Date Archives March 2013

Talking Writing: an ebook featuring great Australian writers

Talking Writing ebook, NSW Writers' Centre
Talking Writing ebook, NSW Writers’ Centre

I love having the flexibility to swing between freelance writing and editing. I’ve been commissioning editor of the NSW Writers’ Centre magazine, Newswrite, for a number of years now. I enjoy commissioning articles almost as much as writing them. There’s something about the ideas process, talking through possible articles with an editorial team, and then seeing writers respond to a theme and bring it to the page fully formed. More often than not, writers completely surprise me with what they bring back.

For an editor, working on a magazine composed by writers is a dream job. The writing that comes in is taut and well-shaped, with virtually no typos. I can just sit back end enjoy. For a writer, I’ve always got a lot to learn. Writing short stories. Or sci-fi. Or the love poem. I’m always keen to try new things. This ebook covers the gamut.

Newswrite has always been a members-only magazine, for those based in NSW. One of the frustrating things about editing each edition has been that I haven’t been able to use social media to share the articles that I find exciting and helpful for writers (and there are many).

So the Centre came up with an idea: we’ve produced our first ebook, Talking Writing, a collection of the best articles from the past couple of years. It was launched last week. Yes, it does cost money. But $9.95 is a pretty reasonable outlay for some of the finest writers in the country, both established and emerging.

My favourites from the book include:

  • John Safran on writing TV comedy. I went to uni with John. I was involved with making an early music video at RMIT of his song ‘Melbourne Tram’. His work has always fascinated me. Here, he berates writers for being so precious. To come up with ideas. Lots of them. 
  • Kate Holden on writing good sex. I’m intrigued by Kate’s evocation of the erotic in her nonfiction. She has lived it. Writing sex (that’s not cringe-worthy) is one of the hardest things for a writer to do. Kate has some great tips.
  • Arnold Zable on writing as therapy. In the aftermath of the bushfire tragedy in Victoria, Arnold did workshops with some of the survivors. They wrote about what they had lost, shared, and remembered. It’s an article full of spirit and rejuvenation amidst the devastation.
  • Writer on WriterThe magazine has a regular column (that I get very excited about) where writers are asked to talk about the author who has had the greatest influence on them (writing practice and reading). It’s a wonderfully intimate space for reflection and featured writers include Emily Maguire (on Graham Greene), Benjamin Law (Zadie Smith), Jon Bauer (Ray Bradbury), Sam Cooney (David Foster Wallace) and Mandy Sayer (Ernest Hemingway).
  • And then there’s Rebecca Giggs on writing and the environment; Sam Twyford-Moore on writing and depression, James Bradley on blogging, Kirsten Tranter on the second novel and Geordie Williamson + Angela Meyer on criticism in the digital age.

If you’re an emerging writer looking for hands-on nuts and bolts help, this ebook will be useful to dip into. It covers a range of genres so teachers of writing can add it to their syllabus.

You can read it on your computer screen, iPad, Kindle or other e-reading devices.

This release is a bit of an experiment. If we get lots of digi-readers, the plan is to keep publishing Newswrite articles in a variety of formats. I hope you enjoy reading the articles as much as I have over the years.

Do you remember the first time?

Kirsten Krauth
Go Zoolander. My author headshot.

When I was sitting in that limbo-land of trying to get my book published, I would hear established writers on Twitter and Facebook moaning about having to meet deadlines and go through laborious edits with publishers. The pressure, the pressure! And all I could think was, let it be me! Put me in that position! Is it so easy to forget how damn hard it is to get a book deal? The agony of the wait.

It took a long time for me. And as always it’s about who you know. Let’s face it. I was also plagued by indecision. Do I try to get an agent first? If a publisher doesn’t get back to me in six months, do I call and hassle (I’m not the type)?

Today is the last day I have to make any changes to my manuscript. I’m learning how to let it go. After seven years, the final copyedit seems a frantic flurry. Even though I’m an editor in my other life, I see only a sea of track changes.

For all you aspiring writers out there, I thought I’d get it down. What I’ve learnt from writing my first novel.

Do the novel as part of a postgrad university degree.

I started my novel as a research masters in creative writing at University of Sydney. If you do a research masters degree you don’t have to pay any uni fees (or this used to be the case), and I took extra joy in the fact that John Howard (yes it’s that long ago) was funding my future writing career. It also means you have one-on-one with a supervisor (in this case, the wonderful Sue Woolfe), can get your feedback in private, and have to meet deadlines. This last point was the most important in my case. I had to write four thousand words a month. By the end of the year I had a novella. Bingo.

The most important thing to have is a business card (from a publisher).

If you meet an editor or publisher in person and they offer you a business card, this is your golden ticket. Don’t lose it. It has the most important thing you will need: a direct email or telephone number. The publishing world is like some spy network where everything is secret. Once you have a direct email, things change. Doors open.

If you have a publisher contact, you don’t always need an agent.

I know everyone talks about having an agent, but my personal experience was that it was completely demoralising dealing with agents direct, and almost put me off trying. The publishers and editors were respectful and kind. The agents were aloof, conservative, and often just plain rude (this is when they bothered to reply to my emails). They talked about the market a lot (and I’m sceptical about this kinda talk). I know agents are busy, but so is everyone else. One agent asked me to pay so he could get the manuscript sent to another reader. Come on! In the end, I got a publishing deal, and then sought an agent (note: she was nothing like the above). Not ideal but it worked in a roundabout way.

When the structural and copy edit comes back from the publisher, don’t put your defence shield up.

Okay, I did. It’s not easy to invest your soul into something and see it torn apart in front of you. But if you’ve got a bit of time, sleep on it. Have a cry and scream if you need to, but come back to it in a week. Copy the manuscript into a new file that you call ‘just for practice’. Have a go at what your editor suggests. Does it help characterisation? Clarify things for you? It’s likely the answer will be ‘yes’. But also listen to your gut. Some things might not feel right. You can absolutely refuse to change something. Save these for special moments. It’ll make you feel better.

If a number of people start making the same suggestions, listen hard. It’s time to change tack.

Get a professional author headshot.

As an editor of a magazine about writers, getting author headshots via email can be challenging. Many authors have no idea about resolution for print and send images of themselves taken sitting in front of their computers. Nope. Find a friend or a professional photographer and get some high-quality shots taken. Try and make them visually interesting in some way. Avoid the cliches. Don’t sit in front of your bookshelf or with your chin resting on your hand as if you are the study of a brilliant thinker — unless you always pose that way or you can make it mockingly cool. I’m not happy being photographed so I dreaded this bit. My husband can take a good shot but even with him I was awkward. My tip? Go Zoolander pose. I found as soon as I started being stoopid the shots were better. And you’ve got to straddle that line. You don’t want your author shot to look so young or Photoshopped that no-one recognises you when they meet you in person.