Ep 37 Having a muse, why NaNoWriMo is great for your perfectionism; self-publishers versus traditional publishers; what your handwriting says about you and how to get a website makeover. And meet Writer and Editor in Residence Bernadette Foley.

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In Episode 37 of So you want to be a writer, the ‘Middle Fiction’ kids reading guide, blogging Betties, Michel Faber plans to stop writing novels, is Amazon doing the world a favor by crushing book publishers? Perfectionism is slowing your progress, what your handwriting says about you, the Rescue My Site competition, why you must write before you get your perfect writing space, the minimalists are coming to Australia, Writer in Residence Bernadette Foley, get into Google+, Storyology workshops and much more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Middle Fiction

The Blogging Betties

Closing a Chapter of a Literary Life

Amazon is doing the world a favor by crushing book publishers

Is Perfectionism Slowing Your Writing Process? 7 Ways NaNoWriMo Can Help

What Does Your Handwriting Say about You Is Your Real Feel

Rescue my site

Humans of New York – what do you feel most guilty about?

Famous last words: “I’ll write my novel when…”

The Minimalists are coming to Australia

Writer in Residence

bernadettefoleyBernadette Foley has worked as an editor and publisher in the Australian publishing industry for over 25 years. For the past 10 years she was a publisher of fiction and non-fiction for Hachette Australia, one of the largest publishers in the country. At Hachette Bernadette worked with such authors as William McInnes, Gabrielle Lord, Graeme Blundell, Lian Hearn, Bronwyn Parry and Pamela Freeman.

Bernadette has run programs at writers centres that have guided many manuscripts to publication. She also co-created the Graduate Certificate in Editing and Publishing at University of Technology Sydney. Bernadette developed the course, wrote the Editing and Publishing unit and taught this unit for two years.

Her career had also taken her to New York to work with the Penguin Putnam publishing company. She has spoken at writers’ festivals and editing and writing workshops and seminars around the country.

Bernadette on Twitter
What Publishers Want course

Web Pick

Get into Google+

Working Writer’s Tip

Storyology 2014: Innovate, Create & Inspire!

Sign up to the Australian Writers’ Centre Newsletter!

Just fill in your details over here.

The Mapmaker Chronicles is on sale!

Find out more here.

Your hosts

Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait
@valeriekhoo

Email us
podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Transcript

Allison

Bernadette Foley has worked as an editor and publisher in the Australian publishing industry for over 25 years. For the past ten years she was a publisher of fiction and non-fiction for Hachette Australia, one of the largest publishers in the country, working with such authors as William McInnes, Gabrielle Lord, Graeme Blundell, Bronwyn Parry and Pamela Freeman. She is teaching a new course at the Australian Writers’ Centre called What Publishers Want, which of course is what we all want to know.

Hi, Bernadette, how are you?

Bernadette
Hello, Allison, very well — thank you. And thank you for inviting me to do this interview.

Allison
Anytime, because it’s rare to actually get a publisher in a seat and be able to interrogate them. So, prepare yourself, because here I am, on behalf of all of our listeners.

Let’s start with the basics, what exactly does a publisher do?

Bernadette
Well, a lot of people think we spend our days reading, and that’s not true, unfortunately. We spend our evenings and weekends reading, but what we do is — obviously the main part of our job, I suppose, is to find new manuscripts to be published and to work with both new writers and with ongoing writers. But, equally, we’re like the middle person between the publishing company and the author and the readers.

Allison
So, you’re squeezed?

Bernadette
So quite a big, encompassing job. We have to be just as involved with the financial side of a book as we are with the words.

Allison
How many manuscripts would you read in a year? That’s a big question… that wasn’t on my list.

Bernadette
That is a big question. A lot, but I have to say that I would read all of them the whole way through. It’s a matter of reading and deciding if you want to keep going. There’s always a pile of manuscripts, either on your inbox or by the bed that have to be read — five or six a week, I’d say. It fluctuates during different times of the year, but it’s constant.

Allison
How far into a manuscript do you have to get to know if it’s one that you might be interested in?

Bernadette
It really depends, unfortunately, I have to be honest and say there’s some manuscripts you read the first five pages and you think, “I’m not going any further,” but that’s not always to do with the quality of the writing. Sometimes you might read something and think, “This is really good, the writing is good, it’s just not the type of book that I would publish or that the company would publish.” That’s an easy one to stop reading, because you can explain to the author that they should persevere, but find a publisher more suited to their work.

