HARDCOPY is a unique, national professional development program run by the ACT Writers Centre that helps build the capacities, aptitudes and resources committed Australian writers need in order to reach their potential. In 2014, the program debuted with 30 emerging fiction writers who were enthusiastic about their projects, and embraced the opportunities the program provided.
We caught up with HARDCOPY 2014: Fiction Edition alumnus, Sam Hawke, to talk all things writing, her experience with the program, and what advice she’d give budding Hardcopiers.
ACTWC: What attracted you to the HARDCOPY program?
Sam Hawke: So imagine that you’ve been planning on doing this dive off a high platform at the pool for a while. Let’s say you’ve always wanted to, you are confident you can swim, and you’ve watched shitloads of diving poolside and on TV; you’ve read books on diving technique, and you’ve mimicked the movement at your house a zillion times. You wear swimmers under your clothes and do weird aerial swan dives in your living room. But you’ve got no real way of knowing how you’ll go when you actually hurl yourself off that platform. And lots of people are going to watch you. And if you hurt yourself doing it, it could take a long time to build up to climbing up there again.
Imagine now that just as you’re about to start up that ladder, someone taps you on the shoulder and says, hey look, I see you’re planning on giving that dive a go. How would you like these qualified diving coaches to take you to a nice safety chamber where you can practise the dive in zero gravity with no prospect of injury? And then coaches will help you improve your technique. And experts will give you inside information on how this particular board and pool work. And you’ll meet other people to practise with. So you say, why, that’s fortuitous timing…
Silly analogy in a way, but that’s kind of how I felt when I saw HARDCOPY advertised. I’d finished doing a second pass edit on a fiction manuscript and had been working on developing the pitch for my query letter. HARDCOPY seemed like the suspiciously perfect zero gravity chamber. I could get some completely independent feedback on my pitch and my opening pages. I could get access to information about the Australian market which really isn’t out there on the internet the way it is for the US or, to a lesser degree, the UK market. I could find out if I actually knew my stuff when it came to editing. And I could meet a bunch of people who were going through the same thing at roughly the same stage.
Let’s start looking at those diving coaches a bit more closely—the program kicked off with a 3-day editing masterclass. Did you find this impacted your writing? What kind of effect did it have on the shape of your manuscript?
I found the editing weekend to be really enjoyable and Kevin O’Brien was a great presenter. I’ve done quite a lot of editing (of other people’s work) over the years, so a big part of that weekend for me was confirmation and confidence that I knew my stuff in the editing sphere. It was also the first chance I had to practise describing my novel to new people without being a nervous mumbler staring at my shoes (OK, I haven’t quite gotten past that yet) and to get completely fresh readers to look at the beginning of my novel. The critiques and discussions I had there led me to simplifying some terminology, trimming a few characters, and losing some words, all of which was very valuable.
How has HARDCOPY helped you to connect with other writers?
Well, I spent the opening evening literally standing staring at paintings on the wall because I was too shy to join any of the conversations, until Nigel came over and introduced himself—thank goodness for him, as I’d already been pretending intense interest in those paintings for an uncomfortably long time. I mean, they were nice pictures but there’s only so long you can stare at a pencil drawn shoe without people starting to wonder whether you have a foot fetish or something.
Anyway, fortunately I’m slightly less horrible in small groups so I got to know the people sitting around me at the editing workshop pretty quickly, and they separated us out into different groups a couple of times, which meant I got a chance to talk to a number of the other participants about their work and mine. Then after the weekend we had the Facebook group, and boy what I lack in face-to-face confidence I apparently don’t lack in posting-shit-on-Facebook confidence, because I think I might have been contributing about 80% of the posts on that page for a while there. We’ve shared some great information and had a lot of fun there, and those of us who use it regularly have bonded. We share interesting articles, ask questions, get advice, tips and good news.
