If You Don’t Buy Australian Books as Xmas Gifts You Are Garbage

Now that we’ve gotten that clickbaity heading out of the way, I would like to apologise. Sorry, that was a bit extreme, you’re probably not garbage. But the point does stand.

There’s an article I love to reference which is about how to support your author friends – people are mostly good and want to support their friends. And people are mostly smart, and know that being an author is a sucky job that has little to no rewards, and that there are lots of little things you can do to help an author, that means the absolute world to them.

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And at this time of the year, the best way you can do that is by buying an Australian book for someone at Christmas. This is such a win-win situation – buying presents suck, buying books are easy, they’re great gifts and people actually appreciate the thought behind getting them. And it helps when you aren’t just like ‘here is a book for you, family member’ but are actually like ‘I loved this, and I thought of you, and now I want you to have it’. That makes the recipient feel special, I believe.

For the last two years, my personal challenge has been to only buy Australian books for all my Christmas gifts (except for Bridget, who gets something fancier. But often a book too). It’s been really rewarding so far. I’ve had several occasions where people have made a point of letting me know how much they loved the book I chose for them.

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This is also not just about supporting authors you may know – this is also about Australian books in general. There are all sorts of things going on at the moment – Amazon looming over us all, parallel importation, the scrapping of arts funds – that basically penalise Australian authors for being authors. It impacts on bookshops and on our own literary culture in general. It’s basically a really really good thing to do, OK?

Here are some books which I’m buying people for Christmas:

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Zoe Norton Lodge is the funniest person in the world, and this is her book, which features funny stories about her life. Duh. Buy this for people who will appreciate laughing at things. Buy this for that family friend who only watches the ABC. Don’t buy this for your famously humourless great-aunt Edna. She probably won’t get it. OR MAYBE SHE WILL, AND IT WILL CHANGE HER LIFE!

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This is a great book. Antonia Hayes is a wonderful writer. I feel like this is a good book for dads, because dads are interested in science. Some dads are.

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Defender by Chris Allen is ACTUALLY the book I’m buying my dad. Me and my dad read thrillers over the Christmas break, and Chris Allen writes a mean thriller. He was a paratrooper and the Sheriff of NSW, so he really understands thrills.

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The Going Down Swinging Longbox is the perfect gift for some kind of mysterious family member that you know nothing about: perhaps your cousin’s new wife, or your distant and haughty grandfather. There’s so much in here, including Australian treasure Andrew Denton, and best writer in the world Bridget Lutherborrow’s short story collection, that you’re sure to somehow make them happy.

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Best Australian Comedy Writing? This is obviously the perfect Christmas gift. It’s comedy writing, and it’s the best. I’m buying this for my sister, because she needs to goddamn lighten up. That was a little joke. She appreciates jokes. That’s why she’s getting this book.

 

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Hey, who put this here? Pretty sneaky of me. But no, seriously – you can buy it for 10% off at the Spineless Wonders website throughout December, so it’s a good gift for that weird nephew that sits in the corner, or for your grandma’s seventeen cats. Also, I know Kinokuniya in Sydney has about twenty of them, because they let me sign them all and now they can’t return them, which was pretty dumb of them.

 

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So I’ve published a book, oh my god what now?

On Sunday March 1st, A Man Made Entirely of Bats burst forth unto this world, shrieking and pissing furiously as literally dozens of onlookers watched in horrified awe. Let me say this about the entire publishing experience: it’s been an unmitigated joy. I feel so warm and protected by all the people who have supported me and my tiny rabies-filled baby. From the good people at Spineless Wonders, to all the amazing folk who bought a copy of Bats during our pre-release drive and are currently staring baffled at my personalised message, to the gorgeous hordes that came to my launch, to the people who have written nice things about the book… it’s just all been amazing. Thank you.

 

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LOOK AT THESE BRILLIANT PEOPLE

THIS BEN JENKINS GUY IS JUST SO NICE AND FUNNY and helped launch the book, what a goddamn prince.

