Writing Applications: HARDCOPY 2014 feedback that may help your literary applications

‘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
    • originality
    • please note: this feedback is intended as a guide. There are endless ways to write and be published. 

Acknowledgements

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.

 

Highlights from The Emerging Writer’s Festival – 5×5 Rules of Writing

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In quite possibly the most inspirational (and most tweeted) event to date, each of the five Emerging Writers’ Festival ambassadors shared five rules of writing they wish they had known when they were emerging writers. The session was hosted by the Director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, Sam Twyford-Moore. Here are a few highlights from the session.

Maxine Beneba Clarke

“When others around us rise up, we rise up.”

1. Write what you know to be true

Tell the truth as you know it to be.

2. Use your failures

The common perception is that life intrudes on writing, but there are short stories everywhere. Do you work in retail? Write a poem about a shopping receipt.

3. Throw your hat in the ring

You never know what might happen! Maxine submitted Foreign Soil on the very last day of the 2013 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.

4. Stay in the sweet spot

It took Maxine a long time to find the style and type of content that she was happy with. You will know what the sweet spot is when you’ve reached it. Hang on to it. Trust in it. Write for that sweet spot, not for success.

5. Community

Writing is such a solitary thing. Make connections. Join a writers’ group. Attend festivals. Maxine discovered writers who share her interests and enrich her own writing through her involvement at the Emerging Writers’ Festival.

Felix Nobis

“The writing must always win out.”

1. Publishing doesn’t always happen with the written word

Success can be achieved through recordings and performance. Felix’s writing emerged through spoken word poetry scene.

2.  Avoid tension between writing and publishability

The writing must always win out. Felix abandoned projects because he felt they weren’t publishable. If the writing is good and you let it be what it wants to be, then the right form of publishing will emerge.

3. Be a good manager to yourself

Get informed about everything – local, state and international grants, commissions, competitions.

3. A grant application is never a place to demonstrate one’s creative writing skills

Take your writer’s hat off and put your manager’s hat on. Meet all of the criteria.

4. Know what you are asking, when asking someone to read your work

Know why you are asking someone to read your work. Be clear in why and what you are hoping to hear from them. If you give your work to someone you respect, then respect the feedback they give you.

5. Be aware of how you write best and then make time for it

Felix does the best writing on the train from Melbourne to Sydney. Find the time and place that works best for you, and write – it’s the only way we can beat the notion that writing is something we do on the side.

Krissy Kneen

“Fuck everyone else. Now it’s personal.”

1. It’s easier to write a bad first draft and make it better than to face a blank page

You’re going to hit a rough patch. Your novel will fall apart. This tends to happen around the 20,000 word mark – the story and characters have been set up and something has to happen to steer the story in a different direction. You will be tempted to ditch your manuscript and start on other ideas, but these other stories will also fall apart.

2. Be careful what you read

Books can feed our souls or suck us dry. ‘Read up’. Read books that stretch beyond your reach; these books will open new possibilities for your own writing.

3. Develop a split personality

Half of you needs to be business and the other half needs to be the writer. The business person needs to be aware of what is being published and winning awards. Be informed and realistic – 2,000 copies are decent sales in the Australian market, but they won’t make you rich. Know all this and then forget about it when you write. As the writer, the only contact is between you and the words on the page – you are a market of one. ‘Fuck everyone else, now it’s personal’.

4. ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise’

Be nice to everyone! Australia is a tiny industry. Buy all your books that your friends write, and they will buy yours. Buy your books at your local bookseller – Amazon doesn’t care what books you buy, but Readings does.

5. Step away from Goodreads

Everyone is on Goodreads and everyone is a critic. Fine. Just don’t read reviews about your work. Free-for-all review sites are filled with illiterate trolls. Krissy read out examples of an everyman critic, including the following review of The Tempest by William Shakespeare: ‘The Tempest is an outdated attempt at a sci-fi story’. Krissy quoted The Guardian journalist, Van Badham: ‘comments are what chronic pig masturbators do with their other hand’.

 Benjamin Law

“All writing is vomiting, then cleaning it up.”

1. Break your goal down

The life of a writer is not conducive to mental health. Set weekly, daily and hourly goals. You need to be able to congratulate yourself at the end of each day.

2. Never be without ideas

Your ideas are your currency. Generate your ideas. Join a book club. Carry a notebook. Put your ideas down, otherwise you’ll forget them.

3. Exercise

There is strong correspondence between moving your body and moving your brain. Whenever you have writers’ block, move!

4. Get an accountant

Know your rights as an artist, and what you can claim. Put a percentage of money earned away for tax purposes. Seek out and meet with an arts accountant – it will cost you in the short term, but will help you save in the long term.

5. Choose your projects wisely

When just starting out, we try to do everything. Work for free knowing what you want to get out of it, then get out. Keep moving forward. Benjamin referenced Laurie Anderson, an American composer and musician, who believes you should only pursue a writing venture if you can say yes to at least two of the following questions: is it fun? Is it interesting? Will it make money?

Hannah Kent 

“Write from the soul.”

 1. To be a good writer, you need to be a good reader

Ask yourself why you love a particular book, and then read it again. Read everything. Before you work out what you like, you need to work out what you don’t like. The more words you know, the greater control you have over your own language. Buy books. If you can’t afford new books, buy second-hand. If you can’t afford second-hand books, get a library card. Get a library card, anyway. If Hannah is struggling with her writing and needs some inspiration, she reads.

2. Cultivate empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share with others. Empathetic people have keener insight into the human heart. Empathy will help you forget yourself, so you can write about others.  An empathetic writer will be able to create character motivation and background. ‘Every person is the protagonist in their own life’. Every person wants something. People watch. Conflict arises when these desires cannot be met.

