Writing Survey

October 18, 2022 at 11:09 am (Uncategorized)

A small-publisher friend of mine is studying and asked me to fill out this survey, which I thought was moderately interesting so I asked her permission to blog it.

Writing and publishing history:

  1. When did you begin writing speculative fiction (ie science fiction, fantasy and/or horror fiction)? Late Primary School.
  2. When did you begin to submit your work for publication? Late Primary School
  3. How long after you began to submit your work did it take for your first publication? Early High School
  4. Where – which markets, editors and publishers – did/do you submit your work for publication? The Canberra Times had a Junior Poetry section when I was in High School, and every so often English teachers would tell the class about other contests which they helped me enter. In my teens I used the Australian Writers’ Marketplace to submit dozens of stories to contests, magazines, etc. I wrote my first novella age sixteen which did well in a contest, and then I submitted it to various publishers. It was purchased by the (then) Royal Blind Society to be produced as an audio book (although it was never produced). I continued writing roughly one book per year for fifteen years, and had a novel published by a publisher for the first time in 2016 (with five more since then, as well as about ten interactive novels), when I was thirty-four.
  5. Are you still writing now? Yes.
  6. Are you still submitting your work for publication? If no, please discuss.

Yes. I have somewhere between 3 and 5 books in the queue for publication (small publishers are often unreliable) and I’m also working on two interactive novels.

Experiences in publishing:

  • Detail your most memorable experiences in seeking publication – how did you decide where to submit? Briefly detail what those first submissions processes were like.

I was writing and submitting novels from sixteen years of age—long before I knew anything about anything. I looked up publishers online before I started using the Australian Writers’ Marketplace.

One piece of information was so out of date that the publisher’s office had been taken over by some kind of tech company that sent me a bunch of merch. That was a huge thrill.

For about ten years before I was accepted for publication, most publishers would request a full manuscript before rejecting it. On one occasion, one of the ‘big 4’ requested a full manuscript. I followed up once per six months. Altogether, it took them four years to reject that book.

During all that time I continued to write and submit short stories, winning or placing in contests every so often. Something like 1% of my stories would receive some kind of encouragement. The Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Awards were especially encouraging (more money than others that I won, and with an award ceremony with a well-known guest—meeting Kerry Greenwood the same year I won her ‘Malice Domestic’ award was huge even though I usually write fantasy rather than crime).

Once I paid over $90 (a huge amount for a student) for a pitch session with a publisher who said she thought my opening scene was a dream because “it has pirates in it, and pirates aren’t real”. I had checked that this publisher produced fantasy, but clearly that particular acquisitions editor really didn’t. That was one of the worst moments of my so-called ‘career’—not because I was rejected; I’d had hundreds of rejections—but because I’d wasted a fortnight’s income on someone who was so obviously the wrong person.

That book is “The Monster Apprentice”. The whole trilogy is now published, and you can buy signed copies directly from me here, or get it from all the usual retailers (on or offline).

I also ‘won’ a pitch session with a very well-known Australian fantasy publisher which required that I travel to New Zealand to meet with her. She never did publish any of my books (although I kept in touch with her for years and always sent my books to her first), but I met one of my favourite writer friends during those pitch sessions (SC Green, who is a financially successful full-time NZ author of mainly fantasy romance/erotica—she writes many books every year, and they’re good).

Some years later I pitched another book at another face-to-face session and about a year later they actually said yes. A year after that, and before my book was published, the publisher collapsed. That particular book still isn’t published. I may take another look at it some day, but I’m no longer in any hurry.


In yet another pitch session, I met Michelle Lovi of Odyssey Press, who eventually published my steampunk trilogy and my kids’ pirate fantasy trilogy (above) as well as two other books.

But I get more money (still peanuts, but to a starving person peanuts are extremely important) from Interactive Fiction (published via game companies even though it’s still up to 400,000 words per story, with little or no sound or images).

  • Have you ever been asked to make changes to your work that felt gendered?

When I was planning “Heart of Brass” (first book in my steampunk trilogy) in 2009 or so, I wanted a bisexual heroine, partly because I love the gays (I didn’t know I was bisexual myself until later), and partly because it gave her more interesting romantic options. I discussed it with several high-profile Australian authors who advised me strongly not to have a non-straight romance as it was far less likely to sell. I ultimately decided that it added enough to the story that it was worth it.

However, one of the ‘big 4’ publishers (one who liked it enough to give comments) compared my writing to the work of Erin Morgenstern. Which is highly complementary, but doesn’t actually make sense. We are both fantasy writers, but the only other thing we have in common is having gay characters.


