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.