Sally Murphy is a children’s book author with 31 books to her credit and more in production. As well as writing full time, she runs popular book review site aussiereviews.com, teaches part time and is mother to six children.
Sally started writing for children when she was still one herself. In fact she remembers making up stories and trying to write them down before she started school. She grew up knowing that she wanted to be an author, and although it took her longer than she thought it might, she followed that dream until her first book was published in 1996. Since then she has had verse novels, picture books, educational titles and more published, and has won numerous awards for her books.
What is your life motto? “Get over yourself”
I find I do my best stuff when I stop worrying about what people will think, or whether what I want to do will work, or whether I would be happier doing x y or z. Life is too short to second guess.
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? I was born a writer, I think. My earliest memories are to do with books and reading and I started making up my own stories before I could write. By the time I left school I’d realised that writing fiction is rarely a full time paying job, so I became a teacher, but I always wrote. It took another 10 or so years before I started to have some small publication successes and ten more before I started to have children’s fiction books published. Now, 26 years since I left school, my books are becoming reasonably well known in the children’s book world, and I’ve won some awards. I still feel there’s much more I can do to be successful.
How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? Many. Even when I was working full time, or at home as a full time mum (I have six children) I grabbed spare moments to write and read endlessly to try to hone my craft. I took classes, networked, and just kept trying both to improve my skills and to get published.
Describe how difficult the business really is? Getting published is really difficult. Staying published is, too. For every book I have had published I have five more that haven’t found homes. And once a book is published, it’s a struggle to keep it in print. An author must always be looking for ways to promote her published books, and coming up with new works. And yet it is a wonderful business to be involved in. I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than creating stories which inspire, or entertain, or delight children (or all three). And the children’s book world is filled with wonderful people who support each other and work together so well.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? Being so desperate to get published that I didn’t stop to make sure my work was publishable. I spent a lot of years trying to get published before I learnt to study the market and improve my writing to publishable standard. Like many beginning/unpublished writers, I presumed that the publishers were just not seeing how good my work was, rather than realising my work wasn’t ready.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Breathe. Doesn’t matter what business you are in, sometimes you need to just stop, take a break and breathe deep. In all the hustle and bustle, you don’t always give yourself time to pause and think through where you are going (and where you’ve been).
In your mind, is formal training essential? No. Although I did do some creative writing courses, and they helped, I don’t think they are essential. However, having said that, anyone who wants to be a published author should take the time to learn the industry – and courses are one way of doing that.
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? I haven’t had a formal mentor, but have been helped with advice, friendship and support by lots of other authors, publishers and so on. Writers’ organisations such as the Australian Society of Authors do run mentorship programmes. There are also lots of ways of building connections with other authors such as through social networking, attending conferences and other industry events.
What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? Getting to know the industry. Read as many new release books in your genre as possible and see how the books are written, who they are published by and so on. Read submission guidelines for any publisher you are considering submitting to. Get to know other writers and attend industry events such as conferences. Join writers’ organisations.
What kept you going when you felt like giving up? The stories. Many, many times I swore I would never submit another story, never write another word, but story ideas kept coming up to me and wouldn’t leave me alone until they were written down. That, and the fact that I’m stubborn.
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? You make your own luck. I got lucky because I persevered, though there have been moments of perfect timing, such as having the right manuscript on the right desk on the right day.
For more on Sally go to her website.