On May 28 I went to the annual Getting Published Conference, part of the International Literature Festival Dublin, hosted by the brilliant Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin of writing.ie. 150 writers attended, listening to 5 agents, 4 authors, 3 publishers, 2 script consultants, plus one very busy book seller (Bob from The Gutter Bookshop)
Having last attended in 2013, I was particularly impressed to see they’d taken it up more than just a notch, and I came away with new friends, heaps of good advice and a ton of things to add to my ‘to do’ list. I’ll definitely go again next year.
Here are a few of my learnings:
ON WRITING AND EDITING
It sounds obvious but it’s critical for writers to read as much as possible, says Faith O’Grady, an agent from the Lisa Richards Agency. Aside from the enjoyment factor, you’ll learn a lot about what works and doesn’t work in other people’s writing.
- Know your genre
Read everything in your own genre, be aware of what others are writing and put your own spin on yours, says James Wills of Watson, Little Literary Agency. Also think about where your novel will sit in the bookshop. If it crosses genres, it may present problems.
- Show, don’t tell
Keep it simple, stupid. It’s the age-old piece of writing advice but it really is vital, says Alison Walsh, author of In My Mother’s Shoes. Go easy on the adverbs (e.g. “she said, angrily”) and instead let the action do the talking.
- Try peer critiquing sites like youwriteon.com
When you can see the holes in someone else’s work, you’ll find it easier to spot them in your own, says O’Loughlin. As an author, you don’t see the same thing on the page as your reader does.
- Be brutal
If you really love a piece of your writing, there’s a very good chance it needs to be cut, says O’Loughlin (quoting Stephen King ‘kill your darlings’).
- Be prepared for the long haul
Be ready to write, rewrite and then write some more. Just persevere and keep editing your own work, says Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates.
- Know your characters inside out
Clear characterisation is vital, says O’Loughlin. What three things does your protagonist never leave home without? Who was their best friend at school? What would they rescue in a fire? Ask yourself all these questions until you know everything about them.
- Don’t edit on the screen
Always print off your work and edit on paper, says O’Loughlin.
(I feel pain for the rainforest on this one. Maybe wait and print off a whole draft once a month or so, rather than every time you make a change.) – or when you get to the very final edit – Writing.ie Ed
- Get your word count right
This is absolutely vital as agents and publishers won’t even consider publishing a novel that’s too short. Commercial fiction should be 90,000 to 110,000 words. Non-fiction can be 60,000-70,000 because often there are illustrations.
- Enter writing competitions
Short stories competitions, Date with an Agent contests… everything you can do to get your writing out there is great practice and experience and allows you to get feedback, says O’Grady.
ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND MARKETING
- Have a blog or social media presence, particularly Twitter
There’s no downside to having a blog, according to Simon Trewin, partner at WME London. Aside from getting your work out there and giving you practice at writing, it also allows you to create a community and get support from other writers and readers.
- Think of every social media contact as a potential sale
You don’t want to sound like a marketeer but if you use your social media presence as honestly as possible, you can build an audience of future readers of your book, says O’Loughlin.
- Don’t be afraid that people will steal your work online
The advantages of getting your work out there on social media outweigh the risk of someone stealing your work, says Trewin, who, in all his 25 years of agenting, has never had someone steal a client’s work.
- Don’t expect to hide behind a pen name
You might want to create an alias – O’Loughlin writes as Sam Blake simply because her own name is too long. But don’t expect to hide behind it – you’ll still have to market the book as yourself.
- Consider self publishing
Whilst this was not actively encouraged by the panel, it was generally agreed that self-publishing won’t necessarily harm your chances of getting an agent or being published in future and in some cases can open doors. Hazel Gaynor, author of The Girl from the Savoy, and O’Loughlin, who penned Little Bones, both had novels published the traditional way after self-publishing.
- Don’t treat it as a last resort
If you’re going to self-publish, make sure you do a great job of it and put as much effort into it as you would through a publisher. Hire an editor and get a professional to design your cover, says Gaynor.
ON SUBMISSIONS AND FINDING AN AGENT
- Follow the agent’s submission criteria
Does your agent like attachments or do they want you to paste your text into the e-mail body? It sounds trivial but it’s vital – without following the guidelines, you might end up with your entry in the ‘slush pile,’ meaning it takes forever to get read, says Polly Nolan of The Greenhouse Literary Agency.
- Put as much time and care into the synopsis and submission letter as into the book itself
You can tell what a writer is like by their submission letter, saysNolan. And you might have the best manuscript in the world but if you’ve littered your covering letter with spelling errors, you could ruin your chances of anyone reading it.
- Hook ’em with your first line
Instead of starting your email with “Hi, my name’s Laura and I’m a 33-year-old aspiring writer from Huddersfield…” (Zzzzz) think of beginning with a line of your book instead – or something abstract and thought-provoking.
- Always submit your most complete work
Don’t submit a first draft. Work on it for as long as humanly possible. Write and rewrite multiple times. Agents are looking for something that’s almost publishable, says O’Loughlin.
- Take time finding the right agent
Is your agent someone you’d happily go for a drink with? Make sure you want to spend time with them because they’re going to be a big part of your life, says Gaynor.
- Don’t take it personally
“I don’t talk about rejection any more,” says Trewin. “I just say ‘we haven’t found the right publisher yet’”. Agents and publishers get so many great submissions but some of them are just not right for them. Boost your chances by targeting your manuscript correctly.
- Don’t give up your day job
We all have the goal of becoming the next JK Rowling but in reality, most writers don’t earn much at all. The only way you can make it work is to do it for the love, says O’Loughlin.
- Call yourself a writer
“I suffer from imposter syndrome,” says Gaynor. “Can I call myself a writer? Can I change my Twitter bio? If you’re writing, you’re writing.”
(c) Laura Price