Ep 9 Work here! Shaming publishers to pay you, Pulitzer Prize, should authors have websites? Writer in Residence Jennifer Smart and more!

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In Episode 9 of So you want to be a writer we talk about being a part of a dynamic team, an ex-writer creates an app to redefine the way you read fiction, we ask should you name and shame publishers to get paid? Donna Tartt wins Pulitzer, when Doris Lessing rescued Jenni Diski, would you watch someone write a book?, The Writing Book by Kate Grenville, Writer in Residence Jennifer Smart our Web picks, the Working Writer's Tip and more!

Click play below to listen to the podcast. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Radio. Or add the podcast RSS feed manually to your favourite podcast app.

Show Notes

Want to be part of a dynamic team?
http://awc.valeriekhoo.com/careers

Ex-New York Times writer develops an app to get busy people reading
http://www.fastcodesign.com/3027433/innovation-by-design/ex-new-york-times-writer-develops-an-app-to-get-busy-people-reading-mor#4

‘Pay me please' – naming and shaming publishers
http://www.beaconreader.com/pay-me-please

Donna Tartt wins Pulitzer
http://www.thebookseller.com/news/tartt-wins-pulitzer.html

When Doris Lessing rescued me
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/12/doris-lessing-rescued-me-jenni-diski

Fiction Unboxed – watch someone write a book live
http://selfpublishingpodcast.com/fiction-unboxed

The Writing Book by Kate Grenville

Writer in Residence
Jennifer Smart
http://asampler.wordpress.com/

Buy Now
Buy Now

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog post of the week
Why Don’t Publishers Believe in Author Websites?
http://janefriedman.com/2013/09/27/publishers-author-websites/

Web pick
http://www.hemingwayapp.com/

Working Writer's Tip
Footnotes when submitting to print publications.

Pink Fibro Bookclub
https://www.facebook.com/groups/274090672737464/

You’ll find your hosts at
Allison Tait
http://www.allisontait.com/

Valerie Khoo
http://valeriekhoo.com/

Australian Writers’ Centre
https://www.writerscentre.com.au/

Transcript

Allison

Hello to Jennifer Smart, debut author of The Wardrobe Girl, published through Random House. Jennifer worked in film and television for many years, including five years on the Australian soap Home and Away, which makes her the perfect person to write a debut novel set on the set of an Australian soap, and it offers a behind the scenes look at the world of television production.

Welcome, Jennifer.

Jennifer
Hello, Alison. Thank you so much for inviting me!

Allison
Oh, anytime. We love writers. We’d have them over all the time if we could.

So, let’s talk about the Wardrobe Girl.

Jennifer
Yes.

Allison
There’s that old maxim in writing fiction, write what you know — and is that what you kind of had in your head when you sat down to write this book?

Jennifer
Yes, that was one of the things I had in my head, definitely. The other thing was having worked so long in the industry, I just, there’s a story here. There’s definitely a story here. A bit of both.

Allison
OK, so you didn't actually, did you work as a writer in film and television?

Jennifer
Right at the very end of my time in TV I did. I wrote two scripts for Home and Away . And then left to have my youngest daughter. So that kind of nipped that one in the bud. But up until then I had a job called Director’s Assistant on TV, in film credits it’s called continuity or script supervisor.

Allison
OK, so is this the first novel that you've ever attempted?

Jennifer
No, it’s not the first novel I've ever attempted, I did try one before I started this one, but it was much darker and I decided that it was just never going to see the light of day.

Allison
OK, was that a similar subject matter, or was that a completely different thing?

Jennifer
No, it was completely different, yeah. It was more of a romance gone wrong.

Allison
Oh, we love that. I love a good romance gone wrong. Alright, so lets talked about this book then The Wardrobe Girl, how much of your real experience is in this book? Because you've gone down the road of, you know, fictionalizing a world that you’re very familiar with.

Jennifer
Yeah, that’s right. The actual details of the work process are all real, and people that, colleagues of mine from Home and Away have said, “It’s so true to life.” But in terms of the people and the characters, they’re all fiction. There is not anybody who would be able to put their hand up and say, “That’s me!”

Allison
So no one’s come up to you at any point and said, “You wrote about me.”

Jennifer
No.

Allison
Do you think people look for themselves, though? Do you think that they’re all reading it, looking for themselves?

Jennifer
Yes. Some people, if not themselves, they’re definitely, you know, they’re hoping that they might see somebody who was a particularly difficult director or, you know.

