26 January 2021

What it’s Like Being an Aussie Author

I’ve been to cities that never close down. From Rio, to Southport, and old Busan town. I used to work on cruise ships and through that I’ve been to nearly forty countries. I’ve met authors from every continent (except Antarctica). It was a joke between a guitarist on the cruise ship and I, that we’d get a local beer from every port we stopped in. In that spirit I have some kind of beverage (alcoholic or not) with every author I chat to. These are the things that are what I’ve realised are vastly different, and vastly similar, when you are an Australian Fiction Author.


What I’ve noticed:

It doesn’t matter which country you come from or the circumstances you live in, writers are an odd bunch. Australian authors are similar to bush rangers, though. There are no real rules in how to go about your writing career in Australia, you just have to keep going. That’s the one rule: Persistence.

If you stop, your career stops. That’s just the nature of the global climate now though, isn’t it?

What I have noticed in particular is that there are a lot of opportunities, a lack of defined pathways, and

A community desperate for more.


What I Wish We Had:

As I started out, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Now I have some idea. Through those gaps I wish Australia were better equipped to support our authors from school yard dreamer to successful and celebrated. This comes down to a few integral steppingstones.


A place to grow: When I started out, I didn’t know who to look to and what to avoid and being an author can be very isolating. It can also be expensive to make certain mistakes and get in with toxic crowds (thank goodness they’re few and far between). I would have loved to have had the local libraries host Writing Fridays and the Queensland Writers Centre be open with someone to talk to. I thought I had to sit by myself at home or distracted on a library computer to get any work done. Having a space where authors can get together is so important and it needs to be promoted in all schools and I am so grateful we have these places now.


A path well-travelled: If I’d had a fiction writing mentor when I was in high school my life would have been immensely different. I feel like the reclusiveness and fear of competition stops many authors from helping younger and less experienced writers learn from their mistakes and grow the industry. It takes a lot of time, energy, and resources to remake the wheel for each new author. This includes understanding that writing for a living is a business and the avenues available to make money, so you don’t have to rely on government funding.


Less choice: Don’t get me wrong, just because we’re in Australia doesn’t mean we can’t grab the courses, services, and production methods from overseas, but buying Australia is\ something every true-blue Aussie wants at their core. The resources in Australia tend to be scattered, duplicated and shallow. The groups and associations are a bit unclear on why you should join, and the community feels disjointed. It’s hard to know what the head, feet and hands of industry is doing and even harder to predict what may be coming up next unless you’re looking at other countries and hoping that the same thing happens here.


An Introvert’s Nightmare: Unless you have contacts, there is no database of bookstores, Australian distributors, and other means of selling physical books. I wish there were a nice clean database that kept these all logged, as well as school librarians, council libraries and universities. Calling up each of these channels and not knowing what they want from you and how you can show them that your book is worth buying is a nightmare. A bit of training and transparency about what these outlets are seeking would help so many fiction authors get more exposure and sales to feed their next story.


Only particular niches get grants: When I found out you could get grants for your writing I was thrilled. Then I saw that my ship was slowly sinking because I had nothing that the grants wanted to invest in. Writing a fantasy detective story doesn’t really get a cultural grant, nor does it get a community initiative grant. If you’re writing a contemporary or historical Australia or contemporary cultural issues, then you’ll get funding. If you’re writing epic fantasy with dragons and knights, you must be far more creative.


The Reason Niche’s Win Grants: The arts industries regularly get left as an afterthought by government budgets. I can see why. It’s hard to measure the benefits of the arts. It’s harder to measure the benefit of written arts. Poetry and fiction touch the hearts, minds, and souls of our readers. But you can’t measure that success. Art also makes us think. Through writing we can directly satirise a political or social situation in the fullest of depths, and people are harder to manage when they are fed media that makes them think.


What I’m Glad We’ve Got:

Opportunity: Australia is a really big pond that is in a beautiful position with the rest of the world. The authors here can say with pride anywhere in the world that they are an Australian author, and it will generate more interest and sales for them. It’s like when the First Nation’s people found uncharted territory. It was fresh, rich, and filled with potential. It’s just that we’ve stood around looking at our writing and wondering when someone else would take the first leap.


Schools excited to have us: My old history teacher learned I was an author and instantly booked me in to talk about it in the next available slot. And wanted to pay me for it! The schools here want to inspire their students to write. Writing can be a form of therapy and expression for them and it keeps them out of trouble. The better you can master a short presentation, the more the schools will adore you and want your books in the hands of all their students. Just go and talk to your old high school and see!


Libraries excited to support us: The nine libraries in my area were thrilled to have my book on their shelves. I donated one copy of each to each of the libraries and they have been booked out regularly since. I suspect it’s because the librarians wanted to support a local author. They would love for me to give talks and the moment you mention Writing Fridays, they swoon. I love my local libraries and they have always been enthusiastic and kind, so I expect they’ll give you the same reception.


Aussies love to read: Australian studies have shown that over 70% of us still love reading as our primary form of leisure. Many of us pride ourselves on inhaling books and loving a good paperback. Romance readers are voracious, and crime/mysteries are always on top. It warms the cockles of my heart to know that this is an unabashed fact in our sunburnt land.


A Final Ramble:

I believe there is a universal rule that when you seek to make a living from a creative soul, you need to know business. Authors in Australia rarely know that they need to know business. There seems to be this underlying fear of asking, which stops sales, which means the pool of Australian authors is always at the risk of having our resources dry up. There is a way to nurture it to be full and blooming. With a hint of courage, you can make that initial mark pretty easily, but keeping a community focus will help us all to thrive.

Collaboration, co-operation, and cups of tea together are how we will all lift one another up. A fear of competition is petty and small minded. As is the fear of rejection. Your book is not for everyone. Even a dictionary gets criticism. Get a good tribe of writers and know what you stand for. Allow yourself to be human and do what you were put on this beautiful land to do. Write.


It’s like the days when the First Nations people began exploring here. Whether they travelled by foot over continents those hundreds of thousands of years ago, or whether they were born here, finding those secret islands off the coast, or finding a path through huge plates of stone, exploring the bushland of old, there is a newness around the author community in Australia.

There is something untamed and unwritten. A path that is overgrown and may never had been trodden in the past.

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