Allison
OK, so for authors it’s not a matter of just getting every publisher in the phone book and sending off your manuscript, you need to really give some thought as to what kinds of books this particular publisher is likely to be looking for.

Bernadette
Exactly. The easiest way to that is simply go into a good bookshop and look at books that are similar to yours, that either you’ve written or you intend to write and look at those books and see who published them. The imprint page in a book is a valuable thing. It’s the page just after the title page, and that tells you who the publisher is, often gives their street address, and now will always give their website address. It will also let you know whether the book was published in Australia or whether it was brought into Australia on distribution from the UK or the US.

Allison
OK, so that will give you an idea of where to start on honing your list.

Bernadette
Of who to contact — yeah, exactly.

Allison
How do you actually become a publisher?

Bernadette
I was incredibly fortunate. I really did a very traditional training, as a book editor, starting as a junior editor, a trainee editor, a junior editor, an editor, then commissioning editor, then publisher. My career path was really quite old-fashioned in way. I was incredibly lucky that I found somebody who had the time to train me up.

That is not always the case. One of my colleagues at Hachette came into being a publisher via being a bookseller, and managing very large bookshops, and working in marketing and then jumping through that way. Another colleague has been a literary agent for a long time, before that she was an editor and now she has just started as a publisher.

There are different ways of reaching that same end. Depending on what experience you bring with you from your previous jobs, it all reflects what sort of publishing you feel comfortable doing and how you publish.

Allison
Does the training involve like teaching you to find the next bestseller?

Bernadette
What a lovely idea. I wish it did!

Allison
“This is what you need to look for…” yes!

Bernadette
It certainly makes you very, very aware of the market. You always have to be aware of what people are reading and what they’re interested in. What you have to, very importantly, is not look backwards, even if backwards is only a month ago. You’ve got to look forward. You don’t want to publish the next Harry Potter, you want to publish the next new thing. It’s always a matter of being one step ahead, as far as you possibly can.

Allison
You’re kind of like one of those trend spotters in —

Bernadette
Yeah. Yeah, trend spotters for stories.

Allison
Wow, it’s not an easy job.

Bernadette
No, it’s not an easy job. It’s not an easy job, but it’s an extremely fulfilling job.

Allison
What do you think the biggest misconception is that writers have about publishers? Apart from the fact that you’re obviously sitting back eating grapes and reading all day…

Bernadette
Yes, that’s one of them! It’s a funny thing, in Australia there aren’t many publishers, there aren’t many publishing companies. Within the publishing companies there aren’t many publishers. I think there’s a misconception that publishers are aloof and that we’re not looking for more books to publish. I think that has arisen really because people don’t often meet publishers. Like, my partner’s an architect and there’s lots of architects in the world, and people know what architects do, more or less, so there’s not this same feeling of architects are a rarity, whereas publishers appear to be a rarity simply because there aren’t a lot of us.

Allison
You’re like the rare spotted white albino leopard, aren’t you? Out there in the wild…

Bernadette
That’s right! In fact, we’re not. Publishers definitely are looking for new books to publish. We’re also looking for debut authors, believe it or not. That’s another misconception, that publishers won’t take on new talent. I certainly would and my colleagues at Hachette are very devoted to building up new talent.

They’re two of the myths, that we’re sort of these aloof gatekeepers and that’s not the case at all.

Allison
You must have a terrible time at dinner parties. Like do you sit there and say, “I’m a publisher,” does everyone at the table have a book?

Bernadette
I once had a computer printer at home that needed fixing and the computer printer man had written a book and he almost stalked me with the manuscript.

Allison
Oh no.

Bernadette
And it was quite a creepy manuscript.

Allison
Oh no!

Bernadette
That was probably my extreme, otherwise I’ve become quite good at trying to separate work from life and just play off, “I’m not really looking for anything at the moment,” if it’s somebody telling me something over the dinner table.

Allison
Yes, I get that. I often get people telling me, “I’ve got this great idea for a book, you should write it for me…” that’s my personal favorite!

Bernadette
Because it’s so easy to write a book!

Allison
I know! I say, “You should probably write that yourself — think of how fulfilling that would be!”

