The Memories of Us - UK Paperback Release

I’m so excited to let you all know that The Memories of Us is now available in the UK (and Canada) in paperback and as an audiobook!

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ABOUT THE BOOK

One moment can change your life

When Gracie Ashcroft wakes after a crash with severe amnesia, she must choose whether to live a life through other people’s memories or to start a new life all her own.

Discovering her late mother left her an old flower farm, Gracie leaves her fiancé, best friend and the home full of forgotten memories behind, hoping to learn who she is now.

Torn between wishing she could remember and afraid of losing what she now has, Gracie starts to wonder: if you had your time over, would you live the same life twice?

The feel-good novel that fans of Lucy Dillon and Ruth Hogan will love.

Meet Real-Life Flower Farmer, Danielle White of Crofters Fold Estate, Victoria

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Writing The Memories That Make Us involved lots of flower research and over the months I toiled away at this book, I stumbled across countless amazing flower growers, farmer-florists, floral designers, and flower schools that make up our amazing floral industry. Since then, I've been able to form some special connections with members of the bloom-loving community and for something a little different, I've decided to showcase some of them and their inspiring work on my blog.

The first person I'm introducing you to is Danielle White. She and her husband, Ashley, run their very own Rose & Peony Farm in the region where The Memories That Make Us is set. Danielle is also a founding member of a consortium dedicated to the Australian Slow Flower Movement. (Think Slow Food, but flowers!) This collective of artisanal, small-scale flower farmers, are committed to low-tox, sustainable blooms in-line with a "grown not flown" philosophy. Already, with the book freshly gracing shelves in stores, I've received messages from readers telling me that they never knew flower farming was a thing, and had never really given any thought to where our fresh blooms come from. So it's my pleasure to welcome Danielle to the blog and hope you enjoy this Q&A with her!

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1. Tell us about your work with flowers

My husband and I are micro flower farmers; we farm perfumed paddock Roses and Peonies using sustainable bee-friendly farming methods.

Our aim is to grow consistently high-quality cut-flower blooms for weddings, events, gatherings and everyday flower lovers!

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"It's their unseen beauty that makes the flowers special. They have the power to change the circumstances of someone’s life."

2. What inspired you to follow this career path?

We are lucky to live in a region where local and seasonal are celebrated and embraced. Our climate is perfect for Peonies (hooray!) and Roses. We also produce Sparkling Wine, so Roses and vines are a perfect match as Roses help indicate the health of your vines as they can experience similar disease and pest issues.

3. In The Memories That Make Us, Gracie says: "It's their unseen beauty that makes the flowers special. They have the power to change the circumstances of someone’s life." Do you agree with this notion, and what does this statement mean to you?

Absolutely Gracie; you are spot on! We have to be in among our Roses and Peonies every day - it makes us realise that we are only a small part of a big universe; so in this way they are soul food. When you’re down, sorrowful, elated, in love - flowers have a way of connecting to your very self. Being close to Nature, choosing to be responsible for nurturing something that really is a miracle of life, brings a calmness and purpose and helps put things into perspective for us; everything has its season.

"When you’re down, sorrowful, elated, in love - flowers have a way of connecting to your very self."

4. Were there any elements of the book that particularly resonated with you in terms of your work as a flower farmer or advocate for the "Slow Flower" farming movement?

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As well as asking us to ponder the wonderful question, ‘Do you make your memories or do your memories make you? there were several poignant moments in the book that resonated with us (yes, AJW Esq. and I both read and enjoyed it). As flower farmers, we felt drawn to when Gracie first reacquaints herself with Summerhill flower farm, “Summerhill spans five acres, and currently, most of the paddock space is covered with waist-high weeds, overgrown grass and bare trees with carpets of soggy leaves at their feet that need to be cleared.” When we first moved to Crofters Fold it was overrun with gorse, broom, thistles, weeds and suckering introduced species of trees. It took the best part of the first four years to get on top of it all before we could turn our minds and our bodies to realising our dreams of a Rose and Peony paddock. Six years later, and in our second harvest season, and we feel just like Gracie, “I’m overcome with a knowing that this place belongs to me as much as I belong to it.”

As an advocate for and ambassador of Australia’s “Slow Flower” farming movement, The Memories That Make Us introduces readers to the wonderful world of sustainable, local, flower farming (and the hard work that it takes to help Mother Nature create the best version she can of her inherent natural beauty) and the benefits to the farmer, the community, the giver, the receiver of supporting those who make a mindful living growing beautiful, seasonal, grown not flown and safe to sniff flowers.

5. How have flowers impacted your life and the lives of those around you?

Since having our Rose and Peony farm, and even during all the hard work leading up to creating it, AJW Esq. and I have found ourselves more at peace and in tune with the seasons and our surrounds. We are mindful and respectful that we are not the ‘Master’ here; Mother Nature is and always will be. We have met some truly wonderful folks who share our passion for flowers (including Vanessa) and we really couldn’t do it without wonderful local florists, designers, brides and flower lovers who care about how their flowers are grown and the people who grow them.

If you are on Instagram, you definitely want to follow Crofters Fold. Their feed is GORGEOUS!

Other places to visit: http://www.croftersfold.com.au & www.consortiumbotanicus.com

The Memories That Make Us is now available from all good book retailers or you can purchase a copy online here.

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Dr Danielle White and her husband Ashley produce a small-batch artisanal Sparkling Blanc de Noirs and farm 500 Roses and 240 Peonies at Crofters Fold Estate, nestled amongst the granite hills of Pipers Creek on the outskirts of Kyneton

Danielle is also a Founding Member of Consortium Botanicus – a collaborative initiative to help raise awareness of Australia’s blossoming ‘slow flower’ floriculture.


Prior to farming Roses and Peonies for the cut-flower market, Danielle spent fifteen years at the University of Melbourne, which culminated in the successful attainment of PhD, MA (Women’s Studies), Graduate Diploma (Women’s Health), Graduate Diploma (Health Education and Promotion) and a BA (Honours). Following her academic career, Danielle spent a decade working as a freelance writer for The Age and glossy magazines, most recently she was commissioned to write a local history book, published 2014.
From 2012 – 2016, Danielle was also co-owner of her family’s organic paddock-to-plate beef business which earned Danielle a nomination in the 2014 ‘100 Women in Australian Agribusiness’ (WIAA) awards and a family partnership nomination as a National Finalist in the 2013 Australian Farmer of the Year Awards hosted by ABC Rural.


In 2017, Danielle was awarded an Agribusiness Fellowship by Melbourne’s International Specialised Skills Institute, which will see her travel overseas in 2019 to research, observe and collaborate with best-practice flower farmers. Danielle aims to use her Fellowship to help raise awareness of and celebrate the sustainable, holistic, bee-friendly ‘floral fabric’ of the Daylesford Macedon region and, ultimately, Australia.

Writing Retreats and Why I Love Them


Some of you that follow me on Facebook and Instagram would know that last October, I hosted my second writing retreat in Daylesford, Victoria, alongside my friend and fellow author, Lisa Ireland. Like so many things in life that surprise us, the decision to co-host with Lisa came about by total accident. A mutual friend of ours knew that both Lisa and myself were thinking of holding separate retreats in Australia, and believe it or not, we were both thinking of hosting our retreats in Daylesford. For those of you unfamiliar with Daylesford, it’s a popular tourist town, famous for its day spas and mineral springs. It’s a go-to destination for girl’s weekends and couples retreats. It has a lovely relaxing vibe to it, perfect for a retreat. (I also happened to set my novel, The Memories That Make Us in Daylesford, which is how much I love this town, but that’s another story!)

As far as serendipity goes, once our mutual friend  (Tess Woods) suggested (ahem, insisted) Lisa and I talk about our plans to see if we might like to combine efforts and host together, we quickly realised (during our two hour phone conversation) that we had been planning on hosting our retreats at the exact same location. In fact, we’d chosen the exact same house. By the time we hung up the phone, we knew we were going to do this together.

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 Lisa had some great ideas for workshops she could bring to the table and before we knew it we were going to offer a program that offered support to writers not only in terms of craft and technique but also mindset and goals, that balanced our respective knowledge and passions.

We welcomed a group of six writers on retreat, plus special guest author, Sally Hepworth who shared lots of tips with the attending writers. Our writers made lots of progress on their projects. Our writers were challenged, but I think it’s safe to say that everyone went home feeling inspired and more confident than before and it’s hard to describe what an amazing feeling it was to wave goodbye to our ‘students’ knowing we had made a positive difference to their writing lives. (Such a total honour!) 

