Some thoughts on treating characters as fictional people versus treating them as symbolic tools

When people create characters, they typically think of them either as fictional people or as collections of symbols used to comment on something outside the story.

Throughout my undergrad and postgrad studies, many lecturers and tutors treated characters as collections of symbols used to comment on something outside the story, usually after taking the step of conceptually breaking a society into categories - the most common categories being race/nationality, gender and socioeconomic class - and treating people like empty vessels into which combinations of these categories converge to play out a conflict between the conceptual categories, rather than between characters.

When a character is treated as a collection of orientations to a selection of categories, rather than as a fictional person, and a story is treated as a conflict between conceptual categories, rather than as a conflict between characters, character behaviour often then becomes treated as expressions of different magnitudes of orientations to categories, rather than the results of a fictional person functioning in the full context of being like a non-fictional person, and plot is often then treated as a series of fluctuations in orientations to categories, rather than showing the journey of a fictional person striving to achieve a psychological and physical goal.

Two common issues with characters-as-symbolic-tools kinds of approaches, other than that most readers treat characters as fictional people, are 1) that the resulting characters and plots are often disjointed and abstract, with little story momentum, and 2) that so many people tend to focus on such a small selection of conceptual categories for dividing up a society, and on so few orientations to these categories that huge numbers of stories cover the same ground and writers struggle not to produce another clich├ęd rehashing of the same subject matter people have experienced many times.

Lajos Egri, in his influential playwrighting book The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its basis in the creative interpretation of human motives, suggested taking into account biological, psychological and sociological factors when thinking about a character as a fictional person. A character’s biology includes such things as congenital physiology (physiology stemming from genetic characteristics), physiological changes over the course of the character’s life (for example, a character might exercise regularly and have a toned physique whereas another character might lead a much more sedentary lifestyle for years and have a pot belly, or a character might be an active and skilled thinker with a greater concentration of more highly connected neurons in their brain than a character who has built up fuzzy and passive thinking habits), changes in body chemistry due to diet and factors in the character’s environment (for example, a character who has low potassium levels while doing delicate surgery would be at risk of their hands shaking more than usual, or someone who has worked through the night in dark conditions and slept through the day for several weeks might have a higher than usual sensitivity to bright sunlight, and the brain and body chemistry of someone who just finished their sixth cup of coffee for the day will be noticeably different than if they had not drank any coffee for several days). A character’s psychology includes things such as sensation, perception (unconscious cognition), conception (conscious thought), memory, learning, motivation, intelligence, development over their lifespan, and so on. A character’s sociology relates to how they interact with other people (for example, how they interact with their family members, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, clients, social media contacts, random people they encounter in public, and so on). The cumulative effects of biological, psychological and sociological factors are inextricably intertwined and continually affect a character as a whole, rather than each area having its own isolated development in a character's life.

Treating characters as fictional people, coupled with a sophisticated knowledge of people, will naturally infuse the stories you write with coherence and sophistication without a lot of effort, allowing you to focus on the big decisions. Some of the best books I have come across for building skills in character development are psychology textbooks.
(Writers who are averse to examining scientific methodology, which is necessary to understand what has actually been observed and what reasoning has been used to infer things from that, preferring to just read conclusions and subsequent commentary, put themselves at a huge intellectual disadvantage. Inability to competently examine the methodology upon which conclusions are based will lead to encountering conflicting claims and not having any effective means of differentiating between them, with the result often being that people defer such judgements to other people then become susceptible to overt and covert campaigns of groups with vested interests in advocating some beliefs and discouraging other beliefs. If you want to create original and compelling characters as fictional people, it is advisable to have a sophisticated understanding of psychology, including biological bases of experience and behaviour, and how psychological factors can influence interactions between people.)

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Novel Writing Retreats Australia

Holiday Sale: 20-25% Off Novel Writing Retreats

Writers will receive 20-25% off the regular price of a novel writing retreat for 2014 at the retreat property located in Taroona, Tasmania (just south of Hobart), when you book by December 31, 2013.

