This is what a Queensland Writers Centre/Allen & Unwin Manuscript Development Program looks like:
More or less, but usually not with pizza.
This is who was there:
Sophie Overett, Felicity Carter, Terri Green, Cathy McLennan, Sally Rippin, Erica Wagner, Pippa Masson, Frank Leggett, Jessica Miller, Vicki Stanton, and Robyn Osborne, all of whom are in the photo, also Sarah Brennan, Aimee Lindorf, Kate Eltham, Meg and Sarah and Imogen and… you can bet I’ve left someone out.
It was held mostly at the QWC offices in the state library in Brisbane and went like this:
Meet, chat, meet mentor and editors, chat, orientation, chat, eat, chat, sleep, chat, eat, chat, overview, chat, eat, consultation with editor, mentor consultation, debrief, chat, spa, chat, eat, chat, readings, chat, sleep, chat, coffee, chat, seminar, eat, chat, seminar, debrief, chat. So… mostly it was a great chance to chat about the industry of creating books for children.
But it was MORE than that. Just quietly, I’ve been kicking about a while, but this was the most I’d delved beneath the surface of what it is publishers, editors and agents actually do and how they work together with writers, the nuts and bolts, the nitty and the gritty. This was insight into their decision-making processes and the factors that they are governed by. I thought I knew a lot, but now I feel like I know almost everything.
But it was MORE than that. Because the editors at Allen & Unwin had chosen the eight manuscripts they wanted to see developed themselves, we were assured up-front that this was no mistake, our manuscripts were on track. We each had personal feedback on our manuscript from an Allen & Unwin editor and a request to see them once reworked. What an opportunity!
I don’t think it’s easy for an editor to give feedback on a manuscript to a fairly new writer. If they hit you with the good stuff upfront, you’ll be overly excited and forget to listen to the negatives, the things that need changing, or, if they start with the things that need changing, a new writer could fall into a pit of despair, and never hear the good stuff. The editor is in a no win situation. Particularly with me. My editor started with the good stuff, and I was just thinking “yeah, yeah, get all that praise rubbish out of the way, where’s the punchline? What’s the kicker? Hit me with it. Tell me it’s beautiful but there’s no place in the market for it and get it over with!” But, I didn’t get told that… Allen & Unwin are interested in publishing a novel like mine, if I can accomplish what they hope I can in the rewrite.
Being told that, is in itself quite paralysing. The technical difficulty of the rewrite at first seems daunting. Sorting out in your head what needs to be done is incredibly difficult when a little voice is crying, “you don’t understand what needs to be done/you’re not capable of that/you’ll let this opportunity slide because you’re just not smart enough!” Where did that ridiculous voice come from? Do all writers have unhelpful thoughts? I think it would be a very long search if I were to look for one person who thought I wasn’t capable of this. If the past has taught me anything, it taught me the best way to silence a stupid thought is to press on and do the thing that it says you can’t. Point by point, I addressed the things that need to be addressed, however daunting. The voice was silenced. I could breathe again, I stopped the furious back-peddling, pressed forwards and fully appreciated the opportunity.
You know the saying: “A fish must be ready to breathe before he can fly.” I think that applies to new writers. And I don’t mean the ridiculously new self-published writers pumping their fins furiously and coughing their gills out into the world screaming “Look at me! Look at me!” I mean writers who’ve been writing and learning and writing and having minor successes and learning and writing some more, growing lungs. Publishing today is tough. You have to be sufficiently equipped, you have to know what you’re doing, and you have to be brave. You’ll need lungs and you’ll need wings, if you want to fly.
If you’re reading this because you’re hoping to do a manuscript development program through QWC and you’re wondering what it’s all about, it’s basically an opportunity to make new friends (children’s writers are ALWAYS awesome caring people), an opportunity to learn more about the industry, and refine a manuscript a publisher has shown genuine interest in. If you only get one of those things out of it, it’s a worthy pursuit. If you’ve been priming your lungs and you’re brave enough, it might also be an opportunity to try your wings.