Tag Archives: agents

Deja Vu

Saturday’s Herald Sun featured a Q & A interview with author Tom Rachman, who is described as a London-born, Vancouver-raised, Rome-based journalist. As I read it, I was struck by how similar some of our thinking was, given that I’m your average home-brand Victoria-born, Victoria-raised, Victoria-based journalist/author.

One of the questions asked was, “Was it always your goal, even before you became a journalist, to write a novel?” Mr Rachman’s reply is: “I became a journalist because I wanted to write fiction, as backward as that seems. I had planned to be a film-maker…but toward the end of my time at university I realised that it was fiction and stories that I really wanted to be writing…”

I entered university with no real idea what I wanted to do for a crust. I knew I wanted to write, preferably fiction. I considered script-writing but the career information seminar made it sound too cut-throat. (I think the phrase “like being raped by a two-tonne gorilla” might have deterred me.) I decided to have a crack at journalism, my logic being that I could write news stories by day and fiction by night. Naive? Totally.

Mr Rachman then speaks of being more confident in his work with his second manuscript, compared to his first. “I felt much more technically able… I had the misconception that a lot of people have about writing: that there are people who have talent and there are those who don’t. So when I sat down at my computer I was terrified that maybe I was one of those who didn’t, which was incredibly inhibiting, because you write something and then look at it and say, “My God, that doesn’t sound like Tolstoy to me, therefore I am completely untalented”. But in my case … I realised what was most important was having an idea, and, very, very incrementally, reaching that idea. And that involves a heck of a lot of work.”

OK. Let’s just say I know what he’s talking about. I read my stuff sometimes and wonder whether I should give up and go back to lawn-mowing. Or breaking rocks. My confidence ebbs and flows big time. Low tide is like, way, low, as my teen workshoppers might say.

I wouldn’t say I was any more confident with this manuscript than my first – apart from knowing my ever-enthusiastic agent would read it. But I certainly believe in the worth of fresh ideas and the power of perseverance. I’m on my 8th draft of Five Parts Dead and the final deadline is approaching fast. More sweat has gone into this story than anything I’ve written before. So I certainly understand the “incrementally” comment. And the “heck of a lot of work”.

On rejection and acceptance

I was interviewed recently on the subject of rejection letters. The article, possibly with a photo of me, will be printed in the next week or so. I have mixed feelings about the prospect.

So why did I do it? Part of me is aware of the “any publicity is good publicity” school of thought. It’s tough selling books when you’re not a ‘name’. Media coverage is one way to build a profile and, hopefully, boost sales. Indeed, part of me was grateful that I should be considered credible enough to discuss the topic.

As I have blogged previously, I believe rejection letters are a fact of life. There’s certainly no shame in getting one. JK Rowling reportedly got 12 for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone before she got an acceptance.

No, my main reservation was that I wasn’t sure I had any wisdom to offer on the topic. I told the journalist this and then proceeded to babble away anyway… I’m not sure how useful or newsworthy my thoughts were. As a journalist myself, I don’t think I was all that quotable – but it’s not my article so I guess that’s not my worry.

With the benefit of hindsight, there are two main things I’d say about rejection letters:

1. You’re more likely to get constructive feedback, as opposed to a form letter, if you have an agent. You can use this information to improve your work.
2. It really doesn’t matter how many rejection letters you accumulate. You only need one acceptance letter to get your story published.

Get one letter that says ‘yes’ and the disappointment of one ‘no’ (or several) fades very quickly.

If you’re yet to get that letter, keep the faith. And don’t be afraid of criticism or hard work redrafting. Attend a writing group or take a class. Workshop your manuscript. Put it in a drawer for a while and then read it with a fresh perspective. Ask yourself, honestly, how could it be improved?

Very few of us can claim to be God’s gift to literature. Chances are, there will more blood, sweat and tears required. You need to earn that one letter you’re seeking. When you do, be sure to celebrate.

Angry authors

Australia’s book industry is up in arms*. Cranky in the extreme. We’ve been done over and we’re not happy.

Why? Because the so-called Productivity Commission has made a ruling on the future of the industry that appears to be ideologically, rather than logically, driven.

What is the decision? I’m no expert but, as I understand things, it recommends the abolition of “Parallel Importation Restrictions” for books published in Australia. In other words a book printed here could be simultaneously printed el-cheapo style overseas and shipped Down Under to compete with the local editions.

