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

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Career One -

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


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