“Vanessa and Lisa are excellent teachers. They’re also the most involved and encouraging mentors I’ve ever had. The retreat was excellent value because of their boots-and-all attitude, their care, interest and knowledge. I came away feeling like I had a really good chance of completing my novel to a standard worthy of seeking publication.” - Carla Simmons

The other special part of hosting retreats is that I go away feeling inspired. In supporting other writers, and offering encouragement to them, I hear myself speaking words of reassurance. They serve as a reminder to me when I inevitably experience some of the same challenges writers on my retreat do. Not only that, when writers on retreat make progress, I’m reminded of the magic of creative expression. I can’t take credit for all the lightbulb moments and transformation, but being a small part of it gives me a lovely sense of purpose which means I really do have a great job!

Lisa and I are heading back to Daylesford in April from the 15th - 20th for five nights. 

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Daylesford Retreat 2017

Writers who come on retreat receive personalised feedback on their work as well as a chance to ask as many questions as they like. In the evenings, we usually choose a topic of interest to discuss, whether it’s pitching to agents and/or publishers, or sharing our individual writing journeys. Plus, there’s lots of good food, and wine, and friendships to be made. 

I know that I would have loved the chance to do something like this before I was published, which is just another reason it gives me a lot of joy to offer these retreats. I want writers who come along to my retreats to go home feeling inspired and supported, and more determined than ever to reach whatever goals they set. 

If you’d like to come along in April, we have some spots still available. Or if Tuscany is a dream travel destination for you, and September is better timing, maybe you’d like to join me there. You can find all the info on the retreat website: www.yourbeautifulwritinglife.com

Happy Writing! 

Writers, win lunch with me!

Thanks to all the writers that entered! The winners of this competition have now been selected. Congratulations Nardia S and Michelle P!

Something that brings me a lot of joy and a sense of purpose is working with other writers. Most of you know I host regular writing retreats in Australia and Italy, and this really came about because I love to travel and I also find it really rewarding to support other authors on their creative journeys.

Over the summer holidays I started giving a lot of thought to ways I can do more in this space, and I've set an intention to do a bit more blogging about writing. The book I'm working on at the moment got me thinking a lot about the work we do and how it impacts others in a positive way, and I'd also like to give a little more. Writing is a gift and allows me to share my words with readers, but it also allows me to give back to the writing community I love so much.

So, I've come up with a giveaway I hope those of you that are writers will like!

How would you and one other lucky writer like to join me for lunch* where we can spend a couple of hours chatting about writing? You can ask me questions and I'll share what I know with you. I'll also be offering feedback* on five pages of work (fiction only) and will follow up our lunch with a 60 minute coaching session over phone or Skype.

I'm so excited about offering this giveaway and I can't wait to see your entries and read about your writing goals and dreams! Good luck!

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*If you aren't local to me, you can still enter, but we will spend our 'lunch time' in our respective homes (possibly in our PJs!) and we will chat over Skype instead.

This giveaway is open only to my newsletter subscribers. If you're not on the list, you can sign up via the link below. 

For your chance to win, fill out the below form. 

*Winners will be announced on the 28th February and lunch will take place at a mutually agreed time in April or May 2018 at a location decided upon by me. Pages for feedback must be submitted by 30th March and feedback will be provided by 30th April 2018. General feedback will be provided in written form as a letter. Skype coaching sessions must be booked by 31st May 2018.

 

 

 

When Writing A Novel Feels Too Big & Overwhelming

I knew I wanted to be an author long before I wrote my debut novel, The Florentine Bridge. Writing a book was something that I put off for a long time though (YEARS), for a number of different reasons. Firstly, I had no idea whether I actually could write a novel. The mere thought of sitting down to write thousands and thousands of words, while making sure I had a handle on pacing, characterisation, plot, dialogue, conflict, and more, was overwhelming. (It still is.) Sure, I'd written and sold nonfiction freelance pieces--seeing my words in print was a thrill, but tackling a full length novel seemed so out of reach.

Besides, I didn't know what to write.

I'm not sure why, but back then I was holding onto the belief that in order to write a book, I needed to have a fully formed idea. What I learnt since writing my first book, is that fully formed ideas don't usually fall from the sky in a miraculous surge of inspiration. (Unless you're really lucky.)

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Taking an idea and making something of it with words and language and the magic of using one's imagination was something I dearly loved, and one day I decided I just couldn't put off any longer. So I took a tiny idea and started writing my book.

It sold. It was published. It appeared on bookshelves. It was translated into a foreign language and it was made into an audiobook. And it came from nothing. Well, not from nothing. It came from a tiny idea, a single thread. It came from the place where creativity and inspired action meets. Action. You must take action and you must keep showing up, even when it’s hard and you feel like the finish line is so far away you’ll never make the distance. But you can and you will if you keep going. While not all manuscripts will go on to be published or sold, you can’t publish or sell a dream. You need to take steps to work towards it, casting judgement and fear aside as best you can while you spend time creating.

For my second book, The Memories That Make Us, I started with another tiny idea, that came to me in the form of a question. If I had my time over, would I live the same life twice? All it takes, is ONE TINY IDEA, and from there, you build. You build your story and premise, you build your characters, you build your conflict. Of course not all writers work the same way of course, but this might help some of you that are struggling to make a start.

My advice to those of you feeling overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of work involved in writing a book is this: Start with the first word, then the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter. And build from there. If you get stuck, ask yourself this question: What happens next? Pause, breathe, listen, and keep writing. You can always revise and shape and edit later. Focus on getting comfortable with your writing. Get those writing muscles working, find your voice, and before you know it, you'll be closer to the words The End than you were yesterday, or last week, or last month.

Good luck!

P.S. I've recently finished the second draft of what I hope will be my third published novel. I don't know what I'm going to write next. One tiny idea...

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P.P.S The Memories That Make Us is in-stores from the 19th February 2018! To order your copy go here!

Book Club Visits for THE MEMORIES THAT MAKE US!

Have I ever told you that I LOVE book clubs? The Australian/New Zealand release of The Memories That Make Us (in-stores 19th February 2018) isn’t far away and if you haven’t added it to your book club list, now is a great time to do that because I have openings for book club visits from March through to May! I can attend via Skype or in-person for those of you in Melbourne. I’ll even bring flowers and wine! Get in touch via my contact page for more info or to set a date! 

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Announcing a New Writing Retreat in Tuscany for 2018!

I'm so excited to be hosting another writing retreat next September in Tuscany! As you all know, Florence is one of my favourite cities in the world, and we had such a fantastic time last year on retreat. It was one of the most memorable weeks of my life. I feel so blessed not only to be writing, but to be supporting other writers around me. It brings me so much joy and I can't wait to welcome another group of writers into my retreat family. While I know it's a dream for writers to attend a retreat like this, it's a dream for me to be able to host one. Witnessing the kind of light bulb moments, new connections, and the sense of empowerment and motivation writers experience on retreat is magical.

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Spending time on a retreat like this not only is a nod to the universe saying you're ready to put your craft and your passion at the forefront of your life, it's also an act of self-love. Over the years I have worked to build a life around my writing and I am so much happier for it. Nurturing creativity is an essential part of wellbeing in my opinion!

The first applications for this retreat are already in, and there are limited places available. So if you're interested, you can find all the information on the retreat website. If you have any questions, email me. Always happy to chat! 

More here: www.yourbeautifulwritinglife.com

How to Find A Story Hook with Tess Woods

Today I've called on author, Tess Woods who is celebrating the launch of her newest novel, Beautiful Messy Love today (CONGRATULATIONS, TESS!), to share some of her advice on how to find a compelling hook for your story. 

Over to you, Tess!

‘What’s the hook?’

These were the first words my publisher asked me when I pitched her my last story.

‘What do you mean? I just told you my idea and shared with you this BRILLIANT new story I have bubbling in my head. That’s the hook! The hook is the staggeringly amazing plot I came up with.’

That’s what I thought in my head. What I replied was, ‘The hook, yeah, the hook. Riiiiight…’ while buying myself some thinking time.

In my mind, I didn’t need a hook. I had come up with what I thought was a fantastic new storyline. Surely that alone was more than enough to convince my publisher to jump on it. Nope. Not the case.

She patiently waited to hear THE HOOK. Grrrr.

So what exactly is a hook?

A hook is what will capture the imagination of your readers, what will make them want to keep reading it until the end because they have to know what happens. And the hook is also what you use to sell your book. It’s the angle that will pique people’s interest in your story.

If you have trouble coming up with the hook for your story, ask yourself:

What’s the question that your story asks with the answer found in its final pages?

Both of my books have the hook questions as the taglines on the front covers. In Love at First Flight, the hook is, ‘What if you met the love of your life and he wasn’t your husband?’ and in Beautiful Messy Love the hook is, ‘What happens when love and loyalty collide?’

Can you see the difference between a hook and a paragraph long plot summary?

You don’t hook readers with a summary, you hook them with a concept, a burning question they must have answered or they’ll go completely mad.

You hook readers with one short line.

People will often read the entire back blurb of a book, but it’s that one well pitched line that hooks them. Usually the hook line is either the very first or very last line of a back cover blurb.

