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Crossing borders
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Description: ThinkAustralian
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Posted by IPG
Andrea Hanke on Australian independent publishing and ways to work together to promote books and sell rights
Two years ago I left Melbourne—UNESCO City of Literature and independent publishing capital of Australia—and moved across the world to Oxford. Having written about the Australian book scene for the trade press Books+Publishing for almost a decade, it was not a tactical career move—at least not on the surface. But I have always been fascinated by Australian publishing beyond our borders: how Australian books find their way into international markets and are received there.
Several years ago while I was still editor-in-chief at Books+Publishing, I launched a free monthly newsletter called Think Australian. Our aim was to promote Australian publishing to an international audience of publishers, rights managers, scouts, literary agents and film and TV agents, and ultimately to spark rights deals. At the time Australian authors such as Liane Moriarty, Graeme Simsion and Jane Harper and children’s book creators Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton were becoming household names overseas, and it felt like something our industry should be celebrating and promoting. But even more importantly, I felt that there were many more authors—and their publishers—with international potential who could benefit from a little exposure.
In the first year we ran a series of Q&As with some of Australia’s small publishers. A lovely thing happened. After reading our interview with Melbourne-based art-science collaborative Scale Free Network, US publisher Lerner Books got in touch with the publisher and acquired North American rights to their graphic novel The Invisible War. It was their first international rights deal.
Scale Free Network is just one example of Australia’s rich independent publishing scene. Many of our independent publishers are well-established and active in international rights sales, including Allen & Unwin, Hardie Grant, Text, Scribe, Black Inc., Affirm, UQP and Fremantle Press. Some of these—as well as specialists Berbay and Lake Press—have flourishing children’s imprints. There’s also a wonderful diversity: feminist publisher Spinifex Press; Indigenous publisher Magabala Books; Brow Books, which focuses on working with authors from the margins; Transit Lounge, which takes a particular interest in the relationships between East and West; and Wild Dingo Press, which specialises in stories of disempowered individuals doing extraordinary things, to name a few.
Many of these publishers are members of the IPG’s Oz-equivalent organisation, the Small Press Network, where I used to be a board member before moving to Oxford. SPN offers its members advice from industry experts, access to template documents and discounts for submissions to awards, advertising, digital distribution and postage. It also runs an annual Independent Publishing Conference and the Most Underrated Book Award (MUBA), which celebrates the hidden gems of Australian publishing.
Independent publishers are also supported by the Australian Publishers Association, which has worked closely with the IPG for several years to bring members closer together. The APA hosts Australian stands at several international book fairs, including Frankfurt and Beijing, and will this year run a 'speed dating' style meeting programme in Frankfurt in partnership with the IPG.
One of the biggest barriers for Australian small presses trying to sell overseas rights is distance. It’s expensive to travel to Frankfurt, London and Bologna, and to keep returning each year to build momentum. For some publishers, the answer has been to go big and set up offices in London, as Allen & Unwin, Hardie Grant and Scribe have done. Once a year a group of overseas publishers also comes to us. For more than 20 years the Australian government has been running the popular Visiting International Publishers programme, inviting publishers, editors, agents and scouts from around the world to Sydney for one-on-one meetings and networking events. It’s a great gig if you can get it—and it usually helps if you’ve already done a few deals with Australian publishers.
Since moving to Oxford I’ve been looking for new opportunities to increase the reach of Think Australian and bring together like-minded Australian and UK publishers—which is where you come in. If you would like to sign up to the newsletter (there’s an adult and children’s / YA edition) you can do so here. If you sign up, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you find useful and interesting, and what else you might like to see.

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