2015 – crow’s breath – john kinsella

john kinsella crow's breath

Sometimes at dusk the family would sit outside the shop and stare at the wheatbin. The last caws of crows stretched with the fading light. Dusk is a crushing time for a dying town. If dawn surprises and mocks with hopelessness, the suggestion that light might lift it all, then dusk is worn out and can’t be bothered taunting. Crow’s breath, the maintenance workers called it, enough to singe the bin’s whitewash. And when that goes, this town will sink under the murk.

Hey, look – it’s a new review!

Just last week, I shared my thoughts on John Kinsella’s “chilling, funny and captivating” short story collection, Crow’s Breath over at Newtown Review of Books. I’d love it if you’d go and have a read.

My thanks, as always, go to Linda and Jean from NRB for hosting me.

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sharing the passion – twenty things i learned inside the publishing house at ewf15

 

 

On Friday May 29, I ventured Inside the Publishing House – or, at least, inside the Wheeler Centre – for a day of panel sessions with some of the team from Sydney-based publisher, Hachette. The event was designed to give writers a peek into the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating a book, from manuscript to marketing and everything in between.

And yes, they let me back out. In fact, publishing houses aren’t as scary as you might think.

The day was divided into four hour-long discussions, each expertly hosted by Kill Your Darlings’ Bridgid Mullane. So this doesn’t turn into an essay, I’ve condensed some key observations and quotations down to twenty points…

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Session 1 – Manuscripts and Circumnavigating the Slush Pile

With Rebecca Saunders, commercial fiction publisher and Suzanne O’Sullivan, publisher of children’s books

 

1 It’s best to avoid the slush pile if you can. Hachette partner with the Queensland Writers’ Centre, as well as several regional writers’ centres to help find new writers and hone their manuscripts before they’re submitted. Suzanne O’Sullivan says of Hachette’s affiliation with writers’ centres…

Things do get found in the slush pile, but it is much rarer. (…) [Manuscripts] that come through the writers’ centre are often more curated, because the people at the writers’ centre in some of these programs will take an additional look at things, or there’s that level of commitment in that you’re a member of the writers’ centre and have presumably honed the work a bit more…

(For more tips on helping your manuscript stand out from the crowd, see my wrap-up of The Pitch. Coincidentally, the Queensland Writers’ Centre/Hachette Manuscript Development Program is open right now, and writers from all over Australia can enter. Here’s some more information.)

 

2 Think ahead. All most emerging writers want is to have their book, the one they’re working on right now, published. However, Hachette see things differently. They’re interested in writers who aren’t just thinking about the book they’re writing at the moment – they’re after writers looking to establish a career. Again, from Suzanne O’Sullivan:

That’s always the ideal – when I sign someone up for a book, I want to think that it’s not just going to be this one book, that they’re someone we can help build their career over a few books

 

3 Rebecca is looking to commission books to fill gaps in the Australian market; an approach that’s worked really well in England, in her previous role at Little, Brown. When commissioning works, Hachette will approach a writer with a basic plot and concept and work with them to create a book. Case in point? Vanessa Greene’s The Vintage Teacup Club, the plot of which “came from a brainstorm in the pub, actually”.

 

4 How to stand out from the slush pile? “A good, punchy title helps,” says Rebecca. Astoundingly, around 90% of titles are changed at some point of the publishing process. Also, to help give your prospective publisher an idea of where your work stands, compare it to another book. But be smart in your comparison: “Don’t say it’s the next Harry Potter or the next Gone Girl” warns Suzanne. (And definitely not “Harry Potter meets Gone Girl” Bridgid points out.)

 

5 At Hachette, the decision to publish a particular book is always a group decision. From editing to marketing – the whole team needs to be behind you.

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Session Two – Publishing Now

With Robert Watkins, publisher of literary fiction and non-fiction and Rebecca Saunders

 

6 Robert Watkins on his typical working day: “I always start the day tying my bowtie…” (For the record, today’s bowtie was orange.)

 

7 Predicting trends in the publishing industry is next to impossible. Rebecca and Robert spoke of the cyclical nature of publishing. Fifty Shades of Grey provided a long-overdue shake-up to the industry and we’re overdue for the Next Big Thing. “Definitely something new is about to happen,” says Rebecca, “I just wish I knew what it was”.

 

8 Talking of Fifty Shades, publishers now keep an eye on the self-publishing scene, including Amazon and Smashwords. According to Rebecca, publishers are no longer “snobby” about self-publishing.

