Starting out- events

One piece of advice I often give to aspiring writers is: go to events. When you’re on the outside, publishing can seem like an ivory-towered citadel that’s doing its best to keep out the unpublished rabble. In truth, it’s a business that’s looking for new product – it’s just that the product is your very hopes and dreams, so it can all get a bit emosh. If you start going to events, you will see that publishers and editors are human beings, and they would not be at the event in the first place if they didn’t want to find new writers.

When I say events, I’m talking about book festivals, writing festivals, author panels, writing conferences and classes. Some will cost money, but some are totally free (check out universities and book shops for these). There are lots of book festivals, and a couple of ones just for writers – this year I will be at the York Festival of Writing and also Get Writing in Watford. At these events you will find agents, and included in your entry fee you might get one-on-one time with them. You might even get chatting to them in the bar or at lunchtime. Then you can mention your book (in a cool interesting way, of course, not in a ‘I’ve followed you into the ladies’ way). (It happens). Then they might ask to see it….and you send it…and a beautiful friendship may begin!

Being known has other benefits. Writers, editors, and agents are always chatting between themselves (the industry is fuelled by 95% gossip, 4% booze. 1% cake probably), and it makes sense to mention talented new writers you’ve come across. This is also a reason doing a course is a good idea. You can of course go the traditional route- get the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook and laboriously contact all the agents in it – and this works the same, and your book will get read at some point, but why not get a foot in the door, and jump yourself up the pile? Also I think the events are really good value for the information and contacts you get. I wish I’d gone to them sooner! Lists of agents get out of date really fast and there’s no way to tell who has closed to submissions and who is new and really keen to take on more writers. I cannot overstate how vital it is to pick an agent who is actively looking for new authors and likes the type of book you write.

The normal rules of socialising apply – be polite, be interesting if possible, don’t monopolise or badger. Don’t call out agents who turned you down. Pick your moment – after a panel it’s probably fine to approach the agent, but if they’re nose to nose in the bar with a pal and dripping gin and tonic down their front at 3am then maybe give them some space. Oh and get business cards and have a website where they can contact you and find out about your work. You’re on Twitter, yes? (If not WHY NOT?) You are networking now, darling. Follow people (on Twitter NOT INTO LADIES were you not listening) and again be polite, interesting, friendly.

Not unconnectedly, I have just come back from the Theakston’s Old Peculier festival in Harrogate, which I strongly recommend you go to if you write crime (also go to Crimefest in Bristol). You will be mingling with most of crime publishing and the great and good of crime writing – Lee Child is a regular and often about the hotel. Everyone is very friendly and it’s such an amazing chance to meet people. If you only any money to spend at all on your writing, I would say spend it on an event. The WAAYB also offer day courses if a weekend is too much. I had a great time in Harrogate catching up with all my reprobate writing pals – but just four years ago I rocked up to my first one, knowing nobody, armed with only my wits and my impressive capacity for wine. This could be YOU. (Only don’t drink as much wine as me. Save it for when you’re published and everyone expects you to be a slightly mad writer). See you there?

I was also inspired by this post on how one writer kept going, year after year, to eventually find big success. These things don’t happen in an instant – and even once you’ve ‘made it’ it could be a long slog.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Lisa Hall says:

    Hi Claire, this is brilliant advice! I was super brave and managed to speak with an editor at Harrogate who has said for me to send my manuscript over to her! I’ll definitely be taking your advice on board, (and I’m so glad we got to have dinner together and I didn’t have to stalk you in the Ladies at Harrogate!) Lisa x

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