Wednesday, February 7, 2018


When it comes to getting that elusive publishing contract, we all obviously have to spend a lot of “butt in chair” time writing and honing our craft. However, I think a lot of people limit themselves because they don’t find ways to take their ideas and passion out into the world more.

For me, getting my first publishing contract came about because I took advantage of the chance to meet with editors face to face, and have some work critiqued. I wasn’t expecting to be offered a contract quickly, but rather wanted to start networking, developing relationships, and learning directly from decision makers.

Since then, I have attended numerous other conferences and related kidlit events, bid on critiques, entered competitions, reviewed books, interviewed creatives, and applied for mentorships and grants. Each step has helped me understand the industry better; learn about particular publisher and editor tastes; come up with fresher ideas; write more suitably for the market; and start to develop my personal author brand.

I know from speaking with numerous editors that, when they’re thinking about whether or not to publish a book, they don’t just consider the work itself, but also the person who wrote it. Is the author proactive and immersed in the industry? Do they understand what buyers and readers are looking for? Will they take feedback well? Will they market their books actively? Can they be relied upon? These are all traits you can demonstrate to publishers by taking advantage of relevant opportunities.

Sure, you may not get a contract from a meeting with an editor, and they may in fact recommend you rethink the entire story, but look at what you can learn from this. Similarly, you may not be chosen as a finalist in a competition, or receive a grant or mentorship, but in putting your documents together for these opportunities, you’ll probably be forced to think seriously about not only the stories you create, but also why you write, where you want your career to go, and more. This clarity can be invaluable.

Of course, if you put in the effort and do the hard work (even when it’s midnight and you’re tired and the last thing you feel like doing is writing that application or editing that manuscript) you might just be selected. Taking advantage of opportunities – which, thanks to the digital age are available to everyone these days, regardless of location – you can get a boost to your confidence and career that is a real turning point.

One opportunity in particular that I urge you to consider is government (or private) grants. I have received two from my local Sunshine Coast Council here in Australia over the last year, as part of their Regional Arts Creative Development Fund; I’m sure you’ll find there’s something similar available in your area.

The first grant, I used to attend a kidlit conference interstate, where I booked manuscript assessments with editors. Happily, both gave me “Revise and Resubmit” requests, and I’m waiting to hear back on whether they’re interested in pursuing the stories further. Even if they come back with a “no thanks” though, I at least learnt from them in the sessions, made helpful contacts, and know that when I submit to them in future they’ll (hopefully!) remember who I am.

For the second grant I did something different. I spoke to one of the coordinators at the Council about my wish to participate in international opportunities that could be pursued online. While this wasn’t something the Council had approved before, I was encouraged to submit my application and have a go. I’m pleased to say the grant was approved, and I was actually asked if I would speak at a Council panel sometime this year to talk about thinking differently when applying for grants.

For my application, I created a 12-Month Professional Development Plan that stepped out some of my major goals for 2018, and ideas for achieving them. My plan detailed a variety of memberships, consultations, webinars, critiques and courses I wished to invest in, and how exactly I thought each one would help me reach my goals. I also made sure to link in how I could use the knowledge received from these programs to give back to my local community. Furthermore, I noted that these online activities are better for the environment, because they’re done from home and don’t require travel. I tied this in to the Council’s sustainability initiatives.

One of the inclusions on my grant application was a membership to Rate Your Story. I had heard from author friends that this is incredibly helpful because it means you receive critiques from well-regarded, multi-published authors, and that you can have your work critiqued without having to spend time going over other people’s work in return. (While I’m a member of numerous critique groups and find this really helpful, it’s nice to save time too when I need to.) I’m already thrilled that I joined, and am finding the fact that I can submit 18 manuscripts throughout the year prompts me to write more, so I maximize my value – just another benefit for this writer who struggles with “butt in chair” discipline!

If you feel like you haven’t been getting as far as you’d like with your author career recently, I highly recommend looking for opportunities you can take advantage of, either in your local area, around your country, or even on the other side of the world. There are lots of them out there if you do your research and stay up to date, and they can really help you take your work and achievements to the next level.

Kellie Byrnes lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, and is often found out and about with her two cheeky dogs (who both inspire and distract her from her work). Kellie is a children’s author, book reviewer, and freelance writer with a BA degree in Literature.  Her debut picture book, CLOUD CONDUCTOR, will be released in 2018. She is a member of SCBWI and 12x12, and has recently been awarded a mentorship with author Adam Lehrhaupt as part of the 2018 Writing with the Stars program. Kellie’s ghostwritten work has also been published on sites such as Huffington Post, Forbes, Lifehacker, Entrepreneur and Inc. You can find her online at, on Twitter at @KellieJByrnes, and on Facebook under KellieByrnesAuthor.

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