We Heart: Danielle Binks

Blogger, author extraordinaire and Young Adult and Middle Grade literary agent with Jacinta di Mase Management, Danielle Binks is a champion of #LoveOzYA and one of our favourites here at the AusYABloggers. We approached Danielle to share her inspirational story.


Here’s a new and original story – when I left high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I did know that I’d like a career where I could write, because that’s what I was good at. I loved reading, and I’d adored my English and Literature classes, had won a couple of in-school short story competitions and been Yearbook/Magazine Editor in my graduating year.

Oh yeah – and I read a lot of FanFiction. And wrote even more.

Mostly Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, Once & Again, The West Wing and Dawson’s Creek – and later on there was a lot of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights and Twilight tributes too.

In my FanFic hey-day, I could easily churn out a 40K serial-story … and by the end of my “career” I’d written 24 pieces of Fan-Fic, totalling about 400K.
But when it came time for university preferences and career-paths, I looked around at all the writing careers there were and thought – journalism! That’s for me. That’ll let me write!

I did three years of a Communications Degree, with a focus on journalism and hated it. This was not the path for me. Most of my assignments came back with notes that my writing was too detailed and over-written. I was constantly reminded of WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY? to condense my work. I was miserable, and I wrote a lot of FanFic in those three years. And I read a lot of books. YA mostly, but I also discovered the romance genre and delved headfirst into that lovely readership too. I’d always been a reader, and I’d always read YA – raising myself on a healthy reading adolescence of Melina Marchetta, Margo Lanagan, Robin Klein, John Marsden … all the Aussie classics. And I kept reading them, even when I’d “aged-out” of the young adult readership.

During my time (unhappily) studying journalism, I also became an avid reader of book blogs. I was a huge fan of blogs like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Persnickety Snark (the owner of which – Adele Walsh – would later become one of my best friends!).

In the final term of my Communications course, we had to do an internship anywhere of our choice, but related to media … And something made me type in “Melbourne children’s book publishers” to Google, which is how I found Black Dog Books (now an imprint of Walker Books) and sent off a query to do an internship with them for a couple of months. They agreed, and everything changed for me.

It was nothing short of amazing. Not just because it was working with books, and children’s literature in particular! – but because I got to understanding how many different roles and jobs exist in book publishing and I started to envision a career for myself that didn’t involve putting my journalism degree to good use.

Clare Renner of Black Dog Books encouraged me to apply for something called the ‘RMIT Professional Writing & Editing’ course if I hoped to break into book publishing as an editor, publicist or writer. I did apply, but I also knew the odds weren’t in my favour and that the course knocked back hundreds of applicants every year.

When I went in for my interview with RMIT one of the first things the panel asked me was for my writing background and experience – of which, I had very little. Except … I told them about my FanFiction, which they’d never heard of. I explained it was like writing love-notes to your favourite popular-fiction narratives, and a lot of it was mimicry in the universe or creator’s style and I sent them one of my one-shot Buffy pieces as part of my application assessment.
And I got in.

That same year, I also started my book review blog – Alpha Reader – calling it “my solo book club” it was a little space dedicated to my reading everything I loved, which was YA and romance. Suddenly book-blogging overtook my time that FanFic once occupied.

I also found myself writing a lot more – not the FanFic of my youth, but my own fic. I was inspired from being around fellow creative and bookish people at RMIT, and encouraged by all the reading I was learning from – all of that, coupled with the writing backbone that FanFic gave me, and suddenly I had the confidence to explore my own fiction more. I was quietly entering short-story competitions, and occasionally winning or placing in a few. I submitted to the wonderful Voiceworks Magazine, for creators under the age of 25. I also placed second in the John Marsden Short Story Prize (now The John Marsden & Hachette Australia Prize – Express Media). I was learning to put myself out there, and getting my courage up.

I studied Professional Writing and Editing for two years, but I spent a good six-months after graduating looking for a job in publishing (and I kept my old job at my local post office during that job-hunt time). 

"I quickly realised that people who get into publishing rarely leave it, because there’s such passion there … which is wonderful, but it makes it very hard for newbie’s to get their foot in the door when nobody else moves aside."

That all changed when I applied for an Australian Publishers Association paid-internship program – throwing my hat into the ring to work for one of six different publishing houses around Australia. I interviewed for one Melbourne position with Australia’s last feminist publishing house, the independent publisher, Spinifex Press – and was successful. I’d nabbed a six-month paid-internship. My foot was in the door!

Working at an independent publisher – with a staff of about six people – was wonderful. I had to wear many hats, and I put all of my studies to good use; on any given day I worked as publicist, editor, proof-reader, marketing and events manager, or sales-rep.

Finally getting to work in publishing also encouraged me to venture out to events more, and really get involved in the local books community. I started attending Melbourne Writers Festival and really making an effort to break out of my introvert shell, and get to know people – put myself out there.

