Friday, May 14, 2010

On navigating yourself through the Slush Pile: Publishing Day at the Irish Writers' Centre

Exactly how many pages of your story will an editor actually bother reading? Would an extraordinary cover-letter ever better your chances of getting noticed by a publisher or an agent? And if you do ever get accepted by one of them, once you’ve finished doing an elaborate victory dance and telling everyone you’ve ever met, how much writing will you have time for what with online publicity, blogging, tweeting, networking and touring yourself?

These were all questions put to the expert panel of publishing industry professionals at our Publishing Day last Saturday 8th May. In an intimate setting, each speaker presented key points on their area of speciality, from representing authors to discovering authors to trawling the earth for stories worth writing, then opened themselves up for the bit everyone had come along for; the chance to quiz them with their burning questions on the ins and outs of the publishing process.

Ciara Considine, commissioning editor at Hachette Books and afterwards literary agent Jonathan Williams started things off with the hard-edged bottom line of it all. Synopses more often than not, turn out to be over-wrought snooze-fests that struggle to do justice to an actual text. With piles and piles of texts for them to get through, you’d better just have a jaw-dropping opening and stick it to them in the first few pages or you might as well forget it.

They told anecdotes which we all scoffed at out loud but there were no doubt more than a few red cheeks about! For example, a lot of people send texts with cover letters and CVs which include everything from their children’s names to the grades they got at school 40 years ago. The message from both of them was clear; just write something amazing and research which agents or publishers are most likely to be as excited by it as you are. Whatever you do, don’t just start at A in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and work you way through!

They were followed by digital publishing expert Eoin Purcell and literary publicist Cormac Kinsella who talked about how to use digital media to prolong your writing career and what kind of publicity is involved in a finished book respectively. One of the audience confessed to me that Eoin’s bit on digital publishing was the bit she was least looking forward to but that it had been the most eye-opening and interesting of all in terms of the tools it had given her to push herself forward in the clamouring crowd of would-be writers.

Some useful tips? Experiment with making snippets or whole bits of your texts available online. There are some excellent sites (e.g. smashwords and kindle) where you can set up a pay-to-view system for your work that bypasses agents and publishers completely. In some cases, the customer themselves can suggest how much or how little they’d like to pay to read something you’ve written. In short, there are more and more options for getting yourself read in this day and age and if you don’t explore them, the chances you’ll succeed are pretty slim.

We brought our final speaker in to clear the house out quickly at the end of the day. At least that’s what he suspected! In reality, everyone could have sat there into the small wee hours listening to prolific writer Dermot Bolger’s tales of the farcical life of a writer. His hilarious presentation, which not once followed his notes but was more a glorious oral short-story collection spanning his life pre-writing with all the characters he met back then, to now and his life hobnobbing with other writers, achieved something special; it got everyone pumped up and ready to go with pen in hand to set the world alight with their writing.

And so we all went home to write.

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