‘Every success I’ve ever had has come wrapped in a gift-box of failure.’ – The Failurist: Marcus Zusak, TEDx Sydney
Growing up, ‘pass the parcel’ was my favourite party game. I don’t ever remember winning it. Maybe I was too busy, crying into the sleeve of my Rainbow Bright t-shirt as another child tore a layer of newspaper away to reveal a tantalising mini Milky Way bar, to learn from failure and form a complex strategy in anticipation of the ever-shrinking parcel coming my way. But, I’ve changed since then. For one thing, my Rainbow Bright t-shirt doesn’t fit me any more. Secondly, I’m determined to learn from failure, rather than wallow in it.
Earlier this year I applied for the 2014 Fiction Edition of Hardcopy, a professional development program run by ACT Writers Centre and funded by the Australia Council. My application was unsuccessful. I could go into more detail about what the PD involves, but that will most likely result in wallowing, and you didn’t come here to get a mental picture as to what my ugly cry looks like, so click here to find out more. Aaaaanyway, I’m going to share with you the general feedback provided to unsuccessful round 1 applicants. I hope this proves helpful with your own work.
The Expression of Interest
- Closely follow the application instructions, e.g. if you are asked for all materials to be submitted in 12-point Times New Roman, make sure that’s what you submit
- Your writing skills are on display through all elements of your application – email correspondence, the expression of interest, the manuscript itself
- Don’t be overly conversational – writing (and publishing) is a serious business
- eliminate all spelling and typographical errors
- in terms of describing your work or your work in progress, keep to the facts – we don’t need to know about your personal life (unless you think it is absolutely essential to your application and/or manuscript)
- in terms of your biographical statement, make sure all the key details are included, e.g. publishing history, award, residencies, courses completed, mentorships – in general, showing that you’ve been steadily working away at your writing is a good thing
- don’t use any kind of clip-art in an effort to enhance your application – we’re only interested in your skills with words
- don’t try to be clever, e.g. don’t refer to yourself in the third-person
- don’t talk yourself up, don’t talk yourself down – just keep all elements of your writing clear and succinct
- your synopsis – is it coherent and engaging, would it engage an agent/publisher, who is likely to be extremely busy?
- ask a trusted colleague to read a draft of your application – was everything easily understood?
- double check your application before submitting – have you provided all that’s requested?
- overall, be patient with your development as a writer – it can take years, if not decades to achieve your goals, especially in terms of writing fiction
- you may wish to engage with your local writers centre and attend workshops and master-classes, or seek an assessment of your manuscript
The manuscripts that were judged successful had:
- a clear and coherent narrative
- interesting characters that came alive on the page
- an engaging story that started in the right place
- a hook – conflict and/or tension – in the early pages to entice readers
- a strong voice (the ’emotional colour’ of the work)
- evidence of writing craft – a fine choice of words and an understanding of sentence structure/development
- excellent grammar and punctuation
- consistency of point of view and tense
- evidence of the writer taking care with their work
- a good sense of the project and evidence of the writer having a close connection to the project
- an avoidance of cliché
- please note: this feedback is intended as a guide. There are endless ways to write and be published.
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.
‘HARDCOPY Feedback to round 1 applications’ reproduced with permission from ACT Writers Centre.