post path

The road to publishing my first children’s novel has been littered with obstacles and broken bridges. The good news? At each rickety stage, I picked up tips (and anti-tips) that I’m happy to share with everyone…


For me, this was the easy stage! Aspiring writers need to read like crazy to learn about the work of other writers, both locally and internationally. There is no point in writing a killer story if it resembles something already published. Sadly, that means there are no scarred teenage wizards named Barry.


Here’s a simple equation: the more you write, the better you become at writing. When I was ready to be born, I had already completed my first three manuscripts (I spent most of the time looking for a place to plug in my laptop). When the doctor hit me on the back, I narrowed my eyes at him and said, ‘Waaah!’ Which of course meant: ‘Ah, you must be my agent!’ I transitioned to doodling home comics throughout my childhood before starting writing for surf magazines at 17. Since then, I have published thousands of articles and pieces of fiction. Many were ‘hacking’ stories; some won me prizes and contests. It all helped develop my writing skills and my voice.


A local teacher read my first manuscript to his class (thanks, Bob Swoope). The response was excellent. One boy enthused: “It’s like Harry Potter, only more fun!” I dined on that compliment for a month.

I’m lucky that ten year olds believe that paying in Paddle Pops is the industry standard for publishers, otherwise I’d be broke already (well actually I’m broke). I read all my stories to my daughter, her friends, and any young relatives I can rescue. Every time my youth focus groups go to the nearest TV, I know that the chapter I’m reading needs a major remake. Whenever the kids feel glued to their chairs and demand more, I know my story is headed in the right direction (and I’ve bought the right glue and popsicle sticks).

It’s also helpful to let adults participate in your story. Adult writers, that is. I’ve learned that it’s best to avoid family and friends, unless you enjoy making these people run away every time they see you. Join a local or online critical group instead. Having thick skin like that of an elephant will also help you at this stage.

Write again

Finally, you think your book is ready. it is not. It is time to let the manuscript breathe for a month, before reviewing it with fresh eyes. Be ruthless. Hack those excess adjectives that editors hate. It cuts out all the scenes that don’t shine, advances the plot by multiple levels, and forces the reader to keep reading.

rewrite again

As a children’s writer, you’re not only competing against Hell’s mutant slime pile and other children’s books, but also the Internet, computer games, and 24-hour cartoon networks. Remember: the modern child is smarter, smarter, and easily bored than any previous generation.


Crisis time. When you submit your first manuscript, go straight to writing your second. When your manuscript comes back unloved, send another shipment the same day (or even better, send two). For every five rejections, rewrite. Never give up.

Over the course of several months, I sent my manuscript to every agent in the country. They all rejected until I was rejected. So I went straight to the publishers instead. I nearly fell out of my computer chair when the second responded immediately. The wonderful Ibis Publishing in Melbourne liked my story so much that they asked me to commit to writing two more in the same series. The truth is, if published, I would have committed to writing a sequel naked in a bubble in the middle of Pitt Street. Luckily, they didn’t. But I still have my bubble.


It has been over a year since my book was accepted. My patient editor, Belinda Bolliger, has taken me through two more rewrites to add backstory, remove my fever of ellipses, and tone down my more extreme jokes. My main character has become less obnoxious and has changed gender from a girl to a boy. Why? Apparently, the girls will read about the boys; but boys don’t like to read about girls.

I originally named my book after the planet of the talking horses and mutant chooks at the center of my story. However, Uponia (too weird) was changed to Planet Horse Fart (too rude) to ZAPP to Planet Horse (too much horsey) to Raz James and The Amazing ZAPP Discovery (too vague) to Erasmus James and the Galactic ZAPP Machine (too. …wait, that’s it!).

The cover has changed almost as many times, while the publication date has been pushed back from last Christmas to May, June and September. Fingers crossed for the latter!

It is vital to remain flexible and positive through such changes and delays. Yoga helps. It is better to do everything right than to rush out an inferior product. The extra time has also given me time to set up a website, work out a battle plan with the Ibis marketing team, Anthony and Paola, and watch my hair turn even grayer. Meanwhile, my bank account has plummeted, but who really needs modern conveniences like electricity and food?

In the path

Last month I drove to Sydney to psych up the Pan Macmillan sales team. I put on a ten-minute stand-up comedy routine and was surprised more than anyone when the friendly crew laughed at my lame jokes and seemed excited about selling my book. On the long drive home, I realized that this would be the first of many promotional trips: to schools, book signings, anything and everything that would help me sell a few more copies and keep doing what I love so much. Then it started pouring rain and my front tire blew out. As I bounced up the bush, I realized I was about to experience another first on the scenic byway known as Publication Road.

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