The prospect of submitting a manuscript to an agent or editor can be a daunting process. But as the first National Creative Writing Graduate Fair (#NCWGradFair) showed, it’s really just about knowing how to go about it, and who to approach. As many of you couldn’t make it to this year’s fair, we created audio, which can be both downloaded and streamed.
The track gives you advice on pitching, on what publishers and agents of different genres look for, top tips for recent Creative Writing Graduates, current trends in the current UK book market, as well as much more!
Here are some of the top tips from the professionals at the National Creative Writing Graduate Fair this year…
Chair of The Society of Authors
Top Tip: Be flexible and collaborate.
People need to learn how they can be flexible and collaborative; they need to learn how to work with editors and to work in lots of different ways in order to make a writing career.
Poetry Submissions Editor for New Welsh Review
Top Tip: Master your language to bring out your own voice.
Learn the rules inside out, learn how to write a sonnet, learn how to write a villanelle. Master all of the things that you’re taught at university and use that experience in order to innovate and bring out your own voice and your own experimentalism. Also, try to be patient and put the hours into your craft; spend the time with language. Ultimately with poetry it’s about you and your relationship with language.
Hardman and Swainson Literary Agency
Top Tip: Have some market awareness and read incredibly widely.
When people are pitching, if they can sum up their book in one sentence that shows me that they really know what their story is. Have some market awareness; it’s good to show that you’ve read in your genre and that you can compare yourself in that genre. A top tip would be to read incredibly widely, read in the genre that you want to write but also read across the genres. I think if you want to write romance, you can still learn a lot from reading crime and thrillers.
Literary Agent at Conville and Walsh
Top Tip: Don’t have your character waking up at the beginning of a novel and do your research in terms of agents.
One of my bug bears is people waking up at the very beginning of novel, there are novels that do it well, but if you’re a first time writer don’t have your character waking up at the beginning of the novel. Also, don’t describe the sky as ‘gunmetal grey’. My advice is to do your research in terms of agents. The best submissions I get always acknowledge the kind of books I’m looking for and why they’re submitting to me specifically. So think about where your novel would sit on the market, think about what kind of agent would represent it, and then make sure that you find the right agents and submit to them personally.
Agent at Andrew Nurnberg Associates
Top Tip: Be persistent and patient and make use of your connections.
Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to make use of every connection you’ve got. Be persistent and patient because it can be a really long, frustrating process at the start. You just have to keep going and keep going and I think if you’ve got something really good to offer if you hold out and hang in there, you will succeed.
Editor at Ebury (imprint at Penguin Random House)
Top Tip: Read as much as you can.
Read as much as you can. Find something that you think encapsulates the kind of book that you want to write and get as much inspiration as you can from things that are doing well at the moment and books that you really enjoy. Find out what it is about those books that work, essentially.
Assistant Editor at Penguin Random House Children’s
Top Tip: Get as many people as possible to read your first draft before sending it to an agent.
Really hone your first draft as much as you can, get as many people to read it as possible and do simple things like spell-checking everything and making sure you’ve read it again before submitting to agents. We’re looking for somebody who’s got a good grasp of the English language, and we’re all looking for fantastic writing.
Agent at Susanna Lea Associates
Top Tip: Be clear and succinct.
I’m looking for clarity in a pitch, an idea of the setting, and the plot in a few words. If you have an interesting story and you can present that, that’s really enough.
Editorial Director of Del Rey (imprint of Ebury, Penguin Random House)
Top Tip: Put as much energy into pitching your book as you did into writing it.
When you have put all your energy into writing a part of or a full manuscript, you should then spend the same kind of energy in the practical side of getting it published, which means: do your background research, make sure the pitch, covering letter, and opening samples are as good as they can possibly be. Then make sure you send them to the right agents and the right publishers. You have to take that side of the creative process as seriously as the writing in many ways.
Top Tip: Go out and find the opportunities and don’t give up until you’ve found one.
Keep going. It’s a really dispiriting process at times. (Before I was published) I hadn’t submitted to a lot of places, I had loads left to do, but you can’t help but feel dispirited sometimes that you’re just not getting the opportunities. You have to just go out and keep trying to find the opportunities, and make the most of the ones you have. Most people aren’t published because they stop trying and if you’re passionate about it, you will keep going. You never know when it’s going to happen, you only know it’s happened, after that.
The audio track, which features the advice above, was recorded at the first National Creative Writing Graduate Fair, on 6th November 2015, hosted by Comma Press and in partnership with the Manchester Writing School at MMU. Comma acknowledges the support of Arts Council England.