National Young Writers Festival

Gerald Ganglbauer
Australia Publishing My Way

National Young Writers Festival

I used to be an independent book publisher for ten years and also a print magazine publisher, and even though I do print and web design for a living these days, I am still publishing literature on the Internet – purely out of love for the written word. In my early twenties I was Austria’s youngest publisher and most of the emerging writers I first published are established authors today. Back then I was always running on sheer determination and Arts Council grants, however, I never cashed dole cheques as I never received unemployment benefits in my life, and only once I had to sell my Yamaha XT 500 bike to pay a printer’s bill.

From the 1970s on many new small publishers emerged to become professional players in the book market. I was one of them from 1984 to 1994, and had gained a reputation for hard hitting avant-garde. I even founded and managed a writers’ street festival in Graz, a city very much like Newcastle, from 1982 to 1986. Some say, indies is the only place where contemporary literature belongs. On the other hand, there is not just the small press out there today. The ‘old’ publishers like Penguin are often taking very young new names on board. Therefore, if you don’t produce crap, it’s only a matter of time to find the right match (just as in your love life), as long as you have enough passion, talent and patience.

When I asked Kylie Purr, the festival manager, what the audience would expect from our panel, she reckoned it could be some practical information of how to self publish. Where to get ISBNs and such hands-on stuff. My alarm bells rang: in all these years I would have never published my own book in print. If your heart goes to publishing rather than writing, learn the trade or ask people like myself for help (just don’t think computers do it all for you), start with your mates’ work, and leave your own material better in the drawer. It’s OK if you read it at events you organised or write in a (maga)zine you edit, but just don’t do your own books, ever. It’s damaging to your career.

With few exceptions, self published books lack editing, professionalism, get nowhere in the media, as no reviewer takes them seriously and never make it onto the shelves and from there to the readers anyway. Leave that to the experts without embarrassing yourself. You can’t be dancing on two parties at once. Take the long road and start with submissions to lit mags, and read your stuff at as many gigs as you can get. Make friends with a published writer, and ask if he or she could recommend your work. Also, when you read the books you like, talk to the people who made them, as these are the ones who would eventually take you on board as the right publisher for your own material. No point in ringing every publishing house listed in the Yellow Pages.

However, if you write non-fiction, know exactly who and where your target audience is (bypassing bookshops with your own distribution), can afford to invest at least the equivalent of a new car, are a quick learner how to market and promote your ‘product’, and are prepared to cooperate with (and pay for) graphic designers, typesetters, pre-press houses, printers and book binders, go for it as you would start any other business. If all works out, you should have earned your royalties and made a profit. But that’s not my way (and supposedly not yours).

So far I talked about paper books, what about new media? Well, a real book is still a book in print. No-one will download an e-book onto his or her PDA to take it to the loo to read. Not many would bother reading a longer text stored on a CD-ROM on a computer screen. Well, not the general public (unless it’s non-fiction, where the search functions can come in very handy). There are, of course, works conceived for multimedia only, but I assume we talk about traditional texts here, where e-books are a great marketing tool. Instead of hundreds of pages of expensive and environmental unfriendly paper you just send one URL to a potential publisher.

Editors, literary agents, film producers and the like also search the Net for new material. And, yes, you get the occasional nerd who prefers a (free) e-book to a paper book he or she has to borrow and copy or buy. In my opinion e-books are an important step towards the real thing, but have your material edited (or stress it’s not edited) and presented in a user-friendly format. Again, it might be better to have your e-books published with an established site, rather than on your own homepage, for they already have the traffic you will take years too create. Copyright issues with the electronic media have finally been sorted out, so in this regard there’s nothing to worry about any more but getting the written word out there.

This paper was presented at the National Young Writers Festival
Newcastle City Hall, 7 October 2002

See also: Evading the jaws of giants. Independent publishing in Austria.

