AUTHOR INTERVIEW | Meet the incredible Melanie Dimmitt, supremely talented writer, all-round lovely person and author of the phenomenal book Special: Antidotes To The Obsessions That Come With A Child’s Disability (follow Melanie here: @the_special_book and find the book here).
Here, she tells all on how to write a book and help it land on the bookshelves of bookstores everywhere...(Note: you can read Part 1 of my interview with Mel here.)
Did you have the entire manuscript for Special finished before deciding to approach publishers, or did you start this process before completion?
No, God no! I was determined that I didn’t want to write this whole thing before I had a publisher. I’m a paid writer, I can’t afford to give the time to it unless it was actually going to be published. So I had the chapter outline, and I submitted Part 1 of six parts. I’d written Part 2 as well, by the time I was going out and pitching, so that’s a third of it. I submitted 10,000 words and by the time I got the book deal I’d written 20,000, but it ended up being 70,000 at the end.
How much editing did you do before approaching publishers – and did you have ‘readers’ look over your manuscript to provide feedback before sending it off?
Hell yes, I thought it was very important to have not just me be the only eyes on it before I sent it out. With the first pitch, Rowan, my partner, is a sub editor, so he reads and sub-edits everything I write, which is amazing, so he read it. Amy Molloy read it too.
Then when it came to the whole manuscript, Ro read it, and I got three very dear friends who I used to work with at Collective Hub magazine to read it. I also got Arlo’s physio to read it, from a medical perspective, to make sure I hadn’t fucked up any of the medical terms, or the way I’d spoken about any of the disabilities I wasn’t that familiar with, just to get her perspective as well of how it would land with that audience. And I also gave it to Rebecca, who is a really close friend I’ve made on this scene, she’s got a son with cerebral palsy, to give me the perspective of my target audience, so it was the five readers that all looked at the initial draft.
How did you approach publishers? Did you go solo or get an agent?
I tried to go via an agent, I got in touch with Curtis Brown and pitched to them, and they were like, ‘Looks great, but no’. Then when I got the book deal I asked to go with them again and they still didn’t want me! I think it’s really hard, in Australia, they’re the top one, Curtis Brown, that you want to get in with, but they don’t seem all that good at taking on no-names.
How did you pitch to publishers without an agent?
I pitched via email. I was really lucky, Amy Molloy had a contact at Allen & Unwin, and so I pitched directly to someone there. Then at Penguin normally you have to go in the digital slush pile, but luckily a friend knows the EA to someone high up there, so I sent my pitch directly to that EA. She was like, as a favour to our mutual friend, I will have a look at this, and if it’s good I’ll send it on to the relevant imprint. And she really liked it, I was so excited, and she sent it on to the relevant imprint. But it ended up being a no from Allen + Unwin and Penguin.
I also reached out to Ventura Press, which is a small independent publisher in Sydney, run by a publisher called Jane Curry, who worked at McMillan in London and McMillan here, she published Baby Love and different handbooks. I loved that it was run by a woman, and obviously they publish books that are in this genre, so I reached out to her. They got back to me about a month later. They emailed back and said not only do we like the concept, but we’ll publish this in the later half of next year, when can you come in for a meeting? So that was that!
How did you know what submission materials to provide when approaching publishers? Any tips for writing these well?
I knew what materials to pitch from a friend who sent me what she’d sent out with her book. She had a really good email that she’d attached, it was punchy and concise. Amy Molloy gave me advice around that as well.
Try and find a contact with a name at the publisher, and if that means working out the email format, whether it’s firstname.lastname@publishernameand giving it a shot, that tends to work, rather than just emailing into their general submissions inbox. But I mean, I emailed the submissions email at Ventura and that worked, so that was good.
Include a really simple email, who you are, what you book is, why you are the one to write it, why the book is relevant now. And really go into more depth in the pitch, in the attached document. So I attached a document where I did a synopsis about what the book was about, that was about 300 words long.
I included my market research in there, so all of the statistics about the audience. I kind of fleshed that out a bit as well and said it’s not just for parents, it’s for the friends of parents and the whole disability sector, people working in the sector… I fleshed that out as much as I could, every possible person that could benefit from the book, and included all of that.
Then I wrote about media opportunities, I told them about the media contacts I had, the coverage I could secure myself. So including as much PR/marketing stuff that you can provide, as well, is really good.
At the end I had an About as well, which is like my bio with my experience. So there was that document, and I think at the top of that you’ve got to put simple things like the title, the genre, as well.
And then the other document was the chapter outline, so that was just the intro and the conclusion with I think 28 chapters in between, with like a 50-100 word description of what is in each chapter. I also attached the intro and Part 1. So altogether that was just over 10,000 words.
How long did it take from signing your book contract to your book hitting shelves?
I signed the contract in July 2018, and it hits the shelves in September 2019. So that’s 15 months – which is so quick, I’ve heard with the bigger publishers it’s at least two years.
Edits – did the publishers request many edits to your original manuscript?
I submitted the manuscript in December, and then because they’re so small, they outsource a lot of their stuff, so it’s not in-house. There’s a managing editor, who sort of oversees the whole process, then they outsourced it to a copy editor, who had it for a month. Then it came back to me, and I had it for another month, and luckily there wasn’t much that she wanted to change. I was so lucky, I was really worried about that! It was just a ‘nip, tuck,’ as my publisher called it!
I certainly didn’t agree with all of the changes, so I fought back on quite a few of them, and they were quite happy to not put in most of the ones I didn’t want to put in.
So I had it for a month, then it went back to that copy editor, and she put in her changes that I agreed to, and some other changes that I’d made. And then it came back to me, to look at again, and I made a few more changes, then it went back to Ventura and they sent it to a proofreader at that point. Then it got sent to the book designer/typesetter, who then put it all into book form.
Then I got it back and had it for a couple of weeks. I submitted it again, then found a whole bunch of other things I wanted to change, and because they’re so small I was able to keep making changes beyond when I was supposed to! I think with bigger ones you wouldn’t get that flexibility. They were really kind and flexible with that. Because every time you read it, you find stuff that you want to change. Every time I did an edit there’d be post-its on every single page, it was just getting ridiculous! At some point, you just have to stop.