Thursday, October 21, 2010

Maybe we are quietly judging you

Having not sent off any novel WIP for years, after request for partials, in my excitement I sent them off without title pages and no paper clip. This only just dawned on me this morning when I was reading something that reminded me what an author does when being professional and not trying to irritate said agents.

I can imagine said agents opening up my parcel and the WIP falling out everywhere and them snatching up the pages and using them as basketball practice with their bins.

I know you can’t predict the future, but how high do you think I have just raised the possibility of rejection?

From a writer who is feeling very stupid and irritated with themself that they may have just ruined the only opportunity they had to get an Australian agent to read their work.

True or false: It is a well-known fact that agents often use hapless authors' submissions for purposes other than the intended e.g. for making paper aeroplanes, in lieu of notepaper - and for basketball practice.

Well, hapless author, if you answered 'true', you're out of luck. We tend to take submissions as they are and, actually, treat them quite nicely. So you can allay your fears on that score.

On the score of sending them off without title pages and paperclips, I'd only say this is bad if you also sent them off without an accompanying letter that included your name and contact details. To be honest, I probably wouldn't notice if a submission didn't include a title page so long as the letter had the title of the work in it. And if I want to clip the pages together - lo! There are paperclips on my desk! Sometimes it's mildly annoying if the pages aren't clipped together but, really, that's my own annoyance, it comes up rarely, and I don't think worse of the author for it. Ultimately, it's your writing that matters. If you've written a great manuscript then your eventual agent is not going to remember the lack of title page and binding device. They're just going to be mightily pleased to have found you.

However, if you're still feeling really bad about it, send them an email saying, 'I just realised I didn't send a title page with my submission, nor did I clip the pages together. Please forgive the oversight.' But whatever you do, don't also include a question about how long it will take them to respond ...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A short question!

Do you need a word count for non-fiction query letters?

Sadly the question is so short that I'm not sure whether you mean 'Do I need to include a word count for my manuscript in the query letter?' or 'Should the query letter itself conform to a word count?' So my excitement at your brevity has now paled in the halogen glare of my confusion.

Just in case it's behind-door-number-two: ideally all query letters are about four or five paragraphs long - or about a normal A4 page in 1.5 line spacing for the obsessives amongst you.

If it's about the word count for the potentially unwritten non-fiction manuscript: yes, give an estimate, lest the publisher thinks they may be contracting something that's either 400 000 words long or 15 000 words short. You won't necessarily be held to the estimate, but contracts tend to contain a word limit so there needs to be something.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A gig in publishing

I am a business student and aspiring YA writer. For a while now, I’ve been thinking, if the whole getting published thing doesn’t work out - or even if it does - I would love to work in the publishing industry, especially for children’s books.

So how does one go about pursuing a career in the publishing industry? I’ve researched a lot about the publishing industry during the course of submitting past novels. For example, I know that interns don’t get paid very much (if at all), and I realise that the Australian publishing industry is very small, and publishing as a whole is experiencing a downturn at the moment. I also know in April, some Australian companies invite job applications for internships. I’ve looked at all the available publisher websites, but there is next to nothing on job opportunities.

I’ve considered emailing various editors in the children’s department and asking about any internship opportunities, but there are a few issues I’m concerned about. Firstly, is this even a good idea? Secondly, should I mention that I am an aspiring writer who is actively pursuing publication? I know there’s some conflict of interest there, so maybe it might be better to not mention it all. However, there’s only a few major fiction publishers based in Sydney, and I’ve already submitted to (and got form rejected on a full request) by one of the biggest companies. I know they receive staggering amounts of submissions. Is it reasonable to assume they don’t remember my name?

I should add here that I definitely don’t intend to use an internship opportunity to further my aspirations to get published. If anything, on the ‘getting published’ side of things, I’m more focused on the US market, because I don’t write ‘Australian fiction’ as such (though I love reading it) and the Australian publishing industry is very snail-mail based. Querying US agents is a lot faster!

Lastly, I mentioned before I’m a business student. Would I have to take an English degree before any company will consider my application seriously? I’ve been an avid reader my whole life, and I’m passionate about books, but my ‘official’ education in literature only extends to HSC Extension 1 and Extension 2 English.

