Sunday, 16 September 2012
York and Writing
Last Friday I travelled to York to attend the Writers' Workshop Festival of Writing. It was thanks to a brief conversation I'd had with Nicola Morgan, the childrens author, at the SAW Writing conference in March, that I found out about this event. The Festival offers a fantastic range of workshops/panels and talks led by leading publishers, agents and established authors but probably the real selling point for me was the fact you could submit the first part of your book and synopsis to two agents (or book doctors) and then get to meet with them for 10 minutes to disuss your work. Kind of daunting...but such a worthwhile, valuable (and, for me, encouraging!) experience.
After a train journey of sub zero temperatures and screaming kids invading my 'quiet zone' coach I was relieved to step out into the sunshine of York. Fifteen minutes later I arrived at York University Campus, feeling a little nervous but excited at the prospect of what lay ahead. Once I had figured out how to enter my building (I really hope no one was watching my ten attempts at using the key card to open the door!) I setttled into my room and read the comments on the board beside my bed penned by past students: Epic Fail, Fail to prepare...prepare to fail, Bad times, Fun Times. I was hoping for the latter...
Any nerves I'd had about being there alone soon disappeared as I got chatting to people (from all over the world) who were also there for the first time, alone. I was amazed that people had travelled from as far as Australia, France and Canada and soon realised that I was in the company of really serious writers (I mean serious about their craft, not that they were lacking in humour!). It's always great at these types of events to talk to like minded people and spend a whole weekend particpating in creative workshops and soaking up valuable advice (more than once I had that 'ting' moment of, of course, that's what I need to do...)
As I know a lot of writers read this I thought it may be helpful to try and summarise some insightful, helpful information I gleaned from people in the industry.
From the Agents: (my focus was on children's/YA so most of this is taken from those panel discussions):
* Younger children may be more receptive to Series Fiction
* Don't mention in your cover letter that the age group you're targeting has loved your book (it's the agents' judgement that matters)
* There's a surge in popularity for 'Safe', old fashioned types of children's stories
* Publishers are becoming more risk averse as Sales people are always focused on the next big money spinner
* Big message coming across that they don't care about your web presence (blogs, twittering etc). It's the manuscript that lands on their desk they pay attention to
* For 9+ fiction they like a maximum of 80,000 words and for picutre books a max of 500 words (this is all related to translations. They want to be able to sell your book to various countries and English tends to be the 'shortest' language!)
* In your cover letter they like to see that you're serious about your writing
* Why get an Agent? They can talk money for you. They also ensure you maintain a good relationship which your editor as they deal with the rubbish business stuff (and it came across just how much they really know their stuff and the industry!)
* Most encouraged the practice of sending out your manuscript to more than one agent at a time as they understand the long wait we endure...
* If one Agent in a company rejects your manuscript then don't send it to another Agent in the same company
* A lot will work with you on edits before submitting to Publishers (I think this is a good thing)
* After my one to one meetings I realised the importance of choosing the right agent. (i.e. you will want to work with someone who is on your wavelength, and 'gets' your book and characters!)
From all in the Industry:
* Changes to Waterstones Buying and Stock Turn Around policies has had a big impact on fiction (they tend not to bulk buy fiction now which makes it harder for publishers to sell books)
* JoJo Moyes opened the Festival on Saturday morning with a very inspiring and honest account of her road to publication. A big message that came across was that she was grateful for any 'failures' along the way as they just encouraged her to write better and on one occasion 'freed' her writing, allowing her to tackle a more controversial subject.
* Julie Cohen delivered a fantastic workshop on the importance of Pace. 'Nothing should be wasted - each scene should have two or more purposes'. It was full of simple statements such as this and reminders about the importance of conflict which really clicked with me.
I attended other valuable workshops about creativity and going deep into your characters emotions (A good point was made; that sometimes we tend to stick in the safe 'middle ground', not going deep enough).
An overall message I took away with me: you need to work hard at your writing to make it the absolute best it can be (and then an agent/editor/copy editor etc. will come along and make you write and re-write again until it is even MORE perfect!).
And persevere. So many authors seemed to have one thing in common; they didn't give up.
I left with the feeling of I REALLY WANT THIS! I WANT TO BE A WRITER! So guess what, now I'm away to write...