 

9 Protip: don’t design your own cover when you submit your manuscript. As Robert Watkins says:

The only thing I do find mildly off-putting is when someone has already designed the cover of their book. I find that a bit crazy

 

10 The qualities of a good author? Robert and Rebecca like authors who are business-minded and social media savvy, with a firm, grounded knowledge of where their book fits into the publishing scene and what kind of reader they’re looking for. Public speaking skills are also a bonus. But most of all, they’re looking for authors who are just good people:

If you are going to be the kind of person who is really good to work with, it’s more likely your book will be successful, because people will grow to love you

– Robert Watkins

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Part III – The Writer/Publisher Relationship

With Suzanne O’Sullivan and Robert Watkins

 

11 Hachette Australia’s motto is ‘Passion Shared’. ‘Passion’ is a word that keeps coming up again and again throughout the day. You can tell everyone at Hachette loves their job…

 

12 If you want to publish a book, you need to be prepared to take criticism. It’s criticism that helps make a book the best it can be. “Editing isn’t about taking something away from your book”, says Robert Watkins, “it’s about making it better”. Also…

Constructive criticism should not come from your mum

– Robert Watkins

If you’re worried about having your work edited, there’s no need to panic. Every change that’s made to your manuscript is run past you first. Your ideas about your book, whether it’s marketing or cover design, are just as important as those of Team Hachette.

 

13 Ever wondered how cookbooks are fact checked? At Hachette, they test the recipes in cookbooks by actually making them when the images for the cookbook are being shot. I wonder what happens to all the food…? (I think I’ve just found my dream job…)

 

14 Establishing good publisher/author relations in one word? Easy –

Cake.

– Suzanne O’Sullivan

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Part 4 – Hooking Up with Readers

With Robert Watkins, Louise McClean, marketing executive and Anna Egelstaff, head of publicity

 

15 What’s the difference between marketing and publicity, anyway? According to Anna, marketing is the kind of thing that can be paid for, like a poster or an ad on the back of a bus, while publicity is unpaid – an interview or a positive review.

 

16 Even before you’ve finished writing your book, the crew from Hachette is already hard at work figuring out how to get it into the hands of as many readers as possible. Each Australian book they publish has its own bespoke campaign, based on the author’s strengths, the book’s genre and what’s happening in the publishing scene at the time.

 

17 Magic happens. It’s impossible to tell which books will become phenomenal hits. Even the success of something like Brooke Davis’ Lost and Found (published by Hachette and arguably 2014’s runaway success story) wasn’t something Hachette could have predicted. “Sometimes, the magic comes together and the book turns into something even bigger than we could have imagined” says Robert Watkins.

 

18 A question from the audience – “What do you do when a book doesn’t reach its sales target?”

“Cry” says Robert Watkins.

But really, if your book’s not doing as well as it could, the Hachette team will give it a bit of a publicity boost in any way they can to try and get the word out there.

 

19 When your book comes out, usually you can expect around a month of intense marketing and publicity activity. But Team Hachette never really give up on a book. They’ll always keep an eye out on ways to bring your book back into the spotlight:

A book campaign is never really put to bed because it might be that something crops up in the media next week that relates to a book we published nine months ago

– Anna Egelstaff

 

20 Because I can’t help myself, when question time rolled around, I grabbed the microphone to ask the panel the final question of the day – what are you reading?

Anna has a rule of reading two work books, then one for pleasure. She’s reading Michael Robotham’s new book, which is due for release in August or September.

Louise reads Hachette and non-Hachette books. “My problem right not is having enough time to finish books,” she says. Right now, she’s reading Åsne Seierstad’s One of Us, about the Norway massacre.

Robert told me that Hachette’s staff meetings always end with a debrief on what everyone’s reading. “I think it’s really sad when people say they don’t read for pleasure any more, because when we talk about our passion for books and sharing that passion, it extends beyond what we publish at Hachette, and I don’t think I’d want to do this anymore if I had lost interest in reading in general”. He’s reading H is for Hawk, and has Andy Weir’s The Martian waiting on his bedside table.

The final words of advice for the day went to Robert Watkins – “If you want to be a writer or work in publishing, you should be reading as broadly as you possibly can, but also making sure you enjoy what you’re reading”.

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The Emerging Writers’ Festival might be over (sob!) but I’m still working on a bunch of recap posts. Still to come – thoughts on the National Writers’ Conference, my list of EWF crushes, #writingwhilefemale and more.

Finally, thanks to everyone from Hachette for being so informative and lovely!

