Monday musings on Australian literature: GenreCon 2017 by Tweet (#gcoz)

GenreCon 2017 BannerFirst off, no, I didn’t attend this year’s GenreCon which took place this weekend past in Brisbane, Queensland. However, I did see many of the tweets that emanated from attendees (using hashtag #GCoz) and found many of them extending beyond the genre focus. So, I thought I’d pass some on.

Not all tweeters identified the sessions their tweet/s related to, so I’m going to “curate” them under issues that interest me! (I will name the tweeter in brackets after their tweet. Note that the quote marks are for the tweeters’ words, which mostly comprise their summary of what they heard rather than a verbatim quote.)

But, before we get started, I’ll share my favourite tweet. It quotes Garth Nix on being an introvert at conferences:

“I just pretend to be the kind of person who likes to talk to people”. (Aiki Flinthart)

For writers

GenreCon is clearly geared to writers more than readers. Consequently the program included sessions like Writing Through Fear with Anna Campbell and Top Ten Tricks and Traps of Publishing Contracts with Alex Adsett, and discussion panels like What Every Writer Ought to Know about their Book Cover.

Tweeters shared advice on how to work within a “genre”, on the need to “know” your genre and its practitioners, and on what to do when your book is published, but I’ll leave those. You can check the hashtag yourself if you are interested. For readers here I’ve chosen other topics …

Americanising text

This is a controversial issue I’ve discussed with Lisa (ANZLitLovers) recently on her blog when she reported on the AALITRA Symposium. I’m not sure who originated the comment, I’m sharing here, but it makes a point: “Nothing throws someone out of a story like a misplaced thong” (Lynette Haines). Or a rubber! I guess tolerance for “Americanisation” depends on the audience you want to attract.

Book covers

Now this is another issue that can get hackles raised, though this didn’t come through in the GenreCon tweets. However, the point made by Escape Publishing/Harlequin publisher, Kate Cuthbert, is interesting:

“Covers are not about the image, they’re about the emotions they evoke” (Jess Irwin).

Cuthbert also apparently said that “Big W accounts for about 40% of Australian book sales, so if they come back and say they won’t stock a book with that cover, you change the cover” (Josh Melican).

And, most worryingly, Cuthbert said that  “Genre fiction has a representational problem which needs to be addressed. If you put a non-white character on the cover, it doesn’t sell as well. That’s a financial reality, but it’s shit. @katydidinoz [ie Kate Cuthbert] has refused to white-wash covers in the past” (Josh Melican).


Angela Slatter, VigilAuthor Angela Slatter discussed awards in her plenary address, which she has now posted on her blog. One tweeter wrote: “The talented @AngelaSlatter discusses the ‘award-effect’ (and reminds us that everyone’s trajectory is different and your journey will not be the same” (Tehani Croft). Croft shared Slatter’s slide:

  • Winning an award does NOT make you a better writer
  • Losing an award does NOT make you a worse writer
  • Awards can be useful but your career will NOT die without them

And, just to make sure the point was clear, Slatter also said “Awards garner media attention … on slow news days” (Tansy Rayner Roberts).

The market

A few other points were tweeted about the market besides the Big W figure above. Most came from the literary agent Alex Adsett. She commented on “the energy put into international rights sales by smaller publishers like Text, particularly compared to less active and larger publishers” (PopFic Doctors). I’m certainly aware through overseas bloggers like Kim (Reading Matters) and Guy (His Futile Preoccupations) that Text is active in promoting their books in England and the USA. They are an inspiring publisher.

Adsett also discussed audiobooks, advising that “Authors retaining audiobook rights is becoming a dealbreaker for big publishers over the last 18 months because of how big audiobooks are becoming” (Claire Parnell). PopFic Doctors tweeted that “audiobooks now account for 1% of the market, which is BIG”. One per cent doesn’t sound big to me, but seems it is.

And finally, also from Adsett, is a comment about genre identification: “Many publishers won’t take horror so Alex will pitch as dark fantasy; can genre be spun as literary?” (Rivqa Rafael). Adsett apparently also said that in Australia, writers don’t need an agent, unlike in the USA, but I wonder if authors, on their own, would all know these finer nuances of pitching? As for Rafael’s question regarding whether “genre can be spun as literary”, I’d say yes, but therein hangs a tale for another day I think.

On writing

There were many sessions on the craft of writing, such as writing fight scenes (for women), developing characters, and writing sex and sexuality in the twenty-first century.