It does look likely that being gay-friendly was a factor in my rejections. But I’ve had plenty of rejections for books that didn’t have any gay characters, so it’s not the only factor.

  • Were you ever asked to write under a pseudonym or initials?

No. But there wouldn’t be any point, as I write from a first person female perspective anyway. If someone is allergic to female authors, they’ll definitely be allergic to a female perspective.

  1. Did you ever consider writing under a different name? If so, why?

Yes, when I was younger I used a pen-name because I was underage. I gave it up because I could never remember what my own name was from one moment to another.

  1. Have you found interactions with editing staff you’ve worked with to be supportive and positive?


I had one extremely patronising female editor who thinks she ‘brought out’ my story (like a sculptor finding a shape within a block of marble). Actually that story was pretty average and derivative and I always found it odd that it was published at all.

Another editor, a male who I knew as a friend, put in about ten semi-colons in a single page of text. I gently pointed out what had happened and he apologised profusely and said he didn’t know what he was thinking when he did that.

  1. Does it affect your submission process if you know the editor/s are male or cis-gendered, or if you have reason to believe that the publication promotes a high proportion of male authors?

No. Partly because I usually have that female first person perspective anyway, so there’s nothing I could do to conceal my femininity. Partly because writing fantasy or writing gay characters has been a noticeable barrier but I’ve never had enough information to blame male editors for my assorted failures.

  1. Does it affect your submission process if you know the editor/s are female, trans or non-binary, or if you have reason to believe that the publication promotes a high proportion of female, trans or non-binary authors?

I’d be a lot more likely to submit, and to submit one of my overtly gay/trans-friendly tales. Mostly so they are likely to find a gay audience, since I do love LGBTIQA+ people and I want them/us to see ourselves in stories.

  1. Have you ever chosen not to put yourself forward for an opportunity, or publication, because of your gender or identity, or for a reason associated with your gender or identity?

No. As a writer of interactive fiction (basically, Choose Your Own Adventure stories, usually released as phone apps) it took me a long while to be comfortable promoting myself among gamers (since I’m really really not into computer games) but I just call myself a “niche gamer” these days.

The interactive fiction field is usually very very welcoming and diverse, making it an oasis among the wider (famously sexist and homophobic) gaming community. I’ll always get some reviews complaining about my ‘woke agenda’ but they’re thoroughly drowned out by others who appreciate the story (including a strong minority saying, “This game developer should totally write novels”, which is always funny).

I particularly enjoyed working at Tin Man Games. I worked mainly with one woman and one man, and the three of us had a male boss. Both men were and are fantastic and respectful.

I did hear, long ago, that books with pictures of Women of Colour on the cover were less likely to sell. So it was a priority for me to have Indonesian-looking women on the cover of my kids’ fantasy pirate trilogy (set in a world based on Indonesia).

  1. Do you have any noteworthy examples of editorial feedback you’ve received on your writing you would like to share with this study – either positive or negative, inspirational or demoralising?

Only the stuff mentioned above.

  1. Do you have any awareness or opinion of your possible exclusion from publications or other writer-related events (such as convention panels, writing groups, writing festival events etc) due to your gender or identity?

It’s possible, but if so I didn’t know about it.

  1. Have opportunities been offered to you because of your gender or identity such as publishing projects, mentoring, financial support, appearances at events, or similar?

Nope. Only based on knowledge eg writing steampunk.

Oh, and the Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Award is only open to women. That made a real difference to me.

And when I apply to be a panellist at Conflux Speculative Fiction Conference in Canberra each year, I mention any bits of diversity I have (bisexual, Austistic, disabled) so they can put me on relevant panels. But those aren’t paid.

  1. How would you assess how opportunities made or denied to you because of your gender or identity have affected your writing career?

I am not aware of my gender or identity having an effect on my career, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

  1. Are there any other experiences you feel are relevant to this research that you would like to share?

I suspect publishing is like education: More women are present in the field, because it pays less than the average job. But the men that are in the field are more likely to have better pay and greater power. (Similar patterns shake out when you look at race.)

There is one piece of the puzzle that definitely has an effect on me. It’s such a large effect I can’t even blame the industry, exactly. My books feature female characters. They’re on the cover, and they’re the ‘voice’ of the stories. So I always, always sell less books to men.

Presumably every editor I’ve ever had contact with has known that they’ll get around 40% less sales than they would with a male protagonist. So I’m sure that was part of the equations that got me 15 years of novel rejections before I had a novel published for the first time.


1 Comment

  1. benoitsmithfr said,

    What an informative interview about your career. Thank you.

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