Monday, 13 February 2017

HARDCOPY is back

Non-fiction writers: this one’s for you

the logo and text for the 2017 HARDCOPY program
*Applications for the 2017 HARDCOPY program are now closed. Good luck to all the applicants, and I look forward to meeting you all online!

Not too many things have me out of my chair doing an actual happy dance, but the news that the Australia Council funded the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY program for another year did just that. 

I was lucky enough to be selected as one of thirty emerging writers from across Australia to take part in HARDCOPY in 2016, which focussed on fiction. The program alternates between fiction and non-fiction year to year, and was the most valuable experience I’ve had so far as a writer.

Because, surrounded by so many talented, warm, generous people from across Australia, I finally had to admit to myself that maybe I could do this writing thing. And the fact I hadn’t put anything on this blog about getting into the program because I was struggling to believe it was real seemed ridiculous.

So. HARDCOPY. What does it involve:

Round 1: Two three-day weekends in Canberra

The participants met at a reception on a Thursday night in May, then went out for dinner. One of the early emails about the program said socialising was important – and it was. Chatting about our writing and non-writing lives over dinner or drinks over the course of the program was both freeing and affirming.

The following day was the first of a three-day The Best MS masterclass with editor Nadine Davidoff, who’s taking the non-fiction masterclass this year. Nadine knows her stuff. She’s awesome, tells it like it is, and had a stack of examples that were spot-on – including a first draft of a hugely successful novel that showed the difference the correct tense and POV for that work can make. We did some writing exercises, I took pages and pages of notes, both on computer and on paper, and came away flooded with ideas about how to improve my manuscript.

The second weekend, Intro2Industry, in September was billed as a three-day writers festival for the participants – and it was. We’d all put our applications for Round 2, so could sit back, relax, and soak up the info. Hardcopiers from previous years attended, and we had a chance to chat to the panellists between sessions. Panellists included authors, publishers, booksellers, sales reps and agents, and covered topics including what happens post-publication, how a book is marketed and sold, what an agent does, what publishers want, copyright and contracts, what authors wished they’d know about being published, social media, reviews, the writer as public speaker, support and grants, and literary festivals.

The sessions opened up new ideas and opportunities, and one of the most positive outcomes was that almost all panellists consistently said ‘when you are published’, instead of the standard ‘if’. This spoke to the high regard in which the industry holds HARDCOPY, and was another confidence boost.

Round 2: Going Public

This was the tough bit. Only ten of the original thirty went through to this round, which comprised thirty-minute, one-on-one meetings with agents and publishers. I wasn’t selected, and was (along with several other participants) gutted by this. For me, the news came at a time when I was going through some serious personal stuff, compounding the knock-back. I was absolutely thrilled for those who got through – and few have since received offers from agents or publishers. In hindsight, the feeling was similar to getting news that an IVF cycle had failed at the same time a friend found out they’re pregnant. And our stories are like our children, after all!

The upside to this was the HARDCOPY community. The 2016ers are an amazing and supportive bunch, and those who made it through to Going Public were generous in sharing their experiences and feedback. The main points: HARDCOPY is highly regarded within the publishing community, different publishers had varying – and at times opposing – views on manuscripts, and the industry is subjective. Sulari Gentill’s words during Intro2Industry, that the job of a writer is to be ready when the stars align, were confirmed.

The wonderful program administrator, Nigel Featherstone, contacted myself and others to check in on how we were doing, which proves the program doesn’t end when it ends.

A photograph of the 2016 Hardcopy group and ACT Writers Centre staff.
The 2016 HARDCOPY group and wonderful ACT Writers Centre staff. 

Other bits and pieces:

The HARDCOPY Facebook group, open only to those who’ve taken part in the program since its first year, has been invaluable as a resource for sharing stories, news and opportunities, or just raiding the collective wisdom of the writing community.

Two online chats took place last year, with Lucy Treloar and Sean Williams, open to any past or present HARDCOPIER. These were a great opportunity to pick the brains of experienced writers and maintain that connection between Canberra weekends while we were all working hard on rewriting our manuscripts.

