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Here’s the latest GriffithREVIEW. I’m proud to have an essay in this edition, which is all about the transformation of work in the 21st century. Editor Julianne Schultz has a particular genius for identifying contemporary subjects for her themed issues in a way that both leads and responds to public conversation.

My piece is about Skype and how it’s both an invaluable tool and a bit of an illusion, especially for an expatriate daughter living and working a long way from home.

GriffithREVIEW 45 cover


How do I work with the writers I choose to represent?
I’ve heard from a few Australian writers recently who wanted to know a bit more about how I work with the authors I represent. In response I thought it might be useful to hear from one of my freshly published authors, Brad Hutchins, whose GAME SET CASH has just been released in Australia and online.

The author took a gamble
When Brad queried me, the manuscript was a long way from ready to show a publisher, though he had approached publishers through the slush pile of unsolicited submissions, and had been rejected. As you’ll see in the Q&A below, by the time he approached me, Brad knew he needed editorial development but wanted to see if a publishing professional thought his book might interest a publisher. So it was a bit back-to-front and not what I recommend, but the publishing path is never straight.

This was a gamble, because:

  • if a writer has already approached and been rejected by publishers, it can be impossible to go back to them; and
  • most agents will only consider completed manuscripts at a high degree of polish.

But then, gambling is largely what GAME SET CASH is all about.

The agent took a gamble
Agreeing to represent an author is also a gamble. Well, let’s call it a calculated risk. The agent’s work is speculative – all the editorial/pitching work up front to pay off (relatively speaking) with commission from the author’s advance and (hopefully) subsequent royalty and foreign rights income.

So why did I choose to work with Brad?

  • lads’ stories from young Australian men are in high demand but short supply
  • it was a memoir incorporating an unusual angle – tennis trading/betting – as well as the combination of sport and travel
  • crucially, Brad knew he needed to do more work, and was prepared to do it.

My willingness to mentor Brad through further editorial development makes me either a romantic or a fool, depending on who you ask. Admittedly it’s sometimes a poor decision from a profitability point of view, which is why I have to be so selective. (And which is why I do writing and editing work for companies and other authors who are not my agency clients.) But the satisfaction of helping a unique Australian story take its final shape, and then finding that manuscript a home with a publisher, is enormous.

Agent’s Q&A with Brad Hutchins

Why did you want to write GAME, SET, CASH! ?

I’ve always loved reading and writing. I’d been writing fiction as a hobby for a few years before I realised non-fiction had a much better chance of being published. When I finished court-siding on the tennis tour, life suddenly became a whole lot quieter and I needed a passion project to sink my teeth into. It hit me that I had lived a story many people found intriguing and seemed very interested in. So I started looking for an agent.

Besides that, there is a lot of confusion and misconception from the general public in regards to court-siding. So it is nice to be able to set the record straight and share the fun of the road with people while dispelling any sinister myths surrounding the practice.

How long did it take you to write it?

Because it was all there in my head I managed to punch the first draft out in less than three months. Editing then took another six months, working with both you and the publishers.

When you approached me, did you think your manuscript was finished? 

Negative. I’d barely started because I knew I’d need guidance toward a winning formula and I didn’t want to invest too much time in what could likely be the wrong direction.

[Editor’s note: this is not entirely true. I read a complete manuscript, but it was a rather rough draft. Which would be why Australian publishers did not take any interest in it as an unsolicited submission. See quote in bold below, and my post on unsolicited submissions.]

How did I help you to strengthen your manuscript?

You gave me an idea of how to shape the whole book and helped me solidify ideas to focus on for each chapter. Once I’d written my draft you then gave it a thorough cut and polish. Cutting out all those lame clichés, adverbs and unnecessary bits made the manuscript much more concise and engaging.

You were very frank and non-judgmental with your feedback and helped me realise the general public might not be as interested in certain sections I’d written. I agree with your approach of editing before heading to publishers because it makes their job easier and gives us a better chance of getting the tick of approval.

