A short while ago I was selected by my university to attend an event in Nottingham with Penguin Random House. This was the annual Write Now event, in which a number of prosperous writers, illustrators and all sorts were invited to attend workshops and sit in discussions with published authors, established illustrators, literary agents, editors… the list goes on. Everyone was extremely welcoming and seemed excited. Some anxious, but nevertheless excited. The event began with a relaxing session filled with tea and coffee in which many of the visitors mingled, shared writing and illustration ideas, aspirations, and expectations of the day. As one of the Penguin Team members for the day, I was able to have a cuppa and chat (not to mention a free lunch) with several talented writers, so with this in mind, I’m going to give you several tips I received and hopefully they’ll be of use to you reading this! (HELLO).
We began the questions with published author Rowan Coleman.
How Did You Get Published?
Rowan confirmed that despite the competition and unavoidable rejection IT IS POSSIBLE! She mentioned that she entered various local short story competitions and enrolled in a creative writing MA. All this slowly adds to your credibility and authority as a talented author and will hopefully encourage your publisher you have in mind to essentially take you and your work seriously. Rowan also stressed that the importance is in the story itself, not the technical abilities, i.e. spelling or punctuation as such- help can be provided. Should you be successful, all that will be checked and sorted for you. There’s no need to worry- just let your creative juices flow!
Next, picture book author Abie Longstaff was questioned:
How did you get started and what inspired your work?
At first she recalled how she loved being read to as a child and how envisioning her younger self reading her own books aided her writing. Like Rowan, she entered competitions locally and slowly built a platform for herself. Abie also suggested you mention attending any relevant workshops or creative talks such as this #writenow scheme to publishers and editors within your cover letters, as this also adds a certain flare to your first (online) impression. Her most stressed tip was:
‘NO WORK IS WASTED.’
Keep everything. In doing this, you’ll be able to re-use work you’d scrapped and create a whole new idea, or even take snippets of discarded work and re-vamp them to add to your current project.
Third up was agent, Nichola Chang.
What do agents actually do?
(For this I’ll answer in bullet points, as there are multiple factors, all of which are important and not as well known).
– Takes book to publishers and gets a deal for you.
– Most publishers need an agent with the book.
– Agents act as your early editors and early readers, but you DO NOT pay an agent to READ your book.
– They check with editors what’s on their wish list (in terms of genre and market placement).
– ‘Create a buzz’ around your book.
– They are your representative.
– Fiction novels generally have their full manuscript ready/ sends in first 3 chapters.
– Non-fiction are generally sold on proposal and need a document stating why it should be published and what exactly it is.
HOW TO FIND LITERARY AGENTS – Flick back to acknowledgments in books you feel are similar to your own creation, go to junior agents (can be found online through social media) or Google (junior agents are generally less client-packed and ‘hungrier’ for new ideas).
Next we met an editor who works with Penguin, Molly Crawford.
What is your impact on the book ideas you receive?
The editor works with design teams after getting the jist of the story in order to make the story a product as well as a creative piece. An editor needs a fabulous pitch from your agent, to ensure it fits on the current market really easily, but with an extra something original. They will then share the new project with an editorial team when they’re particularly excited about a book.
Now, the designer, Anna Billson.
What do you do?
Anna informed everyone that she makes sure your book looks amazing and ensures the book cover fits with your target audience. This is a huge part of selling, a massive amount of people buy a book simply for the cover… So much for ‘don’t judge a book’.
She also finds illustrators (illustrators don’t need an agent necessarily) that she feels would best suit the story and the target audience. She also mentioned it’s however useful for the illustrator to have an agent. She can find illustrators to match the author’s style or authors to match the illustrator’s style- whichever creates a strong picture in her mind. Sometimes you just get the vibes, it seems.
Heading swiftly back to Rowan Coleman, one of the published authors at the event.
On financial and longevity advice:
People might say it’s ‘good exposure’ but do try to get paid if you can. She also added to DIVERSIFY – write different types of novels, perhaps different genres under ghost/pen names. This will maintain a healthy bank balance and hopefully keep you somewhat sane in the process. Who knows, you might need a break from writing about serial killers. Who would have thought?
