No living, but what a buzz
Persistence is at least as important as talent for those wishing to chase the dream of writing a novel, says Alison Aprhys
URN back while you can!’’ jokes Will Elliott when asked to give advice to the increasing number of people who aim to make a career out of writing fiction. However, Elliott can afford to laugh now, as his first novel The Pilo Family Circus won the 2006 ABC Fiction Award, a $10,000 advance and a contract with ABC Books.
The award (which seeks the best original unpublished quality fiction manuscript written by an Australian resident over the age of 18) gave Elliott a much-needed confidence boost. So did subsequent critical acclaim.
‘‘ Actually, part of me wants to suggest chasing your dream, taking the road less travelled and all that jazz, but it helps to be aware of the realities,’’ he says. Like many writers, Elliott understands that hard work and sheer determination are critical. ‘‘ Talent, though a prerequisite, is not the key to making it to print — persistence is. That and work ethic are the rare magic ingredients, not talent.’’
Elliott suggests The Art of Fiction and On BecomingaNovelist by John Gardner, and The NovelWriter’sToolkit by Bob Mayer, as ‘‘ some good how-to-write books’’.
‘‘ There’s lot of people who think they have a book in them,’’ says Jerry Fisher, executive director of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA). But he balances this with caution. ‘‘ Publishers are innately conservative. In saying that, they have to make money and in Australia we have a vibrant [writing and publishing] industry.’’
Fisher represents 3000 members, the majority of whom are published. But simply being published does not guarantee riches or fame. ‘‘ The average writer’s income is $11,000,’’ he says, pointing out that many have to seek other employment to make decent living. His advice to aspiring authors? ‘‘ Read. And get honest feedback on your writing beyond your friends and family.’’
Publishing veteran Richard Smart says, ‘‘ My advice is, if you reckon your book is any good you have to keep bashing on doors.’’ Smart, who edited the new edition of the Australian Publishers Association’s (APA) AnIntroduction to Australian Book Publishing , is a publishing consultant, a director of the APA and convenor of the independent publishers committee — which, he says, represents around 70 per cent of the association’s membership.
With 45 years’ experience, Smart has no illusions about breaking into the industry, and chairs introductory courses for the APA aimed at people new or aspiring to book publishing. ‘‘ The odds of getting published are heavily stacked against you and, despite this, publishers’ slush piles are overflowing,’’ he says.
He believes that writing something great is one third of the battle. ‘‘ The other two-thirds are getting [the book] through the door and then getting it out of the door, because sometimes a manuscript will be accepted, then for all sorts of