So how do you come up with a good hook for your story? Here are some of my brainstormed ideas:

1.     What is it about your story that makes it different to other stories in the same genre? ‘For example ‘It’s a Cinderella story but it’s dystopian and only the one who marries the prince gets to live.’ That’s your hook!

2.     If you had to sum up your story in one short sentence what would you say?

3.     What was it about your story that made you think, ‘OMG, yes! This is the story I have to write!’ That’s the same thing that will make readers think, ‘OMG, yes! This is the story I have to read!’

4.     Take inspiration from the hooks for your favourite books and movies. For example, ‘Teenagers from enemy families fall in love and would rather die than give up on their love.’ Or this, ‘If an innocent black man was accused of raping a white girl in the era of segregation in the US, could a white lawyer save him?’

Immediately you know what those stories are, right? And essentially those two lines are the reasons those tales have been so widely loved over time. So try and put your book in a concise sentence that would make it immediately recognisable to anyone who had read it.

If you’re pitching your story to an agent or publisher, start with the hook. Sure, tell them more about the story, but first hook them in with your one fabulous sentence or question so that they’re then prepared to sit through five minutes of you telling them why yours is the best story ever.

So what did I tell my publisher in the end was the hook of my latest book, Love and Other Battles? ‘A three generation love story where the link is war. And dope. War and dope.’

Are you hooked? She was!

Tess Woods is a physiotherapist who lives in Perth, Australia, with one husband, two children, one dog and one cat who rules over them all. Her debut novel, Love at First Flight, received acclaim from readers around the world and won Book of the Year in the AusRom Today Reader’s Choice Award. When she isn’t working or being a personal assistant to her kids, Tess enjoys reading and all kinds of grannyish pleasures like knitting, baking, drinking tea and tending to the veggie patch. She’s also moderately obsessed with the TV series Nashville and taking Buzzfeed quizzes. Tess loves connecting with her readers on Facebook and you can also contact her at www.tess@tesswoods.com.au

Advice to Writers with Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb

In the lead up to Pitch Wars 2017, I'm running a series of blog posts focusing on writing and publishing. First in the series is an interview with Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group (TMG). I asked Mark a handful of questions about his job and what makes a good query letter. Here's what he had to say:

Please tell us about Trident Media Group and how you began your career as a literary agent.

Unlike many people who choose book publishing as somewhat of an accidental profession, it was always expected of me that I would one day work at Trident Media Group, a family-owned and operated literary agency. I think it comes as a comfort to many of my clients that I’m not leaving the literary agency, nor book publishing anytime soon. Anyway, you could say I was sort of groomed for the position at a young age. That’s why I chose Emerson College in Boston, as they were one of the only schools at the time offering an undergraduate study in publishing. My company bio expresses my professional journey from my time at Emerson College, onward:


Mark Gottlieb attended Emerson College and was President of its Publishing Club, establishing the Wilde Press. After graduating with a degree in writing, literature & publishing, he began his career with Penguin’s VP. Mark’s first position at Publishers Marketplace’s #1-ranked literary agency, Trident Media Group, was in foreign rights. Mark was EA to Trident’s Chairman and ran the Audio Department. Mark is currently working with his own client list, helping to manage and grow author careers with the unique resources available to Trident. He has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on publishersmarketplace.com in Overall Deals and other categories. 

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What's your favourite part of the job?

The interesting thing is that there really is no average day in the life of a literary agent, or at least there shouldn’t be, for when a literary agent’s days begin to stagnate and look the same, then that person’s career is in trouble.

Every day that I walk into the office, I think of ways to try to reinvent myself in a way to make myself competitive, while improving the careers of the authors I work with in creative and innovative ways. Every day should not be about drudgery—life is an adventure.

Of course there are a few things typical to most every day in the life of a literary agent, such as reading query letters, meeting/calls/lunches/drinks with editors and publishers as well as clients, pitching manuscripts to publishers, meeting with film/TV companies to adapt books for the screen, attending conferences/workshops, looking for new talent, etc.

How would you describe your ideal client?

I’m finding that the importance of platform in an author’s career has also made its way into the world of fiction, to an extent. In looking for an ideal fiction client with a platform, I look for authors that have good writing credentials such as experience with writing workshops, conferences, or smaller publications in respected literary magazines.

Having awards, bestseller status, a strong online presence, or pre-publication blurbs in-hand for one’s manuscript is also very promising in the eyes of a literary agent.

Platform is even more important in considering nonfiction authors. It is not enough for an author of nonfiction to be a respected authority on their subject matter—it’s important to publishers to know that such authors have a big online presence or social media following.

That’s why selling celebrity fiction to publishers is almost a no-brainer. Publishers get this strange thought in their minds that if any given celebrity has 100,000 followers or more, if even just ten percent of those followers buy the book, then the publisher is already in good shape.

What advice can you give writers in relation to query letters?

My advice to authors along the querying process is to really nail the writing of that query letter. A query letter that reads well is usually a good indication to the literary agent that the manuscript will similarly read well, inclining the literary agent to request a manuscript. Often the query letter can go on to become the publisher’s jacket copy, were the publisher to acquire the manuscript via the literary agent.


A good query letter is: upfront in one-two sentences what the book is about in hook or elevator pitch fashion (should mention the title, lend a sense of genre, and contain one-three competitive/comparative titles that were bestsellers or award-winners, published within the last few years). If the author has pre-publication blurbs, those can appear before those first two sentences.


Next is a couple of body paragraphs detailing some of the plot details without too many spoilers and in that space the literary merits of the manuscript can be mentioned. The last paragraph is usually reserved for a short author bio, mentioning relevant writing experience/credentials, and a link to an author site or social media page(s) can be included there.
The Trident Media Group literary agency prefers to be queried by authors via our website at http://www.tridentmediagroup.com Our query letter instructions are there.

How would you define a strong query letter? 

There are many mistakes that I’ve seen in query letters, but I will name just a few that would absolutely deter me from requesting the manuscript from an author, since it's probably easier to try and avoid these mistakes in order to make for a strong query letter.


-Submitting queries for novellas, short story collections, poetry or textbooks will usually turn a literary agent off, as most literary agents do not represent such things. Publishers tend not to buy from literary agents in those areas in the first place.


-Word count is also very important. Traditional book length is 80-120K, and commercial fiction tends to be in the 80-90K-word range. Going outside of normal book-length will not produce good results for an author querying a literary agent for a shot at going into major trade publishing.


-Writing within struggling genres such as cozy mysteries, erotica, or urban fantasy is also another way to turn a literary agent off in the querying process. We tend to be weary of that at Trident Media Group.

What sort of considerations come into play when you're thinking about offering a client representation?

I call them “the three peas in a pod,” and often look at them in this order:


Persistence: Don’t be discouraged by rejection. This being a subjective business that is bound to happen many times over. It does not mean that you’re not good—it means you’re not quite good enough as of yet. Learn from constructive criticism and grow.


Patience: This being a “hurry-up-and-wait business,” since reading and editing can take time, it is important to be willing to wait patiently for editors/publishers to consider work once it is submitted by a literary agent. There have been instances, though, where I’ve sold a project in as little as four days. In other instances, it has taken months. It may seem like a nail-biting experience while rejections start to flow in along the submission process, but it is often worth the wait once an offer finally arrives.


Participation: An author has a central role in the book publishing process. Authors that merely want to write their manuscripts, then check out, rarely experience successful publications. Asking one’s publisher or literary agent how they can help leading up to publication and in the months thereafter, is a great starting point. Being curious about a publisher’s marketing/publicity plans and commenting on them is also of key importance.

How important is an online presence for fiction authors these days? 

Online presence is most important to nonfiction as it integral to platform, which is essential for selling nonfiction. 

Is there anything in particular you're currently looking for? What does an ideal project look like to you?

I am very open to most any kind of genre, excluding poetry, short stories and textbooks. There are also struggling genres that I am generally not open to such as horror, erotica, cozy mysteries, and paranormal romance. My current list is generally comprised of science fiction, fantasy, crime, mystery, thriller, literary fiction, women’s fiction, young adult, middle grade, picture book, graphic novel, creative nonfiction, humor, celebrity memoir and pop culture. In addition to more commercial books, I would like to see some more serious fiction on my list and perhaps some more literary fiction.

About the Agency:

Trident Media Group (TMG) is a prominent literary agency located in New York City that originally formed in 2000. TMG represents over 1,000 bestselling and emerging authors in a range of genres of fiction and nonfiction, many of whom have appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers Lists and have won major awards and prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the P.E.N. Faulkner Award, the P.E.N. Hemingway Award, The Booker Prize, and the L.A. Times Book Award, among others. TMG is one of the world’s leading, largest and most diversified literary agencies.
 
For more than ten consecutive years, TMG continues to rank number one for sales according to publishersmarketplace.com in North America. TMG is the only U.S. literary agency to consistently be in the top ten in both UK fiction and UK non-fiction and has ranked as highly as number one in UK fiction deals.

