10669350_10154621990475554_7793893862682651338_o

Story Town at Surry Hills Festival

HELLO! I am reading a story from my book ‘A MAN MADE ENTIRELY OF BATS’ at Surry Hills Festival in Sydney on Saturday with some absolute legends. I’d love to see you there, come and say hello why not. Also, I’ll be on 2SER ‘So Hot Right Now’ at 11.30am if you want to hear me talk about writing and NYWF and other stuff.

3:30 – 4:30 ★ LITERARY LOVE || Readings from some of Sydney’s best emerging and established writers. Listen as they muse on love, sex and relationships on the steps across from the Clock, featuring Justin Wolfers, Hannah Story, Patrick Lenton, Lily Mei and Sophie Hardcastle.

Urgh, Writing: The misunderstood task of describing your book, or how to pitch

tumblr_lxeayvE3Pd1qjx548o1_500

 

There are a billion trillion articles about ways to pitch your book. There are books on how to pitch your book (did someone have to pitch their book on how to pitch books?). There are people in bars who like to recount the story they heard of a person stuck in an elevator with a commissioning publisher from some kind of unnamed publishing house, who managed to speak so goodly about their book in the horrifying metal room that they immediately became a bestseller!

So, wisdom and laziness is telling me that I don’t need to add to the ocean of knowledge that lies on the other end of a quick Google – but experience working in publishing has shown me that PEOPLE STILL DON’T KNOW HOW TO PITCH AT ALL, OH MY GOD THEY ARE JUST SO BAD. I’m not going to go into details, because that would be unprofessional, but take my goddamn word for it. Luckily I work in digital publishing now, so at least I’m spared the envelopes full of glitter or (heard this one the other day from a romance imprint) rose petals. And attaching gifs to your submission email just isn’t as eye-catching. Or eye-cutting. Glitter will cut your eye up a treat. Not that I even take submissions. I’m marketing. Whatever.

tumblr_lp0omb7nC51qi3vlco1_500

PUBLISH MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

I think the pitch is universal, but I suppose my experience as a writer is with small press and lit stuff. Author Steve P. Vincent wrote a great article about pitching his political thriller here, which you should read.

Let’s go into some quick basics:

What is a pitch -

The process of summarising the totality of your book, generally to a few sentences of text, sometimes even a single sentence. What it is not – recounting the story, talking about a thousand ‘themes’ or listing the characters.

For my book, A Man Made Entirely of Bats, I pitched it as a collection of short and micro-fictions which was ‘A  comedic, absurdist and entertaining literary interaction with the concept of super heroes and the super strange in our world.’ Short story collections are a difficult breed to pitch, in comparison to something more straightforward like a novel. If I was going to pitch my perennial hypothetical example of the typical Australian lit.novel that I’m never going to write, which I’ve named ‘ Dry Rural Secret Town’ I would say something like ‘In the tradition of Winton and Carey, a man returns to his hometown to discover the reasons why he left in the first place.’

n0ngQ6G

So bleak. So mysterious. So award winning.

That was a wee bit sarcastic, but you’ll see that there’s a hook there. I am only implying murder, but I think if there was a murder, I would say murder. The ‘name drop’ of Winton does so much – it established a genre for one – if we took that away, we might be looking at crime or even horror. But it also announces intention of marketplace. Winton is a literary writer, but he is also a bestselling literary writer. A publisher might definitely be looking to fill a gap in their selection that a new Winton might fill. They might need another book for November, they might be interested because that kind of book is definitely Aus award bait.

In my one line pitch, I include the words: ‘homage to Kurt Vonnegut, Etgar Keret and Tom Cho.’

Vonnegut, because it uses genre in the pursuit of the literary, Etgar Keret because of its absurdist message and Tom Cho due to its playful interaction with popular culture. All this seems WILDLY embarrassing to write outside of a pitch, btw. What I am really saying with those names is ‘yes, these are literary short stories, but they are accessible and fun and silly and other writers do something like this, and they are doing OK, I’m not a madman.’ I am a madman, but I learnt to stop saying that in resumes and the like a long time ago.

