Refocus – London Book Fair Masterclass #lbf10masterclass

I attended the London Book Fair Masterclass today for aspiring authors – entitled ‘How to get published.’  In my particular case it should have been called ‘how not to get lost in a two elevator system’, or ‘how to tell two people next to you to STFU if they just came to hiss and tut and make sarcastic comments to each other’.

Anyhoo – an interesting experience – as it usually is when listening to professionals in the industry (the supply side (authors) are always full of doom and gloom, while being pleased as punch to be in front of an audience) and the demand side try hard to keep a straight face in front of the occasionally insane things the authors say, and the absurd things the attendees get bees in their bonnets about).

One of the great things, of course, is the amount of disagreement that there is between them. Which just goes to show what a highly subjective and personal experience-driven occupation publishing is….

Anyhoo, it’s left me re-energised, and more determined than ever to get both the editing and the pitching of Tom or whatever it ends up being called, better.

A good day.

*Update* So the day itself wasn’t earth shattering. The agent, publisher, self-publisher and the two authors all said intelligent, anecdotal – ie not ‘follow this snake-oil formula for succes’ but ‘this is what I’ve found/observed’ –  mostly relevant stuff (there was a brief hiatus for a discussion about book covers which had me reaching for the refund button, but it got back on track soon enough). Interestingly, Carole Blake said she’d already sealed 3 or 4 seven figure deals for established authors, and three first-time writer deals this year, both statements being hugely encouraging. Siobhan Custer, the self-publisher, said all the sort of things I thought she would, and I hope it works out for her. But it’s not for me.

I’ve already got Blake’s book, and while Lionel Shriver and Meg Rosoff were interesting (and perhaps suprisingly, funny) so it was Mark Booth’s talkette that I probably got the most out of – even if it is nothing more than thinking about the title of my novel more carefully.

The quote of the day belonged to Rosoff – ‘just write a fucking great book’ – in response to one of several disappointing questions from the audience (although to be fair, I guess there is no magic bullet question to ask either – I’ve done a lot of research and worried about loads of stuff, so the two questions that came to mind:

(1) What do professionals think is the role or potential usefulness of peer-review sites like authonomy or completelynovel?

(2) The agent I’ve wanted to work with all my adult career has not responded to my query. Two others have rejected it, presumably having failed something basic in the submission package – and partly based on this I want to resubmit to my ‘preferred’ agent. However, I don’t know if I should mention the previous submission, or just pretend the whole thing never happened (as I haven’t had a reply and it was sent on the same date, with the same SAE as the other two – getting on for three months ago now).

But I suspect I know the answer to (1) – as it was staring me in the face looking around the attendees (my heart sank, slightly, but then this is partly because it reminds me how much time I’ve ‘wasted’ trying to get the life experience to have something to say….)

And as for (2) – well, if nothing else comes out of today, I am going to re-edit the novel, refocus on one specific element. Blake said the most impressive query she’d had was one that persuaded her to read outside of a subject area she normally read in, because the author had ‘written a book he wanted to read’. The more I think about my first book, the more I realise it’s a book I wanted to write, and I need to put some more thought into making it something I, and others, would want to read.

And, fortunately for my sanity, I’ve realised since that this isn’t so hard. That sometimes the problem is sitting in this study and staring out my internet window and feeling too scared by all the fireworks and bigger dogs and IP and e-books and self-publishing blither blather to remember that I can write. I just need to focus on the reader more, whether that’s me or you, or whoever.

Have something to say. And say it as best you can. Even if the end result is ‘I wish I’d read this kind of book when I was going through what I’m writing about’. It’s valid, and true – and might just help me write something more… universal.

So, despite the embarassment of attempting to wander round an empty first floor, the neighbours who seemed intent on adding their own soundtrack to what was being said, the annoying sound problems and the cringeworthy questions, I really enjoyed my day – although perversely I don’t think I’d recommend it to others.One attendee stormed out because the panel were being too negative, or not specific enough. Wel… as the whole panel repeated, time and time again – it’s persistence, passion and professionalism. Which means accepting the odds are highly stacked against us first-timers, and you know, it’s not personal.

It’s not us, it’s Rupert Murdoch. Or whoever runs Walmart. Ok, ok. It wasn’t said. But you weren’t there, man – you don’t know how tough it was in bookselling ‘Nam.

I jest. Of course it’s Murdoch’s fault. Without him BA Barracus would never have got on that plane.

Ok, ok. The real advice – follow agents, publishers and authors on twitter – read their blogs and websites. Absorb – without prejudice. And one day you’ll be up there, among the followed, and not just among the followers.

I hope.

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