Retreats to be held in February-July 2014 are 25% off and retreats to be held in August-November 2014 are 20% off.

For retreats to be held in February-July, this means:

A 9 day/8 night novel writing retreat where the attached novelist lives in Australia is down from AU$2300 to...

A 9 day/8 night novel writing retreat where the attached novelist lives outside Australia is down from AU$2600 to...

For retreats to be held in August-November, this means:

A 9 day/8 night novel writing retreat where the attached novelist lives in Australia is down from AU$2300 to...

A 9 day/8 night novel writing retreat where the attached novelist lives outside Australia is down from AU$2600 to...

Retreats include accommodation at the retreat property, in your own room, and meals.

For the full line-up of attached novelists and dates, see the Attached Novelists page.

Upon completion of a retreat, you can also be admitted to the alumni network, with opportunities such as an annual alumni anthology with Momentum Books (Pan Macmillan Australia) to promote the writing of retreat alumni in multiple countries. There are no fees to remain part of the alumni network.

For more on what makes these retreats different from other writing retreats, see How Novel Writing Retreats Australia Is Different To Other Writing Retreat Providers.


You can book your place at a retreat via the Bookings page.

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Novel Writing Retreats Australia

Extra Advice For Breakout Novelist Scholarships Applicants

This is intended to provide some extra advice for Breakout Novelist Scholarships applicants, following the submission of draft applications from a range of applicants. It is intended to identify and clarify some general areas for improvement, not to offer praise for the good things in people's draft applications. Several of the applicants will also each receive personal feedback on their draft application via email.

Do not let enthusiasm for an issue get in the way of the storytelling.

Red flags tend to be triggered for me in respect to this when a story has a heavy emphasis on things like race, gender, class, disability or environmental politics, as this often means what follows will be an 'issues story'.

In academia there is the concept of a straw man argument ('man' in this context refers to mankind and has no bearing on whether someone is male or female), where someone presents a weak version of an idea they want to dispute or discredit and then, in the guise of an adversarial contest of ideas, proceeds to 'tear apart their straw man adversary'. If the antagonist of your story is all ignorance, simplistic thinking and flying spittle, and is in your story to be proven wrong or punished in order to advocate an opposing idea, you have turned your story into a straw man argument.

Two common problems with issues stories are:
1) the author's stance on the relevant issue tends to become apparent early on, leaving little suspense in going through the motions of reading the whole thing, and
2) if the main point is to convince readers not to be as ignorant and simplistic in thought as the antagonist, then it is only those more ignorant and more simplistic in thought than the protagonist who will gain any intellectual insight from the main point of your novel.

If you want to show the strengths of your protagonist, pitting them against a straw man antagonist is not an effective way to do it. There is a saying that your protagonist is only as strong as your antagonist. If you want to pit opposing ideas against one another in your story and you are personally on the side of only one of those ideas, I recommend presenting the strongest version you can of the other idea.

Do not let your research get in the way of the storytelling.

Remember that you are telling a story and not writing a non-fiction book. Explanations of things you find interesting may not necessarily be relevant to telling your story.

The plot of a novel is what you show of what your characters do in your story world in the order that you show it in the novel (whereas the story is what your characters do in your fictional story world whether you show it or not - many story details will be implied in the plot of a novel rather than shown to readers). A plot outline is just a summary of the plot.

Many novel writers consider writing a plot outline to be extremely difficult and do not know how to approach it. This does not have to be the case and it tends to be symptomatic of someone who has difficulty keeping their manuscript focused on a cohesive story and plot. There will of course be many more nuances that someone can only understand by reading the full text, but if people cannot get an appreciation of the main point of your novel manuscript and how you convey this from a verbal pitch or written plot outline then your manuscript is in trouble. In the feature film industry, it is common practice for screenwriters to write plot outlines. It is also common for readers at film production companies to produce their own plot outlines of screenplays they read, so producers have an overview to help determine if they want to go to the effort of beginning to read through the entire screenplay.

