Normally I publish only poetry on this blog. In my spare time though (when I am not online, enjoying life, or being drowned under the weight of work), I am attempting to become a published author. With the amount of trouble I am having in becoming published, I always felt it would be nice to find a blog, a post, or anything really, that could help outline what the publishing industry in Australia is like today. Since I am unable to find one, I thought I would simply articulate my opinions garnered from personal experience.
One thing that I constantly find amazing is the information which is provided, and the realisation I have had which reveals how one hand apparently has no idea what the other is doing. I know, cliche expression, but nothing could be more true. University lecturers and tutors I often find are quick to articulate how these past couple of years and the few that are yet to come are the best times to enter the publishing and writing industry, whereas publishers and literary agents reveal quite the opposite.
Back in 2005 when I completed my first short story collection, I began to look for publishers. At the time of the anthology’s orchestration, publishers were apparently happy to accept such a literary style, and when I had finished the text, suddenly many of the publishers who were willing to accept short stories had dried up, and this has only consistently become worse. At the beginning of 2013 I was alerted by a literary agent how apparently the short fiction industry in Australia was completely dead. Most publishers are unwilling to accept such work, and according to professors involved in the writing field at Melbourne University, the interest in short stories has seen a rapid decline over the years in exchange for young adult fiction.
Predominantly, I have been told how the best way to become published is to write either young adult fiction (which I cannot because I consistently get the voice wrong) or fantasy (which has never truly acquired my attention from a writing point of view). What’s more, if a writer creates a series, this is expected to be even more attractive, for the potential success of one book (which has been proven over the past few years with fantasy series’ being all the rage) will inevitably mean that any sequels will rake in just as much popularity.
Moving on, the novel that I have been trying to publish is a science fiction piece, which I have since edited and am in the process of cutting into three separate texts. In 2010, Ewan Mitchell, a known Australian writer in the publishing scene expressed to me when I told him about my project how science fiction was a great genre to write about because it was not constrained and could be internationally understood. A book about the Australian outback for instance may not acquire international acclaim, but Mitchell stressed that science fiction was at the opposite end of the spectrum.
At the start of 2013 I was told by literary agents how fantasy was a dominant genre and science fiction had generally begun to decline, and in December last year I received the same news, only amplified, being told how science fiction was ‘depressed’. As far as I can tell, only five literary agents are willing to accept science fiction oriented work (Australian Literary Management, Cameron’s Management, Curtis Brown, Golvan Arts (although they stress they are very busy) and Jenny Darling and Associates), with two of the other agencies that once accepted such a genre having gone out of business. It’s almost ironic, and clearly was meant to be – I’m depressed and the genre I write about feels the same way.
If that’s not enough, publishers and literary agents have done nothing over the past two years to make me feel any better about becoming successful as a writer. Almost every agent and publisher I contact with regards to whether they are accepting the kind of pieces I write, stress how this is the worst time to become an aspiring writer. So bad in fact that in December of last year, a literary agent (I do believe it was Australian Literary Management) told me to consider another career. Good thing I’m been kept busy by four part time jobs else I would be in trouble.
Sadly though, every time my aspirations are shot down, my opinion on the chances that I have to enter such an industry begin to slowly fade, and after so much trouble I begin to wonder whether I should even bother continuing. True, I have wanted to be an author since I was 5, but I don’t think it is ever too late to run, in the words of an old limerick, over the hills and far away. After so much effort though, do I really wish for my dreams to come crashing down around me without putting up a fight?
True, I could consider the self-publishing scene, but that additionally has its issues. Zeinab Alayan, self published author of Puppet Parade, once said last year that becoming self published was a good thing to put on her resume so publishers could perhaps take this fact under advisement next time she went looking for a potential publisher. However, Australian Literary Management have a clause in their submission guidelines, stating how they will not accept the work of people who have been previously self published. Ouch!
Furthermore, rarely do publishers or literary agents appear willing to help aspiring authors. Many literary agents stress how they are no longer accepting pieces from anyone, and those that are, say the chance of them representing new authors is slim because they are focusing on assisting the authors they are at present signed with. Most publishers furthermore, from Pan to Hodder Headline are unwilling to accept unsolicited work – in layman’s terms, unless work is submitted to them from a literary agent, they do not want to read it. This is made harder by the point that I stressed earlier how literary agents accepting work are rarer than Sasquatch.
Now, Text Publishing is one of the only Australian publishers who accept unsolicited work, and Allen and Unwin have what they call the Friday Pitch. For the past few years, every Friday a writer is able to send a synopsis, the first chapter of their novel, and a cover sheet which the publisher supplies, and Allen and Unwin will assess the work over the course of a fortnight. Other publishers are unwilling to take chances on new writers, and what really makes me growl in utter frustration is how the rules handed down by publishers do not apply to writers who are already successfully published.
As previously mentioned, since 2004 the short story industry has been descending into inevitable extinction, and yet during this period, Paul Jennings, Andrew Daddo and Andy Griffiths, authors who consistently write short stories, have had their anthologies published, even when their publishing houses (Penguin, Hodder and Pan) have stated in their submission guidelines for over the past few years how they do not accept short stories.
Moving on, poetry is just as defunct as many other literary arts according to publishers, although on occasion I wonder if this is at all accurate. Not one of the major poetry houses are accepting such pieces any longer, with Wendy Flemming, former president of the Melbourne Poets Union stating to me in 2012 how poetry is an art form from the 70s, and is no longer in vogue as it was then. Professor John Brophy of Melbourne University additionally stated in late 2013 that when he was a young poet he was not exactly very well compensated economically, which makes me wonder for how long such an art form has been losing popularity.
In fact, in mid 2013 one of Australia’s leading poetry publishing houses, Brandl and Schlesinger, explained how they were no longer accepting submissions because of a sizable backlog. Due to this, aspiring poets can only hope to have their work published in anthologies (almost every university have their own, which is also on occasion open to the general public), or in smaller publishing houses like the Suburban Review and Five Islands Press. However, Five Islands only ever accepts work in November, and only picks a couple of the vast quantity of submissions they receive. Having attended one of their meetings, I have seen the number of submissions they are sent, and all I can say is this; I am glad I don’t work for them. Hence the reason why I wonder if poetry truly is as defunct as some publishers may lead one to believe.
On that note, does anyone else in Australia have an opinion on the publishing and writing industry? Internationally, do readers elsewhere have an opinion on the writing and publishing sectors in their countries? Do readers agree that today is perhaps the worst time to consider becoming a professional author, or am I speaking utter nonsense? I would very much like to hear (or in this case read) your thoughts!
Thank you for reading.