Tag Archives: Hardcopy 2015

Interview with Bill Wilkie, author of The Daintree Blockade


Last week I reviewed The Daintree Blockade: The Battle for Australia’s Tropical Rainforests. This week Bill Wilkie, the author of that excellent book, kindly took the time to answer some questions for me.

He’s also generously made a special offer to readers of this blog, Adventures in Biography. Details at the bottom of this post…

Bill grew up in Brisbane and studied sociology and Australian history at the University of Queensland. He has lived in London, Dublin and Sydney, and travelled throughout Europe, Asia and South America. Bill now lives in the small Queensland town of Mossman with his partner and their two daughters.

Bill was a participant in the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY 2015 program, which was where I first met him. (You can find a compilation of all my posts about the program here.) I found him to be friendly, supportive and quietly intelligent.

The Daintree Blockade is your first book – what sort of writing have you done up until now? Read the rest of this entry


Death by Dim Sim


death-by-dim-simStopped by Readings Books in Carlton today to pick up a copy of my friend’s newly released memoir: Death by Dim Sim.  So exciting to see it on the shelf.

You should buy a copy too. Here’s the blurb from the back cover.

Sarah Vincent once tipped the scales at 122 kilos. She worked at the back of a hospital making calls and answering emails, but at three o’clock every afternoon she would answer a very special call – the call of the dim sim. Running the gauntlet of smokers in the hospital car park one day for her daily dim sim fix, Sarah had an epiphany: just like those nicotine addicts, Sarah was an addict and was slowly killing herself with food.

She knew that if she didn’t act soon it would be too late, and her husband – who had only narrowly survived cancer – and their two young children would be minus a wife and mother. She also knew she had been going on crash diets since the age of thirteen and nothing had ever worked.

But then Sarah met the nutritionist who would introduce her to the low-carb, high-fat eating approach known as Banting, which leaves you feeling full and reduces your cravings. In Death by Dim Sim she details with hilarious honesty how she managed to lose 40 kilos using this method, her childhood battle with her weight and her lifelong struggle with anxiety. And because she wants you to lose weight too, she shares the recipes, tips and meal plans that helped save her life. She is now slimmer and fitter than she’s ever been and she never wants to see a dim sim again.

Melbourne writer Sarah Vincent was one of my fellow-students from the 2015 HARDCOPY program, and I can’t begin to tell you how keen the publishers and agents were to sign her up.

I’m very keen to tuck in to this one (terrible pun totally intended).

Does an emerging writer need an agent?


Well of course I’m going to say yes, because



Just signed a contract with Jacinta di Mase Management.  Cue the happy, happy dance.

And yes, signing with Jacinta was a direct result of my participation in the HardCopy program last year.  Jacinta represents over 50 authors including feminist commentator Clementine Ford, journalists Zoe Daniel and Angela Pippos, and historian and Stella Prize winner Clare Wright.  No pressure then.

But actually, whether or not to go with a literary agent is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  So, for what it’s worth, here are the factors that helped me to decide. Read the rest of this entry


How to get your writing read by a publisher (or seven)

Some, but not all, of the participants, publishers and agents.

Some, but not all, of the participants, publishers and agents. Sadly my red ‘power boots’ are barely visible. Nor are my lucky socks.

It’s really easy. All you have to do is spend 2-10 years writing, refining and rewriting your work. Then apply for a place in the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY Program for emerging writers.

Then, if you are among the 30 or so people accepted, find the cash to pay for the course as well as two (and hopefully three) trips to Canberra. Flights and accommodation. And then arrange or negotiate some childcare too.  Then, after the first two weekend workshops, rewrite your sample piece again and be one of the ten chosen by Mary Cunnane to receive feedback about your work from a diverse set of publishing industry bigwigs.

See? It couldn’t be easier.  Not.

I’ve just spent another weekend in Canberra, at the third and final session of the 2015 HARDCOPY Program.   It was intense. Terrifying. Exhilarating. And, in the end, an extraordinary privilege.

Over the course of two days seven publishers and two literary agents gave each Hardcopier Read the rest of this entry


Mary Cunnane – wisdom and advice from Australia’s favourite literary agent

Mary Cunnane. Photo sourced from http://www.womenwritersnsw.org

Mary Cunnane. Photo sourced from http://www.womenwritersnsw.org

We were all such literary newbies that the HARDCOPY program co-ordinator had to explain to us who Mary Cunnane was.

Only the one of the best-known agents in Australia.  Only the woman to whom all doors in publishing were open. Only the founder of the Australian Literary Agents Association.

Oh, you mean THAT Mary Cunnane.  Right.

Mary led the final session of the HARDCOPY workshop, which was essentially an open discussion.  We would ask questions and she would answer them.  And she did – with generosity, wit and a sharp eye for the crux of the matter.

To follow are my notes of the conversation… Read the rest of this entry


HARDCOPY – What do publishers want?

HardCopy Alumni 2015

HardCopy Alumni 2015

The HARDCOPY program opened on Friday morning with lots of energy.

Charlotte Harper, Founder and Editor of Editia, was engaging and full of useful information. What does Editia want?

  • Connection with the author
  • An author with a good social media profile
  • Clear, well edited writing
  • Newsworthiness/timeliness
  • Usefulness, entertainment or educational value
  • Humour and empathy
  • Stories that delve more deeply, solve a mystery or challenge our thinking
  • Needs to make money, with at least a possibility of being onsold to the US or UK, perhaps film rights, etc.