Local publishers denied exclusive territorial copyright to titles, even for a limited time, will have a fight on their hands from Day One if they are to get any return from their investments.

So small Australian publishers will do it particularly tough. And that means small Australian authors will too.

Fewer publishers with the spare dosh to take risks on emerging authors means fewer local stories finding their way into print.

It might even mean local branches of large overseas publishers get slashed as most of the action will be overseas at head office. If so, authors’ opportunities to published will evaporate further.

It’s not just bad news for authors and illustrators. The domino effect means less work for designers, editors, printers, marketing folk, agents and many others.

Then there are the booksellers. Independent bookstores are a lifeline for local authors/illustrators – and they’re already endangered. If all bookstores become bulk discount outlets it will be a dark day indeed for local writers and READERS. Even if the books are cheaper, and I’m not persuaded this will be the case, you’ll need to mine the dross to find quality, small print-run titles.

Check out who is cheering the decision – mainly a specific chain store. Then go to one of their stores and try to find a book by an Australian author on their shelves if the title isn’t: a) a brand new release or b) a best seller. Good luck.

Here are some other random observations on the debate:

– While famous authors can be very eloquent, they appear incapable of 20-second grabs on TV.

– There almost seems to be an assumption that authors are well off. Believe me, very few Australian authors make a living writing full time. Many authors aim to sell Australia – New Zealand rights to their work separately from overseas rights as this is one of the few ways an author can slightly enhance their pay packet. Game as Ned, for instance, sold in Aust-NZ first, and then in Poland. These subsequent overseas sales provide vital funds that enable authors to keep writing. It would seem these secondary sales might be less likely now.

– Allan Fels obviously isn’t a struggling author. His victory smirk almost provoked me into kicking in my TV screen last night. Grrrrr.

Anyway, here’s a more learned explanation of what’s at stake, courtesy of Australians for Australian Books:

Territorial copyright for books, and the associated 30/90 day rules for book importation, have enabled the Australian book industry, long the poor cousin to the UK and US book industries, to grow strong and vibrant.

The 30-day rule means that an Australian publisher who buys the rights to publish an overseas book in Australia gains Australian copyright for the book if it is published here within 30 days of overseas publication.

The 90-day rule means that the same publisher effectively loses that protection if unable to supply the book to an Australian buyer within 90 days.

Together, these rules, introduced in 1991, provide Australian publishers with the security to invest in new books, underpinning their development of Australian talent, while ensuring new books come on the Australian market quickly and booksellers can buy the titles they need.

And there I was thinking the Productivity Commission is supposed to enhance productivity, not stifle it.

If you’re a reader, writer, illustrator or anyone who believes in protecting Australian talent, tune in to www.ausbooks.com.au for the next steps in this crucial stoush. To read the Commission’s report, click here.

* Back when I was a cadet reporter, this was one of my favourite tabloid terms for being irate. It feels like I should grab a gardening tool and storm a barricade somewhere.

Rejection letters and friendly fire

If you’re going to be a writer, you can take it as read that you will receive rejection letters. Not everything you do will be deemed worthy of publication. Sometimes the worthiness of your work will not be determined by the quality of your writing or ideas. Commercial considerations will generally carry the day. In the current economic climate, this is even more likely.

Truth is, you’re going to need to develop thick skin. Negative feedback is inevitable. (Hopefully it will be buried beneath a mountain of plaudits though.)

When I sought publishers for Game as Ned, I found myself with a couple of offers to print it. This enabled me to obtain representation from a literary agent. My agent then passed the manuscript on to other publishers to gauge the level of interest.

The final scorecard was two interested publishers, one direct rejection letter and four “no thank yous” sent to my agent.

One of the advantages to having an agent is that the rejection letters often contain useful appraisals of your work – things that you can address in a rewrite. If you submit a manuscript direct to a publisher, the “thanks but no thanks” is likely to be an impersonal form letter.

Feedback from family, friends and readers is an entirely different kettle of fish. It can make you smile or sting like hell. You need to accept that all readers have different tastes. I’ll wager you don’t enjoy everything you read, either.

So while you’re still developing that armadillo-esque hide, you might want to choose carefully who you show your labour of love to. Constructive, considered criticism is worth copping. Thoughtless feedback is potentially damaging and best binned as soon as possible. Think on it only as long as the unhelpful people who vomited it out did.