I shelled out a batch of cash to attend the well known Writer's Masterclass at the LBF, held at Earls Court a few months ago now.
The London Book Fair Masterclass: How to Get Published
The speakers were:
Mr Bill Swainson, Senior Commissioning Editor, Bloomsbury
Mr Simon Trewin, Co-head of Books Department, United Agents
Ms Danuta Kean, Journalist and acknowledged expert on publishing
Ms Kate Mosse, Author
Ms Lola Jaye, Author
Mr Gareth Sibson, writer and broadcaster, and self-published author of Single White Failure
I got from the underground and was stunned to see a group of around 200 or more people standing outside the hall, waiting to be let in...initially I thought, what the hell!?, surely they can't be ALL here for the Masterclass...and they were. And what a wide range of demographic too - I spotted elegant yummy mummies dressed like they were going shopping at Harvey Nics, there were a few alternative types bristling with piercings and tattoos, but the majority were utterly mundane looking people with that mad look in the eye, everyone here wanted to be a published author...
My heart sank a little but I took my place in the group, plugged into my music, and continued reading my copy of Rogue Angel: The Soul Stealer by Alex Archer. This was very much the ostrich approach - ignore them, and they'll go away - a good way to hide the burgeoning terror and concern I felt within me, realising that these 200 plus people represented only a fraction of aspiring writers out there. In other words, they were real live competition...
Then I started worrying about the Masterclass itself, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that I was excited, looking forward to hearing these professional speakers share some invaluable advice with us, but I couldn't help but wonder if it was going to be worth it...
We eventually started filing into the hall. Upstairs we were greated by some staff and shown into a communal area where we were fed tea and pastries before being ushered into the auditorium where we took our seats.
I had bought a new batch of lovely Moleskines and took out the first one, along with my superdooper pen to make notes. The new red Moleskine drew an envious look from my neighbour and we shared a moment of writerly geekness when it comes to stationery.
The talk started with Danuta introducing both Simon Trewin and Bill Swainson. Simon revealed something I did not expect in a big name agent - pure rock 'n roll enthusiasm and honesty about his profession. He spoke with great passion and explained that that is what an agent and publisher immediately can pick up in an author's query letter. He also mentioned that passion and enthusiasm for your own work goes a long way to help you getting published.
Bill Swainson took the time to explain how Bloomsbury handles newly acquired manuscripts, what his role was, who and what he represented and what he looked for when signing up a new author.
The three authors spoke equally of passion, determination and self-belief. They were hugely honest in their answers to the audience and in their advice. They echoed the words of both Bill and Simon - be professional at all times, be aware of what is currently going on in the market, do as much research as you can, speak to as many people as you can, find out the right people - agent or acquiring editor - to approach with your MS and be conscious of what is currently on the market. Visit bookshops and find the books you like and what you write / want to write. See who publishes them, look at who the agents are, and approach those people with your synopsis and sample chapters.
One thing which Kate Mosse said - which I never actually thought about - you are not the same writer as you are a reader. Which I realised is true - I LOVE crime novels and tv-shows...but I cannot write in this genre to save my life. My heart directs me to YA, urban fantasy and fantasy. Similarly I like mysteries but can't write one to save my life or Mark's! So, maybe that old adage of: write what you know, should perhaps be slightly changed.
THE SECOND PART
Both Simon and Bill mentioned that they have never been busier. And I personally have seen this mentioned several times over from the various agents and publishing people I follow via RSS feed. Simon cautioned everyone at the seminar to be realisctic about why they are writing and what their motivations are. Very few people go on to become JK Rowling, with enough money to burn. He mentioned one item which he saw in several of the writers he represents; they can't bear NOT getting the words down. Everyone laughed at this but I was nodding thinking that this is so true. I constantly think about my writing, my characters and plot development. Writing for me is like breathing - I would die if I couldn't. A tad dramatic, maybe, but it feels TRUE.
In the Q&A session, someone asked about submission letters and the advice was: never longer than typed A4, make sure to focus on the subjects, try to communicate your passion for your work, mention your writing background, what you are writing next and always adhere to being professional and most importantly, stay patient. They also cautioned to be realistic, to approach the agents and publishers within the field that you do write in and to do your research!
The question about unsolicited manuscripts was raised and Simon and Bill responded, saying that agents act as "quality" filters to publishers and that publishers only very rarely find something worthwhile on the slush pile. Agents have the contacts and the know how about who to approach in the industry - not using them is shooting yourself in the foot. Look at the agent and publishers' submission guidelines and follow them. Don't try gimmicks, they won't be well received.
Further questions were asked, the most pertinent I think was that of: how do I write a synopsis. The advice was: how do you tell your friends/parents/family/spouse about your book? Use your own words, keep it short. Look at Amazon, Waterstones and indie booksellers' websites to see how blurbs are written. This will give you an idea and feel for what your agent/publisher is after.
General advice on your manuscript: NEVER send it off unpolished. Work it and rework it until it is so shiny it dazzles.
The THIRD PART will follow shortly.