Browsing Tag

editing

Book mail

17 October 2018

This month I’ve been so flat out editing that I’ve barely had time to do anything else. I’ve got lots of wonderful books passing across my desk at the moment — literary fiction, YA and middle grade mostly — and it’s keeping me very busy. I’m booked through to the end of the year, which feels as if it is advancing at a great rate.

So in the absence of a proper blog post, I’m going to share with you this beautiful book that landed in my mailbox this week. (Is there anything better than book mail?) It is about Australian artist William Robinson, written by Nick Earls, published by Brisbane’s QUT Museum, designed by Sandy Cull and edited by yours truly. Images don’t do this tactile, light-catching cover justice, but here’s a short vid to give you a peek inside. Isn’t it a thing of beauty?

 

Update: If you would like to hear more about the book and Nick Earls’ writing process, have a listen to this lovely interview on RN’s The Hub.

It’s a collaboration

13 September 2017

Last weekend I presented at SCWBI’s Level Up conference on the collaborative process of editing a manuscript, and how the author–editor relationship should ideally work. I thought it might be useful to share an abbreviated version of the section on how to get the most out of the experience, because if you’ve never worked with an editor before it can feel like a daunting process. Every writer is deeply attached to their work, so turning a manuscript over to an editor can feel like having your soul laid bare, and critiqued.

It’s important to remember that editors are ordinary people who love books. An editor’s job is to make the writer look good. They have nothing to personally gain, other than the satisfaction of knowing that they helped you make your book better.

In order for the editorial process to run smoothly, it’s important to develop a good working relationship with your editor that is based on mutual trust and respect. So here are my top tips for how to create a strong partnership.

  1. Let go of your ego

The truth is nobody really enjoys being critiqued. We all secretly want to be told that we’re a genius and the work needs absolutely nothing done to it. But even the most experienced writers benefit from a close edit. A good editor will provide honest, constructive feedback designed to improve your book. Anyone who believes they don’t need an editor is letting their ego get in the way of commonsense.

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If you are a first-time author, you may be unsettled by the number of changes your editor makes on the manuscript. But remember that this is normal. It doesn’t mean that the editor doesn’t love your book. Try to remember that that the feedback is not personal criticism but professional insight into what could make your manuscript stronger. The editor’s goal is the same as yours: to make your book a success.

So don’t be defensive, instead…

  1. Be open

Be open to new ideas. Be open to different approaches. Be open to major rewrites. Be willing to listen and learn. The best editors see potential. They see what the writer’s vision is and they help sharpen it and enlarge it — they help the book reach its full potential.

Listen honestly to what your editor has to say. Their suggestions may require you to do some really hard work that you might resist. But be brave. Embrace change. Experiment with structural revisions. In short, be willing to move in a completely different direction from where you started.

  1. Take time out

But first thing’s first. When you receive your editor’s comments and you’ve read them through and realised that you’re going to have to grapple with some major changes, you might need to take some time out. You might need to sulk. Or cry. Or drink wine. Or eat an entire block of chocolate. Or do all of those things. And that’s okay.

Give yourself time to gain some perspective because your initial reaction is likely to be driven by emotion, but then get on with it. Consider every point carefully, without letting emotion play a part, and objectively assess the substance of the critique.

  1. Pick your battles

The editing process is not about winning or losing. The editor is your ally, not your opponent. And if you treat them this way your work will only benefit. That’s not to say that the editor will always be right. Even the best editors sometimes get things wrong.

Anyone who is a parent will know that you pick your battles with your children. You also need to pick your battles as an author (and know, too, that your editor will be picking their battles). If you don’t agree with a suggestion clearly explain your position, and be willing to engage in a discussion about it. Editors are creative problem-solvers and they want to work with you.

Often an editor will identify an area that needs work and might suggest a solution. However their suggestion should be treated  as a springboard. You might use their solution, but often the author comes up with something that’s even better. Think about the process as being like a conversation. Exploratory discussions give rise to the best work.

Some newer authors feel intimidated by editors, but don’t be. Always ask questions if there’s anything you don’t understand or aren’t clear about.

  1. Be professional

Always be professional, polite and timely with your responses. Remember that the editor will be working on multiple books simultaneously, and another author’s book might be their current priority. Editors are extremely overworked, so be understanding if they don’t get back to you immediately.

Ensure that you always meet your deadlines. The editor will stipulate a deadline for every round of revisions. If you don’t meet these deadlines you will put the whole production cycle out. Even though it’s your book, you are only one person in the process. If for some reason you think you’ll be unable to meet a deadline, let your editor know as soon as possible.

  1. Be patient

Know that publishing is long game, especially with books where an illustrator is involved. My next picture book, Seree’s Story, will have taken about four years by the time it comes out with Walker Books. And that’s only from submission — the research, writing and self-editing process began long before that. Admittedly this is a particularly long timeframe (my previous picture book took 18 months, my short fiction collection took one year), but publishing is a slow process. The smaller independent presses tend to be quicker than the larger publishers, but waiting is a reality of the industry. The best antidote is to get on with writing your next book.

