What is the Australian writing scene like today? Is there a bright future ahead of it? Or is its future shrouded in eternal darkness?

 

‘There has never been a better time to become involved in the writing industry in Australia.’

Those were the words that were once said to me by a lecturer at university back in 2011. Now, the comment made by this particular educational professional was very broad and did not take into account many existing factors. The comment did not make any reference to what genres or styles are at present most acceptably chosen by publishers. The comment also did not make any reference to the self-publishing industry.

Writing in general is also not the most economically powerful field in this country either. Less than five known Australian authors are involved in writing alone. All of the others have additional jobs, the likes of teaching and editing because they are unable to earn as much wealth from texts alone as they can from undertaking additional occupations.

Fact: In the past year, more books by self-published authors were sold in Australia than books published by professional publishing organisations. This statistic alone makes clear that there is considerable strain on publishers from self-published authors who are generating popular texts that the general public wish to read.

You can almost imagine that all those publishers who rejected manuscripts which have gone on to be self-published are shaking their heads in frustration in regards to all of the money they could have made from such writers.

Book establishments in Australia are drying up faster than our water catchments, but is that any reason to rationalise why the publishing industry has become so incredibly difficult to enter into? With the sudden expansion of e-readers and other like devices, you would imagine that publishing industries would be more willing to accept writers because of sites the likes of Amazon and Google that are making a fortune selling texts online. If people were having difficulty attempting to procure hard copies of texts, the simple and easy way to acquire these texts online should be having the opposite reaction than what it apparently is in Australia.

Moreover, the comment stipulated at the beginning of this post also did not take into account the factor that writers who have never been published find it incredibly difficult to have their first manuscript accepted. Publishers in general are unwilling to take risks on writers they do not know. Very few publishers accept work from unsolicited writers, many wishing for a literary agent to submit the work on the behalf of the individual writer. Literary agents have a significant amount of pull in the industry, and their general appreciation of one’s work holds significant merit in the industry.

Of course, just because you submit a manuscript to a literary agent does not instantly mean that your chances of being published automatically change for the better. Initially, one must enquire as to whether or not the literary agency wishes to receive their manuscript. If yes, in most cases they will only wish to receive a small portion. Then, upon reading what they received, if they like the piece they will then ask for the full manuscript, and if they like that, then and only then will the agency begin going through the process of looking for suitable publishers. Of course, it is then up to the publisher as to whether or not your text is successfully published – quite a fair few ‘ifs.’

On top of this, if you wish to acquire the help of a literary agent, it is best to consult them before you send your manuscripts to publishers. If you send your work to all of the publishing houses you can find, then consult a literary agent after you have been rejected by every publishing organisation available to you, then the literary agents will have no luck in helping you. Solicited work or not, publishing houses will not accept work they have previously rejected.

Today, Text Publishing, Sleepers and Puffin are three of only a few publishers willing to accept unsolicited work.

On top of this, there are only a few variants of work that publishers are often willing to consider. I was told back in 2010 that Sci-Fi and Fantasy are two of the greatest genres that one can write about because they can be broadcast to a large amount of people globally. That may be a fact, but most Australian publishers are interested only in contemporary fiction. In layman’s terms (I initially didn’t know what ‘contemporary fiction’ was), fiction that is set in the current time, basically 2013 to around 1960, bare maximum.

Science Fiction and Fantasy is very rarely looked upon with excitement by Australian publishers, and only a limited few literary agents are willing to accept such genres.

Additionally, short stories are also negatively viewed by the industry. In university, I was told how short stories are always going to be popular because unlike a novel that can take up to and over a week to complete, a short story can be read on a plane or a train ride, or even whilst waiting for a class, and can be completed in that short time frame which makes them very edible for readers wishing to digest some entertainment.

Apparently, neither the universities nor the publishing houses are in communication with one another, else lecturers and tutors would be explaining to their students something completely different than what they are currently telling them.