A straightforward way to create a plot outline is to just write a sentence of summary for each scene or chapter in your novel. Alternatively, you could break your manuscript into sections and write a paragraph of plot summary on each section.

Many novel writers have such difficulty with plot outlines that I will allow the plot outlines for the Breakout Novelist Scholarship applications to be 1-3 pages in length, so that anyone who has difficulty condensing the plot down to a single page can simply write a sentence of summary per scene or chapter, or a paragraph per section, without worrying too much about condense the plot.

If you want some guidance on plotting, you could give the following books a look (listed in no particular order):
The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives by Lajos Egri
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
Storytelling in The New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique by Kristin Thompson
Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach by Paul Joseph Gulino
Story Structure Architect: A Writer's Guide to Building Dramatic Situations and Compelling Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
Four Screenplays: Studies in the American Screenplay by Syd Field
The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers (3rd edition) by Christopher Vogler
Save The Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
Scene & Sequel (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Jack Bickham
Novelist's Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld
Poetics by Aristotle
The 36 Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti

Understand whose story you are telling and what that story is, then keep your focus on that story throughout your novel manuscript.

A storyline is specific to a single character. Even in a story that has an ensemble of main characters, each main character has their own storyline. Many amateur writers try to tell a story about a group and end up with a collection of events (or just interior monologues and descriptions) that do not coalesce into a cohesive story or plot.

Do not repeat yourself needlessly.

Strunk & White in The Elements of Style expressed this point as: Omit needless words. You do not need to write, "It was dark. Pitch black. She couldn't see." when you could simply start a sentence with, "Feeling her way through the dark room..." and offer more information while also progressing the plot.

Do not overuse adjectives.

This piece of advice has become commonplace since Stephen King's On Writing was published. It is worth repeating here. You do not need to write, "Feeling her way blindly through the dark room, she banged her bony shin sharply against the hard, wooden coffee table and groaned loudly into the pitch black darkness." when you could just write, "Feeling her way through the dark room, she banged her shin against the coffee table and groaned." Even the word "dark" in this sentence could be cut if the darkness is already evident from the context of the previous sentences.


Novel Writing Retreats Australia

Alumni Anthology

Momentum, a division of Pan Macmillan Australia that focuses primarily on digital publishing globally, has officially given in-principle agreement to publish a genre-themed anthology of the top short stories by Novel Writing Retreats Australia participants, where each short story is a spin-off from a novel project.

This in-principle agreement means that Momentum approves of the concept for the book and believes it can work but they reserve final publishing approval until they have read the stories.

This is being done with a view to making it the first in an annual series of anthologies helping to showcase and promote the work of Novel Writing Retreats Australia participants.

Royalties raised from this anthology and any future volumes in the series will be pooled together to market the contributing authors and their work in multiple countries. Participation in the anthology is also a good opportunity to get a foot in the door with Pan Macmillan Australia. For those who are still seeking agents or publishers for the novel manuscript you worked on in your retreat when the anthology is published, the anthology can help build a readership for your novel project and help get the attention of agents and publishers in multiple countries. For those who already have an agent and/or publisher for your novel project when the anthology is published, the anthology will grow your readership in multiple countries, and can help to sell rights for more countries and languages by growing your public profile in multiple countries. 

Any future volumes will also bring renewed attention to each volume in the series, providing ongoing boosts to each contributor's public profile for years after the release of the volume in which your story appears, as well as giving a boost to the pool of marketing funds each year. Since each story will relate to a novel manuscript, the anthology will also have a direct benefit for the promotion of each contributor's novel.

Each volume will have guidelines based around a genre-based theme to give the anthology cohesion, to deliver readers a whole book that appeals to them. The theme for the anthology will be developed in a way that provides lots of story possibilities for lots of retreat participants, to give as many of you as possible a good opportunity to fit a spin-off of your novel project into the guidelines for the anthology.

