Now that I’ve finished my novel revision and have time to take a breath what better time to get re-inspired about writing than May in Sydney– Writer’s Festival time!

Today’s seminar at the State Library, The Forest For The Trees, brought us up to date on the state of the publishing industry in Australia. The predominant word was “challenging”. There was a mixture of optimism and concern around the whole issue of digital publishing and the implications that it has for the traditional publishing world.

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For those who couldn’t make it here’s a quick run down:

  • Sophie Cunningham, writer, publisher and one of the forces behind the Stella Prize (looking forward to the lunch tomorrow!)  gave us the writer’s perspective on the changes – writers are becoming more akin to musicians and need to hone their performance skills as readers want more connection with their favourite authors. Great tip from Sophie – writers need to do things other than write, especially something physical to get them out of their chair and away from the computer every once in a while.
  • Chad Harbuck (The Art of Fielding) and Elliot Pearlman (Three Dollars, Seven Types of Ambiguity and The Streetsweeper) spoke about  research, rejection and the importance of regular writing sessions. Pearlman: “The hardest thing to do is create something from nothing … just get it down …once you’ve got something it encourages you psychologically. It helps keep you going.”
  •  In Session Three a panel of publishers, including Lou Johnson from Simon & Schuster and Sue Hines from Allen & Unwin, talked about the current state of the industry and the rapid pace of change that has taken place in the last couple of years. There was good and bad news: around 200 bookshops closed last year in Australia, with only 50 new ones popping up in the aftermath; with the rise of e-books more people are reading; the advent of digital publishing has opened new avenues for writers who now have the option to self publish rather than confront the inevitable rejections from mainstream publishing houses. The predominant theme in this and other sessions however was the importance of the editorial process. Traditional publishing offers the writer the support of editors, marketers, distributors and bookshops as opposed to the more solo journey of the self publisher. Either way quality control is essential: make sure your book is edited thoroughly before publication in any form.
  • The next session focused on the role of Literary Journals like Southerly,Overland, The Griffith Review and newcomer Seizure. All are now offering print and online publication to provide additional opportunities for established and emerging writers.
  •  In “Off The Beaten Track” the world of digital publishing was further explored. Pan Macmillan publisher Joel Naoum, head of the Momentum digital imprint, was the stand out speaker in this session explaining how writers can now reach a wider audience through social media.
  • The final session wrapped up the themes of the day. Writer Bem Le Hunt told us about The Royalties, a group of established writers who are exploring digital publication in a bid to reclaim some of the cash pie. Agent Sophie Hamley anticipates the role of the agent will become one more of career management for writers rather then a deal negotiator. Shona Martyn (Harper Collins) was especially optimistic about the changes and the increased flexibility that they will allow both writers and publishers. And Barbara Hogan from Shearer’s spoke about the role of the book shop in connecting readers and writers and being a focal point for community events.

All in all it was an informative and positive seminar. The changes occurring in the industry are huge and a challenge for both writers and publishers. The bottom line is we all need to keep ourselves informed, not be afraid and most importantly of all just keep writing.