Monday musings on Australian literature: Untapped (The Australian Literary Heritage Project)

I have Lisa (ANZLitLovers) to thank for this Monday Musings because, commenting on my recent Margaret Barbalet post, she mentioned this Untapped project, which, embarrassingly, was unknown to me. Then, seeing our discussion, novelist Dorothy Johnston joined in, and offered to send me some information, which she did. So, I now have a copy of the launch announcement press release. This eased my embarrassment a little, as the project was announced two months ago, on 18 November 2021, and was launched on 6 December (at this gala event). Easy to miss, says she, at such a busy time of year!

Yes, yes, but what is it, I hear you all saying? Essentially, Untapped aims “to identify Australia’s lost literary treasures and bring them back to life”. In other words, it’s about bringing to the fore again those books that have been published in the past but are now out-of-print. The books are produced in eBook format, and are available for borrowing from libraries and purchase from several eBooksellers.

I like that it’s “a collaboration between authors, libraries and researchers”, and that “it creates a new income source for Australian authors, who currently have few options for getting their out-of-print titles available in libraries”. The project has some significant partners, including the Australian Society of Authors, National State and Territory Libraries, the Australian Library and Information Association and Ligature Press. 

What a visionary and practical project. I am particularly thrilled about it because it ties in somewhat with our reframing this year of the Australian Women Writers Challenge (AWW) to focus on forgotten and past women writers. The two activities don’t completely align: the new AWW is focusing on works published fifty or more years ago, whereas Untapped focuses on books that have gone out of print, and many of these are far more recent than 50 years old.

On the Untapped website, linked above, they have clearly outlined the steps:

  1. Identify missing books: it seems that the current collection comprises 161 books, which they describe as an “inclusive and diverse selection of lost books in need of rescue”.
  2. Find the authors and obtain the rights: this, I imagine, would have been particularly time consuming, tracking down the appropriate people to deal with – authors, estates and/or literary agents.
  3. Digitise the works: this involved scanning, then using OCR to convert the text, followed by careful proof-reading and scan quality checking. For this proofreading they focused on “hiring arts workers affected by COVID”. Then there’s all the work involved in (digital) publication, including design, metadata, royalty accounting, and uploading onto the library lending and other platforms.
  4. Promote the collection: this is where the libraries come into their own, promoting the collection in their various ways, and ensuring payment to the authors. Dorothy Johnston mentioned in her comment on my post that “we’re hoping to generate some publicity through the Geelong Regional Libraries this year”. She’d love to find any other “current or past writers living in or writing about Geelong” who might be covered by the collection. If you live in Geelong, keep an eye out for this.
  5. Collect the data and crunch the numbers: like any good project, its managers will analyse the sales and loan data. Their aim is “to understand the value of out-of-print rights to authors, the value of libraries’ book promotion efforts, and the relationship between library lending and sales”. They will feed this data, they say, “into public policy discussions about how we can best support Australian authors and literary culture”. They also hope the project might encourage new interest from commercial publishers. This research aspect is led by Rebecca Giblin, Associate Professor of Law, University of Melbourne.

As I understand it, the initial project involves this collection of 161 books, and the research will be based on this, but having created the infrastructure, they plan to “keep rescuing lost literary treasures” for as long as they have the resources to do so. The books will also be lodged at the National Library as part of its e-deposit scheme, ensuring that they’ll be available “for as long as libraries exist”.

It’s a great initiative that will spotlight work from beloved Australian authors and provide new access to those works. (Olivia Lanchester, CEO, Australian Society of Authors from Press Release)

The books

When Lisa mentioned the project, it was to say she’d bought Margaret Barbalet’s non-fiction book, Low gutter girl: The forgotten world of state wards, South Australia, 1887–1940. So, curious, I checked the site out, and bought Canberra tales, the anthology of short stories by Canberra’s Seven Writers (Margaret Barbalet, Sara Dowse, Suzanne Edgar, Marian Eldridge, Marion Halligan, Dorothy Horsfield, Dorothy Johnston) .

However, Lisa’s purchase should tell you something interesting about the collection, which is that it contains not only fiction. It includes a wide range of genres and forms, including novels, histories, memoirs, and poetry. The project also wanted a diverse collection, so there are works by First Nations author Anita Heiss, Greek-born Vogel/The Australian award winning author Jim Sakkas, and Lebanese-born writer and academic Abbas El-Zein, to name a few. Their books are all 21st century, but, there are also significantly older books, like Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Intimate strangers (1937) and M. Barnard Eldershaw’s Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow (1947).

I thought, of course, to check my own library, the ACT Library Service, and found an announcement on their website. Not surprisingly, they draw attention to a Canberra connection, as Johnston would like to do in Geelong:

The books include some with a connection to Canberra, through the author or substantial Canberra-related content. For example: The golden dress by Marion Halligan, One for the master by Dorothy Johnston, The moth hunters by Josephine Flood, The schoonermaster’s dance by Alan Gould, and others.

