Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 20, 2019

Author event: The Journey to Publication. What happens next?

Tonight I had the great pleasure of attending an author event in our local Kingston Arts Centre, and I hope it’s first of many:)

The topic under discussion was The Journey to Publication. What happens next? and the panel consisted of Claire Halliday (chair); Eleni Hale; Amra Pajalic; and Anna Spargo-Ryan. And these are their current books:

(See here for my review of Stone Girl, and here for my review of The Gulf. See Goodreads reviews of Things My Father Taught Me here and  Things Nobody Knows But Me here.

Claire (who was an excellent chair and led the discussion really well) began by asking about the moment when these authors decided they were going to be authors.  Their stories varied a great deal but what they had in common was that none of them had a straightforward path towards a clearly articulated goal.  They all loved writing, but in a working-class family like Amra’s she didn’t even know how to become a writer.  For Eleni, growing up in state care, writing was an emotional escape from a harsh reality and disrupted schooling, but she never thought she could do anything with it until as she said, she ‘came out the other end’ and became a journalist.  For Anna, her writing lapsed during her years as a young mother, and didn’t re-emerge until she was divorced.

The general consensus was that first novels tend to be autobiographical, because it’s hard to be open about the truth as a debut writer.  Anna talked about writing as a means of purging oneself of troubling matters, and whether it gets published or not, it’s good to do it and then be able to move on.  (Andrea Goldsmith once said at a workshop that I went to that first novel/s are practice novels).  It’s aso very important not to get discouraged by rejection: as Amra said, there are many writers more talented than she is but she has books published because she did not give up.  Anna reminded us that rejection is often not about the writing at all: it could be because the publisher’s list is full; because he’s already got a book in a similar vein, or because another publisher has.

But what is crucial is that aspiring writers do their research: find out what kind of books the publisher works with; follow the submission guidelines; and whether you’re sending it to an agent (highly recommended, for debut authors) or direct to a publisher, make sure that the book is the very best it can be, because there are no second chances. And be aware that the process can take a very long time, a wait of 10 months in one case!

(One tip worth knowing is that if a publisher’s website states that they are not accepting submissions, it doesn’t hurt to send a query letter.  If you pique their interest with a brief letter that gets quickly to the point, they may write back and ask you to submit your MS.  Also, check out pitch letters online; there’s an art to writing these pitches and the recipients are busy people so long-windedness is a bad idea!)

What kind of writing leads to a book deal?  Non-fiction pieces, short stories submitted to writing competitions, publication in journals and so on.  You’ll probably have to content yourself with payment for some of it, and not for others.  If the exposure is valuable, not getting paid may be worthwhile.  There was general agreement that it’s a bad idea to publish your work-in-progress on your blog: publishers won’t want to invest in it if people have already read it for free. OTOH building your social media networks is as important as what Claire called ‘the A-team around you’: your beta-readers and supporters.

Of course you can get your family to read your MS, but they’ll probably think it’s amazing.  That’s not what you want.  You want constructive feedback that helps you to identify the flaws and fix the problems.  For that other writers are wonderful, but be aware that they need time for their own writing. Paid mentorships are great, and these are available via Writers Centres, and sometimes through grants from Arts Victoria (or their interstate equivalents). Treat every bit of feedback as a gift because that’s how you become a better writer.

Equally important is self-care.  Rejection hurts.  Amra said that while writing might be your life, it’s important to ‘have a life as well’ to keep a sense of proportion. Eleni said that the best thing about writing her book was the connections she had made.  Writing groups can be a great support but they can also be destructive so find people who uplift you and that you can trust. And Anna reminded us that the best thing is to keep going.  No one will care if you give up: the ones who get published are the ones who work really hard at it.

This was a beaut session, and from conversations with aspiring authors afterwards, I could tell that it was very worthwhile for all of them.

My thanks to the organisers at Kingston Arts Centre – more please!

 


Responses

  1. Sounds like a really interesting discussion.

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    • I think that was down to Claire’s leadership. It was a textbook model for chair panels to follow because she kept everything moving along so well.

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  2. Thank you for sharing their valuable insights, Lisa and I agree, it’s great to have workshops and info sessions like these locally.

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  3. It’s not just that it’s great not to have to traipse across the city, it’s also an acknowledgment that creatives live in the suburbs as well. When networking to form a supportive writing community is so important, this was an opportunity for local writers to meet each other.

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  4. I always enjoy hearing authors talk about their experiences, and what worked for them. That self-care issue is a big one. I’ve heard authors talk about handling negative reviews – particularly on places like GoodReads – and how they have to be strong and in a good place to face the comments. It’s something they learn from experience I understand, but of course all are different.

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    • Well, yes, that’s true, but the sad truth is that there are a lot of professions that cop a lot more than negative comments at Goodreads. Police, the medical profession, ambos, Centrelink staff and teachers have to learn to deal with not just verbal abuse, but constant criticism in the media and often assaults as well. Some years at some schools it was a daily occurrence for me and others at my school, and you couldn’t choose not to look or to turn it off or get your friends to call out the trolls, there was this parent barging into the classroom and blaming you for every problem the kid had and it went on and on for half an hour or more. And of course you relived it over and over again when you got home, and in bed at night, and then you had to get up and deal with it all over again the next day.
      As for rejections, on any given there are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of Australians having their job applications rejected, maybe after they’ve spent four years or more at university and still can’t get a job, or maybe when they’re worked for forty years or more and been retrenched and no one will give them a job because of ageism.
      I guess what I’m saying is that there are a lot of vulnerable people out there and authors are no different. We all need to learn resilience and we all need people who love us and care about us to support us when times are tough.

      Liked by 1 person


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