This was my first writers’ festival and I came home fizzing with ideas. For anyone who didn’t manage to get there, here are my top lessons from the best brains in writing and publishing.
1: Madeleine Milburn, literary agent, on pitching: Get your pitch right, and get it in the cover letter. This is your one chance to grab the agent’s attention. Terrifyingly, Madeleine Milburn gets 80 or more submissions a day. Unless your cover letter is spot-on, your carefully crafted chapters are likely to go unread.
2: Orna Ross, author and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, on author publishing: Approach it as a business, with a team. You are the creative director, but a good editor is indispensable. You’ll also need a designer for the cover and must be prepared to spend a significant amount of your time on marketing.
3: Joanne Harris, amazing author and storyteller (keynote speech), on stories: ‘You don’t have to go out into the world to locate stories – you just have to look at the people around you. In the very best stories, we recognise ourselves. That’s why myths and fairy stories are so powerful.’
4: Joanne Harris, as above (I wish I could replicate her whole talk, which was terrifically inspiring): ‘Writing is like a walk in the woods. I may know roughly where I’m going, but what I find along the way is unquantifiable’.
5: Emily Benet, author and blogger, on social media. A blog should be well-written, regularly updated, consistent in subject matter and deliver against expectations. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve? What do you know about? Does it excite you – and will it excite anyone else?
6: Simon Hall, crime writer and news reporter: The golden secret to becoming a successful, published author is persistence. Practice writing like you’d practice the piano or football. Keep at it till you’re really good. And don’t give up.
7: Julia Churchill, agent, and Jenny McLachlan, author: Dreams do come true! The fairytale of Winchester that we all wanted to hear was how début author Jenny met agent Julia at Winchester 2013. One year later, they came back to tell us about her newly-published book – Flirty Dancing – and four-book deal with Bloomsbury.
I also met hundreds of lovely, welcoming, enthusiastic writers writing in every genre you can imagine, talked until my throat hurt, dared myself to stand up and read my work at the Open Mic night, and came home with requests from two of the agents I met during my one-to-one sessions to send them the full manuscript of Unlawful Things. Winchester more than lived up to my expectations. Here’s to 2015.