First Book Journeys

First Book Journey: Rachel Hills on writing The Sex Myth

Rachel Hills The Sex MythI invited the brilliant journalist, author and blogger Rachel Hills to share the first non-fiction first book journey on the site. She is currently touring around the US promoting her book, The Sex Myth. It’s the longest first book journey you’ll read on the site, but it’s guaranteed to shed light on the industry.

The proposal:

I started thinking about writing The Sex Myth in 2007. I’d been writing professionally for about two years at that point, and a couple of publishers had told me to get in touch if I ever had an idea for a book. I’d been flirting with a couple of ideas in my head, but when the idea of The Sex Myth came to me, I knew immediately on a gut instinctual level that this was IT.

I’d always loved reading feminist non-fiction – books like The Beauty Myth or The Whole Woman helped me to put my personal experiences into a broader social and political context – but I’d never come across a book that looked at SEX through that lens. Conversations I’d been having with friends and articles I’d worked on indicated that a lot of people felt alienated by the sexual ideals that were promoted in the media, and it seemed to me that this was an area in which I could make an original contribution.

I figured it would take me a year or two to put together, and I would be (as the script ran in my fantasies) the author of “the great feminist book of 2009” – a precocious young intellectual.

Needless to say, it did not unfold that way. In 2007, I’d also just been hired for the dream job I’d spent the last couple of years hustling for, so wanted to take a little time before I embarked on my next big project. I also knew that to write the book I wanted to write, I would need to understand my subject matter in a pretty deep way, so I got in touch with some of the academics I’d worked with in my undergrad, and asked them about doing an honours degree. They recommended I enroll in a Masters program instead, and so I did, starting my research in earnest in May 2008.

I spent the first year or so hanging out in the library, reading everything I could find about the sociology of sexuality, and gradually piecing together my own ideas and theories. I got ethics permission from the university to start interviewing in mid-2009, and did around 35 interviews before I left Australia to move to London in mid-2010.

I’d done a bunch of academic writing around the ideas in the book at that point, but it was only when I moved to London that I started writing the book in earnest. Partly, that was down to fear. I didn’t know what a good non-fiction book proposal looked like, and despite my contacts in media, I didn’t really know anyone who could show me how to write a good one. My mentors all advised me not to be too quick to sell, either, and stressed the importance of going out to publishers with something rock solid so that I could get the best deal possible. At the same time, as my ideas grew, I came more convinced I wanted to share them with an international audience as well as an Australian audience, which meant selling first to a US publisher – which I was even more clueless about.

By the end of 2010, I had a first draft of a proposal and a couple of sample chapters. It was time to call in reinforcements. I’d visited the US a couple of times over the previous few years, and had met a lot of feminist writers there, and in my conversations with them the name Brooke Warner had come up a few times. Brooke was an editor at Seal Press, a mid-size feminist publishing house, at the time, and I’d recently learned from my reading online that she also offered coaching. It seemed like a perfect fit. Who better to show me how to navigate the US publishing system than a woman who received enquiries regarding books like mine for a living?

I went into the coaching process hoping to hear something along the lines of, “Wow! This book is amazing! Let’s get you a six-figure book deal ASAP.” But Brooke’s first comments were more along the lines of, “I hope you’re willing to do some work on this.” It wasn’t that the book I was proposing was BAD: the book I’d laid out in that earliest proposal wasn’t all that different to the one you’ll find on the shelves today. It was that I wasn’t communicating it properly. The ideas were in my head, but they weren’t coming out clearly on the page.

Brooke and I worked together on the proposal for 4 or 5 months, Brooke making sure that the proposal answered every single question a publisher could have about buying work from an unknown Australian author who didn’t live in the country. The proposal we ended up with was at least 50 pages long (as opposed to my previous 15 or so), and included a list of every single article I had ever published, as well as a section called “Praise for Rachel Hills” – AKA, nice things Americans had said about me on the internet.

The book deal:

The next step was to find a literary agent. I logged on to Publishers Marketplace, and started researching agents who represented ideas-based nonfiction. Despite the fact that these were my favourite types of books to read, I quickly realised that they made up a minority of books published. My final longlist had 40-50 agents on it – keeping in mind that there are thousands of agents in the US – and I divided these into groups of 10, according to how good a fit they were for my book.

Brooke warned me that even with all the work we’d done, it still could be months before I found an agent to represent The Sex Myth. Fortunately, this was not the case.

One of the great things about selling a book in 2015, as opposed to 1995, is that so much of the process takes place via email. This means that instead of needing to read through 50+ pages of documents when considering whether to represent an author, your agent’s first contact with you is likely to come in the form of a 400-word or so pitch email. Ie, something they can read in less than a minute.

I sent my pitch to ten agents on a Thursday afternoon, and heard back from two who wanted to see the complete proposal before the day was out. One had been recommended to me by a woman I’d met a party a few months earlier, and the other represented a number of high profile feminist authors. On Friday, the first agent – Rebecca Friedman – emailed me again, saying she loved the proposal and could we speak on the phone on Monday.

When we spoke, her enthusiasm for the project was infectious – she totally “got” the book, and had big dreams for its potential, both commercially and intellectually. I signed on to be her client the next day. That night the second agent got back to me with a polite rejection; he thought the proposal was interesting, but it would be too hard to sell in the US market with my being Australian.

Part of an agent’s job is to talk regularly with editors, both to spruik their own projects, and to find out what kinds of books publishing houses are looking for. Rebecca said she knew a couple of editors who would be very interested in my book, but asked me to first make some minor changes to my proposal: to build out my chapter summaries from a paragraph or two each to a page each, and to write a third sample chapter. She also wanted to wait until the right moment to take the book to market.

