Magestic Mentoring with the Awesome Angela Slatter

Angela Slatter (photo by David Pollitt)
This week I scored myself a mentor! The wonderfully talented Angela Slatter, one of Australia’s best speculative fiction short story writers is helping me “cook” my manuscript, guide me through the publishing industry’s intricacies and mould me into a “real” spec fic writer. I am blogging about it from the mentee’s POV and Angela is blogging about her experiences with me and her other writing wards from a mentor’s POV. I strongly recommend you follow her blog to pick up on some great industry advice. Today I’m going to talk about how I got to the point of working with Angela.

I had been writing for myself for years and years. When I finally let one of my friends read some stories, she encouraged me to go further with it. I knew navigating the publishing industry was going to be tough, but I had no idea just how tough. From the research I had done, it encouraged writers to seek advice from people in the industry, and if possible, get feedback from an industry professional on work. Great in theory, but how in the world does a publishing industry noob like me do that?!

About a year ago I went into the Queensland Writers Centre to join up membership, hoping that would introduce me to some new opportunities and give me access to some resources that would help me in my journey. But it has also provided me with networking opportunities, which I’ve learn can be one of the most important things in publishing.

Angela Slatter met me at the counter. We got chatting and hit it off. She took some time out and starting talking to me in depth about the Australian publishing industry, giving me some advice on agents to query. At the time, I was still so green about querying (my queries are not something I normally blog about, but I’m breaking that rule here).

So fast forward to today. I had stayed in touch with Angela. We worked for the same organisation briefly. Then I got to an interesting stage. I had undertaken major revision to my manuscript and was suffering from query fatigue, but I had some agents offer to see a revised version of my manuscript and they each gave me some feedback to work on. This was exciting, but it also meant more revision. Then, when I was part way through the revision, I got an offer of representation. Now it is all over the internet how agents must love your manuscript and feel as though they are as match as author and agent. Well, I feel the same thing goes for the author. And in this instance, I didn’t think I was compatible with the agent, something I didn’t know when I queried the agent. I made a scary decision to pass on the offer.

This left me with a half-revised manuscript, some waiting agents and a whole lot of doubt. My main concern was I would second guess myself and make my manuscript worse. I had already done this once as the feedback from agents was to take out bits that weren’t part of the original version of my manuscript.

I remembered the advice, get someone from the publishing industry to give you feedback. I saw that a former editor had gone freelance and contacted her, but she was focusing on working with publishers. But I was now set on this course of action.  I knew Angela was flat out busy, but I asked her if she could recommend someone who freelanced to me. I couldn’t believe it when Angela came back and said she would take me on and be my mentor. Her belief in me and desire to help me move to the next stage with my writer’s journey was just the boost I needed.

So what can aspiring writers learn from my experience? Networking is important in the Australian publishing industry. The publishing world in small, but for Australia it’s even smaller. Meeting people already established in the industry will open opportunities. It doesn’t mean everyone you meet will offer to mentor you, but you might be invited to be a part of a group blog, learn about submissions opening up or funding opportunities.

So where can you find networking opportunities? Writers’ centres are a good start and you can attend conferences. I met some great people at the CYA Conference in Brisbane last year. You can even book in for one-on-one sessions with agents and publishers at these events (if you’re quick enough and prepared to pay a bit more for the experience – I’ve done it and found it was worth the money). Writers’ groups is another option, as is going to book launches, writing courses and connecting with people in the publishing industry through social media (but don’t be a creepy stalker).

Whatever you do, DON’T rock up on agents’ doorsteps.

To paraphrase Angela, the Australian publishing industry is so small that if a writer bad mouths someone, chances are it will get back to them. So don’t do it!! Be polite and courteous. Remember that writing is about passion for the author, and while agents and publishers are passionate about books and their clients, for them writing is a business. So grab the opportunities when they present themselves, but be professional and polite.

You never know where you might meet someone that opens a new door for you in the publishing world, but if you don’t open the first door yourself to get out there and meet these people then you’ll just stay locked in your own writing world. So go forth, mingle, tweet, listen and engage with people in the trade.

One final note, you can get a mentor in a couple of ways. Look out for scholarships (where someone else is paying the person to mentor you) and the like, you take the leap and pay for someone else’s time yourself. Remember that their time is precious, but if you find the right match, it’s worth the investment – because it’s really an investment in yourself.

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