I should add that all of Canberra’s Seven Writers are included.

So, a wonderful project. The question is, will it achieve its goal of ensuring the long tail of authors’ works stay available in a world where money not culture rules?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Allen & Unwin’s House of Books

I have written a few posts over the years on the publishing of Australian classics, including one in 2014 in which I mentioned Allen & Unwin’s Australian Classics series. That series seems to have disappeared, but the publisher does have another initiative, House of Books.

Here is what Allen & Unwin say about this series (or, imprint):

The House of Books aims to bring Australia’s cultural and literary heritage to a broad audience by creating affordable print and ebook editions of the nation’s most significant and enduring writers and their work. The fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry of generations of Australian writers published before the advent of ebooks will now be available to new readers, alongside a selection of more recently published books.

The House of Books is an eloquent collection of Australia’s finest literary achievements, and the digital revolution is helping bring us all closer to the books and writers of Australia’s literary tradition.

The House of Books makes accessible a library of authors and their books at affordable prices to a whole new readership. Some books have long been out of print, some have recently slipped into oblivion but the House of Books should be the first stop for all readers of Australian fiction and non-fiction.

I can’t find out much about the history of all this, because the books listed on their House of Books page all seem to have been “published” over 2012, 2 years before I wrote my post referencing the now apparently defunct Australian Classics series in 2014. Does “House of Books” now include rebadged “Australian Classics”. Seems likely.

What makes this imprint interesting is that it uses a slightly different publishing model. All books, they say, “will be available simultaneously as ebooks and print editions (using POD  – print on demand technology)”. This means, of course, that bookshops don’t have to carry expensive stock of book titles likely to have low throughput.

So, I decided to test out whether these books – around 90 of them and all, as far as my random checks can tell, published eight years ago now – are still available. First, I went to Readings (online), because it is mentioned on the page as a source. I searched for a few of the titles and they all said “This item is not currently in-stock, but it’s available to order online.” So, I ordered a Thea Astley print version, and, well, so far, so good! I haven’t got it yet, but, fingers crossed it will arrive.

Book coverI then checked Booktopia, which is also listed on the page as a source. I searched for Eleanor Dark’s Prelude to Christopher. They provided this message: “This product is printed on demand when you place your order, and is not refundable if you change your mind or are unhappy with the contents. Please only order if you are certain this is the correct product, or contact our customer service team for more information”. Readings didn’t say this, but I’m presuming their copy will be POD too.

The prices seem to range mostly from $14.99 to $19.99, though some are more expensive.

House of Books books

But now, what you’ve been waiting for – if you haven’t clicked on the link above already – that is, something about the books available. They are listed in a strange order – alphabetical by title, with all book titles starting with “A” appearing under “A”, and “The” titles under “T”. Really? For me, the best order would be by author, so I could see, for example, all the Astleys they have, all the Cusacks, and so on. Also, very few of the book descriptions include original publication date which pedantic me would really like to know!

Book coverWhinge aside, the list is an exciting albeit serendipitous one, including many books barely remembered these days. There are, for example, Kylie Tennant’s memoir The man on the headland, and her autobiography, The missing heir. There are four by Thea Astley, eight by Dymphna Cusack (including the Newcastle-set Southern steel, which interests me), and four by Xavier Herbert.

Book coverOther treasures, in terms of their place in Australian literary culture, include Dal Stivens’ 1951 political (and debut) novel, Jimmy Brockett. Stivens is little known now, but, as Wikipedia tells, he won the Miles Franklin Award in 1970 for A Horse of Air, was awarded the Patrick White Award in 1981 for his contribution to Australian literature, and in 1994, he was given a Special Achievement Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

Book coverAs you’ll have realised from the Tennants above, the books include non-fiction, like Australian historian Russell Ward’s memoir, A radical life. There are also books of poetry, such as AD Hope’s Selected poems, and short story collections.

More contemporary writers in the list include Nick Earls and Mandy Sayer (both born, coincidentally, in 1963).

I’d love to know if any of my Australian readers know of this series? The cover style is a little familiar to me, but I am certainly not as aware of them in the shops as I am of the wonderful Text Australian Classics series. My guess is that this is due to the publishing model they are using. Any comments?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Author blogs on the publishing journey

Most readers, not to mention aspiring authors, love hearing about the writing and publishing process authors go through. What inspired their book? How did they go about writing it and were there any hiccoughs along the way? How hard was it to get an agent and/or publisher? What role did the publisher/editor have in shaping the final product? And, once the book is out, how did the marketing/promotion journey go? How did they feel about reviews, positive and negative? These sorts of issues are often covered in book launches, and on panels and “in conversation” events at writers’ festivals, but some writers go a step further and share them via their personal blogs.

