I have spent the last few days on my couch recovering from a truly horrible flu (seriously: I can’t recall ever having been this sick, even with appendicitis.) But, before that, I was very privileged to be able to attend the second part of Round 1 of the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY 2016 program, Intro2Industry. This was an extended 3-day weekend’s worth of seminars on all aspects of the publishing industry, and it was fascinating. And, I have to confess, sobering in equal parts.
First up, a big shout out to the ACT Writers Centre and the wonderful Nigel Featherstone for convening the course. I could not have asked to be placed in more generous, professional or gentler hands for the weekend. Thank you, Nigel, you are a star.
We had presentations from just about every aspect of the industry you can imagine, from publishers, established authors and agents, to writers festivals, booksellers, reviewers and government arts funding agencies. Catherine Milne from Harper Collins gave the opening session on “What do publishers want?” This was both inspiring and daunting, as she described how publishers fall in love with manuscripts and then have to pitch them to the dreaded acquisitions board – a process that sounds just as terrifying for the publisher as pitching to them is for the author. I loved hearing about how half the time the manuscripts they lose their hearts to are ones they didn’t know they were looking for. “Publishers are like two-year-olds,” she said at one point. “We don’t know what we want, but we know we want it!”
Alex Adsett from Alex Adsett Publishing Services was as charming and engaging as always (I’ve seen a couple of her presentations now) – which is not necessarily what you’d expect from a lawyer delivering a session on copyright and contract law. Seriously, if you get a chance to see her in action, do it. She is great. Jacinta Dimase from Jacinta Dimase Management took us through some case studies from her stable of authors. She also got us to do a fascinating exercise in pulling out seven key themes from our novels and posting them up on a wall of the theatre. Seeing them all grouped together from a field of 28 authors writing across a range of genres was fascinating.
One of the most talked-about presentations was from Patrick Lenton from Town Crier Digital Marketing. He talked to us about the importance of authors having an online platform and talked us through a few different options. He was insightful and deeply knowledgeable and I got a huge amount out of his presentation. A key learning is that whatever online presence you decide to have, it has to be authentically you (otherwise you’ll never sustain it.)
A surprise learning from Allen & Unwin rep Deb Sevens and owner of Dymocks Canberra City, Alison Kay, was that “good sales” for a new author from one bookshop might be only one or two books over a month. This was a very sobering presentation, when us starry-eyed, emerging authors all learned just exactly how many books there are in a bookshop competing for each customer’s attention and how there is only room for a few of them to be placed face out. We also talked about the importance of a good cover. It was frustrating to learn how small the window is for a book to be considered a “success” in sales in bookshops, and even more so when we heard from Linda Funnell from the Newtown Review of Books about how sometimes review scheduling can miss this mark.
For me, in amongst it all was this strong thread of love for the written word. Even the in the moments when we or the presenters gave way to their most jaded or frustrated thoughts, everyone who was there was there because they love books. Because they adore stories and they want to get more stories out there to the readers who will treasure them. Even though every pearl of wisdom we received over the weekend came with a warning about the hard reality of the current times, I think we all finished the course in the spirit of “pragmatic optimism” that Nigel took care to foster throughout. I certainly feel as though I’ve been given the best possible preparation for what (hopefully) lies ahead.
I wish all my fellow HARDCOPIERS all the very best for the next stage of their literary journey. (Photo courtesy of Alex Fairhill)