In November 2011, Rebecca took the proposal to Karyn Marcus, an editor at Simon & Schuster, in a pre-empt – where a project is offered to a publisher exclusively for a brief period of time – and she made an offer to purchase world rights to The Sex Myth in less than a week. It all happened so quickly that for a week or so, I wasn’t even sure that I had a book deal. It seemed like there should be more obstacles involved. Like they might want to speak with me on the phone first, to make sure I wasn’t a crazy person, or something.

A few months later, Simon & Schuster sold Australian/New Zealand rights to Penguin, and much much later, the British rights to the book to Simon & Schuster’s UK offices.

After the signing:

Where fiction is generally sold after the book has been completed, nonfiction is sold on the basis of a proposal, which means that the bulk of the writing work happens after you’ve signed the deal.

I was given a little over a year to submit the first draft of the book, and my first step after signing was to bulk up my American and British interviews. I started posting callouts for interviewees to my blog and other online venues, and in the space of three months conducted another 180+ interviews. Fortunately, there was no shortage of people who wanted to speak to me – when one popular website posted a link to my callout, I received more than 600 emails in 48 hours.

I also spent a portion of my advance travelling through the United States meeting a lot of my American interviewees in person. I travelled through 20 cities and towns in a little over a month, sometimes interviewing as many as four people in a day. It was exhausting, but it was a great way to really get a feel for the sheer size of America, and I loved meeting the people I interviewed. I also did a lot of face-to-face and phone interviews in the UK.

After the interviews, it probably took me about 8 months to write the first full draft of the book. I tried to get through a chapter every two weeks, but realistically it was more like a chapter every month. I spent a lot of time reading over transcripts to pull out the best quotes and stories, weaving these together with the research I’d done at university, and a whole suite of new journal articles I was reading to get me head around the intricacies of all the different topics I cover in the book.

Two months or so after I submitted my first draft, Karyn got back to me with her first round of edits. My edits weren’t really split into “structural edits” and “line edits” – each round of edits I went through were a mix of both, with my editor(s – I also worked with Simon & Schuster’s Sydney Tanigawa) marking up the manuscript with suggested changes, and also providing general feedback: on arguments that weren’t clear, or tics in my writing I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. The advice my editors gave me also informed the changes I made on my own accord. A request to spend more time describing the people had interviewed, to give more of a sense of them as a complete people, for example, also resulted in me looking at my arguments more carefully, and trying to spend more time and detail parsing them out.

I went through four rounds of edits in total, over a period of eighteen months. As a freelance writer, an “edit” usually just means an editor cutting a sentence here or there, or telling you to tighten up a paragraph. But editing The Sex Myth meant rewriting the book each time I produced a new draft. This wasn’t something my editors requested of me, it was just the only way I knew of to tackle the task of kneading such a complex combination of stories and ideas together. The sentences and paragraphs couldn’t be addressed in isolation; I needed to remake the whole.

In academia, they say that writing a PhD is “an iterative process” – that through reprocessing the same ideas over and over again, you come closer to the truth each time. The Sex Myth isn’t an academic book, but for me the process was the same. I had to go over my ideas again and again in order to get them right, and whether they were “right” or not was something only I knew.

For me, the hardest part of the process was probably the first round of edits. I sunk into a depression for a couple of months, lying on my couch and home and playing games on my mobile phone. I think I was only then fully coming to terms with how prolonged and detailed this process would be, and how much longer it would take me to get to my final result. It was depressing to be doing so much work and to have so little to show for it, and I felt pretty worthless in terms of my professional life.

The second round of edits was pretty stressful too. I remember bawling in bed the night before they were due, upset that the book still didn’t read as I wanted it too, that the ideas still didn’t reflect what my brain knew instinctively but was yet to find the words for. But by the time I finished my fourth round of edits, I was so glad I’d taken the time to process the ideas (or most of them, anyway – there are still a couple of parts of the book I’m not 100% happy with!) properly.

I rewrote the key argument chapter of the book – the one that had sold it to publishers in the first place – in that final round of edits, and I’m so glad that I did. Because finally it said what I needed it to, instead of skirting around the issue.

Aesthetics & essentials:

I received my first designs for the cover in late 2013. They were all attractive and eye-catching, but the more I thought about them, the more I felt they didn’t capture the spirit of “my book.” So I sent the publisher a selection of covers I liked from similar books, as well as information on what I wanted the cover to convey (“intellectual gravitas, while also maintaining an approachability for younger readers”) and how I wanted it to appeal to.

The next round of designs were much stronger – smart and witty, with the feel of the classic books that inspired The Sex Myth. The final designs you can see on the Australian and US/UK books today are both variations on those designs.

At this time, manuscript was also sent to an external copyeditor, who pointed out yet more unnoticed writing tics and any inconsistencies in the text, and then went through two rounds of proofreading. I also produced a set of “questions for readers” to help people think more deeply about the issues in the book after they’ve read it.

Seeking blurbs was quite stressful. Basically, you have to get in touch with a bunch of people you know or admire and ask them to endorse your book. Some say yes, many more say no (especially if you’ve never met them before, no matter how nice your letter is), and even many of those who initially say yes won’t end up getting back to you, leaving you paranoid that everyone hates you and your work. I ended up getting some fantastic blurbs in the end, though, so all is well that ends well.

Marketing & publicity:

I am currently working with five publicists across three continents at the moment (crazy, I know) – chiefly Amanda Lang at Simon & Schuster, and Rhian Davies at Penguin Australia, both of whom have been fantastic. I’m also working with a marketing expert at Simon & Schuster, Ebony LaDelle, who advises on social media, design, and other promotional efforts.

In my experience, publishers actually do pay a lot of attention to authors on this stuff, so my advice is to get as involved in your marketing and publicity plans as possible. If you don’t know who you want to read the book, or how you want your publisher to talk about it (to bookstores, to the press, or even in the copy on the back of the book) you can’t expect them to know either.

Most people at publishing houses are very busy and working across multiple projects. And while they’re the experts on books, YOU are the expert on YOUR book, and often on the intricacies of your own sub-genre – especially if you’re working with big publishing houses, who work on such a broad range of titles.

