So, I went backwards.
Not in a bad way at all.
HARDCOPY is an initiative run out of the ACTWriter’s Centre with the help of the Australia Council (or its new entity Ozco). Budding authors (fiction and non-fiction on alternate years) are invited to submit manuscripts that are assessed by talented professionals and then 30 are selected to participate in rigorous series of workshops, talks and panels. This equips the writers with knowledge of the Australian publishing industry, gives them a new lens through which to examine their own work and furnishes them with connections otherwise inaccessible – with publishers, agents, other published writers and other writers who are also seeking publication. These last are an amazing resource.
As an alumni from the inaugural HARDCOPY 2014 fiction edition I was able to attend the Friday seminars of ‘Intro2Industry’ which, from my previous experience, was one of the highlights of the HARDCOPY experience. Seriously. There you are in a room with agents, authors, publishers. The head spins, the tongue goes thick, there are little prickles of excitement as conversations are started and cards exchanged.
I was back there with my pulse accelerating, glassy eyed and dreamy listening to the talk of a world that seems so far removed from my experience – which so far has been and continues to be about getting good words onto the page and seeing where it takes me.
Here are my highlights from the 2016 HARDCOPY fiction edition Intro2Industry seminars from Friday 9th September.
Catherine Milne Publisher at HarperCollins
‘What Publishers Want’
Milne spoke engagingly and pitched her talk at exactly the right level for the group – well balanced between informal and informative.
She said her aim that day was to demystify the process of publishing and give us hopefuls greater knowledge when fronting up to publishers…
Milne had a turn of phrase of her own – while talking about the publishing market in Australia she confided in us that market spikes are like rare wild ibis. Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites for example and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.
Australian and International reading patterns are changing, Milne suggested. We are curating our lives on social media as never before and TV shows are improving, filling a gap in the market that reading used to occupy. But, she stressed, there is GOOD NEWS. People are still reading, publishers are publishing, there are better attendance of writer’s festivals than ever before, bookshops are opening and not closing.
‘Publishing is at the uneasy intersection between art and commerce – dangerous and exhilarating, like a cross road in New Delhi.’
Publishers, Milne stressed, are not gate keepers, not door bitches, they see their role one of collaboration with the author.
What it comes down to is this equation: the author says ‘Give me you $32.99 and 10 hours of your life and I’ll give you a story you will never forget.’
We loved that Catherine stayed and sat among us and listened to the rest of the sessions for the day.
Jacinta Di Mase – Literary Agent
‘The Role of the Agent’
Di Mase compared ‘getting published’ to ‘getting married’ – for a new author the focus is on ‘the dress/the cover’ and sometimes not so much on the longevity of the relationship.
An agent provides perspective and continuity.
On selling a new title she riffed ‘ This book is very sexy, witty think Gourmet Traveller meets Vogue – see, this is what an agent can do for you…’
Di Mase stressed than an agent has a combination of commercial sensibility and nous.
Alex Adsett – Agent and Publishing Contracts Specialist
‘Copyright and Contracts’
This was a less formal session as Alex encouraged us to throw questions to her as they came up. Demonstrating her amazing knowledge of the area she answered all comers concisely and clearly.
She told us about the Copyright Agency and urged us to join it.
Adsett broke down the concept of copyright into two sentences.
Copyright applies to original work in its original form. If you created it, you own it.
And while you don’t need the © symbol on it to own it, it doesn’t hurt if it is there.
In terms of contracts, Adsett is the expert, and she went into complicated details of the various concerns of the group. But, at base she stressed that you need to negotiate with a publisher, work out what a deal breaker is for you individually and walk away if it’s important enough. Make sure to read (or have someone you trust read) the sneaky fine print.
Only go into self publishing as if it is a business in itself. Do your research.
She closed on this note:
‘This is why I love publishing. Everyone has a vested interest in this industry and because it’s small we need each other to survive.’
Sulari Gentill, Adrian Caesar and Robyn Cadwallader
‘What I know about being published (and what I wish I had known)’
Fragments of what was said in the discussion of the topic with Nigel Featherstone.
Gentill: ‘I write into an historical scaffolding and that will tell me where the characters need to go…’
‘And let me just say that when the call comes through that a publisher wants your manuscript you will not be in the best position to make rational decisions.’
Cadwalladar: ‘I remember sitting in the British library and crying when the email came through, thinking ‘the publishers get it!’’
Cadwalladar: ‘I have had to learn to put my sense of the value of my wrting in a different place.’
Caesar: ‘I was pushed into fiction because of the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. People tell you to write from your gut, which is what I’ve largely done – which is why I’ve not been published.’
Gentill: ‘Here’s a tip, the program called ‘Wordle’ will seek out an overused word in a text. In my last book that word was ‘Burly’ everyone was ‘burly’. There’s one in every book I’ve written.
Cadwalladar: I think I learnt from writing The Anchoress that I have to write to find out what’s happening. It’s helpful to get to a certain point where I’m not just churning out plot – where I can see themes and deeper shapes emerge. It’s enormously comforting…’
Gentill on the best way of dealing with rejection: ‘Go and sit at your desk and keep writing…’