THIS BEN JENKINS GUY IS JUST SO NICE AND FUNNY and helped launch the book, what a goddamn prince.

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Look at this fuckface

But there’s been a kind of unstoppable momentum up until this moment, all aiming towards the publication date. I’ve been annoying on social media, I’ve been wandering around thrusting my book into people’s faces. But the fact that it’s now published and in some bookshops and online doesn’t mean that it’s all stopped. Oh no, now it’s just began.

For me, I’ll be doing a lot of things. I’ll be doing readings and events and festivals. I’m heading down to Canberra later this month for the Noted Festival, I’ve got some exciting events at Giant Dwarf next month, doing something AWESOME with the Sydney Writers Festival, a comedy reading with some of my favourite authors at Better Read Than Dead in April… I’m going to be unstoppably in your face. That is what I’m going to be doing next. It’s not that I expect to make money from this collection of weird short fiction – I’m not trying to support my starving rescue dogs from the proceeds, or buy myself a white leather tuxedo. But I worked really hard on this book, and I’m proud of it, so I want to make sure that as many people as possible read it. I want to make sure I don’t sit idly by while it slowly fades away into nothing. Maybe it will be only read by a few dozen of the best people on earth, but it’s not in my nature to be complacent about anything to do with stuff I’m passionate about.

There was a great article in Seizure about what people can do to support a debut book, the weakest and most likely to die of all the books. I suggest you go and read it, because it’s just wonderful and 100% true: http://seizureonline.com/agony-aunt-friendly-fan/

Sometimes it is hard to know how to show support for the writers in your life. You toast them at the launch, slap them on the back or tell them how much you like their book. Don’t get me wrong, this is good moral support but it is very likely that the author you know is sweating it out. They are sitting at home staring at a crack in the wall that has begun to symbolise their life, because after years of slog, submission, acceptance and then sweet, sweet publication, nothing much really happens.

You may see a review or two, even in the serious literary supplement of a serious weekend newspaper, and assume that they are now your famous and successful author friend. This is most likely not true. From the outside they appear upbeat but their ears are ringing with deafening silence, punctuated by the odd review or mention.

So what can family, friends and fans do to help? Plenty.

This is what has rung true for me – it took me ages to realise that just because my published friends were famous to me, famous-to-me is not a position that sells books. One of my favourite things to do is only give Australian/friend books to people for Christmas. It’s an easy thing to do, and the recommendation that comes with it usually means the gift means more.

Anyway, this article has a list. I’m going to post this list.

So basically it is quite a challenge to get noticed as an author and the one you know is probably too bashful or prideful to ask for help. Here are some things that any friend, family or fan of an author can do to help raise their profile and get that clap-o-meter to move:

  • Buy a copy at the launch
  • Buy a copy from a bookshop
  • Buy a copy from a bookshop that doesn’t stock it and have them order it
  • Sneakily move your friend’s book to face-out when bookshop staff aren’t looking
  • Bring some friends to the book launch. There will, after all, be free wine and maybe even some cheese.
  • Depending on how close you are to your author, you may like to offer assistance to plan and execute the book launch (since this is often the author’s responsibility these days).
  • Say something online; Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, to name a few*
  • If you’ve got a blog, write a blog post or run an interview; after all, you’ve got access to an author!
  • Take your author out for a drink. Ask them how the publicity trail (trial) is going and encourage them to keep going, to reach out to more bookshops, libraries and bloggers if they seem to have lost steam. Which they may well have, because trying to get attention for their book may seem like banging their head against a particularly unresponsive brick wall.
  • Brainstorm networks for the author to tap. These could be local schools if the book has relevance, media contacts or events planners – to name but a few. Publishers are trying to promote a roster of books all year round – an author’s networks are invaluable.

Such a good list! In my job as Digital Marketer, we’ve found that reviews on Goodreads and Amazon etc are just really important. They’re the internet version of word of mouth. And word of mouth is king. Anyway, watch this space if you want to find out deets of any of these events and stuff, and also now that things have calmed down a little bit, I’ll start actually writing some shit for this blog, instead of endless self promotion. Speaking of which:

If you want to buy Bats, you can buy it in print from many places like here at Spineless Wonders, here at Amazon and here at Booktopia or you can buy it in ebook from Tomely or Amazon.

