Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The tyranny of distance

I'm a Tasmanian novelist and short-story writer. A few years ago, the Tasmanian Writers' Centre brought an agent down and asked for submissions from authors for her to consider. As I had already had a book published I was not surprised to be shortlisted. Unfortunately, it turned out that the agent was unable to offer any of us representation due to factors beyond our control. Thus, the whole thing turned out to be a disappointment and a waste of time. It is really difficult for us in Tassie, as we do not have the networks available to other people. Do you have any suggestions re agents who might actually follow through with forming relationships with Tasmanian writers?

I explored the issue of regional writers in this post so I won't go over too much of that ground, except to reiterate that I really don't think it matters where you live - if you find the right agent, then your relationship will work regardless of where you're placed. I have writers in Tasmania, as well as several other states; most agents would. Agents in the US certainly have writers from all over the country - most writers do not live in New York City, which is where the bulk of the agents are.

In the case you mention above I suspect it was more to do with what was happening with that particular agent than with the fact that you were in Tasmania. We really don't discriminate if you're not from Sydney or Melbourne. The greatest difficulty I find is the perception of writers outside the two largest cities - there is an idea that Sydney and Melbourne writers are hooked into some kind of publishing grid. They're not. The networks available to them are also available to writers elsewhere. Twenty years ago, this wasn't the case. The Internets have changed everything.

I've probably mentioned this before too but, if not, Varuna's LongLines program can provide opportunities for writers who are feeling geographically isolated.

The short and short of it

I teach writing and I have a student who is in a South-east Asian jail for life. He writes short stories and they are the most beautifully written, thought-provoking stories. He has given me permission to try to get them published. I’d really like to help him, to give him something to live for. Do you know if any publishers in Aus would be interested in something like that? I couldn’t help thinking that if some of the Bali Nine contributed to an anthology it would be more marketable and an important thing for young people to read. I must stress I’m personally not interested in making money out of this, but I feel these are important voice to be heard.

Here's the bad news: short story collections are the orphan children of Australian publishing. They have a couple of foster parents (Scribe and the University of Western Australia Press) and 'Aunties' (the Girls' Night In collections) but have largely been abandoned by the tribe. It's hard to know why - short stories are great for bus trips and the like. Many great writers of recent times cut their teeth on short stories; I fell in love with Truman Capote's writing through his short stories, which I discovered in the local library while I was researching a school essay on Plato and Son of Plato. And I just completely digressed ...

If you're looking for an Australian publisher, try submitting to one of the two I mentioned. Americans love short stories more than we do, though, so if you're serious about getting this collection published, try submitting the stories to American agents.

Here's the other news: Australians may want to read about the Bali Nine but I suspect they wouldn't want to read anything written by them. Schapelle Corby was the only Kerobokan prisoner whose own story was going to sell books, and it did, but she also had a co-writer. Schapelle was also famous enough for her publisher not to have to worry about the fact that she couldn't do publicity for the book, which is a concern with your student. This will sound quite cold and businesslike, but publishing is a business.

If what you really, really want is to get these stories out into the world - if money is irrelevant - then set up a website to publish the stories and then look into ways of getting publicity for them, starting with telling your other students.