In addition to print, radio and TV press, there are a load of marketing and publicity efforts we’re doing that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t made them happen: among them, the Ambassadors Project with some of my blog followers, the bookstore and college tour I’m arranging around the US and Canada, merchandise like badges and stickers, and a lot of our outreach to “influencers” and bloggers. I’m also doing a lot of work looking at how we can turn the ideas in the book into broader cultural change.

My favourite thing about the publicity process so far has been all the switched-on journalists and bloggers I’ve had the good fortune of being interviewed by. It’s great to speak with people who really “get” the book, and it’s something I’m trying to replicate in my book tour – instead of readings, all my bookstore events will be “in conversation” events, talking about the book with local writers I admire, followed by an audience Q&A.

I’ve also been really moved by the press support I’ve received in Australia. People are really getting behind the book, and it’s making me feel very loved.


 

ALL ABOUT RACHEL’S FIRST BOOK, THE SEX MYTH:

The Sex Myth by Rachel HillsFrom a bold new feminist voice, a book that will change the way you think about your sex life.

Fifty years after the sexual revolution, we are told that we live in a time of unprecedented sexual freedom; that, if anything, we are too free now. But beneath the veneer of glossy hedonism, millennial journalist Rachel Hills argues that we are controlled by a new brand of sexual convention: one which influences all of us – woman or man, straight or gay, liberal or conservative. At the root of this silent code lies the Sex Myth – the defining significance we invest in sexuality that once meant we were dirty if we did have sex, and now means we are defective if we don’t do it enough.

Equal parts social commentary, pop culture, and powerful personal stories from people across the English-speaking world, The Sex Myth exposes the invisible norms and unspoken assumptions that shape the way we think about sex today.

The Sex Myth is published in Australia by Penguin and overseas by Simon & Schuster.

You can connect with Rachel via her blog, Twitter or Facebook page.

First Book Journey: Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek

The Contract / Book Deal

The journey towards publication varies so much from person to person, but for me, doing the excellent Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT University in Melbourne began everything. From an early focus on editing, I moved onto creative subjects, and after having three children’s books published and several years in Southeast Asia, I returned to Australia and began writing my first adult novel, set in Cambodia, spending more years writing and rewriting, and beginning to understand the work involved in writing a novel. All those years I’d been thinking that a good burst of inspiration would do the job; turns out solitary confinement, no amusements (phone, internet) and application were more important.

All those years I’d been thinking that a good burst of inspiration would do the job; turns out solitary confinement, no amusements and application were more important.

Writing competitions and publication in literary journals were my tools to bypassing the dreaded slush pile, and winning the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award (won the year before by Hannah Kent) was the turning point. In the space of a week after being shortlisted in early 2013 I’d been approached by publishers and an agent (the fantastic Gaby Naher), and was lucky enough to work with Drusilla Modjeska on revisions. So far, so good. But when the time came for submission publishers thought the novel’s setting and themes weren’t commercial. Apparently Australians don’t buy Southeast Asian novels.

But the wonderful Alex Craig of Picador asked about my next book. So I pulled out my embryonic second novel, Salt Creek, begun during a lull the year before, and over a frantic weekend wrote an opening chapter with a good hook ending, connected it to another section, and pulled together a synopsis that I hoped was compelling. The pressure of those two days was when Salt Creek really ignited for me. I couldn’t wait to keep going. Those five thousand words, and then Alex flew to Melbourne for a lunch meeting and after a little negotiation I had a contract for my novel.

After Signing

I began to have misgivings almost instantly: twelve months to write a book, and there was a mountain of research to do given its historical setting. The thing that really kept me going was the publisher’s confidence: ‘Don’t be afraid to go big,’ she said. I can’t deny that panic helped too. Somehow I had a manuscript of 115,000 words by mid-December, which my agent had read and was very excited about, and in the end it was submitted a week early.

My publisher loved it: an amazing relief. The manuscript went to the amazing Jo Jarrah for the first edit and after her detailed (the publisher called it ‘forensic’) report arrived, and a week or so to recover from it, I began working on edits with Samantha Sainsbury (the loveliest and most encouraging of people) of Picador in March this year – my favourite stage. I loved tinkering with words and scenes and characters, making the story strong. All the deadlines were tight since the book was going to the printer in June. My editor gave me dates to submit each revision – six weeks, then two weeks, and finally six days to create more tension in a key chapter. Over two months, the book grew by another 15,000 words. I shut down my editing business towards the end and worked fourteen-hour days on the manuscript. Family became a dim memory. Although it was intense it was somehow exhilarating too. There was a pause before the typeset pages came through, then one more round of smaller changes and a final read through to pick up last minute issues. All the editing was done online and there were a couple of conference calls with Alex and Sam to thrash out plot mechanics, as well as frequent emails.

I worked fourteen-hour days on the manuscript. Family became a dim memory.

Aesthetics and Essentials

I first saw my cover design (by Sandy Cull of gogoGingko) in March, very early in the editing. I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t liked it, but I couldn’t have been happier. It’s beautiful and unusual and shows an amazing understanding of the book. Throughout the next few months other little administrative things cropped up: tweaking the blurb and my biographical material for the publisher’s website, and looking over and adding material to the book club notes that had been written. It was very strange to read someone else’s understanding of the book, what its themes are. It’s when I really saw that the book was separate from me, that it had its own life. I missed thinking about all the characters and the book’s setting; they’d become so real to me that it was hard to let them go.

Marketing and Publicity

In a strange way, it already feels as though the book is out in the world. My copies have arrived (yay!). It’s very exciting to see how the whole thing has come together, but scary and exposing too. This is what I’ve been thinking about for the past eighteen months, and now I’m inviting people to judge it. The publicity machine at Pan Macmillan is amazing; my publicist, Rebecca Thorne, is a dynamo, the most organized person I’ve ever come across. So far, invitations for interviews have come in from radio and print media, I’ve been completing online questionnaires for book sites and pitched for festivals, and have been lucky enough to be invited to read at and be involved in one or two things that I’m not supposed to mention yet – though I’d love to. (News to come on Facebook and Twitter – just saying.) I’m starting to think about my next book, but I think I’ll have to stay with Salt Creek for a while yet!