But seriously. Thank you SO MUCH to everyone for all the support. You’re all golden dolphins swimming in the sun.

 

 

A Man Made Entirely of Bats: LOOK AT THE COVER

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Jesus, Mary and Tim – I’m so frickin’ excited to reveal the cover of my collection A Man Made Entirely of Bats. Oh my goodness. Without further ado, here it is:

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I just love how in many ways it’s saying ‘I’m a decapitated head. I may not be able to form words through my severed vocal cords, but I still have something to say’. I love how there is a ‘man made entirely of bats’ in the background. The bat ground. I love how it says my name, like I’m a real person, and not a robot.

This is the work of the ultra-talented Daniel Lethlean Higson. Bronwyn, my publisher showed me his work right at the beginning of this process – ‘I’ve seen this guy and I think he’d be perfect for your writing’. And it is totally true – I absolutely adore this cover. He’s also done amazing interior illustrations in the book. Daniel’s work is colourful and weird and endlessly fascinating. You can check out more of his art at mountforeverest.tumblr.com

A Man Made Entirely of Bats is coming out on March 1st 2015, but we’re doing a super cool preorder drive at the moment, which means you’ll get it much earlier than everyone else. Also, you get it for the cheap-as-free price of $17.99 instead of $22.99, and it will include a personalised message/story/litany of insults from me, and a free 6 month’s subscription to the Spineless Wonders Bookclub – that’s a download every fortnight for 10 weeks starting in Feb 2015,  valued at $15.

It would be really, really great if you considered getting in on this pre-release offer, perhaps as some kind of Christmas present – what do you get the person who has everything? A really weird book. What do you get your weird nephew? A really weird book. What do you get your enemy? A really weird book, which will dismay and disorient them!

But what is it even about, you ask? Well, why don’t you listen to one of these handsome experts who wrote nice things, which is just such a lovely fucking thing to do.

‘Despite – or, perhaps, because of – a recurring preoccupation with the television show Friends, A Man Made Entirely of Bats is a consistent laugh-riot.’

SIAN CAMPBELL, Scum Mag

‘Featuring a colourful assortment of superheroes, mutants, zombies, bank robbers and boy bands – these stories are wonderfully bizarre, original and hilarious. A new and original voice, Patrick Lenton’s short stories bring qualities rare in Australian fiction; inventiveness, humour, and a fine sense of the absurd.’
RYAN O’NEILL, The Weight of a Human Heart

To order, you just need to go to the Spineless Wonders website: here. You’re so great.

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Urgh, Writing: Please read my horrible Frankenstein thing

I’ve been sending out a lot of horrible Frankenstein things to people and asking for them to pretend it’s a real boy! This has been for two main reasons: 1- I’ve been sending out ARCs of A Man Made Entirely of Bats to writers and editors that I respect and admire to see if they’ll provide a blurb or a fluff or that sentence that you see on the back of the book that says ‘well, this isn’t entirely awful’. And 2 – I recently sent out a manuscript that I eventually submitted to the Scribe Nonfiction Prize to a bunch of people for feedback, of which I have amazingly been shortlisted for, amongst some absolutely intimidating and genuinely lovely and talented writers.

The first emotion that swamps my brain like an upside down portaloo is fear and guilt, because here I am pushing this thing on somebody and I have no idea if they’ll like it. And the second emotion that I feel, and the one that I embrace after I’ve done the breathing exercises to get rid of the first, is gratitude. Gratitude because I have the immense privilege of knowing people who will go out on a limb and read my Frankenstein thing, who will take time out of their incredibly busy lives to give me feedback. What an amazing thing to do for someone. And in my case, an amazingly useful one – the feedback I got for my nonfic manuscript polished it to a level I believe I wouldn’t have been able to achieve normally.