So, today, I’ve decided to share a select few of these, given I can’t possibly capture them all (even if I knew them all, or could remember all those I’ve come across!) All these authors have had books published, and all have written more posts on writing than the posts I’m featuring here. In other words, I’m brazenly inviting you to explore their blogs beyond the posts I’m highlighting below.

Book coverLouise Allan

Louise, whose debut novel The sisters’ song was published in 2018, has a series on her blog called Writers in the Attic. Here she publishes guest posts from Australian authors on what it’s like to be an author. Her guests include authors well-known to me like Heather Rose (A few thoughts about writing), Favel Parrett (When fiction becomes truth), and Robyn Cadwallader (The angel among the chaos). Introducing Robyn’s post, Louise writes:

I’m always deeply grateful to the writers who contribute to Writers in the Attic. Their words never fail to give me something to think about, or bestow a nugget of wisdom or just make me feel less lonely on this torturous journey to a novel.

Book coverAmanda Curtin

Amanda, like Louise (above) and Annabel (below), is a Western Australian writer, and has published a few books, including novels Elemental and The sinkings. She has a couple of special series of posts about writing on her blog, looking up/looking down. One is called Writers ask writers (with topics like early inspirations and tools of the trade), and the other is 2, 2 and 2 (writers + new books) in which writers discuss two things about each of three aspects or ideas relevant to their new book. Two of these aspects are set – things that inspired their book and places connected with it – while the third is chosen by the author. So, for example, Brooke Davis, writing about her novel Lost and found (my review) chose 2 of her favourite secondary characters in her book, while Jenny Ackland talking about The secret son (my review) chose 2 favourite things connect with her book.

Nigel Featherstone, Bodies of menNigel Featherstone

Local author Nigel has been documenting his writing life on and off since 2009 in his creatively named blog, Under the Counter or a Flutter in the Dovecote. However, he has written a special series documenting the course of his latest novel, Bodies of men (my review). The series, called Diary of bodies, takes us from its original inspiration to his feelings about reviews and, woo hoo, being shortlisted for an award. Nigel, like many of the authors in this post, shares not only the practical, factual things about writing and publishing his book, but also his emotional journey. Nigel, a local author, has appeared several times on my blog.

Irma Gold Craig Phillips Megumi and the bear book coverIrma Gold

Irma is also local author who has appeared several times on my blog. She is a professional freelance editor who also teaches editing. She has edited an anthology, and has had a collection of short stories and children’s picture books published. She discusses all this, and many other topics related to the writer’s life on her blog. Like some of the other writers listed here, she has included in some of these posts input from other writers, such as this post on rejections, in which Anna Spargo-Ryan, Sheryl Gwyther and Ben Hobson discuss their feelings about rejections. Hobson, author of To become a whale, writes:

It sucks. But I’m saying to you: you can persevere. You’re a writer, damn it. Get off the floor and clench your fists and edit and send it out once more. You can endure. You are being refined. Collect rejections like UFC fighters collect scars; each one of those things is a mark that has created this warrior you’re becoming. Be proud. And send it out again.

Annabel Smith and Jane Rawson

Annabel Smith (from Perth) and Jane Rawson (from Melbourne) have both appeared on this blog before (see Annabel and Jane). Together, they created in 2017 a series of posts they titled What to expect, which they ran on both their blogs, Annabel and Jane. Their aim was to “dish the dirt on what happens just before, during and after your book is released”. In these posts, Annabel and Jane give their opinion – on, say, prizes or book launches – and then, mostly, also invite another author or two to contribute.

Annabel is a member of the Writers Ask Writers series of posts that Amanda also posts. She also has an Author Q&A series in which she asks writers “to answer some questions about writing and publication” and a series on How Writers Earn Money.

Book coverMichelle Scott Tucker

Michelle, like Nigel, has maintained a general litblog for many years. However, also like Nigel, she has a specific series of posts focused on her biography, Elizabeth Macarthur: A life at the edge of the world (my review). In this series, she shares both her writing and publishing journey and her post-publication experiences and events, including being shortlisted for awards.

How generous and open-hearted are these writers to share their knowledge, and to go to so much trouble to do so. I dips me lid to them. But, they are just a start. Many other authors have blogs too, offering us all sorts of delights. I plan to share more of them during 2020.

Have you read any of the blogs, or blogs like them? If so, do you enjoy them and why?

Monday musings on Australian literature: NLA Publishing, and some free e-Books

Enlighten 2014, NLA

Enlighten 2014, National Library of Australia

I was idly following links around the ‘net over the weekend and somehow ended up at NLA Publishing’s site. For those of you who don’t know, they are the publishing arm of the National Library of Australia. I first mentioned them back in 2011 when I referred to publisher Alec Bolton as the person who established the Library’s publishing program. That would have been over 40 years ago. He was a lovely man, and would surely be thrilled to see that his “baby” is still going today.