Allison
So were any of the incidents that occur, is that all?

Jennifer
Yes, there are a couple of incidents that occurred that were, exaggerated.

Allison
Ok, right.

Jennifer
The kernel was there, but I kind of embellished them and made them slightly funnier than they were at the time.

Allison
Slightly funnier. OK, so how difficult was it then to ensure that it was fiction? That those characters were fictional and that they didn't you know, vaguely resemble anybody in real life? Was that hard?

Jennifer
No it wasn't actually, because I made a very conscious decision right from the start that I didn't want anybody to come to me and say, ”You've written something about me that’s really nasty.” Or anything like that, I wanted it to be a fun, entertaining book, and so I couldn't go down the path of including people, no matter what I thought of them personally or even if I though they’d be a great character, I just didn't want to do that. And once I got Tess, the protagonist, once I heard her voice and got her happening, everything else just sort of spun out around her. And I needed characters to bounce off her, so, you know, there’s bits of different people from all over the place, but there’s, yeah.

Allison
No one in particular.

Jennifer
No one in particular.

Allison
What about how much of you is in Tess?

Jennifer
Ah, look, I don’t think that we’re very much alike at all. But, I don’t know, I think we have a slightly similar world view in some ways, but no, she’s tall and glamorous and I’m small.

Allison
Alright, well that makes all the difference. I guess it does change how you approach life, doesn't it, tall and glamorous?

Alright, well, what made you decide when you, even when you attended your first darker romance gone wrong, what made you decide to write a novel? Why did you go, why did you sit down and think, “You know what? I’m going to write a novel.”

Jennifer
You know, it was because I thought it would be easier and more interesting than writing a script.

Allison
OK.

Jennifer
So I wanted to write, and I thought, well I’d really like to, you know, first of all I started doing script writing courses, but script writing is so incredibly structured, and it’s actually really quite difficult because you just have dialog to rely on. You don’t have, you can’t explore those wonderful inner ramblings of somebody’s brain and how that all works. So I found it a little frustrating, and just thought maybe I should actually just try writing a novel. Maybe that’s where I’m more suited.

Allison
Do you think that the courses and the kind of experience you had in script writing helped though? As far as structuring your novel?

Jennifer
Oh yeah, definitely. Certainly in terms of understanding things, just really basic things like “in late, out early” with scenes. That every scene has a beginning, a middle, and an end. With dialogue that it’s not just conversation, it has to reveal the characters motivation or something about their personality, moving the plot along. You don’t just go, “Gee, it’s nice Dan, I’m really happy that we’re meeting in the park.” Kind of conversation, that sort of thing.

And just, you leave it, unless you need them, all the things, the hellos, how are yous, the goodbye, see you tomorrows; you just don’t use them, you don’t need them. You know, they’re boring and they add nothing. I also had quite a good understanding of transitioning, so from chapter to chapter or scene to scene to try and get the reader to want to move on with you.

So I guess not quite a cliffhanger, but just opening a door so that they want to step through it and continue reading.

Allison
Rather than put the book down.

Jennifer
Or throw it against the wall or you now, yeah, whatever.

Allison
So what surprised you most about the process of completing a novel?

Jennifer
Just the sheer amount of rewriting, I just wasn't prepared for how much rewriting I was going to do. And I had 47 different versions of my draft by the end.

Allison
47?

Jennifer
That’s not full rewrites, but it’s enough changes to make me go, “OK, mmm.”

Allison
Was that 47 drafts in total, or 47 before you sent it to an agent or to anybody?

Jennifer
That’s 47 before I sent it to the agent. But it did mean that the editing process wasn't too bad when I got into it.

Allison
Yeah, you’d done a lot of the work already.

Jennifer
Yeah, I had.

Allison
So how long did it take you to write your 47 drafts? Just out of interest.

Jennifer
About, probably about five years.

Allison
OK

Jennifer
I’d say about two years of that was serious. It took me a long time to actually go, “Oh, maybe I can do this, maybe other people would want to read it.” You know, it’s easy to sit in your own little world and say you’re writing a book. It’s another thing then to go, “But I actually want this book published.” And taking it, you know, doing the next steps that you need to do for that. Yeah, I guess seriously about two years.

Allison
OK, so what was its journey to publication from the 47th draft onwards? Did you send it to a lot of agents, or did you have somebody in mind? What did you do?