My mate Daniel East wrote this great post about receiving criticism, in which he makes the point that ‘No book is perfectly written’. I think it helps if you consider your creation a thing that needs to be tended by a whole team of medical experts, rather than one lonely weirdo in his crumbling castle. If Dr Frankenstein had a couple of nurses, maybe his monster would’ve been known as Frankenstein’s Totally Normal Guy (you can’t even tell he’s had work!).

All criticism is useful – any issue that a reader has had is an issue that could be shared by any reader anywhere once the book is published. But, again as East points out, it means you just have to consider the info, see it as being highlighted. It might make you say ‘yes, correct, I will definitely change at least one name to something other than Billy Burpton in my manuscript’ or it might make you say ‘actually, Billy Burpton is a choice I’ve made, I’m obviously going to have to push the Billy Burpton issue so that the reader really gets what I’m going for.’

Because I am me, with my Scribe manuscript I couldn’t just settle on general feedback from my readers – I gave them a colour coded ranking system, so that each story in the book was either Green (yes, this is good, choose this) Orange (Not as good as another similar story, has a dud ending but a great beginning, just remove the paragraph with the gratuitous wank) or Red (no, hell no, not for me). This was meant to make the cutting down of a roughly 30,000 word manuscript to a lithe 10,000 word excerpt easy – which like most brilliant plans, mostly worked? There was only about six sections that were universally loved. For most Green, there was someone who gave it a Red. People who have never met provided amazing arguments and counter-arguments to why something was excellent/bad. It was amazing. It was extremely helpful. In some cases I rewrote things entirely to incorporate both perspectives. In other cases I decided that one side was a crazy person, who’s been huffing too much crazy gas.

As well as wandering around asking for feedback, I’ve been doing a bit of feedback myself. It’s a big responsibility. There is a lazy part of my personality that just wants to get along swimmingly with everyone and have tropical cocktails in a pool. That part of me whispers ‘just say it’s all amazing, it’s all perfect, c’mon they’re playing reggae-fusion in the dining hall!’ But writers don’t ask people for feedback to get lied to. I feel like you’re giving them a much bigger insult if you do that. I think the rule that people have to realise is that if someone cares enough about your piece to tell you the potentially upsetting truth about how you believe it can possibly be better, then you have succeeded in writing something that people care about.

The generosity of people who have spent time helping me out with my writing not only really makes me uncomfortably grateful, it also makes me really excited. I think if there’s one thing I’ve always wanted in my life, it’s to be a part of a vibrant, passionate, creative community, and I definitely feel connected at the moment, like there’s a big mob of people with pitchforks and torches marching up to my house, but you know, those pitchforks and torches are gifts perhaps? Maybe I’m digging a big garden and setting fire to it. I dunno. I let metaphors run way too long.

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

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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.

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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.’

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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’.

 

 

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

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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?

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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.

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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!

 

 

URGH, WRITING: I only tell the truth – the dangers of non-fiction

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As a fiction writer, having any sort of commitment to the truth is the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, in my stories, generally I have no regard for the inherent truth of anything – from gravity to medicine to the eternal building blocks of the universe. I am quite happy to disregard all of them. It’s kind of my thing.

As a creative non-fiction writer, I have managed to almost entirely circumvent the issue of ‘truth’ by only writing stories about myself. This probably comes from a place of utter vanity, but I prefer to think that because it is my experiences, I can therefore use myself as a protagonist and focus on my ‘voice’ as the medium for both the comedy and any meaning that manages to seep in accidentally. But even that method, as self-centred and safe as it was, ran into an issue when my story included comments made by a dear friend’s parents. I was not only publishing the story on this site, but I was also reading it at Story Club, to a room which I knew included some mutual friends. The story in question is called Animal Cruelty. At first I felt that the story, even involving someone else’s parents and house and experiences was still MY story – it happened to me, it was through the (unreliable) narration of my memory, why did I have to ask permission to use it?

