Mary Cunnane, Editing and Consulting


We're a group of aspiring writers, many with a manuscript approaching completion. Who better than Mary Cunnane to demystify the complex world that publishing has become? Vanity publishing, self-publishing, partnership publishing, e-publishing, and the traditional route, all laid bare, with detours to blogging, social media profiles, legal questions and more. We're a lot clearer, and very grateful.

Jennifer Severn, writing group member

I’m sure I would not have the privilege of writing an endorsement like this but for Mary Cunnane’s expert help. My writing experience had been limited to several years as a graded journalist some time ago, but I soon found that a history of covering local yarns wasn’t sufficient to cover myself for the memoir I’d been encouraged to write. Mary quickly identified a potentially authentic voice in the then teenage jeremiad I’d sent her, and I was able to develop it from there. Her intolerance of purple prose and other fluff also kept my story close to the point. Mary’s stature and strategic experience in the publishing world also secured a publisher for the completed manuscript.                            

Brad Cooper, Olympic Gold Medalist
and author of the forthcoming memoir,
Swimming With Ming
  (Scribe, 2018)

I have struggled for many years with a complex story that sets the history straight on the activities of my grandfather, a British double agent in WWll. His private life was as secret and diverse as his spying activities and Mary's advice on how to turn these two stories into one was incredibly beneficial and insightful. Where she helped me most was in my proposal to publishers, which got me through a very crowded door to secure a deal with a British publisher. Her advice during my negotiations with the publisher resulted in a greater revenue stream and more favorable terms. I honestly don't know what I would have done without her razor-sharp insight and confident knowledge of the industry. Mary was my agent in the past and I am so grateful that she is still available in a consultative capacity, as I trust her advice in every way.

Carolinda Witt, author of T5T: The Five Tibetan Rites (Lantern, 2005), The 10-Minute Rejuvenation Plan (NY, Three Rivers Press, 2007) and Double Agent Celery, MI5's Crooked Spy (London, Pen and Sword, October 2017)

Within an hour of us meeting, Mary determined that I had a worthwhile project but a poor pitch. Her guidance helped me produce a compelling book proposal that elicited an offer of representation from the very first literary agent to receive it. The depth and breadth of Mary's experience, and her ongoing advice, have proven invaluable for a first time author's introduction to the publishing world.

Campbell McConachie, author of The Fatalist, a work of truecrime narrative
non-fiction to be published by Hachette in 2017.

I've struggled for years with my academic writing. If only I had made contact with Mary earlier! Still, today I am so grateful for the lessons given in her editing of my manuscript: Innovative Catholicism. Since then, there have been significant improvements in my ability to write, and for that I am very grateful.

Jane Anderson, Innovative Catholicism and the Human Condition, New York: Routledge, 2016

Multiple submissions? Protracted silences? Form-letter rejections? Been there; done that?
My advice: contact Mary – you’ve got nothing to lose; everything to gain!

P.J. Parker, Author of The Long Goodbye – due for release April, 2016 from
Hardie-Grant Publishing

Mary Cunnane’s knowledge of the Australian publishing industry has been instrumental in helping us deliver HARDCOPY, our Australia Council-funded professional development program that builds the capacities, resources and aptitudes committed emerging Australian writers need to reach their potential. Mary has connected us to high-profile agents and publishers, and has also been incredibly generous with providing us – and our program participants – with generous amounts of advice, feedback, and support. Mary has been our greatest champion, sharing in the program’s success. We couldn’t have achieved what we have without her.

Kelli-anne Moore, Director, ACT Writers' Centre

The editorial advice you gave me about the initial draft of That Deadman Dance was invaluable and most welcome.

Kim Scott, author of the multi-award winning novel, That Deadman Dance (Picador and Bloomsbury)

Mary has two qualities any writer would find invaluable – she’s sharp-eyed and she’s straight-talking.  In her years as my agent she was also my editor of first resort, one I learned to trust implicitly.

Richard Guilliatt, journalist with The Australian Weekend Magazine and author (with Peter Hohnen) of The Wolf: How One German Raider Terrorized the Seas During WWI (Random House; Transworld, The Free Press)

Everything I've published, from my first novel to my most recent non-fiction book, has benefited enormously from Ms Cunnane's wonderful editorial insights and observations. With her many years' experience in the publishing industry, I believe she has a solid grasp of what publishers are looking for in a manuscript, and an ability to impart that knowledge to the writer.

Adrian Hyland, author of Diamond Dove, Gunshot Road, and Kinglake 350  (all Text)

Mary Cunnane is the thinking writer’s editor; her probing questions and attention to detail spark those flashes of insight which propel a strong draft into a first-class manuscript.

Sara James, author of An American in Oz (Allen & Unwin, March 2014)

Mary Cunnane has a finely tuned ear for the cadence of language and the rhythm of storytelling, unflinching honesty, and a rare gift for nourishing an author’s voice through however long it takes to deliver a manuscript into the world. Her insights, her grace, her humour, her gentle guidance, and her passion for the written word are qualities I treasured during our partnership. As a literary midwife she is without doubt a writer’s dream.

Kate Legge, journalist with The Australian Weekend Magazine and novelist.  Author of The Unexpected Elements of Love (Penguin) and The Marriage Club (Penguin)

Around 2001 my thirty-year long career as an academic historian was transformed by a conversation with Mary Cunnane when  she asked me, after a talk I’d given at the National Library of Australia, whether I’d ever thought of writing a trade book. ‘I can tell that you like telling stories and are good at it’, she said. ‘Wouldn’t you like to take your scholarship out to general readers rather than keep it closeted within the university world, important as it is’. I eventually came up with a historical character that I longed to take to a general audience, and Mary began the process of coaching me in how to achieve this.

By that time I was a reasonably well-published academic and I thought  the process would be relatively easy: just a bit of ‘dumbing down and writing up’. Mary quickly disabused me and set about teaching me the challenging skill of taking one’s scholarly work to people who have to be persuaded to pay for it in the face of immense alternative choice, and to keep turning the pages until the end. Learning how to write a successful scholarly or popular trade book is immensely difficult. It demands a complete rethinking of one’s approach, style, vocabulary and specialised assumptions, especially since you might well be writing for readers residing in other places, molded by other cultures and speaking other languages. I’m still learning of course; and I have no doubt that I’ll be again availing myself of Mary’s skills in her capacity as an editor, for her editorial insights have been invaluable to me.

Mary was not only my literary agent, but  also my coach and my adviser. Her knowledge and experience of every facet of publishing and writing ranges through researching, writing, styling, publishing, marketing and disseminating one’s work. She is a tough, knowledgeable and honest critic, but at the same time an immensely shrewd, fair and loyal guide.

I cannot praise her too highly and an essential port of call for anyone who wants to know how to turn a bundle of potential ideas into a book or article that publishers will take up, readers will buy and perhaps even movie producers will film. And, above all, Mary will ensure that it is a production of which you yourself are proud.

Iain McCalman, AO, FASSA, FAHA, FRHist, University of Sydney Research Professor in history and Co-Director, Sydney Environment Institute. Author of The Seven Ordeals of Count Cagliostro (Harper Collins); Darwin’s Armada (Penguin and WW Norton & Company); and The Reef: A Passionate History (Penguin and Farrar Straus & Giroux)