American author Delilah Dawson spoke about writing characters: “Delilah Dawson’s cheat sheet of quick ‘charisma points’ for characters: loyalty, wry humour, nice to kids, kind to animals, artistic in some way” (Jess Irwin) and “Delilah Dawson finds out what your characters most want and what they fear most and this feeds into the climax” (Leife Shallcross).

Fiji-born New Zealand writer Nalini Singh’s comment on how to handle hard times in writing was tweeted by many who loved her idea of “squirrels”: “I’m a big fan of having ‘play projects’ aka ‘squirrels’ (you’re working on a hard part in your main project & ‘ooh, squirrel!’) … having these side projects gets you off the treadmill … see where the squirrel leads you … keep it secret to avoid stress.” (Angela Meyer)

Claire G Coleman, Terra NulliusAnother writer who was frequently tweeted was debut indigenous Australian author, Claire G Coleman (Terra nullius). She clearly had a fresh way of saying things, such as this on inspiration: “A lightning bolt of inspiration is when something in one part of your brain collides with something in another part of your brain and they have babies (Tehani Croft). And this on editing: “Nobody finishes editing. Someone just takes it off you one day” (Narrelle Harris). I can relate to that! I often fiddle with my blog posts long after they’ve been published. Author Emma Viskic also entertained with her comment on editing: “I did kill them, or as I like to say: sent them to the farm to play with other happy words” (Elizabeth McKewin). Love it!

And finally, I liked this one on rules, from the aforementioned Adsett:

“if you’re good enough you can break the rules … but you have to show you know what the rules are” (Tansy Rayner Roberts)

On diversity

Several tweets discussed the issue of diversity. It was clearly a big issue at the conference. There were discussions about Romance fiction, whose popularity is increasing, including more diverse characters. Romance writer Jodi McAlister said that “we’re seeing many more narratives for queer characters beyond the coming out narrative. Queer characters are getting love stories as well as stories about dragons and adventures where it’s not about the character being queer, it’s just who they are” (Claire Parnell). In other words, “You shouldn’t need a reason to include diverse characters…” (Daniel de Lorne)

McAlister also said very pointedly that “Those seen as worthy of love in our love stories tells a lot about what our culture values” (Kali Napier). That’s also worth its own post.

Finally, the issue of how to write these diverse characters came up – relating to that issue we’ve discussed here many times regarding white writers writing black characters. Adsett tweeted Claire G. Coleman’s advice: “Don’t write any diverse character you haven’t had a coffee with, aren’t friends with”.

Creative Native, not an attendee I think, didn’t much like this advice, tweeting: “Plenty of people have ‘had a coffee’ or were friends w[ith] Native, disabled, Bipolar, Autistic, Fat me yet still managed to spout harmful nonsense.” Fair enough. It takes more than one coffee, but I suspect Coleman wasn’t being quite that simple. However, Creative Native did give good advice to writers: “Get a Sensitivity Reader w[ith] the marginalised identity/identites you’re writing about – & deal honestly w[ith] criticism (!!!)”. Which is exactly the approach I’ve come to think best …

Phew, this ended up being way longer than I planned. Hopefully my headings and highlighting have enabled you to pick out what interests you without having to read it all!

Did anything interest you?

35 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: GenreCon 2017 by Tweet (#gcoz)

  1. What an interesting combination of material. And if it ended up being longer than you thought, I bet it also took a lot longer to assemble than you anticipated. Summary posts of events can be very time consuming (but also sometimes help organize one’s thoughts and responses too). I like the variety of responses to the idea of awards and their impact on one’s career. And I agree that the comment about knowing the rules and demonstrating that knowledge before stepping away from them is a good one!

    • Haha Buried, it sure did. I thought it would be a quick one but of course it wasn’t. But I have got a lot out of it, and it seems people here have too. I’m so glad you and others are commenting on the ideas that popped out most for you. I loved seeing that one about rules articulated.

  2. Thank you very much for this post, Sue. I enjoyed it and I can see that you must have spent a lot of time on it. It is an enligtening blog. Thank you.

    I am reading a YA novel called ‘The Upside of Unrequited’, written by Becky Albertalli. It is beautifully diverse. The protagonist’s parents are moms, her twin dates a Korean-American girl who is pansexual, and our heroine likes little things like being around mason jars. The diversity sounds organic and I love how the author tells me little things about her people. That matters a lot to me. Like you quote in this post. If the character is funny, kind to children and animals… I look for such teeny-weeny things in books.

