Don’t you hate it when you encounter someone with a career you admire, but cannot for the life of you discover how he or she got to where they are. General advice like “stay open to opportunity” and “start from the bottom” is all well good but if you’re anything like me you will want more information. Where is the bottom? Where can we look for opportunities? Spoon-feeding is not the aim of the game here—detail is. For someone looking to build their own career and create a life they love, any information from a successful person can be useful. Especially when in today’s world there are so many different paths to ‘success’ and more opportunity than ever to create a tailor-made career. It is with this in mind that I have created a section of this website called, Hey How’d You Get That Job?, where I speak to people about what path led them to where they are today. Call it a curiosity project.
Today’s career profile is of Australian author, Sarah Vincent. I had the opportunity to interview Sarah to discuss her memoir, Death By Dim Sim. During this time I took the chance to ask Sarah about her career and what led to her becoming a published author.
Due to the declining profits in the publishing industry it has become harder than ever to get a book deal. I asked Sarah how she went about getting her publishing deal and what tips she has for authors looking to get published and people who wish to work in the arts. Check out Sarah’s career profile below.
Hey How’d You Get That Job? Sarah Vincent
Published Author. Sarah has one published book, Death By Dim Sim (published by Penguin) and a recently completed novel that is yet to be published.
How’d you get that job?
As documented in her book Death By Dim Sim, a confrontation with bowel cancer caused Sarah to sign up for a course in Professional Writing and Editing at the Royal Melbourne Institute Of Technology (RMIT). Sarah realised she did not want to die without having published a novel. She was in her forties at the time. At this stage in her life, Sarah had already worked as a playwright, a venture supported by working odd jobs, and she held an Associate Diploma in Scriptwriting.
Through the course at RMIT many opportunities opened themselves to Sarah.
“I think the course was key. I think writing is a craft and you need to study the craft. I think working really hard on your manuscript is really important. Publishing has changed a lot since the global financial crisis. Publishing houses were hit really hard by the GFC, they lost a lot of staff. Perhaps 10 or 20 years ago if you had a manuscript that was an unpolished gem, they would take it on board and do that work with you to polish it and get it ready. Publishers just don’t have the staff to do that now. So you need a really polished, really strong manuscript for a publisher to take a risk on it, because they can’t do 6 months of structural editing like perhaps they would have done 20 years ago” said Sarah.
Through the writing course Sarah also heard about an internship at Writer’s Victoria, where she now works part-time. Sarah considers her job at Writer’s Victoria a dream job as she gets to work with writers all day long. On the getting the job Sarah says,
“It [started off as] a voluntary position, one day a week for about 4 months. I heard about the internship through my course, which I hadn’t yet finished. I am a big believer that volunteering—especially in the arts—is a fantastic pathway to get experience, make contacts and to get to know an organisation and what they are like. You can get to know their culture and become part of the family. Volunteering looks great on your CV and can open many doorways” said Sarah
While immersing herself in the world of writing Sarah heard about a program called Hard Copy run by the ACT Writers Centre.
“The book deal came about because I entered a section of the manuscript through a program called Hard Copy which is run through the ACT Writing Centre. It’s a manuscript development program. I got in and got great feedback on the script, which it wasn’t yet finished. As part of that program I got to pitch to agents and publishers. That’s how I got my agent and that’s how she then got me a book deal”, said Sarah.
In short, the path that led to Sarah getting a novel published looked something like this.
High school, university, a diploma in scriptwriting, work as a playwright, completing another professional writing course and entering a manuscript development program—a step that allowed Sarah to pitch to book publishers and agents.
Currently Sarah works part-time at Writer’s Victoria and writes part-time. She is also a married mother of two. In my interview with Sarah she discussed an important lesson she learned about time management, I think it’s very useful advice so I will include it here as well,
“Before I had kids I could spend the whole weekend writing, I could put in massive long stints. Once you become a parent you can’t do that. It took me a long time to learn to sit down at the computer [and write for however long I had available]. If I had 20 minutes then I would write for 20 minutes”.
“It actually took years to learn to do that and that was a skill really helped me in writing this book. I didn’t have four hours to sit down on the weekend and have a big session. It had to be a little bit here and a little bit there”
“I think when you become a parent that skill applies to all sorts of things not just writing”.