The popular conception of a writer is someone stuck at a lonely desk in a garret somewhere, beavering away at their typewriter/laptop. For many of us, myself included, that sounds quite idyllic. But one of the strangest things about being a writer is that, at a certain point, you’re expected to change personalities almost instantly, from a solitary cave-bear to a social butterfly. That point is usually when you get your draft to publication standard, and the pressure only increases once you’ve actually got a contract.
When Greythorne was accepted for publication, I found it rather surreal to have to suddenly take off my writing hat – which is all about craft and story – and put on my business hat, which is where you start to worry about things like rights, contract clauses, account-keeping, taxes and, of course, online presence and social media. If it’s your first time dipping your toe in that particular pond, it can be quite overwhelming.
Enter the writing society.
These are different in different countries, but in Australia they fall into two main groups – the state Writers Centres (I’m a member of the ACT Writers Centre and have also been to events at the NSW Writers Centre) and the Australian Society of Authors. It’s amazing how many beginning writers are unaware of these resources and what they can do to help you enter the big and scary publishing world. But first, it’s important to understand their different focuses.
The state writers centres are mainly about the craft of writing. This is where you go to hear talks and attend workshops on how to make your writing better. They also provide lists of upcoming awards and competitions, and are a great place for networking.
The Australian Society of Authors (or the Society of Authors in the UK) is business-oriented; they advocate for the rights of authors and they also offer workshops and advice on breaking into the publishing industry. I met the editor who signed Greythorne through the ASA’s ‘Literary Speed-Dating’ workshop, which they run twice a year in Melbourne and Sydney – they get a collection of publishers and agents in a room and aspiring authors have three minutes to pitch to each of them. I can highly recommend it as a way of getting your book in front of a lot of important people very quickly. Once I got a contract, I used the ASA’s contract assessment service to get an idea of which areas I should try to negotiate and which were fine. This is an affordable alternative to hiring a media lawyer – because you really need a legal expert with a knowledge of the publishing industry to tell you if your contract is fair, not just if it’s legal.
Coming out of the writers’ garret isn’t so much a case of walking down the stairs as jumping out the window – but, in my experience at least, the writing societies help make the landing just that little bit softer.