Sunday, 31 August 2014

Pathways to Publication

By Liz McShane

Trying to crack the writing industry, but don’t know where to start? 'Pathways to Publication' was crammed with advice for writers on the make. Chaired by Mary Masters, General Manager of the Small Press Network and chair of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, the session was divided into three parts: meet the critics, meet the editors and meet the publishers. Here are a few highlights from the session.

Meet the critics

How did you get your start in the industry?
Jeff Sparrow, writer and the editor of Overland, began his career as a volunteer, mainly doing administrative work for the magazine's reviews section. Rebecca Starford, an editor at Text Publishing and co-founder and publisher of Kill Your Darlings, volunteered at Australian Book Review while completing her Honours Degree at Melbourne University. Amy Baillieu, Deputy Editor of Australian Book Review, volunteered at ABR while finishing her degree. Jason Steger, the Literary Editor of The Age, started his career at The Age as business editor before moving into features.

How can authors get their books reviewed?
Steger receives 150 books a week, 10% of which will get reviewed. Jason believes your publisher should sort out your publicity for you. Amy receives hundreds of books each week. ABR mainly, but not exclusively, publish reviews of books published by conventional publishers.

What about self-published titles?
Steger finds self-titled publications difficult to deal with, primarily due to availability of the title – the newspaper receives complaints if a reader of The Age can’t get access to the book.

Meet the editors

How do new writers get on your radar?
Tim Fisher, Editorial Director of Broadsheet Media, is drawn to writers who display a knowledge of the publication and its tone. The Melbourne and Sydney editors of BM receive up to 200 emails each day. He urged writers to be persistent, as it’s the people who won’t leave him alone who end up getting paid work. Fisher suggests sending 4 or 5 pitches, rather than one. Erik Jenson, editor of The Saturday Paper, says the majority of work is commissioned, but he still reads up to 100 pitches a day. Good stories are complicated, but good pitches are not.

How does your publication play a role in the writer’s career?
Sam Cooney, editor and publisher of The Lifted Brow, says that magazine pays the writers and offers a detailed and stringent editorial process. Jenson tries to give writers the news experience – 2 or 3 contributors now have book deals. Simon Crerar, Editor of 'Buzzfeed' in Australia, says 'Buzzfeed' offers its writers a large scale readership, and contributors are paid $200-$300 for their work. It is in Broadsheet’s interest to promote the work of the writer, by engaging with social media. Fisher says a good writer will be commissioned to write a lot more.

What publications are there that writers can cut their teeth that are similar to yours?
Fisher suggests Time Out, Pedestrian, Urban List and Milk Bar. Cooney lists Meanjin, Overland as well as student media and anthologies. Jenson suggests The Monthly, Quarterly Essay, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Crerar suggests Pedestrian and Junkie.

Meet the publishers 

How can first-time authors stand out?
Ben Ball, Publishing Director of General Publishing at Penguin, believes it depends on your interest, but if you are already in dialogue with a group of readers, then you’re in with a shot. Sally Heath, Associate Editor at Melbourne University Publishing, says writers need to engage with their audience. David Winter, Senior Editor at Text Publishing, is more concerned with a quality manuscript. Aviva Tuffield, publisher at Affirm Press, urged writers to do their research and enter prizes.

What are the pros and cons of  agents?
Winter says agents can put pressure on publishers and editors to read your work. Ball believes the main aim of an agent is to find a relationship with a publisher that suits you and your work.

What genres are you getting a lot of submissions for?
Text Publishing is receiving too many dystopian novels. Melbourne University Press is receiving too many works on the decline of journalism. Affirm Press shy away from books that do not offer any light. Ball argues there’s too much of everything – competition is constantly tough; as a writer, you need to know what you want to write about.

Masters closed the session by urging writers to read, write, research, get involved and keep doing it.

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