Saturday 26 November 2011

Master class with Melvyn Burgess, Catherine Pellegrino and Shannon Park

This excellent class was offered last Saturday by Commonword, Manchester. It was by invite only and I felt privileged to be invited. We were quite a small group and so there was plenty of opportunity to ask questions.
Over the years, I’ve attended hundreds of workshops, many of them facilitated by well-known people in the writing industry. But I still learnt something last Saturday.
I’m not going to give you all of the detail – much of what I could say would repeat what is contained in the very detailed blogs kindly posted by those who were able to attend the SCBWI-BI  Conference in Winchester last week. I’m just going to go through what for me – an already published but not yet best-selling author – were the highlights.  
The most important points for me from author Melvin Burgess were:
·         The difference between an amateur and professional is about 10,000 hours. Write, write and keep on writing if you want to be published. (I keep totting up my hours and I keep getting a different figure- I never was all that good at maths!)  
·         Ultimately, you learn to be your own best editor – but don’t always start at the beginning as one then tends to rush the end. I’ve put that into practice already this week!
·         Be a little cautious about seeking the opinions of others until you are satisfied with the work yourself. Maybe the questions you need to ask are “Where doesn’t it work?” “Where are you bored?” (I’ll add in here that I also find it useful to get people to tell you what they’ve understood about your characters – have they come out the way you intended them to?)
Agent Catherine Pellegrino assured us that it is all right to submit to more than one agent at once “otherwise you’ll be waiting forever” though there may come a point when an agent wants to read exclusively the whole of a manuscript. This is only fair and other agents would understand this. So, shortly I’ll be sending out a little more vigorously two novels that are doing the rounds.
She advised to mention if we had worked with such organisations as Cornerstones and emphasized that this is a good example of that type of body.  They are expensive and writers should be proactive enough to make sure that they do get their money’s worth.
She emphasized that humour and great voices are important to her.
We were very fortunate in also having commissioning editor Shannon Park with us. She works for Puffin, which is, as she says, the number one children’s publisher. She gave us the usual depressing news about how publishers are taking on fewer but “bigger” books and how all revolves around sales. She highlighted some of the trends.  “But of course,” she said, “it changes all the time.”  I’m always a little wary of this – what is trending now won’t be any more by the time you’ve finished writing. Also, I can only write what I feel confident I can write well. However, sometimes things can be reshaped a little to fit a trend, so it is still worth knowing.
Her most useful tip is to imagine what you would say to the concerned adult wondering whether they should buy the book or not.  I’m quite used to the two-line summary I put at the beginning of the query letter. But what Shannon meant is shorter than an elevator pitch. Perhaps Twitter is good training. Maybe all those tweets have been useful after all! And she also mentioned humour.
It was a really enjoyable and useful day. All of the writers there were to some extent experienced. It was good to be amongst like-minded people. We had a lovely lunch courtesy of  Prêt à Manger and Commonword.  It’s the first time for a while that I’ve some away from such a meeting feeling optimistic.  

1 comment:

The Horrormoanal Woman said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Gill. I also came away from the day feeling optimistic and enlightened.