Faber Session 15 – The Publishing Experience


Because of the threat of snow I was determined to get up to London, so I went earlier. Got off the tube a couple of stops later and found myself in Fortnum & Mason
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As you do ;) This is one serious posh shop people. I just thought I’d have a wander lol. But I kinda found myself in The Parlour, the ice cream parlour!

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After Welsh Rarebit crumpets it was cake time! This is apparently an Estherhazy cake which originates in Austria.

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Looks yummy yeah? Nope….it wasn’t! It was the most sickly thing I’ve ever had :( That white stuff isn’t cream, it’s buttercream! So there’s more buttercream than cake! I couldn’t eat it all lol. On the plus side, they give you a mini ice cream with your latte ;)

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Anyway, enough of the cake, onto class!

Our guest tutor tonight was Hannah Griffiths (Publishing Director at Faber & Faber) who came to talk to us about publishing. I really don’t know where to begin to be honest, she was brilliant. I learnt so much! So I guess I’ll just share with you some of my notes, some of the things that Hannah said that I found interesting or useful.

She will only read a MS subbed by an agent. For 2 reasons…1. She’s a busy lady, she trusts that an MS sent in by an agent will be worth reading and 2. because she only signs authors who have an agent. Why? because she doesn’t want to spend all her time talking to that author about the business side of things (because she’d rather talk to you about your novel!), explaining stuff to debut authors who don’t know all the stuff about contracts and rights.

TItle is really important! Books with a good, memorable title will often get read on that alone, so make it brilliant!

Polish your MS to perfection. You have a much better chance. Don’t submit before you’re ready to.

Most people over-write the first 2 pages, don’t! Read 10 opening paragraphs of novels considered to be good. Learn from them!

Great authors leave no trace of the turmoil it took to get there. I love that quote :)

Be original, assured and confident in your prose, but surprise.

People don’t know what to buy anymore, publishers need to get their shit together (regarding online sales).

A good agent will know the “tastes” of certain editors.

She talked about the publishing industry. Here in the UK our biggest Bookshop chain, Waterstones, are planning on closing a third of their shops in the next couple of years. This will have a major impact on book buying in the UK. Publishers aren’t really that worried about Ebooks. Their problem will be getting debut authors work “out there” and noticed in the years to come. The ordinary man in the street, who buys 4 books a year will be turning to the supermarkets, where there is no author loyalty. It’s just a case of buy what they have.

Hmmmm, it all seems a bit sad, the state of book buying in the UK, and doesn’t fill you with hope :( At the moment Amazon seems to have the UK online market sown up. If you walk into a Waterstones you have access to 1000+ books blurbs to make your selection from. You go on to Amazon and you have to scroll through pages of books to find something you might want to read (unless you’re on there for something specific). I know what I prefer, but it seems I’m beginning to be a part of a minority :(

Sooooo, I learnt that 1. I really should have an agent before anything else and 2. The chances of me becoming a successful novelist within the next 3 years is very slim (tongue firmly in cheek there). But, it does beg the question Where exactly is the publishing industry headed? It’s quite a worry :(

51 thoughts on “Faber Session 15 – The Publishing Experience

  1. Excellent piece Vikki. I think I might be the only person left who is about to publish a ‘tree’ book. I don’t have an agent but a lovely one recommended me to my publisher so I suppose I ‘sort of’ had one.lol. The publishing world is certainly in turmoil at the moment!

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  2. What a great post, Vikki! I learned a lot of the same lessons from attending a conference two years ago, and speaking with other writers, editors and agents. I have heard of the occassional publisher that does not like to deal with agents, but your book still ends up in a slush pile anyways. There is so much I’ve learned through the years, and one of the biggest is know to whom you are submitting and why you are submitting your manuscript to them. You’ve inspired me, Vikki!

    Great post!

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  3. Thanks for sharing these great points!
    It is in some ways reassuring to know that a great title and snappy prose are still in demand, and that a writer’s efforts to make her book the best it can be are not wasted. But then the part about the extinction of the bookstores makes me sad. It’s as if an era has ended.

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  4. First, that cake would have totally been devoured in my neck of the woods. Lots of Czech and German descendants in this area. If the cake doesn’t have buttercream icing, well… ;)

    Second, that’s exactly the state of things here in the US and precisely the reason I decided to pursue self-publishing. I don’t think bookstores will completely die out. Look at the vinyl record, they’re coming back into style with the younger generation. I just got tired of waiting for calls from the gatekeepers (agents & editors) who deemed my novel worthy enough. I know they’re busy, but the writing industry is a bit rude. Its perfectly acceptable to reject someone simply by not ever contacting them again. Or ever, depending on the case. We writers now have a unique opportunity our predecessors didn’t. We can be in charge of our own writing destiny and career. And don’t believe the hype, quality and content matter to just about every serious reader.