What surprised you about the process of finding an agent, a publisher, and the process of getting a book published?

I had no expectations as the whole process was new. I think most people are unacquainted with the publishing industry and are a little daunted by the task. I knew it wouldn’t be a quick or easy goal to achieve but I figured I’d only find out if I had a real crack at it.

Do you have any advice for unpublished writers?

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I was knocked back a number of times by other agents and publishers. From the outset I wanted to be realistic so I expected that to happen. However, I stayed optimistic regardless and in the end it all paid off.

How does it feel to see your book in bookstores and online?

It’s a trip! It’s very fulfilling and exciting. You may want to edit this cliché, but it is a bit of a life-long dream come true! I’m incredibly stoked and want to thank everyone who helped make it a reality.

What else would you like to know?
Okay, keep your questions coming because they help me understand what you’d like to know more about. I plan to do more of these Q&A-style posts if readers like them. So I need to know if this one’s helpful!

Brad Hutchins with his new book.



When final copies of a book arrive from the warehouse, it’s not only the author who smiles with pride and relief.

To get from a draft manuscript to a printed book, ready for distribution to the booksellers who have ordered copies from the publisher’s sales reps, requires a lot of time and many pairs of eyes and hands. The chief stewards, respectively, of the production process and the author, are the publisher (Jeanne Ryckmans of Nero, an imprint of Black Inc) and the literary agent (moi). We are almost as excited as the author, Brad Hutchins, to see the fruit of that months-long labour in this vivid standout cover.

Brad  and I will be doing a Q&A here soon on the development work we did to bring his unsolicited manuscript to a  standard that attracted a book deal. But for now, it’s more than enough to celebrate the fact that Game, Set, Cash! his terrific memoir about the secret world of international tennis trading, will be in bookstores in June. Click the link for ways to buy or order a copy.

Congratulations Brad!

Game Set Cash! by Brad Hutchins

Game Set Cash! by Brad Hutchins

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You’re an Australian writer with a great idea for a nonfiction book. Are you sure? Perhaps you should check with Google.

We can thank Internet research for many things, but every innovative technology leaves unintended consequences in its wake. Google has given us much — bringing information of all kinds instantly to our desktops and mobile devices — but it has also taken away.

In book publishing, it has taken away entire categories of books.

Self-help. Astrology. Cookbooks and how-to books of many kinds have shrunk in number or simply disappeared, like the Amazon rainforest, never to return.

Many travel books, for example, once upon a time a golden genre of publishing, have been sideswiped by the fact-based research, user recommendations and patron reviews now freely available online. And when you can get the information you need for free, would you purchase a book with similar information, especially when the details might be out of date before the ink is dry on the printed pages? I know I wouldn’t.

Okay, you may not personally be mourning the loss of self-help and astrology books. But if you’re writing nonfiction and hoping to interest an Australian publisher, you need to be aware of the implications of the changed publishing landscape for your project.

But first, a question: What kind of nonfiction book are you writing?
You need to be clear about whether you’re writing prescriptive or narrative nonfiction.

Prescriptive nonfiction is fact-based and information-rich, often written by a known expert in a particular field sharing his or her expertise. Current examples: Michelle Bridges’ Superfoods Cookbook; Mark Nixon’s photographs of well-worn teddy bears, Much Loved; Quiet, psychologist Susan Cain’s defence of introverts in our extroverted culture.

Narrative nonfiction tells a story that is based on fact, whether personal or historical. The writer’s voice on the page and storytelling ability is what counts. Current or recent examples: The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do, Anna Funder’s Stasiland, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.

My tips for querying an agent or publisher with a prescriptive nonfiction project
It is imperative that as a prospective nonfiction author claiming expertise in a given field, you must demonstrate a need or a community of interest that a Google search alone cannot satisfy. Here are some questions to consider before contacting an agent or a publisher, who will most certainly ask them:

  • Have you published articles and essays on your subject? If not, why not?
  • Do you regularly speak in public about your experiences or expertise?
  • What kind of traffic and engagement with readers does your website have?
  • What do you mean, you don’t have a website?
  • If I’m persuaded by your expertise, then what books on the subject already exist? Almost every subject has already been covered, so you need to be aware of what’s out there, even if it’s more than ten years old. 
  • How is yours different?

