Erica Wagner is the co-director of Twelve Panels Press and 2022 recipient of the George Robertson Award for distinguished service to the publishing industry. We spoke with Erica and learnt more about how the publishing industry has changed throughout her time and the magic that has kept her working within the industry.
Erica Wagner commenced her career at Penguin Books in 1988 as a trainee editor, then an Associate Publisher working on YA literary fiction, an area which has retained her interest throughout her career. In 1999 she was the first children’s book editor recipient of the Beatrice Davis Fellowship which took her to the US. Following her return to Australia, her company Silverfish, founded in 1998, was bought by Allen & Unwin where she became Children’s Publishing Director in 2007. In 2020 she left Allen & Unwin and is illustrating her first picture book among other publishing pursuits.
Reflecting on her time in publishing, Erica says that technological advances have made a huge difference to the way a book is formed. It’s not only the ability to make changes to the content right up to the last minute but also the advances in printing technology that have made it possible to print different sizes, shapes and extents relatively economically.
“There is always tension between going for what’s worked before and taking a chance on the strange new thing wanting to burst through. Maybe things are leaner and meaner than when I first started, but I am an optimist and from my spot, I think writing, illustrating and publishing in Australia – especially in my area, books for children & young adults – is as healthy as it’s ever been.”
Now running her own press and managing work as a freelancer, Erica shares two pieces of advice that have helped her throughout her career and in its current iteration, “Patrick Gallagher told me the first job of a publisher is to stay solventand Rosalind Price advised me to try and balance three things: the needs of the author (to express themselves), with the needs of the audience (to find themselves in a story), and the needs of the publisher (to stay afloat).”
While there have been a few career highlights that stand out, Erica has a difficult time keeping the list short, though she says, ‘running the Octopus Story Camp in Darwin in 2019 with Johanna Bell was a stand-out in the last few years.’
‘I love it when good things happen to books and authors I’ve worked with, when it’s clear that the right balance has been found between the author’s work, the commercial product, and the intended reader. That magic is addictive … which is why I’m still doing it!’
It’s that element of the unknown quantity that has kept Erica in publishing throughout her career. ‘It’s an amazingly flexible, creative industry. I love the sense of being at the cutting edge of culture and part of a dynamic community full of fierce, funny, warm and clever people. I’ve met the most wonderful people who I would not have met any other way and I’m so grateful for all the relationships and friendships that have grown over the years' she says.
Erica has worked with many authors and championed the likes of Leigh Hobbs, Paul Jennings, Terry Denton, Craig Smith, among others as well as First Nations authors such as Boori Monty Pryor and Mary Malbunka. She is a keen supporter of graphic novels for children and has supported the release of Nicki Greenberg’s Great Gatsby and Hamlet as well as published Safdar Ahmed’s Still Alive as part of her imprint Twelve Panels Press.
Learn more about the other George Robertson Award winners for 2022 here