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publication in literary journals were my tools to bypassing the dreaded slush pile, and winning the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award (won the year before by Hannah Kent) was the turning point.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!