“How To Get Published” at Stratford Literary Festival

WilliamSPhil: “Happy Birthday Billy Shakespeare”, I thought as I nipped into his next-door neighbours place for the How to Get Published…or How We Did It session at the Literary festival. We both went last year and enjoyed it, so much so that we’ve both read the books by all the authors on stage. I was flying solo this time, but with instructions to report back all the juicy details.

The format was as before – 3 authors who could explain how they escaped the slush pile to see their book in print.

Hilary Boyd had been writing and being rejected for 20 years before seeing Thursdays in the Park published. The book was published in print and e-book format, where it didn’t sell well enough to bother the bestseller charts for a year. Then, Amazon pushed it with a 20p price tag to promote the Kindle. This saw it climb the e-book charts and sit at the top for 6 weeks. From here, the media started to show an interest, tagging it “Granny-Lit” which in turn saw sales of print copies rise as Grannies don’t do Kindle. Total sales for the e-book are a whopping 430,000 – We’ll have a bit of that please!

Her backgrounds in medical non-fiction books didn’t help much with the transition to fiction sadly. Nor did she find the publicity required that easy. Being presented with 4 inch heels for a photo shoot apparently doesn’t work if you are 6 foot tall already – I’ll remember that for the future. She’s now working on the follow-up, which is a struggle because after so many unsuccessful attempts, she doesn’t really understand how the “good” one was written.

Emylia Hall got her break by winning a short story competition in Country Living Magazine. She then gave up her job and put all her eggs in the writing a novel basket, the result being The Book of Summers. This involved moving with her husband, a comic book artist, to Bristol for cheaper accommodation. There were several creative writing courses too which she valued enormously. Being locked away with both amateur and professional writers for a week helps apparently, although I suspect the lack of distractions like the web and being forced to focus is part of it.

Emylia described herself as “very methodical” and a quick look at her blog would confirm this. There’s some plotting using Post-it notes on a wall that would be at home in a management consultancy meeting! Sales of the print book so far are 30,000, helped by Richard & Judy including it in their book club.

Michelle Heatley was alone in not having a copy of Fish Soup to show as it hasn’t quite emerged from the printers. She also got started with short stories and won the Stratford Literary Festival 2009 competition with the tale which later grew into her novel. An Open University creative writing course helped her while writing the novel.

All three writers have been traditionally published. Hilary and Emylia both acquired agents and then publishers. Michelle went straight to a small publishing house who took her on after a 6 month wait. The chair insisted that each author read a short extract from their novels and from this I would say that Emylia and Michelle have similar styles. Hilary’s was rather more racy than the others and (to me) the most intriguing.

All commented on the effort required by authors to sell themselves to the public. The support provided seemed to vary a lot. With a small company, Michelle knows she has to work the hardest on this. She doesn’t even have an agent (yet) to fall back on. Emylia on the other hand gets welcome feedback from the publishers and was the only one to have a publicist in the room.

I suppose I should provide fashion notes in lieu of my colleague: All the authors wore black but Michelle tried the hardest to look like a proper creative type with a wide-brimmed hat and sparkly scarf. It’s a look I will be effecting when we are on the stage and not in the audience.

Talking of the audience, what is it with potential authors and questions? You’d hope that this would be a group capable of stringing a concise sentence together yet there was rambling, showing off and at least one person who seemed to be asking a question more suited to the previous days event. Never mind, the tea and cakes were excellent and the event is certainly popular, with a full house in the lecture hall.


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