Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 29, 2012

Profile: an Aussie Publisher – Sleepers Publishing

Inspired by the discovery that the Sleepers Publishing Company is run by just two people, I have decided to start a new series called Profile: an Aussie Publisher.  The idea is to introduce you to some of the amazingly creative people who bring us the books we love to read.

I’m starting with Sleepers Publishing because I am astounded that just two people are responsible for bringing us amazing books like

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you will know that I loved these books and that I think they represent all that is clever and innovative and unique about Australian writing in the 21st century,

So who are these two amazing people who have brought us these books?

Zoe (LHS) and Lou

Zoe Dattner and Louise Swinn, that’s who.

Here they are again, assembling their publishing house:

Based in Melbourne, Victoria, Sleepers was founded by Zoe Dattner and Louise Swinn in July 2003.   Zoe and Louise are aided and abetted by a team of interns and work experiencers, as well as a veritable smorgasbord of mentors and friends, not to mention their long-suffering families. They aim to build a broad desire for and recognition of good writing by publishing and promoting new and emerging authors. The annual Sleepers Almanac, a collection of short stories, has met with wide acclaim, and they also publish novels, also to terrific critical acclaim. They are interested in luminous writing and storytelling, and they love to read about the here and now.

(And that is why I love their books!)

Lou and Zoe have kindly agreed to reveal their innermost secrets for this series, and here are their answers to my open-ended questions:

On the day our first book was published we were ridiculously excited. A few friends and people involved in the book came over for champagne. It was very hard to open that book, for fear we’d left in some hideous typo, like in the name of our publishing company (“Slippers” haha!)  But it was fine. We fell in love with every part of the process along the way, but having a result we were so proud of was probably the nail in the coffin; it meant we’d end up destitute publishers forever, we’d gulped down the Kool-Aid and ordered a second flagon.

Our favourite book cover is – Of ours? Oh, that’s far too hard.  It’s usually the one we’ve just been working on. In terms of classics, those old Penguin Poets series — they are still beautiful.  See here: this one by Henning Boehlke and this collection of Browning’s poetry.

The most hectic time for us is the day a book is going off to print — getting all the bits into place and making all the right printing decisions, and that last-minute panic that the author’s name is spelt correctly, that we’ve thanked all the right people.

When it’s frantic we fortify ourselves with tea, wine, gin and cans of those terrible green V drinks (we’re not proud).

The book we will never forget is …  Oh, that’s too difficult!  Curiously, though, there are loads of manuscripts that we didn’t end up publishing that have stayed with us. It’s easy to assume that once you get a rejection, your book has stalled somewhere, but when you’re reading as many stories as we do, they sometimes stay with you. It  might be, for example, that a book didn’t work on many levels but it had a cracking character or a terrific scene. Many of the stories running around in our heads are unpublished — sometimes it’s hard to remember whether something was from a published book or from a manuscript that’s come in. The sliver of difference sometimes between a published book and one that ends up back in the bottom drawer is often overlooked. Sometimes luck has everything to do with it. Or who you’re sleeping with.

Our slush pile is a much-loved beast. Manuscripts that come in go straight into the folder, “They Might Be Giants”. It’s easy to complain about slush piles, and of course there are weak manuscripts,  but there is sometimes gold in them there hills, and you have to  forage if you’re going to find it.

Out of the bag at random comes….. This Too Shall Pass.  It was released in March 2011 and it’s a corker!


Thank you very much to Lou and Zoe for being first in this series, it’s fascinating to see an inside glimpse in this way.

I hope to bring you more in this series before long.


  1. What a great idea Lisa. You know how much I love your ‘Aussie Author’ series and I’m sure the ‘Aussie Publisher’ series will be an equal success.
    I reviewed one of the Sleepers Almanacs (absolutely loved it!) for a newspaper but never heard back from them which is a shame. It contained some brilliant short stories, the ghosts of which are still with me.
    Nice to read Zoe and Louise have a good sense of humour (wouldn’t ‘Slippers’ have been devastating?…they’d have had to rebrand!).


    • I’m glad you like it:) I think the Australian indie publishing industry is amazing, to be doing so well in such a challenging environment and producing such interesting books which often punch well above their weight in awards. I just hope I can persuade other publishers to spare the time to participate as well.


  2. Fantastic idea. I’ve often wondered about those mysterious beings,….. publishers,…. Who they are…. How they work…. What they really do….. Your interview with Zoe and Louise has helped take some of the mystery away. Thank you. I look forward to the next one in the series.


    • Hello, and welcome! I agree, I thought their thoughts about the slush pile were especially interesting:)


  3. A great idea for a series and a fabulous publisher to start it with, Lisa. I really enjoyed hearing Stephen Amsterdam talking about his experience publishing with Sleepers @ SWF. It’s refreshing and comforting to know there are people like Louise and Zoe in the book business – and it’s great to meet them. John


    • Well, John, I owe you – because your comment here was the inspiration for this series!


  4. This is a great idea Lisa. Really interesting to read. (Although I must admit I found ‘This Too Shall Pass’ utterly unbearable).

    “They might be giants” – hilarious. It is nice to put a human face on publishers. As a writer, it is all too easy to lump them all together into the ‘people who’ve rejected me” category and despise them wholesale.


    • And don’t we love the publishers who take the time to send a nice encouraging note along with the rejection slip! I went through a phase of writing spectacularly bad picture books for children, and could wallpaper the house with the rejection slips, but I still have a soft spot for Penguin who were kindly and encouraging even though I didn’t deserve it! I think it’s harder for them to do that these days because there are fewer staff and a lot more submissions because of the growth in creative writing schools. Was This Too Shall Pass unbearable because it was sad? Lisa


      • Yes, even though rejection is painful, a non-rejection is even worse.

        I read a quote (I’m afraid I can’t remember where it came from), which said ‘fiction should be more interesting than life’. This Too Shall Pass was less interesting than life. It was like listening to an extremely dull colleague tell you in excruciating detail about everything that had gone wrong in their life. I have read many good reviews of it but it was paralysing to me.


        • Having read your novel I think I know why this is: you are a glass half full sort of person with an optimistic view of the world. Your lovers have hope not despair even when things go wrong…


          • Hmmm. Maybe. It is true that depressing books don’t appeal to me in general.


  5. Pleased to see you giving support to this publishing company. I thought The Philanthropist was just excellent. Sleepers picked up a pearl that other publishers had overlooked.


    • Hello Robin, welcome to chatting about books at ANZ LitLovers:)
      I agree, and I guess that’s the ultimate talent that a publisher needs to have!


  6. Nice series Lisa … they sound a bit like Hilary McPhee and Diana Gribble in their time, eh?


    • Wow, yes, but big shoes to fill, eh? They were so special for our generation, weren’t they?


  7. Love this idea, I admit to being unfamilar with a lot of smaller Aust publishers so this will be an interesting feature


    • Thanks for your encouraging comment:)
      I’ve got another one lined up for next month, but won’t say who just yet!


  8. thanks for the intro Lisa ,all the best stu


  9. […] Publishing (who I once featured in Profile an Aussie Publisher) ceased publishing new titles in 2016, and they don’t appear to have a web presence any […]


  10. […] Publishing (who I once featured in Profile an Aussie Publisher) ceased publishing new titles in 2016, and they don’t appear to have a web presence any […]


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