How to tackle a rewrite (without wanting to burn your book)

Here's my third instalment in my series for Pitch Wars. I've asked writer Jodi Gibson to share some tips on how to handle the sometimes daunting revision process. Jodi is working on her first novel and has almost completed the revision process of her book (yay!), so this is all fresh in her mind. Over to you, Jodi!

Redrafting, rewriting, revising, editing; whatever you call it, it’s tough. There’s no easy way to sit down and work though a draft.

At first you will procrastinate - don’t worry; it’s completely normal. When you’re done procrastinating, take a deep breath and prepare yourself – it’s going to be a long ride.

You will be overcome with myriad emotions. Periods where you think your manuscript is the worst thing ever written. Where you will question your successful completion of elementary grade English. And times where you would rather have your fingernails pulled out one by one rather than look at your words again.

But…

There will also be times when you will surprise yourself. When you think that your manuscript was sprinkled with magical fairy dust as there is no way you wrote that beautiful scene/dialogue/description. Those moments are the best. Savour them.

With all that in mind, here are six tips to help you through the editing/revision process.

1.    Put it away.

Don’t tackle a revision, read through or edit of your manuscript until you have let it rest. Put it aside for at least a month and focus on something completely different. This is the only way to make sure you have fresh eyes when you come back to reading it.

2.    The read through.

Read it through from start to finish without marking up. The idea of this is to see how the manuscript flows as a story. You will pick up on pacing issues, saggy middles, and things that just don’t flow smoothly in the narrative. Hold back from making any sort of detailed notes, just yet. Take light notes along the way if you must, but your focus should be on viewing the manuscript as a reader at this stage.

3.    The structural edit.
Now the hard work begins. The structural edit is where you will work on your plot, story arc, character journey, and conflict. Questions to ask yourself at this stage (in no particular order) are:

-       Is the pacing working?

-       Does the conflict ramp up progressively through each chapter?

-       Are the goals of my main characters clear and obvious and does the narrative reflect this?

-       Am I only including scenes/chapters that move the story forward?

-       Am I punishing my characters?

-       Does my main character change/grow by the end of the story?

-       Did I begin the story in the right spot? (deep in action)

-       Is the climax the most dramatic scene of the story?

-       Is point of view clean and consistent?

-       Is there too much/not enough backstory?

-       Is my opening scene attention grabbing to make the reader want to read on?

There are so many more questions, and you will find answering the ones above, will lead you to even more. But that’s good – the more questions, the stronger your story will become.

Don’t be afraid to cut whole scenes, chapters, and even characters. Yes, it may feel like tearing your own heart out, but it’s the only way to get to the crux of the story and allow you to rebuild (aka rewrite).

4.    Repeat

Repeat step 3 as many times as possible. I know. Sorry.

5.    Add colour and layers.

Now that the structure of your story is solid, it’s time to work on fleshing out scenes and characters. This is the fun part! Here you get to really focus on showing and not telling. Go through and highlight every area of your story that could be shown rather than told, and work on adding sensory detail – touch, sight, taste, sounds, smell. Develop your characters and work on their dialogue and voice, their quirks (that make them unique), and make sure their actions reflect their personality. Once you layer your scenes and characters you bring your story to life in such a magical way. It’s not easy, but it’s fun!

6.    The copy edit and proofread.
Check your spelling, your sentence structure, and your grammar. Is your novel formatted how your intended publisher/agents like to read them? Check their preferences.

There’s no right or wrong way to edit or revise your manuscript. What’s important to remember is that your story improves with every draft. Every rewrite and revision makes for a stronger, more believable story and gives you the best possible chance at attracting an agent, publisher, and ultimately, a reader’s attention.

It’s tough and it will bring you to tears, but I promise it’s worth it.

For more writing tips from Jodi, visit her website.

Jodi Gibson writes contemporary women’s fiction and is currently working on her first novel. She also blogs about all things writing and books. In her spare time, you’ll find Jodi with her nose in a good book, baking in the kitchen or dreaming of her next travelling adventure. Jodi lives in country Victoria, Australia with her husband, daughters, dogs, cat, horse and chickens.

Pitch Wars 2017 Wish List!

Here's my Pitch Wars 2017 Wish List!

Hello! I'm so honoured to be a mentor (Adult) for Pitch Wars this year. 

Thinking about choosing me as your mentor? Here's what you should know!

I write women's fiction and the occasional freelance article too. My debut novel, THE FLORENTINE BRIDGE sold in a two-book deal to Harlequin MIRA Australia and was published in January 2017. You can read more about that here or find the book here. My second book will be released in early 2018.

Last year, I led my first week-long writing retreat in Tuscany, Italy, and I can't wait to support a new group of writers for Your Beautiful Writing Life retreat in Daylesford this October. I find so much joy in guiding, supporting and sharing my knowledge with other writers. If you're wanting more of an idea about the kind of mentor I'd be check out the About section on my retreat page.

I’m represented by Cassie Hanjian of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency.

Last year I hosted Your Creative Life, a podcast designed to inform and uplift writers. You can listen to the 60 episodes here.

Favourite books: Check out my Goodreads for an idea of the kind of books I like or have been reading. As far as contemporary novels go, I've more recently loved books like Before I Go by Colleen Oakley and The Choices We Make by Karma Brown. My faves include The Help, The Bronze Horseman, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and The Book Thief.

Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

What I'd love to see:

Women's Fiction

Contemporary: I'd love to see some upmarket/book club fiction or work that has a literary, yet commercial feel to it. I'd be stoked with anything in the vein of Taylor Jenkins-Reid, Karma Brown, Sally Hepworth, Jojo Moyes. I like a romantic storyline, so love stories are great, as are books with a lot of heart. 

Historical: As far as tastes go, I will read anything by Jennifer Robson, Sue Monk Kidd, Hazel Gaynor. Or for our Aussie writers, think Natasha Lester, Fiona McIntosh, or Kirsty Manning. Contemporary/historical dual timelines are great. I particularly enjoy stories set from the late 1800s onwards but earlier is also fine.

I love books that make me feel something emotionally. I like to be moved by my fiction, so if your book will make me reach for a box of tissues all the better, although I normally shy away from anything too dark. If your book has a strong sense of place and you can sweep me away, then you might win me over.

I'm not your girl for: crime, thriller, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romantic suspense.

Why should you choose me?

I work hard and I want to see you succeed.

When I commit to something, I'm in 100%, so I will have your back the whole way and beyond. I promise you, I won't give up, even if you reach a point where you feel like you want to.

I really want to work with someone who is willing to pull up their sleeves and give this their all. Someone who isn't afraid of rewrites, killing darlings, and being open to changes. I want to see my mentee succeed but more than that I want my mentee to come away from this contest knowing they've come out of it with a vastly stronger manuscript than they began with. I'll offer kind yet thorough critique of your work.

What to expect

Honesty balanced with support. Brainstorming. Regular communication (via email, or Skype if you need it!) As far as your manuscript development goes, I can offer detailed and big picture feedback where we'll look at plot/character/pacing/dialogue. I can make suggestions using track changes in Word. Of course you'll be free or take or leave any suggestions I make for you, but I'd really love to work with someone who is open to feedback and has a positive attitude.

If you have a manuscript that is in decent shape, and you think we could be a good fit, I'd love the chance to see it!

Good luck!

 

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How to Pack a Punch in Your First Five Pages with Natasha Lester

In my second post in the lead up to Pitch Wars 2017, I've called on the fabulous Natasha Lester to share some of her best advice on how to make your first five pages stand out. After all, the first pages of a book are so important. These pages not only introduce the main character/s and any conflict, but they also set the scene for what's ahead. The opening of your story needs to make readers feel compelled to keep turning pages. So, how are some of the ways writers can ensure they do this?

Here's what Natasha had to say:

I always say to people that the first five pages of a book are a bit like a sales document. That might sound unromantic, but most Australian publishers only ask for your first three chapters when you submit to them. On the basis of those three chapters, they’ll decide whether or not to ask for your entire manuscript. Which means your first three chapters need to leave them wanting more, and your first five pages are the keys to creating this sense of anticipation. So how do we do that?

Voice

Voice is what lures the reader so completely into a story that the page disappears. It makes the reader feel as if they are inhabiting the world of the story. So your voice needs to be strong, distinctive, alluring and fresh. The trouble is, voice is hard to force or to teach. Often, it’s either there or it’s not.

One thing that helps is to be aware of what voice is. If you don’t understand what voice is and how it works, then you might not recognise when your story is voiceless. Often, writing lots of short scenes first before plunging into a story is a good way to find its voice. Reading books that have distinctive voices helps too. Make sure the sound of your story - i.e. its compelling voice - is there right from the very first page.

