At the AuthorLounge, The London Book Fair 2013: How to get a literary agent

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

The publishing industry is changing fast and the role of everyone in it is changing too. Everyone has to do more. The writer must do more than write, and the literary agent must not only prepare a book for showing to the publisher but a package also.

What is the package that the author must sell? Henry de Rougemont, media manager, of The Hanbury Agency considers that the package consists of the book, the author, author profile and the author’s media presence. (Media Manager is a new role in a literary agency.) A novice writer can establish a media presence on facebook, twitter or in the blogsphere.

The book should be good, as good as the writer can make it. And even so the literary agent is unlikely to simply re-parcel your submission and send it out. He must work on it too. Charlie Brotherstone of AM Heath particularly enjoys nurturing authors. He helps authors realise their potential.

What will Charlie Brotherstone look for? Initially, a good cover letter. If the author can write a good cover letter, he may well be able to write a good book. One attendee asked how important an MA in Creative Writing was. An MA would indicate that the author was serious but would not be crucial. Ultimately, a well written cover letter might prove more important. A writer must be able to write. And despite all changes, the most important thing for a writer to do remains: the writing of a good book.

Is the literary agent the first door to knock on? My own view, increasingly, is that you might be well advised to seek some editorial advice before you submit to an agent. It is not at all easy to get an agent.

Of course, agents are not essential. However, agents, Charlie Brotherstone says free up the writer’s time, for writing. It is hard for a writer to wear so many hats. As it is, he must wear more than one. It seems we must all be prepared to face challenges we would rather not. We must be less passive. We must take control.

Writers, come down out of your ivory towers. It may no longer be enough that you write a book, you may have to become something of a performance artist too. Even writers themselves have adopted the language of live performance, usually reserved for musicians: they talk about doing gigs.

The times are changing. And many of us will have to change with them or be left behind.

Authoright is curating the Authorlounge at the London Book Fair.


Have Myriad Editions, Peirene and Persephone a place in the world of publishing?

March 15, 2013 § 2 Comments

In recent years, many independent publishers have become incorporated into large ones. Yet, against all the odds, small publishers still emerge: Myriad Editions, Persephone and Peirene Press.

On Wednesday night (13th March), I attended a Salon devoted to these small presses. At first glance, Persephone and Peirene have much in common. Their names derive from greek mythology, their books are somehow more than books, and their authors come from a limited class: Persephone reissues the work of  mainly women writers, often of the inter-war period, and Peirene publishes its own English translations of contemporary European novellas.

When Meike Ziervogel was embarking on Peirene, she passed in review other small publishers. Persephone, with its strong brand, was the one that caught her attention.

Brand out from the crowd. I believe, Tom Peters says: Persephone and Peirene have done just that. Each press produces a distinctive cover for its books. You need see only one or two Persephone and Peirene covers to recognise the brand. Inside Persephone’s covers, endpapers echo the period in which the book was written. Some people, Nicola Beauman told us, buy the books for the endpapers.

Peirene, like Persephone, came into being because there was a gap in the market that no other publisher was catering for. Meike Ziervogel preferred German translations of European writers to the English ones. She saw a need for good English translations: to this end, Peirene was formed. Meike Ziervogel believes there are two ways of tackling translating: Either a literal translation which keeps the linguistic idiosyncrasies of the original in the English or an approach that aims for a translation that safeguards the soul and the essence of the original but finds a way of recreating the text in English so that it reads well. Meike Ziervogel opts for the second one. She aims to reach a wider audience. Peirene’s process of translation is involved. Does it amount to rewriting a book? (Meike Ziervogel’s own book, Magda, published by Salt, will be released in April.)

Meike Ziervogel does much more than publish. As her authors live abroad, she is the one who must bring them to readers’ notice. It isn’t just about books. You can sample the literary life in her Salons, and coffee mornings. Or on a Saturday, you could go to Peirene’s roaming store, outside Budgens (Crouch End). On the way to the tube, perhaps you will be handed Peirene’s newspaper (Your Journey Starts Here). Meike Ziervogel could give many novice writers a lesson in how to market their books. A lesson they need because Publishing houses aren’t keen to spend money marketing unknown writers. If only they had a Meike Ziervogel to do it for them.

Which are large publishing houses less keen on, marketing or editing unknown writers?

Myriad Editions was not so much the brainchild of one person as Persephone and Peirene were but an evolution. Myriad (publishers) evolved from Myriad (packagers). Unlike Persephone, whose authors are not living, and Peirene, whose authors live abroad, Myriad’s authors are alive and living both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. (Myriad represents some US authors.)

Myriad Editions is based in Brighton. Myriad became publishers because, Candida Lacey told us, there were many talented writers who needed help to achieve publication. Therefore, Myriad, unlike many large publishing houses, does a great deal of in-house editing.

