There’s something magical happening in Australian publishing. I’m not that old (39), and by no means an industry stalwart, but even I can remember a time not long past when seemingly the only way to become a successful Australian author was to slog away for four, five, six books until you finally broke through. But all that has changed, and when I say changed, I really mean completely turned on its head.
Just look at this year’s crop of Australian fiction debuts. In just eight months we’ve had The Ruin, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, The Nowhere Child, Boy Swallows Universe and, this month, Scrublands. Combined, the six titles have sold just under 200,000 units! That’s a hell of a lot of prominent Australian writing careers launched in a small space of time.
So what happened? Well, in June 2016 The Dry happened. A great new talent (Jane Harper), a special book, and a publisher in the midst of a golden run (Macmillan) all came together. The Australian bookseller community embraced the buzz and the result was a worldwide bestseller. Sure, there were brilliant debuts before 2016, but looking at more than a decade of BookScan tracking you can count them on one hand: Burial Rites, The Rosie Project, Lost & Found and All that I Am.
Later in 2016, after The Dry’s success, Affirm Press rode the wave of Australian debut love with The Birdman’s Wife, which has now sold just shy of 25,000 copies in print. In 2017, Allen & Unwin had debut success with The Dark Lake, and Hachette joined the party with the excellent Wimmera, which is fast on its way to 25,000 units sold. In 2018, it’s reached a new level. I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings!
So the moral of the story? That manuscript you wrote a couple of years back that you thought was pretty good but were too scared to send around? For heaven’s sake, dig the thing out and ping it off to any of the great publishers in the land. And if you’re not a writer? Well, get yourself down to your local bookshop and treat yourself to any of this year’s crop of bestselling debuts. Although, of course, if you can only choose one I’d have to recommend The Nowhere Child by Christian White …