NLA Publishing is a small publisher, producing around 18 books a year. As you’d expect from a cultural institution publisher, their books draw on the Library’s collections – and they accept submissions from writers who have an idea that uses these collections. Their publications, they say, contribute to their

aims of nourishing the nation’s memory, of supporting the vitality of Australian culture and heritage, and of demonstrating a strong national focus in all of the Library’s services, products and programs.

These works “selectively interpret the Library’s collections in order to contribute to an understanding of Australian history and culture”, and are also seen as a way of disseminating and promoting the Library’s collections and services. Collecting and preserving, interpreting and disseminating is, of course, the prime function of cultural collecting institutions.

“Australian history”, defined broadly I’d say, is their main subject area, but they also cover “natural history, art, photography and literature”, and a range of children’s books including “picture books, novels and historical ‘faction’”. Their books have won, or been shortlisted for, a variety of awards.

Dymphna Cusack, A window in the darkI have bought many of their books (for myself and as gifts) over the years, and have reviewed at least one on this blog, Dymphna Cusack’s A window in the dark. Other bloggers have also reviewed their books, such as Janine’s (Resident Judge of Port Philip) review of Craig Wilcox’s Badge Boot Button: The story of Australian uniforms and Lisa’s (ANZLitLovers) review of Clive Hamilton’s What do we want: The story of protest in Australia. These are just of few of the many reviews of NLA’s books out there in cyberspace!

The exciting thing, however, is that many of their older books are now available free from the website in eBook form. Now that’s a bargain. I’ll share just a few here – literary-focused ones, naturally – to give you an idea:

  • Dymphna Cusack’s A window in the darkCusack, who also wrote novels, tells of her time as a teacher, including some of the controversies she became embroiled in while trying to offer the best, most appropriate education for her various students.
  • Rosemay Dobson: A celebration: There are several books in their Celebration series, covering such authors as Thomas Keneally, David Malouf, and Ruth Park. These small books comprise “tribute” essays on their subjects and can provide an excellent introduction to the writers. I’ve chosen the late Rosemary Dobson as my example here because as well as being a well-regarded poet, she was Alec Bolton’s wife.
  • David Foster’s (selected and introduced) Self-portraits: A selection of oral history interviews from the National Library’s wonderful Hazel Berg oral history collection. The authors Foster selected include Wilfred Burchett, David Campbell, Ion Idriess and Charmian Clift. (PS Just noticed, 10 May, that autocorrect had made her Chairman!)
  • Ann Moyal’s Alan Moorehead: A rediscovery: A biography of author, journalist, war correspondent Moorehead, who, Moyal claims, was “one of the most successful writers in English of his day” but under-recognised in his own country.
  • John Shaw Nielson’s The autobiography of John Shaw Nielson: Never published in the poet’s lifetime, the biography was included in the papers of one Harry Chaplin, a collector and “connoisseur of literary Australia”.

Presumably, over time, the list of eBooks freely available will grow, so I’ll be checking the site every now and then.

A short post this week, but I hope a useful or, at least, an interesting one.

Monday musings on Australian literature: New Australian releases for 2016

With the first month of 2016 already gone, I thought it was time I had a look around to see what new works are in the pipeline this year from our Aussie authors. This is a serendipitous list, partly because tracking down this information isn’t easy and partly because I’m more interested in providing a flavour than in being comprehensive. My main aim is simply to tantalise us all a little, so below you’ll find novels, short stories, poetry, essays and non-fiction. See what you think:

