Monday, 29 June 2015

Calling All Writers

Last weekend (27 June 2015 to 28 July 2015) was the Felixstowe Book Festival.  The library had arranged for guest speakers and workshops to take place at the Orwell Hotel as well as activities in town for children and at the library.  

I decided to take advantage of the event in the hope that my support would encourage them to continue more in future.  The last event on the programme I attended was a talk by Sara Sheridan.  I made a few notes from their discussion on what it is like to be a published writer and how to become one.


Sara began by warning us that she will be brutally honest with us about negatives of being an author and told us to Google her articles on Huffington Post to read more about that.  This introduction set the pace for Sara's humours honesty, ensuring that any writer that dreams the industry is rainbows and glitter gets a reality check.

Sara went on to inform us that there are a few main reasons why a writer doesn't get published:


  1. The writing is simply not good enough.
  2. It needs editing 
  3. Selective slots - for example, they publisher might print 3 books a month (36 a year).  Many of these slots will already have been allocated to existing authors leaving possible 10 slots for new writers.
  4. Neilson Bookscan - This tells publishers what is selling such as genres or formats.  If a book stops selling it will get pulled from the shelves to make space for something else.  They can gather information of who is buying the book like age.  For example, younger readers are more likely to read on a tablet where as older readers will prefer an eReader.  
Sara pointed out that the Neilson Bookscan helps to identify a trend but the trend can change.  For example, YA Fiction, Fantasy, Children's books is on the increase.  However, if you write crime you shouldn't give up, just wait until the tides turn in your favour.  

When a genre is doing well, Agents are more positive about taking those books on as they are more likely to be bought by a publishing press.  However, if an Agent/Publisher loves your book regardless they will still take it on.  It's all a gamble and down to luck.

Sara's advised that you should write what you enjoy and not worry about what is trendy because it constantly changes.  

Sara spoke about different size agencies and shared her own experience together with what she had learnt from other writers:

  • Small Agency (3 people):  Here you will get a very personal touch.  They will respond quickly to you.  They may have less resources so there is less "clout".
  • Medium Agency (6 people):  Here you will still be known but they will be slower to return your calls.  
  • Big Agency:  Here it is very hard to get hold of anyone unless you are a big name.
Sara spoke about the importance of narrative drive and recommended researching novels similar to your own and study them technically.  How many chapters does it have?  what is the word count of chapters and the novel?  How is it paced?  What have they done well - is it something you could incorporate into your work? 

It is worth getting your novel edited because an expert eye will identify things that you won't.  She spoke about the two different type of editors and that it is worth finding one that specialises in your genre.  She recommended researching what editor the publishing house uses that prints the sort of books you write.  These editors are experience in the field and will know how to make the novel work in a way that will make it popular with readers.  It is best to get your novel to the best standard you can before getting an editor and definitely before sending it out to agents/publishers as it will improve your chances of getting a deal.  

Sara was asked on her view regarding Amazon's Kindle Lending Library only paying writers for how much the reader reads.  Sara felt it was too new that she wasn't sure how it would affect her yet.  She then went on to speak about how much has changed over the years and writers no longer need to take the traditional route to publication. 

Sara talked about a friend who wrote a number of murder mysteries that are set in a rough city but was unable to get an agent or publisher.  It didn't appeal to the white, middle class men who dominate the publishing industry.  In the end she self published on Amazon and they sold really well.  The publishers, who originally turned her down, offered her a contract but she felt they hadn't supported her from the start so went with Hudson Press (Amazon's publisher) to take her book to print.  

To self publish on Kindle Direct Publishing, all you need is:
  • a word file
  • cover
  • price
  • and to fill out a form about the book such as genre
Sara also pointed out that if a writer sells an ebook via a publisher then they will usually earn about 25%  and receive this money after 6 months arrears.  If a writer sells an ebook they self published then they will usually earn about 75% and receive this money after just 6 weeks.

Sara reminded us to foremost enjoy writing because once we get a contract we will be expected to keep submitting and we'll have deadlines.  

Sara recommended joining The Society of Authors (about £85 per year) as soon as you can.  She explained this site is like a Trade union for Authors and can help with contract queries.  However, you cannot join until you have a contract.

My thoughts

Sara's sense of humour made the talk really enjoyable.  She was down to earth and delivered exactly what she promised - honesty.  I had never heard of the Neilson Bookscan and I'd never considered how few slots are available.  It really does seem that once you get your foot in the door, your job is to stay there and that can be almost a challenging as getting in in the first place.  It was also nice to be reminded that the traditional route is not the only route.  I would like to learn more about editors because no matter how long I work on my writing, I can always return to it and find something knew to fix.  

Sara also talked about some of the stigmas attached to "women writers" or "romance writers" and I had never before knew these stigmas existed for other writers but I knew what she was talking about.  I've experienced that smirk when I tell someone I write teen/paranormal/fantasy romance.  Growing up I was always encouraged to NOT pursue writing, to instead pursue a "real job".  Being a writer is a real job and sounds like a lot of hard work.  It's still my dream and I would encourage anyone who wants to be a writer to never give up.  Yes, you need an income but if you continue to aspire to be an author then one day, that can be your income.  In the meantime, my jobs are research for future characters.  

I would attend a talk by Sara again, she was a really likeable person who knew a lot about the industry.  


Some people at the event recommended:

Further links: