There is more than one way (at a time) to work in publishing

By Angela Meyer

I was sitting in the crowd at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in 2006, about six months before I started my blog and just after I’d started writing reviews for Bookseller+Publisher magazine (now Books+Publishing). I was taking notes for my first feature article. I was a small town girl, from Coffs Harbour, NSW, and the bookstore I worked at had sent me to Ubud, for meeting my KPIs.

I was sitting there, enthralled by the conversations on stage between authors from all over the world, and I remember thinking: I’d like to do that. I already knew I wanted to write, but I realised, too, that I could combine a love of literature withthe enjoyment of performance and a desire to connect: chairing writers’ festival panels.

A couple of years later I found myself on that very same stage, and from then on I’ve chaired, presented and taught workshops (mainly on blogging and social media) at more than 15 different writers’ festivals and conferences, some of them several times. It’s one of the core aspects of my freelance repertoire, which also includes book reviews and author interviews for print and online publications. I also write short fiction, and am working on a novel.

One essay I had published in AntiTHESIS a few years ago explored some of the fears and anxieties that set in after I became a ‘public book person’. If you prove that you’re OK at something when you’re young and enthusiastic, you end up being pulled in all sorts of directions, and it’s difficult to say no to anything. But every experience has been valuable and I’m still learning how I can function within the world of books and writing, and still achieve my ultimate goals (which I’ve known all along).

I moved to Melbourne in March 2008. Blogging about the Melbourne Writers Festival led to being picked up as one of Crikey’s first bloggers, and I continued on there for three years before deciding I wanted to blog more ‘quietly’ again, and LiteraryMinded continues (with a huge archive) in a quiet corner of the internet, still with a loyal little following. This small town girl also walked right into a job at Bookseller+Publisher when I moved to Melbourne, the envy of many writing and publishing course graduates (I studied film and literature). I never had to intern, and could actually never have afforded to. I’ve worked since I was 14 years old and paid for everything on my own since moving out of home at 18. It was partly timing, getting the job, and partly because I was already writing for the magazine and had a relationship with them, and I did have the knowledge and skills required for the job (which included knowledge of bookselling). If anyone reading this is looking for work in the industry, you can’t go wrong starting in a bookstore; you’ll learn all about how (traditional) publishing works: marketing, distribution, trends, categories, etc. And you’ll meet all kinds of readers! As a burgeoning writer, editor, publicist or publisher, this is invaluable.

For the last three years I’ve been doing a Doctor of Creative Arts through the University of Western Sydney. Some people thought I was crazy, or bold, for leaving B+P just when I was promoted to editor! But while I loved that job, I knew that if I received a scholarship (which I did) the doctorate would afford me the time to write a novel. This is me getting back to my ultimate goals. Though, as I said, I enjoy and learn from aspects of everything that I do. It’s not my first manuscript, but it is certainly the one I’ve put the most time into. If you’re thinking about doing a creative PhD/DCA you must know that the exegesis requires much academic rigour, and though it has a lower word limitthan the creative element of the thesis it can take as long or longer. Well, it has for me. I’m so very close to finishing…

So where am I now, and what’s next? Am I a writer, reviewer, fiction writer, presenter, consultant, interviewer, teacher, editor or what? Well, I’ve had to think about whether I want a day job that is going to be ‘writerly’, or whether I want a job that isn’t too mentally taxing so that I can continue with my own writing. I’m only 28 but I don’t have the energy I had when I worked, did my honours degree and blogged all at the same time. But then I’ve also found it’s very hard to get any kind of job in Melbourne. I’m now working part-time as a community manager, for a company, spending a few days not writing about books, which is a fun challenge. I’ve also picked up a little work helping to spread the word about a new small press, Inkerman & Blunt, and their first book. That same publisher will be bringing out a chapbook of my flash fiction in 2014. And here we are coming back to the ultimate goals. The only problem with finishing the thesis/finding work/starting new jobs/doing festivals/writing reviews is that my fiction output is dismal! The work I love the most often takes a back seat. But I’ve also just picked up a few weekend shifts, so with enough income rolling in, I can relax and be more choosy about reviews and festivals or other contract jobs.

And finally, I’m editing a collection of eerie stories for Spineless Wonders, another great Aus small press. This has been a goal of mine for ages, to edit a book of fiction. I’d love to think that one day I’ll edit the Best Australian Stories, or one of those Penguin collections of short fiction. But that’s probably a few years and a few books off.

Once my doctorate is done and dusted, and I have some book-shaped things out in the world, there is also the possibility of grants, to help me create new work.

It feels quite strange listing the things that I do, and my achievements in various facets of the book industry. I was asked to basically explain myself, for this BICC blog, because ‘there aren’t many people like [me]’. I suppose most people don’t wear eight hats, and they’re probably very smart, because it can be overwhelming.But if you can handle the hats, and wear them well, you’ll be asked to wear more and more, and some of them will fit just perfectly.

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