Types of Communities
There are all kinds of communities for writers in Australia, I’d reckon, but mostly what I’ve found is either Facebook Groups or actual organisations. My experiences with both are hit-and-miss.
Hits happen when I’m on a FB group that does more than just post memes about how writing makes you crazy or how writers procrastinate. I do like those, and will sometimes even share them on, but it’s not like that advances my writing career in any way.
Some groups will share writing opportunities, short story competitions and whatnot, but it seems rare. Mostly they seem to be about advice or events, really. And by “advice” I mean really, really simple shit. Writer Noobs, for lack of a less-snobby-sounding term. Events can be anything from Meetups to Author Talks at libraries and such.
Which is all pretty good, but I have yet to find one that encompasses all these things. Mostly they tend to be one or the other.
Writer’s organisations can, for the most part, fuck right off. I know that sounds rather surly but I can’t remember the last time one of them sent me an email offering me something of value for free. Sure, they dribble tidbits of “advice” (again, for noobs) in there, but they only community they’re interested in building seems to be the ones that will pay to attend their workshops or online classes.
Which is fine, I suppose, in lieu of Creative Writing Courses at a community college or something, and if you can afford it. But what about those of us that can’t? They’re all easily in the three-figure range for just about anything you’re wanting to do, including being a member. There’s not many options for a tiered scheme.
I was lucky enough to find a Perth-based group called “Out Of The Asylum” and they were only about $40 per year. I can’t remember the competition, but I was entering a short story piece for something and it required that I was a paying member of an official writer’s group in Australia, so I went with the cheapest I could find in OOTA. Awesomely enough, I got to enter their Spilt Ink Competition and I actually took second place!
But the other organisations, especially the big ones, all want too damn much. There’s one here in Perth, the KSP Writer’s Centre, that is always putting out competitions and such, always with a cost for entry, but always limited to members. I can get the Concession rate of $70, but all that really gets me is access to their meetings and whatnot, and the ability to enter (and pay of course) their contests.
The seemingly most-popular national body, the Australian Society of Authors, wants $160/year for an “Associate” membership (and one-off $25 fee) and $215 if you’ve published a book (same sign-up fee). When I initially asked them about a concession rate, they ignored my question and pointed out that I could pay them in monthly instalments if I wanted.
Then, when they published an article about how sad it is that Australian writers don’t make very much money, I wrote them another email that pointed out the hypocrisy of crying about authors not getting paid enough, then not even offering a Pensioner’s rate on their membership page.
It was about six months later that I saw another push for joining up and lo and behold there’s now a message at the bottom of their Membership Page that says to get concession rates you have to ring them. So I rang them and it ended up being only about $15 cheaper.
Why did I have to ring them to find out their concession rates? Why gatekeep that information from concessioners? Odd. Still haven’t figured out how it’s worth it either. Other than saving on competitions, there’s no real benefit unless it’s the thing that they all do: Offer discounts on their stuff. If I’m not going to pay for your workshop or writing class, then I’m not going to pay you for membership.
Australian Writer’s Guild seems to be more about screenwriters and such than anybody else, but that’s alright because they’re still $185 joining fee, plus whatever it is per year for various levels, coming to about $350 a year. Best for pros, is my guess.
The Australian Writer’s Centre is pretty good for their contribution to the community as they hold monthly writing competitions that are free to enter and offer you recognition from around the globe. The prompts are usually highly-entertaining and they give you a weekend to write 500 words, and it’s a heap of fun. Plus a great way to engage with the community. I’ve longlisted a few times, but never made it to the shortlist, though I will keep trying.
Aside from the big ones that focus heavily on pimping their own courses, there’s a few book/author/library-centric newsletters that I’ve found that I just love. The Writing WA newsletter is where I get most of my competition/event news as well as neat articles about local authors. They seem more community-minded than just about anything else I’ve seen out there and will happily pimp big authors or the space opera romance author who’s just self-published her thirteenth book. I’m a huge fan of this group.
Types of Opportunities
If you’re down for entering short stories or are a poet, there’s actually quite a lot. I’m happy to write short stories of any length or genre and submit them just about anywhere I can. While I still don’t quite grok why we had to call it “Flash Fiction” for yet another category, I’m happy to write that one too.
In fact, there were so many comps that I started keeping track of them in a Calendar Plugin here on my own site.
Aside from the short stories that you could write and comps you could take part in just about every month, there are the occasional call-outs for manuscript submissions from publishers as well as a couple of big awards.