While working at Spinifex I also kept up my book blogging – my time studying at RMIT had made my book reviews into more thoughtful, and nuanced musings on the state of youth literature and publishing generally. 

"I didn’t care that I wrote long, rambling reviews of the books I was reading – I was more concerned with being thoughtful and giving young adult books the kind of intense scrutiny and spotlighting I didn’t see them getting in mainstream arts media."

That paid off for me too, when Kill Your Darlings literary journal asked me to write something about YA for their online journal. It was an area of publishing they thought they weren’t paying enough attention to, but they liked what I was exploring about the readership on my blog and in my reviews – so they extended that very kind offer. And they said I could write about anything – a topic of my choice. So I decided to explore what I wished was getting more scrutiny from the YA books community; You are not alone: Why we need more Indigenous writers and characters in Australian YA.

After that, Kill Your Darlings invited me to be their regular online contributor – writing on Young Adult Literature – throughout 2013 and 2014.

During this time I’d left Spinifex and worked as freelance publicist for a few more small, independent publishers – an area I love, but can be very mercurial work. But even when I was struggling to find work, I kept my foothold in the industry by turning up – and I really can’t stress enough how much that can make all the difference!

I kept attending book launches, Wheeler Centre events, Melbourne Writers Festival, and I discovered something glorious called the Reading Matters Conference – hosted by the Centre for Youth Literature. Attending all of these events kept my name in the community, and gave me plenty of ideas for freelance arts media commentary, and I started writing for places like Books+Publishing Magazine.

Then in 2015 everything changed again. The book and hashtag - #LoveOzYA - were ideas borne from the onslaught of American YA blockbuster books, that were being adapted into blockbuster movies. I did a summary of the phenomenon that Aussie authors were up against (roughly; for every 9 young adult books on our store shelves, only one will be by an Australian author).
This was something I was really passionate about, and I kept thinking up ways to address the issue – things like creating ‘Readalikes’ posters, and then agreeing to join a dedicated committee formed to represent the #LoveOzYA Grassroots movement.

A few months later I was at the Wheeler Centre, waiting for my creative-writing workshop group to arrive, when a woman approached me and said she recognized my hair (!) from Twitter, and that she really liked my Kill Your Darlings YA commentary. It was Jacinta di Mase – literary agent representing authors like Clementine Ford and Natasha Lester. We had a great chat, that ended in her giving me a card and saying she’d love for me to come along to a roundtable manuscript assessment one day.

A roundtable assessment is when Jacinta gathers a few close friends and colleagues to read through a whole lot of unsolicited manuscripts by authors she’s thinking of representing. She had a children’s and YA day that I attended, and we quickly realized that we had similar tastes and story-expectations. We got along really well, and I had a great time talking about potential future #LoveOzYA projects and what I’d like to see more of on the shelves … I went to a couple more roundtable assessments before Jacinta made me the ultimate offer – to join her as “agent-at-large”, seeking young adult and middle grade authors. She basically pitched it to me as – I’d get to have a REAL say in the #LoveOzYA of the future. I could not resist.

Around this time the #LoveOzYA grassroots movement was really doing amazing things and framing an important conversation about Australian representation for our teen readers. We had a website and a movement, and there was something really exciting developing. Then out of the blue one day, I got a phone-call from HarperCollins Publisher Chren Byng – asking if I’d be interested in heading up an anthology of #LoveOzYA short stories, that celebrates our national youth literature.

The offer to helm Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology came as a shock, but it was an idea that also really fit me to a tee. It was the best way I could think of to pay tribute to the idea of #LoveOzYA – and my reading home that shaped me into the reader I am today, and set me on my path to becoming a youth literature advocate. Because while I can’t exactly see a direct line from my past careers to now, I do know that the one persona I always try to remain true to is that of advocate – for YA literature and teen-spaces for their own stories.

Between the Anthology and my new role as literary agent, I really just want to give back to the books and community that made me – and to put good Aussie YA into teens’ hands for years to come.

I’m also still writing my own-fic. I’ve contributed a short-story to the Anthology, called Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory – about a little sister saying goodbye to her deaf big brother, before he goes off on an overseas adventure. My appearing in the Anthology was really me coming out (I hope!) as an emerging voice in the Australian YA landscape. Watch this space.

"I don’t know how I got here.
That’s the honest truth.
And I know how frustrating it is to hear people who work in the industry that you aspire to, say; “I was in the right place at the right time!” because how is that helpful, exactly?!
But it’s the truth."

I was in the right place, at the right time 99% of the time … but also; I just kept reading the books I loved, turning up to events, and championing the books and readership that most shaped me. And as far as I can tell – that got me to where I am today.

There was no plan. There’s still no plan.
But I’m loving every minute.

You can find Danielle via Her Website  Twitter and Instagram

Danielle will be a regular feature author on the AusYABloggers blog, sharing her experience and answering questions from young, aspiring authors. If you would like to ask Danielle a question, simply fill out this form.

Post a Comment

© AusYABloggers. Design by Fearne.