The last week has been a whirlwind of all things writing, with Perth Festival’s Writers Week blessing the sunny side of Australia again with its buzzing excitement. There were a myriad of panels and seminars to choose from, but I’m so glad I was able to attend The Business of Being a Writer hosted by Fremantle Press.
Now, I have to assure you that I’m not being biased, because the afternoon was filled with engaging conversations in a room packed with my favourite authors, and the glittering Swan River as a stunning backdrop to the event was just the cherry on top.
The three panels involved a great line-up of award-winning authors and industry professionals, and were presented by our very own CEO Jane Fraser, Publisher Georgia Richter and Marketing and Communications Manager Claire Miller. They covered everything from insider tips on grants and residencies to boosting your marketing above and beyond, and making your mark in other mediums such as film, theatre or even on your local coffee cup!
For those who couldn’t make it, never fear. I have gathered a list of nifty tips for anyone interested in all these facets of writing. Or, better yet, look out for the upcoming podcast where you can hear all the juicy titbits from the panellists themselves.
Applying for prizes, grants and residencies
There is a wide range of unpublished manuscript awards available to Western Australian writers, such as the City of Fremantle Hungerford Award and the Fogarty Literary Award, as well as grants and local and international residencies designed to give writers the time and space needed to work on their writing. But this can very easily become overwhelming, and I for one have always been intimidated by the thought of applying for these. The panellists emphasised that, although many feel they need a ‘stamp of approval’ before applying (i.e. being a published author), it’s not the case!
For grants in particular, it helps to know exactly where you are in terms of your work, and how the grant will help you achieve what you need. When going for international residencies, showing an interest in and knowledge of the culture of the destination you are applying to goes a long way. Panellist Wenona Byrne, Director of Literature at the Australia Council for the Arts, mentioned the organisation had funding available for international residencies in Rome and Paris, which provide a unique opportunity to immerse the writer in these countries’ community and culture. However, there is still freedom to travel where an existing residency isn’t yet set up. As award-winning novelist Gail Jones said, it’s possible to organise a self-managed residency, too, as long as you’ve thoroughly researched it.
Many people may be sidetracked by the glamour of travelling overseas, but starting locally also has its own benefits. Alice Nelson, who won the T.A.G. Hungerford Award and the Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist Award for her first book, The Last Sky, said her Varuna Residency not only gave her a month of uninterrupted writing time, but also put her in touch with other writers who have been invaluable contacts and sources of inspiration.
If you ever have any questions, Byrne mentioned the Australia Council’s grant officers were more than happy to take calls from writers to guide them through the application process. Keep in mind that the people assessing your application are writers themselves, so they can smell a disingenuous pitch from a mile away!
Marketing and media
For many writers there’s this unspoken fantasy of luxuriously writing and publishing a book from the comfort of their own home, maybe wearing their favourite PJs with a cup of coffee and their cat by their side. Unfortunately, that’s not quite how reality is. For a professional author, marketing yourself and your brand is just as important as the writing itself.
Hancock Creative’s Lisa Shearon emphasised how important it was to start early and get comfortable with all the social media platforms available. She mentioned in particular how Facebook is still very much used by most of the population, and ‘is not dying just yet!’ Children’s book writer and illustrator James Foley agreed, mentioning how, with a strong persona that’s true to your authentic self, your audience will naturally find their way to you.
Tim Coronel of Small Press Network added the most overlooked yet crucial advice: to be present in your local scene – be it your favourite library, writing centre or the bookshop around the corner. Make some friends and take them with you on your publishing journey. They might just be your very first readers!
Going beyond the book
Writing books isn’t the only way you can chase your passion. It can come in many other forms such as screenwriting, playwriting or poetry – as long as you live and breathe the medium, the differences in writing style will just be a learning curve. And it's finally time to say goodbye to the overused ‘starving poet’ trope! Tamryn Bennett’s Red Room Company makes strategic partnerships that enable her to commission poetry and pay poets for works to appear in unusual places – from a bus shelter to a packet of seeds. Publishing your poetry in unconventional forms like this could also take you far; just think coffee cups, bags and other everyday goods.
Panellist and award-winning screen director Alison James said plays and films are challenging in that it’s all in the dialogue – but the dialogue has to be pared back in a way for every word to advance the story. Each character is a dynamic and crucial addition in order to create a story that affects the audience emotionally. As Black Swan State Theatre Company’s Polly Low put so succinctly, ‘going on an emotional ride is why we tell stories’. Another great tip mentioned by James to ensure your character has personality is to run through this checklist: hair, makeup, wardrobe. What they don’t say can be expressed just as well through their presentation.
All in all, the afternoon was a delightful learning experience, and we were overwhelmed by the positive feedback from all attendees. ‘These sessions are really important for the writing community, and you can really tell this from the attendance,’ said Fremantle Press CEO Jane Fraser. ‘There is a hunger for it, and we are thrilled to be a part of its story.’
Thank you so much to our panellists Alice Nelson, Wenona Byrne, Gail Jones, Lisa Shearon, James Foley, Tim Coronel, Alison James, Polly Low and Tamryn Bennett for sharing such a breadth of wisdom in the form of unique and engaging conversations.
The Four Centres Emerging Writers Program is brought to you by the Fellowship of Australian Writers WA, Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers' Centre, Peter Cowan Writers Centre Inc., WA Poets Inc. and Fremantle Press. It is proudly supported by the Western Australian Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.
About the author
Tiffany Ko is a recent graduate from the University of Western Australia with a double degree in English and Cultural Studies and Chinese. She currently works at Fremantle Press as the Events Marketing Assistant and is loving every moment of it. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, and accidentally adding too much salt to her pasta.