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Posted on 18 June 2018 13:14

Winchester Writers’ Festival is an amazing opportunity.

Hundreds of writers of all types to meet and talk to. Workshops, talks, panels and presentations on all aspects of the craft and the industry. And, most importantly, submitting your work to agents and getting face-to-face feedback.

I did not get an agent at Winchester, but then I wasn’t expecting to. One agent told me he gets 2000 submissions a year and signs maybe four new authors.

What Winchester did for me was to teach me important things about myself and what I want from my writing, which made it an extremely valuable experience.

I saw four agents over two days, and they all gave me detailed and constructive feedback, for which I’m very grateful. But it was also wildly contradictory, which made the whole thing quite baffling.

Still, the opening to my first workshop of the weekend was:

There are no absolutes in publishing.

And most of publishing is wholly subjective.

I learned from sending my first draft out to about fifteen readers that people respond very differently to fiction. If they all highlight the same issue, then you’ve got a problem you need to fix. But if they violently disagree on whether or not particular things work, you’ve got something that at least some people are going to love.

The same thing, of course, applies to agent feedback. Contradictory advice on what ‘needs’ changing or improving suggests that there are some agents out there that will love my novel just as it is, and it’s simply a case of finding the right one.

My last workshop of the weekend reinforced that principle, by repeating the age-old advice - the only way to get published is to persevere. Keep sending your work out until you find that one person who’s going to believe in your novel as much as you do.

But it’s not that simple. Sure, there was one writer at that workshop who said she’d sent her novel out to 300+ agents over the course of five years, and eventually landed a two-book deal from a publisher a couple of weeks ago. I’m amazingly impressed with her staying power, and I’m delighted for her that it eventually paid off. But there was a another writer I met, who got an agent at Winchester last year, but whose book still hadn’t sold to a publisher a year on, so she was back with a different book to try and find a different agent.

Finding an agent is only the first (very difficult) step in a long and complicated process that involves a huge amount of work, revision, patience, self-marketing and conviction. And, even with a publishing deal, there are certainly no guarantees of success.

For those who are prepared to go through that, and put the work in - I salute you and wish you all the luck in the world.

But I have decided that the traditional publishing route is not for me. At least not right now.

I don’t know yet what I’m going to do with my novel. In a few months’ time, I may come back to it, do another pass, maybe send it out to some small independent presses, or bite the bullet and self-publish, just to get it out there in the world. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I’m going to focus on my short fiction, which I love writing, and which I know I can sell. The defining moment of my weekend at Winchester came during Friday’s dinner, when I got an email from a print magazine, saying they want to publish my favourite short story I’ve written in the last couple of years - for more than twice what I’ve been paid for my short fiction before. It made me so happy, and it showed me where my passion and my writing future lies - at least for now. I’m not out to be famous or make lots of money from my writing. I just want to enjoy the process and see my work in print every now and then. And that’s okay.

So, thank you to the Winchester Writers’ Festival for helping me figure out what I want.

 

Posted on 08 July 2017 07:11

Last weekend, a few friends and I went to Felixstowe Book Festival.  This was my third event of this kind, and probably my favourite so far.  NAWG Fest in September last year was an intensive two days of excellent workshops, with a couple of author talks thrown in.  Tremendous fun, but very tiring.  Chipping Norton Literary Festival, in May, was all author panels, which I found very interesting, but didn’t spark my creative muscles.  So, I was glad to discover that Felixstowe had a range of different sessions on offer, including both panels and workshops.  I signed up for several of both, and thought the combination worked really well.

I had a great weekend in terms of writing.  My first workshop was on OuLiPo, a French movement, which focuses on applying restrictions to the writing form, in order to prompt the writer to think harder about word choices.  We did a couple of exercises - one in which we wrote a few lines using only one vowel (in my case, a) and one where we wrote some more lines missing out a particular letter (in my case, s).  It was fascinating, and really brought home to me that I don’t think that much about the individual words I choose when writing.  Using only the one vowel was much the more difficult task of the two, but even avoiding the letter ‘s’ proved challenging, especially since I chose to write a piece about two people having an argument - and couldn’t use ‘said’.

My second workshop was on short stories, and where to get inspiration.  The exercise we did involved having a selection of photographs to get ideas from, and I wrote a short piece about a woman being held up at gunpoint, with a weird twist of perspective.  I was very pleased with it, got a good reaction from the rest of the group when I read it out, and have subsequently entered it in a flash fiction competition.

The third workshop was about microfiction, and was much more focused on actually getting some writing done than anything else.  The tutor gave us each a piece of paper with a prompt on it, and then we had 25 minutes to produce a piece of writing.  My heart sank when I saw my prompt - Once Upon A Time.  But, I quickly rallied, thought about a more interesting way of using it than the traditional one, and completed a 250-word story within the time limit.  Everyone read out their pieces, and I was impressed by the range of styles and the level of quality.  After the session, one of the other attendees chased me down in the corridor to say how much she had enjoyed my piece, and that she thought I should enter it in a competition - so I have!

Whenever I go on a trip (festival, retreat, course) involving writing, my main objective is to come away with a piece of writing I never would have written if I hadn’t gone.  And I certainly achieved that on this occasion - with three new and interesting pieces to my name.  So, the weekend was definitely a success!

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