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2015 – the abyssinian contortionist – david carlin

the abyssinian contortionist

Today you’ll find me over at Newtown Review of Books, writing about The Abyssinian Contortionist, David Carlin’s biography of Ethiopian-born circus performer, Sosina Wogayehu. I loved writing about this book as much as I loved reading it (spoiler alert, sorry), so I’d love it if you clicked here and had a look at my review. There’s a video of Sosina performing for Circus Oz that’s definitely worth watching!

(Huge thanks to Jean and Linda from NRB for having me!)

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In other news, today is Thomas Hardy’s birthday and Hardy fan and scholar, Justin-Paul Sammons is launching The Wessex Cycle – a reading project spanning two years (and seven months!) in which he’ll be re-reading Hardy’s works. If you’d like to join in, head over to the Wessex Cycle blog and sign up. I’m a huge Hardy fan, so I’m definitely in! Expect to see a few posts about Thomas Hardy over the next two years, seven months…

Plus, there’s another reading project I wanted to mention, although I’m a little late. Jane Rawson, author of A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists is encouraging people to read as many books as possible during June and July to raise money for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. The Just Read Marathon began yesterday and goes through until the 31st of July – and it’s such a brilliant idea, I’m seriously considering joining in even though I’m already a couple of days behind. Here’s the official Just Read site.

I’ll have more Emerging Writers’ Festival updates very soon, but in the meantime, thank you and welcome to everyone who’s visited Book to the Future for the first time in the past couple of days. Grab a cup of tea and settle in – I hope you like it here! Feel free to get in touch.

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batterrrr up! the pitch, ewf15

 

On Wednesday night, four brave editors and publishers faced a huge Wheeler Centre audience of eager writers, all wanting to know how to go about making their publication dreams come true.

Welcome to The Pitch, with Hachette’s Robert Watkins (sporting his trademark bow tie in a spiffy shade of baby blue), Allen and Unwin’s Eva Mills, Erik Jensen, editor of The Saturday Paper and Adrian Craddock, editor of Smith Journal.

If you’ve ever wanted to know how to impress editors and publishers, The Pitch was pretty much…perfect. Ha?

Here’s a highlights package, with a basic rundown of what each panellist had to say. I hope you find it useful!

 

Robert Watkins

Publisher of literary fiction and non-fiction, Hachette Australia

 

What’s Robert looking for right now?

Hachette is on the lookout for everything from children’s books to narrative non-fiction, literary fiction and illustrated books.

 

There’s every possibility we’re looking for what you’re writing

Robert Watkins, Hachette

 

Biggest submission faux pas?

Books are long and publishers read outside working hours, so it pays to be patient once you’ve submitted your work. Don’t email Robert every week to ask if he’s read your book yet. That’s a one-way ticket to Rejection City. Also, avoid sending crazy gifts along with your manuscript. They’ve seen it all before. No, really – you have been warned.

 

Are there any alternate routes to being published, other than by sending your manuscript in and hoping for the best?

Hachette has a close relationship with the Queensland Writers’ Centre, as well as a number of rural writers’ centres. There’s also the new Richell Prize, announced at the Emerging Writers’ Festival Opening Night Gala! It’s worth keeping in mind with prizes that it’s not just the first-place winning manuscript that finds its way onto a publisher’s desk. Often shortlisted manuscripts are picked up too.

 

We look at [blogs] but in all honesty, everyone has a blog now. If you’ve got a really big platform with lots of readers, you’ve already got people who’ll be interested in your work, so that’s a plus. I think everyone, if you’re writing, should be in the digital space doing that sort of stuff.

– Robert Watkins on the importance of blogs, Wattpad and other online platforms

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Erik Jensen

Editor, The Saturday Paper

 

What’s Erik looking for right now?

The Saturday Paper specialises in longform journalism that lives slightly outside the news cycle and trusts in the ‘serious and mysteriousness’ of its readers. In terms of what he’s after, it’s as simple as good storytelling.

 

Before you submit…

Read The Saturday Paper to get a feel for what interests TSP’s readers. Erik receives around two to three hundred pitches a week. Around fifteen will end up being published. To stand out from the crowd, keep your pitch short, and base it around one or two ideas.

 

Don’t assume that an editor doesn’t understand how vastly complex and important your story is. We do.

Erik Jensen, editor of The Saturday Paper

 

What’s the best thing a writer can do when submitting?