Forward Moving Action

Sometimes, in our desire to make sure the reader understands everything about our characters, we overload the first chapter with backstory. Try to limit the amount of backstory in the first five pages - I would even go so far as to say try writing the first five pages without any backstory at all; see if that improves the pace.

Forward moving action is the exact opposite of backstory. It is action, for a start, rather than exposition. It moves the story onwards, setting up a trajectory that the reader wants to follow. That’s what your first five pages should be all about.

Character

Make sure you introduce the main character and at least one other important character - perhaps your antagonist, your love interest, or a significant family member or friend. The reader needs to not only understand who the important characters are, they also need to understand which are the important relationships to cheer for and which ones to fear.

Make sure that your main character is on the page, talking and doing, rather than thinking and contemplating. It’s best to avoid very passive activities like staring out windows or into mirrors or at photographs as this is cliched and often just a way to sneak in some backstory. It also doesn’t allow the character to develop as they aren’t active.

It’s not necessary to be overly descriptive about your character in the first five pages; if we hear them speak and see them act then we will draw our own conclusions about your character’s personality and temperament.

Get the Reader on Side

Perhaps the most important job of the first five pages is to begin the process of getting the reader on the side of the main character, to be sure that we are rooting for him or her to succeed. This will mean giving the reader a sense of some sort of latent need/want/desire/dissatisfaction in your character’s life. A void, if you like, that the reader would like to see filled. You don’t need to be overt about stating this void; a hint will suffice at this stage.

Things to Avoid

The main thing to avoid is a lack of focus. Too many characters, too many locations, head-hopping with your point of view, setting up too many questions - all of these will tend to confuse the reader, rather than engage them with your story.

It’s impossible to say just how many characters is the ideal number but really think about the purpose of those first five pages: to lure the reader in. Narrow your focus down to the characters and actions that will do just that, write it with a distinctive and captivating voice and your first five pages will be certain to sell your book.

For more writing tips from Natasha, visit www.natashalester.com.au

Natasha Lester’s fourth book, Her Mother’s Secret, was published by Hachette Australia in 2017. She is also the author of the bestselling historical novel, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, which was published in 2016.

Previously, she’s written literary fiction as well, including the award-winning What is Left Over After (2010) and If I Should Lose You (2012). The Age newspaper has described her as “a remarkable Australian talent.”

She has been the recipient of grants by the Australia Council, and a writing residency from Varuna, The Writers House. Her work has also appeared in The Review of Australian Fiction and Overland, and the anthologies Australian Love Stories, The Kid on the Karaoke Stage and Purple Prose. In her spare time, she loves to teach writing, she’s a sought after public speaker and she can be also often be found drinking tea, buying shoes, doing headstands at yoga, or playing dress-ups with her 3 children.

Announcing Your Beautiful Writing Life Retreat 2017 in Daylesford, Victoria, AUSTRALIA!

I'm very excited to announce that I am going to be hosting the next Your Beautiful Writing Life retreat alongside the wonderful and talented Lisa Ireland. Lisa is an Australian commercial fiction author of several books, including her most recent title, The Shape of Us.

When Lisa and I first chatted about leading a retreat together, it was obvious by the end of our two hour phone call that our visions aligned perfectly. We are both deeply passionate about providing you with a highly individualised experience, tailored to your specific needs as a writer.

Our goal is to provide a relaxed, stress-free environment that actively fosters creativity. We plan on providing you the highest level of support possible during our time away. And we've chosen the perfect location for this.

Daylesford - Victoria

AUSTRALIA!

22nd - 27th October 2017

In idyllic Spa Country, Victoria, Daylesford is a well-known haven for relaxation thanks to its day spas, mineral springs and beautiful countryside. This retreat will take place in a magnificent guesthouse just 90 minutes from Melbourne, set on lush surroundings providing the perfect backdrop for peaceful relaxation, writing, and dining. Relax with an intimate group of like-minded writers and a glass of local wine from the misty valleys of the Macedon Ranges, and allow the inspiration to unfold.

During our five nights together you'll be creating the space to brainstorm new ideas, participate in discussion, give and receive feedback (if you choose to) and most importantly, write. This is a time for you to detach from the pressures and distractions of everyday life so you can become comfortable with your voice and with your craft. 

It doesn't matter if you aren't calling yourself a writer (yet!) or if all you have right now is an idea. This retreat is open to all kinds of writers, no matter where you're at on your writing journey. 

This is your chance to be supported and encouraged by two passionate and published authors of commercial fiction who can't wait to share their knowledge about writing and publishing with you.

Your Beautiful Writing Life is all about you. The aim of our retreat is to provide you with a highly individualised experience, tailored to your specific needs as a writer.

Our goal is to provide a relaxed, stress-free environment that actively fosters creativity. In addition we are offering a range of tools to support your development as a writer no matter where you are in your writing journey.

Between us, we possess a wealth of experience. We each have different areas of interest and expertise, which gives the retreat a diverse and well-rounded program for participants to draw on.


 

Connect with us on social media. You can find all our links on our respective websites.
www.lisairelandbooks.com
www.yourbeautifulwritinglife.com

The last Your Beautiful Writing Life Retreat held in Tuscany, sold out quickly. Read about it here.
Spaces on this retreat are strictly limited.

THE INSPIRATION BEHIND The Florentine Bridge: A Peek at My Pinterest Board.

For those of you who have already started reading or are about to start, you're in for a treat!

Today I'm sharing the Pinterest board I used for inspiration while writing The Florentine Bridge. I find Pinterest to be a really helpful tool when writing. I've added in some short descriptions for the photos which relate to some of the scenes and locations in the book.

Many of the locations featured in the book are real, many of which I have personal connections to, such as the Fattoria di Maiano which is a place I lived and worked while living in Florence. In the book, Mia and Luca visit a restaurant there, as well as a secret lake. and the stores Mia passes on her journey in the city centre, are actual shops that throng Via dei Calzauoli, one of Florence's most elegant streets. In coming weeks, I'll be sharing some blog posts with a bit more information on the locations featured in the book.

Just a warning: I will not be held responsible for anyone wanting to jump on a plane and travel to Tuscany! Check out the pictures at your own risk! ;)

View the board here!

Vie<3

I Never Set Out To Write A Love Story

I often talk about how writing a book requires a certain degree of trust and today I'm going to share with you how trusting myself to write the book I never really thought I'd write led me to where I am today.

It was the summer of 2014 and even though I'd been dreaming of one day writing a book I hadn't really done all that much about it. While I'd enjoyed writing the occasional freelance article, and had dabbled in writing for children in those years where all I seemed to be reading were picture books to my little ones, I kept putting off writing a novel until I just couldn't ignore the strong desire to write any longer.

 

For two years, I couldn't shake the feeling that I knew I was going to write a book, or that I wanted to write a book. The only problem was, I had no idea what it was I actually wanted to write. It was as if I was waiting for inspiration to drop out of the clouds along with a fully formed idea for a story. After having interviewed lots of authors for the podcast, I know now that things rarely happen this way. Sometimes, they do, but for me, all I had going for me was an intense pull to write something. 

So one Saturday afternoon, I sat down and decided to start writing. That was it. I would write something, for the pure pleasure, for no other reason than to appease that desire to write. Years earlier, in my early twenties, I'd lived in Florence - this is where I met my husband, got my first full time job, learnt to ride a scooter, and had an all round fabulous time living la dolce vita. Because I'd always loved writing, during my time overseas I'd kept notes about what it was like to live life in a foreign country. The culture, customs, anecdotes about life. I'd written about 10,000 words and done nothing with them, but I had sent them to my mum for safe keeping.

That afternoon when I sat down to write, I called my mum and asked her if she'd kept the file (around 15 years had passed) and in true organised fashion, she sent it to me within the hour. Flicking through those pages, I was transported back to Italy, as I remembered lots of things that had left the forefront of my mind and become distant memories. As I relived what it was like to walk those cobblestone streets, or enter that bar for the first time conscious of my accent as I ordered a coffee, I realised I had the setting for my book. And that's when I created a fictional character by the name of Mia who was an an aspiring artist who had lost her motivation to paint after having spent time being treated for cancer. Only, while she'd been given a new lease on life with the news of remission, Mia was yet to fully come out the other side free of problems.

Like so many unexplainable things when it comes to the creative process, I don't quite know why I chose to look at what it might be like to deal with the aftermath of having gone through a traumatic event in one's life, but that's what I did. 

I never set out to write a love story, though. That happened by complete accident. To my surprise, the ever so charming Luca appeared shortly after I finished writing the first chapter and made it very clear that he was meant to be there and wanted to stay. 

I wrote the first draft of The Florentine Bridge over a period of six weeks. Weeks where I was totally consumed by the story and the characters. I didn't plan, I didn't plot, I just followed the pull and let the characters lead the way. I didn't question or censor or overanalyse. I just went with it, and here we are.

