Category Archives: Work in Progress

Inside the publishing industry


How do books get from the publisher’s hot little hands onto the shelves of bookstores? No, I don’t really know either but yesterday it became a little clearer.

Traditional publishers are part of a logistical chain.

From the sale of each book, every player in the chain takes their cut. However online sales, self-publishing and e-books have increasingly muddied the waters. Still, the typical chain – and the typical cut for each player – looks something like this:

  • Author: 10% (less their agent’s fee, which is typically 15% of that 10%. Bestselling authors get a slightly higher percentage)
  • Publisher: 30% (which has to cover editorial work, graphic design and marketing)
  • Printers: 10%
  • Distributors: 10%
  • Retailers: 40% (which seems like a lot until you factor in bookshop rent and salaries)

Traditional publishers don’t necessarily deal directly with booksellers, or certainly not with every bookseller in the country – they use distributors.  At Text Publishing, I guess through some sort of contractual arrangement, they use the distributors of the big multi-national firm, Penguin Random House.

Yesterday I visited the Melbourne office of Penguin Random House, to pitch my book to the distributors. Two other Text authors were there too (keep an eye out next May for Robbie Arnott’s novel Flames and Jessie Cole’s memoir Staying) as were Text Publisher Michael Heyward and an enthusiastic group of Text publicists. Read the rest of this entry


Help me with this paragraph?


Sydney Cove from Dawes Point – painting by Joseph Lycett,1817. Source State Library NSW

To set the scene, I’m reading my manuscript out loud, to test for clarity and sense. The dog seems nonplussed but the cat is appreciative. I’m also beginning to realise how lazy my pronunciation usually is.

Govvumen. Govvament. Government.


I’m reading the part where it is 1790, Elizabeth has just arrived in New South Wales, and is lonely and bored. It’s the third paragraph (in the second half) where I’d like your opinion – what am I trying to imply? Is it clear enough?

Elizabeth ‘filled up the vacuum of many a Solitary day’ by reading, or by writing long letters in which she complained of having no female friends. None of the other officers were accompanied by their wives. Some of the rank-and-file soldiers had brought wives along, but the class divide rendered any friendships there impossible. Even if Elizabeth was willing to bridge that gap (although nothing suggests that she was), the social habits of a lifetime – reinforced by notions of regimental propriety and proper discipline – prevented the soldiers’ wives from expressing anything beyond mere civilities to the only ‘lady’ in the colony. Reverend Johnson had brought his wife but Elizabeth described her as ‘a person in whose society I could reap neither profit or pleasure.’ The Johnsons were not well-liked – two months after the Second Fleet arrived, the convicts were threatened with the withdrawal of rations unless they attended the Sunday church service. Elizabeth’s antipathy was such that she delayed little Edward’s long overdue baptism for nearly another year.

But Elizabeth’s natural optimism soon asserted itself. Just as she had at the Cape, Elizabeth took the time to look around and appreciate the landscape. ‘Every thing was new to me, every Bird, every insect, Flower, &c in short all was novelty around me, and was noticed with a degree of eager curiosity.’ Elizabeth was herself noticed with a similar degree of eager curiosity by Sydney Cove’s small society of officers, who had endured more than three tedious years of one another’s constant company. Among the officers at least, Elizabeth was instantly, and extraordinarily, popular. They fell over one another to be her friend. Here was a pretty young woman who, protected by her marriage and her child, could converse with freedom and intelligence.

Second Lieutenant Dawes, at twenty-eight only four years older than Elizabeth, was a talented polymath whose skills encompassed engineering, science, surveying, and astronomy. ‘He is so much engaged with the stars,’ wrote Elizabeth, ‘that to Mortal Eyes he is not always visible.’ Elizabeth attempted to learn astronomy from Mr Dawes and he went to great efforts to make models of the solar system for her and to explain the general principles of the heavenly bodies. Elizabeth, though, soon claimed she had mistaken her abilities and she quickly brought an end to her astronomical studies, writing ‘I blush at my error,’ to Bridget and implying that, intellectually, she simply wasn’t up to it. But she may well have been blushing about other things entirely – the evening visits to Dawe’s observatory opened many opportunities for others (including Dawes?) to misinterpret her educational motives. Instead Elizabeth and Dawes sensibly looked to the daytime art of botany and Elizabeth was soon able to class and order common plants.

I then go on with a paragraph about her new friend George Worgan (who gave her a piano), and another about Watkin Tench.

The actual text contains lots of footnotes but they don’t paste neatly in to WordPress. So the sources for all the above are as follows:

  • Elizabeth Macarthur to Bridget Kingdon 7 March 1791.
  • Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, August 1790.
  • Edward Macarthur was baptised at St Phillips, Sydney on 1 April 1791. C. Smee, Born in the English Colony of New South Wales 1788-1800, self published, 2009.

