Write Now Experience
So I went on an interesting and noteworthy at the end of last year led me from my humble abode in Bristol to the bowels of Birmingham where I would spent the day with one of the biggest publishing houses in the country.
Write Now is an initiative from Penguin books looking to find and develop new authors from underprivileged and minority backgrounds. They are keen to promote more diversity in the industry and are taking active steps to encourage and promote fresh talent from communities underrepresented on the nations bookshelf’s.
Being from a fairly impoverished and lower class background I decided to apply in hope more than expectation. I don’t particularly consider myself a minority – I am a straight white man after all – but I do feel the lower classes and those who spring from it are sorely underrepresented in the publishing world.
On offer was a chance to attend an ‘Introduction to Publishing day’ with Penguin Books themselves and the slim chance of being selected for a mentorship program, in which they intend to mentor and guide a selected 10 authors towards publication with them.
A Day With Penguin
So imagine my excitement when the magical invitation email flashed up in my inbox, me and my work had been selected!
Here I was a resolute loner who has been writing alone in my dining room for about 5 years, being invited to a genuine publishing house event. Finally having to show my face to the outside world and actually interact with fellow human beings and discuss my work on a one to one, intimate level.
A mixture of fear, excitement and trepidation flooded over me when I read the itinerary for the day.
Welcome 11-11:30 = coffee and biscuits with your fellow attendees. Aghhh! This is where i will have to speak to people!
Introduction 11:30 – 12:00 = The CEO of Penguin books UK introduces the attendees and details the outlook and aims of the day / scheme.
Holy Shite! The CEO of Penguin Books will be there! Must avoid temptation to beg at his feet.
Icebreaker 12:00-12:30 = an informal icebreakers with to settle nerves. Nerves will definitely need to be settled.
Publishing de-mystified = 12:30 – 1:30 = The publishing process broken down and explained by agents, editors, marketers, publishers and authors.
Ohhhhh, probably the most interesting hour of my writing career. many notes to be taken and much listening to do.
More awkward attempts to network and make valuable contacts.
Adult fiction panel 2:00 – 3:00 = a panel discussion with the attending authors. Split into adult fiction writers and children’s authors.
Another hour of intense listening, invaluable information and excessive note scribbling.
The burning question 3:00 – 3:30 = round table group discussions regarding the burning questions you may have. A chance too talk to the experts in small groups.
Wow, sounds great! Must assert myself and actually make my voice heard.
One to Ones 3:30 – 5:00 = Your one on one discussion time with an editor. You will go over your submitted 5000 words and they will offer you advice and notes on your writing. While awaiting your one to one slots, speed networking will take place.
Ooooh spicy. Not everyday you get one to one time with an editor from a major publishing house! Should make me a better writer surely? Will probably almost make me cry by scribbling all over my pages and dissecting my work.
Despite the levity and general awesomeness on display on this blog (!), I’m a lifelong introvert with a strong aversion to group socialising and interaction, but this was an invaluable and important day in my fledgling writing career – it was key that I it suck up and embrace the scenario.
To The Day Itself
On arrival i was greeted with a room full of friendly, welcoming and equally nervous writers not to dissimilar to myself. The room was alive with chatter and small talk among ambitious and optimistic name badged people and I instantly felt at ease.
What was all that worry about eh?
Well before I could even begin to settle in and make new friends, i’d already managed to shoot myself in the foot. For reasons that seemed entirely logical at the time I requested my pen name to be put on my name badge for the day. I guess the logic being I wanted the name adorning my book covers to be out there to allow people to put a face to that particular name.
The only problem with that being the W.J.Lane moniker doesn’t lend itself to this sort of networking and quick introducing environment. The very first person I spoke too, a representative from Penguin none the less, confirmed this suspicion for me as he cheerfully remarked “nice to meet you W.J.”
Ugghh, great start. Que a quick Sharpie related name badge modification and now people would actually know to call me Will.
So I mingled, I chatted and I introduced myself to a bunch of friendly and like minded individuals. It seems crazy to say but after years of plugging away on your own in a dark room in front of a shining screen, you start to think what you doing is quite unique to you. Suddenly now there was a room full of people who’ve had the same frustrations, enjoyments, achievements and ambitions as I have, suddenly we were legion and the atmosphere was one of positive and nervous excitement.
