(3) Plan B – The Conference Pitch

Last week I told the story of how I found my dream agent. Problem was, I still didn’t have my dream contract with a major publisher. Maybe my agent could use a little help? A writer friend of mine, fellow rural author Margareta Osborn, had asked me to go with her to the Romance Writer’s Conference in Melbourne.

‘I don’t write category romance,’ I said.

‘You don’t have to,’ said Margareta. ‘All sorts of writers go. It’ll be fun … and you get to pitch face to face to editors. Not just any editors, but key industry professionals like Beverley Cousins of Random House, Annette Barlow of Allen & Unwin and Belinda Byrne, a commissioning editor at Penguin’.

‘Really?’ I said, my ears pricking right up.  ‘Editors?’ Now, all I needed was a novel to knock their socks off. I already had two manuscripts with Curtis Brown. Maybe I needed something fresh, something that fused my passion for the land with an equally passionate love story. It was January, and the conference was in August – eight months. I could only try. Thus Brumby’s Run was born. I wrote and wrote, revising as I went, and had a polished first draft just in time for the conference.

Belinda ByrneI scored pitch sessions with Bernadette Foley of Hachette and Belinda Byrne. I agonised over my pitch, practised ad nauseum and was sick with nerves. The five minute pitches were reduced to three minute pitches. Not much time to impress anybody. Then the moment arrived for that long walk into the room, and I was the one who wound up being  impressed. Both editors were so friendly and natural, and did everything they could to put me at ease. And best of all, both of them took my three chapters and synopsis.

Ten days passed without word, so I sent out polite reminders. Far from being annoyed, they both asked for the full manuscript. Then, after several encouraging emails from Belinda, she asked to meet me, and in October I received an email headed Penguin Letter of Offer for Brumby’s Run. At last!. I printed that letter out and carried it with me for weeks, looking at it occasionally to check it was real. My agent was happy too, cheerfully returning emails once again and launching into contract negotiations with great gusto. And the rocky road to publication was suddenly an easy, downhill run.

 

Heading for Ireland on Monday, to take up a month-long residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Soooo … my next post will be from the Emerald Isle. Pretty amazing, huh? (I’m almost jealous of myself!)

(2) Landing that Elusive Agent

A couple of years ago I decided I wanted a literary agent. I read everything I could on the subject, lurked on agent blogs (Kristen Nelson’s Pub Rants was a favourite, along with mysterious Agent Sydney’s Call My Agent)and poured over the acknowledgement pages in my local bookstore, searching for likely candidates. I completed a third draft of my manuscript, and launched into an organised campaign bearing all the hallmarks of a military operation.

Firstly, I purchased an up-to-date copy of the Australian Writer’s Marketplace. Each country has its own version, containing current details of every contact you could ever need in the publishing industry, including agents. This is also available online, but there was something very satisfying about highlighting each suitable listing, and then  ticking them off as I made submissions. Australia is a small market with a correspondingly small number of agents. After carefully reviewing them all, it turned out just eighteen agents were accepting submissions for adult fiction.

I listed them in order of personal preference, agonised over a query letter, then in October I queried the top twelve all at once.  I received six requests for chapters. Of those, I received four gracious rejections and  two requests for the full 80,000 word manuscript. One of these was from Curtis Brown (Aust), my first choice! Trying to remain calm, I sent off my submissions and waited. Finally in February I received a phone call from Curtis Brown requesting a meeting. It turned out I was already heading to Sydney that week  for an Australian Society of Authors course. That meeting was a great success and I was offered representation.

Hurray! I thought all my troubles were over. It was only a matter of time before my manuscript found a home. Nothing could have been further from the truth. My agent submitted to six publishers and got knock-backs. Write the next one she said. I did, while my old manuscript languished. By the time I’d finished the next one (about a year) the agency had lost interest in me in a major way. They couldn’t even find the time to read it. A cold stone settled in the pit of my stomach. If I didn’t do something soon, I felt sure they’d drop me. What I needed was a plan B!

Next week – Plan B The Conference Pitch

The Rocky Road to Publication – (1) Writing the Novel

This is the first post of a series about getting a novel published in Australia, based on personal experience with my upcoming book, Brumby’s Run.

First you must finish your story. Agents and publishers will usually only consider completed fiction manuscripts. It is enormously useful to join your state writing centre. They offer great on-line support for regional writers. I’ve completed two novels through Andrea Goldsmith‘s Year of the Novel program at Writers Victoria. Here I honed my craft, networked and gained  invaluable friendships. Writing a 70,000 – 100,000 word manuscript takes single-minded dedication, and nobody understands this like other writers. It also helps to have a routine. I aim for at least 500 words a day, but often manage many more. It’s  vital to keep reading, in and out of your genre, fiction and non-fiction. Reading fills up the creative well, and is just the tonic for a mild case of writer’s block. (I don’t believe in writer’s block per se. It is a malady that generally strikes when you’ve written yourself into a corner, and don’t know where the story is going next.)

There are an infinite number of ways to construct your manuscript. Some people write the end first. Some people write chapters out of order and tie them all together later. Some use programs like Scrivener to help keep the threads together.  I begin at the beginning and write in a linear fashion, with only a vague plot outline to go by. This allows the narrative to surprise me, and is a lot of fun. But whatever method you choose, writing a novel takes time and hard work.

Finally, after a great deal of hair-tearing, wine, chocolate and some sublime moments of inspiration, you type The End on your first draft. You put it aside for a few weeks to get a bit of distance. You celebrate. Catch your breath. For the real work is about to begin.

You have your painstakingly manufactured canvas. It’s time to create some magic. The legendary Peter Bishop, former creative director of Varuna Writer’s House, once said to me that the first draft is the writer’s draft. It is essentially the writer telling himself the story. You need to revise it within an inch of  its life – cutting, adding, polishing and shaping, until you have a reader’s draft. Only then should you contemplate launching it into the world.

I’m interested in finding out more about the process of other writers. Do you use Scrivener or something similar, for instance? Do you have any writing rituals? I have a Snoopy toy on my computer. It holds a tiny typewriter with It was a dark and stormy night… written on it. What about you?

Next week – (2) Landing that Elusive Agent