Any and all assistance gratefully received!

What do publicists do for authors anyway?


This week I met with my publicist, Alice Lewinsky.

A few weeks earlier she’d sent me four pages of questions: about me, my career, my writing experience, and about the background to my book. She also wanted to know about the likely readership, my marketing and promotional ideas, and the names of people who might provide praise quotes about the book. Answering it all was fun, and a little bit daunting.

So I asked Alice if we could meet, mainly so I could pick her brains about how it was all going to work.

It’s hard to convey how very welcome the team at Text Publishing make me feel, each time I visit. Everyone seems to know my name, know what I’ve written about, know why I’m there that day. My meeting with Alice was no different and she even greeted me with a thoughtful gift – a copy of the latest Brenda Niall biography, Can You Hear the Sea, hot off the press.

Alice, friendly, competent and professional, walked me through all the different kinds of publicity Text would try to arrange for me. In fact, more than six months out from publication (in early April, 2018) they’ve already started pitching me to writers’ festivals. All righty then.

Radio, print, online and maybe even TV – Alice and her colleagues have it all mapped out and, importantly, already have working relationships with many of the key editors and producers. We discussed whether or not I’m comfortable with public speaking (yes, I am); whether I’d be happy to write pieces related to my book (yes, I am); and whether I’d be happy to speak to small groups (yes, I am). I wondered who payed for any travel and the answer is usually the relevant festival, or Text.

Apparently the first month after the book is launched is the busiest, although the next two months are likely to be fairly busy too. Then, as the festivals roll steadily out, the publicity work continues in dribs and drabs. If, for example, I take a trip to Canberra for my day job, I’m to let Alice know so she can try and line up some publicity opportunities while I’m there.

Text will also enter my book for prizes. They have, Alice said, a pretty comprehensive list of all the prizes on offer but if I knew of any obscure ones, she was more than happy to hear about them. And the same for any specialist magazines, journals or websites that might be interested in reviewing or profiling my book.*

In short, what does a publicist do for her authors? Pretty damn near everything, as far as I can tell. I’m feeling pretty lucky.


* And if you know of any obscure magazines, journals or websites that might be interested in reviewing or profiling my book please feel free to let me know!

Drafting a Blurb – the craft of catching a reader


Once I started thinking about blurbs, it became clear how little I rely on them these days.

I usually choose books to read because I’ve already read or heard about them – on blogs, in reviews, in articles, on podcasts. It’s rare for me to pick up a random book, read the blurb on the back and buy it. Even at the library, whether or not a book takes my fancy seems to very much depend on my mood at exactly that point in time.

But that said, when I pick up that book I’ve seen reviewed, or heard about on a podcast, or saw mentioned in an interview with an author – I still read the blurb. And only then do I either buy or borrow the book, or put it back on the shelf. I can’t imagine choosing a newly released book that didn’t have a blurb (although I reckon a classic might get away with it).

Do you read the blurb on the back? How seriously does it influence your reading choices?

Because here I am, agonizing over the blurb for my own book.

Below is the text I’ve agreed with my editor Read the rest of this entry

My Writing Day


Her name is Winter. She’s a Scottish Deerhound. Yes, she’s very tall. Saves bending over to give her pats – she’s already at just the right height.

One day a week. That’s all I have for my own writing. And when I say ‘day’ I don’t mean a whole day, I mean a school day, between about 9:30 and 3:00pm.

Also minus the school holidays. And minus time spent hanging out the washing, catching up on my day job, making cups of tea and procrastinating by playing Tetris. I’m now very good at Tetris.

My routine, on my writing day, is to take the dog for a walk after I’ve dropped the kids at school. Apart from the many therapeutic benefits of the forest, I use the time to decide exactly what it is that I plan to work on that day. I’ve learnt the hard way that if I don’t decide before I sit down at my desk, then I invariably fritter my time away hanging out the washing, catching up on my day job, making cups of tea and procrastinating by playing Tetris. Did I mention that I’m very good at Tetris?

You’d think it would be easy to decide, each day, what to work on next. Maybe it is, if you have the privilege of working on the same thing for multiple days in a row. But when it’s been a week, or more, since I last looked at the manuscript, I find it valuable to be very clear about the task at hand. It’s not at all simply a matter of writing about ‘what happened next’. If only!

Maybe, for example, I want to Read the rest of this entry

Done! For now at least…


With apologies to those who already know, via Facebook and Twitter – I sent the draft manuscript to my editor at Text Publishing late last week.

Very happy.

Subsequently spent a relaxing weekend in the garden, and celebrating Mother’s Day with my gorgeous kids.

No deadlines, no pressure – bliss.

Next steps? The editor edits the manuscript, sends it back covered in comments and I go back to working on it. And in the meantime I keep following up and trying to source all the images I need.

And yes, the champagne was delicious.