Beware Writers All

I don’t want to rehash old controversies beyond a point, but …

Some of you will remember that the Brit Writers Awards have caused a ruckus or two on this blog in the past. One of the causes of our concern was the BW publishing programme, which supposedly guaranteed participants a book deal with a top publisher. There was a roughly £2000 cost for that programme, refundable in full if the deal never materialised. I and others were deeply sceptical of that offer. Not least because

  1. The programme’s promised 1 year timescale seemed ridiculous. My most recent novel took 18 months between my agent auctioning the book and the book appearing on the shelves. And that was for a book by an existing professional author, with an agent, and where the MS was already complete and highly edited. For newbie writers to hit the shelves within a year just seemed wildly improbable.
  2. And top publishers demand top manuscripts. To guarantee 15 successes out of 15 seemed a laughably optimistic goal, given that agents typically reject 999 in 1000 manuscripts and don’t always succeed in selling the one they take on.

But maybe Brit Writers is an amazing judge of new work. Or had some remarkable deal with a major publisher. Time alone would tell.

Alas, it seems that the programme has not lived up to expectations. One of its participants wrote to me saying:

I was one of the first group of fifteen writers on the publishing programme. I was very excited at the promise of being published within a year. As my MS had already been shortlisted in two national competitions I was reasonably confident of the quality of the writing and felt that under guidance of a good editor it could soon be ready for publication. BWA paid for reports on the opening chapters from a reputable literary consultancy and the feedback I received was very positive.
I was fully confident I would be published within the year. However the year passed and although there was mention of talks with mainstream publishers no offers appeared. I agreed to a three months extension and it was only at the end of that period I decided to withdraw from the programme. Things had become quite secretive by that time and although a few were offered deals we were never told by whom, in case other writers on the programme targeted those publishers independently.On the London Book Fair web site I managed to find the publishers of those who got deals. I was not impressed. Most were new tiny independent publishers whose main business was either text books, guides or self publishing. This wasn’t what I had signed up and paid for. To give BWA their due they returned my money in full and they must have been out of pocket for the various group meetings and individual consultations and the fees for the literary consultancy reports. I wasn’t cheated out of money but I wasted a year and a half of my life. Imram Akram at first seemed an inspirational mentor but after fifteen months I had serious doubts about him. As far as I am aware not one of our group has been published by a reputable mainstream publisher.

I’m pleased the person in question did get his/her money back: not everyone has found it easy to recover money from the firm.

On Imran: I think he’s been well-meaning, in some sense, from the start. But he’s never understood publishing. I don’t think he’s ever understood that there’s only one meaningful route into that world – a wonderful story blazingly well delivered – and I don’t think that he has the authorial/editorial skills needed to guide a writer (These people do as do these people and these ones; that’s why we use ‘em.). The BWA’s apparent belief that the secret lies in better marketing – well, phooey. It doesn’t. Writers write; publishers market.

Our job in this industry of people-who-advise-writers is to help writers write better. That’s ninety-something percent of the whole. The Brit Writers have never really understood this and doesn’t appear to have the skills to do what needs to be done. I hope they reform their processes and attitudes, or else shut up shop. Their recent record is vastly less than inspiring.



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