It is no the third session of day I, once again At Royal Festival Hall’s Function room. Outside people wooo and shout both excited and nervously, England is playing against Sweden. The blinds are down and it is hot, yet, the room is practically full and considering both conditions the interview starts with a honest ‘we will have brief breaks to check the score’. And no, she is not joking.
… constitute this promising session’s panel and the advices I am about to share with you are as practical as helpful.
We start with a question: what are agents/publishers looking for?
If you read my second post (link to How to get a literary agent) the following question has already been addressed and thankfully there is coherence in the market and the answer is exactly the same. ‘I’m not looking for anything, I don’t event know what I am looking for until I see it’, shares Claire (another Claire, one of the people behind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). Again, all they want is to be surprised. But between hundreds of published and to-be-published voices how can writers fulfil that desire? The advice is simple, at least simple enough for those who enjoy, ‘read loads and voraciously’.
The first publisher is Juliet, responsible for the Man Booker winner in 2015, Marlon James. Agreeing with her colleague she elaborates, ‘setting in any time; good writing; strong and original voices, I like going for a journey as any reader’. As a publisher she is also open to literature in translation.
The third element decided to kindly address all the prospective novelists in the room: ‘Don’t take rejection personally. It’s a strange business. Most of you new ideas are not new’. At this point, some people in the audience feel almost offended. Personally, this reminds me of Shakespeare, whose ideas were not completely original but taken from other famous plays at the time.
Literature throughout times is then on the spot for the interviewer who dares to challenge white patriarchy, ‘in the nineteenth-century all books seemed to be written in Hampstead by middle-class white’. In Claire’s opinion, publishing is trying to be more diverse, adding ‘I say trying because they’re not been doing much’.
After hearing from agents and publishers the audience with their own personal struggles as writers demands to know: ‘Is it better to hand-in a finished manuscript to an agent or a publisher?’
The whole panel agrees it is not crucial to have an agent, but it is helpful. An agent can do the contracts, the writer’s rights… they will take care of the writer. ‘Agents are gate keepers’, Juliet is led to agree with the secret expression that publishers tend not to agree with. It is also important to highlight that agents do not make any money unless they sell your book. So they do have to believe in it. Yet, be aware, agents aren’t really there to help you with the writing of your manuscript. So do not send manuscripts to them before you’re confident about it.
There is one particular advice on Creative Writing courses that pleased me. There has been a long discussion about this courses, mostly because some people do not believe that writing can be taught. Others argue that the narrative voices are becoming less and less unique due to those workshops and writing groups. Although most of these critical voices don’t agree with making writing more accessible and as talent and narrative developer, they do like the idea of having a community of writers who meet and comment critically each others work. As a creative writing student myself, I do believe they are valuable tools, especially to try out new genres and forms which are out of our comfort zone. Also, as Claire shares with the audience, ‘more and more published authors have creative writing groups or courses. It is rare to publish people’s work without them.
Templates are once again one of the many writers’ concerns. In this matter both publishers advise, do send the first three chapters of the novel. About taking chapters from other part of the novel (middle, end…), Juliet firmly responds, ‘no, do not do that’ with no further explanations. Both agents and publishers want to see how the narrative progresses, if the voice and tone are constant, if they as readers would like to read the rest. Some people may ask for the whole thing or 30.000 words and then the rest. Also, do not send your manuscript’s chapters if you haven’t finished the novel yet. If it is accepted, they will need the whole thing right away. For agents, especially, it is almost impossible to sell the book only with three chapters. Avoid unnecessary rejections.
Between all this information we forgot to check how the match was going. Our last minute before we leave the room is festive, England has won.