I’m handing you over a manuscript to publish, what are the three main things you’re looking for when you start reading that manuscript?

Bernadette
Can I ask a question, is it fiction or non-fiction?

Allison
Good question, because they’re two different things, because you publish both. Let’s start with fiction. What are the three main things that you look for in fiction?

Bernadette
All right, so I want an original voice. Now that’s different from an original story, because I really do believe that old saying that there’s only seven stories in the world — there might be more, hopefully there are. But, it’s not that you always have to completely come up with a new storyline, but you do have to have a new way of telling it.

Allison
Right.

Bernadette
Your unique voice, as a writer, has to come through, and I have to engage with that voice. It has to draw on my emotions, one way or the other. It either has to inspire me, or it has to engage me, or interest me, or all of those things put together. I have to feel that you’re telling me a story that you really believe in. There’s no use writing a romance story because you think they sell well, you have to really believe in it, the integrity has to come through.

That’s one of the things, probably that’s the number one for me, it has to be something that triggers an emotion.

Then, of course, it’s the quality of the writing.

Is it interesting? You don’t have to do sort of creating new avant-garde style of writing, but it has to be something that is confident enough that it draws me in and it’s a really well-managed tool to tell the story. And stories are really important to me, so it has to have a story that I can think about while I’m doing the washing up. It has to linger in my head.

And, of course, characters are really important, they have to be credible and three-dimensional. I have to be interested in them. I can’t think, “I don’t like any of these characters,” or, “I’m bored with all of these characters,” or, “Who cares?” I’ve got to really engage.

Allison
So you have to have one of those things, because I can think of books that I’ve read where I didn’t like any of the characters and these books have been massively huge sellers. One of the things that everyone talks about them is nobody likes any of the characters and yet the story is so compelling that you have to get to the end. So, it could be one or a combination of those things?

Bernadette
Yeah, absolutely. Good point. Yes.

Allison
What about non-fiction, is that a whole different ballgame?

Bernadette
Yes, it is. Very often you won’t get a non-fiction manuscript, you’ll get a proposal.

Allison
Right, of course.

Bernadette
Some of the best non-fiction books have been put together by people who aren’t writers.

Bernadette
I deliberate say ‘put together’ because it could mean that as a publisher you pair them up with a very good editor, or even a ghost writer. It’s all down to the proposal — what the hook is, what the story is, is it something that hasn’t been done over and over. Also with non-fiction so much comes down to the person who is going to tell the story. I’m deliberately not using the word ‘author’ because they’re not necessarily the one to write it.

Allison
Yeah, so the face of the book?

Bernadette

Yeah. What is their situation, are they the best person to be an expert or to tell that experience.

Allison
What are the biggest mistakes you see? You mentioned the fact that people send their submission to the wrong publisher, that’s just not the kind of thing that you do or whatever. Are there other consistent mistakes that you see with people submitting manuscripts?

Bernadette
One of the things that probably worries me the most, and I’ve run workshops and done all sorts of things to help people realise this, is you have to be incredibly patient.

Allison
Yes!

Bernadette
Don’t rush. You’re only going to get your manuscript in front a publisher once, probably. When I say ‘publisher’ I also mean commissioning editor, or editor, or agent, anyone who can help move that manuscript forward. We are so overworked, as I say reading in our free time. Unless it’s a really unusual circumstance you’re really only going to show that work, have the chance to show that work once. You have to make sure that it’s the best it possibly can be.

A lot of people, quite rightly, focus on the first few pages, or the first chapter, realising that’s going to draw people in, but then please don’t forget about the rest of the manuscript, because literally I have read manuscripts where the first chapter was brilliant and then it just dropped away.

Even if it means writing the manuscript, literally putting it away and not looking at it for a month or so, bringing it back and critically self-editing, that is so important.

Allison
I think it’s funny you say that. I often say that I think that writing and waiting should just be interchangeable words.

Bernadette
Yes, what a great saying!

Allison
I just remember, lmy non-fiction books, my fiction books, I could wait for Australia, I reckon, if I had to be… if it was an Olympic sport, I would out there in a green and gold tracksuit, waiting…

Bernadette
Good on you!

Allison
Yes.

Bernadette
I think you should start making t-shirts with that on it.