The Florentine Bridge was the first adult novel I ever wrote and will be published January 1st 2017 - almost three years to the day since I sat down to start writing it. And it didn't really start from an idea at all.

It started with the desire to write something, coupled with a tiny degree of trust.

Writing a Book: A Matter of Trust

I was reminded recently of just how much trust is involved in writing a book. I'm now revising my second novel. Looking back on the completed draft, where thousands of words are all strung together to form a story, it's easy to forget how all of that started with just an idea.

When I start with an idea, I don't fully know the entire trajectory of the story. I know the question I'm wanting answered, I know the conflict, and I have a sense of the setting, but I'm yet to get to know the supporting characters of the story, and I don't have a clear handle on the main characters either. I cement some knowledge about them before starting to write, but then I try to let their personalities come alive on the page. I like them to surprise me. In knowing some parts of the story, but not knowing others, a great deal of trust is involved in letting the characters and the events in the story unfold for 80,000 or so words. When I'm writing the beginning, it's sometimes hard not to fret about the middle. When I reach the middle, it's hard for me to trust that everything will come together for the ending.

What I've realised, is that in order to reach The End, that point where you can look back on your story and tie up loose ends, strengthen character actions and motivations, bring out the setting and emotion a little more, while getting a grasp on the themes of the book (some of which you might have never intended to have there in the first place), an enormous amount of trust is involved.

 IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOM PICS

IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOM PICS

HERE ARE MY TOP FIVE TIPS.

HOW TO TRUST YOURSELF TO WRITE A BOOK.

// Follow the idea, no matter how silly it might seem. Nudge the box open, peek into the dark corners, fumble around and sooner or later you might find something special in there.

// Everything is revisable. This is something that the perfectionist in me has had to work very hard to embrace. It's comforting knowing that you can always make things better in a subsequent draft. You can see things much more clearly once you have a full draft in hand. As tempting as it is to pause midway, just keep going. You'll be able to fix things later.

// Trust that you will reach the end. Even when THE END feels far away and so far out of reach you begin to question whether you'll ever get there, know that you will get there in your own time and at the right time if you keep showing up. Showing up is key. 

// Trust your characters. Often when I'm writing, I don't have all the answers. I don't know why characters appear in my story or what role they have when they show up. Which can be especially frustrating because anyone that shows up needs to count, be heard, or earn their place in the story. Trust that you will find a way to tie up the loose knots and plot holes at some point, even if during revision or a rewrite. Often, I'm surprised at how things seem to slot in at the end, as if I've been building the foundations for things to go a certain way without intending them to. 

// Trust your voice. Avoid comparisons, and let the words come out without censoring. To find your voice, you need to be able to give yourself the space to write the way you write. The more you practice, the more you'll feel comfortable with it.

I'd love to know about your experiences. Leave a comment below or join the discussion on Facebook!

Your Beautiful Writing Life 2016 Retreat Wrap-Up

One week, four writers, an agent, and me. Rolling hills with views of olive groves, vineyards, rustic farmhouses and winding roads. We couldn't have stayed in a more picturesque location. Our villa, a double storey 17th century restored farmhouse, located relatively close to the centre of Florence while sitting in the gorgeous Chianti area, was perfect, too. From the rustic kitchen with it's vintage pale blue fridge with rounded doors, and enormous stone sink, to the internal walls that proudly displayed valuable works of art on canvas, the wooden beam ceilings and terracotta tiles, and wooden doors leading out to terraces that afforded our writers some incredible views of the local countryside, you couldn't help but feel inspired to write in this location. We had a pool, and plenty of space outside to write, relax, or just explore the expansive area outside. And did I mention the weather? It was heavenly. On all but our last day, we enjoyed every minute of that Tuscan sun.

 THE VILLA

THE VILLA

So while it's all fresh in my mind, I'm going to give you a rundown of what our amazing week away looked like.

MEET & GREET

My husband greeted our group of writers at the train station in Florence, while back at the villa, I made some finishing touches, like arranging fresh flowers for the bedrooms, and making preparations for our welcome BBQ dinner.

 FRESH FLOWERS FOR THE BEDROOMS

FRESH FLOWERS FOR THE BEDROOMS

 THE ROSE ROOM

THE ROSE ROOM

 TEA STATION

TEA STATION

I was able to meet my literary agent, Cassie Hanjian, a little earlier in the day, which was so great! Until this point we'd been communicating via email and Skype. As you can imagine, it was great being able to spend time together. I was able to run an idea for a potential book idea past her, (the good news is, I got an enthusiastic thumbs up!), and I'm so grateful she was able to come along and spend the week with us. Cassie ran an amazing workshop for attendees (more about that later) but also offered writers support by way of one:one personalised feedback. 

 MINDFULNESS COLOURING BOOKS

MINDFULNESS COLOURING BOOKS

MORNING MEDITATIONS

We kicked each morning off with a morning meditation in the morning sun. I spent a LOT of time searching for the right meditations to use during our week away, and finally, I settled on Claire Obeid's meditation album along with a couple by Ariadne Kapsali. Meditation is a fantastic way to start the day, and I can honestly say our morning meditations were one of the favourite parts of the week. Especially, when, after one of our morning meditations, each and every writer in our group, one by one, decided to forego the Chianti tour I'd arranged for them, to stay at the villa and write because they were feeling so inspired. My goodness! Cannot tell you how wide my heart opened when we all stayed home that day. As writers, we spend so much time alone, behind our computer screens, toiling away, and I really think there is something to be said for writing in company. Maybe inspiration is contagious?

 MORNING MEDITATION SPOT!

MORNING MEDITATION SPOT!

One of the loveliest things about the week was seeing writers tucked away in various spaces throughout the house or within the grounds. At any given moment you could find someone pouring tea in the kitchen by the tea station, doing some mindful colouring by the coffee table, taking a swim, reading a book, or brainstorming over lunch. We had so much space to walk, huddle together, or find a quiet spot to write, which was really lovely.

 CHATTING ABOUT WRITING ...

CHATTING ABOUT WRITING ...

 THE POOL WITH THE MOST INCREDIBLE VIEWS EVER!

THE POOL WITH THE MOST INCREDIBLE VIEWS EVER!

COACHING AND WORKSHOPS

As part of the program, writers were invited to send five pages for Cassie to look at. She then gave some personalised feedback a few times throughout the week, and it was great seeing writers discuss her feedback, find those lightbulb moments, and then work on revising things once they understood how to move forward with their pieces. Cassie also took a group workshop on Publishing Industry Tips and Insights where she shared valuable knowledge and advice on querying and what the role of a literary agent is.

One of the things I love most about coaching writers, is seeing the lightbulbs go off as my writing clients realise something new about what they desire, or how they're feeling, or how they might be able to move forward with things. The group coaching session did that for several members of our group. After our session, we sat around the table, discussed goals, and had a ball brainstorming story and plot ideas for each other. 

 JO, TRACEY, AMANDA AND PASCALE ENJOYING EVENING APERETIFS

JO, TRACEY, AMANDA AND PASCALE ENJOYING EVENING APERETIFS

 CASSIE'S WORKSHOP: PUBLISHING INDUSTRY TIPS &amp; INSIGHTS

CASSIE'S WORKSHOP: PUBLISHING INDUSTRY TIPS & INSIGHTS

 MYSELF AND JO!

MYSELF AND JO!

The Wednesday of the retreat was a BIG day but I could also see what an inspiring one it was, too. After some discussions about things to do in the area, I managed to organise a personalised tour of a local caseificio (goat's cheese factory). This day also happened to be my wedding anniversary, so hubby and I dropped the ladies off and headed to nearby Greve-in-Chianti, a gorgeous little town, for coffee and a stroll. Because that's what you tend to do a lot of in Italy when time seems to stand still and the most gorgeous little shops line the streets of piazzas! 

Later, we had a very sweet but experienced art teacher by the name of Liese, from Siena come to the villa to teach Jo, Amanda and Pascale some watercolour painting techniques. What better way to get in touch with one's creative side while (like writing) learning to trust and accept whatever appeared on the page?!

 ONSITE ART CLASS

ONSITE ART CLASS

That evening, I invited my dear friend Jennifer and her mother-in-law, Gilberta, a larger than life character with an enormous heart of gold, to come and teach the group how to make pasta from scratch. The ladies instantly fell in love with this gorgeous Tuscan woman, who not only imparted her fantastic pasta making secrets, but also told us stories of Florence, along with various Tuscan traditions. Later, we enjoyed some papardelle outside, where her husband Mario made us all laugh with his singing and blessing of the wine. In true Tuscan tradition, Gilberta brought over an authentic dessert called Lo Zuccotto, which is like a sponge cake with ice-cream shaped like a hat, which was coined this name by Caterina de Medici. And to top all that off, we were also treated to some Vin Santo and cantuccini biscuits (another typical Tuscan tradition!)