    • Thanks Deepika, that YA book sounds great and as if the author knows her characters. And, I’m like you, I really can enjoy the teeny-weeny things. They are often what I enjoy most in movies and can result in my liking a movie others looking at the big picture.

  3. Fantastic post with oodles and oodles of relevant information. I was also following Genre Con on twitter – how different the Australian market is to the overseas markets. In what we consider an international economy with the advent of the internet, Australia is still very much in its infancy. Australian authors still make 10% to American authors (a statistical generalisation) but am glad to see it is slowly changing for the better. It was sad to hear about diversity in Australia – while it is trending big time overseas, it is still a hard sell in Australia.
    There was such a plethora of great information – I think I’ll be wading through it for weeks to come. I really appreciate your blog post and the topics you’ve touched on. Always an insightful writer 😉

  4. Great post, Sue. Thanks for your curated account. I had the great fortune to attend GenreCon a couple of years ago and it’s a terrific event for networking and inspiration.

    Just one correction: Alex Adsett is a she (not he) – actually a distant cousin of mine!

    • Oh thanks Angela. I will correct that in the post. How terrible that I didn’t check. So many of the presenters seemed to women, except of course Garth Nix, while the tweeters, from what I could tell were more diverse, gender wise at least.

      Anyhow, it sure comes across as a vibrant conference.

    • Yes, exactly Lisa. I just loved how simply and succinctly she put it. Makes you stop and think from a slightly different angle about some of the “cover” issues we’ve discussed before.

  5. Some of you will know the famous beach scene by Charles MEERE then re-worked – twice (an update on her original) by Anne ZAHALKA – The Bathers. When her first version came out I was about to have a couple of text/anthologies published by OUP (Melbourne) and thought I might be able to suggest Anne’s work as the cover for one, Made in Australia (an Indigenous/culturally diverse Australia – naturally). I went to see her – she was holding an exhibition of her photography at the Bondi Pavilion. OUP informed me they had their own in-house artist – and while the illustrator did a fine job – the covers complementing each other – it was not exactly drawing the attention in quite the way I would have wished. Some time later when in touch with Anne she made the point that the book cover on which it had appeared was not exactly connected to that book’s content. That she was herself somewhat dissatisfied. As have I been – for nearly 30 years now – whenever I think of it. This is an excellent post WG – thank-you.

  6. Damn you auto-correct! At the Bondi Pavilion!!!!!

    And one for wadholloway – try Tony Hillerman (1925-2008) detective stories – best known for his Navajo Tribal Police novels. Our bridesmaid had a year on exchange to Colorado – passed on one or two of his novels – I was suddenly hooked – think social justice and cultural familiarity/fluency.

  7. All very interesting, Sue. I agree, 1% doesn’t sound very big to me either. A few of my friends rave about listening to Podcasts, so I think they may be bigger than audio books. I do judge books by their covers, they draw me in. However, if I don’t like the blurb I won’t read it.

    • Thanks Meg. I must say I wondered whether that 1% was a typo? Your reaction to covers makes sense ie re being attracted but then checking the blurb. Can you say what makes a cover attractive or not to you?

  8. Hi Sue, words of the title catch me and a striking image or artwork. Surprisingly though my my eyes always find my favourite authors. , .

    • Funny that – re author’s name, I mean Meg! Thanks for responding. I asked because of that comment re Covers appealing to emotions. When I go into a bookshop, I scan my eyes over the new releases displays, and unless I’m looking for a particular book that I’ve heard of, it is I guess the covers that grab my attention, but I do try to focus on author at the same time. I know I gloss over romantic looking covers or covers that are too busy with detail, and am probably most attracted to modern looking covers – fresh, bright or strong (you don’t want a book that’s a difficult subject being bright, necessarily!), or a little mysterious looking. Retro can appeal too, but it depends a bit on how well its done. I tend to prefer minimalist, and I like the author’s name to be clear! Of recent books I think The museum of modern love, and The hate race, are both great covers. (But that’s off the top of my head.) How much of these responses is emotional, though, is an interesting question, and perhaps I’m not qualified to answer – perhaps what I think I’m doing and what I am really doing are two different things!!

  9. I avoid romantic covers, but it is an emotional response in what we see – or think we see! I could be guilty here of being biased, but I do love Helen Garner’s book cover of her memoir Everywhere I Look. Like her it is direct!

  10. The squirrel bit made me laugh. At my house it’s “oh look a chicken!” and that was even before there were real live chickens! Also, genre can totally be pitched as literary, Margaret Atwood and several other literary authors do it all the time. Sounds like a good conference.

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