An Excellent Seminar

In July I attended an excellent seminar held at the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) in Ultimo, Sydney, titled “Pitch Perfect”. The convenor, Emily Booth, an editor from Melbourne company, Text Publishing, led the workshop on how to pitch our manuscript to agents and publishers. One of the most helpful pieces of information, as well as the guidelines on synopsis writing and pitching, was a classification of principal publishing firms:

The Three Main Publishing Streams in Australia:

Large Traditional Houses:

Interested mainly in already published authors, or those with a social presence, such as Bill Clinton, whose books will sell in the thousands:  Not available to new authors, unless you have an agent: also called The Big Five:

Random Penguin House is an example; Hachette; Pan Macmillan; Harper Collins; Simon & Schuster.

Independent Publishers:

Emily Booth says: These are prepared to consider new writers, whose books might not sell thousands initially, but may have “a long tail”, with the possibility of reprints down the track. They have committed staff available for editing, and, according to Emily, they may be driven by editorial, rather than marketing. Examples are:

Text Publishing; also Scribe Publications; Ventura Press,  Allen and Unwin (Friday Pitch), Affirm Press, Black Inc.

Small Presses:

These are often under-staffed and not always able to provide complete editing facilities for new writers: Finch; Pantera Press; Giramondo Publishing.

Text Publishing

salley-vickers-cover From their website: “At Text we want to publish books that make a difference to people’s lives. We believe that reading should be a marvellous experience, that every book you read should somehow change your life if only by a fraction. We love the phrase ‘lost in a book’—that’s where we want our readers to be. You can’t get lost in a newspaper or a magazine or even a movie. But people get lost in books every day—on the tram, on the beach, in bed. Reading is what keeps the imagination supple and challenges preconceptions and prejudices. ”

Text Publishing accept unsolicited submissions. They require hard copy. Authors from Text that I’ve read and enjoyed:

Kate Grenville, Helen Garner, Salley Vickers, Margaret Atwood, Yan Martell, Murray Bail, J.M. Coetzee, Anna Funder, Elena Ferrante, Sophie Cunningham, Kate Jennings, Olga Masters, Janet Malcolm, Magda Szubanski,  Claire Aman, and Jeanette Winterson.

 Giramondo Publishing

Commissioning Editor, Nick Tapper, of Giramondo Publishing, spoke at a recent session at the NSW Writers’ Centre.  

  • Giramondo is interested in publishing diverse Australian voices; pushing the boundaries; playing with form; mixing genres; doing something politically/socially interesting; they publish equal poetry and prose.
  • Committed to staying small: Print runs of 700-1500
  • 25 books were printed in 2017 with a staff of 12 who do everything: editing; submissions; covers; distribution; etc.
  • They accept unsolicited manuscripts; writers must be familiar with books published by Giramondo
  • Examples of Books: Beverly Farmer: This Water; Gerald Murnane: A Million Windows; Michael Mohammed Ahmad: The Tribe; Alexis Wright: Carpentaria; Brian Castro: The Bath Fugues; Fiona Wright: Small Acts of Disappearance.

    A Million Windows

    a-million-windows-coverMurnane’s A Million Windows looks, at first glance, like a novel, but it is very different from the traditional form. Rather than allowing me, the naive reader, to lose myself in the story, I had to work hard to follow the narrative to its end.

    This work refers the reader contextually to other sources: to books by past authors, such as Hal Porter’s The Watcher on the Cast-Iron Balcony, Pascal’s Pensées, and to celebrated writers such as Hemingway, James and Hardy.

    A Million Windows is only fiction in the broadest sense. There are many stories or fragments of stories spread throughout generous doses of “writing craft” information. Luckily, I took notes, and came across a host of clues and gems along the way for new authors, who may still be learning the rules of creative writing, and for new readers of Murnane’s experimental type of writing.

    While rejecting traditional punctuation—pointing ahead towards experimentation with new forms—the narrator uses a comic metaphor to describe “quotation marks looking like swarms of flies or a series of dashes like rungs on a ladder to nowhere.” This voice of irony, often harking back to past ironic voices, such as that of Laurence Sterne, saved it for me; as did the way Murnane blithely turned on its head James Joyce’s dictum that “in the particular is contained the universal”. While acknowledging the giants of the past, he still manages to create a unique, if sometimes frustrating, voice for himself.

     Which to Choose?

  • If you are an unpublished writer, it was suggested that you approach Small Publishers or, possibly, the Independents.
  • The Independent Publishers are more likely to offer editing skills for your manuscript.
  • Small presses are always eager to publish unsolicited manuscripts if they are good and polished.