Supporter Profile: Caroline Wood, founder of Margaret River Press

Caroline Wood

 Margaret River Press is an independent press with a strong commitment to nurturing and supporting writers at all stages of their career by featuring them in their annual short story anthology and publishing debut novels after a rigorous, consultative editing process. Margaret River Press are generous sponsors of ‘The Last Babushka Doll’ film project; they initially published the short story by Georgina Luck that the film is based on and have also just published Georgina’s short story, ‘The Memory Mirror’, in their new collection ‘Shibboleth’.  We are so grateful to Margaret River Press for their support.

In this interview founder Caroline Wood shares the adventures of starting a publishing house and the secrets of what publishers look for in a manuscript.

We love the philosophy behind Margaret River Press – especially the wonderful line that ‘you love the feeling that comes from publishing not in pursuit of profit, but in a sense of curiosity about people, places, and the stories they hold.’ Do you see MRP as offering an alternative to commercial, mainstream publishing? And if so, why do you think this is important?

Small publishers as a whole are an important alternative for many emerging writers who don’t often get picked up by larger publishers, small publishers such as MRP are vital in ensuring that we have a diversity of voices in the literary landscape.

Starting your own publishing house is such a huge adventure – tell us about how it all started. And what have you learnt along the way?

I started quite by accident, after close to 25 years in a university research organisation, I decided it was time to find a new career because the current university environment was not for me.  Many years ago my husband had incorporated a publishing company with a close friend who was a publisher in the UK.  At time we did not have the time to focus on publishing but we maintained the name – Helm Wood Publishing Pty Ltd.  A few years later we registered the name Margaret River Press after we purchased a property in Margaret River and so when I left the university, my children were worried that I might turn into a helicopter mum and wondered what I would do with all my time and energy so instead of turning into a helicopter mum I decided it was time to do something in publishing.

Tell us about how you nurture writers? And how do you think your model for working with writers differs from other publishing houses?

Margaret River Press is very much about developing a sustained relationship with their featured contributors. It’s as important for us to support them whether they’re in the Margaret River Short Story Competition collection, or they’ve just had their debut novel published with us. In all cases, we take great pride in promoting those voices that might otherwise go unnoticed. In all that we publish, there’s a sense of compassion, connection; a meditation on what it means to be human, in our society, in the years and through events that we have seen and been a part of.

You’d had some wonderful success stories – e.g. you’ve launched several emerging writers who’ve gone on to have wonderful achievements. What are some of your favourite success stories?

I am not sure I can take too much credit for some of the successes of the authors we have published. I think many of them were on their way anyway.  One of my favourite success stories is that of Christine Piper who won the 2nd prize in our very first competition.  Christine went on to win the Vogel and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin.  Ruth Wyer who won our 2014 competition has gone on to win a number of other competitions and I know that winning the Margaret River competition and speaking at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival gave her a lot of confidence and belief in her writing abilities.

It was so generous of you to sponsor ‘The Last Babushka Doll’ film. Why do you think it’s important to support these sorts of initiatives?

I think it is important to support emerging writers to achieve their potential but also to ensure they are able to share their work on multiply platforms and to as wide an audience as possible.

When you’re a writer, submitting work can be such an intimidating process. Can you explain the process you go through when you assess manuscripts? Do you have some tips for writers when they submit to publishers?

Reading manuscripts is a bit of a bloodsport. Put simply, there are many people who want to be published, and so a publisher’s job is to read many manuscripts by authors of varying skill levels. We have a twofold submissions process. Our staff read through manuscripts at the time of submission, at which point decisions are made on whether they’re potential publication opportunities for Margaret River Press. From there, we have a quarterly editorial meeting, where final decisions are made on a) whether we should follow up on full manuscript requests for partial submissions and b) which full manuscripts, if any, are suitable for publication.

It’s an exhausting but rewarding process. Rest assured that your work is read, and appreciated. Unfortunately we can’t publish anywhere near the number of manuscripts that we’d like to work with, and so the bar is extremely high. If you’ve mastered your craft and are willing to work at your story, though, then we’re always keen to read great work.

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