Australians feature heavily in this year’s Booker Prize long list: Peter Carey (Theft: A Love Story), Kate Grenville (The Secret River) and MJ Hyland (Carry Me Down). It’s a win for the Australian novel – and it’s also a win for Text Publishing, the small Australian publisher of the two latter works.
But the real importance of this year’s Oz-fest is that it “gets media attention to promote Australian fiction,” says Text’s publisher Michael Heyward. Over the past few years, he says, Australian publishers have “dropped the ball” and “collectively we’ve done a mediocre job”.
One reason for the low morale has been the introduction of the GST, says Heyward, which sapped publishers’ confidence. “Fiction hasn’t ever properly recovered” even though sales have bounced back, but the prominence of Australian writers on the Booker list shows that the market for Australian fiction exists and “very Australian books like The Secret River can be internationally successful”.
So what is Text’s secret? It helps to have writers like Grenville, who’s “at the top of her power”, admits Heyward. But it’s also important for publishers to maintain an energy for unearthing “more new and talented writers” and then investing time in refining their novels. To that end, we need “skilful and vocational” editors who are given “the freedom to be creative, confident and risk-taking”.
According to Heyward, Australian publishers shouldn’t rely on the home market – “it’s too hard to find an audience just in Australia”. Instead, they must develop strategies for selling rights overseas. And the exchange can be fruitful in the other direction too. Text recently bought the rights to (and commissioned a translation of) Dutch crime writer Simone van der Vlugt’s book The Reunion.
DISCLOSURE: Crikey owners Diana Gribble and Eric Beecher were founding shareholders in Text Publishing, but have since sold their interest in the company.