  • Larissa Behrendt’s Finding Eliza: Power and Colonial Storytelling (January 2016, University of Queensland Press) is a non-fiction work inspired by the story of Eliza Fraser, who was apparently captured by the Butchulla people after she was shipwrecked on their island in 1836. Fraser’s story has been fictionalised before. Behrendt springboards from Eliza’s story to explore how indigenous people in Australia and elsewhere have been portrayed in their colonisers’ stories.
  • David Brooks’ Napoleon’s roads (February 2016, University of Queensland Press) is the fourth collection of short stories from this writer, who is a poet and prose writer.
  • Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The hate race (August 2016, Hachette Australia) is a memoir by the author of the award-winning short story collection, Foreign soil. It’s the second of a three book deal she has with Hachette, the third one being a novel.
  • Helen Garner’s Everywhere I look (March 2016, Text Publishing) is a collection of essays. I’ve reviewed here a few books by Garner, including a novel, Cosmo Cosmolino, a book of short stories, Postcards from Surfers, and a non-fiction work, This house of grief, but I haven’t read any of her essay collections. This might be the one.
  • Patrick Holland, OnePatrick Holland’s One (April 2016, Transit Lounge) is an historical fiction about Australia’s last bushrangers. Known for his minimalist writing, Holland has written several works, including The Mary Smokes boys and Navigatio, both of which were shortlisted for various awards.
  • Fiona McFarlane’s The high places (February 2016, Hamish Hamilton) is a collection of short stories from the author of the multiply-shortlisted The night guest, which I reviewed last year.
  • Michelle Michau-Crawford’s Leaving Elvis (February 2016, University of Western Australia Publishing) is a debut collection of mostly, but not totally, linked short stories. Michau-Crawford is new to me but she won the Australian Book Review’s Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize in 2013, so this collection sounds worth checking out.
  • Meg and Tom Keneally’s The Soldier’s Curse (March 2016, Random House) is the first in The Monserrat Series (a new crime series). I wouldn’t normally include a crime book in a list like this because crime is not in my sphere of interest, but I’m including this one because it’s by Tom Keneally, who as you probably know is the Booker prize-winning author of Schindler’s ark, a Miles Franklin winning author, to name just a couple of accolades. And, also because it’s a collaborative novel with his daughter.
  • Ellen van Neerven’s Comfort food (May 2016, University of Queensland Press) is a book of poetry by the author of the award-winning Heat and light and the short story Sweetest thing, both of which I’ve reviewed.
  • Terri-Ann White’s Desert writing: Stories from country (February 2016, University of Western Australia Publishing) is something a little different. It’s a collection edited by White, comprising stories that resulted from writers’ workshops held with indigenous people in remote communities.
  • Dominique Wilson’s That devil’s madness (February 2016, Transit Lounge) is a novel set in Algeria. It tells story of a photojournalist who, while covering current politics decides to also retrace the steps of her grandfather a century earlier. Wilson was a founding editor of the now defunct but much lamented literary journal Wet Ink. (For an advance review of this book, check out Lisa’s at ANZLitLovers.)
  • Arnold Zable’s The fighter (April 2016, Text Publishing) is a biography of Henry Nissen, a boy from Melbourne’s Carlton who became a champion boxer but who now devotes his spare time to helping disaffected people on the streets. It’s also about his mother and her decline into mental illness. I’ve read a few of Zable’s novels, including The sea of many returns which I reviewed early in this blog’s life.

Steven Amsterdam, Ashley Hay, Toni Jordan and Hannah Kent, some of whose earlier books I have reviewed here, also have books coming out this year … Meanwhile, Text Publishing is continuing to put out its classics, and Fremantle Press is starting a Treasures series celebrating its 40 years of publishing. Nice to see backlists (or older works) continuing to get second lives.

Do any of these inspire or you? Or are there books coming up in your region or area of interest that you are keen to read. 

Monday musings on Australian literature: Little books

Christmas is coming and those stockings are wanting inspiration. I know I’m jumping the gun a little in terms of the traditional round of Christmas book talk, but it’s never too early to think of book gifts, and I’ve been wanting to write about little book initiatives for a while now. I can’t wait any longer!

Do you remember those Penguin 60s, the little books that Penguin published twenty years ago, in 1995, to celebrate its 60th anniversary? The books were around 80 pages and, before the days of smart phones, they were handy little items to carry around for those reading moments that suddenly open up out of the blue. I loved them, and still own several. I particularly remember reading Edith Wharton’s Madame de Treymes and Jean Rhys’ Let them call it Jazz. They were so popular that they spawned – at least I think it was the Penguin initiative that came first – similar small books by other publishers like Bloomsbury. I have some of those too. Anyhow, for its 80th birthday this year, Penguin has published a Little Black Classics series – and again they have proved successful, according, at least to The Guardian, which concluded that, even in this era of the e-book, it “proves people like their reading matter cheap… and portable”.

I hope they’re right about this because a few Australian publishers are producing their own “little” books, and I thought I’d share them here, as I don’t think they have the same visibility as Penguin – funnily enough!

FL Smalls 7: Carmel Bird's Fair Game

FL Smalls 7: Carmel Bird’s Fair Game

FL Smalls  are published by a small independent publisher in Braidwood about an hour’s drive away from me, Finlay Lloyd. Finlay Lloyd describes the project as

an ongoing project where we give its authors sixty pages to create a book. Published together in groups, the first five Smalls came out in 2013, and now we have commissioned another five to be released in early September this year, shoulder to shoulder, as an offering of vital writing by Australian authors.

You might have picked up a difference here between these and Penguin’s little books. FL Smalls are not classics, and are not reissues of works published elsewhere. They are commissioned, meaning of course that they provide a publishing opportunity for living writers. I love that. They include fiction, non-fiction, poetry, graphic works. I have the recent set, kindly sent to me by Finlay Lloyd. They are priced at $10 each. Reviews will start appearing here, soon. Meanwhile, you can check out Lisa at ANZLitLovers’ discussion of them.