But the more I thought about it, the more I felt uncomfortable with the idea of someone I care about turning on the internet with their morning cup of coffee, whistling jauntily and then reading a snarky blog post about his own family and then spilling his coffee or something.  That would be devastating. Or having it get back to him through other friends. It didn’t seem polite. So, in the end I ran it past him and everything seemed dandy. Certainly I felt more confident about presenting it, and felt like maybe I was sharing a story. He might be nursing a giant grudge in secret, but on the outside, he seems fine, and I suppose that’s all we can hope for in the end.

As some of you might remember, I am trying to get a project off the ground where I travel around the world and visit all the delightful weirdos I used to play on the internet with when I was a teenager. I pitched it for last year’s SOYA, which I was a finalist in, most due to the sterling effort of everyone I know getting involved and expressing enthusiasm for the project. Anyway, I’m still working hard at getting this project off the ground, writing grant applications and the like (and I will be going for SOYA again this year, be warned, I will once again be doing my best puppy dog eyes so everyone can help me get this novel to happen). One of the few actual steps forward I have made is getting a series of flash fictions published by Seizure as part of their Alt-Txt initiative. Each of these flash fictions is a quick profile on some of the people I hope to be featuring in my book. They should be coming out in fits and bursts soon.

Anyway – after I finished my first draft of these, I realised that while I was focusing on MY interaction with these people, the things I knew about them, how I saw them, how we i-met, how we e-interacted, I discovered that some of the stories I’d touched on were definitely not mine to tell. In three noticeable pieces, they were not simply just stories I had no claim to – they were deeply personal experiences of horror and pain.

A quick disclaimer – 90% of these stories are just silly and funny, but it was the leftover 10% that I started to have issues with.

Srsly silly, I'm also doing 'art' to match each story. This is one.

Srsly silly, I’m also doing ‘art’ to match each story. This is one.

It became quickly apparent that I couldn’t post these stories on the internet – the place where these people live – without first consulting the subjects of them, and letting them read it. It was honestly a terrifying experience. Even though I was completely prepared to let them have veto on the stories for any reason whatseover, not even just if they objected to what I was saying about them,  even if they just thought I was shit at sentence structure, it still highlighted the fact that I was taking liberties with someone else’s life. Taking their experiences, their entire being and then having the hide to transform it into something to read and digest. Why on earth would I be qualified to do that?

Luckily, while I was having a genuine freakout about this, I asked all the wonderful writers I know on Facebook how they dealt with this feeling of responsibility. I was quickly reassured that the only thing I could do was run it past the subjects of the piece – and that some people actually make a habit of not doing that. I also realised that a lot of people I know routinely write about incredibly tricky interactions – troublesome family interactions, ex-partners, current significant others.

It was the first time I’ve felt in a position of responsibility as a writer. As a producer or creative director of projects, sure, I’ve had huge degrees of responsibility to other people. But as a writer, writing about the things I write, the only person I had to worry about displeasing is myself, and I shed any dignity or embarrassment years ago. One of my fiction pieces, which was fairly widely circulated, including in newspapers, was about a family at a funeral. It just so happened that it was re-published shortly after my grandfathers funeral. Even though the dead person in this story was a grandma, my grandfather’s side of the family decided the story was about them, and also decided it wasn’t a flattering depiction and therefore decided to get offended. I think non-writers constantly look for themselves in the writing of people they know. And I think as writers we all know that inspiration rarely works in a A+B= C scenario. It’s quite likely there was some of that family somewhere in my fictional depiction. However – considering it was originally published a year before my grandfather’s death, I felt quite safe in ignoring this particularly brand of self-entitled butt-hurt, unless they suspected I could foretell the future and was using that ability for literary gain.

The majority of the subjects of the Alt-Txt project (People I’ve Never Met from Places That Don’t Exist) were completely fine with the stories I’d written about them. In some cases, the sensitive topic I was bringing up allowed us to have a bit of an air-clearing chat, mostly about the ‘follies of youth’. I realised that through writing about these experiences, some which I’ve held to my chest for over a decade as something unresolved, has allowed me to tick them off in a sense, to put a full-stop at the end of that particular life experience. One particular subject, whose profile included an immensely difficult time of their life, decided that I should know the details about what actually happened to them, and not just what I vaguely remembered or had perhaps heard from other sources. What became immediately obvious is that their story was not adequately being told my me, was not being given justice. They didn’t mind that I was attempting – they just wanted my attempt to have all the information that it needed to work.

