Money & Mandy Brett on editing, talent & tingly feelings.

In this episode we talk money. And let’s be frank, we are not experts on how book money works. However, we do our best and we ARE candid about advances, royalties, rights, grants and our mutual adoration of libraries (and PLR payments!). Kate gives a nod to the amazing Honor Eastly and her Starving Artist podcast and the phrase ‘day-job transparency.’ For professional book/money advice we recommend checking out the Australian Society of Authors who can advise on pay rates as well contracts and more. We also HIGHLY recommend the blog posts of Annabel Smith in her series How Writers Earn Money and we’ll bring you Annabel AND Jane Rawson talking money (and everything else!) in a special episode coming VERY soon!

Then Kate gets to dig deep with editor Mandy Brett.

Mandy Brett began her editing career as an editor and publisher at IAD Books, an Aboriginal publishing house in Alice Springs. Her editing career has seen her work freelance, as a production editor on a small magazine and as a computer programmer at Penguin Books. Mandy is now a senior editor with Text Publishing, where she has been since 2002. She works on fiction and non-fiction titles such as Clare Wright’s You Daughters of Freedom and Eva Hornung’s The Last Garden. Mandy is a guest lecturer in fiction editing at RMIT.

We begin talking about Mandy’s first editing experience in Alice Springs, working with predominantly oral story tellers and how this was ‘an exercise in listening‘. She thinks editing is about ‘listening to the writer and to the text too…the text has got to sing to you.

At a speech she made at the Wheeler Centre, Mandy referred to editors as ‘door bitches’ and Kate asks what it takes to get through the door. ‘Talent,‘ Mandy says definitively, explaining that writers have the same job getting through the door as they do on the bookshelves – ‘to make people sit up and take notice.

When Kate asks if Mandy instinctively knows when she has a cracker manuscript on her hands, Mandy says ‘There’s a tingly feeling…straight away you think, yeah, this one knows what they are doing.

On mistakes writers make when they are submitting manuscripts, she is very clear on the first: Don’t spell publishers names wrong. 

Another common mistake she sees is ‘blanding out’. Where a writer has had too many opinions on their word. She says, ‘Find the opinion that appears to you to be productive to you, and go with that.’

Mandy says: Ask the readers of your work: Where did you get bored? That’s the only thing you need to ask.

When asked what she has learnt over her career, Mandy says:

  • I’ve learnt not to second guess myself – to just go with it.
  • To resist the temptation to pull back. I do and say everything I think now.
  • I’ve learnt to ask authors to push back. It needs to be a dialogue.

Kate refers to an article by Robert Lukins reflecting on getting the structural edit back on his debut novel The Everlasting Sunday. and she asks Mandy about how editors can help writers ‘finish their thoughts’. Mandy says that finishing is often about structure: where manuscripts are ‘beautifully written things but not entirely satisfying’. Other problems? Mandy says ‘The climax takes too long to arrive – how like life’. Or she’ll go in with questions, such as: ‘Are you aware you have written a thriller?’.

They also speak about an article Mandy wrote for Meanjin where she says: ‘an editor’s read is a mean, carping, joyless thing. It aims to find fault…’. Mandy goes on to talk about how each editor approaches work with their own personality, and she tells editing students: ‘You’ve only got two tools as an editor: your pencil and your self.’

Mandy’s personal style? She says: ‘My gift is absolutely not diplomacy. They know they’re going to get the unvarnished truth.’ 

Kate asks how writers can prepare themselves, coming in to the author/editor relationship. Mandy acknowledges what a vulnerable state it is for authors but reckons that ‘you learn that the work is not you – exactly.’

She advises writers to approach the process ‘with a sense of openness but also confidence,’ and says that what she wants is ‘Ears wide open’.

They discuss what writers can look for in a publishing house and an editor who can provide a relationship that is both ‘fun’ and ‘chewy – in a good way.’

So, what makes a book fly? ‘Luck,’ Mandy says, along with a certain amount of push from a publishing house. She says first novels often have a story around the author which can help but sometimes success (or lack of!) is just about whether it’s the type of thing people want at that time.

On the icky feelings authors sometimes have about putting themselves out for publicity, Mandy recommends finding a pitch or persona for yourself that you can bear and adds, ‘If you get to participate in the ‘cult of the author’ you are very freaking lucky.’

Mandy’s final advice to writers putting manuscripts out:

  • Be persistent. There are three possibilities with your MS:
    • your work is not publishable (after you’ve shown it to all of them, in which case write something else)
    • it’s publishable by everyone (bidding war, congratulations!)
    • or it will find its publisher (if you persist)
  • Don’t flog away at the same thing indefinitely – there is a time to put things away.
  • Let a manuscript go cold before you assess what it is. Give it six months. You don’t know what the manuscript is before you go back and read the first draft.

It’s an episode we reckon warrants a repeat listen! Enjoy.

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