Jennifer
No, I was actually, I have to say, very blessed with my route to publishing. I went two years ago on a writing retreat to Luang Prabhang in Laos. And I've done a lot of my writing work with Jan Cornall who has her own website called The Writers Journey. And she had this writer’s retreat, so I went there with her. And I met a woman called Deb Nolan who writes under the name of A.D. Scott. And I think she was up to about her fourth book with Simon and Schuster when I met her. And she just really liked The Wardrobe Girl, and just kind of took me under her wing. She said, “I’m going to start talking to my agent Sheila Drummond about you and your manuscript.” And I was like, “Oh, OK, thank you.” Thinking everybody says that when they meet someone.

Allison
No.

Jennifer
No?

Allison
No.

Jennifer
And then, you know, I get back home, and she actually lives in Vietnam, and I just started getting these very, she’s a very forthright Scottish woman, and I started getting these very forthright Scottish emails, you know. “How come you haven't finished? Where is the finished manuscript?” And, “I've spoken to Sheila about you and she’s very interested.” And every time I got one of her emails, kind of a little part of me curled up in the corner going, “Oh my God, she’s serious.” And eventually I reached the point where I thought I can’t do too much more with this, it probably needs a little more tweaking, but I need somebody else to tell me what to do now. And I sent her an email, very coyly, unlike her forthrightness, saying, “Well, I think it might be ready.” And she just emailed me back straightaway and said, “Well, I don’t need it, just send it straight to Sheila.” So I emailed Sheila Drummond, and said, “Do you want the first two chapters and a synopsis?” And she said, “No, let’s just read the whole thing.” And ten days later, she phoned me, we had a, quite a long conversation, she raised things that were of concern, I guess, for her taking on a new writer. You know, the fact that I do still have a young daughter, so I have three, I have two who are adults, and a little seven year old. So that was of concern, because–

Allison
Why was that a concern?

Jennifer
Because sometimes, as she said, family things get in the way of deadlines.

Allison
Right, right.

Jennifer
And, you know, it happens. So you've got to be able to make these deadlines, that was something that she was very concerned about. Do you actually know what you’re getting yourself in for? Is this really what you want to do? And she said, “I think your book will sell, but I need to be clear of who I’m taking on and that you kind of have some understanding as well.” She was very good, you know, very straightforward.

Allison
So very clear on the realities of what you were getting into basically.

Jennifer
Yeah.

Allison
Which that surprised you, did you think you know, did you think you knew?

Jennifer
No, I was, and I have always been, every step of the way I've been hands up, you know, “Look, I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Allison
OK, yeah.

Jennifer
I’m completely naive about this whole process, if you tell me this is the right way to go, I’m going to trust you.

Allison
Right.

Jennifer
So she said, by the end of this phone call, she said, “Look, I’m interested in taking you on, I’m not too sure about your first chapter, can you rewrite the first four pages tonight and get it to me first thing in the morning.

Allison
Right, there’s your first test.

Jennifer
Yeah, that was it. And I was like, “Oh yeah, OK, fine.” Put the phone down and realized straightway, I know what this is. This is can I do the rewriting overnight, meet the deadline–

Allison
And get it right.

Jennifer
And get it right. And, you know, I ran around the house, ran around the garden going, “Ahhh!” And then you have to do it, so I did it and got the contract next day.

Allison
Great.

Jennifer
So Random House obviously bought the book, which is fantastic. So that’s pretty easy too. So Simon and Schuster were the first no, and then Random House took it up.

Allison
Alright, so how long, how long did it take to get published from that point? Was it three years?

Jennifer
This was February of last year.

Allison
Ok, so just over a year.

Jennifer
Just over a year, yeah.

Allison
Was there anything that surprised you about the process of publication? Was it what you expected it would be?

Jennifer
I don’t really know what I expected it to be.

Allison
Right.

Jennifer
I knew that there would be editing, I’d been told about, “Oh, God, they make you rewrite the middle 20,000 words.” Or they don’t like the way some characters are behaving or whatever. So I was expecting to get quite a lot of work to do, but it wasn't too bad.

Allison
Because you’d done 47 drafts.

Jennifer
Because I’d done 47 drafts.

Allison
See, you’d already done the work up front. OK, so let’s talk about this big question of all the platforms, which is something that comes up a lot. I know you have a blog, but you, at this stage, don’t have a website or anything like that. Was that something that you gave consideration to, and did your publisher have any requirements on the front of all the platforms?

