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Text Prize Alumni Q&A

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Want to know more about the Text Prize from the writer’s point-of-view? Read on for words of wisdom from past winners Georgina Young, Nina Kenwood, A. J. Betts and David Burton and shortlistee Meg Caddy.

Georgina Young

Did you have any reservations about submitting Loner in the 2019 Text Prize?
I didn’t have reservations as such. I recall of that time (post-uni, pre-prize), feelings of both dejection and determination, as come hand in hand with attempts to get published and/or succeed in a creative field. As it happened, it was all rather fortuitously timed. I saw a posting for the Text Prize and I had the manuscript for Loner just about ready to go. I spent the weeks leading up to the submission date going back over the draft to make sure it was how I wanted it to be. Then came printing it out and posting it in—and trusting my fate to Australia Post, which is probably what I had the most reservations about. I spent pretty much the next couple of months trying to convince myself that there would be someone at Text in my (and Loner’s) corner, and as I found out, so there was. Several someones in fact.

What’s one thing about the process of winning and publication that surprised you?
The utter relief I felt when the book finally went to print. Never before had I been able to close a notebook and think, I’m never going to have to work on that again. Being able to completely finish a project was magnificent. That relief was the highlight of 2020, probably and bizarrely eclipsing anything that came after actual publication.

Something else I am enjoying is having my book become independent of me. It’s nice to think that Loner exists out in the world. I never anticipated that sense of distance between myself and my work, and I think that I would’ve once found the prospect alarming, but now I quite covet it.

Is there anything you’d wish you’d done differently, or known about your book/the prize/publishing in general before entering the prize?
I don’t think so. I spent many years attempting to glean any information about how to get published and never really found anything concrete. You could hesitate for eternity, but you may as well plunge in. I always thought my submitted manuscripts had to be as close to perfect as possible, which I suspect is not really the case, however that kind of attention to detail and pursuit of refinement in my work has made me the writer I am, so I don’t regret it.

Nina Kenwood

How did being part of the book industry affect your decision to submit It Sounded Better in My Head to the 2018 Text Prize?
I have seen over the years how well respected the Text Prize is in the industry and read many of the wonderful books and authors that have been published because of it.

Winning a prize is one of the best ways for a book to be born into the world: you get the advance hype of the prize announcement and the fuss around that, and you get an automatic in with anyone interested to see what the next Text Prize winner’s book will be like (and you're an award-winning author before you've even published a word!). Working for a bookshop, I see exactly how many books are released each month, and how hard it is to stand out from hundreds of other new releases – there are just so many books competing for bookseller’s time and attention and for space on the shelf. Winning the Text Prize really gives you that something extra special to help your book stand out from the crowd.

What’s one thing about the process of winning and publication that surprised you?
How utterly generous and wonderful everyone was: from the excitement of the whole Text team to the generosity of booksellers reading my book in manuscript form and bloggers and bookstagrammers celebrating and reviewing it. None of this should have been a surprise, as I know how supportive the industry is, but it felt surprising and overwhelming to suddenly be on the receiving end of such positive attention.

Also, the biggest surprise for me personally was selling overseas rights. Quite early after I had won the prize, well before publication, I received an email telling me that rights had sold in Italy. I was in a state of shock. I went home and told my partner and we marvelled over the idea of someone on the other side of the world actually reading and wanting to translate and publish my little book about teenagers hanging out in Melbourne. 

Is there anything you’d wish you’d done differently, or known about your book/the prize/publishing in general before entering the prize?
I'm so happy with how everything went, there’s not much I would change. One thing I do find myself wishing lately is that I had a second book written and ready to go before I published book one! I wasn't quite prepared for all the ways life gets in the way, and how much work editing, publishing and promoting your book can be, especially around a day job and parenting. I had a baby in the same year I published my book, so my life changed in lots of ways all at once, and, looking back, I wish I had taken better advantage of the free time I had before that, when I could have been writing more instead of watching quite so much TV! So, my advice is: you can never have too many manuscripts up your sleeve, and no writing time is wasted time.

