First Book Q&A: Brodie Lancaster

 

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About Brodie

'Brodie is whip smart; merging pop-culture references with vulnerable, personal experiences to create a collection that reads like a hilarious catch-up call with an old friend.' – Abbi Jacobson, Broad City

Brodie Lancaster is a writer, editor and occasional DJ based in Melbourne, Australia. Her writing has appeared in Rookie, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Jezebel, Vulture, Hello Mr, The Walkley Magazine, Junkee, Noisey and The Pitchfork Review. She has spoken at TEDxYouth, Melbourne Writers Festival, Emerging Writers' Festival, National Young Writers' Festival, Drunk TED Talks and the EMP Pop Conference. No Way! Okay, Fine. was shortlisted for The Richell Prize for Emerging Writers 2015 and is her first book. Published by Hachette Australia, it's a memoir about pop culture, pop music, feminism and feelings. You can read an extract here on Tablo.

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Interview

'I never want my work to feel like lessons or advice, but rather stories that say, I feel you and you’re not alone in feeling like this.'

How did you start writing professionally? Was it hard to get published initially?

I had a pretty lucky start to what eventually became my writing career. I had to complete some work experience in order to graduate from my university degree (I studied Media Communications at RMIT) and got an internship writing content for a new web platform. That eventually became a part-time job, then after graduating I relocated to the company’s office in New York City and became the managing editor. I got contacts and experience on the job, which I used to start my zine, Filmme Fatales, after moving back home to Melbourne in 2012. Freelance opportunities presented themselves after that!

Can you share any suggestions on how to stay strong and cope with rejection in the early days of a writing career? Do writers today need to be particularly resilient?

Resilience is a really big key to this industry. I was kind of naïve when I started out; I wasn’t pursuing a writing career or pitching really actively but I think as the years have gone on and more content sites/jobs appear, there’s more work to be had and more people trying to do it. Before I actively started pitching and freelancing I read some really great advice from Penny Modra, who eventually became my boss. I’m paraphrasing, but she basically said, “Every editor and every publication wants work. There’s opportunity to write and be published.” You just need to have the ideas, the work ethic and the skill (which I think comes from experience and relevant reading, more than any training or study) to do it.

Can you tell us a bit about how your book came together? Was it a more organic process or planned from the outset?

It had to be pretty planned; I’m a planner by nature but also I was still working a full-time job when I was writing it, so I needed to really know what I was doing every time I sat down to work on it. Because it’s effectively a collection of non-fiction essays, I needed to plot out the themes and references I’d cover in each chapter/essay as part of the outline that Hachette signed off and bought.

You have such a warm, open tone – has it always been that way on the page, or did it take some time to find the right note?

I really appreciate that! I think it definitely took some time, but contributing to Rookie early on in my career helped to write from a really familiar and empathetic space. I never want my work to feel like lessons or advice, but rather stories that say, I feel you and you’re not alone in feeling like this. I freelanced for so many different publications and tried to always adapt to their tone and style, so it was really when I wrote my book that I really figured out what I sound like. I don’t like reading work that feels too dense or academic or inaccessible, and I try to make sure the things I write sound like the way I speak. I hope that means I’m a warm and kind person IRL. I definitely try to be!

You’ve written various articles about pop culture, music, feminism – how was the process of writing about these subjects different to writing for the book?

The beauty of my book is that it was really a collection of all those things. It’s a pop culture memoir which basically just means it’s a collection of my experiences and ideas, expressed through the things that help me make sense of the world: pop culture, feminism, feelings. Writing about things like the internet and music in the book was really tricky because you can’t embed videos or .gifs – it’s similar to writing for print, in that you really need to explain what something looks and sounds like because it doesn’t exist alongside the words, like it does when you write for the internet.

What was the hardest aspect of bringing your book to life? 

The hardest thing was undoubtedly silencing the voice that says, “Who’d want to read what you have to say?” There were times when I just imagined someone holding up a big sign saying WHO CARES?! And I really only overcame that by revisiting some of my favourite memoirs or essay collections, re-reading texts from friends saying they couldn’t wait to read my book, or remembering that even my heroes (like Alison Bechdel, who confessed, in an interview I did with her for Rookie a few years ago, that she has to silence this same voice every morning) feel this way. Once I had a chunk of the book done, I’d also read over everything and when I got a flash of a feeling of Oh, I’d want to read this if I hadn’t written it I knew I was on the right track.

Did you find your editorial process a positive experience? Was it hard to disagree with your editor (if you did at any point)? How do you stay true to your own vision and voice with various suggestions and opinions? 