3. Work hard

Raw talent doesn’t count for much without hard work. If you want to write, you have to be disciplined. You have to learn to write even when you are completely uninspired. Maintain a professional attitude. Hold yourself accountable. Be respectful, considered and well-mannered. Be diligent. Be industrious.

4. Don’t wait until you feel ready to write – start now

Expect writing to be difficult. Understand that writing is solitary and plagued with self-doubt. So much of writing is necessarily uncertain and unexplained. Be patient with yourself, and accept difficulties as part of the writing process. Be brave and do it anyway. It is actually writings difficulty which makes it beautiful.

5. Write from the soul

A place that is wholly yourself. Write from a place which moves you. Write about something that means something to you, or write about a meaning that you’re searching for. You’ll know that you’re writing from the soul, because writing will become the reward.

Reproduced with permission from Emerging Writer's Festival

How to grab the attention of a publisher (and keep it) – The Emerging Writers’ Festival and ‘The Pitch’

The Wheeler Centre was packed out with emerging artists keen to maximise their chances of a successful pitch

The Wheeler Centre was packed out with emerging artists keen to maximise their chances of a successful pitch

How do you grab the attention of a publisher (and keep it)? This was the over-arching question posed to panellists of The Pitch. The Emerging Writers’ Festival session was fittingly chaired by writer Nina Gibb, who is in the midst of Pitch Frenzy, 50 pitches/submissions/proposals in 11 days.

The first panellist to be introduced was Vanessa Radnidge, Publisher at Hachette Australia. Hachette accept unsolicited manuscripts, but prioritise agent submissions. All submissions (including unsolicited) are read, but Hachette do not necessarily read the entire submission. Vanessa offered a few tips for writers:

  1. Read widely in the genre to gain an awareness of, and display a passion for, your chosen genre. Read outside the genre to help foster your own writing skills.
  2. Resist the urge to send off your manuscript to publishers as soon as you’ve written that last sentence. After you’ve completed a full draft, step away from your manuscript and let it breathe.
  3. Proof read your work. Don’t do it on screen.
  4. When sending off a manuscript to publishers, include the following:
    • An author bio
    • 300 words describing the work (read book blurbs to get a sense of eye-catching summaries)
    • Detailed synopsis (1 page at the most)

Acknowledging the hard slog faced by writers, Vanessa urged artists to take time to celebrate the achievements and to not be disheartened by rejection. ‘If you love your writing, write’.

Next up was Patrick Lenton, Digital Marketer at Momentum Books. Momentum primarily publish genre fiction (owing to strong online demand), and look closely at authors who have a strong online presence (Patrick cited blogs, Twitter and online networks such as Goodreads as great platforms).  Being a digital publisher, Momentum have an opportunity to experiment and take on new writers. While there is a chance that Pan Macmillan may acquire a Momentum title and release a print publication, the main priority of Momentum is strong global digital sales. Manuscripts do not need to have an Australian setting, as Momentum sell e-books globally.

Sam Cooney, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Lifted Brow , is on the look-out for innovative and experimental narratives that are ‘more than text on the page or on the screen’. He told the audience ‘if you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not challenging your reader’. Sam believes it is better to know a publisher, and to submit work to one or two publishers, than to send work to a multitude of publishers.  When submitting via email, Sam recommends limiting your amazing personality to the first line of your email and let your manuscript showcase your talents.

Julia Carlomagno, Scribe editor and co-founder of Harvest, looks for three things in a manuscript:

  1. Distinctive voice
  2. Quality of the writing
  3. Strength of the idea

Julia urged writers not to be drawn in by the prospect of large advances, because if you don’t earn your advance in sales, all publishers who look on Bookscan (and they all do) will notice. Julia warned writers against comparing themselves to, and getting dismayed by, author marketing on social media. ‘Put the work first. Write because you want to write, because you have something to say. Eventually the work will find its way.’

A few highlights from audience question time

Q: What state of polish is acceptable?

Julia will consider a manuscript if it was a strong voice, but not if it’s really poorly presented to the extent that it compromises the legibility.

Sam stressed ‘if the grammar gets in the way, you’re just putting one more hurdle in the way between you and the reader’. Writers need to be aware, and follow, submission guidelines.

Patrick reminded writers of the financial costs involved in helping polish a work. Momentum may be willing to fork out for a structural edit.

Q. What can get a manuscript over the line?

Nina suggested writers keep an eye out for manuscript development opportunities with various arts organisations.

Patrick told the audience to be aware of a saturated market.

Vanessa asked writers to consider the possibility that if a manuscript isn’t successful, then perhaps it won’t be the break-out novel. Move on to your next manuscript.

Q. What tips do you have for pitching in person?

Patrick recommended being bold and direct with your pitch. Give the publisher/agent a tangible description.

Sam told writers to ask themselves ‘what makes it different to anything else? Why do you believe your work deserves to be published?’

Q. What advice do you have for literary speed dating? What do you want to hear?

Vanessa wants to know the hook. Why should I want to read it?

Julia looks out for a strong story, and writers who have an awareness of their potential readership.

Sam wants to know why you are the best placed person to tell this story. What unique perspective do you have to offer? He looks for signs of sustained interest from the writer. Sam said to remember that it is a conversation – plan what you’re going to say; have cue-cards if you need, but don’t recite from slabs of text.

Q. Do writers need to define their manuscripts by sub-genres?

Patrick informed the audience that sub genres are used as meta-data in digital publishing, enabling readers to more closely choose what they want to read.

Sam said if you strongly pitch the story, the editor/publisher will be able to sub-categorise the manuscript themselves.

Vanessa needs to describe a manuscript to the Publishing Director/CEO in a maximum of two to three lines. The author needs a hook that can be relayed to the bookshop owner. Catch someone’s attention.

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