Meet Louise Thurtell! She’s the publisher for the Arena imprint at Allen and Unwin… and that makes her my publisher!
I’m really excited that she’s here today, talking about her initiative Friday Pitch and also a few things that make her… her! Food, wine and so on!
I can remember my first phone with Louise, so very well. (My guess is that most authors can remember the first contact made by their publishing house, word for word… and that the publisher that made the call has no recollection of it!)
‘Hi, it’s Louise…’
Pause and all the while, I was thinking, ‘who the hell is Louise?’
‘From Allen and Unwin.’
I almost dropped the phone, stuttered, ‘Hi,’ and then pretended that I was very professional and of course I was expecting her phone call. I answered her questions matter-of-fact manner and without any emotion. All the while, my brain was screaming: ‘You’re talking to Louise Thurtell! You’re talking to Louise Thurtell!’
Louise told me that after the first call that she thought I was the most unexcited author she had dealt with – that was until she got to know me a bit more!
Louise is an amazing woman. Not only is she a well known and respected publisher, she won a fellowship to study publishing in New York (where, amongst other things, she got to observe the editorial process for The Lincoln Lawyer by my favourite author, Michael Connelly) AND she has a Science-Law degree!
After a visit to the A&U offices, I’m in awe of how she deals with her job and I understand why there is such a wait for publishing houses to get back to their authors, let alone the ‘to-be’ authors. The meetings, the deadlines, the editing and so on – the phone never seems to stop. It’s a busy and full-on business. One that I’m excited to be involved with and even more privileged and thankful to be involved in, with Louise.
I’ve worked in publishing for over 20 years and STILL get excited about coming to work. It’s been the perfect career choice for me despite my tertiary education being totally unrelated.
Having worked at a couple of different publishers over the years, then freelanced, I spent three months in New York on a Beatrice Davis Fellowship in 2005 where I got to spend time at several different US publishing companies. This experience really focused my mind on what I wanted to do in publishing (commercial fiction) and where I wanted to work (Allen & Unwin) when I returned to Australia. I’ve been at Allen & Unwin for nearly five years now and it’s turned out to be every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be. When I started I was only doing commercial fiction, but I’m now commissioning commercial non-fiction as well, which has given me a new challenge that I’m enjoying enormously.
Friday Pitch, which is now Allen & Unwin’s company-wide unsolicited submission system, is the thing I’m proudest to have initiated in my career. The idea for it came from years of freelancing while my children were small, during which I balanced all the tight-deadline work I did for publishers by working directly with authors who were refining their manuscripts for submission to publishers and literary agents. It was during this period that I realised how hard it was for authors to get either publishers or agents to look at their work.
As someone who’s been in publishing for a long time, I know just how hard it is for publishers and agents to keep up with all the reading of both unsolicited and agented manuscripts, despite it being an integral part of our job. The guilt I feel about taking a long time to get around to reading a manuscript is huge because I’m very aware of how much effort many people put into producing their manuscript. With email technology it seemed a good idea to invite authors to email a synopsis and the first chapter of their manuscript so I could read it on screen with a set time limit in order for me to let the author know quickly whether or not I was interested in their work. I’ve bought several highly successful Friday Pitch submissions, including Fleur’s wonderful Red Dust. The major challenge with Friday Pitch is finding time to read the manuscripts I request, especially now that I have an established list.
Anyway, enough of work. I’ve got three wonderful children – Jack, who’s 14, Rory, who’s 10, and Ella, who’s 9. Rory and I are the sports nuts of the family, both playing (back in the day for me, currently for Rory) and watching lots of different types of sports. I love rugby and cricket in particular, and spend way too much time watching both on tele. I’ve also got into (watching) soccer and AFL in the last few years.
An ideal weekend would be spent reading books between covers (cf manuscripts, which I prefer to keep at work), watching Rory play soccer or cricket, hanging out with Ella at the local park or beach, and chatting with Jack. I love film but it’s mostly DVDs these days, though Jack and I went to Rocket Science last weekend. When I don’t have to be in Sydney on the weekends, I like heading down to the south coast of NSW.
At the moment, I’m loving Masterchef (Marion’s my fave, Justine was in the last series), Modern Family, rugby internationals (I love how Robbie Deans is giving young up and coming players a go, though I miss George Smith), the Football/Soccer World Cup (when ARE they going to introduce video technology?)
My favourite books of all time (that I haven’t published) are: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, To Kill a Mockingbird, Brother of the More Famous Jack, The Road, The Poisonwood Bible, Love in a Cold Climate, Pursuit of Love, Cloudstreet, The Broken Shore, Frangipani, The Shipping News, Atonement, Illywhacker, Oscar and Lucinda and The Secret River.
There endeth my first blog.