I actually feel really privileged to have my author Irma Gold on here this week. Imagine having someone like Fergie, The Duchess of York, read and endorse your book? It must be pretty amazing, right? Irma Gold, is an adult and childrens book author who knows exactly how that feels. Her childrens book, Where The Heart Is was read by Sarah Ferguson on her YouTube Channel Storytime With Fergie and Friends in July this year while her adult novel The Breaking, which won the NSW Writers Centre Varuna Fellowship award, was published in March.
Irma has a lot of literary experience and a long career in writing. Being an editor herself, Irma knows how competitive writing can be. Her short stories have gained wide acclaim, as has The Breaking which received tremendous praise. Irma’s award for Outstanding Service to Writing and Publishing in the ACT are all feats that have earned her the reputation as an outstanding writer. Irma is also a co-host for the podcast Secrets From The Green Room which delves into writing and publishing, and she offers editorial services for writers looking for a critical eye. That’s why I love having authors like Irma on here, gifting their expertise and advice to hopeful and aspiring writers who wish to further their careers in this competitive field.
How long have you been writing?
Since I can remember! My mum taught me to read before I started school, and writing my own stories came soon after. I can still remember the delicious feeling of sitting on my bedroom floor, writing ‘books’, the thrum of the doves that lived in our chimney providing a gentle backdrop. And yet it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I actually began to pursue the idea of being a writer. I gave up partying in Europe and returned to Australia to study creative writing. That’s when it all really began.
What led to your offer of representation with an agent?
I wrote a novel zero before I wrote The Breaking. I got an agent for that book and it got close with a couple of publishers, but in the end it wasn’t picked up. That was tough. I worked on that novel for seven years in the cracks of life, while working and raising three small children. But in hindsight I’m glad it didn’t become my debut. The Breaking is a much, much stronger book. It’s the product of many more years of writing, and my experience as an editor.
When I finished The Breaking I sought new representation. I wanted a fresh start. I remember emailing Debbie Golvan, now my agent, and hearing back from her within five minutes to request the full manuscript. It seemed like a sign.
How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation?
A few. I can’t remember how many exactly. One big agency sat on The Breaking for three months and ultimately rejected it because they weren’t sure if it could sell enough copies as a debut novel. The Breaking is set against the backdrop of elephant exploitation in Thailand’s tourism industry, and both agents and publishers expressed doubt about it’s ‘saleability’. In general, the publishing industry has become much more risk adverse, which I find frustrating. Gone are the days when the bankable bestsellers allowed publishers to take on other less commercial books. But margins in publishing are now so tight and every book has to justify its place on a publisher’s list. This means that some of the most exciting work is being published by independents who are more willing to take these creative risks.
Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
I struggle with all these myself! It’s so hard as the author to stand back from your work and objectively summarise what the book’s about. You’ve been so enmeshed in the details of the narrative, and you know your characters so intimately, that it can be challenging to pull out the key threads. I found feedback from my readers (who were astute editors and writers) really helpful in this regard. I’d read their comments and think, Wow, I really did that? They could see things in the book that I hadn’t consciously realised I was doing. So much of the subtext in a book unfolds at a subconscious level, at least for me. It’s one of the magical things about writing.
But I have veered away from your question, so let me pull it back! When I was writing a cover letter or a synopsis for The Breaking, I would often return to the words of these editors and writers to guide me. I was able to repurpose their generous comments to ‘sell’ the book, which felt less icky than me writing those words from scratch myself.
In terms of practical tips, you want to keep it punchy and to the point. Agents and publishers are incredibly busy. You want them to be able to scan your submission and quickly get the information that they need. Don’t make false claims (‘I’m the next Stephen King!’) or you’ll risk receiving an eye roll and a swift binning. But conversely, don’t let self-doubt get the better of you (women are definitely more guilty of this). You need to sell the unique strengths of you and your book.
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
Relief! It seems to be the emotion I most commonly feel, when I should really be feeling joy. Get an agent: relief. Get a publisher: relief. Get a great review: relief. And repeat.
I think it’s partly because I’ve been working in the industry for so long as an editor and I know how tough it is. And also partly because the bitch that is imposter syndrome likes to get involved.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on the fourth draft of my next novel, set largely in South Africa, a country I have been in love with since my teenage years. And I have my fifth picture book, Seree’s Story, out with Walker Books in 2022.
As an editor, Irma’s practical tips on synopsis and cover letters are something to treasure. Selling the novel, which can feel strange and unfamiliar, is all part of the business side of writing, and like Irma puts it, keeping the “bitch” imposter syndrome out of the way!
Irma, thank you so much for being on here and helping writers understand what it takes to secure representation or a publishing contract. I look forward to learning more about your writing career, and readers can too by following Irma here. You can purchase Irma’s novel The Breaking here and Where The Heart Is here.
Thank you readers!