The ones I’m keen on entering are usually centred around emerging authors, some of them even marginalised voices, and they often have a hefty cash prize.
The Hungerford is done by Fremantle Press and is $15k I think, as well as the Richell too. Both give an opportunity for those of us that have never gotten anywhere with our manuscripts to get a chance to not only get noticed, but to get published too.
Of course, once you’re published there’s the Miles Franklin and the Ned Kelly’s to enter your book in, but that’s a whole next-level thing and I’m looking forward to having to figure all that out someday.
Types of Writers
Okay, here’s where I start to spout unpopular opinions about the industry. I am never, ever, going to have a cry about how someone else has more opportunity than me because of inclusivity and I refuse to use the word “woke” unless it’s to make fun of people that say it as if it’s a bad thing.
BUT… I’m a white, Western-culture, cis-het, educated, middle-aged male. I’ve got privilege running out my ass, and I have no room to complain, but I’m a decent writer and I’ve written some decent books, and I can’t help but wonder if I’d have been offered a contract by now if I were a BIPOC woman/non-male.
The vast majority of the authors I interact with and/or see being spruiked by both publishers and organisations alike are women, nearly 99% of the agents I’ve found on QueryTracker are women and nearly the entirety of the local writer’s groups here in Perth are women. This seems to be the way of the industry.
And you know what? I’m okay with that. If my writing needs to work just a bit harder to get recognised while people that have bore the brunt of my privilege for thousands of years get a solid crack, then that is as it should be.
BUT… it also means I’ve got slightly fewer opportunities for friends and engagement. Not that I’m actively searching for friendships, but I know that the writers I reach out to or engage with on social media treat me differently because I’m the demographic I am, and I kind of wish that weren’t so.
There’s also the fact that I am poor. We live on Disability/Carer’s Pensions and can’t work, so it becomes a matter of not being able to afford things like editing and cover design for the books I’ve written, or memberships for competitions I wish to enter.
Plus there’s the matter of finding the freedom to actually write!
Not being able to work doesn’t mean life isn’t work enough. With two kids at home and one of them severely Autistic, there’s not a lot of room to find that headspace to crank out novel after novel. If I’m not looking after wife’s issues, she’s looking after mine, and just helping run a household when you’re disabled is already a sizeable portion of your day.
Couple that with the fact that pain is a constant distraction and suddenly you’ve had nearly all your motivation sapped. This shit is hard.
While I wouldn’t swap lives with anyone for anything ever, a part of me does wonder what life would be like if I were the semi-retired, empty-nester wife of a dentist or lawyer or something, where my only “duties” during the day would be to organise the housekeeping service and walk Chester, our Labradoodle and the rest of my day could be spent sipping Chardonnay and writing whatever the blue fuck I wanted.
I try not to be bitter, but I just see too much of this, and I’m envious as fuck. I occasionally see these Fellowships or Mentorships where somebody can get some cash for their writing projects, maybe something to make the load a bit lighter. I even qualify for one as I’m technically disabled, but I just can’t imagine taking away the opportunity from somebody truly deserving.
Yeah, I know. Don’t I think that I’M “truly deserving”? Yeah, I do. But I’ll get up that hill on my own, I reckon. Until somebody comes along and says, “Hey, you’re precisely who I’ve set out to help, so here, have some money, and I’ll sit back and await your brilliant work.”
I mean hell, aren’t we all out for that kind of thing? Like painters and artists-in-residence and such way back in the old days in Italy and shit. Somebody rich benefits from your creativity, so they pay you just to be around and being creative. What a life, what a dream.
Where I Fit In
Right now, I’m pumping out short stories for nearly every competition I can. Wifeage and I figure our already-tight budget can withstand the minor hits it takes every time I enter a comp, so I’m going to spend this year hitting as many as I can.
And yes, there have been times that we have been too broke for me to afford the $15 “reading fee” that most comps have. But if it means an opportunity, a chance at recognition and another feather in my writer’s cap, then it’s got to be worth it, right?
I’m never going to be able to drop the $450 they want for a Writing Class, nor do I really want one right now. Memberships to things are out because of lack of perceived value and most editors want way too much money to do what me and Wifeage can handle 95% of. I have a hard time finding the value there, no matter what the standard advice is.
As with most things, it seems you have to pay to play, and I’m stuck on the outside trying to find a way to DIY my own setup. Most folks wouldn’t bother, I suppose. But then again, as Wife and Offspring keep reminding me, I’m not most folks.