The preliminary plan is for the first anthology to contain 10 stories of 5000-6000 words each, with the following mix of contributors:
  - a minimum of seven retreat participants in 2014
  - a maximum of three established novelists attached to retreats in 2014

The preliminary plan for future volumes is the same but with the following mix of contributors:
  - a minimum of six retreat participants in the most recent year
  - a maximum of two retreat participants in previous years
  - a maximum of two established novelists attached to retreats in any year

This combines ongoing opportunities for alumni and stories by tried-and-tested novelists with existing readerships for their work. It also encourages alumni to engage with one another over the longer term and provides a strong pool of potential contributors for each volume.

There will be a pitching process for each anthology to help writers identify and refine story concepts appropriate for the anthology before going to the effort of writing stories in full, and also some support afterward to help writers make good use of any stories that do not make it into the anthology.


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You can book your place at a novel writing retreat via the Bookings page.


Novel Writing Retreats Australia

How Novel Writing Retreats Australia Is Different To Other Writing Retreat Providers

Retreats with Novel Writing Retreats Australia are different to a lot of other writing retreats.

The retreats are designed to be productive (as well as fun and a good opportunity to socialise with other novel writers).

As long as you apply yourself, you will complete at least 10-20 well thought out scenes in the Monday to Friday in the middle of your retreat, along with input, feedback and wider discussion from other novel writers along the way. This is a conservative minimum and many writers are more likely to complete about 20-40 well thought out scenes in that Monday to Friday period. If you are revising a completed draft, you might get through significantly more scenes, depending on the level of rewriting required. Similarly, you might get significantly more scenes written if you are writing in short scenes.

Many writing retreats involve drinking a lot of wine, eating a lot of food and chatting but not necessarily getting a lot done. As discussed on the Novel Writing Retreats page and in an article on Nicole Alexander's author website, retreats with Novel Writing Retreats Australia include 90 minute writing sessions twice a day for the Monday to Friday in the middle of a retreat, with more flexible opening and closing weekends. There are limits on the amount of alcohol at retreats, with no more than three standard drinks per person on any given day, in order to provide a pleasant and productive writing environment for everyone. There is, however, lots of good food and non-alcoholic drinks.

Writers are encouraged to dedicate each session to getting at least one or two well thought out scenes written, or perhaps more if you are writing in short scenes or are comfortable writing at a faster pace. If you are revising a complete draft, you may be comfortable dedicating each session to rewriting significantly more scenes, depending on the level of rewriting required.

Importantly, you also get plenty of free time to relax, socialise, read, learn from the resources at the retreat property, explore the local area and work on your novel-in-progress.

You get personalised feedback, discussion and assistance from writers familiar with your novel-in-progress (as well as a grounding in various aspects which come together to make a good novel).

Novel Writing Retreats Australia provides a retreat facilitator, Steve Rossiter (who runs a number of prominent Australian and multi-national book blogs with regular contributions from bestselling and major-award winning novelists, has studied writing to Masters level, has edited and published a number of short story collections, and is currently writing a teen novel set in 1939 Poland), and an established novelist from Australia or overseas to provide guidance throughout your retreat. These two writers attached to your retreat, together with your fellow retreat participants, provide a wealth of experience in various facets of writing, editing and publishing novels. There are a range of different novelists attached to retreats throughout the year, allowing you to choose one who suits you and your novel-in-progress.

Each 90 minute writing session is preceded by a 20-30 minute lesson on an aspect of novel writing, and a 20-30 minute planning session with a retreat facilitator and an established novelist circulating amongst six writers; and is followed by a 20-30 minute group discussion. You are also encouraged to bring along the kind of novel proposal you might send to an agent or publisher, to share and refine during the opening weekend of your retreat. If you have difficulty preparing such a novel proposal prior to your retreat, you will be provided assistance during the opening weekend to clarify your story and how you want to write it.

