On the 24th of April, I attended a Panel on Writing at the University of Wollongong. I got permission afterwards to blog what was discussed for the benefit of my readers. Hopefully everyone gets something out of this!
The panel was led by Prof. Ivor Indyk (Founding publisher and editor of Heat, and Giramondo Book Imprint), Dr. Angelo Loukakis (Author, former publisher with Harper Collins and Schuster and Schuster, Author advocate), Ms Pip Newling (Memoir writer, bookseller and book blogger), and Dr Susan Hawthorne (Poet, novelist, political activist. Director of Spinafex Press).
I took down notes to the best of my ability. Any mistakes or errors are my own.
What are key concerns for Publishers? (with reference to ebooks/small publishing houses)
Susan: Overwork due to publishing issues around surviving as an independant publishing house, staying original and maintaining energy.
Ivor: New digital printing technology can increase sales and reduce costs for independent publishers, which is a benefit for younger, newer, more experimental writers. Author’s should strive to use word of mouth eg a blog and harness new technology.
Angelo: There is a world of difference between books (which make money and have a big readership/market) and literature (small print run, quality, experimental usually, restricted market). Know your audience. Know what manuscript you are selling.
Pip: Be aware of what’s out there. For example, the Harper Collins Varuna Award allows for manuscript development with an editor with view to future publication. Enter every competition you can and understand your writing audience and responsibilities. Remember that posting any work on blogs is counted by publishing houses as “official publication.”
Common mistakes that authors make (and what you can do to avoid them)
Angelo: Before you submit your work, do your homework. Be well read, a BIG reader- not just in the genre of your ms. Know what your twist is on your chosen genre. What’s your genre brand?
Ivor: The use of first person is the most difficult to use. If you start off using it as an inexperienced writer it can backfire. You need to personalise that “I” with quality characterisation.
In your cover/query letter, DON’T introduce your novel as “fiction novel.” Get genre specific. Audience specific. Your open letter is important. Remember: 98% of unsolicited slush ms is rejected.
Get an author apprenticeship before trying to publish a novel- this shows training and care about craftmanship. Tell the publishing house who you’ve been taught by, where you’ve been previously published and NETWORK. Understand that writing is a big risk, but so is publishing a new author.
Pip: In Australia, there are big opportunities for poetry and short stories right now, but do be selective. Quality, not quantity.
Understand digital publishing and self publishing. It is an option, it gets your work out there, but know the downsides.
Have a blog as a marketing tool. Online presence means readers.
Susan: You need to get the attention of the person you are sending your ms to. Stand out in your cover letter. Be meticulous. Get it right before sending in the heat of the moment.
Don’t get upset about rejection, but DO have an intelligent phone conversation about your work where possible. Be patient too- there is a 3 month turn around for most ms’s. Detailed critique means you are doing well!
So, what stands out?
Ivor: Voice- your own distinctive writing quality. Characters with accents and idioms.
Writing style- rythm and texture
An original and idiosyncratic story that presents a new way of seeing things- something out of your own personal context that you alone have.
Susan: Someone who is passionate and immersed in their work.
If it’s boring for the writer, it’s boring for the reader. Read aloud and edit to get the rythm right. A work that grips will get published.
Writing in Different Ways (directed at Pip)
Pip: Memoirs are both an act of presence and an act of remembrance. This can be a difficult balance.
Do draft alot and invest time in your work. If you don’t believe in it, nobody will. Think: how much work will editors need to put into your work? Is this really the best standard I can reach before sending out?
The problem with self publishing is there is no editor to achieve this polished quality. Something to consider.
Legal Issues with being Published (Directed at Ivor: Australian Society of Authors)
Ivor: There are legal and commercial issues with being published;
Legal because books are delivered on a commercial contract basis- a formal, negotiated agreement. Copyright of intellectual property is involved.
Commercial: Royalties and advances need to be agreed upon. Get advice before you sign a contract and never sign what you don’t understand. Think carefully before “assigning rights.”
Get a reputable agent by being selective and researching into who will work best for your ms. The publishing industry is a relationships based one, so network.
Miscellaneous (From Q and A)
1. Do, take part in writing courses/masterclasses/writers festivals. These all count as professional writing experiences and training.
2. Do understand proof reading and copy writing.
3. Life experience matters. If it’s relevent to your ms, it goes in your cover letter.
Thanks to the panel for being so helpful. I certainly learnt alot! My next panel is fantasy specific, May 20th. Expect a post.
If there are any concerns with this blog post or you have any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.