Kerry Fisher is doing a workshop with her agent, Clare Wallace from Darley Anderson, about the all-important agent/author relationship at this year’s Festival of Writing. Kerry knows about life on both sides of the publishing fence. Her debut novel, The School Gate Survival Guide, was originally self-published under a different title before it was picked up by Avon, HarperCollins. Her latest novel, The Island Escape, is a Kindle top five bestseller. Both books were vastly improved by feedback received at the Festival of Writing.
YOU can do it if I can
I came to the first ever Festival of Writing back in 2010, in the hope of finding an agent for The School Gate Survival Guide. I then proceeded to shake my way through my agent one-to-ones. Properly shook, stumbling over my words, forgetting what I was saying halfway through. So I know just how nerve-racking it is to put out your precious work into the world and run the risk of being told it’s terrible. Especially by literary agents whose opinion we trust because that’s what they do for a living. But to quote my husband, ‘You can’t sell your book hiding in an understairs cupboard.’ But the more I pitched (the next year and the one after that) the better I got, until I stopped shaking, the manuscripts became more polished and I even began to enjoy myself…
YOU will learn something to make your book better
It’s impossible not to take away something of value from the wealth of authors, agents and book doctors at the Festival. How much you learn will depend on how receptive you are to feedback. Of course, it’s human nature to want to reject anything less than ‘absolutely brilliant’. But the truth is not many people just sit down and write a grand masterpiece. And taking workshops, listening to what people who see a lot of manuscripts have to say about your work will give you food for thought. That doesn’t mean you have to accept their opinion without question. However, it could open your mind to possibilities that could vastly improve your novel. One agent put her finger on all the weak spots in The Island Escape just from reading the first chapter. By the time the Festival came round the following year, I had a book deal.
YOU might find representation
Every year, several people find representation either at the Festival or as a result of follow-up communications afterwards. And even if you don’t find representation, you’ll demystify the process and get a chance to chat to lots of agents informally. Just knowing what the agents actually look and sound like makes it easier to pitch to them, even if you do it afterwards by email. AND I know for a fact that The Writers’ Workshop, who run the Festival of Writing, make a point of inviting friendly agents who are actively seeking new talent. Therefore, they are looking for reasons to like your work, not to crush you. In short, they are on your side.
YOU will meet other writers
It might be that your family and friends look up from their iPads, switch off their laptops and give you their full attention the second you say, ‘I’ve got an idea for a novel,’ or ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with this scene’. But – on the off chance – that they’re like mine, the Festival is fantastic for discovering your ‘tribe’. The sense of camaraderie and yes, the joy of being with a whole pile of people whose eyes don’t start rolling into the back of their heads when you mention ‘point of view’, ‘voice’ or ‘backstory’ is frankly liberating. I met my writing buddy, Jenny Ashcroft, at the Festival of Writing in 2012 and we’ve become great friends – she reads the shoddy first drafts of my novels and helps me with plot problems and vice-versa. Without her, I’d be rocking in a corner. We all need writer friends to cheer us along on the road to publication – it took me five years and well over a hundred rejections. Writing friends make the process bearable.
YOU can get the answers you need…
Want to know the truth about self-publishing? David Gaughran won’t hold back. Struggling with a sense of place? Allie Spencer, creative writing guru extraordinaire can help. Or if you want to know what to expect from an agent, what to look for, what questions to ask – come and find Clare Wallace, my lovely agent from Darley Anderson, and me at our workshop at 2pm on Saturday – we’ll answer anything you want to know about how we work together plus any general writing/publishing questions that we might know the answer to! Either way, we’d love to meet you, so do stop and introduce yourself if you see us floating about.