First Book Journey: Lauren Sams’ She’s Having Her Baby

The Publishing Deal

I’m a writer by trade and I always knew I’d like to have a crack at writing a book. In January 2012, I started to write what I assumed would be the first of a string of bestselling YA novels. I would franchise the shit out of this thing. TV shows, movies, spin-off series, merchandise, a line of nail polish with witty, on-point names – I’d dreamed it all up before I’d even finished the first chapter.

I digress.

Anyway, I wrote about 10,000 words of this Soon-to-Be Bestseller and wondered how quickly I could become mega-famous and rich from it. So I emailed a book publicist I knew and liked, with the subject line: READ THIS IMMEDIATELY AND TELL ME IT’S NOT THE BEST THING YOU’VE SET EYES ON SINCE THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.

I jest.

I wrote something along the lines of, ‘Hey Kel, would you mind having a look at this when you get a sec and letting me know if it’s not total BS? Ta.’ To my eternal gratitude, she replied that very same day, saying, ‘This is really funny. I like it – I’m going to send to my publisher.’

Cue heart palpitations and another email – this time, to the people at OPI, to flag an upcoming nail polish line I wanted their help with.

What came next was very long and ultimately, very disappointing. It spanned the next two years, and considering I’ve just spent the last 200 or so words telling you about one afternoon, let’s skim the “long” and “disappointing” bit, shall we? What happened was:
– the publishing company was very interested. They suggested some edits that I happily made.
– They recommended I write the whole thing before taking it to what is called an “acquisitions meeting,” where publishers and the sales and marketing teams decide if they want your manuscript. I agreed, because I was in love with the book and also with the thought of being the next John Green (whose writing, incidentally, my own was compared to. I have only mentioned this about eight million times since I first heard it. If you didn’t catch it in this sentence you’ll catch it further along, when I mention it the next couple of thousand times).
– I wrote the whole thing and it was taken to the fabled acquisitions meeting. I was seven months pregnant and my nan, who I love so much, was dying. I mention these things only so you will feel more sorry for me when you hear that… my book was not picked up. I was devastated. I felt like I’d been dumped by someone I was deeply in love with.
– The publisher I had been dealing with (whom, it should be mentioned, is lovely and very intelligent and nurturing and essentially all the things you want in someone potentially publishing your book) told me that “everyone loved it” but also it had to change entirely because the comparison title had not sold well. Comparison titles are books that marketing and sales people use to compare your manuscript with. Occasionally it is flattering to see what your comparison title is – it was not flattering to see what mine was. I knew exactly why it hadn’t sold well – it was a really terrible book. But it was also set in the same sort of world as my book, and that’s why it was my comparison title.
– Anyway, my publisher asked me to change the setting of my novel. I was very upset but reluctantly agreed because of the nail polish line I was still massively into.

In January 2014, two years after this whole thing began, I finally had some sample chapters ready (I am not lazy, I just had a child and spent a year feeding her with my own body) and sent them off. At the same time, I had been playing around with another idea for a book. I’d had my own baby but I saw people all around me struggling with infertility. They were heartbroken with grief but trying to push on, to give it one more go. It made me wonder how far I would go to help a friend who couldn’t have a child. That’s how I got the idea for She’s Having Her Baby. The main character, Georgie, agrees to be her best friend Nina’s surrogate. That is all I’m telling you because you’d better go buy it.

I had written some sample chapters and sent them to another publisher I knew from the original publishing company, Jeanne Ryckmans, who was now working at Black Inc. I love Jeanne because she begins sentences like, ‘When I lived in Paris…’ and ‘The thing about dating [INSERT NAME OF FAMOUS AUSTRALIAN ACTOR HERE]…’ in a very genuine and completely un-pretentious way because she did live in Paris and also has dated famous actors. She is super-intelligent, knows her shit and dresses like she works for French Vogue. I don’t mind admitting I would very much like to be her protege. I asked her if she liked it, if it was on the right track. Within three weeks, I had a publishing deal.

See? It was easy.

Then, of course, I got an offer from the original company for my original book. I wanted to accept it but couldn’t, in good faith, take their offer and then tell them I already had an offer. So I did the right thing and chose honesty, and where did it get me? Nowhere. Well, not exactly, but they did rescind their offer and we thought it best to call the whole thing off.

Which brings me to the best and most important point: I had an offer! I was going to have a book published! Yay! So exciting! I had written 15,000 words! Which meant I only had about 70,000 to go! And about four months to write those words!

The manuscript

I signed my offer in February 2014 and submitted my manuscript on June 1. It was about 85,000 words, I think. As I mentioned, I have a toddler and a job, so I got it done whenever I could spare the time. When people ask me what my ‘process’ is, I stare at them blankly and try to remember where and when I wrote my book. I didn’t have a desk (feel sorrier for me, please) and I didn’t have a lot of time. I wrote when my baby napped, when she was asleep at night, before she woke up in the morning. I wrote on my day off work, when my Mum would take my baby for a few hours and I would head to the library (thanks for the free wi-fi, Haberfield Library!) I wrote on weekends when my husband was home, too.

I drank a lot of coffee but eventually, it got done and you know what? It’s actually the best book that has ever been written.

So I guess it was worth it.

