I’ve had quite a few emails over the years asking how I got started in the travel-writing caper, so I thought I’d share with you how it all began.
The first thing I did was to get retrenched.
I’ve had two silly dreams come true after I got retrenched. The first time I ‘lost’ my job (I was working as an art director in advertising where retrenching is as common as refilling the water cooler) I searched for another job straight away, but there was nothing around. Then, one day simply out of sheer boredom, I was flicking through the employment section of the newspaper and spotted a job for ‘summer tour leaders in Europe’. That sounded like fun, but what really caught my eye was it also had ‘plus ski resort work available in winter’ (on my first ever European ski holiday in Switzerland I was so envious of the ski guide and thought he had the best job in the world). I got the job as a tour leader and in my first winter scored the job as a ski guide in Switzerland.
After destroying my liver for three years I returned home to Australia and back into advertising. Three years later the retrenchment axe fell again. While I was looking for work (well, while I was sitting at home watching Judge Judy) I started to write down some stories from my days on the road with Top Deck (I’d kept a detailed journal). After I’d written a couple of stories I thought ‘hey, this could make a really funny book’. I decided then to take four months off and told everyone I knew that I was writing a book (so that they’d keep asking how my book was going!). Five months later I had a 78,000 word manuscript. Fourteen drafts later, and after I made most of my friends read it and give comments, I sent the manuscript to ten literary agents (the pic above is of the cover I put together for the manuscript). It didn’t augur well to begin with, though. I had three rejection letters including one that said: ‘No one wants to read that shit’. I’d almost given up when, in the space of a week, I had three agents write to me offering to take me on as a client.
Eeny, meeny, miney, mo. That’s pretty much how I chose my literary agent. Out the of three agents that were interested in me I chose the one who had a posh English accent because I thought he sounded, well… literary (even his name, Anthony Williams, sounded literary). I now had an agent – although I didn’t have anything that resembled a publishing deal yet I could at least now throw ‘my agent’ into conversations. ‘My agent’ sent the manuscript to two publishers to begin with and I soon discovered that there was a whole chain of people to get through before anyone comes close to offering you a deal. The chain begins with a ‘publishing editor’ who has a read of your manuscript and decides whether it’s good enough to go to the ‘publisher’ (as in a person type publisher not the company type publisher – and yes I was confused for a while as well). If the ‘publisher’ likes it they will take it (along with a few other manuscripts) to a monthly ‘acquisitions’ meeting where there are usually a bunch of other ‘publishers’ with their own pile of manuscripts. From that meeting manuscripts are selected for publishing (although they still have to go to ‘marketing’ who decide if they can market the book and/or the author before the deal is done).
I had my rather large stroke of luck in the stage between the ‘publishing editor’ and the ‘publisher’. My agent had sent my book to a ‘publishing editor’ who liked it but the publisher didn’t. The publishing editor, however, was about to move jobs to another publisher, so she asked if she could take it with her. She was moving to children’s books (and Rule No.5: No sex on the bus was perhaps a little risqué for seven year olds), so she handed it to another publishing editor. That publishing editor didn’t really like it that much, though, and wasn’t going to recommend it to the publisher. And this is where my good luck comes in. The publisher (Sophie Cunningham– who is now a successful author herself) walked past the publishing editor’s desk and saw my manuscript on the top of a pile and thought the title sounded interesting and picked it up. She had a read and three months later I signed a deal with Allen & Unwin.
About 12 months after ‘Rule No.5: No sex on the bus’ was published I was at a ‘publishing’ party (lots of people wearing cravats and berets) and I spotted the agent who said that ‘no one wants to read that shit’ (everyone was wearing name tags). I marched over to him and said, ‘What the F@*# do you know! That shit you rejected is a bestseller and has been re-printed seven times.’ Okay, I didn’t do that. I thought I’d get a couple of more beers into me to get the courage up and by the time I’d done that he’d gone.