Jennifer
Yes, we had a discussion about websites. They felt I didn't need a website, that a Facebook page worked just as well. They were happy for me to just have my own Facebook page. A blog is good, being on Twitter is good, and just yeah, sort of doing what you can to raise your profile that way.

Allison
OK.

Jennifer
Yeah, but there wasn't, not much more than I was already doing.

Allison
OK, great. I read a blog post recently that said that you, that the one thing that really surprised you was how you felt about the actual launch of the book and the publicity requirements of that, like this, this sudden leap into being a published author. Could you tell us a little bit about that? Because I know that you've been doing all the talks and you've been doing interviews, and you've been doing lots of things which obviously, for most of us, is not our everyday thing. So suddenly you've gone from here I am with my 47 drafts and my computer, and now you’re Jennifer Smart, Author.

Jennifer
Yes, it still sounds very weird.

Allison
Yes.

Jennifer
Yeah, look, it’s sort of like it’s going through a completely different door and, you know, yes I've worked in the media, but I was never on camera. I've always been very happy to be behind the scenes and I’m not a real spotlight kind of person. So that was hard to get used to, having people wanting to talk to me and, you know, having radio interviews and having to be up straightaway and get into the interviews straightaway, and you might only have two minutes and you have to say something that’s witty and bright, because that’s the way the book’s promoted. So you can’t go on into your radio interview as this really dour, miserable, haven’t had my coffee yet, “Gee, I’m normally in bed twenty minutes ago.” You know, what am I doing here? So yes, I did in this post say that I kind of created a little persona, it’s just like a performance which, I think.

Allison
So you channeled your inner perky person, didn't you? And you found her.

Jennifer
Yes, my inner publicity seeking person, and that’s right.

Allison
Do you think the creation of that persona is a good thing? You've kind of like, you know that you've got to perform so you flip that switch and there you are, and then you turn it off and go back to being your dour, miserable, coffee loving self?

Jennifer
Yeah, that’s the one.

Allison
Love it. OK, so are you working on a new book at the moment?

Jennifer
Well, I am, and that I suppose is the other thing about once you become published. You know, it’s a whole different ballgame. I had a conversation only a couple of weeks ago with my publisher and they said, “Fabulous, wonderful, so for book two, we don’t want you to lose your March publication spot.” So that means we need the manuscript by the end of August; that’s this year.

Allison
And where are you at with your second book?

Jennifer
Yes, Beverly’s listening, it’s going swimmingly well, Beverly. Fabulous.

Allison
Alright, lovely.

Jennifer
It’s a lot of work to do, but I know where I’m heading with it. And she’s given me kind of bite-sized chunks to sort of, little deadlines along the way for me, which is fantastic.

Allison
Alright, so what then, in summing up, would you say are the three biggest lessons you've learned from writing and publishing your first book?

Jennifer
OK, well, deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. If you can’t meet your deadlines, then don’t bother going down this path. You've got some leeway, but they’re so important and there are so many people relying on you to deliver when you say you’re going to deliver. So I always met every single deadline.

Allison
And there are a lot of them aren't there? That’s the other thing.

Jennifer
There are a lot of them.

Allison
There are a lot of deadlines.

Jennifer
Yeah, because it’s not just one edit process, you have several along the way, and you have all of these different deadlines that you've got to meet. Yes, so just be right on top of that. Also Pamela Freeman, I did a course with her at the Australian Writer’s Centre, and she actually said, “You will only be as good a writer as the number of drafts you’re prepared to do.”

Allison
Right.

Jennifer
So, that is why I ended up doing so many.

Allison
47? You must be amazing?

Jennifer
I don’t now, I reckon I could still go 107 and I’d still never reach the heights that you’d want to aspire to. But anyway, so that’s two, just keep rewriting. And, you know, try and enjoy some of it. It’s really hard along the way to maybe sit back and enjoy it. And I guess that there’s lots of little moments that you can actually take in, so when you open that package and your very first copy falls out, and it’s just you and your book. That’s amazing.

Allison
That would be amazing. Well, thank you so much for you time today, Jennifer, I really appreciate it and good luck with all of that perky interviewing. And we look forward to seeing how you go with that August deadline.

Jennifer
Ah, Allison, thank you so much, yes, I’m just going to go back and pick up my pencil and paper right now.

Allison
OK, bye.

Jennifer
Bye.

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