 THE GORGEOUS GILBERTA SHARING HER PASTA MAKING TIPS!

THE GORGEOUS GILBERTA SHARING HER PASTA MAKING TIPS!

Takeout comments for the day were Jo's, who likened the night to something you'd see in the movies, to our gorgeous Amanda, who commented on Facebook: 'This is one of the most special evenings I have ever had. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.'

 GILBERTA'S HOMEMADE PASTA NIGHT

GILBERTA'S HOMEMADE PASTA NIGHT

On Thursday a couple of ladies were treated to a tour of Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa and their photos made me almost wish I went too. For me, San Gimignano as always been one of my favourite Tuscan towns. By this day, I'd well and truly settled into the writing groove, so spend the day working on my second book, while Pascale and Jo made some record-setting word counts -- we're talking four and five thousand words in a single day! High-fives all round!

 ME &amp;&nbsp;LOVELY TRACEY!

ME & LOVELY TRACEY!

We were still writing on the last day of retreat, stopping only in the late afternoon! By now, everyone had made some solid progress with their writing, and everyone had hit their stride. Pages of handwritten words, amazing word counts, new ideas, new directions, inspiration for new ideas to follow through on. It was all quite transformational for us all.

That evening, we all came together and enjoyed home delivered pizza while we chatted about life, writing, books, and everything in between. We really did have an amazing group on this retreat -- everyone was so supportive, and despite our backgrounds, age differences, and varying experience with writing, we all got along really well and learnt from each other. I couldn't help feeling a little sad to think this was going to be our last evening together.

On the Saturday morning, we said our goodbyes at the train station, where I fought (as usual -- I'm really not that great at goodbyes!) off the tears. Spending so much time together over the course of a week where you forge friendships that could potentially last a lifetime makes it sad to say goodbye. Though I wouldn't rule out a reunion sometime down the track!

So now the big question remains -- of whether I should do this again! If you'd like to be kept updated for future writing retreats, be sure to sign up for my newsletter below. You can also find more information on the 2016 retreat and program at www.yourbeautifulwritinglife.com

KEY TAKEOUTS // BEAUTIFUL WORDS

"I came in incredibly blocked and stressed about the project I was working on, and I'm leaving with a new project that feels totally right, that I'm excited about." - Josephine
"This week has given me space to relax, reconnect and be inspired. It's opened me to new possibilities, and it's made space for my writing when there wasn't space before." - Amanda
"I've gained practical knowledge as well as contacts and new friends. It's given me so many ideas for short stories, new characters, setting, and more." - Tracey
"I found an incredible sense of freedom and inspiration from being around like minded writers in beautiful Tuscany." - Pascale
 AN UNNECESSARY (YET THOUGHTFUL) GIFT FROM JO AND AMANDA

AN UNNECESSARY (YET THOUGHTFUL) GIFT FROM JO AND AMANDA

The Opportunities Beyond the Platform

Recently on the podcast, Kim and I chatted about whether having a strong online presence can help a writer attract a publisher. I've been active in the online space for some time now, and I gave some thoughts on why I felt it was important for me to create an online presence before I sold my book. Here's the thing...

It was never really about the book. 

It was always about connection.

As an uncontracted author I never knew if there would be a book. But I did know that I enjoyed connecting with people and I did know that one day, I'd love to be able to share the joy in having a book published with a community of writers (and potential readers) who might be interested in my work. As luck (and hard work!) have it, it turns out that there is going to be a book (yay!) that I will be able to share.

I hear a lot of writers talk about how it's important to have an online presence and I also hear a lot of writers worry about their platforms. I too, have had moments of not being sure about what to blog about, or how much to share. And then of course, there's the (lack of) time consideration when you're already trying to squeeze the writing in amongst so many other things that need your attention.

Finding the time and your voice can be challenging but I do think that it's important for authors to be online. But I also believe it's important for authors to be online before they're published. Like most things in life, it takes time to establish and grow an online presence. 

Having a presence online has meant that over time (a long time) I've been able to make and foster real connections with real people. Podcasting alone has opened up a brand new world for me to make new online friends, and a wider support network.

There are so many ways my online presence has opened up opportunities for me, from friendships, support, income, and ways to give back to the community, and I'd love to share these examples with you, to show you some of the things that become possible as a result of having some kind of author platform.

 IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOM PICS

IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOM PICS

Real Connections

In August, once my structural edit for THE FLORENTINE BRIDGE is completed, I have three lunch dates bookmarked with writer friends whom I've met online or through the podcast. (And let me tell you, I am so looking forward to them!) It's worth mentioning that one of these authors approached me for a potential workshop opportunity as well as a promotional opportunity for my book once it's released, and this came about as a direct result of her finding me online.

Since launching the podcast, I've had listeners email me asking me where they can buy my books, which is lovely since my book isn't available (yet!). Others have emailed letting me know how inspiring and motivating they've found either my blog or the podcast, or how it's helped them get pen to paper. This in itself is hugely rewarding and motivating to hear. I always save these kind of emails because they inspire me.

Workshops, Coaching, and an International Writing Retreat

Last year I ran local writing workshops and took the plunge with launching my writing retreat in Tuscany, called YOUR BEAUTIFUL WRITING LIFE. And it was wildly exciting to see that these sold out. It proved to me that you don't need to be a 'published author' to build a life around your writing. I was able to do these things as a coach and writer and that was enough. Offering support and knowledge within your capacity is perfectly fine, and you'll attract the kind of clients and attendees that are right for you. 

My workshops then led me to other opportunities, like presenting a workshop at the upcoming Romance Writers of Australia Conference in Adelaide this August.

As far as coaching goes, while I trained as a Life Coach, I realised I really wanted to work with writers specifically, to help them with their writing aspirations, and dealing with some of the challenges we all face: Where to start? How to finish? How to persevere and believe in ourselves? What to work on next?! Through coaching writers I've managed to develop an income stream, and the bonus is that it's hugely rewarding and directly connected to writing too.

While I've managed to build a community and have a newsletter database, I couldn't have done these things without confidence, but I wouldn't have had the confidence, if I didn't have the  support from, or the relationships with the people who comment, subscribe, email and interact with me online.

A Place to Give Back to the Community

Having an online presence gives you a chance to give something back to the community of writers we're all a part of. I've been fortunate enough to have received help from other authors along the way, and my way of giving back to that community is via blogging and the weekly podcast.

One of my coaches I've had the pleasure of working with in the past, the lovely Rachel McDonald, encourages her clients to ask themselves:

How Can I Be Generous?

How Can I Add Value?

How Can I Bring Joy?

Think about ways you can be generous and add value. You can then go BIGGER with those ideas. Generosity will always come back two-fold.

Some ways I put this into action if you're looking for ideas:

Last year, I put together almost a year's worth of free writing prompts on Instagram. (You can search for them under the hashtag #mindfulprompts.)

In the past I've included free opt-ins for newsletter subscribers, such as a guide to helping writers overcome self-doubt and resistance while learning to become more present, and 100 Free Writing Prompts. 

Your online presence doesn't just have to be about sticking to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. It can be about creating value in other ways. You might like to start a Book Club, or an interactive Book Chat, or you might like to host regular Q&A's on Facebook. Maybe regular in-person meet ups for writers and readers is something that interests you. Time is always a consideration, but over time, I do believe you'll get back what you put in. It's also about finding something that feels comfortable and achievable for you.

The other thing is, when you're giving 80% of the time, and sharing joy, and adding value, and you're coming from that sincere place, people know it, they can feel it. So when the time comes when you do need a little support, people who share that joy and benefit from that value 80% of the time will often be willing to help you out 20% of the time (if not more!) *Figures are guesstimates only!

So often, people buy people and after having a long time corporate career in sales, I know the hard sell never works. While you can argue that sales is a numbers game, the fact is that people are people, they aren't just numbers.

Other Opportunities

I've heard of writers who've been approached by literary agents or publishers as a direct result of finding them online. 

Kim Foster found herself jumping on board as co-host of my podcast after we met on Twitter and had the courage to swap a few manuscript pages with each other for critique. 

It's worth mentioning that most of the authors Kim and I approach for interviews are online too. Before we invite guests onto the podcast, we take a look at their websites to get a sense of who they are and what they're like. If the author provides a glimpse into some of the other things they're doing, or has certain things they've achieved or are specialised in, it gives us an added talking point, and more valuable content to share with our listeners who can benefit from hearing from that particular author.

It's also worth having a read of this interview on Carly Watter's blog with Maria Ribas, Editor-turned-Agent, who discusses the 'platform-savvy author' and the acquisitions meeting.

https://carlywatters.com/2015/11/23/guest-post-the-4-platform-elements-that-catch-an-editors-attention/

Platform and online presence doesn't always need to be a big scary thing. You can start small, and go from there. You might not want to do workshops or speaking, or a podcast, but there are many ways you can build a life around your writing and take advantage of some of the wonderful opportunities that are out there waiting for you.

