Applications are now open for the 2019 Affirm Press Mentorship Award in partnership with Varuna Writers’ House. Writers of YA and middle-grade fiction interested in applying should visit the Varuna website for more details on the award and how to submit before applications close on 30 April.

Now in its fifth year, the award has already resulted in two highly regarded published works: Paula Keogh’s Stella Prize–longlisted memoir The Green Bell and Sonia Orchard’s critically acclaimed novel Into the Fire. Here, Paula and Sonia share their experiences from winning the award to publication.

Two years ago, Affirm Press published my book, The Green Bell. There were unforgettable launches in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. And a year later, there was a second print run. The book was longlisted for the Stella Prize and shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Today, I received a message from a new reader saying how my story would remain with her long after the book was placed on her shelf.

All of this happened through winning the Affirm Press Mentorship Award.

I was so lucky. I had a manuscript, but I only read about the award late on the night of the deadline. I managed to put together an application and submit it ten minutes before midnight.

The award gave me the experience every writer dreams of: working with editors committed to my book being the best it could be. As well as being fun to work with, they challenged me to go further with the writing and take more risks. Initially, this work took place at the Varuna Writers’ House in the Blue Mountains during an intensive week of talking, editing and rewriting – and wonderful food and wine. Then it continued until publication thanks to the lovely, ever-supportive and highly professional Affirm team.

If you have a story that’s ready to go out into the world, submit it for the Affirm Press Mentorship Award. You might just win it. And that’s another story.

– Paula Keogh

I’d heard established authors claim (and yet I never believed them) that novel writing never gets easier. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when my third book, Into the Fire, turned out to be the hardest of my three books to write.

After four years of writing and redrafting my manuscript, I was still struggling with it. I changed it from second person to first; past tense to present, then back to past; and characters and subplots came and went. I had a deep-down sense that I had a great story to tell, but I just couldn’t work out how best to do it.

Some thought it was an odd decision for me to apply for a publishing house mentorship: I’d had good relationships with my two previous publishers and I had an agent. But those relationships couldn’t help me right then. I didn’t need a foot in the publishing door; I needed, quite simply, some help.

A commissioning editor, unlike any other editor or reader, will read your manuscript for precisely what it needs in order for them, personally, to want to publish it. Sitting in that cosy living room armchair in Katoomba, October 2016, I worked with two Affirm Press editors, Ruby Ashby-Orr and Kate Goldsworthy, who told me exactly what was working in my novel and what they thought wasn’t, and suggested which elements to draw into focus, and which to remove.

After one week of deep immersion in my manuscript at Varuna, followed by a year of rewrites, finally (five and a half years since conception) I had a manuscript I was happy with. I submitted it to Affirm Press and, within a week, I was in the office discussing a contract.

I’m still surprised there aren’t more mentorships provided by publishers to authors. Over the years I’ve come across dozens of talented writers with excellent but not-quite-there manuscripts, who have eventually run out of the stamina or financial means to see their stories through to the end. But it’s worth investing in storytellers – they are the people that drive the entire publishing industry. And I feel very fortunate to be with a publisher that understands precisely that.

– Sonia Orchard