Writers talking about their writing. I am delighted to welcome author, editor , speaker . Teena Raffa Mulligan to tell us about her writing.
1. As someone who writes both for children and adults how do you switch between the two?
I’ve always written in different styles and genres, whether poetry and fiction for adults and children or the diverse range of non-fiction I worked on during my years in journalism. It’s not a conscious intention to shift focus, so perhaps I do it instinctively. My voice doesn’t really change from one area of writing to the next, only the subject matter.
2 Do you work on more than one title at once?
Always! I am so impressed by writers who can focus on one project until it’s complete. I’m too much like a butterfly in the garden, flitting from flower to flower. In my case it’s going from one idea to another. I write whatever is in my mind at the time, so it might be a fragment of poetry, sections of a picture book, scenes from a short story or novel. The process works brilliantly for short things because I complete them quite quickly, especially if an idea takes hold and over a period of a few days won’t leave me alone. It’s an incredibly inefficient way to write novels, though, because I take such a long time to get to The End.
3 You are a hybrid author- that is you are both traditionally published and self-published- what do you find are the benefits and pitfalls of each approach?
Ah! The big question. My preference as an author is to have a publisher pick up my manuscripts. The key benefit is being confident they know their business and will do the best they can to make my book a success. There is also still quite a widespread community perception that being published by a ‘proper’ publisher means you are a ‘real’ writer. Being published by one of the big publishers can open up opportunities that are less likely to be offered to self-publishers.
As a self-publisher, I am a small business owner, responsible for every aspect from actual book production to admin, distribution, sales and marketing. My strength is in coming up with ideas and writing stories. To be a really successful self-publisher, you have to be a savvy business person and I don’t see myself wearing that role very well. I am learning but of course while I am reading blogs, watching videos, listening to podcasts and attending workshops about all the aspects of being a self-publisher I need to know, I am not writing. However, I love creating books and I have a number of unpublished manuscripts on file that I would like to see in print. The big plus of self-publishing is the control I have, the ease of print on demand production and how quickly I can release a book onto the market.
That leads me to the biggest downside of traditional publishing. It can take a long time to find a traditional publisher, sometimes years. Even though I have had a dozen books published through traditional publishing, I still get more rejections than acceptances. It’s a competitive market. Even when I do get a manuscript picked up, there is usually another long wait between signing the contract and celebrating the book’s release.
With illustrated books I often have no input into the illustrations and in some cases don’t see finished artwork until the book is released. Some of the newer small publishers such as Serenity Press and Daisy Lane Publishing do encourage author and illustrator input or collaboration and that’s a bonus.
Then there’s the financial aspect. Unless your book happens to be a runaway best seller, there’s no point thinking of giving up the day job. The standard 10 per cent royalty on a recommended retail price (RRP) of 15.50 is only $1.55 per book sold. In some cases if it’s a picture book, that 10 per cent is split between the author and illustrator, so only five per cent each. Print runs in Australia are often small and many publishers don’t offer an advance. Children’s authors in particular usually rely on payments for author talks and workshops, plus the annual education and public lending rights payments to supplement income from royalties, whereas indie authors who promote themselves and their titles well can make a decent living from their writing.
4 If you were starting now would you still be a hybrid author or would you choose one approach over the other?
I began submitting to publishers in the 1970s when the world of publishing was vastly different. It wasn’t as easy or affordable for authors to publish their own work, plus there was such a stigma about self-publishing, which was widely considered a vanity option for writers who weren’t good enough to get a contract. I wanted to be taken seriously as an author. I still do and like it or not, self-published authors are still seen as second best in some sectors of the industry.
I ventured into self-publishing because my stranger danger picture book was long out of print but I was still reading it during school visits and being asked by parents and teachers where they could get a copy. It seemed like a good idea to produce a new edition so I did. At the time I only intended to self-publish that one book but the changes in the publishing industry and the introduction of new technology led me to rethink that decision. Meeting the inspirational Karen McDermott of Serenity Press and Making Magic Happen Academy came at the right time and motivated me to stop thinking about publishing my own books and do it.
However, to answer your question, if I were starting now I would still choose to try for a traditional publishing contract first, with self-publishing as a backup option.
5. How do you capture your ideas?
Usually with pen and paper initially. I only go to the computer when I have something to get me started, even if it’s just the opening paragraph, a conversation or a scene. I keep notebooks and pens handy…though sometimes I leave the notebook from my handbag on my computer desk when I’ve been working from it. I have used napkins in a café to capture my idea, the back of shopping dockets, in fact anything I can write on.
6. What are you working on now?
I am writing a quirky story for young readers about a kid who hires a parent tamer. At first Talibut Vish looks like he will be the solution to Mike’s out of control mum and dad but the stranger’s special powers only escalate the chaos in his life. It’s a fun story but because I’m not a planner I get so far then don’t know what happens next. That’s when I go back to the short romance I’m writing for an anthology. It features a gorgeous Labrador with serious anxiety issues…and a mismatched couple, of course.
7 Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Write in the way that works best for you. If that means having a nine to five working day five days a week and planning every aspect of your novel before you start writing, then do that. If your creativity works best with an unstructured, fluid approach, embrace it. After all, would you go for a long walk in a pair of shoes that didn’t fit? It’s difficult in this era of social media, but try to avoid measuring your productivity and achievements as a writer against anyone else’s. The creative spirit is sensitive — it needs a positive environment to flourish, so be gentle with yourself. Explore where your writing takes you and enjoy the journey.
Bio: Teena Raffa-Mulligan is a reader, writer and daydream believer who believes there is magic in every day if you choose to find it. She discovered the wonderful world of storytelling as a child and decided to become a writer at an early age. Teena writes across genres and her publications include poetry and short stories for children and adults, picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels and romances. She shares her passion for books and writing by presenting talks and workshops to encourage people of all ages to write their own stories.
Teena’s February release is a lively collection of poems that encourages young readers to enjoy poetry and marvel at the wonder of words. Funny, thoughtful, silly and serious, Sleepy Socks and Sometime Rhymes is a celebration of the everyday and the imaginary. It is ideal for home or classroom, for sharing or for quiet moments curled up in a comfy chair.
It is available from