It was with much trepidation that I set off to Farringdon this morning – very early. The tube was on the blink, with a lot of stations closed and some lines not running at all. But, I persevered and got there in one piece. An hour early. But, fortunately, I wasn’t the only one.
I made a few new nodding acquaintances and spent the breaks chatting to them. The set-up was very smooth – we got in, gave our details to one of the assisting ladies, who ticked us off on a list. Next we collected a lovely canvas bag stuffed with the 2010 Writers and Artists Yearbook which came as a truly pleasant surprise. I think I was happier with the cool book bag, to be honest, as I already have a copy of the Yearbook BUT! it won’t go to waste as I’ll pass it on to another writerly friend.
We filed in to the set-up meeting room and settled down for the talks.
After the brief introduction by Liz Calder, we got to listen to Richard Charkin, the Executive Director of Bloomsbury talk about the publishing industry today. He very cleverly showed us something unpublished authors never hear about or see (until some of us are published, at least): an author’s contract. He proceeded to explain the various headings, what they mean etc. He also touched on the subject of royalties and said that a lot of times, authors don’t actually get royalties because they don’t earn out their advances. This is pretty interesting and I think it came as a shock to a lot of people in the auditorium. You could hear a pin drop.
He also eloquently spoke about e-books and the opportunities they represented for authors.
Next up was Julie Myerson who spoke about her process of being published and to be honest, she came across as a very genuinely lovely person – still shaken by the fact that she’s made it as an author and that she’s a writer. I did however feel that her story about how she became published is too fairy tale to have benefitted many people there. We wanted to hear about the hard grafting it took to get an agent to look at it etc. Instead we heard how incredibly fortunate she was with her decision making and how quickly she found an agent and then a publisher. I don’t resent her, or her story – but I did feel that this was not what most of us came to hear. We all want the fairy tale, that’s for sure, but it’s highly unlikely that it’ll happen for all of us! I did however take away what she said so eloquently:
- writing is making the preposterous possible
- beware of being lead astray by characters, tell the story you wanted to tell
- it’s important to remember that it’s not neccessarily what you write but how you write it
- make time to write
Rebecca Swift from The Literacy Consultancy was up next and she stressed how – like everyone else before her – you should be aware of timing, luck and not to give up, no matter the rejections you receive. And also to remember that you don’t necessarily have the right to be published. And crucially, that you need to understand the industry.
Andrew Kidd, one of the senior literary agents from Aitken Alexander spoke wonderfully and at length to us about how to approach an agent – he also explained what agents did and I think his self-efacing way endeared him to a lot of us in the audience.
He chatted to us about writing the cover letter, putting together the synopsis and what should be included in the synopsis. He explained that because so many agents are taking red pens to manuscripts of their clients, they already expect pretty good manuscripts to come in. Someone asked the question of how he knew that a manuscript was for him and he laughingly replied that it’s a tingle in the finger tips, the touch of something at the back of his neck – this made sense, really. We’ve all felt it reading something that spoke particularly to you. He insisted that what he looks for most is freshness of voice. Furthermore he stressed that he liked seeing personalised submission but that prospective authors should definitely follow the guidelines on an agent’s website – they are there for a reason. He was also adamant, like everyone else, that you should do your research – find the agent and publisher who represents the type / genre of book you publish. Target them, personalise if you can and be patient. Then follow up at least 3 months later, if nothing, then perhaps move on elsewhere.
We all trooped back into the main section for our lunch – sarnies and fruit from Pret a Manger. I got the chance to talk to two lovely ladies from Nottingham who came down for the day. *waves, Hi Pam and writerly friend!”
After lunch Bill Swainson, a senior commissioning editor at Bloomsbury took to the floor and spoke about the process of acquisitions. I fell a bit in love with him, to be honest – wonderfully eloquent and honest, his advice was: don’t follow trends (short term) but look at long term trends. Be aware who accepts manuscripts if sending directly to publishers but importantly, yet again, do your research and only send books that they publish. He also explained that publishers work well in advance, which is not something I think a lot of people understand.
Finally Jo Herbert, the editor of Writers & Artists Yearbook came on and to be honest, I seriously do believe that they should have started with Jo’s talk first thing the morning. Here is the reason we came – she read a well prepared presentation to the audience. It encompassed practically everything we were waiting to hear:
- cover letters
- target audeince
- target a publisher / agent or both
It was a good day – for their first conference. A&C Black really did acquit themselves well. I did however feel that this conference had been aimed at someone who was very much a beginner or someone who needed more guidance than I needed. I enjoyed going for the new friends I had made and also to be amongst other writers – there is a creative buzz that is incredibly addictive.
If you are an aspiring writer and you have never attended any conferences or talks about being published, I would definitely recommend the WAY peeps – they will no doubt have one next year too, and probably smaller talks during the year. These are all things to attend to further your knowledge of the market and to network with other writers, publishers and agents. A definite win-win situation all around.