  1. Say thank you

It is true that not every traditionally published writer has an amazing relationship with their editor, and there are certainly horror stories out there, but these are not the norm. Most published writers value their editors. So if your editor has helped you create a better book, thank them. Editors get very little credit, they are essentially invisible, and they work hard to help you make your book the best that it can be. So express your gratitude — privately or publically, or both. Flowers are not necessary — we are all word people after all, and words are more than enough.

These boots were made for walking: writing rituals

28 July 2017

I have very few writing rituals, things that I actually need in order to write. Having children has focused me in a way nothing else ever could because until this year I wrote in the cracks of life. I grabbed an hour while the littlest slept and the two older children were at school, or while the bloke took the lot of them down to the park. I learnt how to ignore the housework and sit down at my computer and just go. When time is limited every second counts.

This year, for the first time, I have all three of my children at school. But that ability to sit down and get on with it is now ingrained. There is only one thing that I need before I start writing: coffee. It doesn’t matter where I write (my study, the library, cafés) but I need (good) coffee. The caffeine helps my fingers fly across the keyboard, but in reality it is just a ritual. A small thing that signals a shift into a different mindspace.

Mostly I work from home. In some minds this seems to translate into me swanning about the house, and writing the odd sentence or two. It’s as far from that as you can get. There is zero swanning involved. It’s a job like any other, except that I don’t take a lunch break or stop for cake to farewell some colleague or chat about the weekend in the staff room. After I’ve done the school drop-off I take five minutes to make coffee, then get stuck straight into it, drinking at my desk while I read back over a little of the previous day’s writing to get me started.

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Because I try to cram in as much as I can between my working hours of 9.30 to 2.30 while the kids are at school, for lunch I eat last night’s dinner, or whatever I can scrounge from the fridge that requires zero prep time, at my desk. Last week Master 10 was home for a couple of days. He was sick enough to be off school, but well enough to entertain himself, so I kept working. That day I took a proper break to eat lunch with him. ‘Your work is intense, Mum,’ he said to me with mild admiration. ‘You don’t stop.’

But there is one exception, my second ritual: a daily walk. Sitting on your bum for hours is not the best, so in the middle of the day I get out of the house and walk. It gets everything moving again, but it’s also the best way to reset and prepare for the afternoon. At the moment I’m finishing a novel, and on Monday to Wednesday I divide my day roughly down the middle. Morning is for writing, afternoon is for all my non-writing activities: editing other writers’ manuscripts; developing any workshops I might be running; prep for my university editing seminars or upcoming events; answering emails and other admin, and so on. (Thursday and Friday are dedicated solely to editing.) In-between I clear the cobwebs with a walk.

The view from my balcony — I swear Canberra has the best sunsets in the world

Sometimes I listen to a writing podcast, sometimes I don’t want words filling up my ears. However there is a danger inherent in walking after having written all morning. Sometimes I tune out of the podcast and begin unknotting some issue with my novel, or ‘writing’ a new scene. The mind is a strange thing, often I don’t realise I’ve even been subconsciously doing this until the solution presents itself to me. Of course then I have to get that down on paper which means the afternoon’s work gets shunted to the evening or the weekend. But hey, that kind of flexibility is why I love working from home.

Writing and walking commonly go hand in hand. I know so many writers who walk to work out thorny problems with their manuscripts. I’m fortunate that I live in a house looking to the hills, so my walk is accompanied by a vista over the valley to the Brindabellas. Honestly, I never tire of it. It fills me up every single day. And at the moment, when I’m in the middle of a particularly busy couple of months, it’s an indispensable pause in an otherwise ‘intense’ day.

Take four

15 May 2017

‘I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.’ Audre Lorde

This is what we writers do, in our private corners of solitude. We put words on the page that go out into the world and speak to readers. But a writer’s job also involves getting on a stage and speaking directly to those readers, trying to articulate the thinking behind the messy and elusive process of creating a work of fiction. It can be nerve-racking and exciting and stimulating. In the lead-up to an event I always feel anticipatory nerves, but once I’m on the stage I enjoy myself, and often come away feeling buoyant.

I’ve been part of four very varied events on writing and/or editing in recent weeks and I thought I’d share a little about the experience of each of them.

‘Animal Rights Writing’: Nigel Featherstone, Sam Vincent, Karen Viggers and Irma Gold

Most recently I was on an ‘Animal Rights Writing’ panel with Karen Viggers and Sam Vincent. I’ve never seen a panel programmed on this subject before. (Hit me up in the comments if you have, because it’s a topic I’d love to see discussed more.) This session was chaired by Nigel Featherstone who managed to expertly guide the discussion through our respective areas of interest. Our books deal with kangaroo culling (Karen, The Grass Castle), international whaling (Sam, Blood and Guts) and the exploitation of elephants for tourism (me, a children’s book, Seree’s Story, due out with Walker Books, and a work-in-progress novel, Rescuing Chang). Our conversation covered much ground, but, for me at least, the key idea that emerged was that conservation issues tend to be distilled into polarised positions which don’t necessarily reflect the complexities involved. Life is full of grey, and solutions are rarely of the black-and-white kind. Fortunately, writing can explore the grey. While this event delved into the darker side of humans’ impact on the world, it was a thoroughly stimulating and thought-provoking discussion. And as the icing on the cake, I returned home to an email from an audience member who felt moved to get in touch after hearing me speak about the devastating situation facing Asian elephants. With both my books yet to be released, I’m looking forward to many more conversations like this one.

