An author’s journey…
I am often fascinated to hear other people’s stories. How did they achieve their goals? More importantly, what is their story? The first day of the Sydney Writers Festival I was at the NSW State Library. It’s a gem location to feast your eyes on books. And of course to hear from authors themselves – their personal stories and their passion for words.
Julie Koh set the stage for a few honest tips to writing success. She took the leap of faith from having trained in law to becoming a writer. From the power of persistence to practice, Julie emphasised the joy of writing is key to survival as a writer. A vision board is a great start, so too is networking in the industry through courses, festivals and online media, such as twitter. It’s about the hunger and hustle and preparation meeting opportunity. Julie spoke of moments being shameless for opportunities, but also being aware of when to say no to avoid burnout. It’s also about finding your tribe; like-minded people who help guide and honestly critique your work.
The literary world is no mythic garden of noble unicorns. There is no magic answer to success and the prize culture is highly dependent on judges and their style. Book deals can be random; Julie acknowledges her first book was not a magic bullet to her career. However, your book can act as your business card and open up opportunities into other realms. A reinvention.
Writing rarely makes your rich. Julie’s advice: get your financial house in order. She spent a lot of time developing her profile through speeches and events, although cautioned against becoming super famous and super homeless! Where is the money in writing? In prizes, awards, freelance writing, arts, administration and teaching. Ultimately writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see the headlights but you can journey the whole way.
Charlotte Wood’s story is different. She nurtured her passion through community writing classes and by 1999 had published her first novel, Pieces of a Girl. However, her second book took longer to write, only to be rejected. It was a challenge, which she later accredits as being an important experience for her as a writer. She highlighted the benefits of being part of a literary community. Writing friends tell you the truth. They are sharp and supportive readers, who understand the writing lifestyle.
The writer seeks their fulfillment in the process of writing. They are in the drivers seat. Whether writers should park up with one publishing house is debatable, and although ideal, may not always be an option. Charlotte has written books that do not always make money. Publishers are often challenged to determine what books will sell.
Charlotte also believes in the power of tenacity and perseverance. Her recent published book in 2016, The Writers Room, involved interviewing acclaimed writers. The experience was akin to a series of private master classes. An emerging theme was the difference between behaving as a writer as well as learning your craft. Karma can be powerful.
Timing and luck are also vital to success– so too is instinct. Charlotte acknowledged there will inevitably always be setbacks and challenges. Follow your gut instinct as opposed to listening to the mind. It comes as no surprise her book ‘The natural way of doing things’was published overseas and prized (joint winner of the Prime Minister’s 2016 Literary Awards and Fiction category winner of the 2016 Stella Prize).
Bianca Whiteley from Nielsen revealed current trends in Australian book publishing. Currently, there is a shift between children’s books and non-fiction hardback sales, although paperback remains king (fiction books are largely a paper-book market). Books account for 71% of the volume share, with eBooks stabilising at 21% and audiobooks growing at 4% (audiobooks have doubled in the last five years). Timing is also important in the world of publishing. Four weeks before Christmas generates 20% of all book sales.
There is a shift towards simpler living and the task of de-cluttering. The adult colouring book craze in 2015 has been and gone, with travel and health remaining popular topics. So what is in decline? Declining topics range from young adult fiction and science fiction to romance and sagas. What is growing? Children’s general non-fiction and picture books are increasing along with health, dieting, money and consumer issues.
What is a best seller? Context is king; it determines whether a book is termed a best seller. An average weekly bestseller accounts for 17,000+ copies. The Bare Foot Investor has been rated as number one for 57 weeks for the non-fiction category in Australia. Other best sellers include Fifty Shades of Grey, Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter. The true best sellers have never fallen out of the top 5000. Children’s books such as ‘Where the wild things are’ and the ‘Hungary Caterpillar’ are true best sellers.
For the open road ahead … Amazon will generate change. Amazon.com.au was established in 2017, and already booksellers are struggling to compete with Amazon’s publicity and customers buying books online. Amazon is interested in business growth, and ultimately, Amazon will want to attract authors. Undeniably, soft publishing is appealing for authors. The pain of rejection is avoided and books sell online supported by a large and powerful platform. What are the threats? Bookstore reductions, copyright infringement and potentially lower author royalties. What does Amazon do well? Amazon offers global distribution systems with speed. However, most books make most of their sales in the first few weeks – very few are slow burns of success.