Many writing retreats offer a quiet and comfortable place to write, maybe with some nice scenery and a lounge room where the participating writers can socialise. Some retreats have a writer or two attached, and maybe some lessons or critique sessions throughout the retreat. It is much less common to get in-depth help from someone familiar with your novel-in-progress. I don't mean someone who reads a manuscript, or part of a manuscript, and then gives you a half hour consultation to go through their notes. Such an approach, in the absence of a full plot outline and detailed discussion about what you are aiming to do with your novel and how you are aiming to achieve it, typically leads to generic advice that you could get from a book. In particular, someone giving feedback based on just reading part of a manuscript typically leads to a focus on the language and setting of your story because the person giving feedback does not know enough about the character development, plot or theme over the full length of the manuscript. I mean discussing your story and how it is written with you before and after your writing sessions each morning and afternoon, while helping you refine not just the language and setting used in your writing but also the story, characters, plot and theme, as well as the role of readers in comprehending and attributing meaning to your writing.

Many writing retreats are only around five days in duration, meaning that even when they have a novelist or two attached who are actively engaged with retreat participants it is difficult for them to get to know each retreat participant and their writing project in detail, especially in the absence of a full plot outline to accompany the manuscript. A nine day/eight night retreat, capped at six writers, is a much more suitable arrangement to facilitate in-depth discussion about your novel-in-progress.

The retreats are held in a dedicated novel writing retreat property.

Novel Writing Retreats Australia provides a retreat property optimised for novel writing retreats in a way that general writing retreat properties or general venues just hired for the duration of a retreat are not. The retreats feature novel writing resources exclusive to the retreats, real novel outlines by published novelists (which are not usually made public but have been provided by the authors for use in hard copy at the retreats) along with analyses of scenes and chapters from the published novels, books relevant to writing and storytelling for novelists (including books on writing for theatre, movies and TV which also have relevance for novel writing), novel writing software, a writing desk in each writer's room (as well as other reading and writing nooks around the property), visual inspiration cards to help get ideas flowing, etc.

The retreats have an alumni network providing support and professional opportunities long after your retreat has finished, without charging for ongoing alumni membership.

Upon completion of a retreat with Novel Writing Retreats Australia, each writer and each established novelist attached to a retreat will be allowed free entry to the alumni network. Some writing retreats charge their alumni members $100 or more per year to remain part of their alumni network. Novel Writing Retreats Australia has no alumni membership fees.

The benefits of the alumni network will begin with a private Facebook group, a newsletter twice per year and an annual anthology. Over time, it will expand to cover things like face-to-face meet ups and professional opportunities.

With every member of the alumni network having the minimum background of completing a novel writing retreat, the alumni network will have a membership with a strong commitment to novel writing and a shared grounding in various aspects that come together to make a good novel.

With up to six new writers and one new established novelist attached to a retreat eligible to enter the alumni network at the end of each retreat (and with 13 retreats in 2014), the alumni network will receive regular injections of new members who have built strong connections with one another and who are familiar with one another's work, providing the basis for a supportive and dynamic alumni network. Strong areas among the established novelists attached to retreats in 2014 include historical novels, teen novels, adventure novels, novels set in Australia, novels set in Europe and novels with British settings or British characters. As time goes on, the areas of strength amongst the novelists attached to retreats will grow in depth and breadth. 2015 should see the addition of some strong science fiction and fantasy expertise, and some more editing expertise. Five of the novelists attached to retreats for 2014 live in Australia and five live in the UK. 2015 should see the addition of some who live in the US, and maybe some who live in Canada, Ireland, New Zealand or other countries.


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Novel Writing Retreats Australia

International Sale (the US/Canada and the UK/Ireland)

Novel Writing Retreats Australia is not just for Australian writers. Engaging with writers and readers around the world, as well as with the global publishing industry, is part of the ethos at Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

As a catalyst to fuel multi-national connections between writers, people living in the US/Canada and the UK/Ireland are eligible for 30% off the regular price of a novel writing retreat at the retreat property located in Taroona, Tasmania (just south of Hobart).

This means:

A 9 day/8 night novel writing retreat where the attached novelist lives in Australia is down from AU$2300 to...

A 9 day/8 night novel writing retreat where the attached novelist lives outside Australia is down from AU$2600 to...

Retreats include accommodation at the retreat property, in your own room, and meals.