Unfortunately for me, it seems that I am one of those writers that decided to commit to the two styles of writing that are most unaccepted in Australia – short stories and science fiction. Even poetry is looked down upon like poison.

‘Very hard times in the (writing) industry full stop, but for short stories it’s a very dark time’ – those are the words used by a literary agent I contacted not a week ago when enquiring about a certain project of mine.

According to Text Publishing, and I am assuming this is the same for a majority of publishing houses in Australia, in the past they have had considerable trouble attempting to market short story collections and anthologies of poetry to the general public.

What I find most unappreciative in the publishing sector is that these rules on genres and styles only apply to unpublished writers. As soon as you have successfully had a text published, no longer do these rules regulate what you can have published. One example is the well known Australian author Andy Griffiths, who in 2010 had another short story collection published by Pan McMillan. Funnily enough though, Pan was expressly telling people on their sites and in their articles that they were no longer accepting short story collections. What they should be saying is this; we will not accept short story collections from anyone, unless you are a published writer and a known quantity in the industry. This double standard is unfathomably annoying and downright appalling for those of us wishing to become a part of the industry.

This would no doubt explain why self-publishing has become increasingly more popular over the last ten years. Now, I have nothing against self-publishing. In fact, everyday I think I am one step closer to just giving up on big publishing houses altogether and going at it on my own like a majority of other authors have.

However, I always enjoyed the idea of being picked up by a major publisher because of the advantageous benefits that would come from their publishing houses; they have access to PR professionals and marketers to help sell your text to a wide portion of the general public; the name of the publisher holds considerable merit; additionally, I always believed that one could garner more attention with a published text, or at least acquire more attention faster than if one were to go down the self-published track.

On top of this there are the editors who can professionally proof your work and make sure there are fewer errors. There are errors in every single book, but one might imagine there are fewer in a text published by a major publishing house. I myself may have in the past worked as an editor, yet even I do not have complete faith that I could find every spelling and grammatical error in my piece.

I guess at the end of the day it comes down to what one feels is most beneficial – if you self publish then you are in full control. You do indeed become published, but not in the stereotypical; sense of the word. Also, you are in control of your own promotions and need to put in your own money to have your manuscript published online. If you manage to attract the attention of a major publishing house on the other hand, you do not need to supply a dime, and all of the hard work is done on your behalf. However, at the end of the day, any literary agent will take between 20-30% of your profit when your text is signed to a publisher. The question remains – is being signed to a major publishing house so important that you will pass up the opportunity to self publish? Is being published by a major publisher really all that it is cracked up to be when self-published authors can be just as successful, if not even more so in some circumstances?

What are your opinions?

If you happen to live in Australia, do you agree with what I have written? What are your experiences with major publishing houses and literary agents?

If you happen to live outside Australia, what are your thoughts on the publishing industry in your countries? What are your experiences? Can you compare the publishing industry to Australia’s, or is it entirely different?

GIFT or CURSE? A piece about WRITING, PUBLISHING and UNIVERSITY

 

Contains some coarse language.

Plan? What plan? Talk to the architect if you want a plan! Yep, that’s right – if you came here for advice, you are sadly mistaken, cuz here, you will find anything but…

…Going to a university after college/high school/whatever it’s called, is all well and good, but are there repercussions to this as well?

As a person who wanted to work professionally in the writing field, I found out the hard way that employer’s do not take people seriously who do not have valid credentials in the field they wish to enter. Now, by writing, I meant a professional, who worked on pieces from prose to poetry, through to novels and screenplays. Yes, I suffer from delusions of grandeur, but a dream is a dream until it is proven to be 100% unachievable, and I am yet to reach that unfortunate stage.

