Prior to the commencement of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, an email to subscribers and attendees from the Festival’s new Artistic Director, Michaela McGuire, welcomed us to …"An intense week where readers are thrown together with strong personalities and confronting ideas. A week to have your views challenged and your world expanded". The Festival lived up to its introduction. Highlights can be found at: https://www.swf.org.au
Of the sessions I attended, audiences were at least 95% authors and aspiring writers from all writing disciplines and most of the other 5% were publishers (from a show of hands). One such session was a discussion by panelists called “Going Further Afield” conducted at the Metcalfe Auditorium, State Library of NSW, on 25th May 2017.
The Chair was Fiona Henderson, Publishing Director, Simon & Schuster, whose panel was Sarah Crichton, publisher, Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux from the USA; Catherine Eccles, owner & literary scout, Eccles Fisher Associates, England (a literary scout helps international publishers buy rights); and, Gita Wolf, founder & publisher, Tara Books, India.
The theme was a discussion on what types of Australian works sell internationally and how authors get their work sold overseas. But after the audience (of almost all writers) learned (1) how few if any of the panelists had acquired Australian books, and (2) that they only accept works from agents or Australian Publishers (and only 40-60% of Australian authors/writers have agents and those writers weren’t in the room (from a show of hands)), then the conversation was directed by the audience to the question of what work is getting published.
Panelists all agreed on “the magical things that will see aspiring authors work published” (but didn’t say what makes these things):
· The manuscript must be muscular, noisy i.e. demands to be noticed, is a page turner, has tension and originality of writing;
· It doesn’t matter how good the writing is, marketing needs a “hook” and if a publisher taking a manuscript to an acquisition meeting can’t provide it, the book will not be acquired;
· A marketing “hook” needs to be the book summed up in one sentence and is expected of the writer;
· A publisher will consider whether or not their gamble on a new author is financially viable i.e. is the book going to make money? Consideration will be given to the writer’s social media exposure and the writer’s “brand” (i.e. a writer needs to have already determined how they want to be known as a writer and have used their branding across all platforms).
· The manuscript needs a great title; and,
· The manuscript submission needs an accompanying great letter (or email) that demonstrates that the writer (or agent) understands the Publisher’s list. It also gives details about the book.
There is nothing here that an experienced writer doesn’t already know and a collective sigh ensued from the audience.
The panel in summary said they are currently looking for “classy commercial” – a literary novel with the commercial appeal of a great story – and that they will know what they’re looking for when they see it!