Short Blacks – isn’t that a great name – are published by another Australian independent publisher, Black Inc. They describe the project as being

gems of recent Australian writing – brisk reads that quicken the pulse and stimulate the mind.

Noel Pearson in Short Blacks

Noel Pearson in Short Blacks

These then have been published before – but they are not classics. They are recent works, and seem to be non-fiction. They include Robyn Davidson’s No fixed address which was originally published by Black Inc as a Quarterly Essay, David Malouf’s One day about ANZAC Day, and Noel Pearson’s cleverly titled The war of the worlds about the “colonial project” and genocide in Australia. I bought a couple of these from the wonderful, independent Hobart Bookshop on my recent visit to Tasmania. Twelve have been published and it’s not clear from the website whether it’s an ongoing project. Like FL Smalls they are appealingly, if more simply, designed, and cost only $6.99 each. What a bargain.

Viva La Novella is a slightly different project. An initiative of the online publisher Seizure Inc, it is a prize that was established in 2012

Jane Jervis-Read, Midnight blue and endlesslly tall

First Viva La Novella Winner

to celebrate and promote short novels – because we like them and believe some of the greatest works in the English language are actually novellas.

I wouldn’t argue with that! Since 2012, Seizure has, with the support of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, expanded the award to produce more than one “winner” each year. Like FL Smalls, these are new works, but unlike the Smalls, they are all fiction. Also, unlike the previous two initiatives they are not a standard size, due to the wide the definition of a novella. For Seizure, the range is 20–50,000 words, which means that some books some books are 100 or so pages while others might be 190.  I’ve included them here, however, because they are priced at the cheaper end of the Australian paperback market, $14.95 each, and it is a project dedicated to the shorter book. I have bought one of the 2015 winners, so you will see a review of that too in the coming weeks or months.

Do you like little books? I’d love to hear if you have any favourites – and of any initiatives, in Australia or elsewhere, that you’ve come across.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Pitch days

When I was researching last Monday’s post on development programs for writers, I came across several references to publisher “pitch” days. As someone who isn’t writing a book, and who has no plans to, the concept of a “pitch” day was something that hadn’t made a big impact on me, though of course I knew what it meant.

If you are a writer who’s tried to get a book published, you know there are various ways of going about it. One is to find an agent who will tout/pitch your book to publishers. Another is to win a prize that involves publication – not that there are many of those! Yet another is to send your manuscript, unsolicited, to a publisher and hope they will read it. We’ve all heard stories about what happens then. They end up in a pile, and more often than not don’t get read. What authors want, of course, is some sort of guarantee their work will be read. This is where “pitch” days come in.

So what, exactly, is a pitch day? Most publishers have always accepted unsolicited donations, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but their pitch days offer two specific things: the publisher clearly identifies what they are looking for, what the writer needs to submit, and how; and they (mostly) offer some sort of guarantee that the work will be read and the time-frame within which this will happen. These pitch days are a fairly new thing, I believe, and stem partly from the possibilities offered by digital publishing.

Here are some of the programs I’ve come across, and that I believe are currently operating:

  • Allen & Unwin’s The Friday Pitch has been running for 6 years or more, and is open to writers for adults, young adults and children. They ask writers to “email a short synopsis or outline of your chapters and contents, and the first chapter of your work and related illustrations if relevant” on any Friday. They say that “if we like what we read … we will get back to you within a fortnight”. They don’t say, but I think imply, that they will read everything. They also say that Friday Pitch has discovered some bestselling authors, including Fleur McDonald, Helen Brown, and Mary Groves, though I must say that I don’t know these authors myself.
  • HarperCollins’ The Wednesday Post started in 2013. Writers can send fiction and nonfiction submissions each Wednesday, for print and digital publication, and digital-only publication. They say they will respond to authors within three weeks if they are interested. According to Writing WA, HarperCollins wants to find “new adult and YA titles and is particularly interested in ‘exceptional contemporary women’s fiction'” from new and established writers.
  • Pan Macmillan’s Manuscript Monday is a “new” initiative (though I don’t know when they wrote that statement). This process only occurs monthly on the first Monday of the month. They “accept submissions between 10am and 4pm that are sent electronically” and comply with the guidelines available via the link above. They say they will read every submission within three months of receipt, but won’t provide reasons for their decision nor give any feedback. And you can’t ring or contact them to chase up your submission. I think this includes pitches for Momentum, which is PanMacmillan’s “digital first imprint”.
  • Penguin’s Monthly Catch was created because Penguin “is keen and excited to read new work from Australian authors”! This program operates over the first 7 days (that is from the 1st to the 7th, regardless of days of the week) of every month. Only electronic submissions are accepted, and only works for adults. They say they’ll read every manuscript, and will get back to successful authors within three months. They do not provide feedback.

