First Book Journeys


The manuscript

I wrote How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You at age 21 – it started out as just a story I felt I had to tell, whether or not anyone outside of myself ever had the chance to read it. That said, I was always very conscious of writing for an audience – girls 12 years and up – and set high standards for myself in terms of the quality of the writing. I treated the writing of the novel like I would an actual job – I sat down five days a week for 4-5 hours each time for about eight months, editing the previous day’s material before continuing on. After I completed the novel, I decided to put it away for a period in order to be able to evaluate it with fresh eyes. Being 21, I had many people telling me that the odds of having the work published was close to impossible, so I decided to leave it be whilst I completed my University degree – during which time I did a minor in literature and wrote some freelance stories for bridal publications. It was only at age 27 that I had some free time in between job hunting that I decided to make a project of editing the original manuscript over about two months after years of my Dad asking me when I was ‘going to do something with that book!’

The Contract/Book Deal

When I completed the editing of my manuscript I became quite determined to try and submit it to publishing houses, despite most people around me telling me that I was likely to never hear anything back once I’d wound up on the famous ‘slush pile.’ I did some research and found out that one of Australia’s biggest publishing houses allowed authors without agents to submit unsolicited works via an ‘email pitch’ – basically emailing through a synopsis, a three chapter sample and a bio. I sent this off with the intention that if I didn’t hear anything back in a few months, I would contact other publishing houses. In the meantime, I was actually trying to get a job in the Publishing sector, as books are my passion. I wound up scoring a position in the Sales department of Harper Collins. About two months went by and I almost forgot about the email pitch, until I suddenly heard back from them – indicating they were interested in the work.

I was worried that this might be a conflict of interest seeing as I was working for a rival publishing house – so I wound up very nervously explaining the situation to my boss – feeling embarrassed that I was a brand new employee seemingly revealing I was an aspiring writer. She, to her credit, didn’t blink an eye and said she would talk to the Children’s Publishing Department at Harper Collins to see if they would be interested. I ended up giving them about 13 chapters of the novel, and waited another six weeks, whilst unbeknown to me, the chapters were passed from assistant, to head of publishing, to the Associate Publisher for children’s and young adult titles (Lisa Berryman). Finally one very exciting Monday morning, I received a call from Lisa (based in Melbourne) who told me she adored the novel and intended to take it to acquisitions meeting the following week. My chapters were then sent round to about twenty people on the acquisitions list, and the next Monday, at 10.30am, I had another call from Lisa telling me that everyone had loved the novel so much that they wanted to make an immediate offer for it, as well as offering for a sequel. One of the best mornings of my life!

After the Signing

After signing in August 2011, I was told that the novel would have to be reduced to around 100,000 words (it was then about 150,000) and that the reduced manuscript would be due in about four months, after which the formal editing process would begin. In order to assist me, my publisher sent the manuscript to an out of house editor who would make suggestions as to where the work could be reduced and improved. I then spent the Christmas period of 2011/12 reducing the word count. My publishers and editors were fantastic as they were very open to where I made edits and where I really wanted to retain certain parts of the story that I felt essential.

After I handed this in to my publisher, the reduced manuscript went to another freelance editor, Nicola O’Shea, who is known as one of the best in the business. Nicola then went through checking all grammar and suggesting further ways in which to tighten and improve the structure and overall feel of the novel.

Nicola was a dream for a new novelist to work with as she really understood the book and its characters, as well as my ‘voice’ as a writer. After all edits were completed with Nicola, the novel was then passed to a continuity editor, who ensured that the timeline and all aspects of the story (set over about a six week time period) made sense for the reader. The editorial aspect of my publishing deal was overseen by the wonderful Kate Burnitt (in house) and I had regular email and face to face contact with Lisa as to my progress, meaning that I feel tremendously well taken care of and confident about the work undertaken.

Aesthetics & Essentials

Lisa had a concept for the book cover from the very beginning – as most of the YA books on the market at the time were black/red/white and had realistic covers (usually with a photograph of a teen girl on the front) Lisa wanted something very different that reflected the girly, fun, romantic feel of the novel. She wanted an illustrated cover, in pastels, with the title of the book made prominent in a unique typeface. The design team at Harper Collins worked with Blue Boat Designs (based in Melbourne) to come up with different ideas and colour schemes. After these designs went to the Harper Collins cover meeting (attended by publishers, designers, heads of publishing and sales managers) the chosen colour scheme and layout was further tweaked over further months. I was consulted as to the images and was allowed to make suggestions that I felt were on brand. I was very happy with the final product and the image for the sequel has been adapted from this design also. In terms of extracts, we prepared a two- three chapter sampler to be launched on the Facebook Fan page, Goodreads and also sent out printed samplers to a large number of Dymocks and independent bookstores nationally to gain support for the book pre-release. I wrote a letter addressed from ‘Aurora’ (the books character) discussing her ‘dating guide’ and how she wanted to take the publishing world by storm to accompany the extract – keeping the message fun and on target with the overall branding of the series.