As far as Erik’s concerned, it’s all about the story. He’s not concerned about your background or even your publication history:

 

I’ve taken really long, rambling submissions that have turned out to be good stories – and worse, I’ve taken really badly written stories that have turned out to be really good, because sometimes you just have to work on things

Erik Jensen, editor of The Saturday Paper

And don’t let lack of experience hold you back. Last year, five of Erik’s ten favourite pieces came from first-time writers. One first-time contributor landed a book deal after their article was published.

 

Alternate routes to being published?

Don’t get too obsessed about being published in one particular masthead, says Erik. Publish elsewhere and you’ll be noticed. Also, it helps to find someone who’s slightly more experienced than you are to act as a mentor; someone who’ll be on your side and namedrop you when it matters.

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Adrian Craddock

Editor, Smith Journal

 

What’s Smith Journal all about?

Smith Journal is founded by frankie press, but it’s more than just the male version of frankie. Adrian sees Smith as more as a unisex magazine than specifically as a men’s magazine. Like frankie, Smith Journal came from a feeling of dissatisfaction with the men’s magazine market. Adrian says of Smith’s founder, Rick Bannister:

 

He was sick of boobs and…well, not sick of boobs – sick of reading about boobs and the usual men’s magazine tropes.

Adrian Craddock, Smith Journal

 

Before you submit…

Grab a copy of Smith Journal and take a look. Pitches often land in Adrian’s inbox that are vastly different to the kind of thing his magazine usually publishes. You won’t find much in the way of short fiction, travel stories or first person perspectives in Smith Journal. Do your research before you pitch.

 

Biggest submission faux pas?

Don’t ask Adrian to send you a free copy of the magazine. We all laughed, but he said it happens regularly…

 

What’s the best thing a writer can do when submitting?

Adrian’s dream pitches include some kind of consideration as to how he can best present your work visually in his magazine. He’s also a stickler for organised pitches. Group your ideas into sections with subheadings and you’ll have Adrian’s attention.

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Eva Mills

Publisher of books for children and young adults, Allen and Unwin

 

What’s Eva looking for right now?

If you write junior fiction for kids aged between 8 and 14, you’re in luck.

 

It’s really quite hard to write the perfect children’s novel because it’s pre-romance, so to drive the plot, you can’t use romance or sexual tension – you’ve got to have an adventure.

– Eva Mills, Allen and Unwin

You can submit to Allen and Unwin every Friday, during their Friday Pitch session.

 

Biggest submission faux pas?

Cover letters that begin about how much your grandchild or child loooooved your book when you read it to them. Plus, she personally hates books about talking animals.

(At this point, the man sitting to my left begins to shift awkwardly in his seat. Later, during question time, he reveals that he’s writing a book about talking animals…)

 

What’s the best thing a writer can do when submitting?

Eva wants to know a little about you and what inspired your story. Include a brief section to let her know about you and she’ll be so charmed she has to publish your book!

 

Alternate routes to being published?

Allen and Unwin has ties with the Faber Academy, so taking a Faber Academy course is definitely one way to get noticed. There’s also Allen and Unwin’s Vogel Prize, awarded annually to an unpublished Australian writer under the age of 35.

 

So, what’s trending right now in children’s fiction?

Actually, Eva’s not a fan of following trends. ‘Going and looking at what’s in bookshops is a good place to start,’ she says, ‘but don’t try and copy it.’

 

The Hunger Games wasn’t written because [author, Suzanne Collins] wanted to write a dystopia, she wrote that book from the heart. Be true to what you want to write and don’t worry about trends

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Finally, one thing about pitching to publishers and editors is constant across the board: keep your submission simple and whatever you do, don’t ramble.

You’ll find submission guidelines for Hachette, Allen and Unwin, Smith Journal and The Saturday Paper on their respective websites. Make sure you read them thoroughly, because that’s another thing Robert, Eva, Erik and Adrian all have in common: if you don’t follow the submission guidelines, you’re making things even more difficult for yourself.

In summary, getting your words published takes dedication and serious hard work (especially when it comes to books!) but if your manuscript stands out from the crowd, for all the right reasons, you’re in with a fighting chance.

Godspeed, brave writer…

Next on my EWF adventure, I ventured Inside the Publishing House with Hachette for an even closer look at how the publishing industry ticks. And I’m just back from a great first day at the EWF Writers’ Conference.

Tomorrow afternoon, at day two of the conference, Sam van Zweden will be chatting with Meghan Brewster and I about blogging. It’s going to be great. I’ll see you there, I hope?

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