My tips for those writing narrative nonfiction
I receive many queries from people writing memoir of one kind or another. Aside from most manuscripts being terribly undercooked, the main problems I encounter are that the subject has been done to death, or that the writer has forgotten to tell a story. A reader will only stay with a book-length work if you tell a story or offer a compelling through-line that engages the reader throughout.

Because of the primacy of story to their effectiveness, narrative non-fiction and memoir remain appealing to publishers, as I’ve written elsewhere on this blog. In order to increase your attractiveness, I recommend these tests of whether you are ready to submit your manuscript to a publisher or agent:

  • Do you have a complete manuscript?*
  • Can you answer the question, Why did you write this book?
  • Are you able to describe the arc or journey of your manuscript in one or two sentences? This is a lot harder than it sounds. If you’re not able to do it, don’t fret – it just means that your manuscript is not ready for submission. Return to the dot point above this one.
  • Who are your ideal readers, and what else have they read that makes you think your book will appeal to them?

I have written these thoughts down in the hope they are helpful to budding nonfiction writers. I am keen to help more of you into print and to find publishers. Despite occasional press to the contrary, Australian publishers really are hungry for great stories, well told, whether fiction or nonfiction. And they are hungry because readers are famished too.

*There seems an opportunity gap here to advise writers who have an idea and a partial manuscript under way. I’m interested to see if anyone reading this is interested in an email-exchange or talking to me for 15 minutes to get my take on your idea and proposed approach. Please either leave me a comment below or email me at info at virginialloyd.com. I have no idea whether this is something that will appeal, so please let me know!


Whether you self-publish or have a book coming out through a traditional publisher, there’s no getting around the fact that you need to let people know it exists in order for them to read it.

Lately I’ve received numerous queries from disappointed writers who have self-published only to discover that despite having built it, so to speak, few readers have come to admire their work, let alone make a purchase.

On the traditional side of things, book publishers have finite resources for marketing their new titles, so even having a book deal is not enough to guarantee you the sort of attention your book presumably deserves.

I don’t know too many authors who write books and hope that nobody hears about them or reads them.

So what do you need to do? Promote your work. Yes, you. Even you, up the back there, hiding under your manuscript.

Yikes. If the word promotion doesn’t strike ambivalence into your writerly heart, then you must be a self-help guru who has arrived on the wrong website.

Fear not! Practical solutions galore below …

My client Kirsten Krauth (below) has written up an excellent guide for the novice writer-promoter that she’s kindly allowed me to reproduce here. Kirsten is the author of the widely and fabulously well reviewed debut novel just_a_girl (UWA Press 2013), and of the monthly online Friday Night Fictions event for debut fiction writers. This article was originally delivered as a talk at the NSW Writers’ Centre and which also appeared on the Obsession With Books blog for Young  Adult fiction.

What to Expect When You’re Prospecting

My first novel, just_a_girl, was released in June 2013 by UWA Publishing. It took about seven years to write, on and off. It took about five years to find a publisher, on and off. For most of that time I was consumed with the end goal in mind. What was the end goal? To get a book published. To see my words wrapped up in a cover. To hold this precious object in my hand, put it on the pile next to my bed.

Many writers have made the link between launching a book into the world and having a baby. I heard a quote which said that releasing your novel into the world is like watching your baby crawl across an eight-lane freeway.

If you’ve had a baby, you’ll know that, try as you might, you can’t really think beyond labour. You have nine months to prepare, but still, you can’t imagine what it’s going to be like. There’s always the fear — of labour, of the unknown — that gets in the way. But once you go through the birth, you realise, you need to reinvent yourself, that actually the labour is just the starting point, and you have a whole new set of things to learn and challenges to adapt to.

