Tempted to start typing ‘Chapter One’ this year?
To get serious about getting a book published anyone might well take a quick squint at the current state of the publishing industry and notice there have been rapid changes in recent years. And think PANIC.
Niche publishers, e-publishing, creative writing MAs. How many different courses and services spring up all the time. Which ones are any good? Does any of this make getting published any smoother? Or is it actually just placing extra hurdles (and expensive ones at that) between you and your goals?
Our news at Space on the Bookshelf (we all write as well as being involved in children’s books in other ways) is that Sally has been longlisted for the second year running in The Times / Chicken House Children’s FictionCompetition.
We set out to find more, and Karen Ball, publisher at Little Brown, has kindly answered some of our questions about what industry people think of courses like these, what authors should think about them . . and about what their course in particular offers.
Over to Karen, one of the four editors behind Book Bound.
There has been an upsurge in workshops and retreats supplied by publishers and agents. I address this issue on Book Bound's inaugural blog post here. Yes, it's fiercely competitive out there for an author, but there’s also something more subtle and yet larger. There has been a shift in the entire industry's way of thinking. With the advent of self-publishing, fan fiction and other business models publishing, we need to re-think their engagement with both audience and authors.
We need to prove to ourselves and to you why you should (and you really should!) want to continue with some of the established models. One way of doing that is by reaching out to authors with expert knowledge. The friendliest and most constructive way of doing that is on a retreat!
We haven't organised this retreat in order to improve the quality of submissions. After all, we'll only be engaging with a select number of authors on the weekend. I certainly wouldn't say publishers are struggling to find the right books to publish. Define 'right' book!
Q: The retreat has a really interesting programme. It appears to have a strong focus on how to present yourself to publishers and how to pitch. It seems to place less emphasis on creative writing, committing ideas to paper and improving your manuscript. Is this a focus on where you feel authors particularly need advice/work? Do you think it is a particular barrier authors face – the ability to be able to pitch a good idea and sell their writing, rather than the writing itself being an issue?
KB: This balance is because of the type of author we're inviting to join us. We are asking applicants to have a complete first draft. It's our hope to engage with people who may need some help polishing their diamond, but who are now flexing their muscles, getting ready to engage with the publishing industry. We could run an entirely different weekend, helping people get down their first chapters, but we consciously honed this retreat for authors who are at a different stage in their journey. Our hope is that all attendees will get a precisely focused set of workshops perfect for their needs as we help them become Book Bound.
Q: What is the best help currently available for writers to make the transition from pre-published to published author? If you see a submission that is close to being ready to be accepted, what sort of advice do you normally give?
KB: You've taken this long, why rush the process now? If a pre-published author receives some constructive feedback on their work, I'd suggest taking the time to absorb that advice, scrutinise your manuscript and devote enough hours to getting it right. Don't panic and rush revisions, just to be back in the game – whatever the game is. It's a big myth that editors are impressed by speed. We aren't. Editors and publishers often judge potential authors by how well they can take constructive feedback – you may be unwittingly be passing your first 'test' when you react in a considered way to comments.
Q: In launching this retreat, there must be goals that you have, and ways you’ll judge if the retreat has been successful. Are there specific things you are looking to get out of the retreat as the organisers, and is part of it a chance to discover ‘the next big thing’?
KB: There are some concrete ways of judging the success of our first retreat. For example, have we covered our costs? Good business management is key to enabling creativity! Do we feel we achieved the right balance of attendees? But other deciders of 'success' are more subtle. I will care deeply that attendees go home feeling fulfilled and inspired, that we saw a community build before our eyes and that someone who might have felt scared, leaves feeling confident. Yes, if we stumbled upon an amazing manuscript that could reach a wider audience, it would be humbling to help on that journey! But I believe that author engagement can be much, much more long-term and gentle than that. Publishing is a people-industry and it's a marathon, not a sprint. Both author and publisher careers can be built on a generous spirit and the desire to simply engage. You can't rush that type of chemistry.
Q:And finally: there are all kinds of reasons writers choose to go on retreats or residential workshops. You invite applications from writers that have ‘got the basics’. Why should writers consider ‘Book Bound’, and what is the best thing writers will get out of joining the retreat?
KB: This is a retreat organised by four friends who have expert knowledge, who know the industry as both writers and publishers and who want to help. You simply couldn't ask for more! Also, I'm going to come clean here – the venue is amazing! If I was going on a writers' retreat (and I've been on many!) I would be clamouring to stay in our Kent country estate. Imagine peace and tranquility. Imagine acres of manicured gardens dotted with stone fountains. Imagine a freshly-decorated bedroom, wooden staircases, servants' bells, a vegetable garden and book-filled library with cracked leather chairs. Yup, you got it. Then imagine a rigorous programme of workshops, led by four of the friendliest people in children's publishing, a whole weekend devoted to considering the next stage of your career and ways of improving your manuscript.
Karen Ball has worked in publishing for over twenty years and is Publisher at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers & Atom. Sara O’Connor is the Editorial Director, Print and Digital, at the innovative children’s fiction publisher, Hot Key. Sara Grant works as a freelance editor, helping children’s publishers develop series fiction for children and teen readers. She writes books for both children and teens. And Jasmine Richards is Senior Commissioning Editor for children’s fiction at Oxford University Press.