Books

The Ampersand Project: Unearthing the secret lives of teenagers

by Estelle Tang , December 6, 20111 Comment

Like most editors, my colleagues and I get people pitching us book ideas wherever we go. When a certain kind of someone discovers that you have the power to grant a book deal, it turns out they’ve written a story about their cat or have an unfinished fantasy manuscript in the bottom drawer. I’ve had people pitching me in bars, at family barbecues, and even while I was sitting in a dentist’s chair. It’s particularly hard to smile politely when someone’s poking around your molars and trying to sell you their idea about talking animals.

So you’d think a group of teen-fiction editors would shudder at the thought of actually asking for pitches. And yet the one thing worse than being pitched at relentlessly is only ever being pitched the same ideas. For months all we’ve seen are werewolves, angels and dead girls narrating from beyond the grave. Our desks are groaning under the weight of grim dystopias and paranormal romances (and their love children, which we like to call ‘disnormals’), and finally we thought: is anyone even writing real-world fiction about the secret lives of teenagers? And wouldn’t it be easier if we said we wanted it?

Yes, actually. So the Ampersand Project was born.

Hardie Grant Egmont has published its share of supernatural and speculative fiction, but there’s plenty of room on our list for the sort of real-world books that we loved as teenagers. Think Forever, I Capture The Castle, Looking for Alibrandi and Tomorrow When the War Began (which doesn’t count as dystopian fiction in today’s market: discuss). Incredible real-world fiction does make it onto the shelves, of course – Graffiti Moon, All I Ever Wanted, Six Impossible Things, Stolen and Pink are some of the stand-outs – but unfortunately they’re the exceptions in a saturated disnormal market. And we’re sick of seeing these great books miss out on the coverage and sales they deserve.

We have our theories about why paranormal and dystopian fiction dominate the bestseller lists even though real-world stories are just as good. Readers have always been drawn to books that can make them feel things, either in the pants or in the mind, and other-worldly stories are particularly clever at that. But it’s hardly impossible to do when your book is set on this earth. In any case, your buying decisions might be made for you when you walk into a bookshop’s YA section and find an ocean of red and black covers, punctuated by sad girls wearing beautiful dresses in forests.

So the point of the Ampersand Project is to bring some balance back to the YA scene. We want to find brilliant writers with real-world stories that are as compelling and exciting and funny and sexy as anything else. We’re going to build the profile of this new collection so that emerging writers can use it as a launch pad for their fiction careers. And we’ll back the writers and their books with the kind of marketing support that debut authors would normally not have access to.

With nary a futuristic war zone or vampire in sight, it’s enough to get an editor excited about pitches again.

Submissions for the launch of the Ampersand Project are open until 27 February 2012 and guidelines are available here. Writers should send the first five chapters and a synopsis of their YA novel to ampersand@hardiegrant.com.au.

Marisa Pintado is a commissioning editor at Hardie Grant Egmont and the Ampersand Project.

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/AmpersandYA

Twitter – @AmpersandYA




  • Annerliegh Pappos

    Yeah.. I think i’d rather pitch to you at a pub… the synopsis is a killer…

the-story-of-the-lost-child

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their August picks

Looking for a book recommendation? After a busy month dominated by the Melbourne Writers Festival’s huge range of events, staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading. Read more »

daniel-handler

Kate Harper

‘I think about terrible things happening’: An interview with Daniel Handler

Given the current age of acute media-fuelled panic over childhood trauma and accidentally fucking them up, Daniel Handler’s (aka Lemony Snicket) dastardly depictions of children fighting to survive can be read as tales of wonder. Kate Harper chats to Handler ahead of his upcoming Melbourne appearances. Read more »

o-MAGGIE-NELSON-900

James Tierney

Usefully Uncertain: A review of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts in nine fragments

I first read Maggie Nelson in the April of last year, during the early feverish stages of an autumn cold. Her slim 2009 volume Bluets is a bare and consonant appraisal of blue – as a colour, as music, as meaning sexual content and the fuzzy indigo of depression. Read more »

One-Direction

Rebecca Shaw

Right Direction: The value of fandom

I have a pop-culture confession to make to you, Internet. It isn’t something I’ve been trying to keep hidden for fear of seeming uncool, because that ship sailed long ago. But it is something I haven’t opened up about until this point. I, Rebecca Shaw, have become a One Direction fan. Read more »

abortion

Rebecca Shaw

Choice Without Stigma: Dismantling the abortion taboo

Abortion is still illegal in the criminal code in Queensland – even in this, the Year of Our Beyoncé 2015. While women are unlikely to face practical obstacles to abortion due to the law, it can still cause isolation and unnecessary fear, and creates a stigma around the act. Read more »

17177200132_2383e88c36_k

Rebecca Shaw

Rage Against the Marriage: The inanity of same sex marriage debate in Australia

I am someone who is completely comfortable in my sexuality, and who classifies myself as the genus Lesbionisos. I am 100% certain that I am not abnormal, an abomination, or in any way inferior to heterosexual people. Sometimes I even secretly think non-heterosexuals might be superior. But I haven’t always been this assured. Read more »

The_Gift_2015_Film_Poster1

Anwen Crawford

Memorable Chills: Edgerton’s Gift

The Gift is Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut — he also wrote, produced, and stars in it — and it bodes well for Edgerton’s directing career. A psychological thriller, The Gift is efficiently and quite memorably chilling, at least for the first half. Read more »

wolfpack-1024

Joanna Di Mattia

Escaping The Wolfpack: Inside and outside the screen

The Wolfpack introduces us to the six Angulo brothers, who were kept virtual prisoners for 14 years in their Lower East Side apartment. More than a captivity narrative, this is a film about the influence of cameras and screens, and the transfixing, liberating power of cinema. Read more »

f9a2809e-97eb-400d-b491-b4b6a6f09930-2060x1236

Clem Bastow

Telling Stories: Women screenwriters and the obligation to represent

There is something in the recent call to arms for female writers and directors to ‘tell your story’ that leaves me feeling bereft, not vindicated. The idea that As A Woman I must write about women first and foremost is a special kind of hell. Read more »

golden-age-of-television

Jane Hone

How the Golden Age of Television Brought Us Back Together

I recently heard someone say that it used to be that at 6pm, everyone would sit down to watch The Cosby Show. It seemed at once a quaint and almost sci-fi notion ­– millions of people watching the same show at the same time. How things have changed. Read more »

glitch abc tv

Stephanie Van Schilt

A Glitch in the System: The ABC’s undead gamble

In one gasping breath, Glitch shows that the ABC is stumbling towards something beloved by TV audiences the world over, but that regularly eludes the Australian and film and TV industry: genre. And not just any genre, but the ‘return-from-the-dead’ zombie-style genre. Read more »

family-hour

Anwen Crawford

By Screen Light

Television and depression have a history together. We’re all familiar with the trope: the person who stays in on a Saturday night watching TV in their pyjamas is the sad schlub with no life. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Edinburgh

Jane Howard

The Impenetrable City: Getting lost at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I just saw a one-on-one performance piece that ended in my bursting into tears and the artist sitting with me and holding my hands in hers for maybe ten, maybe fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. We had a shared piece of history, and her work was delicate and took me by surprise, and I have a cold, and I am homesick, and I don’t know why I’m in Edinburgh, and I’ve cried a lot, and now I’m in a gallery because I couldn’t face another show. Read more »

Resized__863

Jane Howard

A Mess of a Brain: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

In some ways it seems like an impossible task to take Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing and translate it to any other art form. How to find a life for a book that is so internal, so unrelenting, in anything other than the pure words of its narrator as they appear on the page? Read more »

Keith - photo Shane Reid

Jane Howard

Local Courage, Global Reach: The National Play Festival

There is something to be gained from observing any collection of works in close proximity, and in these readings you could see the way Australian playwrights are reaching out into the world. Together, these works show the minds of our playwrights in robust health, with works that are itching to find their audience. Read more »