Melbourne Writers Festival update:

Robert Sessions left the UK for Australia looking for the promised land, or at least a gig in publishing. He found both, and 47 years later has headed publishing in Penguin Australia for 20 years. He spoke for nearly an hour at The Whole Shebang this morning. I wish he’d spoken for two, because he only had time to hint at issues on the horizon like digital publishing and the parallel importation of books.

He gave a brief history of Australian publishing. Did you know that, back in the day, Penguin attempted to open a bookstore? Nobody came, because readers don’t want the restriction of one publisher and its imprints – they want to graze across the full range of titles published. A sage lesson for contemporary publishers who seek to establish their house brand over author recognition.

Sessions told us about the halcyon days when the ratio of front list (new titles) to back list was 40%-60%. Nowadays it’s more like 70-30%. That means venerable old titles are written off, and vulnerable new titles have a crucial window in which to Sell or Die.
Sessions’s top tip: Penguin likes to hear from you by email. Send your synopsis through, when your project is ready, and you’ll hear back reasonably promptly as to whether they want to read more. (This from a man who carries around 60+ manuscripts on his eReader – I wonder when publishers have time to read for, y’know, pleasure. Methinks it is an enjoyment foregone by those who love the artform most – quite a sacrifice).

The next Whole Shebang presenter, Louise Swinn from Sleepers Publishing, is a younger but no less invaluable contributor to the Australian publishing landscape. Louise spoke with Brendan Gullifer (debut author of Sold) about the journey of his book. Louise, Zoe (publisher with Sleepers also) and Brendan all still have their day jobs – and perhaps we would expect this of an author, but to think of a respected literary publishing house being fueled by the passion and dedication of a pair of moonlighters is as surprising as it is inspiring.

Most fascinating insight from this panel: Louise sees books in colour, a synaesthesiac editor – her explanation of how she comprehends and develops manuscripts was like hearing Michelangelo discussing his plans for the ceiling of the Cistine!
‘There’s only one thing more painful than being a writer, and that’s being married to one.’ Brendan Gullifer’s wife approved the sale of the family home to support his writing. They have three kids. Such are the sacrifices writers are willing to make to develop their career.  And his novel sounds like an interesting window into the real estate idealism dominating the Australian psyche.

That’s a plug, folks…

So many books in the festival bookstore, so little cash to spend. I’m going with Lisa Lutz, but that’s cos I’m a crime fic fan girl. Did I mention I bagged an invite to the Davitt Awards tonight? Squeeeeeee!

Okay, Now I’ve finished my Borek (Turkish spanikopota) and my blog post, I’ll get back into The Whole Shebang. It’s another incredible opportunity  to learn about the Australian literary community. Arts VIC, City of Lit, VWC … more juicy facts and figures about what’s available for writers.

One Response to “The Whole Shebang”

  1. Lisa Hill,

    Hello, I’ve discovered your blog via Matilda http://www.middlemiss.org/matilda/2009/08/melbourne-writers-festival-reports-1.html and it’s great to be able to read about sessions I couldn’t get to!
    Cheers
    Lisa (ANZ LitLovers)

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