Before we knew it we were upstairs, seated at designated tables with various industry insiders. Among the 7 or 8 budding authors at our table was an Editor and Producer from Penguin and a newly published Author Kit De Waal. Kit has just completed the journey most of the room was hoping to go on – from unknown and unpublished – to acquired and published author.
(Incidentally her excellent My Name Is Leon was included in a goody bag given out on the day and went on to be one of my favourite books of 2016. A Vlog of which is here – or my blog post of favourite 2016 book’s covers it also.)
Swiftly after we all filed in an settled an affable and friendly looking fellow named Tom stands at the front of the room and nonchalantly reveals to us all that he is the CEO of Penguin books UK!
Wowzaa! The CEO of one of the biggest publishing houses in the country is in the room, stood not 10 feet away, telling us all how we should consider ourselves talented and gifted and how any of us in the room can achieve our dreams of being published.
Suddenly I actually began to feel like a writer for the probably the first time.
I’ve written, drafted, edited and eventually completed 3 separate full length novels over the past 5 years, 2 of those I even took as far as self publishing in ebook form for a brief period. I did all of that alone pretty much, save for the proofreaders and editors whose services I procured, so it wasn’t until this man at the top of the publishing tree told us that we were writers, that we were talented and that we had been noticed, that I actually felt like I was doing something right!
From there on in the whole day was a whirlwind of insightful and important information specifically curated to aid and encourage people like me towards professional publication.
Rather than recount the day word for word, I will just list a few of the most important things I took away from the day.
- Find an agent that ‘gets’ your work. The general importance of the agent was hammered home during the length of the day, they are afterall the interface between you and the publishing house. Publishers nowadays don’t generally accept unsolicited manuscripts so if professional publication is what you seek – you are going to need an agent. Getting an Agent, and one that will really fight for your work and understand it, is the first step towards a successful career.
- Editors are far more influential than I ever realised.Probably obvious to most of you but Ive never even considered what an Editor does in these big publishing companies. Turns out they do pretty much everything! They choose from the submissions they receive via the many agents approaching them, then they work with the author on honing the book and preparing it for publication.
- The Editor should be your biggest fan was the tag line – they pick your book (via your agent) above all the others brought to them at their acquisition meetings, they then convince the money men that your work is worth investment. They see something in your work that they like, they help your work go from good to great and they ultimately invest their reputations in your work and its success.
- It takes at least 9 months from the moment your book is picked up by a publisher for it to be ready for release. During this time you will be working closely with the Editor on the book itself, while they will also drive the creation of the cover and the subsequent sales strategy. At all stages this should be a collaborative affair with the author and agent always informed and consulted.
- Sales categories are split into the Physical (actual bookstores), Digital (ebook stores), and Non-traditional outlets (alternative shops and niche stores). Sales departments also have a large say in the acquisition of a book back at the start of the process, offering advice on the market and what they think will sell well. They have to have a clear idea of where and how they will sell your book before it will even be picked up by the publisher.
Aside from those mechanical and industry insights there were also numerous personal tips dished out from editors, agents and the publishers attending.
- Be persistent / be individual.
- Write on your own terms and tell your own story. Do not write for the market or to target a trend.
- Learn, learn, learn. Never stop learning about the craft and the industry.
- Don’t rush – take your time.
- Ask, pester, network and be ambitious.
- Find local support:- writers groups and networks.
- Enter competitions to help get you noticed.
Also a few crucial crib notes from my one to one Editor time (applicable to anyone who writes fiction really, especially thriller as I do):-
- Show rather than tell.
- Watch out for repetition of phrases.
- Keep the pace and momentum up.
But enough of all that technical stuff and information overload, here are some genuine, encouraging notes scribbled onto my work by the Editor:-
- Strong prologue and opening. Thrown right into the action from the get go.
- Intriguing Protagonist.
- Huge potential for narrative and dramatic tension.
- Interesting setting.
So after all of that I wandered away into the Birmingham night with a head full of information, a skip in my step and renewed vigor. I was drifting along aimlessly prior to that day, somewhat rudderless with my writing career – now I feel like I have a direction and a plan of action.
I learned a lot, a lot more than i can accurately convey in one blog post, but the lasting impression I’m left with is that I (you) can do this. This is achievable and I can achieve my dream of being a published author – and now I have a lot more information and a lot more know how about the industry and process.
Plan for 2017 – find an Agent!