A picture tells a thousand words, but in fewer than that, learn how this photographer started a publishing business.
Interview by Gladys Serugga, 2020 Associate Producer
When Blaise van Hecke went back to study in 2006, she thought it would help her to write a novel. Little did she know it would cause the conversion of her design business into a publisher.
‘My husband and I own Busybird Publishing. We have always worked together as designers, and originally started out as photographers. So, essentially I feel like we are both storytellers,’ van Hecke said.
This photographer-turned-publisher said she went back to school for the writing element but fell in love with the publishing process itself. ‘The course had its own publishing component, and they were producing books that went out into the world,’ van Hecke said.
Now 11 years later Busybird has its own space, in what van Hecke describes as an ‘awesome old building,’ that allows for open mic nights and plenty of workshops. ‘The whole idea of having this space was to nurture people who are writers because I am a writer and I know how isolating it can be,’ she said.
The concept of nurturing stems from her desire to help writers discover their voice, which is something van Hecke finds a lot of first time authors struggle with. ‘I really think for a lot of people who are starting out in writing, they don’t really know who they are as a writer yet. They haven’t found their voice necessarily. Or they have, but then they are not really sure [of it].’
The process of an author finding their voice starts with them observing themselves, looking inward and working out who they are, what they are about and what their intention with writing is, she said. While van Hecke believes selling books is just a bonus of the process of writing, she understands that everyone has different reasons for writing. ‘Some people want a bestseller, and to make lots of money – which is fine. But I like to trace back and find out why they started writing,’ she said.
That same process that van Hecke fell in love with when she went back to TAFE is what she wants the creators that she works with to experience as well. She believes there is much to gain from the whole publishing and writing process. ‘When I am writing with them, I kind of want to delve into them and see what makes them tick and what they want to get out of their writing.’
Prior to COVID people could come to the Busybirdbuilding, sit at a desk, get away from distractions and just write. But sometimes distractions are not the only thing that hinder the creative process of writing a book, as van Hecke discovered from the Busybird writing workshops and retreats. ‘I think for a lot of people who come to me, one of the biggest writing blocks is that they don’t consider themselves a writer, or they don’t think they can write.’
The writing process is much like going to the gym. According to van Hecke, everyone starts out bad. ‘You can’t deadlift 50 kilos on the first day. You build up to it if you can get to that. It’s a skill that you build on, so if you don’t start and put up with the bad writing, then you won’t ever get there.’
And van Hecke understands the process of just starting, which is what she had to do with her husband when they started Busybird Publishing. When asked how they started their company, ‘pretty much my credit card!’ was her response.
‘The very first book we did … we produced an anthology of short stories every year called [untitled] and the first one came out in 2009. And I literally used my credit card to pay for the printing,’ she said.
With the help of volunteers, they were able to produce their very first book and pay the credit card back from the sales. For the fourth edition of the anthology, Busybird received funding from Arts Victoria, which van Hecke said boosted their finances and also their confidence. ‘The anthology is all about giving new and emerging writers their first publication, so the funding support made a big difference, and showed that we were doing something that was useful.
During the pandemic, Busybird has still been able to operate with everyone working remotely. But one thing that stuck out to van Hecke was how many new writers emerged during the lockdown. ‘A lot of people have been writing [during] this time, because within the last week we have suddenly been inundated with queries. It means people are kind of ready for the publishing stage, which is really good for us,’ she said.
With restrictions easing in Melbourne and the return to some sort of normalcy in sight, van Hecke assures us that one thing will be staying the same. ‘At Busybird, our goals beyond COVID-19 will be to continue what we are doing: publishing our own books year to year and giving back to charity, whether it’s the Indigenous Literacy Foundation or others.’
Blaise van Hecke will be speaking at our 2020 Independent Publishing Conference, on working with service providers and how to call on external help for your publishing house.
Find out more at: smallpressnetwork.com.au/independent-publishing-conference/