The sale goes until October 31, 2013, or while stock lasts.

The sale includes all retreats to be held in 2014. For the full line-up of attached novelists and dates, see the Attached Novelists page.

Upon completion of a retreat, you can also be admitted to the alumni network. There are no fees to remain part of the alumni network.

For instructions on how to purchase a retreat at the sale price, email including proof of residency in the US, Canada, the UK or Ireland. This could be something like a scanned image or photo of a current driver's license, student card or other ID card indicating your country of residence. You are welcome to cover the street address, date of birth and/or ID number if you have any privacy concerns, so long as your name and country are visible.

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Novel Writing Retreats Australia

Writing A Novel Proposal: Author Background

The personal background of a novelist can be a strong factor in convincing agents, publishers and readers of the likelihood of that novelist's ability to write a particular story well. This has to be backed up by the writing itself, but without a good articulation of an author's background agents, publishers and readers may not get as far as reading the writing itself.

By personal background I mean details relevant to a novelist's writing and storytelling, their ability to write particular stories well and their ability to connect readers with these stories.

This is the fourth of four articles addressing the four steps in the application process for the Breakout Novelist Scholarships (Australia) and the Breakout Novelist Mentorships (Tasmania).

First article: Writing A Novel Proposal: Concept
Second article: Writing A Novel Proposal: Outline
Third article: Writing A Novel Proposal: First 2500-3000 Words
Fourth article: Writing A Novel Proposal: Author Background

So, what makes a good articulation of an author's background?

You don't have to address each point below in turn, but the points below are the kinds of things I'll be looking for in an author background statement.

I want you to convince me that you’re dedicated to writing novels and that you’ve got a good idea of what’s involved in writing novels, so I’ll be convinced that you are likely to finish a novel manuscript that will work well as a novel.

Maybe you’ve already had a novel published. Maybe you’ve written a novel manuscript that hasn’t sold but which has taught you a lot about writing novels. Maybe you read a lot and have written some reviews to which you can link to demonstrate your knowledge and opinions about how novels work.

I want you to convince me that you have genuine knowledge to underpin your storytelling.

Some people think that declaring a fanatical passion for writing and reading fiction is what people want to hear from them as a novelist. More important to me is that you have a significant depth and breadth of genuine knowledge to draw from to write your stories. If you’re writing a sci fi novel, I’d be more interested to read that you have a Science degree than a degree in Literature (I can get an indication of your literary ability from your novel proposal). If you’re writing a teen novel, I’d be more interested to read something about your time spent with teenagers than that you have a Creative Writing degree (as your novel proposal will give a good indication of your creative writing ability).

If you don't demonstrate your storytelling ability, underpinned by genuine knowledge, and skills in written expression in your novel proposal, no amount of qualifications, prizes, positions held, memberships of professional organisations or other similar things can ever be an adequate substitute for the actual writing and storytelling. A vast majority of readers would prefer to read a well-written story by a writer with a high school education than a poorly-written story by a professor with a long list of awards.

I want you to convince me that you’ll be able to connect readers with your novel when it’s published.

Don't be daunted by this if you're an unpublished writer. It's much more important to have something worth connecting readers with, which many readers will then recommend to other readers, than how many people you can reach yourself.

Part of this relates to how easy you can make it for a publisher to connect readers with your novel because you’re the author and part relates to your own ability to connect readers with your novel.

Many readers, booksellers, book journalists, book reviewers and so on will get a first impression of a novelist from a short bio somewhere such as on the back of a book, in a media release, in a publisher’s catalogue, attached to an online article or interview, on the bio page of an author website, in an announcement for an author event, in a session guide for a literary festival and so on. I want to get a sense of what might go into your brief bio to convince readers that you’re a great person to write the kind of novel you’re writing. An enticing bio will convince people of the likelihood that you are a great person to write the kind of novel you’re writing. This should be based on substance that checks out if looked into further, not wordplay and things designed to sound more impressive than they actually are when examined more closely.

