Born out of a love of words and a desire to support emerging and freelance writers, Melbourne’s The Good Copy is a writing studio, publisher, grammar school, shop and community library. From offering creative services for corporate clients to publishing independent zines, the team at TGC has so many projects to work on, they surely won’t ever be bored. And, with a constant stream of shoppers in the store, freelancers working in the library and inquisitive blow-ins, The Good Copy has become a place abuzz with creativity and curiosity. We spoke with Creative Director Max Olijnyk and Editorial Director Penny Modra about taking the craft of professional writing in a new and exciting direction.
Lots of people wander into The Good Copy and ask, “What is this place?” What do you tell them—how would you describe TGC to a stranger?
Max Olijnyk: We do get that a lot. It’s a bit complicated to get your head around at first, because we do a few different things. I always say we’re a writing studio, and we’re also a publisher, a bookshop, an events space and a school. We really should get a photocopier as well, because we end up referring a lot of people to the printers around the corner!
We’re more like a hardware store or newsagent for writers than a literary salon.
Can you explain a little about how TGC came about?
MO: It was Penny’s idea. She wanted to create a business that paid its writers well for commercial work, but also gave them a platform to do their own thing and build a community around what we all do—which is write. She wanted to do the whole thing more in the vein of the other art, music and fashion projects we’re interested in, rather than in the vein of sitting by yourself in a cold room.
Penny Modra: Yes! After working in online publishing for so many years, I started to see weird patterns that didn’t seem sustainable to me. How are these great young writers ever gonna to make a go of it? Freelance doesn’t pay. And, as a publication, how much editorial do you have to compromise to advertising to keep the lights on? I wanted to create a model where writers could get paid good money doing straight-out commercial work for part of their week and pursue their own projects the rest of the time. I think it works in a publishing sense too, in that our commercial work is separate from our publishing projects, but the commercial income supports them. I also wanted to promote the idea of writing as a trade as opposed to a magical literary skill. Melbourne tends to be very cliquey about writing, but we want to be welcoming. Lift the veil a little bit. Basically, we’re more like a hardware store or newsagent for writers than a literary salon.
Can you tell us a little about the staff and the team structure?
MO: We have 10 staff who come into the office, but we also have an external team of writers, photographers and computer people we work with on a regular basis. Most of our staff are writers and editors, but we also have very important people like our Managing Director, Frunch, and our Strategy Director, Melissa, who make everything happen and put up with our stupid jokes.
PM: Our writers all have different takes on the game. Brodie Lancaster is a Rookie staff writer and the founder of Filmme Fatales, Meredith Forrester is the world’s biggest grammar nerd, Max is master of interviews and the personal essay, Sinead Stubbins is a culture writer, Rachel Wilson came to us from London with a Guardian internship and French translation skills and Kane Daniel should be a stand-up comedian but does Twitter and music writing instead. Because I don’t think he likes people very much.
Since you have the library and work area, is the team encouraged to work on personal projects in any free time they have?
MO: That’s the idea! We all have our projects and freelance gigs we tap away on in our free time and days off. The library is for anyone who visits, though. People are working on all sorts of things over there. Our regulars include a comedian, some comic book guys, a famous novelist and a bunch of people who keep themselves to themselves. It’s a good vibe.
Because you also have a store, location is obviously important—can you tell us a little about how you ended up where you are?
MO: It happened quite organically really. We love Everyday Coffee and a bunch of our friends work from the Magic Johnston studios that we are at the front of, so it seemed like a natural fit.
Was the school always part of the plan? Do you offer them because you feel like Australian schools aren’t teaching enough English language skills, to just sharpen grammar or both?
MO: The school was always part of the plan, it just took us a while to get the curriculum together. It’s not so much that we don’t think schools teach grammar and punctuation properly, but more that people like me can’t remember that far back and are in dire need of a refresher. Written communication is such a big part of all of our lives—whether it’s emails, articles, press releases or texts and status updates. We thought it would be great to offer a real nuts-and-bolts course that could give anyone the tools to approach writing with more confidence, but also float a few gags. (Hang on, was that a mixed metaphor? I think it works.)
What kinds of projects do you work on for clients—apart from copy, do you offer overall creative? Strategy/design services?
MO: We focus on words and strategy, but we do work with some great designers, photographers and videographers. We don’t want to do everything… just yet, anyway.
PM: The word-related work we do for clients ranges from writing program copy for cultural events to thinking of names for cafes to blogging about Tasmania to Facebooking about condoms to Instagramming about construction. We love it.
TGC is already a pretty grand plan with lots of moving parts, but what do you have in mind for the future?
MO: Opening the school was a big deal for us, and the first two Stop. Grammar Time. courses have sold out, which is really validating. We’re working on a concentrated one-day version of the course, as well as some one-off events that will run after-hours in the shop—a monthly get-together series “Friday Night Writes,” hosted by a different mag each time; some writing-related film screenings (the first is “Broadcast News”); and some free panel discussions (the next is called “A Pitch Ain’t One”).
We’re working with some great clients in our commercial work and we have a really good team of writers with a wide range of skills, so that’s going well. In the shop, we’re concentrating on working directly with publications we love, as well as building up a range of our own merchandise (some great, heavy metal-inspired artwork coming soon by illustrator French) and expanding our hardware section. It’s all very exciting.
The Good Copy is located at 27/29 Johnston St, Collingwood, Melbourne, Australia
Images courtesy of The Good Copy