But, why a writer? So many people these days want to be teachers and shrinks and work in PR. Well, I could that writing has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, but I think that Australian author Michael Hyde, who was my lecturer for my introduction to Creative Writing class during my first semester of University put it best. Now, I hope to write this properly, but it has been a couple years since he explained this, so I might not be entirely accurate in my words – if he happens to read this he’ll probably shake his head at me. Dr. Hyde (yes, doctor, not mister!) explained how he was once teaching at this school. There was a student who could write very well, but to impress his friends he did his best not to focus on writing as much as he did sports and drinking, and other usual Aussie bloke stuff. Anyway, this literary competition is held at the school, and Dr. Hyde asks this student to submit his piece. For further encouragement, he explains how women like writers – they find men who write absolutely irresistible. The student is quite unsure; his friends laugh at him, believing writing to be the kind of thing done by losers and nerds – not by stereotypical Aussie blokes. Anyway, after much convincing the student decides to enter his piece into the competition – and wins! But, the morale of the story has not yet come to pass…the following morning, Dr. Hyde is walking down a corridor – and he sees the young woman who every man in the entire school had been lusting over embracing the student who had won the competition – yes, the same student Dr. Hyde had encouraged to enter. So, walking over to them, Dr. Hyde whispers into the ear of the student ‘told yer so.’ So, there you have it…the reason why I want to write – to gain the attention of all the foxy ladies.

Besides, in regards to other avenues of study…in relation to PR, 1) I’m no good at communicating with the general public, and 2) I’m no good at communicating with my relations, so how the hell could I ever be any good at Public Relations? And as for teaching – often has good opportunities for economic compensation, but other than that…besides, students usually freak the hell out of me, so it’s one of those thanks but no thanks ventures. Some people are scared to fly. Some people are frightened of the dark. I’m terrified to students. Moving on…

…Between the ages of thirteen and fifteen during some of my spare time I completed three short story collections, each containing six pieces. However, by the end the word ‘short’ may have very well been the last word I would have used to describe them, with the shortest piece indeed being 7 pages in length, whilst the largest was 102, and the average was 60; not exactly the definition of the term ‘short’ now, are they?

Unfortunately for me, at the time I had no literary agent, and only a very small per cent of Australian publishers are willing to accept unsolicited content; Penguin and their subsidiary Puffin, Allen and Unwin (at the time at least), Text Publishing, just to name a few. However, these publishers may say ‘we will accept unsolicited material’, but never is there a clause that expresses ‘we will publish unsolicited material.’ I learnt very quickly that every single publishing house had a problem with short stories; unless you were a known quantity in the industry, then this notion did not apply. I remember reading on the MacMillan page that they did not publish short stories, yet in the exact same month I read that known Australian author Andy Griffiths, most notable for his ‘Just’ franchise, had another of his short story collections published by their company! So, the rules are rules, unless you are a published author, in which case none actually apply to you.

Unfortunately for me, on the first occasion I happened to submit something, I mentioned my age, which at the time was 14. After almost half a year, in which I had given up waiting for this particular publishing house and had sent pieces to a couple others, I was notified in the mail whether or not I was successful. Of course I wasn’t, as depicted by the general tone of the paragraph. Did they supply a reason? Yes, amazingly enough…they explained how a 14 year old writer could never be taken seriously in the industry, and if one is writing short stories aimed for a young, adolescent audience, then they cannot be members of that readership – they need to be older, and more experienced in age and life, for nobody would ever want to read the work of a teenager. Safe to say I never mentioned my age in a cover letter again.

Anyway, long story short (pun included?) I contacted a literary agency, and after a few months was able to successfully converse with one of their employees about how short stories were not a popular market – in which I found out that they actually are! True, short stories never sell as many copies as novels, but they are especially well enjoyed by younger audiences because of their general length. It’s that publishers do not want to take the risk with a short story collection. On occasion, these collections have gone belly up for publishers, which is why they are after something more – a novel. Luckily enough for me, at the time I had an idea for a science fiction novel which I had been developing for some time.