Allison
I think you’re right. Maybe there’s a secondary market for me there!

What are publishing houses looking for from writers today? I think we could probably segue this into the idea of the author platform — is it important? Are publishers looking for it? What’s the bare minimum I can have?

Bernadette
OK, so that’s a great question. Let’s say you’ve written a very, very good novel and the publisher loves that novel and it goes along to a meeting and the publisher’s colleagues love that novel, then they’re talking about whether or not they can offer you a contract. Now, the main thing that a publisher needs to do is sell books, and that might sound a bit simplistic, but we do. Publishers need to pay wages, they need to keep their lights on, they need to pay the sales team nationally, not only the head office. We have to only take on things that are going to sell. I’ve noticed, having been in publishing a long time, that in recent years it’s harder than ever before. To sell every single copy takes a huge amount of work. And that is work by the author just as much as by the publisher.

As you would know, it’s a case of doing the hard yards. You’ve written the book, which I don’t underestimate how hard that is. I admire anyone who can write a novel or a
non-fiction book, it’s a lot of hard work, but for better or for worse that’s only the beginning. After that you have to be ready to, number one, work collaboratively with the publisher. It’s always a collaboration, it’s not you against the publisher, you’re out for the same aim, which is to sell your book.

If the publisher wants you to do something, unless it’s completely ridiculous, then you should do it. If you can’t understand why they want you to do it, then simply ask.

This is diverging a bit, but the whole way through the publishing process one of the most important things is to ask questions if you don’t understand something. Don’t fret over something. Don’t say ‘no’ because you don’t understand. Don’t feel that it’s a silly question and the publisher will think less of you if you ask it, just feel free to ask anything.

Really the main thing now with an author is you have to be ready to do a lot of work, which is usually fun, to promote your book and to help your publisher sell it.

Allison
I think a lot of time when people talk about author platform they have in their heads that it’s Twitter, Facebook, it’s all social media stuff. Is that the kind of thing that you’re talking about, or are we talking about other things as well?

Bernadette
We’re partly talking about that. It’s really interesting, I go to the Romance Writers’ Conference every year, and have been going for quite a long time.

Allison
I’ve seen you there.

Bernadette
Oh, there you go!

One year, about maybe three years ago, everybody, all of the writers were saying that they were on Twitter, they had a blog, they had a website, they were Facebooking, and that was the talk around the conference. I thought, “When are they getting time to write?”

The next year it was literally twelve months later and a turnaround. People were saying, “We’re only blogging,” or, “We’re only keeping our website up to date,” or, “Only Facebooking because we don’t have time to do everything, nor is it worthwhile.”

The point of that is you’ve got to be realistic. Choose the one or two platforms that you number one feel comfortable with, and number two have the time to maintain, because there’s no point having a whole social media platform when you never update your blog, or you don’t put the cover of your latest book on your website because you don’t have time.

Really work out what suits you and also what suits your voice, because you have to — again, it’s a matter of the integrity shows through. If you’re doing something and you’re bored with it, then, of course, people following your blog are going to be bored with it too. Choose what you feel comfortable with, what really excites you, what you can fit in each day, because you’re interested in it, and take that as your platform. Really, don’t try to do everything, it’s almost impossible.

Allison
I always tell people to do what’s easy for them. I find Twitter easy, I find Facebook easy, I don’t like Instagram, because I hate selfies, taking pictures of myself. I mean there’s only so many photos of my roses that I can Instagram, and my puppy, so I just don’t do it. It’s not easy for me, I have to go out of my way. I’m like, “No, that’s not for me.” I think that’s always my thing. Just do the bits that you like and that are easy for you, and then it will come through that you’re enjoying yourself, which is kind of half the point.

Bernadette
Exactly.

Allison
Anywho, we’re not talking about me…

Bernadette
But, I agree with you. I agree with everything you’ve said so far.

One thing that I will say about social media is it requires a generosity of spirit. Sadly people do this, and it surprises me, don’t criticise somebody on social media. It doesn’t seem that I should even have to say that, but surprisingly I do. Don’t put on social media what you wouldn’t say to that person face-to-face.

Allison
No.

Bernadette
Also, another part of the generosity, whatever sort of social media you have, promote other people, because that’s good book karma. They will promote you.

Allison
Yeah, that’s so true. 