Widening the writing community was one of the biggest benefits I took from this program. I live in a regional area, as do several other participants, and others came from as far away as Darwin or Perth. We’ve all kept in touch via a Facebook group or email. When one of the Canberrians visited Melbourne last year a group of us caught up. I had a coffee with another Hardcopier when I was interstate on holidays late last year. Almost half the 2016 intake was from Victoria, and we run into one another constantly. HARDCOPY is a professional development program – it does not aim to get participants published – but I get a surge of pride when I hear about a competition win, program placement or fellowship, or read a story or article published by one of my fellow Hardcopiers. They’re a talented bunch, and it’s heartening to see this talent being recognised.

If you’re a non-fic writer, apply for HARDCOPY here by March 17. If you get in, you will not regret it. If you’re a fiction writer, hold on until 2018. Fingers crossed this amazing program will receive funding for another year.   

Some of HARDCOPY’s success stories:

  • Sarah Vincent’s (2015) weight loss memoir Death by Dim Sim (Penguin) is due for release in March.
  • Michelle Scott Tucker (2015) has signed with Text Publishing to release her biography of Elizabeth Macarthur in 20168.
  • Mark Brandi’s (2016) debut fiction novel Wimmera (Hachette) is due for release in July.
  • Jane Abbott (2014) release two fiction novels in 2016: Watershed and Elegy.
  • Mary Pomfret (2016) released a book of poetry, Fractures and Other Thin Confusions, in February 2017.
  • Sam Hawke’s (2014) debut novel City of Lies acquired by Tor (US).

Don’t just take my word for it. Below are some links to what other Hardcopiers have written about the program:

2016 HARDCOPY fiction alumni

Melissa Jane Ferguson

Leife Shallcross

Alex Chalwell

Serina Huang (2015 alumni blogging about Intro2Industry weekend)

2015 HARCOPY non-fiction alumni

Sarah Vincent

Michelle Scott Tucker

Shu-Ling Chua:

Serina Huang

Christine McPaul (2014 participant blogging about the Intro2Industry weekend)


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  1. Thank you for posting. Isn't Hardcopy just awesome!

    1. Hardcopy is awesome! Thanks for blogging about Intro2Industry last year. :)

  2. Many thanks for this compilation, Alex. Really interesting!

  3. Great blog, thanks Alex. I understand the 'gutted' part which is why I won't be applying. I consider Hardcopy as the writing equivalent of X-Factor. Writing just to appease a publisher compromises art. Best wishes to you. :-)

  4. Hi, mojomediamusic. Thanks for your comments.

    I completely understand where you're coming from. Not making it through to Round 2 did hit me hard, but the benefits of the program - the community, the support, information and inspiration I took from it - definitely outweighed that.

    Rejection is part of the business, and the main reason that one hurt so much was because of other things going on in my personal life - I've since had another big rejection, and shrugged it off.

    At no time and in no way were we encouraged to write to appease a publisher: the projects ranged from YA to adult across just about every genre. While we did explore what publishers look for, the emphasis was on great writing and a strong story. The masterclass was geared towards helping us get the best out of our individual manuscripts and improving our craft, and the Intro2Industry weekend provided a wealth of information that it's almost impossible to find elsewhere.

    The atmosphere was collegiate, not competitive, and it was like 'X-Factor' only in the fact 10 of the 30 got through to the second round, so in that sense it was no different to entering a competition and being shortlisted.

    In the end, despite the hard knock, I've decided it's worth going in for these types of programs and opportunities - if you're unsuccessful you've lost nothing, and if you're successful you gain so much.

    But every writer needs to decide whether putting his or herself out there - whether through a program like HARDCOPY, or through the slush pile or a competition - is worth the potential rejection or knock-back. Because sometimes the answer will be yes.

    Thanks again for your comments, and good luck with your writing :)

    1. Thanks Alex. Yeh, I was a bit harsh there sorry. It's just a bit of hangover disillusionment from years in the music industry coming out. That aside, I never once let anything stop me. I'm sure Hardcopy is a worthwhile program for writers, even those who don't make the 10. (There are always other opportunities.) Best wishes to you and best of luck for on your writing journey. :-)

  5. Great blog post, thanks for all the info!