Has blogging or being online opened up opportunities for you? I'd love to hear more about your experiences, too!

The First Thing I Did After I Accepted My Offer of Publication

My mother always told me that people come in and out of your life for a reason. "Sometimes, the ones who drift, are the ones you'll never forget."

My children spend over thirty hours a week in the care of the wonderful teaching staff at our local primary school. It's there that they learn maths, and spelling, and science. It's where they laugh, create, and play, while learning how to navigate relationships. It's also a place where they can be influenced and inspired. Where words of encouragement could possibly change the way they think, or what they dream about, forever.

I had a library teacher, who did this for me. She was the most passionate person about children's literature I'd ever known. She'd let my friends and I huddle in the dark corners of the library, our backs leaning against walls of books, where we'd sit and read while it rained outside. And sometimes, with a wink of her eye, she'd let us into the library at lunchtimes when it wasn't raining too. She understood what it meant to nurture a love of books in her students.

She let us cover books with plastic contact, and delighted in appointing library monitors. She fed us a staple diet of authors like Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Hazel Edwards, Beverly Cleary, and Paul Jennings, among others.

She read to us, but not only that, she spoke a lot about the authors who wrote the books we'd read. One day, I remember sitting in the library, listening to her talk about an author and a thought popped into my mind; one that I'll never forget.

"Maybe one day I can be an author too."

The only problem was, that even though I knew books were written by authors, I didn't know much else. Most of my friends wanted to become nurses, or flight attendants, or teachers. I didn't know any authors, and at that age, I had no idea how you'd go about getting a book written or published and so that thought remained tucked away in the back of my mind, for a very long time. 

Life went on, and through high school, I continued reading (a lot), and writing when I could. And even though I might not have verbalised it, I always knew that one day I wanted to write and publish a novel.

 IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOMPICS

IMAGE CREDIT: KABOOMPICS

There were so many steps that led me to write my first book. Like the way my mum bought me a book every single week throughout my primary years. I'd bring one home and finish it before the day was out and then I'd beg her to go back to the shops the next day for another. The way she'd turn a blind eye to me reading until late into the night, devouring language and story. The way she smiled proudly when I showed her a story I'd written and illustrated. The way I'd lie in bed at night and make up stories in my head about what it would feel like to be lost on a deserted island or have a broken leg, or be blind, or able to talk to animals.

Many years later, when I finally had a completed manuscript in hand, I thought a lot about "Mrs W" and I thought a lot about my mum. I don't doubt that my love of writing came from somewhere inside of me; it was something I naturally gravitated towards. I've always loved language, and story, and words. But there's also no doubt in my mind that this love was nurtured in a way that encouraged me to embrace not only my creativity (my mum is highly, highly creative -- sewing, ceramics, painting, crochet, knitting...you name it, she's tried it!) but my love of reading and writing.

So the first thing I did once I accepted the offer of publication for my book was call my mum. We both cried. And I thanked her for all those books she bought me, and all those times she showed me that creating for the pure pleasure of making something was okay. 

And then, I set out to try to find my library teacher so I could thank her too. It was important for me to be able to do this, to let someone know the profound impact their work had on me as an eager young student. I was able to find a school she'd worked at, so I gave them a call. She told me that Mrs W had retired, and if I wanted to, I could send her an email which she'd pass onto her for me. Or...I could thank her personally on the phone, because she just so happened to be at the school today, helping out with something! 

"Is she often there just by chance?" I asked.

"No, not often. You picked the right day," she replied, and I could tell she was smiling on the other end of the phone.

What are the chances?!

To cut a long story short, I followed up this phone call with an email. Mrs W said she had goosebumps reading my note. She told me she remembered me and my friends, and told me she always considered herself to be extremely fortunate to be in a profession that she loved. She retired after 43 years, with the last 15 of those year as a school principal in several schools. She now volunteers some of her time in schools, still encouraging kids to develop a love of reading. It was then my turn to have goosebumps. What a special woman.

So often, we go through life not really aware of the impact we have on the lives of others. 

Once my book is published, I'm planning on sending a copy to Mrs W.

Writing a Book and Finding a Literary Agent

By now you've possibly read my exciting book news about my debut novel, which will be published by Harlequin Australia. If not, you can read about that here! I'm often I'm asked about my writing journey, and how I found an agent to represent me. After discussing the topic of finding a literary agent on the podcast this week with Kim, I thought I'd share a little more of my story here, along with some tips for any authors out there who might be thinking of navigating these waters. 

First, Write the Book and Polish It!

To secure agent representation, in most cases, a debut fiction author must have a completed manuscript. And it's not enough to have just a completed manuscript. Your manuscript should be as polished as it can be. You only get one chance with each agent or publisher so it's really important that you try to get your book in best possible shape before sending it out for consideration. 

Receiving Feedback

I wrote my manuscript over a period of six weeks, swapping a couple of chapters at a time with two critique partners. 

While some writers can't stand the thought of sharing work before their first draft is finished, I found that knowing I was on the right track with things really helped with my confidence. It was also great having more than one reader to provide feedback because they each had different strengths and were able to point our different areas in my manuscript that needed work. For example, one of my critique partners had an extremely good eye for detail, and questioned character motivations, whereas my other partner really helped me pack more emotional punch into the story. Either way, it's a good idea to seek feedback on your work from people you can trust.

Once I had some feedback to work with, I rolled up my sleeves and set about revising, which naturally, takes some time! Once that was done, I sent the book out to beta readers, who would read the manuscript in its entirety and provide me with feedback on the big picture.

When my beta readers came back to me with more positive comments than suggestions for strengthening the manuscript, I decided to take the leap and send a query letter out to agents.

Getting Ready to Query

Querying can be a harrowing process. It's a time where you've worked so hard on your manuscript and are likely still very attached to it. Naturally, you wish the very best for it. It's also the point where you lose control over what happens next because nothing you can do can change the outcome of whether you'll receive a request and whether any such request will result in an offer of representation. 

To begin with, I researched potential agents, those that represented the kind of work I was writing, and those who represented authors I admired or liked books that I also enjoyed and added them to the list. As far as resources go, you could try these:

Australian Literary Agents' Association Member Listings

Query Tracker

Writer's Digest Guide to Literary Agents

^Remember that no ethical or legitimate agent will ask for payment in order to represent you. Be sure to research any agency/agent thoroughly.

Writing the Query Letter

There are several components a query letter needs to have. This letter is a professional, business letter of around 3-4 paragraphs, and is essentially a way for you to introduce your book to a potential agent. Firstly, it needs to have a clear hook outlining the conflict. Unlike a synopsis, it doesn't need to reveal the ending.

I spent a LOT of time writing and revising my query letter. It evolved over several iterations before I felt it was ready to send out. I highly recommend having someone read your query letter and provide you feedback on it. Ideally, have someone that has read your book and someone who hasn't, provide you with feedback.

The query letter is important not only because it helps your future agent assess whether they'd like to read more of your work, but your agent may use your query as the basis of their own pitch to editors. 

If you aren't feeling confident about writing your query, there are authors out there who offer query critiques such as Lauren Spieller and Nicole Tone, both of whom have worked as Literary Agent interns.

Sending Your Query Out

Once I sent my query out, I received a few requests for the partial and full manuscript. Most of these came in within a few days of sending my query but from what I've heard, response times to queries can vary widely so don't be disheartened if you don't receive a response straight away. Agents are very busy and very hardworking people, so sometimes it can take a while to hear back. Don't despair, just try to distract yourself from your inbox! I'll admit it, this is easier said than done! The major downside of querying international agents is the time difference and resisting the urge to check your emails in the middle of the night!

Don't be discouraged by any eventual passes you might receive. I know it's hard to receive a form rejection, but you might also find that some agents do take the time to give you some kind and helpful feedback plus an invitation to submit future work to them. Always hold on to the positive feedback, no matter how small! 

To cut a long story short, along the way, I received a request from the agent who ultimately offered me representation and went on to sell my book!

It didn't all happen at once though... 

Sometimes, things just literally fall into place.

At the time, for one reason or another things just didn't line up for us. Around six months later though, my agent had moved agencies and we were able to reconnect. By this time, I had agreed to be represented by a local agent, but due to some changes she was making in her business, we felt that I could best be supported by an agent who was going to be able to work with me over the long term. So we parted ways very amicably, (and still remain friends), and with her blessing, I signed with my current agent. At the time of reconnecting, it turned out she hadn't forgotten my story and had still been thinking of my manuscript. I loved that she completely understood my story and could see in it, the things I was yet to see. What a total blessing to find someone who'd connected with it in this special way! Anyway after re-reading it, she offered to represent me, proving you never know what's around the corner for you on the deliciously wild journey that being a writer takes you on. 

Sometimes, it feels like the Universe has things worked out before we do. Sometimes, we end up exactly where we are meant to be.