The first draft
I had the idea for a story about a wedding photographer in 2016, after my sister’s wedding. I literally googled “how to structure a novel”, wrote a plan, gave up. In 2019 I did Writing NSW’s Year of the Novel course with Emily Maguire, and by the end of the year I had about 50,000 words. I’d had some productive months and also many months with no progress; I’d realised my initial outline was too slow and reworked it a couple of times.
Going into 2020 I was determined to finish a draft by my baby’s due date in late April, and made a list of all the scenes I needed to finish. I remember spending the 2020 Australia Day public holiday alternating between writing furiously at the kitchen table and jumping into the pool to cool down. I wrote more than 10,000 words that day: I still think they’re the paciest chapters of the book.
By April the book was 90% done. I finished work the day before my due date and luckily my baby has the same approach to deadlines as me: in the 10 days I went overdue I stocked the freezer, folded lots of tiny clothes, and bashed out the final scenes of what was then called PICTURE PERFECT and about 105,000 words. No sooner had I completed an order on Officeworks to print and send the manuscript to Sarah and Em from my writers group, than I realised those dull cramps might be my labour starting.
After a week in the hospital following Dot’s birth, we swung by Officeworks on the way home and picked up a copy of my manuscript. It was a weird and powerful feeling to look around the car and see two miraculous things I created out of literal thin air.
But like everyone that takes parental leave, I soon realised it is not a dreamy luxe holiday when you take care of all your long held personal and creative ambitions. Knowing I needed some external accountability, I paid for 10 hours of mentoring with Emily Maguire through Writing NSW. This involved her reading my manuscript and giving me pages of thoughtful and constructive feedback about the characters and structure and pace of the book. Emily was encouraging while still being really honest about what worked and didn’t in the story. She worked with me toward the goal of having a manuscript ready to submit to potential agents – I added a new chapter, fleshed out some character stuff, tightened up some jiggly bits to get the manuscript down to just under 100,000 words.
Finding an agent
By the time I was starting back at work in February 2021, we were ready. Under the new title DUST ON THE LENS I sent sample chapters, a synopsis and a cover letter to five different agents. I figured I’d done my part and wouldn’t hear anything for months. Within a week or two I got one request for the full manuscript, and a couple of polite “not for us” rejections. After three weeks I got an email from Clare Forster at Curtis Brown, saying she was going to read my sample and asking a few background questions. I mulled over how to respond and by the time I’d got home from work I had another email from Clare that basically said – “more, please”. A couple of emails and conversations later, I had an agent.
Submitting to publishers
With an agent on board, I suddenly had to think about my book, and myself, in a different way. Every writer tells themself they, and their story, are totally unique, but now we had to slot me and my book into the genres and authors and titles publishers could recognise. Clare is also a very good editor, and gave me guidance on how the book could be tightened up further. I got the MS down to 95,000 words and cut out almost all the swearing, except for a couple of key lines of dialogue I couldn’t imagine the story without. Full credit also to Clare for coming up with the irresistible title FIVE BUSH WEDDINGS. My agent’s job then was to pitch to her publisher contacts, not just the manuscript but where the story came from and who I was to tell it. After what I will only say was a wild, surreal dream come true, we accepted an offer from Penguin Random House’s editor-at-large, Nikki Christer.
Once the publishing contract was signed, my lovely publisher Nikki sent a timeline for the book’s edits, production and release. September 2022 felt a long way off but this was actually a fairly rushed timeline by fiction standards. Almost a month earlier than she’d promised, Nikki’s editorial report arrived in my inbox. I was anticipating something of a psychological breakdown over this and perhaps it was a good thing that I hadn’t yet prepared myself – the report was very kind and gentle, though it did raise some fundamental issues I needed to address.
I had two months to work on the structural edit and predictably spent the first month vaguely freaking out before really getting to work in the final three weeks. We built up the relationship between Stevie and her mum, who is dipping a nervous toe into the world of online dating, and Stevie’s friendship with Jen, her long-suffering best mate. I hit send on the reworked manuscript with terror in my heart – I couldn’t tell any more if I’d made the book any better or worse. Thankfully, the feedback came quickly and it was positive. Nikki raised a couple more small things to tweak, which I did, and then the book was off on the next stage of its journey.
This is probably what you think of when you imagine a book being edited. It’s the stage where the edits get down to word level. Grammar, syntax and spelling; style and formatting; continuity, logic and flow; all are the domain of the copyeditor. Fabulous editor Amanda Martin sent me a word document annotated with tracked changes and comments, which I could choose to accept or reject. Having someone deeply engage with your work, with the intention to make it the best it can be, is such a great honour.
Considering the sheer volume of questions and suggestions, I found it so kind that Amanda would always offer an explanation for the changes she proposed. Then again, having been on both sides of the editing equation in my day job, perhaps my skin is thicker than the average first-time author. Once the copy edit was signed off, the book was typeset – seeing it laid out with page numbers and the title and my name across the top of the pages was quite mindblowing! After a proofreader checked through the typeset manuscript, there was another round of questions and corrections, this time on paper. And then, finally, it was all done and off to print (cue 3am wake-ups worrying I missed something).
Alongside the edits, lots of work was happening behind the scenes. Cover options were designed and refined. Coming up with the description on the back of the book jacket was surprisingly difficult! We asked some of my idols to read the book and say nice things about it – and the incredible Rachael Johns and Rachael Treasure did! The book was listed for preorder on websites like Booktopia while we were still editing! The powers that be decided to release it in August instead of September! The marketing and publicity team were working on plans to promote the book, including events. Actors auditioned to read the audiobook! And now… it’s almost here!