Smart People Talking: Marianne de Pierres

Marianne de Pierres is a kick-ass Aussie author with a love of genre and helping other writers find their voice. Marianne writes crime and sci-fi, has a growing reputation as a powerhouse storyteller, and has written for children and young adults. Like I said- powerhouse. While at Brisbane’s 2016 Oz Comic-Con, Marianne joined Isobelle Carmody and C.S. Pacat in the ‘Writing As A Day Job’ panel, where they discussed the realities of a life in literature.

Don’t send to publishers while trying to find an agent, because the agent will want to send them there. Agents won’t take you if they can’t sell your work.

If you want an agent, focus on getting one before you focus on shopping around your work. Far too many writers taking the approach of sending their work everywhere all at once- and it rarely works well.

The best way to go about getting published is to be focused and precise in the way you go about it. First and foremost- finish your novel and have it polished to the point you’d be happy to have it published. Half finished first drafts aren’t helpful, because you want to show people your best and most professional work. Let’s say they love your blurb and the first pages: what can you honestly show them in a timely fashion?

If you want an agent, research them before approaching them. List the agents you’d most like to work with, down to the ones you’d tolerate working with. Then slowly move down the list. It’s the same if you just want to find a publisher- research who is publishing the genres you write in, and who you’d most like to work with, and start moving down the list.

Also? Always give them time to get back to you. There are a lot of people sending work through at any given time. You need to remember that they’ve got a lot to read through (and the more rudely you pester, the less likely they are to want to work with you).

The Australian voice doesn’t always translate well. However, you have to tell the story you want to tell.

Don’t try to force an American accent in the hopes it’ll be better received. Tell the story you feel compelled to tell, in the way that feels right for the story. Just write, and let the publisher or agent worry about the marketability of a voice.

Marketability is an ever-changing idea. The Australian voice is getting more and more recognised and respected, certainly, but trends in writing mean that Aussie writers have phases of being popular in certain areas and genres. Write the story how it demands to be told, and worry about selling it later.

If you want to be published, do the right thing. Obey submission guidelines.

One of the biggest things writers do wrong is not paying attention to submission guidelines. Publishers and agents have a constant stream of work coming into their hands, all looking to be published. They can’t take everyone, so they’re looking for ways to thin down the list of potentials. Obeying submission guidelines is an easy way to keep your name on the list- it’s a show of professionalism and respect, which helps them see that you’re not a raging diva who’ll leave them grey-haired and exhausted well before their time. Same with being courteous. Don’t spam their email account with demands to know when you’ll hear back, and if their submissions are closed, don’t send them work unless they have specifically asked you to. They’re little things that don’t take much time, but they can have a huge difference.

Don’t worry about having your work stolen. If you’re dealing with reputable publishers, your pretty safe. Theft of ideas is more common in film and TV, not fiction.

Always do your research before sending your work to someone else. There are websites out there that keep an eye on scam publishers, so check in regularly to see what new spaces aren’t as great as they sound. But don’t think that a publisher or agent is going to steal your work. It’s financially impractical to do so- they then have to hire someone else to do something that’s going to take a while- something that you’ve already handed them. It makes more financial sense for publishers to work with the original writer rather than pass the idea to one of their writers.

Sometimes, two people do have the same idea, and it can be the case that another writer has just gotten their work to the right hands ahead of you. As long as you’re working with reputable publishers, it’s highly unlikely it’s a set up.

If you’re published, don’t read fanfic (based on your work). You open yourself up to being accused of stealing ideas.

Fandom is a wonderful part of the creative industries, but it can have a dark side. Reading fanfic based on the work you’re currently writing can open you up to legal challenges, and unfairly influence your work. When the universe you’ve created is done with, sure. If you feel you need to read it, go ahead. But while you’re still playing in that sandbox, stay away from looking at what other people are doing in there.

It can also be good to avoid reading in the genre you’re working in, too.

When you write, you don’t write for anyone else.

Write for you, not for an imaginary audience. Edit for a genre or audience in mind, sure, but when you write, don’t sit there wondering if a 45-60 year old woman is going to fully identify with the tropes inherent in your protagonist. See how that sucks the fun right out of writing? Your eyes probably just glazed over reading that. It doesn’t matter what that woman thinks- it’s about writing the story the way it needs to be told. Worry about the opinions of others later. Don’t bludgeon your drafts with the expectations of others until they’re old enough, and strong enough, to cope with the pressure.

All I want in life is to feel like I connect well to people. The way people respond to my work never ceases to amaze me and humble me.

Writing is a way of connecting with others. But you can’t write with that connection in mind. People connect to the honesty and vulnerability of your writing, so don’t try and manufacture sincerity and vulnerability- it really doesn’t work.

It’s an amazing privilege when people have a profound emotional connection to your work- it’s an honour to have people feel changed or empowered by your writing. Never forget that. Writing is about connection, not competition. Don’t let your ego make corrupt that moment. Be grateful and humble about the impact of your work on the world, because then you won’t try and manufacture the same results in your next work.

Writers tend to fatigue near the end of the book. Sometimes you need to go away from it, and come back when you have energy. Sometimes you’ve gotta take a deep breath and step away from it.

It’s okay to step back. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s only so much running you can do with a stitch or a pulled muscle. Stop, breathe, and step back until you’re in a place where you can do the work justice. Then jump back in. Destroying your physical or emotional health won’t help keep your career going, so meet your needs and take care of yourself while writing.

I’ve learned to trust that my brain will work through even when I’m not. I have to trust myself.

The beauty of the human brain is that it works on problems behind your back. Remember when your Mum would tell you to stop trying to remember where you left a missing possession, because the information would come to you naturally? It’s the same as that. When we’re focused and stressing about trying to make something work, we’re actually blocking our ability to get things done. We’re making it harder on ourselves. It’s like sitting beside someone who’s trying to take a test and yelling ‘tick tock’ at the top of our lungs. But when we give our subconscious the chance to think about ideas without being pestered by our conscious mind, we’re likely to come up with a better idea in a quicker time frame. Even when stepping away feels like a misstep, it’s often an important part of the process.

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