The debut author series with Alison Donald


The Learning Curve - Insights from Debut Authors 

Nicky Schmidt 

For many the road to publication is long and fraught. For others, a publishing deal comes relatively easily. Those who are still trudging the path may find it hard to imagine what it’s like to be a debut author, and authors with a few books to their name may only dimly recall the original experience

So what is it like? Does life change? Do dreams become reality and with a deal to your name does it all become plain sailing? And what is the process from slushpile to contract to published novel actually like? I asked debut author, ALISON DONALD, about her journey to publication. 

From the time you first started writing, how long did it take to get a publishing deal? 

One year and 9 months. On January 01 2014 I made a New Year’s Resolution to write seriously. I joined SCBWI and quickly got linked up with a critique group. I soon started going to Masterclasses, entering slushpile competitions, writing competitions etc. When I started winning at some of these, it only encouraged me to try harder. My publishing deal with Maverick Arts occurred in Sept 2015. 

It is said that writers have to be persevering and have a tough skin – did you find you grew in endurance and perseverance? Did you ever think about giving up? What made you keep going? 

Yes, writers need to be able to shrug off rejection, but also soak up any constructive feedback and constantly improve upon their writing. I am a positive person by nature, but there were times when the rejection letters were piling up and I felt very discouraged. Sometimes I took a break but I would always find myself back at my laptop writing something new. I couldn’t give up because I genuinely enjoy writing. 

How did you feel when you first landed your deal? Did it feel like the world had changed? How long did the excitement last? 

I was ecstatic! Everything changed. Prior to landing a book deal I was a ‘closeted writer’. Only family and very few friends knew. I was afraid people would laugh if I told them I was a writer. Once I got my publishing deal, I had the confidence to tell people that I was a children’s writer...soon to be author. 

If you think about the amount of work you did on your story pre-deal, how much more work did you have to do once you’d landed your deal – did you realise the real work had only just begun and how surprised where you by that?

There was quite a bit of editing to be done after I landed my book deal. I wasn’t surprised. I was just so pleased that I was being given direction and mentor-ship. I put trust in my editor and it paid off because the final version of my story is much better. 

As the creator of your story, having always been in control of your characters and your plot, how did you find taking on board someone else’s comments and suggestions – was it like losing control and did you ever argue with your editor? 

I am lucky to belong to a very thorough critique group. All of their thorough constructive feedback prepared me well for any editing feedback. I never felt like I was losing control but rather steering the story in a better direction. Arguments? No. 

Assuming you took the majority of suggestions on board, how do you feel it impacted on your story? 

My book is better for it. Picture books truly are a collaborative effort; the editor, designer, and illustrator all contribute hugely to the final product. 

How have you found working with illustrators and cover designers? How much involvement have you had with the graphic content of your book (covers or illustrations)? 

I was fortunate enough to see drafts of the illustrations along the way and to make suggestions. Some were incorporated which was wonderful. I had no input into the cover design (but I think it’s absolutely fabulous thanks to the illustrator and our designer). I don’t have a background in illustration or design so most of it (unless it directly impacted on the story) was better left to the professionals. 

Do you think that having had your first book published, your writing life will be easier and your career will be on track? Do you think it will all be easier the second time round? 

It was certainly faster to find a home for my next book, The Pirates in Classroom Three, because I had a relationship with the publisher. Make no mistake; publishers are just as discerning and picky as always (even if they’ve already published your work) it’s just that your manuscript doesn’t have to sit in a slushpile. Having that relationship certainly speeds up the process if the publisher likes your next manuscript. I feel more knowledgeable about my role in the bigger process of making a book so I know what to expect. However, the idea generating, the drafts, the editing, it’s all just as challenging as ever. 

Spread from The New LiBEARian. Illustrator: Alex Willmore 

Aside from the editing, what other aspects of being an author have you had to come to terms with? 

Self promotion has been a steep learning curve. I’ve learned that I absolutely love doing events, but it definitely takes time away from writing. 

What have been your biggest lessons since landing a deal? 

It’s more than persevering. It’s about learning to incorporate feedback (from crit members, from industry professionals) and improve your writing; draft by draft, story by story. 

What one key piece of advice would you offer unpublished writers when working with an editor for the first time? 

Trust them. They know their stuff. But don’t be shy to voice your opinions… if you strongly disagree or something makes you uncomfortable then say so and try to come to a resolution. 

Now that your first book is out – what next? 

Lots of events- at bookshops, libraries, preschools and schools. Eagerly looking forward to The New LiBEARian coming out in North America (and the Philipines) with Clarion books in 2017. Yipee! Other rights include: Lithuania, Slovenia, Korea and China. I’ll be working with Maverick Arts to edit my second book The Pirates in Classroom Three, (coming out in 2017). My goal is to keep writing picture books and hopefully branch out into chapter books too. And, in the meantime, writing, writing, writing, and submitting…. just like before. That part never changes. 

You can connect with and find out more about Alison Donald in the following places: 

Twitter: @alisondonald7 
Facebook Alison Donald
Buy: Amazon Waterstones   

SCBWI-BI “member abroad”, Nicky Schmidt is an ex scriptwriter, copywriter, and marketing, brand and communications director who "retired" early to follow a dream. Although she still occasionally consults on marketing, communications and brand strategies, mostly she writes YA fiction (some of which leans towards New Adult) in the magical realism and supernatural genres. When not off in some other world, Nicky also writes freelance articles - mostly lifestyle and travel - for which she does her own photography. Her work has been published in several South African magazines and newspapers. As well as being a regular feature writer for Words & Pictures, Nicky also runs the SCBWI-BI YA e-critique group. Nicky lives in Cape Town with her husband and two rescue Golden Retrievers.


  1. At the risk of repeating myself, well done Alison, it's a great book!

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