These are just a few of the programs out there. There are, for example, some genre-specific ones, such as for Romance writers. And some conferences run pitch-to-the-publisher programs, such as GenreCon and the Perth Writers Festival.

What these publishers won’t accept is fairly consistent. Poetry, plays, and educational works are frequently identified as not wanted. Some exclude works for children and young adults, while others will accept these. Authors need to check each publisher’s guidelines to make sure.

If you are interested in reading more about pitching, you might like to read the experience of two authors: Patrick Lenton who was published by Pan Macmillan’s digital arm, Momentum, and the above-mentioned Fleur McDonald who was published by Allen & Unwin. I also enjoyed reading this blog post on the “art of pitching to publishers”.

As always, I’d love to hear if any readers here have used “pitch days” … or have any stories about being published.

 

Monday musings on Australian literature: Unpublished manuscript awards

I’ve recently reviewed a couple of books which have won unpublished manuscript awards: Hannah Kent won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2011 for Burial rites (my review), and Margaret Merrilees won the Unpublished Manuscript Award at the Adelaide Writer’s Week in 2012 for The first week (my review).

Now, I’ve discussed awards a few times on this blog, and we’ve had some very interesting discussion in the comments about the value of awards. I’m not going to reiterate all that now because, being the original fence-sitter (!), I can see both sides of the argument. Awards in something so subjective as the arts are inherently problematic I think. I get that! However, I think a special argument can be made for unpublished manuscript awards. It’s hard, as we know, for writers to get published, particularly first-time writers. These awards – particularly those limited to (potential) debut authors – must make a big difference. In fact, in an interview last year, Hannah Kent said “these sorts of awards are so important. They help you get that foot in the door”.

Over the years, I’ve come across many of these awards – at least Australian ones – and they vary a great deal in terms of eligibility and what the award provides. I thought it would be interesting to list some of them here:

  • The Australian/Vogel Literary Award: Established in 1979 (first award 1980) in a collaboration between The Australian newspaper, the company which makes Vogel bread, and the publisher Allen & Unwin. Awarded to an unpublished manuscript by writers under the age of 35. Offers $20,000 and publication by Allen & Unwin.
  • CAL Scribe Fiction Prize: Established in 2009 by small publisher Scribe with the Copyright Agency Limited’s Cultural Fund. Awarded to an unpublished manuscript by an Australian writer aged 35 and over, regardless of publication history. It’s a Late Bloomer award! Offers $15,000 and a book contract. (My Internet search hasn’t found a winner for this award in 2013, so it may not still exist.)
  • Finch Memoir Prize: Established by Finch publishers, and sponsored by Copyright Agency Limited’s Cultural Fund. Awarded to an unpublished life story or memoir and open to previously published and unpublished writers as well as to agented writers. Offers $10,000 and publication.
  • Queensland Literary Awards David Unaipon Award of Unpublished Indigenous Writer: Initially established in 1989, and then brought under the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards in 1999 and, since their cancellation, brought under the independently run Queensland Literary Awards. Open to all unpublished Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Island writers. Offers $5,000 and guaranteed publication by the University of Queensland Press. The three runners-up are offered mentorships.
  • Queensland Literary Awards Emerging Queensland Author-Manuscript Award: Initially established under the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards in 1999 and, since their cancellation, brought under the independently run Queensland Literary Awards. Open to all unpublished Queensland (resident at the time of the award for at least 3 years) authors. The prize is the same as that for the David Unaipon Award.
  • Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript: Established by the State Library of Victoria in 2003. Open to any author from the state of Victoria who has not had a work of fiction published.
  • Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award: Established in 2011. Award to adult fiction, and is not limited by genre, geographic location or age of author. Offers $10,000 cash and a mentorship worth $2,000 with a mentor of the winner’s choice. Kent chose novelist Geraldine Brooks, who, as I’m sure you know, has written several historical fiction novels.

Hannah Kent’s comment that these awards are important is borne out, rather, by the ongoing success of many winners. The Australian/Vogel Literary award claims, for example, to have launched the careers of Tim Winton, Kate Grenville, Brian Castro, Mandy Sayer and Andrew McGahan. Recent awards have gone to books that quickly became high-profile, namely Hannah Kent’s Burial rites and Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie project (which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Unpublished Manuscript) (my review). The inaugural winner of the Victorian award was Carrie Tiffany with her gorgeous book, Everyman’s rules for scientific living. (Coincidentally, she was the inaugural winner, last year, of the Stella Award, with her second novel, Mateship with birds.)

These sorts of awards vary, not only in terms of what they offer, but regarding who they aim to help. Many, though not all, are limited – to debut authors, indigenous authors, young authors, or authors from a particular state. Regardless of how they are framed though, I understand that, in many cases, they can and do result in publication not only for the winner but for some of the other well-judged entrants. And that, I think, is the best argument there is for the existence of these awards, don’t you?