Gerald Ganglbauer – Carnivale Literary Festival

Mabel Lee (Wild Peony) chaired a panel of publishers at the
Carnivale Literary Festival in the New South Wales Writers’ Centre
with Raghid Nahhas (Kalimat), Ivor Indyk (HEAT),
Veronica Sumegi (Brandl & Schlesinger),
and myself, asking the question:

Multicultural Publishing –
How hard is it to do in Australia?

Here is the short answer: it’s bloody pointless, mate.
However, I’ll try a longer one as well. But let us ask at first: what actually is multicultural publishing supposed to be? Is it simply multilingual publishing or publishing in a language other than English or just any communication of an ethnic minority?

I honestly don’t know, as I don’t even believe that true multiculturalism per se exists. When I arrived in Australia in the late eighties I already was publishing contemporary literature for a decade or so in the German language. Publishing literature as such is hard enough. Let alone in a foreign language. Besides, it is absolutely pointless to do so for there is no market. The few German language books asked for in Australia are more easily ordered and shipped from Austria, Germany or Switzerland. The books of Australian authors I published in the German language or in bilingual editions where targeted for the European market. The hundred or so copies sold in local foreign language bookshops certainly do not justify a commercial publishing house.

So why do we discuss multicultural publishing, if it does not exist? Stretching the topic a little more I even doubt multiculturalism. If it describes a melting pot of nations and cultures like in the American society, it is not multiculturalism. If it describes the coexistence of cultures next to each other without much interference, as it is the Australian reality, it is not multiculturalism. What’s the point of living in Bondi Junction as a Jewish Australian, in Leichhardt as an Italian Australian, in Lakemba as an Arabic Australian, in Surry Hills as a Greek Australian or in Cabramatta as an Asian Australian? The list can easily be extended. What’s the point in sending the kids to ethnic schools, effectively separating them from the Australian culture? Do we want to become a conglomerate of little foreign colonies?

The people of this great country come from many places in the world and arrive for many reasons. And there lies some of the problematic issues. One can live here forever without the feeling to belong. True multiculturalism should be expressed in an oath that we all speak English, feel comfortable in T-shirts and thongs and call our next door neighbour mate, regardless of his or her colour of skin or whatever. This, as we have seen, does not work. For example, I have friends of Lebanese background, for they are Lebanese Australians. Not Lebanese who rather live in a Muslim country anyway. I have gone out with Hungarian, French, Greek, Colombian, and Portuguese Australians and our common tongue was always English; however, I have also met an East Timorese Australian who managed to live in Sydney for twenty-five years without learning a single word of English. That’s not what I call multiculturalism. Her having access to media in the Portuguese language and the support of the refugee community was even contributing to this non-integration.

So, is multicultural publishing the wrong instrument for a better multicultural society? (Or a ‘cosmopolitan’, as Ivor Indyk prefers to call it, and I agree.) Yes, we do not need an Austrian Club in Sydney for Austrians. I have not been there in twelve years and I’m proud of it. If there is one, it should be for Australians. We do not need Arabic schools for Muslim kids. If there is one, it should be for Australians. We do not need German language newspapers or community radio. If there are any published or broadcasted by Germans, they should be in the English language. We do need SBS TV and radios programs, foreign film festivals and language bookshops — and we certainly appreciate the international cuisine in the many restaurants; however, we do not need multicultural publishing.

Oops, now I have made some enemies, for it is not politically correct to condemn multiculturalism. Thank God I’m not of Anglo Saxon background – being a wog boy myself, I can openly take a stand in this sensible issue. But now that this is established I might as well take it further: I would stop funding multicultural projects, ethnic newspapers, and private schools. Take all these saved millions and give it back to the people. Spend it on Aboriginal reconciliation. On education for all these wog boys like me so we all speak and write better English. On publishing houses that do foreign literatures in translation. On bilingual websites. On so much more, that fosters one Australian people shaped from a great many culture, and one understanding.

This paper was presented at the NSW Writers’ Centre
Rozelle, 20 October 2001