Yesterday was the Writers’ and Artists’ How to get published conference in London. The venue was the immensely impressive University of London’s Senate House – apparently the visual inspiration for the Ministry of Thought in George Orwell’s 1984.
After registration and coffee the day kicked off with a great talk from the W&A Yearbook editor Alysoun Owen, about the current state of publishing in the UK which was not only informative but positive. Then we moved on to a panel discussion about what publishers are looking for – with Jane Lawson (Editorial Director of Doubleday), Sarah Savitt (Editor at Faber & Faber) and Judith Kendra (Publishing Director of Rider Books) – chaired by Nicolette Jones. This was a really interesting section as all three ladies were very honest about what they were looking for – or not – and how they would accept it. The accepted wisdom was that only a very low percentage of work they were prepared to consider would be from an unsolicited source; the vast majority would be either agent or colleague referred.
And then – to wrap up the morning session – was a ‘talk’ by Man Booker prize-winner Howard Jacobson. Howard was a reasonably late conference confirmation and it would have been worth the ticket price just to listen to him for an hour. He answered several questions from the floor but did so in such a casual matter-of-fact way that it felt like he could have been with old friends. His honesty and ease of nature was not something I would have expected from a Booker winner and he held our attention with rapt eagerness.
After lunch was another great talk from Cressida Downing – The Book Analyst – about how best to submit work to agents and/or publishers. Now I might be a little biased here because Cressida is the editor I’ve used but that was only after I heard her talk at the W&A conference last November. She sure knows her stuff.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of an agent-author relationship discussion with Renata Calverly (author of Let me tell you a story) and Jemima Hunt (of The Writers’ Practice), and then wrapped up with ‘How to hook an agent’ panel consisting of Jemima Hunt, Lucy Luck (Lucy Luck Associates) and Jenny Savill (Andrew Nurnburg Associates). Now some might argue that this was the main, or most interesting, part of the day and the three ladies didn’t disappoint. And they even managed to keep their smiles during the hour of networking drinks straight after their session while they were peppered with questions – me being one of them. Lucy and Jenny were particularly pleasant despite being corralled in a corridor!
There were a few minor staging issues – the room was exceptionally hot with little air-flow, and the lack of microphones meant that, at times, it was hard to hear what some of the delegates were saying – but those aside it was another brilliant event run by one of the UK industry’s top players and everyone I spoke with said that they had a really enjoyable, educational, day. I’m already looking forward to the next one.