POSTSCRIPT:
As I expected – and hoped – commenters on the post have named other awards. They include:
  • T. A. G. Hungerford Award: Established in 1998 by Fremantle Press. Awarded biennially to previously unpublished writers from Western Australia. Offers $12,000 cash and a publishing contract with Fremantle Press.

 

Monday musings on Australian literature: Qantas flight-length book deal

Some of you have probably sussed that Whispering Gums is not at her usual desk – and you’d be right. I’ve been travelling since mid-August, mostly in Europe, and will be back home in early October. I had hoped to read some books and write reviews while on the road, but somehow the reviews haven’t happened. One review is nearly ready though!

However, here’s something interesting I read just before I left Australia in AustLit news. It was about a Qantas initiative involving commissioning, from Hachette, a series of paperback books “timed to be read during 10 of Qantas’s main flying routes”. The series is called “A Story for Every Journey” and, AustLit reports, will be offered to Qantas’ platinum Frequent Flyers.

The books will cover popular fiction and non-fiction genres  –  the ones we often call “airport books”. The book lengths are based on average reading speeds, taking into consideration time for napping and eating – or so I read in an article at goodereader.com. It quoted Mr Nobay, spokesperson for Hachette’s partner Droga5, as saying that

According to our literary friends at Hachette, the average reader consumes between 200 and 300 words per minute, which equates to about a page per minute.

This spokesperson also said that

for the longer flights, we accommodated some napping time and meals … After a few hours with a fine Qantas in-flight meal with Australian Shiraz, most people need a break from reading.

(Don’t you love the marketing?!)

AustLit said that one of the ten books – sounds like the initial plan is for ten – will be Kimberley Freeman’s Wildflower Hill which “has been suggested as the perfect read for travellers on the Sydney to Dubai route”. What a shame I didn’t have it when I flew that route a few weeks ago! I’ve never heard of Kimberley Freeman, which is apparently the nom de plume of Brisbane writer and academic Dr Kim Wilkins. Other authors include popular actor and author William McInnes, popular non-fiction writer Peter FitzSimmons and novelist Lian Hearn.

Anyhow, as goodereader comments

If this concept in reading takes off (pun intended) and if lawmakers insist on holding to strict regulations on the use of mobile devices during air travel, there is potential for a surge in not only print-reading, but also a shift towards more books being written with an intentional audience already in mind.

On my first reading of the initiative, I thought it was about commissioning books to be written for the purpose, but it sounds like it’s about identifying existing books that suit the criteria and re-packaging them for a new market. It may, of course, lead to books being written specifically for the market, as goodereader wonders.

I’m not sure I need to have books specially targeted to a set reading period, but I love the creative thinking behind this initiative. What do you think? Have you heard of anything similar?

On the titling of books

Forget about judging books by their covers, what about titles? How important are they to you? Do you ever decide to read a book based on the title alone? Do you always (never, sometimes) consider the title when thinking about the meaning of a book?

Title Puzzle Clker M

Titles: They're a puzzlement (Courtesy: M, via clker.com)

It seems to be a fraught issue, this book titling business – and it makes me wonder just what import to ascribe to titles. Who decides on the title? Do authors always have the final say in the titling of their books? Well, no, they don’t … so, how much can/should we readers think about the title when discussing or thinking about the books we read. Is it worth wasting our time bothering about it as, for example, readers did with Wolf Hall. Why, many of us wondered, was Hilary Mantel‘s book called Wolf Hall? I had an answer, and so did others, but is it worth even bothering about if we don’t know whether the author created the title? This may be a bad example though. Hilary Mantel was an established author when Wolf Hall was published, so it’s likely she had more clout in the titling of her book than a first time author has. Hmm, then, how am I to know when an author has chosen the title and when he/she hasn’t – and therefore when it might be worth my while considering the title and when not?

And what about books which are published under different titles in different countries? Think Miss Smilla’s feeling for snow versus Smilla’s sense of snow. This is a tricky one though because, like The outsider versus The stranger, it is a translated book, so there’s a double whammy here. Not only has the title been translated, but it’s then been translated differently. Are these difference due to translation decisions or marketing ones? A better example might be Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone versus Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone. What’s that about*? Marketing, of course. (And, I can’t help wondering whether the book might have met with less opposition in the USA if the title had not been changed to “sorcerer”?) Again, where does this title confusion, oops variation, leave we readers, particularly regarding our wish to understand and analyse what we are reading?

For an interesting discussion of book titling, read Caroline Baum’s article “What it takes to title a book” in the Sydney Morning Herald back in 2003. It answers some of the questions I raise above and gives some great examples, but it doesn’t really consider where the reader sits in all this (except as the target for marketing).

What say you on the book title issue?

* Rhetorical question. Reasons abound, some from Rowling herself, on the internet. My concern is the general issue, not this specific case.