Marketing & Publicity                       

There was a marketing plan developed by Lisa and Tim (my marketing campaign manager at the time) – it was decided that Aurora should be developed as a ‘teen dating expert’ launching her official ‘Find a Prince Program’ (which features in How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You). We set up a Facebook Fan page under Aurora’s name ( ) several months prior and I began posting content on love and romance so that when the Facebook advertising began, the site would be ready for visitors. Details of the Facebook page, along with a scanable QR code, were placed on the back cover and author details sections of the book, so that enthused readers could find out more information. We also launched a Valentine’s Countdown (my book was released two weeks before Valentines Day)– which was a tip a day for 14 days on how to land a Valentine’s date with your crush. The Facebook page has been a wonderful part of reaching and communicating with fans. The ‘teen dating expert’ angle has flowed through to a large number of fans sending private inbox messages to ‘Aurora’ asking for personalised advise on their love lives.

I organised certain aspects of my marketing strategy where I saw opportunity – such as offering 10 copies up to Goodreads for readers to win and therefore review, which has led to more high star ratings on the site. I interact a lot with readers and reviewers on Goodreads, as it’s a huge platform. I have also run ‘National Kissing Day’ competitions and contacted my home town paper and university for articles in the local media. As an author, it’s important to find opportunities to promote yourself where you can. With the launch of the sequel, and having a new publicist Amanda, further publicity strategy has been implemented, with my being booked for the Sommerset Literary Festival in March 2014.


All about Tara’s first book: How to keep a boy from kissing you

COV_HowToKeepABoyFromKissing.inddSweet sixteen and never been kissed – and that’s the way Aurora Skye wants it to be. She’s too busy finding Potential Princes ™ for her two best friends, counseling her sensitive New Age dad and dealing with the unexpected return of her long-absent mum. But always in the background there’s Hayden Paris, the boy next door, the bane of Aurora’s life. Smart, funny, and always around to see her at her worst, he ‘gets’ her like no-one else …  and that’s what makes him so infuriating.

When Aurora and Hayden are coerced into the lead roles in the school production of Much Ado About Nothing, things can only get worse.  How is Aurora going to save her first kiss for the secret admirer who wooed her with poetry and a spectacular bunch of flowers on Valentine’s Day if she doesn’t know who he is and she’s obligated to lock lips with Hayden in the play’s final dramatic clinch?

A page-turning, funny and delicious romp of a book that both kissing and non-kissing teenage girls will adore.

My first book Journey

Part One: Shopping my Manuscript

In 2009, I met a Young Adult publisher after I gave a talk at the Emerging Writer’s Festival. I’d mentioned I was about three chapters into a YA novel, so she gave me her card and I sent her a few chapters, but the book wasn’t her thing and our relationship soon fizzled out. Some months later, I met an agent, who read those same chapters and encouraged me to get in touch once I was finished, but with the hindsight of a year behind me, I knew it wouldn’t happen with her either.

It was by coincidence and serendipity that I wound up with my current agent, who happens to be one of the best in Australia and who represents some of my favourite authors, including the wildly successful (and rather brilliant) Kate Morton. I had taken her name along to a manuscript assessment session with an editor at the NSW Writer’s Centre, and the editor in question said she was fantastic, so I immediately set my sights on her. Unfortunately her details were impossible to find, and it was only by a dose of God and his miracle ways that I met someone, purely by chance, who knew her and who could pass on her details. The rest, as they say, is history.

I sent her my first ten chapters to see if I should bother continuing the way I was, or if the non-fiction journalist in me needed to take a creative writing course. She said my writing was fine, I didn’t need a course and that she’d like me to stop showing my work around to others. I was hers.

A year and a half later, manuscript sent off to her in its completion, I was invited to her office where she offered some small suggestions on how to strengthen it. The kind of stuff like ‘change this character’s family dynamic’ or ‘you need to get into the head of your lead a little more’. But it was helpful.

A year after that, my manuscript had almost met her expectation, and with some minor changes to be made, I headed to Europe where I then spent long Eurail train rides combining chapters, tying in loose ends and typing away furiously on my laptop, fuelled by the red pen marks, arrows and post-it notes I had marked on my manuscript after some time I spent very slowly reading it.

By the time it was done, I’d already failed at my objective of finishing it before I got overseas so that by the time she sent it off to publishers, I was too busy walking around Florence to even think about it. I ended up sending the manuscript  from my parents’ remote village in Lebanon’s North, on a rare day that I had access to email.

