Australian Editors and Publishers Set Bar Too High

I have come to the conclusion that the Australian publishing industry and its associated editors and reviewers have set the bar way too high for Australian writers.  Emerging authors have a pretty slim chance of being published with huge odds against hitting the big time.

Strong-willed literature-controlling gurus rule our domestic market like school teachers from the 1950s.  They seek perfection, the best book of the year, often cerebral stuff ignored by half the population, and they disregard perfectly serviceable down-to-earth Aussie authors.  Also, when did parochialism creep in, e.g. Melbourne is the hub of all things literary?  Let’s focus on inclusive Australian content.  Oh, and stop changing words to suit international readers, they’re cool, they can work it out.

Publishing houses receive thousands of unsolicited manuscripts each year and the selection process is fierce.  Only a handful of authors are chosen, gather a following, write more books and hopefully make money.  The untried crime writer, for example, may not appeal to the literati judges, but, hey, there’s always that coterie of readers who will love them.  The way it is now, their work may never see the light of day.  Dive deep into that slush pile!

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Sure, there’s always the internet, WordPress, e-books, self-publishing, writing competitions (see below) and a gazillion non-traditional ways to be seen but nirvana is a publishing deal with a real-deal publishing house.

 

“Relax,” I say to publishers from my seat of ignorance.  “The shock of ebooks has faded, so forget micro-niche and churn out those books, get those names in print.”  What?  Too much of a risk, not financially viable?  Yeah, I guess that’s right.  Nobody wants risk in business.  I say “Lighten up, people, offer a broader spectrum of books to the general public”.  Stop book snobbery because, meanwhile, mediocre books with typos are flooding in from overseas and I’m getting a bit sick of it.

Did I hear our aspiring authors cannot compete with the overseas calibre?  Our readers are not savvy, interested or sincere enough to try a reasonably good newbie?  Come off it!  Peel back those layers.  An Australian author or reader is as good as the next person but needs the exposure, the push, the shove, the necessary connections and circumstances to make it work.

Chips on shoulders, the need to prove we Australians are well-read, has past. Forget the Cultural Cringe, dismiss ‘benchmark’ literary awards and too perfect prose and embrace the mass production of typically Australian-written and illustrated books and be proud of them.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

FURTHER READING:  https://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3353/3030  with quote taken from “Non-Traditional Book Publishing” by Jana Bradley, Bruce Fulton,  Marlene Helm, Katherine A Pittner in “First Monday” Journal and, although somewhat passé, it shows foresight.  EVEN FURTHER READING:  https://www.theliftedbrow.com/liftedbrow/2017/11/22/keep-your-eyes-on-the-prize-unpublished-manuscript-competitions-and-you  The Lifted Brow is a not-for-profit literary publishing organisation based in Melbourne, Australia, and Martin Shaw’s article explains an awful lot about the hidden terms and conditions of competition entry.

{NB. Gretchen has reviewed books, worked in the library industry and reads extensively.  As an aspiring writer, she may have shot herself in the foot}

Win a Prize by Cheating

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Hmm…

Fleur was sick and tired of the competition rules, regulations and conditions which surround the submission of a manuscript.  She decided to cheat the system.  But one of the worst things is to think you are going to get caught, that you are double-dealing the system, that you’ve done something you shouldn’t have done.  Be self-assured?

“Sure, you justify it to yourself that you aren’t going to win a prize in that writers competition anyway so what the heck, give it your best shot, enter four competitions with the same short story under 3,000 words.”  Fleur finds her handbag and house keys.  “And who cares?  First world problems, right?  They can only disqualify me.  They’ll get an entry fee without the hard slog.  What hey, they will do the hard work first.  Judges will find out later that I’ve cheated.  Well, not exactly cheated, more bent the rules.”

Fleur submitted the exact same story to four different organisations in the hope that one would succeed.  Of course, deep down she knows that the story will not succeed.  But there’s that tiny little glimmering hope that one entry will win.  “Ha,” snaps Fleur’s psyche, ‘you’ll win first, second or third place in each competition and cause a furore.”  There will be a lot of huffing and puffing, but Fleur says “I don’t care!  Keep the entry fees, frankly I don’t care!”  There will be tedious emails pointing out her indiscretion and how naughty she’s been – she don’t care!  They can sort it out by themselves.  Go ahead, eliminate her, but questions sneak through before the front door closes.

Fleur’s shoes pound the pavement as her rant continues “At the time I think I said to myself that I had not submitted to another competition, however, by the last entry I had.  And I didn’t change a word.  But here’s two questions for you.  How come books and authors can win the Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize, Ned Kelly Award, Prix Goncourt, Man Booker Prize, etc, even though they have already won another prize?  Or magazine articles which have been reprinted elsewhere with author permission?  Like I said, I don’t care!”

“Please, please,” Fleur takes a breath “don’t let me win a place in any more than one competition.  I couldn’t stand the hassle.  As a matter of fact I don’t quite understand why I did it.  Well, in the case of the smaller organisation, I think I did it out of pity to bolster their entry numbers.  And in the case of the larger organisation, I think I did it out of spite to prick their egotistical speech bubbles.”

Fleur is expounding this tirade now because three of the organisations have announced their cut-off date, entries have closed.  The minor one is still struggling on.  “Oh,” she says, her pace slowing “I forgot to mention that I have submitted another manuscript, quite a different story but the same copy to two interstate writing competitions.  Their game plans are miles apart, one laidback and one stiff and starchy.  The story is rather laidback itself so I will be interested to see if it gets anywhere, I do like it.”

