So you want to be published. Why?
Think about it. Take plenty of time because, let’s face it, it’s not going to happen in a hurry…if at all. Unless you’ve got cash to burn and can pay to self-publish, the road to seeing your name embossed on a book cover is long, hard and, for most would-be authors, endless.
It’s not impossible to get published. After all, there are books in stores right now. They were written by people who once wrote and dreamt of being read – just like you. But if you want to join them, make sure you know why – to be sure it’s worth the pain. Be prepared to work hard. Do your research. And be realistic.
The reality is pretty brutal. To be honest, I was a little depressed after my recent interview with publisher Melanie Ostell. My fantasy of a wall of shelves filled with my own titles – tastefully designed covers in a satiny-smooth matt finish, multiple copies of each, translated into the several languages of my adoring readers – evaporated before her no-nonsense presentation of the facts. But she may have saved me a lot of unnecessary anguish.
Melanie knows about books and writing. She has read thousands of manuscripts. She can easily identify a novice writer’s key literary influences. She can even, quite intimidatingly, chart the reading progress of that writer through different books as they produced their manuscript. When that happens, she knows they are not ready. They have not yet found their voice.
As we talk, Melanie worries she sounds hard. To me, she simply sounds honest, if a little frustrated that new writers don’t understand the publishing industry and what it takes to be published, at the deep disappointment such ignorance can bring.
This is what she tries to prevent when she talks to aspiring authors, such as those attending the publishing workshops she will run during the Perth Writers Festival this weekend.
Melanie’s advice has a strong theme running through it: most writers don’t get published and those who do work damned hard for it. As she says, writing is hard and unforgiving. Tinkering with words for an hour after watching ‘The Biggest Loser’ is not going to get you published.
“It requires much more commitment than that,” she says. “People fail to realise that. Getting your bum on the seat and putting the words down, one after the other, is hard slog.”
But do you really want to be published? And, if so, why?
“That will be my opening spiel in both of my workshops because the reality is that most people won’t be published. By far the majority won’t be,” Melanie says. “I think people really need to know how much they want it or why do they want it? I don’t think people do that enough.”
At first, it seems an odd question. After all, why wouldn’t you want to be published?
Then I realise that Melanie is drawing the distinction between being happy if the publishing fairy sweeps down and converts your words to book form in your sleep and really wanting to be published – enough to work at it, to brave the likelihood of rejection.
“There are so many motivations for writing and for some it is not about being published,” Melanie says. “Sometimes I have discovered that writers are happy writing it and putting it into a drawer and that is enough, and others want readers for their words.
“I don’t think that many (published) writers find it that much fun. But it is what they do and they know it has to be done. I think that is an interesting thing. For people getting recognition with first novels, who knows how they are going to be with novel four or novel two?
“It is not always going to be pretty. But they have to ask that question because then, for all the rejection slips, all the sorrow, all the misery, all the money thrown at this thing and all the time lost, they might be able to better manage their expectations.
“I really, really believe that is the nub of it – as well as doing their homework.”
In Part II: ‘Tips from a Publisher’ – to be posted after her workshops – Melanie advises how to maximise your chances of getting a manuscript picked up and how to avoid the most common mistakes of novice writers.
Melanie Ostell has just finished a 12-month stint as publisher at UWA Publishing and will return to freelancing, teaching and consulting in Melbourne. She was a senior editor at Text Publishing for more than 10 years and has worked with award-winning writers including Tim Flannery, J.M. Coetzee, Kate Grenville and Lloyd Jones. Melanie will run two publishing workshops, including manuscript assessment, at the Perth Writers Festival.