Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Conference Smatterings

I attended the 2010 Salisbury Writers’ Festival this past weekend, here in my hometown of Adelaide. It’s not a huge conference, and certainly a minnow when compared to the behemoths of the Romance Writers Association conferences and the like, but in my opinion it punches above its weight in terms of quality. I’ve attended the Salisbury conference three years running and I always come away knowing more about writing and the publishing industry than I did before, and with my enthusiasm for writing cranked right up.

So I thought I’d pass on a few bits and pieces that may be of interest to you all.


The director of the Australian Society of Authors, Angelo Loukakis, talked at length about the current state of the publishing business, especially the impact of e-books and e-readers.

Due to Amazon and other giants of the same ilk (Google and Apple are soon to jump on the book retailing band wagon), e-books are looking to be the way of the future, in Loukakis’ opinion. He quoted the stats to support his argument - in 2008-2009, according to the Nielson Book scan, the Australian book industry was worth $1.3 billion; whereas Apple, on its own, managed to rake in that exact same amount here. Without yet adding book retailing to its repertoire.

He doesn’t believe the advent of e-books necessarily spells doom for writers. Without the printing and warehousing costs of paper books, e-books cost far less to produce, even when factoring in their own production costs, and publishers may therefore be more inclined to take a chance on first time authors, or on more alternative works, or (oh, please!) on big fat books.

However, it’s going to take a while for the dust to settle. Amazon, he said, is the tail wagging the dog at the moment, and writers could still stand to earn far less that they do now. And Loukakis believes that in a digital world, where publishers spend far less on the printing and warehousing of books, the time will soon come when they will have to rethink what it is they actually do to earn the bite they take out of a book’s earnings.

Interesting. But all we writers can really do at the moment is keep abreast of what’s happening and be aware of what we may be signing up for - or signing away - if that happy day arrives and a book contract arrives in the post.

Go see a lawyer, people; or an industry body (like the Australian Society of Authors), or pick your agent’s brains, before you sign a thing.

The writing life.

Several published authors spoke of their writing experiences. Here, in no particular order, are a some of the thoughts and advice that resonated with me:-

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Shoot out the blocks at full pelt and you’re likely to burn out before you reach the end.

Be aware of your writing process. Study it to learn what works for you – what time do you write best, where do you write best, with what medium do you write best.

Writer's block is artificial. But if you find you can’t write – really and truly run out of things to say, not the usual procrastination we all go through - then don’t write. Go and do something else, something creative - cooking, origami, cross-stitch, whatever it is that floats your boat. Fill your creative well that way, and you’ll find that the writing muse will soon start speaking to you again – and that a writing project may come of your hobby (the writer who spoke on this, who has mainly written short stories and autobiographies over her long career, recently published a book on gardening that sprang from a period when she put down the pen and took up the weed whacker instead.)

Perseverance, perseverance and more perseverance. This is vital if you are to make it at any stage of the writing game, be it getting down that first draft, or editing and revising the tenth, or dealing with critiques, or mailing out those query letters, or getting on with your next project …

First pages.

The last session of the day was dedicated to the analysis and critique of first pages. Four editors fronted up to comment on the first pages that we conference attendees sent in when registering. They treated the session as a slushpile meeting, with each editor commenting on which pages made them want to keep on reading and which did not, and why.

Thank God this was all done anonymously!

Importantly, all four editors agreed that to make them read on, a first page must (a) have a killer first line, (b) establish location, era, character, and what type of novel it is (mystery, sci-fi, romance, etc) and (c) have clean, clear, prose.

The no-nos for a first page were (unsurprisingly) loads of back story, nothing interesting or clear happening, and unpolished writing.

I came away with some quite positive feedback on my own first page (yay!) so I’m all fired up … and have now set myself a cracking pace. I want to get this draft revised and ready for beta reading by the end of the year. It’s going to be VERY hard, especially with another set of school holidays in three weeks and school letting out for the year in early December, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

Wish me luck.

But the best part of this conference was experiencing the camaraderie that seems to naturally flow when writers gather. Every one of the presenters was honest in their views and comments, but most of all, completely encouraging. And the writers with whom I mingled in the lunch and coffee breaks were all just as supportive, keen to share each other’s war stories and successes. But what really epitomized the generosity of writers, for me, was the opportunity given by this festival to one sixteen-year-old girl – a young author – named Lauren Fuge.

Lauren’s first novel came out in April - WHEN COURAGE CAME TO CALL, a YA published by Random House – and to help her find her feet in the world of book promotion she was invited along by the festival organizers specifically to give her the experience of giving an author talk. How amazingly supportive is that? And she was great, and the crowd was so very encouraging to this young writer setting out on her career … I must say that was the festival highlight for me.

I feel incredibly lucky to be part of a community where support and encouragement are in such abundance, no matter what stage of the game you’re at. So if you ever get the chance to attend a writers’ conference, all I can say is just go. You won't regret it.


  1. Wow, thanks for the detailed summary Rachel! And congrats on the positive feedback! So, um, will you be coming to the houseparty?

  2. My -big grin- disappeared - guess I can't do greater than/less than tags on Google Chrome...