I'll start at the end first: no, you don't need a degree in English. I have degrees in all sorts of things, but not in English. What I do have, though, is a spotty history of doing all sorts of jobs within the publishing industry.

The publishing industry is like other industries: you usually have to start at the bottom and work your way up. I certainly did, and so did lots of others. For the publishing department, that often means starting as an editorial or publishing assistant. Once you're in the door, you're then more aware of other opportunities as they arise. One way to get a foot in the door is to do an internship or work experience; another way is to work as a bookseller. Bookselling is often overlooked but booksellers are also in the publshing industry. And you may find you really love bookselling and want to go into the sales side of publishing (which is generally better remunerated than the editorial side).

If you want to get into a publishing company, though, don't email anyone asking for an opportunity - it's easy to ignore an email, and we all receive so many of them. Try writing a snail-mail letter, even if it goes against your grain. Not because the industry is old fashioned, but because a snail-mail letter stands out, particularly if it's well written. Don't initially mention that you're a writer, because it will be assumed that you're wanting a job purely to get your book published and you won't get a look-in then (we're all alert to various tactics!).

And if you're really serious you could subscribe to the Weekly Book Newsletter, because that's where all the job advertisements hang out. Mind you, they're probably all on etc as well - I've just never looked. So if you find ads for editorial assistants or jobs like that, apply for them. But it will help if you have something behind you, like bookselling - which, conveniently, is a job you can fit in around uni hours.

Australia, a post-colony

I am contacting you to see whether you can point me in the right direction. I have an (almost complete) manuscript of approximately 110,000 words which charts a year we spent living and working in Sydney as part of a decision-making process on whether to emigrate permanently.

The book offers an honest, thought-provoking and humorous insight into the trials of a British family trying to adjust to Australian life (don't all poms think Australia will be more-or-less like the UK?). It's presented in diary form and leads ultimately to the decision to go home, via periods of poignant reflection, deep joy and utter frustration (a large part of which is supplied by the staff of Australia Post). I feel this book has a wide potential audience in both Britain and Australia and would greatly appreciate any advice you feel able to give with regards to Australian agents or publishers who might be interested in receiving it.

I have bad news for you: Australians are no longer interested in what the British think of them. This can possibly be attributed to one or all of the following:

(a) That 1915 slaughter on a Turkish beach ordered by some English higher-ups.

(b) Those slaughters (1914-1918) on the farm fields of France, Belgium and Luxembourg ordered by some English higher-ups.

(c) That whole blaming-the-fall-of-Singapore-on-us thing (1942) ordered by some English higher-ups, specifically one W Churchill.

(d) Robert Menzies.

(e) The particular class of tourist/immigrant known as the 'whingeing Pom'.

We now look to a new master, as outlined in Harold Holt's 1966/67 foreign policy, officially titled 'All the way with LBJ'. Our commitment to be slaughtered, Agent Oranged and generally destroyed on the farm fields of Vietnam may have looked like a purely political stunt, but in truth it marked a turning in Australian culture as well.

Yes, I'm being (partly) serious. Australia no longer has the ties to the Mother Country it once had, to the point that many people probably forget - or never knew in the first place - that Queen Elizabeth II is still technically in charge. Still, as a nascent post-colonial organisation we need someone to trot after, and we've chosen the USA for the time being. Consequently, there aren't many folks in Australia who will necessarily want to read about British impressions of our land girt by sea, especially as the likely readers for such a book have probably already spent time in the UK and heard the impressions first hand. In other words: your manuscript would be a tough sell in Australia. I think the last non-Australian who successfully published a book of impressions about Australia was Bill Bryson.

The other reason why it would be a tough sell is that Australians are generally quite aware of their shortcomings (Kath and Kim, anyone? Muriel's Wedding?), and of the good stuff too. We're still struggling to get out from underneath our cultural cringe and if anyone points out bad stuff, we're likely to sink back down rather than argue; and, perversely, if anyone points out good stuff, the same thing may happen. We'd rather examine ourselves than have someone else examine us. (And I'm a fourth-generation Sydneysider so I'm feeling rather qualified to make the statement, but feel free to disagree with me.)

Still, that's no reason not to try. But I suggest you test your content on a blog first and see what happens. My instinct is that it will have readers from everywhere but Australia.

PS: Your comment about Australia Post marks you out as a member of the class identified in (e). Even if I agree with you. So there!