How To Accidentally Get Published
So how did I accidentally get published? Well, this all started when I was a young burgeoning wanna-be film director. Or burgeoning something. I’d just finished a film and TV course and thought hey, maybe I could be a writer/director/delusional?
I had my eyes set on the Victorian College of the Arts, the Holy Grail of film courses in Australia. Entry was a little like dating the popular girl at school though. More difficult to get into than an undersized wetsuit and once you’re in it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. OK, that’s actually a really bad analogy. Let’s just say it’s more difficult than your usual film and television course.
With 16 spots and 1000 applicants, entry was a multi-tiered selection process. From Hell. First, you had to mail in your application. And then you had to submit the online Supplementary Application Form. Hang on, isn’t that two applications that say the same thing? Yes it is. PROBREM?
So once you’ve accomplished that, you think you’re in for an interview, right? Wrong.
To even be considered for an interview, assuming you didn’t screw up the previous two steps, you have to complete and submit the Selection Test. So poor hapless wanne-be film director me was tasked with creating a short narrative from nine images. But they had to be my own images, not stolen from iStockPhoto.com. Amazingly, I had made it this far and could finally count myself among the fifty or so jittery interviewees who did their best not to vomit mid-interview.
Meanwhile, on a whim, I’d applied for this professional writing course. It was supposed to be the best in the country, but if you were under 30 years old your chances of getting in were slim. Something about life experience and being a crap writer. I can’t remember, but I tried for the hell of it. I had a novel I’d been writing for a few years so I bumped a scene out of that, slapped it into a self-contained short story and shamelessly attached it to my application. I knew it was unlikely I’d be offered a place so I didn’t bother making the story any good.
As it turned out, I scored an interview. I’m guessing they forgot to read my story. Or they got my story mixed up with an extremely talented writer’s story. Either way, my attention was riveted to the film course, so I just ended up winging the writing interview. I had no experience to speak of, I hadn’t traveled anywhere, I really didn’t have much to say. My answers were just a few words a piece and it was probably incredibly boring for the interviewees.
I mean, what did I have to talk about? All I’d been doing since I moved out of home was playing toy soldier, sleeping on a grimy futon and eating my weight in Mi Goreng noodles.
Anyway, back to the film course. It was “recommended” that all applicants show a short film they made. And by recommended I mean you do it or you don’t waste their time. In hindsight, this was probably not the best opportunity for me to start getting experimental.
Because after I spent ten minutes hunched over the DVD player in the interview room, trying to stop it from rejecting my
self-worth disc, I played them a scene that could only be described as Fawlty Towers meets The Wire. I like to think I was ahead of my time, but it was just really, really bad film-making. Like Transformers, but with a storyline. On the upside, I didn’t vomit during the interview.
It came as no surprise to me that I was not offered a place in the film course. But out of nowhere I got in to the writing course. I thought there must have been some kind of mistake. But who cares, right? I was in. And it soon became very clear to me that this was a serious course with serious writers and that I needed to move to Brunswick, ride a bike, drink lots of soy, perhaps become a vegan and start reading books that came from bookstores instead of airports. It also became pretty clear to me that writing novels was a lot more interesting than writing screenplays. As it turned out, I would not become a film director. Writing novels was too much fun.
OK, I lied about the film director bit. There was one exception…
A bunch of my fellow writing students submitted this ridiculous comedy screenplay to 3DFest (and to their surprise, they won). So I was cast as this film director with anger management problems that would put Ari Gold to shame. And somehow we were allowed to perform a scene live on Sunrise, Channel 7. Which was problematic because I kept messing up my lines and that particular scene featured singing AND I CAN’T SING. (If anyone has this on tape, please send me a copy because I really want to affirm how little shame I have.)
Oh, and there was also a parody dating show and a Brady Bunch number, both of which were unforgivingly live to air. Pretty sure I’m banned from TV for life now.
Anyway, two years later I finished the writing course and began stalking literary agents through the long grasses of the Internets. I was looking forward to going through their trash and breathing heavily upon their necks while they slept, but as it turned out there weren’t many agents in Australia. Something about getting jobs that actually paid well. But of the few agents I could track down, none were interested in popular fiction. Go figure. Either way, I found one agent who specifically welcomed popular fiction: Xavier Waterkeyn. He signed me up and mentored me through a few more drafts. Before I knew it, it was ready for submission. (The kind without the whips.)
First on our hit list of the Big 6 publishers was Hachette. The editor liked it enough to commission a reader’s report and kindly ask for some changes. So I made the changes and we resubmitted. But the editor had been replaced by someone new. Someone who was not so keen. Rejected!
We moved on to our next unsuspecting target, submitted and a few months later we were rejected. I was getting a bit worried. I didn’t mind the rejections so much, but our list only had six publishers on it. What happens when we get to the end of the list?
By this point, the epocalypse was in full swing and a bunch of authors were shifting towards self-publishing. A couple of bestselling authors were turning down publishers to self-publish themselves, the iBookstore and the iPad were hitting the US and in turn the rest of the world. Amazon had released their latest Kindle. Suddenly, anyone anywhere could make their ebook available to everyone.
So I weighed up the options:
- After signing your contract, you will usually wait 1-2 years for your book and ebook to be published.
- Your ebook will only be available in your country. Everyone else can suck it.
- Your ebook will cost $25. Note: since 2010, the prices have dropped to under $20. UPDATE: no, wait, some still cost $26.
- Your ebook will be locked with DRM to
stop piracypiss off your customers.
- Your book will be available in all the major bookstores such as
Borders, Angus & Robertson andDymocks.
- Not good enough to be published, so now you’re selling your book for 99c and your front cover may or may not include Comic Sans typography.
- You have to do it all yourself, which means less time to
watch The Muppets on YouTubewrite.
- You take all the
No offense Australia, but you’re only 1% of the English speaking population. If I want to sell popular fiction, I want to sell it globally.
(This also means I’ve switched my UK English dictionary with US English, but most Australians unwittingly do that anyway, so whatever. And bonus, pedophile is MUCH easier to spell now!)
By 2011, the publishing climate was changing so rapidly that I found myself in a situation where I didn’t even want a traditional publisher anymore. It seemed that the direction my agent and myself were heading in was incompatible with the current publishing model. (And by current, I mean 100 years old.)
Authors everywhere were clamoring for higher advances and higher royalties. But I didn’t really care about royalties or advances. I just wanted someone from Germany or America or Brazil to be able to read my book without being blockaded by: “This ebook is not available in your territory”.
Nonetheless, the next step in the self-publishing process was poaching Joel Naoum, a talented editor I was stalking following on Twitter.
Little did I know he was poaching me.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Joel was transitioning into the role of publisher for Pan Macmillan Australia’s forthcoming digital imprint, Momentum, which was due to launch in February 2012. As Joel started telling us about Momentum (then entitled “secret project”), we realized he was taking the best bits of traditional publishing and the best bits of self-publishing and putting them together.
What came out the other end was a lean, mean digital-only imprint that would publish globally (Apple, Amazon, Google, Barnes & Noble, you name it) and make the print-on-demand book available globally (Amazon, for example). And would do so without DRM or ludicrous pricing. We wanted to make my book, The Chimera Vector, available to everyone, anywhere, at a reasonable cost and maximum convenience.
And Joel had offered us just that.
It’s pretty clear to us that what Joel has in store for Momentum is ground-breaking, exciting and very encouraging. If the publishing industry is going to survive, and evolve instead of perish, it will do so because of people like Joel Naoum.
And so today, I signed on the dotted line.