We returned to picture book author, Abie Longstaff:
Abie made it clear that it’s good to have an online presence but also try to not get sucked in too much to the chaos that is social media.
‘GIVE YOUR BOOK THE SPACE IT NEEDS.’
QUESTIONS FROM THE CROWD
Is it better to write picture books that rhyme or not?
A: Sometimes translating into other languages is made harder but if you love that style, write in that style. Simple as.
An audience member also added that from her experience as a nurse, children have loved the melodic energy of rhyming books.
What should you do when looking for an agent when you’re working on multiple projects across multiple genres?
A: Choose an agent that can represent your strongest project that you’re most passionate about.
Do you prefer an illustrator to have their own style or be able to branch out?
A: They want you to showcase consistent styles but be able to show different variations too.
How do I find a junior agent?
A: Do your research and network well. Completely trust your agent, it’s both a personal and professional relationship. Twitter is good for sourcing agents; follow all the agents you can and track their current work.
How much should we pay attention to market trends?
A: Don’t ever write a novel for a market trend- by the time it’s ready for the shelves the trend will have died. Only write a book because you love it. Should always be able to give 3 authors that have inspired your work and how they are similar with yours. Stay authentic and write for the reader you want to enjoy your work.
Are there any day jobs that compliment writing a book?
A: Freelance work comes with the same uncertainty; journalism; ring-fence writing time and set aside time from your day to write and be creative.
How Do I Write/ Create?
Dapo Adeola (Illustrator):
‘I create my characters before the narrative.’
Rowan Coleman (Author):
‘I do a messy first draft, then a second draft, then edit it. […] Don’t wait for inspiration- create it!’
Crystal/Tom Rasmussen (Author of Untitled Memoir):
‘I write through writer’s block’.
Abi Longstaff (Picture book Author):
‘I don’t judge myself while writing, I take a small notepad with me everywhere and write down ideas I have.’
Why do I write?
Crystal/Tom Rasmussen (Author of Untitled Memoir):
‘I use writing as therapy.’
Rowan Coleman (Author):
Believes in the importance of telling stories- ‘that’s what makes us human!’
Mahsuda Snaith (Author):
Exposes her insecurities while writing and obsesses over the beginning.
– You don’t want anyone nice to read your work, a stranger will give you truly honest feedback. I myself have found this to be true. In order to progress with your work you want completely savage, completely honest feedback. Tell me it’s awful. Scribble all over my work… thank you!
– It’s okay to disagree with your editor, editing is a conversation- not a speech.
– At the end of the day, the author is always right- it’s their book.
– Remember your editor also wants your book to be the best it can be- don’t be disheartened if they want to cut a chunk out.
After the event ended, I decided to ask a couple of people who attended three questions to get an idea of how the event went in their eyes.
Was this event useful for you?
A: Yes, I got all the information and more I was hoping for!
Did you enjoy meeting other writers and illustrators?
A: Yes! I was super happy it was so diverse too- I’ve met people today I don’t think I’d have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.
Do you feel more confident to continue with your passion?
A: Confidence has been and still is an issue, but I 100% feel more prepared for what’s to come.
Overall, the day was filled with positivity, prosperity, and encouragement from people who had been in ‘our boat’- their ambitions and talents now being realised. I feel as though encouraging aspiring writers and illustrators to interact and network is the key to finding your feet in the publishing industry. We’re constantly told how difficult it is to delve into, which I am mostly still in agreement with, however I now feel better equipped to take on my writing mission. I hope you feel slightly more at ease reading this if you needed a direction of some sort to head in.
WRITE FOR YOUR LIFE!
I’d like to say a massive thank you to Penguin Random House for allowing me to be a part of this event- I’ve learnt a lot from every person there.
Thanks for reading, there’s more to come soon!
If you fancy it, head to my Instagram page @cupofgleeblog