Report from the Sydney Writers’ Festival

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Diabolical Persistence is the key to successful writing, according to editor and writer Craig Munro, who gave a highly entertaining address at the SydneyWriters’ Festival which I was fortunate to attend. Over his long career as an editor for UQP, Craig honed the works of Peter Carey, David Malouf, and other literary luminaries. He’s now written his own book, ‘Under Cover’, a memoir about his years in the publishing world. Some of the anecdotes he read had the audience chuckling in recognition of the vagaries of our best-loved literati.

It’s important, Craig said, for an author to be ‘in tune’ with the editor, the two most important qualities in the collaboration being confidence and trust. The relationship between writer and editor is a special one, and Craig himself maintains friendships with many of his clients.

His advice to aspiring authors was practical and cautionary:very few manuscripts reach a publisher without needing extensive editing, even if the writer believes the final draft is ‘perfect’. The manuscript needs to be at the highest level, as fine-tuned as possible, before approaching an agent or a publisher. When editing one’s own work, it’s advisable to put some distance between each revision, leaving the draft alone for at least a day.

Craig also had some sound advice on pitching to a publisher, suggesting that, if you’ve spent ten years writing a book, you should spend a week or more on writing the pitch letter, which should be no more than a page. The pitch should include a covering letter, a brief synopsis, and an excerpt.

Publishing fiction these days is almost impossible, unless you have a huge following already. So what about self-publishing? Not a good idea for works of fiction, as without successful marketing, your book may not reach more than a few readers. Genres which have a brighter prospect are romance, crime, and sci-fi.

Good editing is made up of experience and instinct, as well as the highly trained eye. So, take heart, fellow-writers – the right editor could transform your book into something publishable. However, it’s always the author who has the last word – it is, after all, the product of her or his imagination, knowledge and skill.