In November 2015, over the course of a weekend, I met seven publishers and two agents – who had all read a sample of my manuscript – to discuss their thoughts on my writing. Among the guests were some of the biggest names in Australian publishing, including Henry Rosenbloom, founder of Scribe, and representatives from Hachette and Random House. The 30 minute discussions were daunting, nerve-wracking, and incredibly enlightening. This was round two of the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY program.
It began the previous March when I was procrastinating and found a link from a QWC email to the HARDCOPY application page. It was due in a few days, but I pulled together an application and found out a month later that I had been accepted. Then I read the fine print: the program would involve at least two trips to Canberra.
“[HARDCOPY] is the only national program that combines manuscript development, industry awareness, and feedback from agents and publishers.”
The timing, the distance (from Far North Queensland), my financial situation and my children needing childcare for days I would be away, all presented problems as to why I might not be able to attend. But this was the opportunity I’d been craving for years while I’d been working on my book about the Daintree blockade, an environmental protest that happened at Cape Tribulation in 1983-4. I applied for and received an Artslink Quick Response Grant to cover one of the trips to Canberra, and stumped up the cash for another.
Then, in May, I dug out some winter clothes and braved the Canberra cold. The first long weekend entailed a masterclass in nonfiction writing. Among the 25 participants were many memoirists, and a scattering of historians, philosophers and science writers. The masterclass facilitator, editor Nadine Davidoff, helped create a trusting and creative environment for us to share our stories. I particularly enjoyed Nadine’s discussions about finding your voice and staying true to the story.
The second long weekend took place in September (another cold month in Canberra). Billed as a mini writers festival, Intro to Industry exceeded my expectations. We received insights from a variety of industry insiders, including an agent, Penguin’s digital marketing guru, and a book reviewer, among others. The quality of the presenters was exceptional, and there were ample opportunities to chat with them during breaks.
Before reconvening in September, participants were invited to resubmit their work. This time, our writing was vetted by respected publisher and editor Mary Cunnane. Ten writers were chosen by Mary to attend round two of HARDCOPY 2015. I was fortunate enough to be selected. We then got feedback from Mary before sending our work in again, this time to be assessed by the publishers and agents. I found this process of submitting and resubmitting the work one of the most rewarding aspects of the program.
So, to round two, and a third trip to Canberra to meet the agents and publishers. Nigel Featherstone, HARDCOPY program coordinator and published author, and Mary Cunnane were on hand to mentor us through the weekend. It was intense, but extremely satisfying. The feedback was very diverse, but overwhelmingly encouraging. If there was a universal thread, it was to get to the heart of the story a little quicker and stick faithfully to the main theme of the story. My next edit reduced the word count by 10 000 words.
HARDCOPY was a life changing experience for many participants: for me it led to an offer of representation from an agent. In the end I declined the offer and went ahead with plans to self- publish. Only time will tell if this was a good decision, but I’m proud of the book I’ve created. Being involved in HARDCOPY pushed me to make The Daintree Blockade the best book it could be.
HARDCOPY is a unique program. As Nigel Featherstone says, ‘It is the only national program that combines manuscript development, industry awareness, and feedback from agents and publishers.’ As well as these experiences, I now have great writing network, most commonly accessed through the HARDCOPY Facebook page. Two of the 2015 intake also did thorough edits of my manuscript.
HARDCOPY alternates each year between fiction and nonfiction. Applications for 2017 have closed, but follow the social media feeds of the ACT Writers Centre for information about next year’s program. I suspect HARDCOPY will become one of the most well regarded programs on the emerging writer’s calendar.
Queensland participants are advised to take plenty of warm clothing.
Bill Wilkie lives in the small sugar town of Mossman, in Far North Queensland. his first book, The Daintree Blockage: The Battle for Australia’s Tropical Rainforests, is available to purchase online at daintreeblockage.com.au