Have you got a great story bubbling within, just waiting to become a book? What does it take to become a published author?
Georgia Richter, publisher of Fremantle Press, and Deborah Hunn, senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Curtin Uni, have the answers.
Happily they have collated their pearls of literary wisdom in new book, How To Be An Author. It’s full of valuable information for any would-be writer and it’s out now. Georgia chats to The Starfish:
Please tell us a little about your background and how you ended up as publisher for Fremantle Press.
I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up, but somewhere along the way I realised that I was better off using my love of writing and language to help other authors tell stories that were much more burning and urgent than mine! I completed an MA in Creative Writing at UWA and taught in creative writing and editing at a number of universities before starting up a very successful freelance editing business with a friend. In 2008, my first freelance job as an editor at Fremantle Press (working on Jon Doust’s Boy on a Wire) translated into an invitation to come on board as the fiction publisher. And the Press and I have lived happily ever after ever.
Why did you decide to write How To Be An Author?
New writers often have questions for publishers and teachers of creative writing. A lot of those (to do with finding a tribe, and the writing process, and preparing a manuscript for publication) are to do with summoning up the confidence to take a leap: it can be the difference between just doing some writing and actually thinking of yourself as a writerand committing to that concept and that process.
We also knew that there are a bunch of questions new writers may not think to ask, but we have answers that are useful for them to know! These include information about managing social media and author brand, and building a relationship with your local bookshop, and the moral and ethical considerations a writer should bear in mind.
It seemed a great idea to Deb Hunn and I that we should combine our expertise in working with new writers to put all this information into a book. That way lots of people we otherwise would not reach can receive really useful and practical information that will support them in pursuit of their writing dreams.
Who will benefit from reading this book?
New writers, emerging writers, experienced writers, writers interested in self-publishing, illustrators – anyone who would like to be published or who would like to work on building their profile and their audience even if they are published already.
What’s one of the most common situations less experienced authors struggle to master when they decide they want to write a book?
I think confidence is a big thing that can get in the way of creative process. Writers might have a sense that for other writers the process is somehow straight-forward and pain-free. But for every writer, no matter how experienced they are, the creative process can be frustrating, slow, time-consuming, fraught with setbacks and seemingly endless. The most important thing a writer can do is turn up to the page. And, strange as it may seem, to try to keep hold of the art of writing just for the satisfaction of it, and to not worry about getting published at all. In my experience, the writers who care, above everything else, about putting down words on the page, are the ones who in the end will make a career of it.
You are constantly helping writers make a success of their manuscripts in the quest to turn them into books – what’s the most challenging part of your job?
Writers and I probably have something in common when I say the most challenging part of my job is rejecting manuscripts. It’s not a great feeling to say no to someone who has poured so much effort into a book-length work. I know and appreciate how much effort has gone into it!
But I have to keep in mind that getting accepted is a numbers game, and finding the right person to connect to a manuscript can take time and perseverance. Just as I persist in looking through the 500 manuscripts we receive each year for publication, so new writers have to persist in sending their work out so that it connects with someone who loves it, sees the potential in it, and can work on it with genuine commitment and enthusiasm.
There is a section in your book on Coping with Rejection. So how can a writer best lessen the blow here?
I think it’s important to try to separate your writing self from your administrative self. A rejection will hurt less if it is seen as being a statistically probable event rather than a damning assessment of your work, your vision and your talent. Having a plan can help: ‘If I get a no from A, then I will move on to B’. If the administrative part of you can tend to the rejection as a line to be entered in a spreadsheet rather than a total repudiation of all you hold dear, then it will be much easier to pick yourself up and keep going again until you find the person who really does connect with your work.
Are most writers receptive to being told to modify their stories, introduce new characters, change the plot or whatever?
The authors that I work with certainly are. And most writers in workshop situations are too. I think this is because if you care enough to turn up to the page in the first place, and ifyou have the persistence to keep trying over and over to get published, then your work ethic is going to be pretty strong, and the wordsmith in you will care above all about getting it right.
Working with an editor can be an absolute delight (if I say so myself!) because at last the writer has a coach and champion who cares as much about the work as they do. It is an immensely satisfying experience for both parties to see the work become the best it can possibly be.
Have you noticed certain traits many successful authors have in common?
Many of the traits mentioned above can be seen in successful authors: turning up to the page, persistence, a desire to work on a draft, caring more about the writing itself than about podium speeches, a keenness to always make their work better, and a willingness to promote their book tirelessly and connect with readers when the book is out in the world. Successful authors have a story they feel compelled to tell and, after publication, say yes to every opportunity that presents itself to them.
Do you think most West Australians realize just how many talented writers we have in this State?
I think when a West Australian sees a place that they love and recognise appear in print, it gives them a particular thrill. Readers who like seeing their world reflected back to them should always ask their local bookshop what’s new, what’s local and what’s good? It’s a great way to support the local economy and its super fun to superimpose fictional scenes and characters into the places you can visit yourself – think Alan Carter’s spooky wetlands, David Whish-Wilson’s Fremantle Prison or Mel Hall’s health food store.
How fulfilling is it for you, as a publisher, to see a local writer’s work come to fruition and finally get published?
It’s the very best part of my job! The moment when I can put a new book in an author’s hands often leads to happy tears being shed by one or both of us. And I find it really rewarding to see new writers go from strength to strength, and to receive accolades andbuild readerships from across Australia and beyond. I am proud to be contributing to our state’s literary culture in that way and I love helping writers do what they love to do.
Can you give us a couple of names of emerging WA authors whose work impresses you?
Oh dear, where to end? Mel Hall, who I mentioned above, is definitely one to watch (check out The Little Boat on Trusting Lane) – she is hilarious and heartful. I’m very keen on two new crime writers whose work is coming out later this year – Sally Scott’s Fromage and Lisa Ellery’s Private Prosecution. David Allan-Petale’s Locust Summeris the beautiful story of a young man walking away from the land that will have you weeping. And I have two great new poets on our list as well: Emily Sun with her clever and acerbic Vociferate and Hassan al Nawwaab with his devastatingly simple Poems that Do Not Sleep.
You are clearly an avid reader; what’s by your bedside right now?
By my bed right now you will find Pip Williams The Dictionary of Lost Words (I love a good novel about words!); Becky Manwatu’s much-lauded Aue (sent to me by a NZ cousin with a note of high praise); Thomas Mayor’s Finding the Heart of the Nation: The journey of the Uluru Statement towards Voice, Treat and Truth (essential reading for all Australians – just like Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu); and Robert Jones Jr’s The Prophets (powerful historical fiction for these troubled times).
Meet the authors and contributors
I would love new writers to join the quality discussions and information sharing on our facebook group, How to be an Author in Australia.
Or come hear my co-author Deb Hunn on a panel at Margaret River Writers Festival (14 May) with contributors to the book, rural romance writer Sasha Wasley and marketing and communications manager Claire Miller, discussing readers and audiences.
And I will be running a workshop at Rockingham Writers Centre on April 24 on pitches, blurbs and finding your audience.