Editing

Jeanne was pretty hands-off while I wrote (she’d answer my questions but essentially left me to it). When I’d finished, I was assigned an editor from Black Inc – the amazing, smart, unflappable Kirstie Innes-Will, who I like to call KIW because that is how I roll. Anyway, KIW read the manuscript, made lots of incredibly helpful and fabulous suggestions and importantly, got me and got the book straight away. She understood the funny bits and the sad bits and helped shaped the bits that were meant to be funny but weren’t quite there yet. We had a Skype session and chatted about the book, then she sent me her edits and I got to work putting them into place. Since my book is about surrogacy, I needed to fact-check a few things, too, and I did a lot of research into infertility and alternate methods of getting pregnant (guys, ‘turkey baster’ is not a euphemism).
There were three rounds of edits, in total, as well as proofreading. I have heard that editing is a goddamn nightmare but I’m happy to report that KIW made it super-easy and actually, quite fun. I liked this stage the best because I am a typical type-A eager-to-please student, and doing things other people have told me to do is where I thrive. I would be pretty good in the army.

The aesthetics

Having worked in magazines, I know how important covers are. So obviously I was terrified when it came to choosing a cover for my own book, knowing how easily it can make or break you as a writer (no pressure, designers!)

Black Inc showed me a couple of options that I did not like. I told them and they swiftly asked a freelance designer to whip something up, and the cover design she presented was AMAZING AND I ADORED IT. I am a big font nerd (I know, sexy) and I imagined having difficult and confrontational arguments over this design aspect, but honestly – she nailed it. I stepped down from my high horse and watched it ride into the sunset, never to be seen again.

I also started working with Anna Lensky, Elisabeth Young and Imogen Kandel, who all work in marketing and publicity at Black Inc. They are all terrific individuals who told me how much they loved my book. I want to keep them in my pocket at all times. As I type, we are working on a plan for world domination. I mean a publicity and marketing strategy. I feel very confident in their abilities and also in the resources they have at their disposal. Nero, the imprint of Black Inc my book is being published by, is pretty small. For me, this is a good thing. I’m just starting out, so I need to be nurtured at the bosom of this small but excellent company. There are no other books on the Nero list like mine. Nero is excited about this book. They want it to do well. They don’t have 150 other books to promote and market. They can spend money and time on my book. This makes me feel very, very good and obviously, if this thing doesn’t sell, it’s all my own fault.

The end

So, where does this leave us? The book is written, I am mildly anxious that it is a complete flop but also heartened that I have had an amazing publishing experience. Soon I will meet with buyers from big bookstores – Dymock’s, Big W, Newslink and the like. This is very important because, as much as we all want to be arty and indie and adored by Hilary Mantel, we all need to sell our books in order to continue writing and someday be adored by Hilary Mantel. So you want your book in big chains, not just charming little bookstores run by Meg Ryan. You want it at airports, where people will (hopefully) think, ‘Gosh, flying to Europe is boooooring. I’d better get an amazing book to while away the time. Wait… what about this one, by Lauren Sams? It’s called She’s Having Her Baby and it looks sooooooo good. I’d better buy it then tell all my friends to do the same!’


ALL ABOUT She’s Having Her Baby ($29.99, Black Inc)

Lauren Sams AuthorGeorgie Henderson doesn’t want to have kids, but her best friend, Nina Doherty, has wanted to have a baby for as long as she can remember. Sadly, Nina’s uterus refuses to cooperate. One drunken evening, Nina asks Georgie for the ultimate favour: would she carry a baby for her? Georgie says yes – and spends the next nine months wondering why!

With intense bacon-and-egg roll cravings and distant memories of what her feet look like, she tries to keep it all together in her dream job as the editor of Joliemagazine.  Her love life’s a mess – and sauvignon blanc’s off the menu – leaving Georgie to deal with twists in her life she never expected.

 

First Book Journey: Laura Greaves’ Be My Baby

The manuscript

The writing of Be My Baby took about six years, on and off – mostly off. I started it around 2002; I was living in London, and the idea for the book was born when one of my best friends unexpectedly fell pregnant and asked me to be her daughter’s godmother. This is exactly what happens to Be My Baby’s protagonist, Anna Harding. But the thing about living in London – and, like Anna, working as an entertainment journalist – is that it’s frenetic and busy and there are all together too many bars and shoe shops. Suffice it to say I was easily distracted and the writing progressed at a snail’s pace. As Kingsley Amis said, the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of one’s chair – and that was an art it took me a long time to master.

Cut to 2008 and I’d relocated to Sydney and was working as a magazine editor. With my 28th birthday approaching, I suddenly got the bit between my teeth and decided I would have the manuscript finished by then. I was living on the Northern Beaches and commuting to work in the city every day on the Manly Ferry, so I decided to use the 30-minute each-way journey to write. I wrote longhand, filling countless notebooks, and found it easy to lose myself in the story. I remember one morning, my heroine, Anna, suddenly did something entirely unexpected yet completely logical and I shouted, ‘Of course!’, much to my fellow passengers’ consternation!

I finished Oh My Godmother!, as the book was called back then, as the ferry pulled into Circular Quay on the morning of my birthday. I mean, I literally wrote the words ‘The End’ as the boat docked. It was a very proud moment!

Immediately after finishing the manuscript, I sent it to a literary agent that an acquaintance had introduced me to. The agent said she liked the book, but that ‘chick lit’ was proving a tough sell at that time and she didn’t think there was currently a market for it. So I put the manuscript in a drawer and vowed to return to it at some later date. Every now and then I’d send it to one of those ‘open call’ days that the big publishers run for unsolicited manuscripts, but I didn’t get a single response – even a rejection would have been nice! But honestly, I wasn’t too disappointed that it wasn’t going to see the light of day; I was just proud to have finished it at last.

The book deal

Fast forward to 2013. Poor old Oh My Godmother! is still gathering dust and I’ve turned my attention to other endeavours like establishing myself as a freelance journalist, going to film school and having a baby. Then I read a great book called Cityglitter, which was written by my friend and fellow journo Carla Caruso and published by Penguin Australia’s ‘digital first’ romance imprint, Destiny. I hadn’t really thought of OMG as a romance, but I realised immediately that my book was stylistically similar to Carla’s. On a complete whim, I jumped on the Destiny website and submitted my manuscript.