On the subject of slightly ignoring their instructions on the grounds of “get over yourselves, bloody gatekeepers” Fleur couldn’t help adding “If they don’t like it then that’s tough.  I don’t care!”  She knows she will have second thoughts after formal announcements are made in a few months’ time, and she voices the unsettling assumption that she may be victimised.  Fleur has heard tales of editors, indeed publishing houses, blacklisting people and the writing fraternity shunning one of their own for not following the guiding principle of “doing it the right way”.

Fleur stops walking.  “Publishers want unusual, they want different, but mostly they are just as rigid as the public service, any spark of individuality snuffed before it ignites.  Death to the formula!”  She hears her bulky envelope fall into the metal post-box and slams the flap shut.  The guidelines stated that all entries must be submitted by email attachment.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Reading Girl 42
Rubbish!

Council Meeting

 

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REPORT

It is going to be an uncomfortable meeting.  The aluminum-lined tin roof of the old scout hut has Christmas lights still hanging from the beams but no ceiling fans.  In the slowly increasing heat, city council employees stand around fanning themselves with official paperwork, sweat running into the collars of their creased jackets.

A gathering of various ages and nationalities, husbands, wives, old friends milling about, young children already fidgeting, and teenagers comparing notes about being awake so early on a Saturday.  And me, taking notes for a writing class.

My brief:  Go to an unusual place and observe people and surroundings then write about it.

I tread the worn linoleum flooring, past bare walls, seeking a vacant chair.  Instead being lured by chilled water jugs, beaded with droplets.  The moisture runs onto trestle tables covered with plastic cloths and neatly stacked glassware.  On a corner table, ignored, a tea urn, china cups and sugar.  “Too hot for a cuppa,” hisses a woman “but a biscuit would be nice.”  No such luck, it looks like it will be all business.

I chose this council meeting, billed as a Community Centre Public Consultation, hoping for a good cross-section of individuals.  The focus is an old disused council depot just up the street from the scout hall which is ripe for redevelopment.  Possibly a venue for arts and crafts, retired folk or out-of-work men with carpentry skills.  Doesn’t sound too threatening but you never know with hot tempers and hotter weather.

There are not enough white plastic chairs so a frantic search gets underway to find more seats for late arrivals.  By now, attendance hovers around 45 humidity-affected people.  Craggy old veterans, highly-perfumed women, groups in casual shirts and shorts, retired types perhaps looking forward to the proposed construction.  One woman commands attention with a loud voice, passionate about protecting her home from noise and extra traffic.  A male voice tells her “It hasn’t started yet so shut up.”

Registration sheets are handed around and duly completed, information leaflets handed out, a welcome speech, introductions all round and the meeting starts.  The Councillor and various council departments take turns talking about the proposed community centre site and how it will benefit the general public.  A white board and black pens are used to draw proposed plans, stressing that existing trees will remain and more planted.

I put my reading glasses on as a slide presentation illuminates but some gruff local residents butt in with irrelevant queries.  A young, flushed council assistant is hassled by senior homeowners out to protect their land values, citing added burdens on the already strained infrastructure.  “Traffic is bad enough now, this street can’t cope with extra cars.”  And “If an event was on, numbers would treble and we couldn’t get out of our driveways!”  There is a smattering of applause and a red-faced toddler starts to cry.

The Councillor is getting agitated, stern faced and unhappy about these interruptions to her pet project.  She rises, retorts in a firm, concise manner “Questions and answers will be held at the end of this session.  Please refrain from interrupting” then she sits down and furiously scribbles a note.

Feeling overheated and drowsy as the meeting drags on, I’m shaken from my lethargy by an unusual break in the proceedings.  Oh dear.  A plus-size young lady on a wobbly plastic chair is starting to slip.  Slowly, her chair sinks as the legs buckle and she gracefully slides to the floor.  Plop!  The Council officials gasp as one.  Embarrassed, she rolls over and stands up.  Everyone is fussing, offering her sympathy and cold water.  The weakened chair is quickly replaced and a sturdier one supplied.

More words, blurring in, old ground is covered then comes audience input time.  An outpouring of emotion from local residents, more fervent than factual, practical comments are overruled by zealous objections.  Limp council staff organise the tables and chairs into groups and hand out sheets of butcher’s paper and pens for the audience to scrawl down comments about traffic, parking issues and the type of structure they would like to see near their homes.  I don’t attempt a drawing, unlike the person next to me who is lavishly embellishing a castle-like structure.  Hardly acceptable but she is about six years old.  My hand melts the thin paper and the felt-tip pen smudges as I write a couple of comments.

The Councillor stands, looking strained, and addresses the gathering with a formal thank-you.  Her politeness is wasted.  It’s time to go and already people are moving towards the rear doors.  Outside the air is heavy with the smell of eucalyptus.  I fold my notes, not looking forward to my hot car and a long drive home.

AFTERWORD:  Jump ahead in time, eight years to be precise, and the derelict sheds are revitalised and re-purposed into a community centre, a thriving hub for group activities.  Men’s Shed displays are held yearly, artisans can be commissioned for special projects.  The perceived threat to peace and tranquility did not materialise due to sensible planning and a carpark.  Feathers were hardly ruffled … unlike the storm brewing over old homes being demolished and their sites redeveloped for high density box-like dwellings.  Now that really will affect their suburban infrastructure …

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Community Connection
People Power