My responsibility to their story quickly told me that a flash fiction was not the place to attempt to tell the entirety of it. This was something that will have to wait for the novel, I think. There was also the issue of how someone is represented by something as transient as a mico-non-fiction. Does something that happened TO them have to be included in something so small? Is it an essential part of them? All I can do is provide a snap-shot, a preview of a person in this project. Thematically for this work – internet pieces about the internet – it fits. And does shying away from something more difficult to tell mean that I am simply being a coward, that I am whitewashing their life? I’ve endeavoured to make a compromise, and will be sending the final draft later today to see what they think.

I think as a writer, I have to be aware of the increased responsibility I have in telling a story that isn’t mine, and that all I can endeavour to do is write it as well as I can, and be as transparent as possible with the people it directly affects. I think that’s what is expected of me. I think there is still danger present, but perhaps with increased risk comes an increased reward, and I might be telling stories that deserve to be told. Maybe. I miss writing about SASSY HAWKS.

Urgh, Writing: How To FOCUS on Writing

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I was reading this post by my colleague Craig called ‘How Not To Write a Novel’ and was nodding along with his points, before realising that actually my problems are entirely different to the ones he has laid out, and are maybe unique to me. But then I thought I was probably overestimating how special I am and underestimating how ridiculous other people’s lives are. So here are my pointers on how not to write a novel, with an added moral at the end:

1. Don’t Write Theatre

One of the easiest ways not to write a novel is to spend years writing theatre. While it may sometimes look like you’re writing a novel due to all the words you are putting on a page, don’t be confused – this is a script, and not a novel.

2. Don’t Write Films

Hey, films are cool. How do they get the words you wrote up on that big screen and expressed through shiny pictures? We’ll never know. But doing that film writing course is not writing a novel. You are often sitting down, but once again, still not writing a novel.

3. Don’t Write Satirical Poetry

Even though you got a shiny purple suit and an 8-foot banner of yourself, you are still not writing a novel. You are in a poetry boyband.

4. Don’t Write Miscellaneous Shit for Everyone Who Asks

Still not a novel. Mostly these are lists about 90s TV shows.

5. Don’t Get A Job You Love

Because you have to go there every day, and not write a novel. They’re pretty strict on that point.

I am definitely guilty of all these, and because of the last point, I’ve had to look at all the things in my life and decide what my goals are. I am now dedicated to getting some books out there – starting with a collection of short fiction, then a creative non-fiction novel and then potentially a fiction novel. These are my goals. Because I am now focused on my goals, my writing has become a clear and defined thing. The microfiction a day plan that I talked about in a previous Urgh, Writing has been working fantastically, and I am reliably pumping out a few stories a week. Furthermore, I’m enjoying my actual writing. It doesn’t feel like a chore. Accompanying this is STILL a bunch of side projects – things which I’ve looked at and said ‘this will help my eventual goals in terms of promotion and exposure’, or smaller projects which I really believe in, such as a top secret thing I am working on with Seizure. But I am also learning how to say ‘no’. Over the past two weeks, I keep seeing fantastic writing opportunities – comedy writing positions, webseries, residencies, etc etc etc. Things that would have suited past me a lot, or things that I think I would enjoy. And it’s super hard staying focused and saying no to them. But I’m getting better.

And now for bonus moral point:

6. ACTUALLY DO ALL THOSE THINGS I SAID NOT TO DO

Why? Because maybe I don’t have a novel, but each of those points has led me to becoming a better writer. Theatre for example – something I love, something I love writing, and something I will write again, but I KNOW my dialogue skills in prose have enhanced because of it. My film course? Taught me I don’t want to write for Hollywood, but also how to pitch ANY project. Focus is good, but I think I’ve needed this time being a little bit adrift to pick up some skills, and now I can focus them into a deathlaser or whatever.