So, yeah, I have some actual friends in the same country as me now with whom I can talk about writing! And that’s pretty cool, especially as you go through the query trenches or (like I am currently) battle some big edits.
In September, the Intro2Industry seminars were jam-packed with professionals from all areas of the publishing industry, from digital publishing to contracts and copyrights. How did you find these sessions? Were there any particular presentations that stood out?
Great program! The Australian publishing industry can be a bit opaque compared to the US one—the numbers are small but the visibility is pretty terrible. So it was great to have that curtain pulled back a bit and get to hear directly from the people who make it all work.
The agents in particular were helpful—we had Alex Adsett, Linda Tate and Sophie Hamley. Their sessions demonstrated a spectrum of personal styles to give us an indication of the different ways that agents can choose who they represent and how they’ll represent you. That was a great reminder that while it’s a business relationship, it’s also a personal one based on trust and mutual reliance, and you have to be on the same page with your expectations. I got good and really relevant tips from Sophie and Alex about fantasy in the Australian market which I never would have been able to learn otherwise.
Eva Bui, the Digital Marketing Manager from Penguin Random House, was also great, even if a lot of what she said seemed to cause a few heart attacks around the room. She had some great practical tips about social media and answered all our crazy questions about what might be expected of us. It generated some very interesting discussions about the relevance of social media and author relationships with our potential readers. I know everyone enjoyed the author panel too, getting to quiz a range of great local authors about their experiences.
How did the overall program affect your writing, and your writing career?
I will keep this one simple, because it really came down to one thing: I would say it gave me the last push I needed to back myself and start submitting with confidence that I knew my shit.
Have you found other opportunities through that? In other words, in the time since finishing the program, how has your writing career progressed?
Once I finished HARDCOPY I started submitting to agents—including Alex Adsett, who had invited me to submit after I talked to her during Intro2Industry and was closed to queries from the general public, so that was another great opportunity from the program. After playing the query game, I ended up getting three offers and having to choose between amazing agents, which was surprisingly stressful. (I’m aware that this sounds really obnoxious because I know how good a problem that is to have, but life would have been immeasurably easier if I’d just had one, as any one of them would have been awesome and I wouldn’t have had a week of feeling sick with anxiety about the decision).
So now I’m finishing up the final touches on the edits my agent requested, and we’re about to send the manuscript off to the London Book Fair in April, and hopefully find it a home.
What advice would you have for writers considering participating in HARDCOPY 2016?
I would say, have a serious think first about where you are with your writing and whether you’re committed to getting published. There are plenty of writing workshops about if you’re interested in working on your craft, but I don’t think you’ll find a better and more comprehensive program for the stage between finishing and submitting, so if that’s the stage you’re in, go for it. You’ll meet people at that same stage (it’s invaluable to have other people in the same position—supporting each other, strategizing together, commiserating and celebrating), you’ll improve your manuscript, you’ll know where you’re heading and you’ll have a chance to meet people in the industry you might potentially work with. What’s not to love?
As a secondary bit of advice about actually participating: make sure you go in with an open mind and a flexible attitude, no matter where you think you are with your writing. You might find you’re not there yet and the first workshop will put you on the right track to where your novel needs to be. You might learn things about the publishing business that you’d never thought of before. You might be encouraged to…*gasp* join Twitter! If you expect to be challenged and learn and engage with the presenters and your colleagues you’ll get so much out of it.
Oh, and join the FB group! It’s a growing little tribe full of interesting information and a great way to keep in touch.
More information about the HARDCOPY program can be found on the ACT Writers Centre website. Applications will close on March 11.
Sam Hawke has wanted to write books since realizing as a child that they didn’t just breed between themselves in libraries. Having contemplated careers as varied as engineer, tax accountant and zookeeper Sam eventually settled on the law. After marrying a jujitsu training partner and travelling to as many countries as possible Sam now resides in Canberra, Australia raising two small ninjas and two idiot dogs. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or on her website at http://www.samhawkewrites.com.