Reflections on HARDCOPY 2016- Part 2 Going Public

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Reflections on HARDCOPY 2016- Part 2 Going Public

After the first round of HARDCOPY participants were invited to apply for the Going Public Weekend in November. Only 10 of the 30 writers would get the opportunity to receive industry level feedback from a group of publishers and agents.

I didn’t get through to the Going Public weekend. So I let myself sulk for about a week. I’m no stranger to rejection though and I soon moved forward with a new plan, which involved querying agents until one of them fell in love with Day of the Neandertals.

My plan was in full swing when I got a call from (the wonderful) Nigel Featherstone. One of the (many) rising stars of our group had been offered a publishing contract and was withdrawing from the Going Public weekend. And I was next in line. It took me about 10 seconds to accept the offer and run off to book another flight to Canberra.

Preparing for Going Public was quite different to the other two weekends, in that there was actually some preparation required. I had to know how to talk about my manuscript and I had to know who I was talking to. It was a bit like studying for an exam, lucky for me the other participants had already done some research and I could copy their notes.

The actual weekend was exhausting, exciting, nerve-wracking, exhilarating, sometimes devastating and ultimately wonderful.

These are the things I learned and the feedback I got from HARDCOPY Going Public 2016:

  • HARDCOPY is well regarded in the Australian publishing industry
  • In terms of cover letters and pitches agents want to know your ideas on genre and comparison books, however the publishers wanted to make that decision for themselves and didn’t like being told (this seemed particularly so in the case of whether something is YA or adult).
  • A lot of them don’t like synopses. Two industry professionals told me they thought they would hate my story based on the synopsis, but then ended up loving the extract.
  • Agents and publishers genuinely want to help new writers succeed.
  • Not everyone is going to connect with your work. You need to keep trying until you find someone who does (bearing in mind to act on any advice and criticism that feels true to you along the way).
  • Write what you want to write in the way you want to write it rather than trying to fit into a particular box or market.
  • Don’t implement changes to fit a particular agent/publisher unless they really fit with what you are trying to do
  • The publishing industry is difficult and bleak for debut authors in Australia/ It is a great time to be a debut author in Australia. Still not sure what the take-home message was on this issue.
  • Publishers and agents need writers.
  • Persistence is key
  • Response to your work can be crazy-subjective
  • Examples of wide range of feedback I got for Day of the Neandertals:
    • The prose– perfectly serviceable/ crisp/ accessible/ great just as it is/ needs polishing/ nothing fancy/ evocative/ needs refining
    • The story– seems very plot driven/ seems very character driven/ a page turner/ a wild ride (which in this particular case was euphemistic for ‘WTF did I just read’)/ suspenseful/ needs streamlining
    • Worldbuilding– fantastic/ confusing
    • Structure– Works well/ confusing/ changes between characters too abrupt
    • Exposition– take some out/ put more in
    • Characters– use more introspection/ use less introspection
    • Genre– YA crossover exists/ YA crossover doesn’t exist/ I think this is adult/ have you tried writing it for an even younger audience?
    • Comparisons– Your book comparisons are spot on/ I’m not familiar with any of your book comparisons/ I think it’s like Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things/ I think it’s like Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things/ Hunger Games meets Jurassic Park/ Has anyone ever compared it to Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things?
    • Themes– fresh/ topical/ very dark/ suitable for school reading lists/ I think there is too much dystopian fiction about
    • Most perplexing feedback– Does it have to be about Neandertals?

 

As a direct result of contacts made during HARDCOPY 2016 I accepted an offer of representation from Danielle Binks of Jacinta di Mase Management just before Christmas 2016 (still waiting for official paperwork, but I think it’s pretty safe to disclose this now).

2016 was a pretty good year for my writing. Meanwhile disturbing trends in world politics could see an increase in interest in dystopian fiction like Day of the Neandertals (always looking for a bright side) and hopefully a resurgence in punk rock music!