Do you think it’s also important, like, there’s a lot of networking and writers’ centres and conferences, there’s a lot of stuff that’s available for writers these days, do you think that kind of face-to-face stuff — should you pick a festival or a conference or something to go to? I think keeping up with your industry is as important as keeping up with your readers and all of that sort of stuff. Particularly if you’re starting out, I think it’s good to go and just see what other people are doing — would you agree with that?

Bernadette
Yes, absolutely. I think with anything you’ve got to work what you have time for, I would hate people to feel like they’re going to be a lesser writer because they can’t get to three conferences a year. Choose what you can go to, choose what you can afford, because it’s never cheap. I do agree with you, I think if you’re writing commercial women’s fiction then I would definitely recommend the Romance Writers’ Conference, because that’s now developing beyond — well, it’s primarily for romance writers, of course, but it extends beyond that.

Allison
I’ve always been a huge fan.

Bernadette
It’s so professional.

Allison
Yeah — a huge fan. I went to my first one of those about ten years ago, when I first started out, and I learned so much, even as I’ve sort of, like, branched out into different types of writing, when you talk about generosity of spirit, there is so much at that conference. If you’re anywhere in that realm I would recommend going as well. I think it’s a fantastic way to meet a lot of other writers as well. That sort of aspect of finding your team is a great thing to do, I think. Would you agree with that?

Bernadette
Yes, absolutely — absolutely. It’s not the same in every genre of writing.

Allison
No.

Bernadette
Sci-fi conferences can be very good, if you choose the right one. They can be very good if you’re a reader, always, but it just depends one which one is sort of more geared to the writer. Then it’s a matter of looking — festivals are good, but there are so many festivals now you just have to make sure you don’t feel like you’ve got to go to each one.

Allison
Oh, yeah — no. No… I usually choose one a year. I sort of try to make it to one thing a year.

Bernadette
Yeah.

Allison
I’m down on the coast with my kids and everything. I try to go to one thing a year, if nothing else it just kind of refreshes my writing spirit. I come back all excited —

Bernadette
Oh, I know! It’s wonderful. If you can only go to one and you don’t have a lot of time, then choose the session that will be writers talking about writing.

Allison
Yes.

Bernadette
I think you’re right, it just rejuvenates you, you think, “Oh, that’s why I’m doing it.”

Allison
Yes, that’s right. There’s nothing better than sitting around talking about writing with people for a whole…

Bernadette
No, it’s great fun.

Allison
No one else gets it!

Just to finish up today, let’s do the top three tips, because our listeners do love our top three tips.

Bernadette
All right.

Allison
What are your top three tips for writers who want to get their book published?

Bernadette

Read.

This is really important. I have had people say to me, “I’m not reading at the moment because I’m writing,” and that just makes me shrivel up. You’ve got to keep reading. If you’re writing fiction, then maybe keep reading, but read non-fiction and visa-versa, so you’re not subconsciously picking up someone else’s voice, but you just have to keep up to date with what other people are writing, and Australian writers, but also international writers. That’s really important.

Back to your t-shirt that’s going to say, “Writing equals waiting,” being incredibly patient. Even if you’re offered a contract there’s still going to be times when you’re just waiting and waiting. It can feel like nothing is happening, whereas madly a whole lot of things are happening in the publishing company that you don’t know about.

Always be patient with yourself — rewrite, put something away, bring it back again, have a look and see what you’ve done, and be prepared to be self-critical.

The other one, if you are being published, is, again, just to reiterate, ask questions. Publishers have the best intentions in the world, but like anyone who’s been doing their job for awhile we assume a lot of prior knowledge, which we shouldn’t do, but we just do. If you can’t understand why something is happen, or why there’s a delay, or why you haven’t heard from someone in awhile, just email or get on the phone. I think we underestimate the importance of just picking up the phone and talking to each other.

Allison
So true, so true.

Thank you so much for your time today, Bernadette. I really appreciate it.

Bernadette
Thanks, Allison.

Allison
People can pop along to your seminar called What Publishers Want and get an even more in-depth discussion about all of these things that we’ve talked about at the Australian Writers’ Centre. In the meantime, good luck with all of your bits and pieces.

Bernadette
All right, thank you.

Allison
Thank you very much.

Bernadette
All right. Thank you, that was fun. Bye, Allison.


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