Call for submissions: Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia

Dr Anita Heiss (photo: Amanda James)

Wonderful news from Black Inc Books: calls for autobiographical accounts of growing up Aboriginal in Australia for an anthology aimed at high school students, to be published in 2018.  This is a timely and brilliant idea – have we really not had such a collection before this?

Dr Anita Heiss, lifetime ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and author of Am I Black Enough for You? will edit the anthology, Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia.

Submissions must be between 800 and 3,000 words, and are due on May 1st. The publisher states:

The pieces can be written in a wide range of styles, voices and tones, as long as they are original, honest and reflective; we are not looking for abstract or sociological treatments. The anthology will be aimed both at high school students and general readers. The submissions can deal with any aspect of growing up as a Blackfella, and must be engaging while providing insight into the diverse lives of Aboriginal people in Australia today. We are looking for voices that defy, question or shed light on the usual stereotypes.

A few more details are available on the Black Inc website.


Writing fellowships from Australian Book Review – applications open

Under the leadership of Peter Rose and the generosity of individual donors, the venerable Australian Book Review has expanded both the number and quality of its writing fellowships and prizes in recent years. Here are some application deadlines to note if you have something to say and the time in which to craft it.

2017 ABR Gender Fellowship – $7,500 – closes 1 February, 2017
The ABR Gender Fellowship is a new addition to the Fellowship program. ABR seeks proposals for a substantial article on gender in contemporary Australian creative writing in all its forms.

2017 ABR RAFT Fellowship – $7,500 – closes 10 March, 2017
Australian Book Review welcomes applications for the second RAFT Fellowship, comprising proposals for a 6,000 to 8,000-word article on any aspect of the role and significance of religion in society and culture.

2017 ABR Eucalypt Fellowship – $7,500 – closes 10 March, 2017
For the third ABR Eucalypt Fellowship, ABR seeks proposals for a 6000 to 8,000-word article on the Australian eucalypt in all its forms, with reference to history, literature, science and natural history, Indigenous subjects, the arts, or politics. This Fellowship article will appear in our 2017 Environment issue.

Before you apply, make sure you read the Fellowship guidelines.

2017 ABR Calibre Essay Prize – $7,500 – closes 15 March, 2017
The ABR Calibre Essay Prize is one of the world’s leading prizes for a new essay, open to anyone in the world who is writing in English. We are seeking essays of between 3,000 and 7,000 words on any non-fiction subject. Judges: Sheila Fitzpatrick, Peter Rose, Geordie Williamson

More information here.

2017 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize – prize pool $12,500 – closes 10 April, 2017
The ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize is one of the world’s leading prizes for an original short story (2,000 – 5,000 words), open to anyone in the world who is writing in English. 

More information here.

My second book, Girls at the Piano, will be published in 2018

Auguste Renoir, Two Young Girls at the Piano, 1892
Auguste Renoir, Two Young Girls at the Piano, 1892

I’m extremely happy to report that GIRLS AT THE PIANO, the book I have been writing, on and off, for the past seven (gasp) years, will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in early 2018.

While it’s good news for me personally – the second book is notoriously challenging for many writers – it’s also good news for my clients, who can feel reassured that I might actually know what I’m on about when I read and respond to their work.

If you’re interested in working with me to complete your manuscript to a publishable standard, please get in touch.

I firmly believe there are no stupid questions, and I would love to hear from you.

Nature writing and nonfiction for women: trends from the Frankfurt Book Fair 2016

According to a roundup of rights sales at the book industry’s biggest get-together, the Frankfurt Book Fair, psychological thrillers are going the way of wizards, but nonfiction about the environment is in, in, in.

What’s the Frankfurt Book Fair?
Each October, the world’s largest annual trade fair for books draws thousands of publishers, editors and agents from around the world, who are all attempting to buy or sell rights in books that have sold strongly in their respective home territories. For example, many Australian publishers and/or their foreign rights managers attend Frankfurt in order to interest overseas publishers and editors in books already published in Australia, for which the Australian publishers hold world rights.

According to book industry newsletter Australian Bookseller & Publisher (subscription required), which interviews Australian publisher representatives at the industry event, international publishers are looking for narrative nonfiction for women readers (a genre that describes fact-based storytelling, for example memoir, travel or personal history, or some untold story of a specific group of people). They’re still strong on crime fiction, but less enthusiastic for the psychological thriller – unless, of course, it’s the next global phenomenon (think Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train).

What do these trends mean for authors?
While any publishing professional will tell you that a ‘great story, well told’ will always be publishing’s holy grail, it’s useful for aspiring authors to be mindful of the business realities of the industry. Some subjects and genres do get saturated (zombies, anyone?), which means that it’s that much more difficult to interest an acquiring agent or publisher in your manuscript. If you’re concerned that your subject is too similar to what’s already been published, then you should listen to your instinct and revisit one or more aspects of your story – whether it’s location, historical period, characterization, plot twists, and so forth.

On the other hand, because publishing trends do come and go, I do not recommend that a writer changes his or her project based on a trend that might prove short-lived.  If you happen to be writing nonfiction about the environment, then feel encouraged at increasing interest from those who acquire book manuscripts. If you’re not, just continue with your project – but do your homework about potential audiences for your subject matter. Agents and publishers want as much proof as possible that there are lots of  potential readers out there for what you’re writing about.

A personal example
A book titled The Lost Pianos of Siberia by British journalist Sophy Roberts was one of the most talked-about books of this year’s book fair. Apparently it mixes memoir, travel and nature writing to explore Siberia, including its involvement in the history of piano production. It was acquired in a pre-empt by Transworld (a division of Penguin Random House) before the festival, an example of the kind of literary-commercial nonfiction crossover work that is very tasty to publishers these days.

