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.)

Australian launch of David Rankin: The New York Years

This gorgeous book about New York-based Australian painter David Rankin will be launched over the next week at three events in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney. An accompanying exhibition of selected artworks will be held at the Mossgreen Gallery, Melbourne, from 9-17 July.

I have known David Rankin for a long time. The first time I met him was in New York in 1997. He welcomed me into his home and made me a cup of coffee as I waited  for his wife Lily Brett to emerge from somewhere in the apartment in which they were then living. At the time I was working as the Picador Editor at Pan Macmillan and had just finished editing Lily’s book of essays In Full View. I was nervous as hell. There’s a much longer version of that story. Lily and I laugh when we reflect on that meeting and how unlikely it was for us to still be working together 16 years later.

Back to David. A couple of years ago he asked me to help him edit a book about the art he has made since relocating from Melbourne to New York in the early 1980s. The art critic Dore Ashton has long been an admirer of David’s work, but her extensive writings about him were scattered among several exhibition catalogues and essays. One of my editorial tasks was to bring those essays into a coherent whole. Another was to conduct a series of long conversations with the artist, leading to a lot of first-person quotations that are now scattered through this sumptuous illustrated volume, David Rankin: The New York Years. I will have to update this post with details of its availability “as they come to hand,” as the saying goes.

One additional detail worth mentioning is that the book features a wonderful introduction by David’s friend and fellow expatriate, novelist Peter Carey.

Congratulations, David, and everyone involved in producing the book. I wish I could be at one or more of those launch parties.

Lily Brett on tour in Australia to promote Lola Bensky

New York-based Australian author Lily Brett begins her Australian tour today to coincide with the publication of her sixth novel, Lola Bensky. A full schedule of her public events is available on her website and Facebook page.

I have known Lily since the late 1990s when I was the Picador Editor at Pan Macmillan. Shortly after I was hired, I edited Lily’s collection of essays on the occasion of her turning 50, In Full View. I was daunted to meet her in person. Her very first words to me were: “You’re so young!”

Neither of us suspected that over the course of more than 15 years I would independently edit all of her fiction and nonfiction (except for New York, which is a collection of previously published articles in German newspaper Die Zeit), or that she would co-dedicate a book to me and my late husband (her previous novel, published in English as You Gotta Have Balls and in German as Chutzpah), or that she would write a blurb for my own book, or that we would become close friends. For several good reasons I am not her literary agent.

Lily and I had talked about her new book on, then mostly off, for a few years. Finally in early 2011 she told me she would be locking herself away for a few months to see if there really was a novel amidst all the notes she had been keeping under lock and key for years. Happily that self-imposed writerly exile lasted for about nine months, and the delightful Lola Bensky was the result.

Take a look at this short video, which features Lily speaking in her New York loft about the character Lola Bensky, and some photos of Lily in 1967 when she was a rock music journalist for Go-Set magazine.