    Find the path that’s right for you and follow it. It took me four years to work up the courage and confidence to go this route. You and I are of an age, we’ll get where we’re supposed to be when we’re supposed to be there. My time happens to be now :) You’ll get there, I have no doubt.

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    • He he he, it definitely was some cake! Lol

      It’s funny you saying that Mel because they need us more than we need them (ie we can e publish) so it makes no sense to me why they treat people like that :(

      Awwwww, thanks honey :) and GOOD LUCK! Keep me posted!

      Xx

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  5. Interesting post! It is sad that the smaller bookstores are going out of business. :( There are definitely some pros to the industry change, but there’s just as many cons, that is for sure. I just can’t imagine a world without quaint little bookstores. As great as Chapters is, I want to see the small book shops still stand strong. Maybe they will become trendy again?

    Also, that cappucino looks like it tasted amazing. Very cute.

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    • I think here in the UK people don’t get much access to small book shops. If I think about my 2 local shopping centres they both have one of the large chain store book shops, no independents. In the UK the High Street is dying, and that’s where you usually get the small book shops :( This whole idea of book buyers only buying 4 books a year is shocking, but that’s because they don’t go anywhere other than supermarkets and big shopping centres :(

      The latte was lovely Sara, and so was the mini ice cream on the side :)

      Xx

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  6. I too find it sad that Waterstones is closing. I like going in and handling the books and seeing the covers. I do buy online though. It’s a mix. It’s sad that one has to lose though.

    An interesting post. I hate titling!

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    • Exactly Rebecca! I buy online, of course, but only specific titles I know I want. If I’m looking to treat myself, buy something that’s not specific, I wouldn’t have a clue where to start online. Perhaps people will end up just buying stuff that is recommended through word of mouth. So then, how does a debut novelist build up fans? :(

      Xx

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  7. Thanks for posting that Vikki. It was useful to know. And I am rubbish at getting good titles down.
    I try to use ABE books rather than Amazon when I shop on line which supports smaller booksellers – I do have a Kindle though so am aware of my hypocrisy!

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    • Thanks Debbie :)

      Do you just “browse” Abe or go there with something specific in mind?

      Noooo, you’re not a hypocrite! Most of the large publishers are into eBooks nowadays. Faber & Faber have got an eBook at number one on Amazon at the moment. I don’t think eBooks are a problem, it’s lack of sales/buyers on the high street that is the problem :(

      Xx

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  8. It’s tough out there! Not surprising there are so many people self publishing now, is it? Although getting a publisher is harder than ever we do have far more alternatives than were open to those writers from ‘the good old days’.

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  9. Interesting read, sad to hear the comment about Waterstones. I hate to think what the high streets will look like in a few years. If it’s going to help you get your book out there I hope you find an agent. It’s hard for writers to get their books published now but I think it’s hard for readers to find the good books to read.

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    • It is isnt it Mary :(

      It won’t stop us die hard readers buying books, but it will stop the average man in the street buying a book. Will he be bothered to go on Amazon and search through loads of “recommendations”? I don’t think so :(

      Awwww, thanks honey :)

      Xx

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  10. Nothing new there then. We hear similar from agents, authors and publishers that come to The Write Place. It’s really down to bum on seat and keep writing. Being published happens after years of hard slog and then not everyone achieves it. Not everyone is an author even if they want to be. It’s not a god given right.

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  11. I attended a session with Hannah Griffiths about 2-3 years ago and thought she was brilliant – very down-to-earth and realistic and yet sort of still hopeful. She was pointing out that publishers and agents still need writers and good books, so it’s a mutual dependency, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes!

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  12. Oooo, fantastic pieces of advice. I must have read around 30 YA novels to get a sense of what the first 10 paragraphs should look like. Its amazing how a few great examples can get you going along the right path. :-)

    p.s. Those deserts look really yummy.

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  13. Though provoking post… I remember having tea in Fortnum & Mason in my late teens & twenties. Will have to remain a memory as virtually housebound by my disability. Gone also are the days browsing in Waterstones, which was definitely more fun that trawling online at Amazon. But for those who can’t get to Waterstones, online is the alternative. Not sure about best route to get published but agree that there are alternatives not open to our predecessors, but feel that means there are also more writers trying to get published. Hoping for an ebook release for first novel but fear that is a dead end in my case … barring reincarnation.

    However Vikki, I look forward to seeing you and the others in print.

