If you are the story, then here are your choices

Highlights on publishing, agents, manuscripts, and perseverance from the #WritersSummit22 at London Book Fair

The Writers’ Summit was run by Parul and Matt, who lead the London Writers’ Salon. 📸. Photos: Nicolas Laborie.

The official theme for this year’s London Book Fair was ‘You are the story’. And while there was never a mention of any official theme for the Writer’s Summit, in my mind, a clunky but appropriate one would have been ‘Here are your publishing choices.’

Figuring out how to reach readers has never been more exciting or complicated. As an indie author (who works in tech) trying to break into traditional publishing, I found so many parts of the day fascinating and tried to scribble down as much as possible.

While the Writer’s Summit took place down the road,

Parul and Matt did an incredible job by gathering so many cool and interesting speakers and creating this warm, engaging atmosphere that you rarely get at any industry event. You can see how the whole thing played out on Twitter (#writerssummit22).

A key insight that stuck is the number of (successful) authors who talked about rejection as a rite of passage. One author talked about how her manuscript was passed over 64 times before being picked up on the 65th go with her dream contract. Another talked about how she’d had multiple manuscripts rejected multiple times.

Sadly I was not quick enough to capture all the points that resonated, but I did manage to capture a few.

Niamh Mulvey on “Navigating Publishing, Pitching & Social Media”

“There are two camps of agents. One who wants big books that make noise and will be very business-focused and often very active on social media. Then there are other agents who are much quieter and might not be quite splashy.

Those in the second camp will have more time for you as an author. The first half is not going to hold your hand. I’m not saying one is better than the other, and obviously, there’s a spectrum, and most people are in between. But there are two different approaches, and you have to decide for yourself which is best.”

“If you’re still not quite sure what kind of book it is you’re writing, then it’s probably not the time to be looking for an agent. Give yourself more time.”

“When you’re writing a query letter, try and think about it from the point of view of the person who’s going to read it. Make it easy to digest and to the point. Make sure the pitch fits the book that you’ve actually written. A pitch query is not to ‘trick’ an agent to read your book. It’s a way to show them that this is something that they might be able to sell.”

“Pay attention to the relationship side. If you send out a manuscript that you’ve worked on for a really long time, and you suddenly have interest from multiple people… it’s very easy for writers to make mistakes when they get to this point. You work so hard to get people to pay attention to your work. And suddenly, it’s like all of your dreams have come true at once. So the first thing I would say, if you’re in that situation, stay calm.”

“You’re here because you deserve to be here. Take your time. You don’t need to rush. You don’t need to make a decision overnight. You don’t need to make a decision in a week. This is a huge decision that’s going to affect the rest of your writing career. So take a moment.”

“It’s about the long run. It’s about choosing someone that you think you can work with. It’s about a business relationship.”

Photo: Nicolas Laborie

“There’s a writer that I know many years ago signed a really, really big obvious deal for a lot of money. And it didn’t work out. I think that was quite a traumatic experience for that writer to go through. One of those big deals that you see in the trade press — that book was selling well, but not to the extent expected by the publisher.

Many years later, this writer did an interview with the newspaper. They talked about how in publishing, authors are sometimes treated like mistresses. And I thought that was a really insightful comment.

Often we forget that it’s a business relationship and that the relationship you have with your publisher and your agents is a partnership. It’s not about you as the author being brought along to be shown off. It’s about sitting down and working together and figuring out how you can sustain a career over many, many books.”

Megan Staunton on “The foundations of building an author profile and platform”

Photo: Nicolas Laborie

“If you think about some of the authors that you follow, what comes to your mind when you think about their content? What attributes do you want to apply to your own brand?”

“As an author or aspiring author, you need to be reading in that field. If you’re writing romantic fiction, you need to be reading romantic fiction. You need to be reading all the Sunday Times bestsellers winning awards and sparking conversations online. Know what they’re doing so that you can take inspiration from that and also notice what you don’t like about what they’re doing.”

Longevity is a key one. When I have a submission coming into my inbox, I’m not only thinking about that project, but I’m thinking — what is book three going to be? Could they do a company podcast? Could they lend themselves to writing a newsletter online? How is your writing career benefiting from your personal branding?”

Joanna Penn on “Choosing the right publishing route for you”

Photo: Nicolas Laborie

One of my favourite moments was when Joanna Penn took the stage as part of a panel. Since meeting and hosting workshops with her over a decade ago through Escape the City, I’ve been inspired by her approach (and success!), and everything she said still rings so true.

Advice that writers would give their younger selves

“You’ve written a book, sent it out, and then have to wait for the results of that process. I shake with nerves every time an email arrives.”

“I’ve said to myself: whether or not you get published, you’ve done a really good job. You’ve written a book that you’ve enjoyed writing, and just doing that in itself is a massive achievement.”

“I would remind anyone here that the parts you see are the endpoint now, getting published. But it’s like loving a child — even when it’s screaming and crying — there’s much more to it than just the good bits.”

“It’s a long process. Make sure you love what you’re writing. Focus on the book. Be writing all the time. Just write all the time, write every day, if you can: get those words down, get to the end of your first draft.”

“On the publishing side, read the contract. Don’t sign something you don’t understand, and don’t go exclusive. You have the option now as an author in the 2020s to do what we call active rights licensing. So choose what makes sense for you as an author, and don’t go exclusive. You don’t have to. Do limit the territory, limit the term, limit the format. Amazon contracts are the same; you don’t have to be exclusive anymore.”

Read more from the author here and learn more about the London Writers’ Salon here.

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