When you prepare for your book to be published, it seems to work much the same way. The focus is on structural edits, getting the words right, negotiating the cover, but your brain seems to stop at the launch point. Really, you think, my work here is done. Let others take it from my hands, review it, read it.

But it doesn’t seem to work like that. Finding readers is not as easy as you might imagine. Even if you have a big-name publisher behind you, I’ve heard a number of writers say that in the current climate, the publisher may not have the resources or the motivation to push your book. The worst possibility of all is releasing your book to … resounding SILENCE. And this does happen.

I expected that, in the months leading up to my book’s release, the publisher was doing a lot of work behind the scenes (and they were), that the newspapers and bloggers would receive their review copies really early and be hard at work, that after the book launch, I’d be immediately sitting there fielding reviews and interviews in the first month. But that didn’t happen for me. My local bookstore took three weeks to get the stock in, due to a distributor problem. I sat there waiting and wondering. I waited a month before reviews started to happen. I waited two months before a large article in a major newspaper.

I moved to Castlemaine a few years back. It’s a goldmining town in rural Victoria. I see the process of releasing your book as something like panning for gold. In this case, the gold isn’t fame and fortune. I never really expected that. The gold is your readers and bloggers who like the book and pass it on. If you write fiction that’s contemporary and crosses genres (mine is an adult novel but branches into YA themes), it takes a slow build and word of mouth. But it seems, there’s a lot of sifting required to find out who these people are. Marketing isn’t easy. If you have a low budget, there’s no option but to be creative.

I think my creative spirit remains galvanised if I keep coming up with ideas for just_a_girl. So here are some tips on how to begin the sifting process…

Start a blog when you start writing the book

I started my blog, Wild Colonial Girl, just before I got a contract with UWA Publishing, but it would have been great to do it a lot earlier. I didn’t set it up as an author website to promote the book. I started it as a website to catch my thoughts and fears and joys about moving from Sydney to Castlemaine: the tree change experience. I began writing on anything I felt passionate about: film, writing, other books, learning to be a mother. I interviewed other writers who were mothers, like Anna Funder and Kirsten Tranter, to get some insight into how they managed it all. Gradually, and it wasn’t overnight, I began to get a following. Over time, I got readers who would comment regularly. It was an exciting experience to get that instant feedback from people, to carry on a conversation about ideas. I still get a thrill every time I hit the ‘publish’ button.

Of course, the blog has now become an avenue through which I promote the book. But I do that somewhat reluctantly. I try to use an angle that I feel comfortable with. For example, I have always had a fear of public speaking. Yes. But I used the blog to talk about that, to explore how when you become a published writer, the focus shifts and you suddenly find yourself called on as a speaker too, to track the personal challenges in that journey. My character, 14 year old Layla, has a fear of public speaking too so I could bounce off the similarities between us.

Start following other people’s blogs. If people comment on yours, go and comment on theirs. Many book bloggers are passionate. They will help promote your work. It doesn’t matter if they are friends. Ask people you know to write about the book, do interviews. Take up every opportunity if a blogger offers to feature you on their blog. My publisher told me that the longer your book gets mentioned on blogs, the more ammunition the book sales team has to keep it positioned well in book stores. That’s something I didn’t realise. Keep the momentum going any way you can.


Promote your blog on Facebook

Work between the various social media to promote your blog. I set up a page on Facebook called Wild Colonial Girl. My twitter name is @wldcolonialgirl. I wanted to create a persona that people would remember. It linked in well with the idea of just_a_girl too. A girl pushing the boundaries, so to speak. For my Wild Colonial Girl page, I decided to have an experiment with Facebook advertising. I took a little ad out to ‘Like’ my FB page to see what would happen. Thirty bucks was my outlay. The number of likes for my page went from 30 to over 1,000 very quickly.

Now, let’s be cautious here. Many of my likes were obviously from people who never visited the page, let alone the blog. I became very popular with men from the Middle East who obviously liked the twin concepts of Wild and Girl but didn’t read any of the often feminist material on the site. But, I added the FB widget to my site, and damn it, the little pics of 1,000 followers looked quite good in my sidebar.


Use Goodreads as much as you can

The sifting process is made much easier if you already know where in the creek to find little nuggets. Goodreads is a wonderful marketplace because the audience there are already readers. Many people — who can even begin to understand them? — don’t like reading or don’t read at all. On Goodreads, in general, people are passionate about books. It’s truly a refining process here. Begin before your book is out. Make lots of friends. Talk about books with other people. Review books. Follow reviewers you like. Make sure your blog is on Goodreads. This is easy – as Goodreads will automatically pull your blog posts into it.

Join author groups of people you love. For example, I love the Japanese writer Murakami. I joined a discussion group about him. My book is heavily influenced by him, to the point where the Japanese character Tadashi is seen reading one of his books, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, on the train. I mentioned this in the discussion group. I got a lot of feedback saying people were interested in checking just_a_girl out.

When your book is out, set up an author page on Goodreads and do a competition and giveaway for your book. I did this and my book went from having about 20 people wanting to read it, to about 600. Again, whether this has translated into people actually buying it, is not clear. But your book is being noticed. And the perception is that people want to read it.


Make your book launch a bit different

I’ve been to hundreds of book launches over the years. They are usually exactly the same. Cheap wine and bad nibblies are set up on a table. Someone gets up to introduce the book, the author does a reading, everyone lines up to get the book signed (you hope). Why not challenge this set up a bit. Make your launch memorable. Fit it to the content of your book. Get some dynamic people to launch it. If you have a friend with a camera, make sure you video the launches. Emily Maguire launched my book in Sydney and her speech was sensational – it’s up on YouTube now.

For my Castlemaine launch, we had a ball. I got a local punk band to sing No Doubt’s just_a_girl, a song the book revolves around, plus a few covers of Pink and other grrls with attitude. The kids in the crowd started off a moshpit.


If you can’t find a reader community, build your own

Many of the most successful writers working in social media have a loyal community wrapped around them. I’m thinking of Allison Tait and Walter Mason in particular. After my book was out a few months, I came across a writer posting on Facebook saying that she felt absolutely despondent now her book was out, and did anyone else feel this way. She got an avalanche of sympathy and tales from writers, mostly debut authors. Of course, they were meant to be blogging about how exciting it was to have a book published, and felt guilty about their negative feelings, but they were comfortable venting in this other space. They had released their books to the loud silence I warned you about earlier.

So I had one of those ‘wake up at 5am working on a solution’ moments. What if I set up a monthly club on my blog where the aim was to promote the work of debut writers and short story writers working in fiction, people who were essentially in the same boat as me? What if I opened it up to include all genres and those who were self-published or working only in ebooks?

But if I was going to do this, I needed to set up some groundrules. My conditions were: the writers involved needed to subscribe to my blog, they needed to promise to promote the blog when their book was featured via social media, and they needed to start commenting on each others’ work and hopefully review it in some way. Of course, I would list my debut novel — so in a roundabout way, setting up this community would be a means of promoting my blog and my writing too. It worked a treat. I got some new followers, some people passionate about helping others, and I enjoyed seeing what new writing was out there. I also got the feelgood factor. The word people kept emailing me with was ‘hope’ – it gave writers a sense of hope that people would be reading their work…

So if there are any debut novelists or short story writers out there, it’s called Friday Night Fictions and comes out the last Friday night of the month. Contact me and I’ll add your work.


Keep on fossicking…

Unlike paperbacks, ebooks can have a long and lingering life online. I think most publishers tend to overlook them or ignore the possibilities completely. My next plan is to see how I can zero in and find an audience for the ebook of just_a_girl. I don’t feel like I’ve quite found the nuggety bits there yet.

A number of people have asked me whether I want to continue on with the book’s characters in the future or leave them behind. I decided to set up a page for Layla on Pinterest, to see how she could shape herself off the page. At the moment it’s mainly quotes from the book, but I’d like to extend this into a new narrative based around the visual rather than text, from Layla’s perspective. People have started sharing the pins, mainly the sexy ones at the moment. It’s one of those things that needs time. I’ll find it one day.