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    • Oh, I’m sorry to hear that Roland :( But a very good point! I guess for certain people Amazon is a godsend.

      Very true! You’ve only got to look at the shelves in Waterstones to see how many ‘creative writing’ guides and how to books they now stock, and the overwhelming increase in ‘creative writing’ courses!

      It’s so hard for a debut novelist to know which way to go and what to do. But I was glad to hear, yet again that eBooks are being embraced by the bigger publishers (like they have a choice! Lol).

      Awwwww, thanks honey, I look forward to seeing you too! :)

      Xx

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  14. Great post and thank you for sharing what you’ve learned. I am certainly sad for Waterstones (I particularly like the one in Piccadilly). This course sounds so interesting, I see big things for you after doing this!

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  15. Thank you, as always, for sharing so generously! I’d hate to see Waterstones disappear, but I have to admit I rarely go and buy a book new – I usually get one second hand or borrow. Once in a while I buy a new one from Amazon. Must rectify that – as you said, it’s fantastic to be able to read all the blurbs. I think I’ll ask for some book tokens for my birthday1

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    • I probably buy 2 or 3 brand new books a week *blush* from Waterstones, Amazon & The London Review Bookshop (where I get a discount for being a Faber student), but I only use Amazon for specific titles. If I just want to browse I’ll head for Waterstones. Foyles (Charing Cross Road) is a treat day out, spend hours in there. I don’t EVER use online places for just browsing Bel, I can’t, I wouldn’t know where to start! ;)

      You’re welcome honey and good for you! Ask for Foyles ones and go up Charing Cross road ;)

      Xx

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  16. Great post Vikki, thanks for sharing.
    This whole trying to get published malarkey all sounds a bit depressing doesn’t it? But I’m sure we will all get there in the end, whatever route we choose to take that is right for us.
    Take care, Nikki x

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  17. Really interesting post Vikki. I LOVE book shops – old and new – and can’t imagine buying books online. I also have an aversion to eBooks too – to me reading means physically holding a book and turning the pages, filled with the scent of new paper or that old mustiness of a second hand, or library, book. Can’t get with the digital age!

    Given her comments about only reading MS from agented writers did she provide any advice on how to go about getting an agent? I wouldn’t know where to start!

    Keep up with the posts, always find your insights and information very valuable. x

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    • Thanks honey :)

      I must have about 200 eBooks now on my iPad and I’ve started a couple, but, I dunno, I just don’t like it. It’s not the same :( I’m a book person and that’s that! Lol ;)

      Well, she recommended using the Writers & Artists yearbook to look up agents, but, when Susie Steiner came to speak to us last year she recommended word of mouth as being the best way to find an agent. I guess it depends what circles you move in :( There are some agents who have blogs, a lot of them are on Twitter (look up Ayesha Shroeders blog, she’s one of my followers who I follow). She does a weekly blog post that lists all the interesting agent Tweets that week, but I think they’re mainly US. There’s also the hash tag on Twitter #askagent which could be useful for you *thinks* Google who the agents are for novelists you like and ask any other writers if they know of any agents who are building their lists.

      Hope some if that helps :)

      Thanks honey :)

      XX

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  18. Too bad the ice cream parlour wasn’t that great. Nothing is sadder than sweets that don’t live up to their looks! :)
    Sounds like you learned a lot of useful info at the class, though.
    (I sooo wish more publishers would accept unagented submissions.)

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    • Very true Tina, I wish now I’d had the ice cream! Lol

      I did, I learnt a LOT ;)

      After hearing what she had to say I’m even more convinced that an agent is worth their weight in gold. Yes, you have to give them a percentage, but, not being very business minded myself, I think, personally, I would find it invaluable to have someone who knows all the legal stuff and who can deal with the publisher on my behalf…leaving me to get on with the actual writing ;) Well, at least that’s what I’m hoping it would be like lol ;)

      Xx

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  19. Thanks for sharing all this valuable advice. The point about agents knowing what publishers are looking for and their tastes, based on all the relationships thay have built up, is very significant. I used to read The Bookseller magazine to keep me in touch with what is happening in the industry and what people are looking for. Ref book buying habits, maybe I’m in the minority but I enjoy browsing on Amazon and I like the way they utilise (some would say exploit!) their info database to send me “recommendations” based on what I have previously bought. This can be quite amusing at times, but I have bought loads of books as a result of their bot suggesting something that I wouldn’t have known existed. I love Amazon!

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    • And that’s it though isn’t it Jane….I haven’t got the time or energy to do that kind of research. I’d much rather pay an agent to find me the best publisher ;)

      Ahhhhh, interesting…..perhaps I should take more note of my recommendations lol

      Xx

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