After a weekend of amazing MWF author panels, parties, and spontaneous kaffee klatches, I have found a spare half hour to share the rest of the highlights from Friday’s The Whole Shebang professional development workshop for writers.
The fun part for me was presenting some hot-off-the-press results from AWM’s survey of Australian literary agents. More about that next week…
Firstly, I need to add to the last post about publishers. Whole Shebangers also heard from Laurie Steed and Zoe Dattner of SPUNC (Small Press Underground Networking Community). A resident organisation of The Wheeler Centre, the relatively young SPUNC works tirelessly to strengthen and promote small publishers – and this is great news for Australian writers and readers. The diversity of niche and independent publishers of SPUNC (currently 73 members strong, and growing) means that aspiring writers have a greater chance of finding a publisher who believes in their work and can help them connect with their audience. Australia is blessed to have such a vibrant and multi-faceted publishing industry, and SPUNC ensures that writers and readers are aware of the wealth of books beyond those published by the top tier houses.
Whole Shebangers were fortunate to learn about the role of literary agents from Clare Forster. Formerly with Penguin for 17 years and now representing Curtis Brown in Melbourne, two of Clare’s authors were recently nominated for The Age literary prize. Forster began by emphasizing just how small this integral sector of the publishing industry is, with just 17 members of the Australian Literary Agents Association, plus some others who are non-affiliated. But as Forster pointed out, not every author needs an agent: an author with a great non-fiction project and a popular blog is likely to get a direct commission from a publisher.
Forster presented some of the services that agents should , and should not, provide. Agents DO: Read widely, and ‘stand shoulder to shoulder with publishers to lobby for and protect Australian authors’. Agents DON’T: charge for reading, fail to disclose finances, or intervene with a good author-publisher relationship.
Forster also set some homework for the writers present:
• Find 20 good published books and read them: the kind of book you’d like to write, or you’d like your book to sit next to in a bookstore.
• Find a good narrative or story: with a beginning, middle, and end – with drama, scenario, and exchange – outline what it is that you want to say and how you can say it uniquely.
• Find a voice: develop clarity and distinctiveness of expression.
• Develop your style: whether it is plain and understated or vivid and pyrotechnic; get good at listening to style and voice.
• Use bum glue (as Bryce Courtenay calls it).
• Read and revise your own work – completing and printing, reading and revising each draft. Take the lead from Thea Astley, who would only submit her 8th draft – writers need ‘pausation’ (Ruth Cracknell’s term) to consider our own work afresh.
The last highlights I will share are from fiction author, arts grant-writer and Writing Race guest, Tom Cho. Tom began by assuring us that if an author meets the eligibility requirements, has a strong project, and uses some grant-writing basics, then they were in with a chance to gain funding to support their work. He also emphasized the usefulness of grant writing in helping you clarify your ideas – it gets you thinking clearly and logically about the steps, goals, reasons for your work. His main tips were to:
• Always speak to someone at the funding body before you apply to check you fit eligibility criteria.
• Write to the selection criteria.
• Include all the info – communicate what’s in your head to your audience
• Get feedback from rejections
The Wheeler Centre, established through a generous endowment by the former owners of the Lonely Planet, includes a number of organisations working alongside each other as part of Melbourne’s City of Literature initiative: the Victorian Writers Centre, Emerging Writers Festival, SPUNC, Express Media, Melbourne Writers Festival, Overload Poetry Festival, Melbourne PEN, and the Australian Poetry Collective (the latter to merge with the NSW Poets’ Union next year to become Australian Poetry). Each resident org gave a short presentation to Whole Shebangers about their key goals and activities. The Wheeler Centre, located in the State Library of Victoria, certainly provided a great venue for an incredible day of professional development for writers.