The first Writers’ Retreat weekend opened on Friday 26th August with a fantastic talk from Stewart Ferris on How to Get Inspired to Write. After a bit of creative networking and a glass of Pimm’s Stewart took his place back in the hot seat but was this time accompanied by a panel of associates from the writing and publishing world for the second, hugely informative, talk of the evening.
Writer and publisher Stewart Ferris (Unusual Character Names for Writers, Summersdale, eBook, 2010; How to Publish Your Own Book, Summersdale, 2008; How to be a Writer, Summersdale, 2005; How to Get Published, Summersdale 2005) was joined by writers Gabrielle Kimm (His Last Duchess, Sphere, 2010; The Courtesan’s Lover, Sphere, 2011) and Isabel Ashdown (Glasshopper, Myriad Editions, 2009; Hurry Up and Wait, Myriad Editions, 2011) as well as Isabel’s editor Victoria Blunden (Fiction Editor, Myriad Editions). Together, they gave the audience some real insight into the writing and publishing world;warts and all!
The panel started by allowing the audience to ask and burning questions with regard to writing and publishing and there was an enquiry about how to go about getting poetry published. The panel’s advice was that poets should enter as many competitions as they can to increase their credibility. Stewart, who has published his own book of poems, suggested that poets should consider self-publication as there are not so many publishing houses out there who are dedicated to poetry.
Agent or no Agent?
There was a great debate about agents. While it was acknowledged that some of the larger publishing houses insist on writers being represented by agents, Victoria revealed that Myriad Editions will always consider authors without agents as, without a middle man/woman, it makes the direct relationship between the publisher and the author a lot easier to maintain.
The panel was in full agreement however that an agent needs to be really passionate about his/her clients’ books and that an author and an agent must be the perfect match, like husband and wife. With regard to finding an agent, Isabel told of how in her letters to prospective agents she mentioned the names of other agents she was also approaching, out of courtesy. She believes this gave her an edge as agents certainly sit up and take notice at mention of their competitors.
The Long Haul
Gabrielle Kimm told the audience how she was warned about the hard slog ahead when it came to securing a publishing deal. This advice was invaluable as she received quite a few rejection letters before finally getting the offer she wanted from Sphere, an imprint of major publisher Little, Brown. She recalled how demoralising it was to see a jiffy bag, complete with self-addressed envelope, arrive on the doorstep and realise that it was yet another returned manuscript. This in by no way discouraged the audience; instead it revealed the reality of getting a publishing deal, how hard work can pay off and it restored faith in those who had previously been rejected.
That’s Not the End…
Our panel of writers and publishers also revealed that once the publishing deal is secured there is often quite a long, drawn-out process before you will see your book on the shelf, particularly at the larger publishing houses. There are the edits and rewrites to contend with; again, this is a tough process but Gabrielle admitted that while you are receiving criticism, it is constructive and you can often see how your writing can be greatly improved by making those changes.
Victoria told of how Glasshopper made it to print in a matter of months after Isabel was signed by Myriad Editions. In contrast, His Last Duchess had to undergo scrutiny by numerous departments at Little, Brown and Gabrielle’s agent had to sell it to each and every stakeholder before it hit the press.
Don’t Give up
Another point raised was that life as a writer is not all glitz and glamour, unless you do indeed become the next JK Rowling! There are not many professional writers out there who have the luxury of giving up their day jobs, or at least some sort of part-time work that subsidises their income. Your book would have to make it on to the Richard and Judy Book Club list or be nominated for a major prize before you’re, quite literally, going to dine out on it alone.
However, that is not to say you should give up. Do you want to be a writer and secure a book deal? Then, don’t abandon your dreams. Just consider how far Gabrielle and Isabel have come; they have shown us that it is achievable. While Stewart and Victoria have shown us that the publishing world is not such as scary, inaccessible place.
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