The trickiest part of the editing process was reworking any references or quotes to books, movies, music etc. to ensure it was legally publishable – the world of fair use copyright is a totally foreign one to me and I was so grateful to my publishers for helping me to navigate it. I feel pretty lucky that Hachette trusted my voice and perspective, and didn’t try to impose on the content of the book, but I took each of the copy editor’s suggestions and only accepted the ones I agreed with. If I needed to push back or reverse any decisions I could do it through Track Changes on Microsoft Word so I didn’t need to have a full conversation about it, and Sophie, my project manager at Hachette, was very insistent that I should only accept changes I agreed with, and she made herself available to talk through any questions I had. I felt really supported. One big edit I rejected throughout the book was the formatting of my lists; I have a tendency to list examples through repeated “and”s and “or”s, rather than separating them with commas. I did this a lot in my book, and the copy editor (rightly) suggested commas to ensure they were formatted correctly. As I read over the edits, I realised the “and”s and “or”s contributed to my tone, and made my writing sound like me, which was important. So if you’re reading my book and notice that – it was really deliberate and a lot of thinking (and Track Changes) went into it!

Any general editorial suggestions others might find useful if they don’t have their own editor?

If you’re writing non-fiction and don't have an editor, I’d recommend a few things: read your work aloud (you’ll figure out if a sentence is complete or if ideas flow together better this way than just reading in your head from a screen); ask yourself, “would someone with no context or prior knowledge of this thing know exactly what I’m talking about?” You don’t want to speak in shorthand or assume your audience knows everything you do – that only leads to alienating them. Finally, I’d recommend asking yourself at different stages throughout the process, “Why does this matter?” That will help you find the core point of what you’re saying, especially if you find yourself going on tangents and getting wrapped up in your mind.

More generally can you share any writing advice for aspiring authors?

I’m not sure I have much insight to aspiring authors, because my book really came about as a result of all the freelance work I did for years. But to anyone wanting to write non-fiction, essays, features, etc. I’d recommend writing what you know and care about, reading widely the publications you want to write for and the topics that interest you. Once you’ve done that, you can spot what people aren’t saying: that’s where you have something to offer. Bring a fresh angle or take or read on something, and editors will love you.

You came to Hachette’s notice through the Richell Prize for an unpublished manuscript. Can you share any advice on how to get published? 

I can only recommend entering the Richell Prize – I truly didn’t ever think a book would be in my future before that. A prize like that – which only asks for a submission of three chapters and a full outline of the proposed book – was really accessible for me because it didn’t require me to have written a book before entering – something that is just impossible with the hours I work and the freelancing I do.

It’s hard for writers to make a living today from actual writing. Any hints from your experience?

Write about a wide swathe of subjects, and have some expertise in a few areas. These seem counterintuitive, but not being precious about the work you do will help you train your writing muscle and get experience working with editors – all of which you can build on as your career grows. Finding a niche means you can (hopefully) become a go-to writer on topics you really love. I accidentally found this in writing about fandom culture surrounding One Direction, but it came about because I genuinely loved them, was fascinated by their fans and identified as one myself. My work about them wasn’t judgmental or external cultural anthropology: it was what I cared about and what fascinated me. Editors who saw my tweets or past work remembered this and I got assignments when new albums or events were announced.

What can authors themselves do to help promote their work?

Be genuine. Animals can smell fear and followers can smell someone who’s being forced to #engage with social media to sell things. I talked about about how writing and publishing my book felt, I post on instagram when I see it in airports – all because I’m genuinely excited and filled with feelings about it. I think (hope!) that makes people more likely to check it out than if I just posted links to places they can buy it.

You wrote a fascinating piece on fanfiction – have you ever experimented? Have you tried out other online platforms?

I’ve never written it but I’ve read a lot of fanfiction. Before my internship I was blogging for a few years, and kept up with Tumblr for about 6 years as well.

Who are some of the writers you've learnt the most from (and what)?

The advice from Penny Modra earlier was just one of many things she’s taught me. I’ve never worked with her (aside from when she contributed some of her signature pie charts to an issue of Filmme Fatales) but Ann Friedman’s old columns on Columbia Journalism Review taught me a lot about freelancing and editing. Speaking of, all the editors I’ve been lucky to work with (many of whom are also writers) have helped me work on my writing muscles and get better each time: Jessica Hopper at Rookie, Pitchfork and MTV News; Danielle Henderson, Amy Rose Spiegel, Lena Singer and Anaheed Alani at Rookie; Alex Pappademas at MTV News; Hank Shteamer at Rolling Stone; Julianne Escobedo Shepherd at Jezebel and The Muse; Jill Mapes at Pitchfork; Steph Harmon at Junkee and The Guardian. Good editors are really the key to making writers better.

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