In Part One of this interview with Jo Sandhu, we looked at how she started out writing and how she got her foot in the door of the publishing house at Penguin. In Part Two, we drilled down into the details of publication, editing and bringing out a series, with some great writing and research tips thrown in. In Part Three, we talk about discouragements, encouragements and the writing community, as well as some more top tips.
Jo, I hear you have an associate diploma in Speech and Drama and loved acting at school. Do you think there are skills you can take from acting that transfer to writing?
I think when I’m writing an action scene, I automatically think cinematically. How would that look on the big screen? (High hopes!) I think my diploma is more useful when I’m at a school talk or running a workshop. I can usually make myself heard without a microphone, although I’m normally a quiet speaker.
Discouragements are a part of the life of a writer, especially dealing with rejections. What have been the discouragements for you in the writing/publishing arena and how have you dealt with them?
Rejections are never good, but they are inevitable. I try and remember it is nothing personal (like my initial fears.) Your story can be rejected for so many reasons and sometimes it is nothing to do with your writing. Maybe the publishing house has just said yes to a very similar submission; maybe they are looking for a real life story and yours is an absolutely fantastic dystopia fantasy; maybe your story just doesn’t click with the editor reading it. No one has to love every single story out there. Sometimes your timing just isn’t right.
What do you consider the most helpful things that encouraged you to write and made you a better writer?
I think continual support from the writing community has made a huge difference. Sharing stories on line or at meetings or coffee mornings can help us feel less alone and that we are on the right track if we just keep going. Even published authors suffer from lack of confidence. I look at my books on the shelf of a bookstore and I feel so proud – but I still suffer from Imposter Syndrome, where someone is going to tap me on the shoulder and tell me it’s all been a big mistake. The logical part of my brain reminds me about the lovely reviews and the awards and shortlistings. Book 1 – The Exile, was a CBCA Notable, a finalist in the Aurealis Awards for Best Children’s Book and won the Readings Children’s Book Prize in 2018 – so I don’t know how Imposter Syndrome keeps raising its ugly head. (What if no one likes my next story? What if I can’t finish it?) That’s where the support of other writers is invaluable. We all go through it at some stage and by sharing our experiences it gives us the encouragement to go on.
What associations do you belong to and how have they helped?
I’m a member of SCBWI and attend meetings in Brisbane when ever I can. Although I live in Northern NSW, Qld has taken me under their wing since I’m only an hour south.
I’m also a member of ASA, because they fight for our rights in so many ways, including ELR and PLR payments and the fight against Parallel Importations.
I’m still a member of QWC and keep an eye on their workshop programme.
What are your Top three recommended professional development courses/conferences?
Conferences I always enjoy and gain a lot by going to are:
- CYA Conference in Brisbane. It’s my local conference. Tina Clark, organiser-extraordinaire, is one of my closest writing friends, and I remember her saying she books speakers who can offer more than just ‘Their Journey.’ The speakers at CYA are all experts at passing on skills and advice.
- SCBWI every two years in Sydney. I particularly love the networking and meeting up with friends I’ve previously only known on social media. I’ve missed a couple due to family commitments, but I attended the last one in February. I missed out on booking the workshops and that was shame, because I heard they were fabulous. I’m catching up on the highlights thanks to the Roving Reporters.
- KidLitVic in Melbourne. Great masterclasses and I love the panels. So many publishers and editors in one place!
I’m really getting the message about the importance of community and finding your tribe. I notice that you are community focused on social media too. What’s your favourite platform and why?
I’m mostly on Twitter: @joanne_sandhu. The #writingcommunity is super supportive and interactive. I participate in #AusWrites, answering a pre-determined question every two days. I also follow a lot of interactive authors using #talkwriting.
The #AusWrites is a great way to connect easily and in a fun way with others. Thanks for mentioning that!
What are 3 things you think someone starting out in the kids writing industry should know/do/take into account?
So much is matter of good timing or serendipity. Finding just the right editor that adores your work, at just the right time to get the marketing team on board, too. It takes perseverance. I think you have to network and attend conferences. It costs money, but look at it as an investment in starting or maintaining your business. Because writing is a business. And it takes a long time. I still see people at their first conference who are getting frustrated because they finished their first draft last week and now they want to sign that magical contract straight away. Publishing moves very slowly. You can be waiting on an answer for months. It’s just the way it is. Be patient. Give your story its best shot at glory by taking the time to perfect it. And start something else while you’re waiting.
Can you tell us about anything in the works now?
Well – I sort of have two projects on the go. Both middle grade. Both fantasy. I’m resting one at the moment because I was getting too complicated with the plot – a usual problem with me. I try to be too clever and have too many strands all intersecting and connecting. Lovely if it works, but terrible if it doesn’t. We were at the terrible stage, so I’ve locked it away for a while.
The project that’s going really well at the moment is actually a rewrite of one of my earlier stories. (Yes, one that has been rejected by a publisher!) But it’s working this time! I loved the world I had built but my characters were all wrong. This time I’ve got the characters right. I hope. I’m pretty sure I have… And the plot is very exciting.
That’s a great message about resting projects and coming back to them later, with fresh ideas! Good luck with them!
I am wondering if you been published elsewhere?
Many, many years ago I had some light romance short stories in Woman’s Day magazine. They were very soppy.
These days I much prefer to write for kids. You have to know your strengths. 😊
And you are certainly playing to those strengths now! Thanks so much for this interview, Jo. You have offered our readers so much insight and wisdom.
And you can find me here: