Madonna Duffy is Publisher of the Month

November 2019, no. 416

Madonna Duffy is Publisher of the Month

November 2019, no. 416

What was your pathway to publishing?

An Arts degree and a youthfully optimistic view that I could land a job in publishing when I was living in London in my twenties. Working at Penguin Books in the wake of Penguin’s publishing Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was an exciting and dramatic time. I was sold on the courage, the passion, and the literary life around me.


How many titles do you publish each year?

Up to fifteen titles. This has traditionally been across fiction, poetry, and non-fiction at UQP, but I’m focusing more now on non-fiction.


Which book are you proudest of publishing?

Each year that answer changes, but in 2019 it is most certainly Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko, not only because it won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, but because it is the bravest, most important, and most original novel I’ve read this year.


Do you edit the books you commission?

It depends on how developed they are upon contracting. I am very involved in offering editorial feedback and support as manuscripts are being written and also doing structural notes when they’re finished. I have worked as an editor at earlier points in my career, so I don’t think I’ve ever stopped reading and thinking like an editor.


What qualities do you look for in an author?

Dedication to craft, discipline to write, and devotion to promotion. In the work, I look for originality of style, authenticity of voice, and control of story.


In your dealings with authors, what is the greatest pleasure – and challenge?

There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a manuscript that I have had a hand in developing and publishing go on to earn that writer critical and commercial acclaim. It means I have done my job properly. Seeing that book connect with readers, win awards, and sell enough copies to make the author a living are the greatest pleasures of my work. The challenges occur when, despite the best efforts of author and publisher, these outcomes don’t eventuate.


Do you write yourself? If so, has it informed your work as a publisher?

I have not a single creative impulse to write. My writing is limited to back-cover blurbs, sales copy, and letters of support for my authors for grant applications. My reading has informed my work as a publisher, but I don’t think I would have the necessary distance and objectivity if I, too, were a writer.


What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?

For leisure I usually try to read outside of Australian fiction, as it is so much a part of my job. Sometimes an Irish novel (going back to my roots) or a novel in translation, usually recommended by my excellent local bookseller.


Who are the editors/publishers you most admire (from any era)?

Diana Athill, Beatrice Davis, and Hilary McPhee – women who, in their own ways, carved careers that have paved the way for the generations of women who came after.


In a highly competitive market, is individuality one of the casualties?

Not at UQP. We celebrate independence and individuality here; it is one of our points of difference from larger multinational houses.


On publication, which is more gratifying: a brilliant launch, a satisfied author, encomiastic reviews, or rapid sales?

A satisfied author is the best reward, but the reason for the satisfaction can differ from one author to the next. But I have never seen an author or a publisher unhappy with rapid sales.


What’s the outlook for new writing of quality?

Buoyant and hopeful. I remain a stubborn optimist.


Madonna Duffy has been Publishing Director at the University of Queensland Press since 2006. She has worked in publishing in London and in Sydney and is proud to be the publisher of 2019 Miles Franklin Literary Award winner Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko.

Madonna Duffy is Publisher of the Month

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