Less than two weeks later, I missed a call from Carol George, one of Destiny’s two commissioning editors. I called her back thinking perhaps she’d say she liked the book, but that it needed work – which would have been entirely reasonable, since it had been languishing in a drawer for the best part of five years! Instead, Carol said, ‘We love your book and we want to publish it.’ I was literally speechless, which anyone who knows me will tell you is a rare thing indeed!

As it turns out, I knew Carol vaguely – she was the books editor at Women’s Weekly magazine at the same time as I spent six (awful) months as a book publicist. But I didn’t know that she, along with Melbourne-based Sarah Fairhall, was now running Destiny, so I couldn’t really say that my ‘contacts’ helped my book find a home. I think my journalism background certainly helped, but mostly it was the fact that Destiny Romance is new, daring and willing to publish romantic stories that don’t necessarily fit the mould of traditional romance novels. (Read fellow ‘Destineer’ Anna Cowan’s Untamed for proof of this – it’s one of the best and most subversive romances ever!)

Destiny also has a ‘first look’ option on my next book, which is almost finished. This one has only taken six months to write, so I’m definitely getting better at that ‘seat of one’s chair’ thing.

After the signing

The beauty of signing with a digital-first imprint is that you don’t have to wait years for your book to be released. I signed with Destiny in November 2013 and Be My Baby was released on June 16, 2014. In the interim, the manuscript went through a minor structural edit, as well a copy/continuity edit. One of the advantages of labouring over the book for six years was that I’d been editing as I went and it didn’t need much re-writing or structural work, though I was glad to have the opportunity to go back and update many of the pop cultural references – plenty of 2008’s big names in entertainment had sunk without trace by 2013!

I have zero issues with the fact that Be My Baby is an ebook rather than a print book. I am personally addicted to my Kindle, and while I will never stop collecting printed books, I really believe e-readers and digital publishing are only going to grow. And Destiny also publishes many of its titles in subsequent print editions, so BMB (or perhaps my next book!) may yet make it onto physical bookshelves as well as digital ones.

I cannot speak highly enough of the way Carol and Sarah support Destiny’s authors. I was eight months pregnant when I contracted my book to Destiny, and I was keen to get the structural edit done before my baby’s arrival at Christmas, but Carol wouldn’t hear it. She instructed me to put my feet up, enjoy the peace and quiet while I still could and get in touch once I’d begun to get to grips with motherhood. It turned out this was at the end of January, and it then took me almost a month to complete the edit based on Carol and Sarah’s notes, but not once did I get a ‘hurry up’ from them. I’m enormously grateful for that.

The title of my book changed from Oh My Godmother! to Be My Baby, as Carol and Sarah didn’t feel OMG was romance-y enough. Be My Baby was my suggestion and came to me after an online brainstorming session with the other Destiny authors, who are scattered around the country and are an incredibly talented and supportive group of women. I love the new title and think it’s a much better fit for both the imprint and the work itself.

Aesthetics & essentials

I wasn’t involved in the cover design process for my book and was definitely curious as to what Destiny would come up with. I don’t think a ‘traditional’ romance cover – a stunning woman in the brawny arms of some chiseled hunk – would have fit Be My Baby at all! I am absolutely in love with my cover, from the font right down to the vibrant fuchsia. The day Carol emailed it through I was out walking with my little girl; I checked my emails on my phone and actually screamed and did a little dance in the street. (No one saw, not that I would have cared.) I can’t quite describe how I felt in that moment. As a journalist I’ve seen my name in print a million times, but seeing it on a book cover was just out of this world. It was truly one of my happiest moments; I know I’ll never forget it.

Marketing & publicity

Not long after I signed my contract, Penguin employed a dedicated Destiny Romance publicist, the lovely Anna Esposito. Anna works tirelessly to promote Destiny titles, but she only works part time and also has more than 20 other authors to attend to, so I always knew I would need to be proactive about publicising Be My Baby.

Because I’m a journalist and have also worked as a book publicist myself, I had many, many ideas for promoting my book. I sent Anna a mammoth email outlining them all, but if she was overwhelmed (or thinks I’m totally anal retentive) she hasn’t let on! Anna is much more au fait with the major romance/chick lit review websites and blogs than I am, so she has been sending Be My Baby out to all of them, while I’ve been dreaming up tie-in feature ideas and badgering all my friends and contacts in magazine-land and the blogsphere!

I am really determined to have a career as an author, so I don’t mind at all doing a bit of legwork to promote Be My Baby. The possibility that I could write novels and hang out with my kid all day and that could actually be my life makes all the effort totally worth it!

 

First Book Journey: Tamar Chnorhokian’s The Diet Starts on Monday

 

The Manuscript

I wrote The Diet Starts On Monday during a creative writing class at university in 2002. In 2007 I joined the newly formed Westside Writers Group, which is now known as SWEATSHOP: Western Sydney Literacy Movement. The first two chapters were published in Westside Publications in 2007 and 2008.

The editor-in-chief of SWEATSHOP told me the story was popular with young female readers. In 2009 my journey to publication began. I sent off the synopsis and opening pages to an editor at HarperCollins, of whom I was introduced through a contact at Westside Publications. Five months later I got a response. The editor loved what I had sent and was interested in reading a full manuscript.

I got to work right away and wrote my very first draft in three months and spent the next couple of months editing before sending it back.

After receiving feedback on the first draft I went on to write my second draft, which the editor was happy to read. This time I received some very specific editorial comments and suggestions and I knew I had a lot of work to do to implement the necessary changes. The editor was still keen to look at the next draft. At this stage in the process I hired a mentor from the NSW Writers’ Centre who helped me develop the manuscript.

To my surprise I found out the mentor I hired was also an agent. He was very interested in my novel and sent out my manuscript to HarperCollins, Allen & Unwin, Penguin, UQP and Scholastic. I was knocked back by all of them.

