December 2016 Q&A: Melanie Ostell

Melanie Ostell has worked in book publishing for more than 20 years – as an editor, publisher, consultant, literary agent and educator. A senior editor at Text Publishing for more than 10 years, she has since worked with all the major publishers and held publisher positions at UWA Publishing and Murdoch Books. She has led writing workshops across the country and taught at universities. She founded her editorial and production service Words to Book in 2015.

How has your month been?

My workload can vary hugely from day to day. Some days are full of meetings, lunches or coffees with people, some are purely editorial, some are spent reviewing contracts and some are tasked with general administrative work.

This past month has been extremely busy, which is always a good thing, especially if there’s a range of tasks. I teach the Towards Publication subject at RMIT and spent nearly a week reading and marking excerpts from students’ manuscripts-in-progress as part of their final assessment. I’ve also been prepping for a two-day Pitching Workshop for Writers Victoria.

Wearing my agent hat, I’ve been reviewing some manuscript submissions and I finished tidying up two novel manuscripts which have now been submitted to publishers. I’m also working steadily with a few of my authors who have delivery deadlines early in the new year.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

Keeping all the balls in the air.

What do you love most about your work?

Aside from keeping all the balls in the air, helping authors do the best work they can.

How did you get here?

I was a bookseller in the 1980s and in the early 1990s spent a couple of years in Tokyo, where I was doing a lot of script reading and reporting (US films for a Japanese audience). I had also worked for Yamaha Music and helped edit a few curriculum guides while there. On returning to Australia in 1993, I wanted to get into film but became frustrated at how protracted and convoluted the process was. From there I rediscovered my love of books.

I was lucky enough to get a weekend job in data entry at DW Thorpe, which led to a full-time editorial assistant position as part of the Reed Reference team. Demonstrable editorial skills were needed so I enrolled in RMIT’s Graduate Diploma of Editing and Publishing. Our unit was made redundant late 1996 and I started with Text Publishing in early 1997 (my appointment swelled the number of staff to four!), and I stayed until late 2007. Michael Heyward is a remarkable editor and publisher and I learned an enormous amount under his care. I also had the huge privilege of working with many of Australia’s (and the world’s) finest authors.

What is your average weekly workload? Does it vary throughout the year?

I generally work six days a week.

Many thanks, Melanie, for being our Q&A subject this month.

Melanie can be contacted or followed in many ways: her email address is info@wordstobook.com and her website is wordstobook.com. You can follow her on Twitter, where she is @mjostell and also @wordstobook1.