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Becoming a published author: A guest post by Annaleise Byrd

Annaleise Byrd writes funny books for kids. Her debut middle grade novel, Losing the Plot – a humorous portal fantasy set in the world of Grimms’ original fairy tales – will be published by Walker Books Australia this March.
Annaleise  agreed to tell us about her journey to publication, a dream for many aspiring writers.  She has some useful tips for others starting their writing career and describes what it feel like to have her first book published.
Exciting. Nerve-wracking. Exhilarating. The culmination of years of writing, thinking, researching, rewriting, critiquing, editing, submitting, waiting and hoping. Scary. Impossible. Inevitable. The end of something. The beginning of something else. Surreal.
When I was invited to write this guest post for StoryLinks, one of the suggested topics was how I prepared to become a published author. The implication was that I had somehow approached this differently, or with more intentionality, and maybe that’s true! So that’s what I’m going to talk about: the things that go above and beyond the usual obvious advice to read lots, write lots and get involved in the kidlit community. Perhaps this post will even give other aspiring authors a few ideas!
The truth is, however, that many of the things that have helped prepare me for becoming a published author weren’t as deliberate as the title of this blog post makes them sound. They were things I started doing for some other reason, and their usefulness from a marketing perspective only became apparent later on. One such example is my social media presence. In 2016, I set up an Instagram account, The Byrd and the Bookworms, with the aim of reviewing kids’ books. I turned out to be an incredibly slack reviewer and, after posting half a dozen times, I let the account languish for a couple of years. Then I started writing for kids and decided to revive the account – probably after hearing somewhere that a social media presence is helpful for aspiring authors. (The jury’s still out on that one, but that’s a conversation for another day. In a nutshell, only do it if you enjoy it!)
I remember having about fifty followers when I started posting again, this time as a writer… and it took me a while to build up the courage to add my real name to the bio! (I’ve only recently changed my handle to @annaleisebyrd for name recognition and searchability reasons.) My account grew slowly but steadily over the next few years, and this time I didn’t stop posting. My immersion in the kidlit world meant I always had something to share. Ultimately, I enjoy connecting with others over books and reading, and the Bookstagram community is my social media safe space. Many of my writerly connections began in that online context. The support I’m starting to see for my own book is not the intended outcome but rather a wonderful side benefit.
My best advice for writers who want to build a social media presence but don’t know what to post about is to focus on other people’s books and bookish events. It’s not about promoting yourself; it’s about sharing your passion for reading. It’s basically a public service!
Another item in this category of “accidental but ultimately useful decisions” is my habit of wearing bird dresses. I often tell people it’s to help them remember my last name; part of my “writer look” – just like Tim Harris’s caps and Allison Tait’s authorial blazers. But I’m pretty sure I stumbled into this idea after coincidentally buying a bird dress or two. For someone who’s not particularly into fashion, it was as much a low maintenance wardrobe choice as a savvy author branding decision. Either way, it’s great to capitalise on these opportunities when they present themselves. I now get comments when I’m spotted at a bookish event in something other than a bird dress, so I guess it worked!
Now let’s talk about the intentional preparations. Early on, I realised that if I became a published author (and I was determined to do so!), I’d have to talk about my books. In public.  And that thought terrified me. So I decided to do something about it. In 2020, I started taking improv classes. I attended one class in person before lockdown hit and the classes moved online. I kept attending, but eventually I realised that while online improv was really fun and helped me think on my feet (another thing I needed help with), it wasn’t giving me that more formal, getting-up-in-front-of-people-and-talking-while-they’re-all-looking-at-me public speaking experience I was most afraid of. What I really needed was what I had been avoiding for years: Toastmasters.
I first attended Toastmasters at the end of 2022. I describe it as exposure therapy – in a structured, supportive environment – for people with a fear of public speaking. And while I can’t say I’ve magically become a confident, extroverted speaker, it’s definitely helping. In 2023, I decided to have a “year of yes” when it came to public speaking opportunities. As well as speaking at Toastmasters every fortnight, I said yes to emceeing two book launches and co-presenting at two writers’ group meetings. And so far I’ve said yes to every opportunity coming my way in 2024.
I also completed the Presenting to Kids course through the Australian Writers’ Centre. It had lots of practical advice about the admin and tech side of school visits, as well as tips about various presentation types and what works well for different age groups. It gave me ideas for everything from book launches to author talks. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to present in schools!
In the end, preparing to become a published author is about getting involved in this wonderful industry, seizing opportunities when they come along and being willing to put ourselves out there a little. All of that is, of course, on top of the fundamental business of writing the very best stories we possibly can.
As I move into published authorhood, I know I’ll still feel nervous and awkward and no doubt make plenty of faux pas along the way. But I’ve done what I can to prepare myself, and that will have to be enough. Now I just need to hold on and enjoy the ride!
Losing the Plot published March 6, 2024.
Annaleise Byrd 
Book launch of Losing the Plot

Anna in one of her signature bird dresses.

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