Special thanks to Nigel Featherstone, Mary Cunnane, Sarah Mason, Sophie Mannix, the HARDCOPY selection committees and all the industry professionals and writers who participated.

HARDCOPY is an initiative of the ACT Writers Centre and has been supported by the Australia Council for the Arts

 

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Reflections on HARDCOPY 2016- Part 1

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HARDCOPY 2016

2016 has been a year of ups and down, both personally and globally. All over social media people are welcoming the death of 2016 and while I can see where they are coming from, on the whole 2016 has been a fantastic year for me, mostly because I participated in the ACT Writers Centre HARDCOPY professional development program.

Weekend One- Manuscript Development Masterclass:

HARDCOPY began with a manuscript development masterclass with editor Nadine Davidoff on an icy May weekend in Canberra.

I must admit once all the participants started talking about their manuscripts (ranging from YA to crime to historical to humour to fantasy and literary and some genres in between) my imposter syndrome set in. Everyone’s work seemed much more grown up and serious than my little story about cloned Neandertals fighting for freedom in a post-apocalyptic world (really that just sounds like a pulpy sci-fi novel or a bad action movie). But then Nadine got us to think about what had compelled us to write our story and the emotions behind the writing.

So let me explain what came out of that exploration-

In 2013 Harvard geneticist George Church claimed that he could clone a Neandertal. This intrigued me. My first thought was Hell yes. Somebody please clone a Neandertal. I wanna see that. So I decided to write about it. In order to write about Neandertal cloning I had to think about why we would clone Neandertals, how they would be treated, what they would be like and also how the science would work. The science part was fairly straight forward (for a biological scientist such as myself) and I learned that George Church was being extremely optimistic, but there is a chance in the future that we will be able to reverse engineer a Neandertal genome from a modern human genome. So to be plausible I set my story in the future. Extrapolating current social and technological trends into a future world brought up interesting themes and possible scenarios. Working out what Neandertals were like required research into the fossil evidence and as a result I became a staunch defender of the reputation of Neandertals. I get quite offended now when someone uses ‘Neandertal’ as an insult. Thinking about how cloned Neandertals would be treated and why we would clone them really took me into sticky ethical areas and brought up issues of prejudice, exploitation and identity. I also chose female main protagonists because I am inspired to improve the representation of women in science fiction. Through all this I came to realise the writing of this seemingly superficial sci-fi adventure was driven by frustration, anger and sadness at the shortcomings of the human race. (Phew- and I thought it was just an exercise in imagination!).

But enough about me and more about HARDCOPY. While the manuscript development class got me thinking about my manuscript in new ways and re-iterated important aspects of craft, one of the most valuable aspects of this weekend was the sense of community I got from meeting the other participants. I think we all felt somewhat validated to have made it into the program and were all excited and happy to be there. Everyone I met was kind and funny and interesting and genuinely easy to get along with. I got a sense, even from that first weekend, that the connections made would be permanent and we’d all be, at the very least, following each other’s careers closely into the future.

I left Canberra, that weekend in May, on a high and full of inspiration and motivation.

Weekend 2- Intro2Industry:

The into2industry weekend in September was a further opportunity to hang out with my cool group of new writer friends. It was also an opportunity to hear from writers, publishers, agents, booksellers and other industry professionals. For me the publishing industry was demystified. Throughout the weekend my emotions ranged from hope to a complete absence of hope and back again (regarding the chances of having a successful career as an Australian author). And I went home each night with a thumping headache from listening so hard. The most salient messages for me were that there is no one path to publication and that getting your first book deal is just the beginning.

After an interesting discussion of social media, I think most participants started a Facebook author page or opened a twitter account (it was twitter for me and I’m still not sure I’m using it correctly).

Then we all went home and applied for Round 2, where 30 would be whittled down to 10 (well actually 11 in this instance). More on that to come…

 

HARDCOPY is an initiative of the ACT Writers Centre and has been supported by the Australia Council for the Arts