It’s the first thing you think about when you wake in the morning. It’s the last thing you think about when you’re falling asleep at night.
You find yourself (lose yourself?) thinking about it in the lift between work meetings. Even in those most intimate moments, the ones in the bedroom with your partner, there it is, the idea, it just won’t leave you alone. Worse, it’s not an idea for a holiday or some home renovations. It’s an idea for a nonfiction book. And it’s an excellent idea, you know that, because it makes your gut ache as though you’re in love – there are times when you feel drunk because of it.
So you put a plan into action. You start writing notes. You visit the library. You even make phone calls and arrange to meet people.
Now this whole book thing is becoming more exciting than ever.
Teasingly, you write a creative essay for a literary journal, which causes a bunch of emails to come your way – there are people who love your nonfiction project so much they want to share information with you.
You begin to think that maybe you should approach some agents and publishers. But how to do that without embarrassing yourself? On the internet you find what appears to be a reputable site about how to prepare a kick-arse non-fiction book proposal, and you spend your evenings and weekends getting a package together. But still you’re not quite sure. Am I really ready for this? That’s your question.
You might be ready. You might not be. Which is okay, because there are thousands of other non-fiction writers out there just like you (except that’s a thought that gives you shivers – all that competition.)
Thankfully, courtesy of the ACT Writers Centre and the Australia Council for the Arts, there’s a program called HARDCOPY.
According to the ACT Writers Centre, HARDCOPY is a professional development program that builds the capacities, resources and aptitudes committed emerging Australian writers need to reach their potential. By creating an environment that is educative, vigorous and nurturing, the program: helps writers develop their projects towards full-length-manuscript status; significantly increases industry knowledge; facilitates relationships between writers and literary professionals; and breaks down the barriers of location and geography.
Last year’s focus was fiction; this year’s is nonfiction. Which pleases you no end.
What actually happens in HARDCOPY?
There are three main stages. The first, Towards the Best MS, involves the 30 participating writers – they can be from anywhere in Australia – attending a three-day project/manuscript development masterclass in May 2015 in Canberra with professional editor Nadine Davidoff. Writers will discover how to put together best-practice non-fiction book proposals, but also learn about how prose works, especially in terms of illuminating a project’s themes to engage readers.
The selection panel for the first round is Paul Daley (journalist and author of Beersheba: A Journey Through Australia’s Forgotten War, MUP 2009, Canberra, New South 2013, and the novel Challenge, MUP 2014); Dr Jen Webb (University of Canberra, co-editor of Axon: Creative Explorations, and, with Tony Schirato, author of the Sage book series Understanding Contemporary Culture); Dr Frank Bongiorno (Australian National University, author of The Sex Life of Australians, Black Inc, 2012), and Biff Ward (author of In My Mother’s Hands, Allen & Unwin 2014, which has been long-listed for the 2015 Stellar Prize).
HARDCOPY participants then return to their home states and territories to progress their projects/manuscripts.
All writers come back to Canberra in September to attend Intro2Industry, which involves three days of presentations and seminars that cover all the ‘industry’ side of nonfiction writing: the role of agents; what publishers are looking for; future directions for the book as a concept; navigating the minefield of contracts; and the importance of using social media and other elements of the online environment to engage with readers. Intro2Industry also includes panels with prominent, published non-fiction writers, who will discuss what they wished they knew before they were published, and also other topics such as how to give presentations that engage audiences.
HARDCOPY participants then apply to the final stage, which will give ten the opportunity to meet with agents and publishers to gain industry-level feedback. Highly regarded publishing professional Mary Cunnane will select this final round of participants. The purpose of this final session, called Going Public and to be held in November, 2015, is not about achieving publication per se, but enabling writers to hear what agents and publishers think of the proposals submitted.
In short, if you’re a non-fiction writer with an idea that just won’t go away, it’s an opportunity like no other.
Applications close Friday 13 March 2015.
For more information, visit the ACT Writers Centre at http://actwritersblog.com/2015/02/18/2015-hardcopy-development-program-applications-open/. HARDCOPY is an initiative of the ACT Writers Centre and is funded by the Australia Council for the Arts.
Nigel Featherstone’s latest work is the novella The Beach Volcano (Blemish Books, 2014). He is a longstanding freelance writer for Fairfax Media and other publications, and, on a contract basis, is currently assisting the ACT Writers Centre with the delivery of HARDCOPY. For more information about Nigel, visit www.opentopublic.com.au