Corinne Pearlman who oversees the design of Myriad’s acclaimed ‘state of the world’ infographic atlases is establishing an impressive list of graphic novels. Ten of Myriad’s twenty six titles have won or been nominated for prizes.

Nowadays, very few publishing houses welcome unsolicited submissions: Myriad is an exception. You can approach Myriad directly; you do not need to go via an agent. For some unpublished writers who can’t interest literary agents, Myriad will be their salvation.

Myriad published Elizabeth Haynes’ first two novels. Her first novel Into the Darkest Corner was initially a word of mouth discovery, later a New York Times bestseller.

Myriad is competing with the ‘big boys’ (the large publishers) but without their resources. However, Candida Lacey is philosophical about Myriad’s working with authors that may later sign with a big publishing firm. Apart from nurturing its authors, one of Myriad’s primary aims is to look for new talent and to launch writers’ careers.

Small presses like, Persephone, and Peirene, and Myriad make the future of publishing look bright.

Promoting your self-published work: Be prepared to be trivialised and marginalised

January 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

. . . be prepared to be trivialised and marginalised . . These were amongst Carol Bunyan’s first words when speaking of being an unknown novelist trying to promote herself.

An unknown novelist is not important. No one knows about you or your book. When something important happens to us, for example we have a book (self) published, we almost expect such an astonishing fact to become common knowledge. However, it does not because you are not famous.

It would be so much easier if you were famous. So much easier because the doings of a famous person are much more interesting than the doings of an obscure person.

When you go to the Cheltenham Literary Festival, as a participating writer, don’t be surprised to discover that no parking space has been reserved for you, but eight have for JK Rowling.  When you go to give your talk at some local institution, don’t be surprised if no one has prepared a suitable place for you to deliver your talk. If someone does put up her hand to ask a question at the end of your talk, don’t be surprised if the question has nothing to do with you, your book or your talk.

Such were Carol Bunyan’s experiences. She wasn’t a novice either. Before she self-published her novel The Choir Mistress, she had worked as a script editor and playwright. However, that experience gave her no advantage when she came to establishing herself as a novelist. She had to take her place with all the other unknown novelists.

Thousands and thousands of books are published in the UK every week, more per individual than in any other country in the world. It can be very hard to make anyone take notice of yours. But it is not impossible either. You must see where the opportunities are. Now is the time, as never before, to be creative.

Radios, Carol advised, have many hours of airtime to fill up. However, marketing yourself as just another newly-published novelist will not do. You must find your USP (unique selling point).  ‘First Novel at Sixty’ was Carol’s, and was enough to secure her an interview on local radio. Your USP does not have to be unique in the strict sense of the word but it must be enough to distinguish you from those hundreds of thousands of other writers.

Carol talked to book clubs, to libraries, and to branches of the Women’s Institute. In this way, she promoted herself and sold books. In 28 locations, Carol sold 400 books. She was told it was good going. I have no doubt that it was very good going. And I feel her achievement can be largely credited to her presenting herself in an entertaining way.

Being an unknown novelist, promoting your unknown book can be hard and lonely work. It may seem almost impossible not to feel negative when you have been marginalised and trivialised, but you better make light of your experiences as Carol did. However much people will sympathise with your difficulties, they will not feel drawn to you. One of life’s sad ironies is that the less help you seem to need, the more people will want to help you.

Laugh and the world laughs with you, / Weep and you weep alone, / For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth, / it has trouble enough of its own. (Ella Wheeler Wilcox)


Reculer pour mieux sauter

December 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

Novelist and political powerhouse Hill Kemp and I had a conversation about how interesting it is that writers scorn something so commercial and practical as marketing, but when they sign with a fine traditional publisher (or any other publisher!) who doesn’t  market their books they are most put out. Carolyn Howard-Johnson writes in The Frugal Book Promoter (page xvi).

I could well imagine myself taking this contrary attitude to marketing. As it is, personal relations, marketing, publishing and self-promotion are tainted words. PR: presenting an alluring and false image of yourself; marketing: trying to palm off unwanted goods on someone; publicity: making people interested in your work by sensationalising it; and promotion: indifference to everything except raising your own profile.

The trouble is, as an unknown writer, I shall have to get on well with people (public relations) come out from behind my desk and let people know my book exists (publicity and promotion) and talk about my book (marketing). Now that doesn’t sound so bad. There is nothing wrong with any of that.

Writing a book is a great achievement, getting it published is another but if you do not market your book, the writing and publishing of it will go for very little.

As an unknown writer, self-published or otherwise, you have no choice but to market your book. If you cannot agree with yourself that you will market your book or pay someone else (and that someone else will need your active help to be effective) then you should think twice about being self-published.

I have had to think about it. I have seen how I have gone wrong, shrunk from availing myself of opportunities for marketing my book. I was not only far from willing to do my own marketing but also neither able nor ready to do it. The French say reculer pour mieux sauter, “go back to jump better the next time”. This is what I am doing: I am taking a step back so that I can present myself better on a future occasion.

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