The whole time I was on this journey I was still a SWEASTHOP Writer. The Sweatshop Collective, which was run by award-winning authors such as Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Luke Carman and Felicity Castagna, knew of my struggle in trying to get my book published and offered to help me. In 2013 SWEATSHOP became a small publisher for marginalised writers from Western Sydney, and they offered me a contract to be the first author in a series of books they would be publishing.

After the Signing

My book was published just over one year after SWEATSHOP had made the offer. I worked with a sub-editor hired by SWEATSHOP and I reduced my manuscript from 64 000 words down to 50 000 words and we spent many months discussing and revising the draft together.

Then the editor-in-chief at SWEATSHOP, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, examined my draft. He said that it still needed radical editing – that each character needed more development, that there needed to be a stronger focus on the cultural and religious heritage of the main characters, and that there needed to be a stronger sense of place (Western Sydney). Entire scenes were pulled out and new scenes, which added to the structure and overall tone of the book, needed to be written. After his first mark-up, my 50 000 word document was pulled back to 20 000 words – I basically had to re-write the entire book in six weeks to meet the publication date!

Aesthetics & Essentials

Initially we thought of having an image on the cover but the ideas we came up with were all too clichéd. For example, we discussed a fat girl looking into a mirror and seeing her skinny self in the reflection or an overweight girl biting into an apple. Then it finally occurred to us that the title was so strong and marketable that the text itself could be the cover. We chose a fat font for the cover with bright colours that would appeal to a teenage audience, particularly girls. We also came up with a by-line that captured the essence of the story, ‘Finding True Love Will Taste So Sweet’. This was to ensure that readers would know it was a novel and not mistake it for a cookbook or a weight loss book.

An online education kit was created for The Diet Starts On Monday by Prime Minister’s literary award-winning author, Felicity Castagna. The teaching notes were prepared for a unit of work for Stage 4 English.

Marketing & Publicity

There were a number of strategies for publicity and marketing of my book. A public relations officer named Mariam Chehab was hired to contact journalists and reviewers and schools, and the SWEATSHOP director, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, arranged for me to attend various writers’ festivals around Australia.

Although I had a say, I pretty much stepped back and let SWEATSHOP do their thing. I just did what I was told  – I had to talk to the journalists for various newspapers and radio stations, I had to attend numerous photoshoots, I had to do public readings and I had to sit on numerous panels, especially for the writers’ festivals (including the Sydney Writers’ Festival, the Emerging Writers Festival and the National Young Writers Festival). I also attended numerous schools to run workshops and give author talks.

Launch

My book launch was my wedding! There were two hundred guests and falafels and mini pizzas and fruit platters and a candy bar and there was even an enormous The Diet Starts On Monday cake.

The launch was organised by the Sweatshop Collective, who volunteered their time to help out on the night, and hosted by Urban Theatre Projects, who opened their doors to us at the Bankstown Arts Centre. The ceremony included special guest speeches by Luke Carman and Felicity Castagna and a speech and reading from me.

In the end I signed books for almost two hours. It was an amazing night.

First Book Journey: Nicole Haddow’s Tweethearts

The manuscript

I was really just amusing myself when I started writing Tweethearts. I didn’t take it seriously until I hit about 15,000 words. I completed some fiction subjects at uni and I’d also read a lot of chick lit, so that was my training. There’s a reason writers give the advice “just start writing” over and over. That’s because there’s really no better way to learn.

I decided I wanted to show an editor in early 2012. I was also working as a journalist and I had a couple of publishing house contacts. I asked a publicist I knew to recommend an editor who’d consider reading my first chapters. The publicist put me in touch with Belinda Byrne at Penguin. I had a coffee with Belinda and she told me she’d enjoyed my first chapters. She encouraged me to complete the manuscript and submit again. There was certainly no guarantee of publication, but her enthusiasm for what I’d started gave me the motivation to see it through. Belinda didn’t tell me what to do or how to do it. That was something I had to work out for myself. For me, it was really important to have fun in the process so I just wrote then tightened the structure later. It took about eight months to complete the first draft, but I edited many drafts after that.

The publishing deal

There was a fair bit of time between finishing the manuscript and finding someone to publish it, so my advice to aspiring writers looking for a publishing deal is to be patient and be open to alternative routes such as digital publication.

Belinda, and another Penguin editor, Ali Watts, liked my manuscript, but for a couple of reasons they weren’t able to offer me a print deal. However, Ali put me in touch with Sarah Fairhall and Carol George at Destiny Romance (a Penguin digital imprint). They read the manuscript and offered me a digital deal with their imprint, which was expanding from romance to include chick lit.

The signing

As I learnt more about digital publishing I realised that it was an exiting way to read and publish fiction. I still had access to all of the publisher’s traditional editing and marketing tools that I would have been given if I had a print deal, but going digital meant there was no limited print run and it would be available in the US and UK as well as Australia. Tweethearts is set in a digital world so it made sense for it to be published digitally. When I signed my contract everything happened pretty fast – another bonus of digital publication! There was about seven months between signing and publication. I did another round of editing based on Carol and Sarah’s feedback. Carol is based in Sydney but we spoke quite a bit on the phone. I also met with Sarah in Melbourne to talk through the process of completing the final draft. Once I’d finished my final edit it was over to Carol and Sarah to approve the final copy and prepare it for digital publication.

Aesthetics and essentials

Sarah sent me a jpeg of my cover to make sure I was happy with it – I loved it. A few weeks before publication I released the cover on social media and had some great feedback. At that time, Tweethearts was also available to pre-order on iTunes and Amazon so if people liked what they saw they could buy in advance and it would automatically land in their reading device on publication day.

Marketing and publicity

I met with Destiny’s publicist, Anna, a couple of weeks before Tweethearts was published and we had a chat about media opportunities. Anna made sure the book was available to the relevant bloggers and reviewers. I also set up a couple of my own opportunities through my media relationships. Aside from traditional media and publicity, I also maintained a social media presence and posted news about the release of Tweethearts on Twitter and Facebook as it came to hand.