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Noted: Ashley Thomson, Irma Gold, Alan Vaarwerk, Sian Campbell

As part of Noted Festival, I was on a panel with Alan Vaarwerk (Kill Your Darlings) and Sian Campbell (Scum Magazine), ‘Literally the Worst: Bad Writing and Badder Editing’, with Homer Editor Ashley Thomson chairing. I wasn’t keen on the title’s negative angle, but I guess a feisty premise draws the crowds, and the event was certainly packed. Fortunately the focus of discussion was productive, emphasising ways for writers to improve their craft. We also spoke about the hallmarks of good editing and when to identify ‘bad’ editing. In particular, I spoke about the need for editors to work with the author’s voice, not impose their own. Our own idiom is always what sounds ‘right’, so good editors learn to recognise their own preferences and then set them aside. They essentially become chameleons, taking on the colours of the manuscript in order to help the author make their work the very best it can be. (As you can see, Shauna O’Meara choose to illustrate this part of our conversation; my first time immortalised as a cartoon!) We spoke about a whole lot else besides and the event was podcasted here if you’d like to have a listen.

For the next two events I was the one in the interviewer’s hot seat. It’s such a responsibility being the interviewer. Over the years I’ve seen the way poor interviewers give authors no place to go and leave everyone feeling flat, and conversely the way brilliant interviewers draw the very best out of their subjects, gleaning new insights. Part of the skill is developing a rapport with the interviewees before hitting the stage, which is of course easier if you already know them. It’s also important to be super prepared but then be able to go with the flow on the day, so that the conversation evolves, rather than rigidly following a pre-existing set of questions.

It’s such a privilege chatting with other writers, and the in-conversation event with Marion Halligan and John Stokes about their lives together was one of the loveliest events I’ve been a part of. Marion and John are perhaps best described as Canberra literary royalty. They are a warm, generous and supportive presence in the local community, and our discussion reflected that. There was much laughter, but also tears. Both have written so movingly about grief and loss, and John’s reading of his prose poem about the death of Marion’s daughter, ‘Funeral Address for a Stepdaughter’, had the audience reaching for the tissues. Marion once wrote, ‘Grief does not dissipate, it is something that exists, and must be valued, even treasured.’ Wise words indeed. It was a rich and wonderful hour spent with two marvellous writers.

And finally, I interviewed Robyn Cadwallader about her stunning debut novel, The Anchoress, as part of Festival Muse. I wrote about some of our discussion here, so I won’t rehash it, but Robyn was a delight to interview—thoughtful, insightful and intelligent. Our discussion lingered in my mind long after the event was over.

Next up, I’m heading to Holy Trinity Primary School in my role as Ambassador for the ACT Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge. School visits are always heaps of fun, so I can’t wait to meet all those new little readers.

making tracks

29 September 2016

I’m in the process of designing a new website with the help of a very talented friend which means that this blog has been even more neglected than usual. But I wanted to put down a few words about Express Media and their recent Tracks program because they are doing such great things to support and develop young writers.

Last weekend saw Express Media bring Tracks to Canberra for a day-long program of workshops and panels designed to develop writers’ skills and understanding of publishing. My part in the day was to speak on the ‘Editing and Publishing: First Times and Best Practice’ panel alongside Duncan Felton (Grapple Publishing), Zoya Patel (Feminartsy) and Ashley Thomson (Homer). We unpacked the writer–editor relationship, the publishing process, and what to expect when working with an editor. We also managed to have a damn good time, as Josephine Cosgrove’s wonderful photos attest.

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I won’t summarise the discussion here, but I will repeat one key point that new writers often struggle with simply because of lack of experience. The editing process shouldn’t be adversarial. A good editor is a chameleon, able to take on the author’s voice instead of imposing their own, and work with the author to make their book the very best that it can be. The process is a long conversation involving extensive back-and-forth. And a successful author–editor relationship will often result in a work that is even better than either the author or the editor imagined. That’s a satisfying outcome for everyone — author, editor, publisher and reader.

Random House’s Meredith Curnow sums it up this way: ‘I just hope that a writer can enter the editing relationship with an open heart and an open mind, but also confidence in their work and confidence in their voice because you never want to change the voice of a writer, you just want to help it be more available to more readers. Editors and publishers act as external readers — they represent the reading public.’

I’ll leave you with two of my favourite articles by Patrick Lenton (on his blog here) and Charlotte Wood (in the Sydney Review of Books here) that elaborate on the author–editor relationship. They are well worth reading, particularly for newer writers about to embark on the editing process.

Thanks again to Express Media, Gorman House Arts Centre and the ACT Writers Centre for producing such a fantastic event.