Part Two: The book deal

A week after returning home, I received the call that I had been waiting for. Two publishers would be making an offer on my novel the following week. I burst into tears from happiness and literally fell down on my knees, thanking God for my blessing. It was a glorious day, but the week that followed was scary. I was paranoid: what if they changed their mind? What if, at their acquisitions meeting, another staff member talked them out of it? Even after I was formally offered my book deal with Harper Collins, I couldn’t believe it until I had my written offer, with dates and figures and names of staff, in my hands.

It was finally happening, but things got strangely quiet post-signing. I had a quick meet and greet with my publishers at my agent’s place – followed shortly by a visit to the Harper Collins offices to meet the Marketing & PR team working on my book. Nothing was discussed in fine detail – it was more of an update on the process to follow (structural editing, copy editing, designing a cover), a hope from both sides on whether the other had chosen a title (more on this later) and suggestions as to whether or not I knew someone (with some sort of profile relevant to my target audience) who might be able to provide a back-of-cover testimonial for the book (though this was not a pre-requisite or must for publishing). Suddenly, the one year lead-time between signing my contract and my intended publishing time frame (early September) made a lot more sense.

Part Three: Editorial Calendar + Edits

With this time frame came an editorial calendar, which was produced by a Project Editor: someone who handles all the little jobs needed to bring my book to fruition. The calendar is basically a list of dates containing deadlines for certain tasks and who was to look after them. The first thing on the editorial calendar was my structural edit. A structural edit is the first round of editing and involves looking at the novel as a big picture: seeing if the storyline works, if the character says something that seem out of odds with his/her inner thoughts or even behaviours, if other characters mentioned in the novel need more air-time. It’s different to the copy-edit which takes place after the story is pretty much set in stone and the text is ready for grammatical run-throughs and the like. For me that involved things like changing the dynamics of a certain character’s family, or adding an additional chapter to allow some loose ends to be tied.

Here are some examples of the feedback from my structural edit (some bits are obviously left out to not ruin the story):

  • These are excellent themes for a YA novel, but I think you could do more to incorporate them into the story and into Sophie’s character. That idea of XXX is set up at the very start of the novel, before she meets XXX and starts working at XXX, so where is it coming from?
  • I’d suggest in your next draft you showcase the change happening on the page, rather than telling us it’s already happened.
  • You tell us she’s a big reader, but what kind of books is she reading? What are the authors she is following? Could you have her following a certain set of commentary blogs?
  • Perhaps you can look at including her mother more in the scenes?
  • XXX’s story provides a sub-plot to the main storyline, but it’s not quite as developed as it might be. I’ve made notes on the manuscript where you might consider expanding what’s there, to give her story a little more substance.

After the structural edit was finalised, I moved on to Copy Edit stage, which is self-explanatory: it’s pretty much a read through of every word in the manuscript to see if the right tense, word and grammar are being used. For example, I had a 15 year old boy at six foot three inches tall, which wasn’t thought out at all (I think I just made up a height at the time), and because my book was originally set in 2006, I had overlooked one mention of MSN chat when I changed everything to Facebook chat. My copy editor also picked up things that were used a little too much, like eye rolling (my character sure liked to roll her eyes a lot), or too little (why wasn’t she seen writing in her journal?).

The copy editor does the track changes, which I then print out and comment next to. I’d either approve, veto or change the comments – it’s a good thing I got a run through of it as well because I also picked up that my character did one subject too many in her HSC (since changed) and I could also re-instate things that were removed, because to me they were culturally relevant based on her ethnicity.

Part Four: Aesthetics & Essentials

With the copy of the text all sorted, it was time to move on to titles and covers. Titles were a big priority at this point because publishers design their covers months in advance – even six months out from release date. They also start thinking about marketing material; and promotional material goes out to media (as it must due to lead times) three or four months in advance. We struggled a fair bit with my title because we couldn’t have anything that was sketchy around the subject matter (race, race-hate etc), but thankfully the cover was a breeze. I was really impressed with the way the team at Harper Collins hit the nail on the head with it, despite my not having any idea what I wanted. All I knew was that I wanted blue, my favourite colour, but I loved it from the moment I saw it. All those white words summed up my character’s woes and reflections so perfectly, outlining exactly what she’s so conflicted about. They did something that I hoped my sentences on the inside do: they made her real.

By the time the cover was ready and started making its way onto YA blogs and publicity material, I had written my dedication and acknowledgements page, and sent it off. It was out of my hands.

Part Five: Marketing & Publicity

At this point, the book started going out to YA bloggers and some media, and closer to release date, I got a media itinerary which covered which radio interviews I’d be doing and when. It was at this point that I had to start talking about my book about a zillion times per week, so it was nerve-wracking and exciting. In all honesty, there was no massive publicity push. It can kind of went out into the world without a big bang, but at least I had a lovely launch to celebrate with.


Thanks for reading my first book journey!