AD | I was invited to attend this event in order to promote The Last Word festival.
The Last Word festival is currently taking place (6th July-3rd August) and I am so glad to see events like this returning! A mixture of online and in-person events at the Roundhouse in London, The Last Word is celebrating diverse voices from the London area, with guests including some big names such as Candice Carty-Williams.
When I was contacted about this festival, the How To Get Published panel really stood out to me from the off. If you were to ask me what I wanted to be as a child, my answer would be “an author!”. If you asked me as an adult, I’d probably tell you I want to work in publishing, but my love for writing has never gone away, and it is still a dream of mine to one day be published. The panel was moderated by Bridget, and featured panelists Magdalene and Tallulah. Both Magdalene and Tallulah work in publishing, and were therefore able to offer really valuable information about what publishing houses might tend to look for, and what the actual process of getting a book published is like.
One of the really interesting things that came up early on in the session was what it actually means to be published. A few years ago, the only form of being published that was really on offer was having your work accepted by a publishing house, and then released in print format, but in the last few years, the publishing landscape has really changed. On the one hand, there has been a big rise in self-publishing, which could be through subsidy presses (also known as vanity presses) or it could be through something like Kindle Direct Publishing. Self-published books may be available exclusively as an audiobook, or exclusively as an e-book, or they may also be available in physical copies as well. And any one of these counts as your work being published!
Another thing that was talked about in the session was who is a publisher? There are individual people within organisations with the title of ‘publisher’ (quite a senior position in a publishing house), but in reality, a publisher is a whole team of people. As an author working with a publishing house to publish a book, a typical team would include people from a variety of different departments: editorial, design, marketing, publicity, and sales. Marketing in publishing tends to refer to paid campaigns, I learnt, while publicity is more focused on free advertising, such as authors participating in interviews.
Something that I’ve seen come up quite often in discussions around publishing is the role of the literary agent. An agent is, essentially, a middle-person between an author and a publisher. The agent represents their authors, and pitches their work to publishing houses they think would be a suitable place for the work to be published. In this session, Magdalene and Tallulah said that while agents can be very helpful, they are not essential to have your work picked up by a publishing house. Many presses will have periods where they are open to receiving unsolicited manuscripts, and authors are able to represent themselves, and submit without the support of an agent.
One of my favourite parts of the session was when the panel were speaking about the benefits of being published. Being published is empowering, and means that your work can be archived, and looked back on in future, which for me is a really big part of the draw of being published. It also means, if you go down the traditional publishing route, that you have the chance to work with a team of people, who all believe in your work and see its potential, and help you to refine and improve it. Finally, one of the big bonuses to being published is the opportunity for different voices to be represented. The importance of increasing diversity in publishing, and telling diverse stories, was something that was really central to this talk, and I really loved how this panel encouraged people under-represented in publishing to tell their stories.
Some of the excellent advice offered to aspiring writers from an under-represented background in publishing included firstly, letting go of the image of what an author should look like. You don’t have to look “like an author” (whatever you may think that means) to be an author. If you have an idea about what a person who writes books in your preferred genre to write in looks like, throw it out. An author can look like anyone. Anyone looks like an author. The second piece of advice for people from under-represented backgrounds that I wanted to include in this write-up was given towards the end of the session. The panel spoke about the support that other authors, and online writing communities, can offer. They suggested finding writers with a similar background to yourself, ideally someone who writes in your genre, and reaching out to them. While obviously there isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get a reply, the panelists felt as though most of the time, authors would be happy to help and offer support, particularly if you have a shared background.
One question received by the panelists was that of the process of querying. Querying is when you approach a publisher with your work, to see if they would be interested in taking it on. Specifically, the question-asker wanted to know: how much should you write before you approach a publisher with your work? The answer was that it depends on what form your work is in. Non-fiction would generally be presented as a proposal and chapter strcture, whereas with fiction or poetry, a completed manuscript is preferable. Often with fiction, you would initially submit a pitch along with your first chapter(s), and if the publisher likes the taster, they would request the full manuscript, so it’s best to have the whole thing written! Similarly with poetry, the publisher would usually want to see a completed manuscript before offering a contract.
Finally, some of the advice that was given over the course of the session.
- Make sure your editor is enthusiastic about your work.
- Only publish if you want to — it’s fine to write work that is just for you!
- Be open to suggestions and constructive criticism when submitting your work.
- Make sure your editor and agent understand your vision, to avoid conflict during the editing process.
- And finally, be confident in your own words!
Thank you so much to the organisers of The Last Word for inviting me to cover this festival, and remember there are still some events running over the next few days which you can get involved in, whether you’re a Londoner or not!
The Last Word 2021: A Festival Where Words Come Alive is hosted at the Roundhouse in London, with a mixture of online and in-person events celebrating diverse voices and incredible talent.