DANIELLE BINKS: ‘Publishing is a total gamble’

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Danielle Binks is an editor, book blogger, literary agent and youth literature advocate. She is the editor of Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA anthology

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Congratulations on Begin, End, Begin! You’re the editor and a contributor to the anthology – can you tell us a bit about the work that went into assembling the book and what it was like juggling these two roles? 

Thank you, thank you kindly! Wow – the work that went into it started way back in 2015 with you (!) and Harper Collins publisher Chren Byng actually hitting on the idea to bring an OzYA short story collection to life – and then tapping me to be editor and contribute a story (which was such an honour and surprise!). Then it was a matter of my sitting down with Chren and talking about what we wanted the anthology to actually be and how it would showcase all that we love about Australian youth literature. That’s when we decided it would include every genre – to show the scope of our YA lit – and then we went about thinking of authors to approach, who would represent the kaleidoscope of our stories … It was a long list, believe me. But we got there in the end – with nine outstanding Aussie YA authors (plus me, as the newbie emerging voice!) who we thought would write a diverse range of genre stories.

For me, the roles I juggled were that of editor, writer and reader – because I am honestly such a fan of all the authors in the anthology, I felt like when they each came to me with their short story pitches I knew their work so well and what they would bring to the table, it made my job as editor so much easier because I had that trust and belief in them as a reader and fan.

As for my job as a writer … it was just to keep up with the high-standard of story they all set! I guess I had the bird’s-eye-view benefit, that once I knew what everyone else was writing I decided to veer a little left and provide a sibling story (one of my fave YA story “tropes”!).

If I can summarise the role overall – I guess it was to harmonise? I felt like a bit of a conductor … OR – as my publisher Chren once said – putting an anthology together is like putting together the ultimate mix-tape – we had to make sure everybody riffed off the theme together, with that cyclical title invoking beginnings and endings, that there was flow and difference. Ultimate mixtape.

Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA anthology


As a writer/editor/blogger/agent, you might be the publishing industry’s ultimate slashie! How did it come to be that you wear so many bookish hats? 

Honestly? I have no idea! 99.9% of it was right time, right place.

I started a book review blog in 2009, the same year I began studying Professional Writing & Editing at RMIT. Once I graduated I got a job working publicity for an independent Melbourne-based publisher for a good 3 years – but in that whole time I’d been book blogging over at Alpha Reader which I call “my solo book club”. I just wrote about the books I loved, which tended to be young adult (and especially Aussie YA) plus romance … an editor from Kill Your Darlings literary journal liked what I had to say about YA, and offered me a gig freelance writing about youth literature for their website.

I was also always writing in this time – short stories mostly, and entering them into competitions. Slowly, slowly working away on my own YA and middle grade (MG) stories – putting what I learnt at RMIT to good use.

I kept freelancing and blogging, even as I got new jobs in publicity for independent publishers (and lost jobs in the rather mercurial smaller publishing sector). I just kept reading and doing my solo book club thing, and finding new topics to explore – mostly in YA and romance books – which is where I’ve always thought the most interesting changes come to pass in publishing.

Then one day I was at the Wheeler Centre when somebody said “I recognise you from Twitter, and I like what you write about!”. It was Jacinta Di Mase – a literary agent who represented a lot of authors I’d long admired. Jacinta invited me to sit in on a few round-table meetings – where she and a few colleagues read through unsolicited manuscripts and provide feedback, and decide whether or not to represent an author. We got along very well, and had similar tastes and expectations for stories. Jacinta had been meaning to branch out more into YA and MG, but she had her hands full with a successful list of picture book, non-fiction, and women’s fiction authors. So she invited me to join her agency as an “agent at large” with a focus on acquiring YA and MG authors – she basically pitched it to me as “Join me, and have some say in the #LoveOzYA of the future!” Well – how could I refuse?!

But do you see what I mean about right place, right time?

The one take-away I have is that I stayed true to what I loved … reading and writing about books that move me and make me think – YA and romance – and eventually staying true to my reading lodestones paid off in the most exciting way and with such opportunities.

Is there a particular role (from the above) that you identify with the most?

I’m a reader and youth literature advocate – first and foremost. Those are the identities that are most important for me – because they aid and influence all the others. Whether I’m agenting or writing myself – I think about what do I like and what do I want out of this as a reader? (whether it’s my own work or someone else’s) – and it’s like all the white noise falls away and I remember that story comes first. Story is king.

As for youth literature advocate … that entails me looking around and actually asking What do teens want? It’s a tricky question, and I won’t always get it right – but I’ve got to remember that they’re the most important part of YA, and these books are for them – so they’re always right, and should always be listened to and respected.

What does a typical day look like for you given your different gigs? 

Emails. Emails always plays a big role. Right now because I’m open for submissions as an agent, I have a lot of unsolicited manuscripts to read through.

