I’m pleased to see that this is really taking off now and was very well attended yesterday. Philippa Donovan, an editor with Egmont and director of her own company, Smart Quill, an editorial agency ran a workshop with us. Philippa has worked previously as a scout for publishers.
She started Smart Quill as a solution to the problem that editors these days have very little time to actually do much editorial work on a book. So, with her two different hats on she tends to see books at the start of their journey and at the end. In between, the writer may work further on the script, have a further dialogue with Philippa, find an agent, work on the agent’s suggestions and eventually find a publisher – it may even be Egmont!
Knowing the industry
As always, some of the advice Philippa gave I’d heard before and some of it contradicted what I’d heard before. After all, there is a certain amount of subjectivity throughout the business and it is always changing. She mentioned that we need to know the business and that the business is becoming more transparent.
I’m not going to try to capture the whole of her talk here, but I’ll just flag up the things that seemed particularly important to me.
A lot of the prejudice about self-publishing is vanishing now and it is all right to submit books that have been digitally published – particularly if a title has sold well. You still ought to buy in editorial services and design ones as well if you are not techy enough. Publishers are good at creating lovely products and marketing them. Nevertheless, self-publishing gives you a platform and some visibility. It may be particularly good for picture books as you are no longer restricted to selling co-editions nor are you restricted to a certain number of spreads.
Publishing digitally with a publisher
This may be where you need your agent more than ever – digital rights can be very tricky to negotiate.
What to think about as you start writing
As soon as you are ready to turn your idea into a piece of fiction, think about its marketability. Which age group will your story suit best? What is going to push the narrative? The voice, pace, composition, character, or plot? Read to see how other writers use narratives. Do you want to be similar to one of them or deliberately different? Read bestsellers – even ones you know you will not like – and then write the book you want to write. At least you will know where it sits in the market.
I was quite gratified to see that Philippa’s list was very similar to my own- I’ve mentioned these before on this blog.
Telling instead of showing – and she mentioned that is actually quite hard to turn telling into showing. Far better to have too much showing – you can always take some away.
Vagueness – particularly about emotions.
Prefacing with too much author presence – unless this is part of the style.
Overload of detail
Point of view changes – it’s okay to change point of view but not too often and not too violently
Inconsistency in point of view / voice.
Poor characterisation - and yes she agrees with me you have to know EVERYTHING about your characters but you don’t need to write everything down and somehow what you do write carries the whole message.
Dialogue – must be what characters would say in a given situation but not too natural or it becomes boring. Only hint at accents / dialects.
Plot should not overburden reader. There shouldn’t be too much of it.
Finally – if in doubt, take it out.
Why we need agents and how to find them
They are the first point of selection. They have good relationships with publishers. They know the industry well. The publisher focuses on products, the agents on people.
Many agents have become independent recently. They may be good to work with as they have no back list – so they will work on the forward list – which includes your book! And you really need them to negotiate your digital and foreign rights.
Look for a personality that suits yours. Google them. Read books from their client lists. Maybe send to three at a time. Show them that you have understood the industry. Tell them why you have chosen them.
It really was a very informative afternoon. Thanks to Steph Williams and SCBWI for organising it.