Charlotte impressed upon us the importance of personal networks and relationships and told us about a conversation initiated in the ladies’ loo that led to a contract.  Engage with others!

Charlotte also demonstrated how not all publishers are created equal.   Approach only those who are likely to be a good fit with your manuscript.  Will my book help the publisher to achieve their goals?  Will it slot easily into their list?

  • Affirm Press, for example, “…publish a broad range of non-fiction books that always, in some way, have positive underlying messages.”
  • Scribe publish “…books that matter – narrative and literary nonfiction on important topics.”

A publishing house that produces many books a year might be more receptive than a house that only produces a handful.  And, obviously, non-fiction writers should not waste time pitching to publishers who only focus on fiction.  Do your research!

One person who spoke to us later in the day, Prof. Peter Stanley, noted that his 30 or so books had been produced by 20 or so different publishers.  For him it was all about horses for courses.

Charlotte Harper then made us walk in the publishers’ shoes by initiating a group exercise.  Every other presenter over the three days simply (albeit engagingly) spoke to us as we sat in theatre style seats but Charlotte had us up and outside and thinking for ourselves.  Thank you, Charlotte!  Divided into groups of five, we were each assigned a role: sales manager, financial controller, rights manager, publicity manager, production manager.  And each group was ’employed’ by a different publisher – From the big boys at Penguin Random House to a smaller press like Affirm.  Each group then assessed five imaginary titles at a mock acquisitions meeting.

  • Why mums should stay at home with their kids by a News Ltd columnist
  • The ACT Asbestos Crisis by Rhys Muldoon (who has a personal connection with the issue)
  • My Year in Provence by Jan Smith from Chatswood (an unkown first time writer)
  • Children in detention: interviews with kids and their carers
  • How to Run a Restaurant by various celebrity chefs.

The decision-making process was an eye-opening insight – the things we were taking into consideration often had little or nothing to do with the quality of the writing (about which we knew nothing anyway).  Who were the potential readers?  Had this been done before?  Was the subject likely to be interesting to enough people?  We really felt as if we had walked at least a short way in the publishers’ shoes.

Over the course of the weekend, many of the speakers noted how important it was for authors to have a strong social media following.  The more followers, the more likely the publication deal.  Essentially, this makes marketing much easier for the publisher – they don’t have to start from scratch. But while some publishers might help with social media, it really is up to the author to make it happen, and to keep it happening.  Penguin Random House, for example, publishes around 100 books every month.  I know because the Penguin Random House marketing person, Eva Bui, spoke to us too.  There is a limit to how much assistance they can provide any author, let alone an unknown first-timer.

This led to many coffee break conversations about how best to balance the need for an online presence with the need to spend time actually writing.  It was easy to imagine that sometimes an online presence (with plenty of followers) outweighed the need for excellent prose.  Perhaps sometimes it does.  But our final presenter, the renowned former agent Mary Cunnane, put our minds at ease on that score: the excellence of the writing is key.  Ok, so no pressure then…

More from Ms Cunnane in a future post – stay tuned!

Perhaps some of the above information seems self-evident but it’s only a summary based on my rough notes.  In reality the level of detail that each presenter provided was fascinating and useful.

I’ve written before about the HARDCOPY program:

Once again my grateful thanks to Nigel Featherstone and the team at the ACT Writers Centre for making the magic happen.

The ACT Writers Centre is supported by the ACT Government.  HARDCOPY has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.



How to be an author


girl-writing-paintingDuring the first of the HARDCOPY workshops we studied how to write well.  The second workshop, though, is all about how to be an author.

It is not at all the same thing.

With a day still to go, my head is swimming with information.  In the days and weeks to come I will try to distil it and present the key messages from each session.  But for now, some key messages in rough note form.

When choosing a publisher – will my book help the publisher to achieve their goals?  Will it slot easily into their list?

A good title is crucial.

Networking is crucial.  Incidental meetings can lead to important connections.

A good agent will ensure you skip the publisher’s slush pile and that your MS at least gets read by the right person.

Pan MacMillan has the best publicist in Australia.

Authors need to do much of their own publicity work – lining up interviews, for example.

Don’t sign a contract with a publisher that contains a reversion clause linked to the book’s availability or remunerative value. (Yes, now I actually know what this means and why it’s important!)

The words to the Happy Birthday song are owned by Time Warner and subject to copyright.

There is no copyright in titles, slogans, ideas or facts – it lies in the expression of ideas, in the structure and composition.

Watch out for contracts that seek to consult with the author rather than obtain the author’s consent.

When first published it may feel like the publishers know everything but actually you are in an equal partnership.  It’s OK to push back.

Writing a book is legitimate work.

Those who read books also spend more time than average online – the two activities are not incompatible.  In fact Australian non-fiction readers spend an average of 18 hours per week online: more than the national average.

Know your online audience.

Your website/blog is an island.  Use Facebook, email, Instagram, etc to jet ski people to the island.

Do not look to book reviews for validation of your work, or yourself.

Ensure your publicist has a list of appropriate media contacts (for me that might include rural radio, newspapers and magazines as well as popular history magazines).

When you are interviewed on radio you need to be able to describe the book in the 30 seconds that the interviewer will allow you.  If you are on talkback, write down each caller’s name.

Every author suffers from self-doubt.

By the time you publish you are a world expert in that subject.  Revel in that and draw confidence from it.  It gives you a certain power.

Writing a book is important because something you care passionately about has a life of its own, out in the world.