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How to get published | Masterclass 1


Masterclasses from the 2005 London Book Fair

Chaired by the writer and journalist John Walsh, a panel of four publishing insiders deliberated the thorny subject of how to get published in front of a large, well-informed, near-capacity audience of writers at the London Book Fair.

Alexandra Pringle, editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury Publishing, described how things work at the publishing house, one of the few which still reads the slush-pile.  It is divided alphabetically amongst the editorial assistants and regular outside readers are employed.  Everyone wants 'something that's going to speak to you' and the most important thing for a young editor is personal taste.  But Bloomsbury will still only find one or two winners a decade from the slush-pile.

Clare Morrall, whose own first novel Astonishing Splashes of Colour was shortlisted for the Booker Prize after it was taken on by tiny Tindal Street Press, had spent many years trying to find a publisher.  She said she felt it was not realistic to submit only to one agent or publisher at a time, as recommended by the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, as doing this could take years.  She said: 'I wanted to write what I wanted to write... I would never take on this commercial attitude of writing what people wanted me to.'

John Walsh pointed out that the the crime writer John Creasey, who published 564 books under 13 pseudonyms, also received no less than 743 rejection slips.

Becky Swift, founder of The Literary Consultancy, said that in her experience about 90% of writers are not good enough to get published.  In the ten years the organisation has been in existence they have placed 20 projects, only about two a year.

Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown UK said 'My job as an agent is to make sure your book is high on the publisher's priority list.'  He represents around 40 authors, about seven of whom write non-fiction, but in his very first year as an agent he sold 17 first-time writers. It's much harder now. He said that the first question he would ask himself when looking at a ms was:  'Is this a good read?'  He would then go on to judge whether the ms was a one-off or represented the beginning of a writing career.  'Writers used to be allowed to experiment and grow in bookshops - now they are not.'

Geller is keen on writers making themselves aware of the market-place.  'You have to work out a way of finding an audience for your book...  If you don't know where it's going to go in a bookshop, it's going to be a problem.'  He said of the agent's job: 'On the one side it's about the creative process' and 'then the second half is exploitation of the rights.'

'The message is that whatever you're writing... you have to be aware of what is going on in the book trade.'

Finding an Agent

Making submissions

Masterclass 2: Historical Fiction