Why is a pitch important -

A pitch is more than just the cover letter to your manuscript. An author needs to be able to understand their book as more than the weird story that lived in their head until they let it out. They have to understand it as a transferrable concept, not just through the medium of human speech, but also as the idea of something a reader wants to read. A pitch is so, so, so important for that crucial first step – getting the book published. It’s the magic sentence that you’re using to communicate with a publisher, or an agent, or whatever. The romance writing community, which as as per usual, is several steps beyond any other writing community, have regular pitch sessions at their conferences and conventions. Publishers come to these and grab pitches their, because the system of communicating books (a pitch) is established and works. And romance writers involved in these communities generally have some education on HOW to do this. Sometimes they even turn their pitch sessions into insane gameshow like events, like deathmatch and survival modes. It sounds intense and horrifying.

But, even beyond that first step, but also linked with it, is communicating who will be reading this book, who your audience are, what the genre is, what the style. How you are going to reach those readers. I am very, very, carefully stepping around using words like ‘product’ or ‘sales’, because I know that idea is abhorrent to a lot of holier-than-thou writers. But the goal is to have people read your work, and because of commerce, that means buying them. Understanding your book as something you will be working hard with to reach readers is crucial, and something that is increasingly more important to communicate during your pitch. For me, I talked about some markets, in Australia and abroad, and I submitted a marketing plan with my manuscript of ways I plan to reach them. Keep in mind that this is a collection of comedy short stories – the only thing that I can think of that is more unpalatable to sell would be poetry. Or a collection of short plays maybe. Or a 200,000 word description of poo.

I sent my manuscript to five publishers, and received an answer from four, and three decided on the strength of my pitch that they wanted to read my manuscript, and Spineless Wonders bit fairly early, and I decided I liked their style a lot. But my publisher at Spineless said that the marketing report was the reason she actually decided to read the manuscript, because she wasn’t currently looking for more books. So, I feel like my first experience pitching my own book was fairly positive.

Anyway, there’s a lot more ‘specific’ articles I mentioned, which will tell you what to include in your actual pitch, but I think I’m done here. I am happy to answer questions. There’s a good chance that publishers, who actually RECEIVE pitches might think my whole stance is missing several important things. I’m ok with that. This is mostly about my experience, and that’s all we can ever really be sure of, you know? Deep. That’s probably the tagline of ‘Dry Rural Secret Town’.

 

 

8b03d6df06d8219635757f8842c0567a81d3b3af1ed198b2a248fdd3c248e26b

Urgh, Writing: What are editors? We just don’t know.

8b03d6df06d8219635757f8842c0567a81d3b3af1ed198b2a248fdd3c248e26b

After a few weeks of back and forth, I am mostly done with my edits for A Man Made Entirely of Bats. Yay! This was a pretty quick process, due to the incredible thoroughness and promptness of my editor, Kathryn Moore, and also probably my general lack of preciousness about line-to-line stuff. One thing I have noticed about some of my writer friends is that they generally have no real idea what an editorial process entails. Sometimes they seem uncomfortable talking about it, like it’s secret cabal stuff which they really shouldn’t be exposed to. But what are editors? Why should we love them? Are editors witches?

HOCUS POCUS, Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, 1993

 

No, well, not as a rule. But the comparison is worth making, mostly because of the weird medieval peasant attitude that a lot of writers have to editors. They seem to have this idea that they should go and see this person about fixing their gangrenous arm (manuscript) and that they are probably going to be better off afterwards, but the process might be painful and they aren’t really sure about the methods these witches (editors) will employ, such as satanic worship/track changes, and maybe their gangrenous arm is fine, it’s meant to smell like wet almonds?

In reality, unless you’re unlucky one of the very rare examples of bad editors, having an editor is a privilege that a writer should be endlessly thankful for. I’ve had several awesome relationships with editors or my shorter stuff, which has ranged from cutting the beating heart out of the obese flab of my story and placing the core of my story into a slick robot body from the future, to subtly pointing out that my story used the word ‘inexorable’ eight times. I’ve worked with editors who have helped me come up with the very beginnings of an idea and kept in close contact throughout the entire creative process, like with Justin Wolfers on my recent Alt-Txt series. I’ve had editors who after working with me once have championed my work and continually pushed me and offered me more opportunities and growth, like the wonderful Geoff Lemon. An editor is often the next person to be enthusiastic about your work after you, and much like in a relay, it involves you passing the baton over after you’re exhausted and sick of it and never want to think about it ever again, and then suddenly there they are, full of vim and vigour, ready to run the next mile.

