover sheet
  • use paper clips to hold the story together, or rubber band for a manuscript
  • list title and author name in the header
  • page number and number of total pages in the footer
  • indicate the beginning of your story by making the first three words capped
  • include a hash at the end of the story to indicate the end

NOTE: When submitting an entry to a short story competition DO NOT include your name on your short story. Short story entries should be anonymous. The organisers track your story through your title and an entry number allocated in their internal administration system.

Submitting on-line

If submitting for on-line publications, the above information applies but also attempt to format your story according to their formatting. This will make it easier for the publication to publish your work.

Fiction cover sheet:

The basic information listed on your cover sheet should be:

  • Title
  • word count
  • name of author
  • copyright to author
  • rights you are offering-Australian First Rights for Australia, World Rights for International markets
  • contact details

Cover letter:

Always include a cover letter with your work. The cover letter should have the following information:

  • Contact details
  • Story information: Supply the following: title, word count, genre, one-line description
  • Novel information- word count, genre, one or two paragraph pitch describing your novel
  • Publication credits: Include your publication achievements but keep it brief. One or two should suffice. If you have more than that to choose from select the achievements that best reflect the genre you are submitting to
  • Submission guidelines requirements: If there is special information that needs to be provided as per the submission guidelines such as a bio, declaration or SSAE, mention this

The best of luck with your submission.


Amra Pajalic
   
Editor’s Note:
Here’s what the Canberra Times had to say about Amra’s debut novel.

‘A funny and challenging debut novel that has been described as the Bosnian answer to Looking for Ali Brandi.” “The Good Daughter is a gritty and enjoyable novel, at times unflinching and dramatic.’


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