Launch

I didn’t have a traditional book launch, but I did have a small bash with a handful of friends who’d been really supportive during the process. I also encouraged those who came along to read it, and, if they liked it, to share the details with their own networks. Word of mouth definitely helps when you’re trying to establish an audience. Mostly it was just great to have a glass of champagne and celebrate the fact that Tweethearts was published and available to read. Many of my friends downloaded it on the spot and began reading it on the night – yet another cool thing about going digital.

 

 

First Book Journey: Gabrielle Tozer’s The Intern

The writing process

I was 26 years old and working as a fulltime magazine senior features writer when I wrote the first draft of THE INTERN. I used every pocket of spare time possible to write, usually before work from 5.30am – 7.30am, then locking in longer chunks of time on weekends.
I finished the first draft in January 2012, printed off my 80,000+ word manuscript and spent my 27th birthday marking it up with red pen, tabs and post-it notes. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what I was doing, so I summoned every tip I’d learned in the past decade (mainly from my degree and wielding a red pen as a sub-editor).
I didn’t hire a professional editor, but after another round of self-editing I printed off copies for my husband JT and three book-loving friends. It’s essential to have at least one person who can read over your work (but only when you’re ready – I wouldn’t give JT any sneak peeks because I wanted him to read the manuscript with a fresh eye).

Locking in a book deal

No journey to publication is the same. I’m one of those weirdos who’s known what they’ve wanted to do from a ridiculously young age, so over the decades I’ve done everything from writing competitions, studying communications, journalism and creative writing at uni and taking publishing courses.
It was at one of these courses – a weekend Getting Published course – that I met a lovely non-fiction publisher called Helen Littleton. We stayed in touch and one day I received an email out of the blue from my now HarperCollins YA and children’s publisher Lisa Berryman saying that Helen had recommended me and they were wondering if I had any manuscripts lying around in a bottom drawer.
I didn’t, but I pitched some ideas, and she asked me to write a few sample chapters. Once Lisa had established she liked my ‘writing voice’, she encouraged me to write a novel on spec. This meant I wrote without a contract locked in. Nerve-racking? You bet. Once I’d written the manuscript (and edited it four times…), I sent it off in June 2012 and hoped for the best. Luckily, Lisa loved my dorky protagonist Josie Browning as much as I did and took it to an acquisitions meeting in August 2012. That same day, Lisa offered me a two-book deal. It’s still the most surreal thing that’s ever happened to me.

After the signing

Not long after acquisition, a report was done about THE INTERN that included initial comments. I was happy with the suggestions, so I made all the changes and resent the manuscript – then the real hard work began for me, my project editor Rachel and out-of-house freelance editor Nicola O’Shea, who is one of the best in the business. Nicola marked up the manuscript with a lead pencil and then sent the pages to me by post to read and add my own changes. I was flooded with self-doubt initially but once I got started, I realised how brilliant (and kind) all her advice was and I found myself calling out things like ‘Oh my god, Nicola’s a genius!’ to JT. After the initial structural edit, Rachel and I worked back and forth with a proof-reader and Lisa until we were all happy. There’s a reason why author’s acknowledgements pages are so long – there are a lots of amazing people who help out along the way.

Aesthetics and essentials

In Dec 2012, Lisa and I began talking about the book cover. I’d expressed that I’d like to consult with them on it, so they asked me to send examples of young-adult book covers that I liked. I sent about 10 options; 90 per cent of them were illustrated or quite statement/quirky (only one had a photo). When Lisa sent through Hazel Lam’s initial design for THE INTERN book cover I was gobsmacked as she’d taken what I was imagining to a whole new level of awesome. Then Lisa told me there’d be two covers – a black one and a white one – and I was beyond excited! I know this makes me incredibly uncool to fangirl over my own book cover but I just adore them! Hazel outdid herself. There’s even a bit of rivalry between the covers with people telling me they’re either Team White or Team Black (or both, like me!).

Marketing and publicity

There have been a few marketing plans developed for my book, thanks to my dream team of Lisa, my marketing manager Tim Miller and publicist Amanda Diaz. The first was a fantastic competition with Girlfriend magazine, where a reader won the chance to intern with the entertainment editor Carina Rossi, interview me about the book and then attend a music gig. As for the other marketing campaign? Stay tuned at gabrielletozer.com and facebook.com/hellogabrielletozer for more details on my incredible Red Intern competition!

Thanks to my publicist, a press release has been written up and I’ve been pitched for interviews, blogs, websites, magazines, book reviews and festivals. Will be exciting to see what unfolds over the coming months once THE INTERN is out there. I’ve also found it’s essential to have my own media kit with essential information and photos on my website as, thanks to the wonders of the world wide web, many people contact me directly. I’m enjoying the ride and staying open to opportunities for 2014!

 

TheIntern_LargeAll about Gabrielle’s first book: The Intern

Josie Browning dreams of having it all. A stellar academic record, an amazing journalism career – and for her current crush to realise she actually exists. The only problem? Josie can’t get through twenty-four hours without embarrassing her sister Kat or her best friend Angel, let alone herself.

Josie’s luck changes though when she lands an internship at the glossy fashion magazine Sash. A coveted columnist job is up for grabs, but Josie’s got some tough competition in the form of two other interns. Battle lines are drawn and Josie quickly learns that the magazine industry is far from easy, especially under the reign of powerful editor, Rae Swanson.

From the lows of coffee-fetching and working 10-hour days, to the highs of mingling with celebrities, scoring endless free beauty products (plus falling for her cousin’s seriously gorgeous flatmate James) this is one year Josie will never forget. Totally fresh and funny, this debut novel from industry insider Gabrielle Tozer reveals just what is behind the seeming glamour and sparkle of the magazine industry.