Of course, something always gets in the way, right? Well, in this instance it was plain ol’ me…I finished the novel in December of 2009 after working on it for roughly six whole years. I took one look at my finished product and thought ‘what a piece of shit.’ Okay, honestly, it may not have been all that bad, but there was more I wanted to develop within the story in regards to the centralised characters and the lead antagonists. Additionally, I leant a lot whilst writing the story. The one thing I took away with me from high school was this; it don’t matter if you are writing a story set in the past, present or the future, if you do not have themes, or if you do not discuss pertinent issues that are reminiscent of today’s society, you will not gain a very broad readership. So, what are strong themes or issues transpiring today? Well, there is gay marriage, war, especially the one in the Middle East, racism and terrorism. There is love and sexism and rights for women. Safe to say, one can develop a piece with futuristic themes and such, but only the writer will really be privy to such a fantasy. The reader needs something that they can understand and clearly relate to, else you ain’t gonna succeed.

Additionally, I thought another aspect of writing on my lonesome, which Michael Hyde further discussed in his second lecture. What is this you might wonder? Well, at the beginning of my first novel (the term ‘beginning’ is loosely used – basically means the entire first half) I dominated my characters. I ruled over them with an iron fist! I wanted each and every one of them to live up to the notions and developments that I had conceived in my mind, and nothing was gonna get in my way from having them end up the way I wanted them to. However, by the second half of the piece I had altered my train of thought and relieved my characters of my ruling and allowed them to run free across the page. What did I learn from this experience? If you sit back, your characters will do everything for you – all you need to do is write it down. The freedom my characters had from this point onwards guaranteed them change from my initial plan that I had scheduled for their futures and changed many of the conclusions I had initially conceived.

I also happened to unfortunately find when I tried to publish this first novel of mine that I had just chosen to write in the one genre that I probably shouldn’t have. Yes, sci-fi is a very well rounded and broad subject that is enjoyable around the world; the problem? At least half, if not more Australian publishers are scared shitless of publishing sci-fi because it could blow up in their faces! Why/how did I not know this when I first began? SHIT! Anyway, instead of giving up ion such a genre or reinventing parts of the novel, I decided to move onto the development of another sci-fi oriented piece – which I am still developing to this very day.

True, probably not one of the most intelligible of things to do since I knew what to expect from the industry, but there was one more thing I was counting on; the experience I had been told that was a necessity for me back when I was fourteen…I was, and still am, attempting to acquire it. I’m in my third and final year of my undergraduate university course, but I have no intention of stopping there. Next, I wish to complete my masters, and then my doctorate, and then I can be Dr. Naughty Nefarious! However, what I am really aiming for is plain and simple professional courtesy – if I have gone all the way to gain a doctorate (that is if I succeed, which I hope to do so), I am hoping to look pretty darn respectable. I mean, how many people in total within Australia have gone on to gain doctorates? I don’t mean to seem pretentious or egotistical, but I am hoping this may provide to me a bonus, as to allow me to stand out from the other hopeful writers of tomorrow.

In the meantime though, what can I possibly do? Well, that is where the Gift/Curse part of the headline comes into play…one can gain a university degree, or go on to complete their postgrad, but all of this comes at a price. And I don’t just mean economically, although that is gonna be one helluva issue whine it comes time for me to pay off the rotten bastard of a tab that I have wafting over my head like a dark, angry storm cloud. No, I of course mean professionally. If one is after a job after attaining such qualifications and is unable to gain one in their intended industry, what next? That is the problem, because ‘what next’ is a great, big puddle of utter nothingness. Employers not in the field of study one has accomplished want NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU! Why not? One, you are too over qualified. Actually, that is basically the one and only point. Due to this, you will constantly be searching for another occupation – one in your chosen felid that you explicitly studied for, and once you acquire that dream job, you will leave the one you currently have. Employers don’t want to put time and investment into a worker who will inevitably leave – no, they want someone they can train and bend to their every whim like to an able pet. So, gaining one’s dream educational qualification is all well and good, but it will ultimately prohibit oneself from gaining an employment- anywhere but in their chosen field, and if the job you seek is not hiring, well, to be blunt – you’re fucked!

Naughty Nefarious, signing off!