How did you get published? Interview with ‘Crackpot’ author, Fiona Trembath

Today, I’m talking with children’s author Fiona Trembath. Fiona’s first novel, Crackpot, has just been released by Melbourne publisher, Avant Press. 

Fiona, can you tell me how you came to be published?

It’s a long story that begins about ten years ago. I’d written a children’s story specifically for the ‘Aussie Bites’ series. They were full of praise, and keen to publish, but just when I thought it was safe to celebrate, they changed their mind. The story has continued to grow since then, suffer numerous rejections (all worthy, with hindsight) until a few years ago when decided to really commit to the book being published (once it had grown to become a novel). And voila! Here it is!

'Crackpot' author, Fiona Trembath

Fiona Trembath - crackers for 'Crackpot'

Tell me about the process of completing the book.

The process was long. However, there was a point where I thought I’d nailed it as a novel, and so after what seemed like the hundredth rewrite, I sent it to a manuscript assessment service.  The critique I received was really encouraging, so did a few more rewrites, sent it back again, and from there on I was ready to send it out into the big wide world. First stop was to enter it in a few literary comps: ‘Childrens and Young Adult Writers and Illustrators Conference’ in 2006, which it won, and then ‘Voices on the Coast’, in 2007, which it also won.  I then signed up with an agent, but nothing happened for two years. Out of frustration – and with the last breath of conviction in me – I took it to Avant Press.  Euan Mitchell phoned me two days later and said those words every Wishing To Be Author wants to hear: ‘I loved your story.  Let’s run with it!’

What did your publisher expect from you in terms of rewrites?

By this stage I was pretty sick of my own story, but knuckled down and did a few rewrites in one or two sections of the book.  Working with an editor, after being an editor myself for so long, was a real pleasure.  It’s so nice to have someone talk to you with such detail and intimacy about the characters in your own book.  You can imagine that by the time I got to read the proofs, I was really, really, really sick of the story (I feel guilty saying that). When the proofs came through, Euan insisted I read it ‘just one last time’, which I resisted, right up until the 11th hour. Thank goodness I read it!  A whole chunk of a rewrite had magically disappeared!

Did you do a book proposal for the book? If so, did it help you?

No, I didn’t. I’m not good at selling myself, so shied away from that. 

Why did you choose to submit your manuscript to a small publisher over a large one?

I had tried the larger publishers and aside from the fact that it takes so long to get a reply (which I fully understand), I didn’t have the stamina to get knocked down again by a publisher that I revered. (The punch hurt more.)  And I’d heard good things about working with smaller, independent publishers, so decided to give it a shot. 

Do you have an agent?

Yes, I did have an agent, and stupidly thought ‘I’m home and hosed’ (what does that really mean anyway? ), and had heard, time and time again at various festivals and writers’ discussions, “It’s harder to get an agent than it is a publisher.”  It’s not necessarily the case, as I found out.  

How did you negotiate your contract with the publisher?

Easy.  ‘Where do you want me to sign?’  It’s a partnership with Avant, so we both have financial interests in the book.  I felt valued and respected by Euan and Avant, and never had to do any serious ‘negotiating’. 

What aspects of publicity do you plan to do?

Although Avant were able to assist in smaller, behind-the-scenes promotion, I was responsible for most publicity and promotion, and so engaged the services of a professional publicist.  He was invaluable – and still is – although I am responsible to maintaining momentum and interest in the book. 

What part of the book promotion will Avant handle?

 Avant don’t have a publicity budget, aside from intranet, internet and word-of-mouth.  

Did you do a book launch?

Yes I did.  It was fantastic! Elly Varrenti launched Crackpot two days after I held the book for the first time in my hands, and three days before I turned 50.  I committed all the money from the sales of the book at the launch to go to a charity in India that I support.  A few weeks later I personally handed over the money – in rupees.  It was a great moment, and one that I will cherish forever.

I notice you’ve done book signings. Were they worthwhile?

As part of my promotion and publicity campaign, I did  a book-signing at the Angus & Robertson bookstore in Greensborough, which went really well. It was a lot of work (I was so worried nobody would turn up), but worthwhile, as I sold lots of books and had incredible support from the A&R team.

Tomorrow, Fiona talks about hiring a book publicist and how she promotes her books in schools.