Manuscripts that I do take on often need a bit of an edit and tinkering – so I’m probably spending at least one full day a week just running over manuscripts with an editor’s eye and helping an author get them into shape for pitching. Sometimes I’m working on the first or second draft of an author’s manuscript, but some of my author’s will send me three or five chapters of a work-in-progress and it’ll be a back-and-forth between us …

Some days I’ll be in the city meeting authors I’m thinking of representing (if they’re Melbourne-based). At the beginning of the year I tried to meet with publishers – the people I’d actually be pitching manuscripts and authors to – just to get a feel for what they would be looking for in the coming months. Lately I’ve been sitting in on meetings with my authors and publishers we’ve pitched their manuscript to. All these meetings require doing research beforehand (whether it’s a publisher’s backlist, or an author’s social media channels) – so that I can then ask the right questions and get on the right track.

There’s also lots of phone-calls, emails and occasional meetings with Jacinta – I use her as a soundboard for my pitches before I send them out to publishers, and also any authors I’m considering, I’ll turn to Jacinta for advice. She has been in this industry for a long time, has carved out a lot of success and I have something new to learn from her every single day, and I count myself so lucky to be working with her and that she’s given me this opportunity at all!

Actually crafting a pitch for a manuscript requires a fair bit of research too – even for things like similar-titles or pop-culture references to help translate what the story is all about … you’ve really got to give publishers an idea of what the story is, but also what the book could be. So I find I’m pulling on my publicist past to “sell” these stories and best communicate what they’re all about.

And then – PHEW! – I’m also trying to carve out at least two days for my own writing. Which isn’t always writing. Sometimes it’s crippling indecision, staring at a blank page … or walking the dog and thinking, thinking, thinking … or actually letting my fingers fly on the keyboard when the plot and characters all decide to play nicely.

I’ll be travelling to Sydney for the Writers’ Festival later this month, to talk about the #LoveOzYA Anthology. Then I’m chairing some sessions at the Reading Matters Conference. I’m also going to Broome later this year and hosting writing/pitching workshops. No doubt there will be a few more panels, and Q&A and workshops in-between that I’ll do either as writer/editor or agent.

So. Yes. I definitely have a few plates spinning.

What are some of the realities about the bookish/publishing world that you wish people were more aware of?

Just because you get an agent, doesn’t mean you’ll get a book deal.

I’m biased – but I definitely think you have a better opportunity with an agent … not least because it’s my job to know what publishers are looking for, and I can ensure your work is in the best possible condition before it’s sent out into the world. PLUS it’s always a good idea to have an agent for contract negotiations … but the reality is just because you have an agent, doesn’t mean you’ll get a book deal.

The truth is your manuscript could be an amazing Historical Fiction YA about the First Crusades, but I could send it to a publisher who has already acquired a Historical Fiction YA set in WWI and they’ll decide it’s too much to have two historical YA’s in the same year so they’ll pass. And that’s sucky. But it’s reality.

You can only write the best book you can, I’ll do my darndest to get it into the right hands but there’s still a long way to getting an offer for a book deal, and there are so many factors between you and that goal that are near impossible to know.

Publishing is a total gamble, and the sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be – knowing that there are just some things you can’t control (so just let go and focus on good story).

Publishing is a total gamble, and the sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be – knowing that there are just some things you can’t control (so just let go and focus on good story).

Do you have a preferred workspace/office/favourite cafe for getting work done?

My bed! I have a laptop, so in winter the No. 1 place I want to be is under the covers.

Danielle's work space and her doggo

How do you switch off from the world of books? 

Walking the dog. Boxing. Yoga. Food. Repeat?

I also love TV. Love, love, love. I just binged Dear White People and loved it. I recently re-watched a fave show in anticipation of a second season that I hope is coming soon – British crime drama New Blood. I also loved the MTV show Sweet Vicious about girl vigilantes on a college campus who take revenge on unpunished rapists. And I’ve been loving Australian sci-fi, that I hope is a sign of the genre being more accepted in Oz publishing … I was all about Cleverman and Glitch!

Why do you love OzYA?

It’s my reading home. It’s what made me a voracious reader, and a reader for life. Melina Marchetta, John Marsden, Garth Nix, Ruth Park, Roblin Klein, Isobelle Carmody … These authors wrote across genres, worlds and universes – they also showed me my own world, and let me know I had a place in it. It’s very powerful to recognise yourself in the pages of a book – you feel validated and heard, understood and connected. OzYA gave me that. It still gives me that.

What’s next for you? 

Crossing my fingers that there’s going to be a second #LoveOzYA Anthology? (Because – yes – I’m already thinking up a second perfect mixtape). I’ve also got my own YA and MG manuscripts. Watch this space.

Plus, agenting – I’ve sold four novels since joining Jacinta’s agency in July last year (most of which will be books available in 2018), and  I’ve got about 10 authors on my list in various stages of editing and pitching. There will be more to come.

What advice would you give to people looking to work in the publishing industry? 

Read, read, read. Be a great reader of everything. If you want to work in publishing then you’ve got to love books – all books! Don’t look down on any genre or readership – ever! – because you could learn something from all of them. Read everything. Get excited about books. Be curious about books. See where loving them gets you … because I honestly can’t tell you how I got to where I am right now, except that I kept reading, championing and talking about books.

You can follow Danielle Binks on TwitterBegin, End, Begin is available where all good books are sold. 

1 Comments
  • katec60

    Reply

    What a fantastic interview! Just finished reading that anthology, loved it!

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