Kaythryn and A Man Made Entirely of Bats was my first experience with a book-length project. The key things that Kathryn did for me was identify tone and voice in my stories and make sure they were consistent throughout them. Because a lot of my dialogue is ‘comedic’ in nature, I have a tendency to follow patterns and repeat words that are almost invisible to me, because that’s how my brain works.

I think writers feel like editors offer a kind of binary choice – like an editor says ‘your sentence where you liken a horse to a government-run skatepark was confusing at first, perhaps some kind of other park? Perhaps a jungle gym?’ The writer thinks he has two choices – go with what the editor says, or stick to his guns. Except the editor is a reader, first and foremost, and if they are confused by an image, it’s very likely that everyone will be. One confusing sentence can fuck everything up. But actually there are three options, and that secret invisible one is to say something like ‘I just really feel that a government run skatepark has a lot of humorous implications which I’m trying to explore – how about I shorten the sentence so there’s not so many confusing nouns, and follow it up’. If the editor feels that works, they’ll be like, yay! Great! Ps, that analogy I just used was so fucking torturous, I could really use an editor.

I think because of my theatre background, I’m very used to the notion of collaboration in art. For the majority of my plays, I had the very good fortune of writing my script, and then throwing it to my director and actors and other creative in Sexy Tales and getting their input. So much of this wasn’t simple ‘workshopping’ but important factors like ‘Patrick, we can’t have an actual bear on stage which breathes fire’ and then I would have to discover why I wanted that bear, and was it really necessary (no) and could I change it to a pair of creepy retail twins? In the theatre world, working as closely as I did with a director is a bit of an anomaly. It’s entirely likely that the writer would only see how their play had been translated onto stage on opening night. In a lot of ways, it’s the editors job to take the idea that the writer has written down and translate it into a book that people can read.

A lot of the debate around self-publishing focuses on the fact that an author has the potential to do a far more thorough and sincere and effective marketing and publicity campaign for themselves than a publishing house can in the long run. The vast majority don’t have the skills or background for this, but could learn and do a really great job at it. This is because of lots of reasons, and deserves a whole different article, but the essence is 1. marketing in the current climate is about facilitating genuine and sincere connections between author and reader, and an author doing that will tend to have more sincerity on their side, being actually the author and 2. An author is only working on their book, whereas a marketer/publicist is probably juggling around twenty books at any one time. What is often and generally disregarded in this conversation (and I almost did it again) is the role of the editorial process. A self-published book does not have the standard of editing put into it that a publishing house provides. This is often as basic as layout, format – but a poorly laid out ebook is a deal-breaker for me personally. It’s usually noticeable in punctuation and grammar, and I think the rule with novels anyway is not about this crazy idea of elaborate and painstakingly correct grammar that an editor enforces, but rather about making grammar as unnoticeable as possible. And that takes practice. But a good structural edit, which gets in there and restructures the order, examines motivation, gets rid of a surplus character – that’s impossible to replace. I didn’t really explain the editorial process. Does anyone want to know? I dunno. Ask me anything, I’m cool.

Anyway, editors are great. They rarely get thanked publicly either. Can you name who edited famous books? They’re like ninjas.

Grammar ninjas.

Urgh, Writing: judge my cover

So, I had a meeting with the designer who is hopefully going to design the cover of A Man Made Entirely of Bats. As per usual, I over-planned everything and arrived with a folio of covers I like and then babbled about colours and stuff, before finally having to admit that I am actually colour blind.

But covers are really important, it’s this horrible fact. I’m afraid that some books fail because the cover isn’t great. So, yeah. I’m heaps keen to show you my designers art, because he’s a genius, but I’ll wait for later. But I will show you so covers that I like. I asked people on Facebook too, and got some good uns. Are there some covers that you really like that deserve a mention?

