For those unfamiliar with your role, what does it involve?
I love my job and feel privileged to work with an author and my colleagues to deliver a book to readers. The role of a publisher is very varied and though the production processes you use to put a book together don’t change much from book to book, the fact that every author, every subject, every story is different means no two days are ever the same.
On any day I might be:
* Assessing manuscripts and writing reader’s reports.
* Doing a structural edit.
* Copy editing.
* Applying for permission to use song lyrics or illustrations within a text.
* Researching and putting together picture sections.
* Writing back cover blurbs.
* Working out schedules with the production controller or production manager.
* Writing information sheets for use by our sales and marketing departments.
* Briefing external designers and illustrators, and approving concepts.
* Checking page proofs.
* Writing promotional copy about a book.
* Liaising with agents, production personnel, editors, indexers, designers, illustrators, and photographers.
* Putting together a contract.
* Negotiating a deal with an agent, either here or overseas.
* Working with the sales and marketing departments or the publicity department to try and make our book stand out from the rest.
* And, most importantly, continually working with an author to make sure they always feel included in the whole publishing process and are comfortable and informed about what we are doing with their book.
Publishing is a collaborative process and we all want to create the best possible book we can.
What do you look for or love to find in a manuscript submitted to you?
It is very simple … a great story brilliantly told.
I am very lucky to publish both fiction and non-fiction and so my list is quite eclectic. The common link is they are all great stories that engage a reader and transport them from their reality. Whether it is a sweeping commercial women’s novel, an action thriller, an inspiring memoir or a thought-provoking work of non-fiction, I am always looking for brilliant storytellers from both Australia and overseas. My list includes Jessica Watson, the teenage sailor who recently became the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe and told her story in the no 1 bestseller, True Spirit; Kimberley Freeman, author of the commercial women’s novels Wildflower Hill, Duet and Gold Dust; and James Phelan, whose novels Fox Hunt, Patriot Act, Blood Oil, Liquid Gold and Red Ice are part of the very well-received Lachlan Fox action/thriller series. I have recently published the moving Kindling by Darren Groth and next year I am very excited to be publishing the heartbreaking debut novel Past The Shallows by Favel Parrett.
What is the key to a great first chapter for a novel, or what is a first chapter you like and what makes it work so well for you?
I don’t think there is a formula. A good storyteller knows how to pace a narrative and draw you in to their story. If after twenty pages I am thinking about something else I have to do or forgetting who it is I am reading about then it is tough to keep reading.
What is the key to a great progression of chapters through a novel?
Again, I wish I could give you the perfect formula but there isn’t one.
What is often lacking or weakest in manuscripts submitted to you, and how could a writer avoid or fix it?
I think a manuscript needs time to breathe and the writer needs to take time to step back from it for a while when they finish. Often I read manuscripts and I am sure the writer has sent it off as soon as they have hit the last full stop. They should read it again after time away from the pages or the screen and look for repetition of words, thoughts or descriptions and proofread before they even think of sending to an agent or a publisher. And don’t read your final draft onscreen (sorry trees!).
Could you share a novel or two that you have personally been involved with and give an overview of what you think made that novel work well?
Every novel I have ever been involved in has emotionally engaged me or transported me in some way. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, it just has to capture my attention. Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman is a perfect example. I lost my heart to Beattie. This is an evocative and compelling story from a born storyteller. The characters, the strong sense of place and the skilful revelations of lost love all work together to create a narrative you cannot put down.
Kindling by Darren Groth is a very different book from Wildflower Hill but the brilliantly realised character Kieran and his father Nate made it another book that stole my heart. The first page got me: a panicked father searching for his son. I had to know what happened next.
Who are a few of your favourite up-and-coming novelists (with 1-3 novels published) and what makes them stand out for you?
I can’t whittle it down to a few. And as a publisher I am of course going to say novelists on my list: James Phelan, Darren Groth, Kimberley Freeman, Christine Darcas, Camilla Noli, Robert Goolrick and Favel Parrett. The brilliant Catherine Therese is writing fiction at the moment and I can’t wait to read what she has written.
But there are a few books I have read recently by other publishers that I devoured. Caroline Overington is a strong new Australian fiction writer that I am pleased to have read. Matt Nable’s debut fiction is fabulous … It is too hard to choose!
What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give for people writing their first novel-length manuscript for National Novel Writing Month in November?
Polish, perfect, proofread.
And remember it takes a lot to write a novel, to lock yourself away and remove yourself from family and friends, so celebrate every step. It is an achievement to create a story, so be proud. You don’t know how it will be received or if it will be published but in that moment between finishing your story and sharing it with someone else, sit back and appreciate that no matter what happens you have achieved what you set out to do. That is a big thing.
Vanessa Radnidge is a Publisher with Hachette.
The Australian Literature Review