I also want to have a video campaign of some sort. My husband works in film production. We both find most book trailers pretty cringeworthy. I want to film something that really works on its own as visually engaging, while also being linked to the book.

I have a writers’ group in Castlemaine. When we talk about social media, I admit, sometimes we roll our eyes and get this fatigued look on our faces. Because all of it, the guest blogs, the comments on other people’s writing, the email interviews, takes time and dedication, time taken away from the next writing project. And some people aren’t interested in being entrepreneurs, they just want to be writers, for the creative buck to stop there. I understand that, but I don’t want to sit in silence and wait for readers who never show up.

I’d suggest making a plan. When your first book comes out, leave two to three months free of other commitments, if you can. Open yourself up to new possibilities. Dedicate time to thinking up new ways to promote your work. Think of it as a new creative space. Use your local communities, both online and on home soil. The more you sift, the more you’ll find.

Thanks again to Kirsten for sharing her experiences and practical tips. Do you have any suggestions of your own, comments or questions? Please add them in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think.

This past weekend the Australian Financial Review Magazine ran Andrew Cornell’s ‘Brave new world of book publishing’. It’s essential reading for any serious writer aspiring to publication in Australia.

I would have loved to reproduce the text here in full, but the AFR’s online permissions-calculator told me I’d be up for more than $700.

Cornell breaks down the component parts of the Australian book industry, which, for those who’ve been hibernating for a few years, is undergoing multiple transformations. It’s one of the most lucid summaries I’ve read of the ways in which technology and corporatisation have affected the mechanics of how books are acquired and distributed in this country.

Through interviews with Hannah Kent (Burial Rites) and Christos Tsiolkas (Barracuda, The Slap) the article also describes the increased promotional demands on authors, the cult of writerly ‘celebrity’, and the mixed blessings of the new publishing landscape for Australian authors in particular.

Sharp as ever, Tsolkias makes what for me is the main point:

There is a danger for Australian writing in that some of our best writers are never going to have that big blockbuster the international market needs. Today you have to prove yourself in the market but the market is not the only determinant of value.



I just wanted to say hello 2014 and confirm that I’m back on deck, at my desk.

After visiting family in Sydney I returned to a chilly NYC and my usual mix of corporate and creative client work. This month I attended a Digital Book World conference workshop on ebook publishing for nontraditional publishers, in order to better advise companies on best practice use of ebooks for marketing and branding activities; and worked with a client on editorial revisions to her wonderful novel. In between that it’s contracts, pending queries, and — ahem — carving out time to come back to my own work in progress.

In 2014 I am looking forward to:

  • The following books by my clients being published:

Game, Set, Cash! by Brad Hutchins (Black Inc)

The new novel from Fiona Higgins, author of The Mothers’ Group (Allen & Unwin), title to be revealed later

Lesbian For A Year by Brooke Hemphill (Affirm Press)

… and potentially two others, which for reasons beyond their authors’ control might slip into 2015.

  • Finding publishers for other client manuscripts, currently in various stages of development
  • One or two collaborative writing projects, about which I must remain tight-lipped.

So don’t be shy: tell me in the comments what you want to know about attracting an agent, grants for writers, and getting published in Australia, so I can respond in posts here. As part of getting spoiled on my birthday, I received a spiffy new office chair, so I am disinclined to leave it.


Today I’m heading off to Sydney for a happy reunion with friends and family, which is why this blog will be quiet until the new year. My dear old dad turns 80 very soon so there’s a party for him in addition to the usual Christmas and new year festivities.

There have been some interesting discussions lately on some publishing-business topics in my Twitter and Facebook circles, which I will develop in new posts here in 2014.

In the meantime, thanks for visiting, reading and commenting on this site. I really would love to know your writing and publishing questions, so please drop me a line in the comments or via email. I’ll respond in early January. Have a wonderful holiday season and good health in the year ahead.