A. J. Betts

Amanda Betts

Zac & Mia, your third novel, won the 2012 Text Prize and was published in 2013. Can you tell us why you chose to enter the prize as an established author? 
I think the Text Prize is a great opportunity for any author, regardless of their publishing history. I entered it after being prompted by my third-year creative-writing students (when I was teaching at Curtin University). After raving about how great the prize is and how they should all enter, one of them said, ‘If it’s so good, why don’t you enter it?’ And the challenge was on! It was great to have the following year’s deadline to work towards. 

What’s one thing about the process of winning and publication that surprised you?
I was surprised by the excitement (i.e. announcements and parties) that came with winning the Text Prize. In the past, the buzz around the launch of a book has been probably a few weeks either side of release, but there was certainly more buzz before and after the announcement of the prize. 

Is there anything you’d wish you’d done differently, or known about your book/the prize/publishing in general before entering the prize?
I’m glad I didn’t rush the writing process—I’d spent over three years on the novel before entering, and given it to a couple of friends to read. I wish I hadn’t had so many other writing/teaching commitments in the nine months leading to publication, as it was very difficult to fit in the editing around these. 

David Burton

David Burton 

We were very excited to publish your memoir, How to Be Happy, in 2015 after it became the first non-fiction winner of the Text Prize in 2014. What made you enter non-fiction in a prize that had, so far, only been awarded to fiction? 
I just thought, why not? I studied the guidelines closely and realised there was nothing saying I couldn’t submit non-fiction, but I thought my chances were slim. But then, finding opportunities for young-adult non-fiction is extremely rare, so I thought I better jump at the chance. I was humbled and grateful when it was shortlisted, even more so when it won. 

What’s one thing about the process of winning and publication that surprised you?
How kind and welcoming Text was. Not even kidding. I felt welcomed and supported by a team of people who were all invested in seeing my work succeed. As an artist, there’s nothing you crave more. The cynic in me didn’t think that such kindness would be part of the process. I was proven gloriously wrong. 

Is there anything you’d wish youd done differently, or known about your book/the prize/publishing in general before entering the prize?
Breathe and take your time. Trust the Text team, they want you to succeed. Enter work that you feel is well and truly established, and then don’t be surprised when you edit it for another six or seven months. 

Meg Caddy

Meg Caddy

Waer was on the 2013 shortlist and we acquired your book not long after that, though you also were told you hadn’t won. Can you tell us what that process was like for you? 
I was at work the day before the winner was released to the public and missed a call from the Text office on my home phone. I already knew I hadn’t won, they’d told me the week before, but that was about it. I didn’t manage to get through to Text that evening—because of the time difference between Melbourne and Perth, the office had closed before I finished work. 

I spoke to Mandy Brett, my wonderful editor, the next day and she explained to me that Text was eager to take on Waer. Mandy was very patient, but I’m not sure how coherent I was on the other end of the phone—I stammered my way through the conversation and definitely cried after hanging up. I still get a dorky grin on my face every time I think about that phone call. 

What’s one thing about the process of being shortlisted and publication that surprised you?
Being shortlisted and published were both pretty surprising in and of themselves! But what really struck me was how quick the shortlisting process was, and how efficient Text was in getting the contract over to me.

The other thing that really struck me was how friendly everyone at Text is, from the publishers and editors to the other authors (including A. J. Betts, another Perth ‘Textian’, who welcomed me into the Text family quite literally with open arms). Being new to the industry, I’ve had a lot of questions and made a lot of mistakes, but everyone at Text has been endlessly patient and kind. 

Is there anything you’d wish you’d done differently, or known about your book/the prize/publishing in general before entering the prize? 
I wish I had spent less time fretting and stressing about every little thing! There’s a lot to be said for enjoying the moments as they come to you. I was also very nervous about talking to editors and publishers—I think a lot of young writers get the impression that everyone in the publishing business is unforgiving and frightening, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I wish I’d had a little more confidence.

Thanks to Nina, Amanda, David and Meg for answering these questions (and for saying such nice things about us!). For more information see our Text Prize page and Text Prize FAQ.


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