Under-promise and over-deliver, so people get a pleasant surprise rather than disappointment when they look further into your author background; be honest; and don't try to talk yourself up with fancy-sounding titles that don't actually mean much. People will know that you didn't sell a million copies of a previous book when there is no record of it being on any major bestseller list, there are no reviews in major newspapers, it has an Amazon rank of around 4,000,000, it has a Facebook page following of 200 for a page that has been active for 3 years, there is no mention of these million sales on the publisher's website (since that's something a publisher would want people to know), etc. It may sound impressive to some to say you are the Editor in Chief of a literary journal (that reaches maybe 100 or 200 readers a year, many of whom are involved with the journal in some way or are friends of those who are - meaning many of those reached are probably less interested in the content than their own connection to people involved in producing the content) but having your own blog with good content (that reaches several thousand readers a year, who read the content and are actually interested in it) may be a much more impressive achievement. You could call yourself the CEO, Creative Director and Marketing Director of a company set up to sell your novels, but if that really amounts to being an aspiring novelist working on a first draft and trying to get the hang of a few social media sites, industry professionals are very likely to see through the titles to the actual situation, and to consider the overstatement as a negative. There's nothing wrong with being a new writer. It may even mean people are willing to give your novel a chance because they haven't already formed any negative opinions about your writing. Just don't try to artificially dress it up as something else. Publishers won't want to publish your novel and then see you publicly making inflated claims that disappoint when people scratch beneath the surface. When I run short story competitions, often a 13 or 15 year old writer will have a better story than a published writer with an advanced degree, because the teenage writer is focussed on telling a good story whereas the other writer has learned a lot of bad writing habits, is trying to push a message on readers, has an overstretched workload, is more concerned about publicising their writing than developing their writing skills, etc.

Your own ability to connect readers with your novel, often referred to as your author platform, tends to include things such as having a central place online where people can find details about you and your writing, your ability to reach readers on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, your search engine performance, your ability to attract media coverage, your ability to attract people to author events and so on. If you don’t have a strong author platform, you’d better have an appealing personal background - or, even better, a well-written story - to make things easy for publishers or you might struggle to attract major publishers. Ideally, you will have all these things working together. If you want a major publisher to invest in your novel, it's a good idea to convince them that it will be a wise investment.

Ultimately, if you have a well-written story publishers can do things like get endorsement quotes from established novelists and carry out a publicity campaign to help convince readers to give your novel a chance even if you're an unknown first-time novelist - but if you can amplify publishers' efforts and initiate your own, your novel will be more appealing for them to publish.

I want you to convince me that you’ll work well with editors and book publicists.

If you understand what editors and book publicists do and why they do it, you will be better able to perform your part of the publishing process as a novelist.

If you create less work for an editor, they’ll have more time to focus on the more sophisticated elements of your novel manuscript. If your novel manuscript requires lots of editing, it will be relatively less attractive to publish your work than to publish that of another author whose work requires less editing. If you don’t have a good understanding of what works for readers and if you challenge editors because you want to keep stuff that doesn’t work so well, that may cost a publisher more in editing time and devalue your novel if stuff that doesn’t work well is left in - or they may be unwilling to publish your work without the changes.

Writing a novel manuscript is only part of the publishing process. Having readers willing to purchase the end products of a novel manuscript (print books, ebooks, audiobooks, translations into other languages, film and TV adaptations, etc) is a major part of being able to make a living as a novelist. If a major publisher takes on your novel, they might make a significant commitment to attracting readers to your novel. If you have your own capacity to attract readers, or a good attitude and a willingness to learn, this will make your novel a more attractive proposition for major publishers. If you can make your capacity to attract readers work together with the capacities of publishers, that's even better.


What I'm looking for in novel proposals for the Breakout Novelist Scholarships (Australia) and the Breakout Novelist Mentorships (Tasmania) are not just projects with strong potential to be commercially published with mainstream publishers. I'm looking for projects with strong potential to really stand out and connect with readers in deep and enduring ways once they're published.

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Novel Writing Retreats Australia