20140703-194836-71316952.jpg

20140703-195121-71481883.jpg

20140703-195121-71481738.jpg

20140703-195121-71481809.jpg

20140703-195123-71483149.jpg

20140703-195122-71482193.jpg

20140703-195122-71482289.jpg

20140703-195122-71482701.jpg

20140703-195123-71483049.jpg

BATS

Urgh, Writing: A BOOK OF MINE IS GOING TO BE A REAL THING!!!!!

I’ve known about this for a few weeks now, but I haven’t felt like I can make it ‘blog post official’ yet. I’ve felt like maybe at some point someone will be like ‘no, we made a mistake, your short stories are godawful, we thought you had a cookbook?’ But I’ve spent the day working on the first round of edits on my manuscript, so I suppose it is now time for me to be Officially Excited.

PLentonscreamingmug-1

I am very excited to announce that next year, a collection of my short stories called ‘A Man Made Entirely of Bats’ will be published by Spineless Wonders. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

A Man Made Entirely of Bats is a collection of short and micro fictions that humorously swarm around the idea of superheroes in popular culture. It has stories in it called things like ‘Radioactive Jerk’ and ‘Guerilla Mum’ and ‘Infertility Man’. It also has some previously published stories in it, like ‘Mooncat’ and ‘Believe’ in it.

We don’t have a lot of small press in Australia, and we don’t have a lot of publishers who are actually devoted to short stories as a form, which is why I’m so excited to be accepted by Spineless Wonders. I’m inspired by Angela Meyer’s ‘Captives’ and I’m inspired by Tom Cho’s ‘Look Who’s Morphing’. Also, the entire concept for this book came from the Flaming Lips album ‘Soft Bulletin’. I’m inspired by like a thousand alt-lit people who are writing and publishing stuff which traditional publishers aren’t doing and stuff which is fun and awesome and experimental.

I just feel this whole collection is so dumb, so weird and like, devoted to being silly before ‘meaning’ anything, so I’m really excited that it is going to exist. I am excited to be able to hold it in my hands and i’m also excited that it is going to be available as an ebook for people who don’t want to have another physical book. Every day when I think about it, I’m like ‘yay, this is great’ but also ‘what, what are we thinking, this is such a dumb idea’.

I’m also going to be pretty transparent about the process, because obvs I’ve never had a book published before, so I’m pretty interested in the process. Sometime this week I’ll write a post about pitching? People interested in that? I dunno. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me. I also work in publishing, so you can just ask me stuff. I dunno.

When I found out that my pitch had been accepted, I got expansively drunk a the Pan Macmillan sales conference and kept yelling at people ‘I’m celebrating’ in between shots or dancing on my own to ‘Suffragette City’. “I’M CELEBRATING”

I’M SO EXCITED!

 

 

Minor Act of Bio-Terrorism

Friendship

So, this morning I was standing at the station listening to ‘Wrecking Ball’ by Gillian Welch and I was thinking about a romance book I’d just read which said something about passion being important in life, and I was trying to think what passion feels like, but I just kept thinking about the flu.

When the train pulled up, I looked at my reflection in the train doors because I accidentally shaved my whole sideburn off the other day and I can’t stop looking at it, and saw a wasp fly directly into my neck. I was already stepping into the carriage by this point, and I really wasn’t worried because in my heart I was a sad southern woman, and I kind of loosely grabbed the wasp in my hand and flicked it away. I then went down the stairs and sat. In reality, what I’d just done was grab a wasp and throw it directly at a bald guy in the standing section, and for the rest of my trip I just kept hitting ‘repeat’ on Wrecking Ball and watching everyone freak out and run around as this wasp kept landing on people, and every station more people would get on, tired-eyed commuters in suits with running shoes who don’t expect to be in any danger and there was always this moment, where they look at everyone else ducking and screaming and they just stand still, listening to music or playing on their phone and then suddenly they’re like ‘holy fuck, there’s a wasp on me’.

It was pretty great, I felt pretty powerful, I wanted to poke the lady next to me and be like ‘I did that, I threw that wasp’. I think that passion is pretty nice maybe, which is probably the point of all these romance books that I sell, but I think life is all about throwing wasps at things, and seeing if they stick. You’re either a wasp thrower or someone surprised by a wasp. Or maybe you are a wasp. I dunno. What’s a hornet?