The first Grrrl Con was started by Jenny Brown, one of Scotland’s leading literary agents, as she looked to take the room through some of the initial steps to getting published. You can get lots of support along the way, but the moment you put yourself forward for publications, you’re asking a publishers to take a risk on you, so you’ve got to be so prepared.
A few take away points:
- Be able to describe your work in three sentences
- Even if you self-publish, never forego an editor
- Approach multiple agents at once, but make sure they’re a good fit
“It’s hard to get your voices heard.”
For some background: in 2007-8 the recession hit, the first to really impact the publishing industry, as it fought against so much other media. Digital and ebooks came in, high street bookselling struggled. It was tough all round – indies were the ones really taking risks in the climate.
But there is a case for optimism now: print booksales were up 2% last year. There’s a growth in festivals – Scotland has 46 at a last count. It’s a great thing for writers – the opportunity to hear from publishers and agents, and when you’re published it gives you a platform.
Books being released are also on the up: 184,000 in the UK in the last year. Pro rata, we publish more books than anywhere else. “It’s hard to get your voices heard,” admits Jenny. There’s a lot of people writing, and it all boils down to one thing: getting through the gatekeepers.
“Everybody needs to be edited.”
Your job is to enthuse an agent about your work, who will then champion your book to a publisher, and it’s a string of championing a book into the reader’s hands. It’s got to be pitched in three sentences, so think about a title that’s not hum drum and will stand out, and get those three sentences to describe your book, as that will how it will travel down the line to booksellers.
You can, however, also go it alone. Self-publishing is a viable route. Author Lin Anderson says that with all the choices, there’s no better time to be an author. You can own ebook rights, have flexibility in pricing – you also learn so much about marketing.
“You can dispense of an agent, of a publisher, even a designer – though I wouldn’t,” says Jenny. “But never dispense of an editor. Everybody needs to be edited.” She notes how we can all tell a book that’s not been edited a mile off, to knowing grumbles.
It doesn’t suit everyone, but it is an alternative. You give up the opportunity to submit for some prizes and on print reviews, and you will spent about 90% of your time marketing your work, but it can have great results.
Find the right people for you.
Before you submit, make sure your work is as good as it can be. You can only be a debutante once, and the better your reputation from that, the better for going forward. Know your market, and practise your three sentence pitch. Research the right agent and publisher for you and target them – you could easily spend months finding the right agent before approaching them – and when you do approach them, work hard on your submission letter.
Jenny reads a good and bad example of approach letters – one is polite, tailored and informative, it shows knowledge of what she does, and gives vital pieces of information. The other – well, let’s just say never be condescending to someone who you’re asking to represent you! Approach five or six that you think are right for you simultaneously.
There are a few further points to consider: word count is usually 70-100,000 in a novel; only 60% of published books are fiction, but 95% of submissions are – consider non-fiction; editors will need backing of marketing, sales and rights in many cases before acquisition.
It’s been a whirlwind crash course into the many sides of getting an agent and (hopefully!) published, but Jenny notes that choosing your agent is particularly important as editors often move between companies, and the relationship with your agent can be the longest lasting in your writing career.