Three years ago, I attended the inaugural National Creative Writing Graduate Fair at Manchester Metropolitan University run by the brilliant Comma Press. It was where I first met Rachael Kerr, Editor-at-Large for Unbound and where my publishing adventure (and boy, has it been an adventure) began. Last Friday I was a panelist at NCWGF 2018. I have, in some ways, come full circle.
Our panel How to get noticed as a writer included publisher Sara Hunt from Saraband and literary agent Julia Silk from MBA agents, and was brilliantly chaired by novelist and creative writing lecturer Sarah Butler. We talked about perseverance, resilience, networking, writing and rewriting, pitching and more. Given the chance, we could have gone on all morning because there was so much to talk about. It was slightly intimidating to be on a panel of such pedigree but I think the audience appreciated my input. Maybe because it wasn’t that long ago that I was in the same situation as them, sat in the same lecture theatre, listening to published authors and wondering if I would ever get there.
Like I said, full circle.
Except, of course, it isn’t. Completing the circle implies that somehow the work is over, that publication is the end point and, as I have discovered, it certainly isn’t. The adventure continues. The promo, the networking, the attempts to get reviews. Not to mention the writing.
And it is strange, this side of publication. Before The Backstreets of Purgatory came out, I remember full well feeling that there was a huge gap between writers who were published and those who weren’t yet (and of course who might never be — I’m referring to myself here). In fact, at one point I cancelled my subscription to Mslexia because me and my inferiority complex felt there was a subtext in many of the articles that until you were published, you weren’t a proper writer.
During the pitching session (pictured) I set myself up on a stall at the side and chatted to delegates between their sessions. What I kept repeating was how little difference there was in our situations. Sure, I have had one novel published but here I was talking to people who had already written two or three. There were a couple in particular who I wanted to convince that in many ways they were ahead of me but I could tell they felt the same as I had in the past about the great publication divide. Most delegates at the conference were creative writing graduates and I know that we still have a tendency to think that a traditional publishing contract is the only legitimate way to go. But indies, alternative publishers, and self publishing are all challenging this idea. So the gap is not so great between published and unpublished as they might imagine. The other side of this is also worth considering too. Wherever you are in your career, there are always people ahead of you, having more tangible success, winning prizes, selling more books. It is important to remember that commercial success is a continuum (I’m currently at one end of that continuum and I’ll leave you to work out which for yourselves) but crucially it is not the only measure of success.
(I said in the last post, I was going to write a post about measures of success. Next time, definitely.)
The most important thing is to keep writing.