On Sunday I attended the brilliant ‘from ideas to page’ workshop at the Portobello Book Festival. The workshop was on how to get published, how to be a better writer and how to know if you need an agent.
The workshop filled me with hope and excitement, so much so I found it difficult to suppress the rather large grin from my face. Aware I may appear slightly deranged, I tried to de-smile a bit, but fighting the urge was impossible, it really was that good.
So here are the nourishing nuggets from Francis Bickmore, Editorial Director at Canongate Books, Allan Guthrie, Top International Literary Agent (and writer) and Marianne Paget, a talented emerging new writer.
Francis Bickmore‘s rules for writers:
1) Ask if your book is for sale?
- Why do you write and who do you write for? Would they really part with money for it?
- There are many valid reasons for writing, but not all writing should be sent to publishers.
2) Write about what you don’t know
- The best material is often unknowns, trust your curiosity.
- “The research that matter is from the explorations into your imagination and your heart” If you write about what you know it can become “a tedious clerical task – the transcription of the known” (Canongate Author Michael Faber)
3) Research your submissions, not your book
- Avoid scattergun approached, all publishers and people have a specific taste.
- We have to be excited, that begins with the submission letter, we’re motivated by passion.
- Tell us why you think we’d be interested and make it relevant to our passions.
4) The hair shines with brushing
- Editing is worth it, it may take a very long time but you want a shiny book. You only get one read at submission so make sure you do loads of brushing first.
5) Kill your Darlings
- If your books gets good at chapter 6, cut out chapters 1 to 5. That may be months of work but it’s not wasted, it got you to the point where your book got good!
6) Choose your time
- If you’re not getting anywhere with something it may just be the wrong time, put it in a draw under the bed for a few years, work on something else and come back to it.
- Bear in mind good things take years. It took Alasdair Grey 30 years to write Lanark.
7) Be a sustainable split personality (not sure if these were his exact words here!)
- You will need to balance writing and sharing your ideas.
- Help to sell your work, write a blurb. This can be part of your submission letter.
- A good job to consider while you write is one that allows you to think and not have to make decisions e.g. a dishwasher.
- Could be online.
- Submit to every competition you see. If you win something this will help your submission letter.
- Listen to the Paris Review Interviews – they are full of great practical tips, it’s like going to the pub with Ernest Hemingway and Margaret Atwood.
9) Give out but don’t give up
- Remember many of the best books were rejected at first.
- Becket said: “Every tried, ever failed? Fail again, fail better”
There were so many good points that I’ve made his 7 rules into 9. Francis did say “feel free to edit me” when I told him I was planning on doing this.
Allan Guthrie asks do you need an agent?:
(If you are considering taking the traditional publishing route)
1) Do you have a thorough understanding of the publishing industry?
2) Do you know which publishers and editors are most likely to be interested in you and your writing?
3) Can you reach them?
4) Are you confident in negotiating?
5) Do you enjoy the process of selling yourself?
6) Do you know how much your work is worth?
7) Do you want to spend time on all of the above when you could be creating?
Answer no to all of these? Then like me, you need an agent.
Marianne Paget‘s Tips for Emerging Writers:
Marianne confidently shared her journey and encouraged everyone when she announced:
“writing is a craft that can be learned and improved upon”
Her progress is testament to this with her short stories appearing in the Edinburgh International Book Festival the last two years running. Marianne had even made excellent handout with places to look for competitions, courses and help as a writer. I first met Marianne in the summer of 2010 when we took part in the Scottish Book Trust CBeebies Writers Lab. I really enjoyed working with her then and I’m glad we’ve kept in touch.
After the workshop I met fellow workshop attendee Colin Galbraith, I followed his excellent Edinburgh Book Festival coverage and blog for a while now so it was good to meet him in the real world. He wrote about his day at the Portobello Book Festival too, read it here.
As for the deranged grin bringing my sanity into question, it didn’t help that during the ‘after workshop chat’ when discussing how novel characters take on a life of their own I tried to join in by saying that when I’m using puppets that happens to me, they start being so cheeky and saying things I didn’t expect them to say… “that’s a bit weird” someone said.