This was interesting to me because I’ve just completed a nonfiction manuscript titled Girls at the Piano, for which I will soon be seeking a publisher. My project could not be more different from Roberts’s (not the least because one has a publishing contract and one does not!), but at the most superficial level, both cover aspects of the piano’s history. Is that good news for me – Roberts’s book might tap into a hunger for piano-related stories – or bad news, in that her book might obviate the need for anything that seems too similar? From the little I know about The Lost Pianos of Siberia, it seems very different from the hybrid personal-literary-musical history that I’ve attempted in my manuscript. But I’ll have to wait and see. Either way, I’ll let you know how I go.

Let me know if you have any questions – I really want to hear from you.

Australian publishers talk about the slush pile

Radio National recently lifted the lid on the Australian book publishing slush pile, that ‘unlovely place’ (according to Picador publisher Geordie Williamson) where unsolicited manuscripts go for assessment by an anonymous reader inside a publishing house.

If you listen closely to the 10-minute piece (online for another week or so), you’ll hear the lottery-level chances an author has of his or her manuscript being plucked from slush-pile obscurity. Two examples from the report:

  • Scribe Publications opens to unsolicited manuscripts twice per year for limited periods; asks to see complete manuscripts for about 25% of submissions (which surprised me at being so high) … but has published only 3-4 books from the slush pile in the past five years.
  • Text Publishing receives 100 hard-copy manuscripts every week, and reviews them each Friday in a team meeting at which each manuscript* gets read twice. It finds ‘a couple of things per year’ to publish. (*It is neither possible nor necessary for this number of manuscripts to be read in full – a manuscript that isn’t at a publishable standard will reveal itself in the opening pages.)

Allen & Unwin’s Friday Pitch, which accepts a synopsis and first chapter every week, is a relatively good bet for any Australian author attempting to submit an unsolicited manuscript. A&U publisher Louise Thurtell, who established the system ten years ago, reported that up to 75% of her list has come from Friday Pitch manuscripts, including well-known novelist Fleur McDonald.

So, should you submit your manuscript to an electronic slush pile?
My views on this topic have changed little since I wrote this post several years ago, which remains one of my most popular. The main problem with submitting your work this way is that

  • Rejection is a deafening silence – you receive no feedback from the publisher. (Unfortunately, this is also the case when submitting to many literary agents.)
  • Once rejected, you can’t submit your manuscript to that publisher again.
  • Your work may well be good enough, but is easily lost in the size of a particular publisher’s slush pile. As Geordie Williamson of Picador says, ‘You have to be lucky to get a good reader of the slush pile.’ Which means that it’s kind of luck of the draw, to an extent, as to who’s reading on the day it’s your turn.

Fed up with the silent treatment from agents too?
If you’ve been submitting to agents or publishers and not hearing back, may I make a few suggestions:

  • Try submitting to competitions – just make sure you check the fine print and don’t sign all your rights away
  • Take classes or workshops with industry professionals – you’ll get to meet folks working in publishing, and ask them all the questions you want
  • Join your state writers’ centre – they are a great resource for classes, competitions, literary industry events and other opportunities
  • Twitter is a fabulous resource for writers – if you can resist disappearing down the internet black hole
  • Get a professional manuscript assessment or consultation with an experienced publishing professional to see how you can improve your access to decision-makers, and your manuscript or project.

What has your been your experience of the slush pile?  Have you had success with any of the suggested tactics above? I’d love to hear from you.

(And thanks to Jenny Ackland and her Seraglio blog for alerting me to the RN report.)

Generous grants for Australian writers up for grabs

I wanted to draw your attention to two grants currently available for writers at different stages in their careers.

The first is the Writing NSW Early Career Writer Grants for writers residing in NSW. There are four grants of $5,000 each available for projects to be conducted in 2017. According to the guidelines, activities supported under the grant program include project-related travel, professional development and mentoring, in addition to the creation and development of new work. Applications close on 28th August.

The second is a lucrative $80,000 Author Fellowship offered by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund for one writer to focus on creating his or her next work. It’s open to writers of almost all genres, but the eligibility criteria are tough – five works already published (two can be self-published), with a publisher’s letter of intention to publish, or a publishing contract, for the work the Fellow would conduct during the 12 months of Fellowship money. I suspect these criteria are why the deadline has been extended from 24th August to 23rd September.

Good luck!

Advice on how to attract a publisher

A full plate of manuscriptsIf you’re working on a manuscript and have hit a creative block, or if your manuscript has been knocked back by a literary agent or publisher and are wondering why, I may be able to help you.

Because of my background in publishing, and as an author myself, I help writers get to the level they need in order to attract a publisher.

My clients get published. Some of them are listed here, while others have kindly contributed testimonials about working with me. Many clients I work with remain confidential because they come to me to develop their manuscript before they send it to the publisher who has contracted it.

Other clients are unpublished authors who have contacted me for honest and constructive feedback about their project. Too many serious writers are attending expensive workshops and courses without practical guidance about how they can improve their chances of attracting an agent or publisher.

Then there are those with professional expertise of some kind – but who may not be natural writers – who need a different sort of assistance in developing their book.

Publishing is a business, and unfortunately a great idea or beautiful prose is not, in and of itself, enough.

While I’m booked solid until the end of September, I am open to inquiries from authors at any time. Because my hours are erratic (due to a toddler in the house), email is the best way to reach me as a first step: info Or join my newsletter (sign up at right).

I love seeing my clients get published, and I look forward to hearing from you.