A summary of the 2012 Writers’ & Artists’ ‘How to Get Published’ conference, 7th July 2012. A full day is hard to summarise – there were talks, graphs, powerpoint presentations, panels, book signings, coffee and walnut cake…
Bloomsbury’s best selling Christmas book of 2011 was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s vegetarian cookbook titled River Cottage Veg Every Day which sold over 10000 copies. Impressive. Kerry Wilkinson – self-published author of the hugely popular Jessica Daniel police crime series, sold over 300000 copies of his books, including his debut, Locked In, over the final quarter of 2011, without the benefit or need for a large publicity department, print reviews, agent, or connections across the publishing world.
How did he do it? Does this mean writers don’t need an agent or a publisher?
Kerry took us through the process of uploading his book to Amazon and shared details of how he maximised sales so that readers read his books and come back for more.
When he’d completed his first novel, Locked In, he ‘couldn’t be bothered’ going through the hoops of the traditional route to publication. He self-edited it. He researched how books are sold and worked out where and when to sell it to maximise sales. Knowing that over the Christmas period new Kindle owners would be looking for books, he chose this time to upload and to promote his books. More than that – he sought out readers and reading groups. He joined reader forums to talk about books – to talk about his books. He knows how to cross-promote and he promoted his upcoming book along with his current title.
Here are Kerry’s Tips for selling books:
Write what you want to write. Kerry writes for himself but he writes what people like to read. He tapped into a ready market with the crime genre.
Don’t bother about other writers – connecting with your reader is the single most important thing that a writer can do.
Pay attention to forward advertising – Kerry promoted his next book in each new book – this is something he thinks traditional publishers should do.
Contrary to ‘received opinion’ on ‘platform building’ and online presence, Kerry doesn’t spend a lot of his time blogging and talking about writing. He does interact with readers on reader forums.
Start your ebook immediately with page one – don’t copy traditionally published books which aren’t designed for ebook reading. A more exciting opening will create a more exciting taster or ‘sample’ that readers can click through on Amazon before buying and lead to more sales.
Get the pricing right. Kerry’s first book sold for £1. His third book sells for £3.
Make a simple cover for your book. Photoshop is easy and makes an effective cover. Don’t overload it with a fussy image or too many words.
Create a simple website that’s uncluttered. Include key information in bold – when the next book is coming out, what it’s about, how much it costs and where to buy it. Include a link to Amazon.
Kerry’s mantra is – Think like a reader.
Kerry told us he writes every day. Interestingly, he still has a day job and more interestingly, he’s signed a publishing contract with a mainstream publisher: see his very frank Q&A with Sam Missingham in FutureBook [29/12/11] where he describes how he was contacted by agents after he’d sold thousands of books and where he also explains why he’s gone down the traditional route.
All agreed it was difficult to get published with an agent, that it was difficult to land an agent but that it was equally difficult to be published without an agent.
Here’s the statistics they shared:
Sayle Literary Agency receives around 60-80 unsolicited submissions a week, from these they will sign up 3 or 4 new writers per year
Lucy Luck receives around 50 unsolicited submissions a week, from these she might sign up ten writers, and from these, 3 or 4 a year will sign a publishing contract
Conville and Walsh receive around 4000 unsolicited manuscripts a year, around 100 are ‘treated’ or developed, and from these, around 7 are sold on to publishers
They talked about how the acquisition process has changed in recent years so that the editorial decisions now include the whole company, including, marketing, publicity and sales departments. Publishers pay less than previous years and the editorial balance has moved to agents who now spend a lot of time developing manuscripts before taking them to market.
Often, a conversation around the edges of a book result in exciting things. All of the agents agreed they will work to develop a manuscript with a writer whose voice they consider has potential. Lucy Luck gave the example of her client, Catherine O’Flynn, with whom she worked to bring out her prize-winning first book, What Was Lost. A willingness to take criticism is a key attribute in an unpublished writer.
– Patrick Walsh is convinced that ‘cream always rises to the top’.
A lively closing Q&A ensued where delegates queried the different agents on the best way of maximising success with their submissions. While they repeated most of what Cressida Downing said in the morning session on how to submit ‘properly’ by following the guidelines on their websites, there were also smaller points worth highlighting:
Don’t call or write in advance of sending a manuscript to query whether they’ll accept it – just submit
Research agents carefully so that your manuscript ‘fits’ their current titles and author list
Your covering letter should be short and to the point and personal to the agent
Never use the term ‘peruse’ and never call your book a ‘fiction novel’
A ‘platform’ or blog can help an agent to decide but on its own it won’t make an agent sign up and is more useful for non-fiction writers and projects
FSG is ‘fantastic for the whole publishing industry’ and shows the disconnect between what people want to read and what agents & publishers want to publish. It’s a ‘win-win’ situation and while writers and literary editors are ‘snotty’ it doesn’t diminish the benefit it has brought to publishing. It’s a ‘black swan’ event.
The main thing all of the agents look for in a manuscript is a strong writing voice.
So there you have it – write what you want to read, take time over your submission package, or self-publish. It’s up to you.
I approached the ‘How to Get Published’ conference with scepticism – was it a way of making money from writers who haven’t yet landed a publishing contract or agent? Will I learn anything useful I can pass on to writers and that I can use when submitting my own writing? Is there any point in listening to a different writer’s journey to publication which will probably not replicate mine? On balance, yes, it was really useful and worth the round-trip from Scotland to London. There are countless self-help books on creative writing and how to submit your manuscript – you’ve read them all and so have I, but nothing quite matches hearing it first hand combined with the opportunity of speaking directly to experts and those who work in the industry – especially when that advice is realistic and backed by evidence.
With thanks to Bloomsbury for conference hosting and organising.