Tracy Rees: Festival of Writing, Delegate to Speaker by way of a Richard & Judy Bestseller

TracyReesMy Experience of the Festival of Writing.

In 2013 I attended the Festival of Writing in York. That was the year I realised that nothing could protect me from the siren call of scribbling stories for a living so I’d decided to work part-time as a waitress and really focus on my writing. Sometimes a cliché can prove surprisingly useful.

I had written a novel, a fairytale for adults, and when I saw the festival advertised, I jumped at the chance to discuss it with industry professionals. I entered my fairytale for Friday Night Live and the first chapter competition and submitted it for critique in one of the workshops. It wasn’t selected for anything.

But the really big deal for me was the agent session. I approached it with a thundering heart. I loved my book and I wanted the agent to love it too – and, preferably, offer me representation right there and then!

He had two key messages for me. One was that the fairytale, as it was, was unmarketable; I hadn’t aimed it at a particular genre. The other was this: keep writing. He took some pains to ensure I took this to heart. Your writing is wonderful, you must carry on, don’t stop here.

Inevitably, as I left the hall, it was his first message which haunted me. I felt I’d let my beloved characters down. As for continuing to write, I knew I would. I’d come too far and given up too much by then to do anything else. But over the following days, his other words sank in, and I realised how important they were. Writers are tender creatures, even the most hardened/desperate of us, and encouragement along the way is invaluable. I think he knew this.

AmySnowAt that time I was sending work out to everyone – poetry, short stories, novels… This included what I then considered to be a completely pie-in-the-sky endeavour – I entered Richard and Judy’s wonderful Search for a Bestseller competition. In October 2014 I heard that I had won. Amy Snow was published by Quercus in April 2015 and my second novel, Florence Grace, will be published in June this year.

My route to publication, in the end, did not come via the Festival of Writing. The book I took there wasn’t the book that got me published. So looking back now, what part did it play in my journey?

First of all, it was a gesture of faith that my writing dream would prove worth the investment of time and money. These bold gestures, I believe, are always well rewarded.

Secondly it was an opportunity for me to steep myself for two whole days in the writing industry. I talked to other aspiring writers, published authors and professionals, and reminded myself in a completely concrete way of what it was I was trying to do. I had a session with a book doctor who provided me with useful observations on the work I’d submitted. I met another book doctor at dinner who was supportive and helpful. I left with leads and contacts I could never have found otherwise and with strong encouragement from the agent ringing in my ears.

We need these things. We all know it’s a tough industry to crack. But experiences like these help counteract that, so that we carry on.

To my delight, I’ll be returning to the Festival of Writing this year as one of the industry speakers.
Twitter: @AuthorTracyRees


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YORK for all reasons. Whatever stage your writing is at The Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing can inspire and help you.

by Anne Corlett

2012 wasn’t my first visit to the The Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing. I’d attended in 2011, clutching the unedited manuscript of my first novel, Telemachus. It had been about ten years since I’d made any serious attempt at writing, and I was in the process of packing to relocate from London to Somerset with my partner and 18 month-old son. As you can probably imagine, when I decided to sit down in the middle of all the carnage and start writing a novel, I was not popular.

But I finished the first draft, then looked around and thought now what?

I should point out at this juncture that I had fairly hazy ideas about the whole novel-writing process. I I had the faint sense that editing was something that was done to you by someone else, rather than something you did yourself.

Anyway, the Festival of Writing seemed like a reasonable answer to now what? So off I went to York.

It was a complete revelation. I learned about self-editing. I discovered the importance of covering letters. I heard the words ‘psychic distance’ uttered for the first time. And I had two incredibly encouraging one-to-ones, with an agent and a book doctor. Not only did they both make it clear what I needed to do to improve my manuscript, but they also made me believe that it was worth persevering.

I spent the next year working on my manuscript, and when booking re-opened for York, I decided to head back there for a second time. I entered the Friday Night Live competition, not really expecting to get anywhere, and I was delighted to make the final.

I didn’t win. I did receive two out of the three judges’ votes, but when I lost the all-important audience vote, I assumed that was pretty much that, and I got on with drinking wine enjoying the rest of the festival.

Then I had my one-to-one with Lisa Eveleigh of the Richford Becklow agency. She liked my submission. She requested the full manuscript, and then offered representation. At this point I began the process of getting Thoroughly Carried Away. I knew how this worked.

Go to York.
Sign up with Agent.
Await fame and glory and tearful acceptance of manuscript by major publishing house.

It didn’t work out quite that way. We had some interest, and some positive responses. We even had one ‘I thought of making an offer on this but…’ but no takers.

I finished my second novel in late 2014, and I was just starting the second term of an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa when I heard from Lisa that there had been some provisional interest. After several agonizing weeks, Fallen made it as far as an acquisitions meeting. Unfortunately there was no consensus at the meeting and the book was rejected.

And then something surprising happened. I had a huge burst of writing energy. I motivated, and unexpectedly hopeful. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that in the glacial world of writing/publishing, something had happened. There’d been a milestone of sorts. At the time I was struggling with my MA novel, but, still bursting with my new-found enthusiasm, I had the idea that became my third novel. It went out on submission in November 2015, and after only a few weeks there were some expressions of provisional interest.

I didn’t get my hopes up – we’d been here before, after all. As it turned out, this was the time I should have got my hopes up. I could have got Thoroughly Carried Away again. In January I got a call from Lisa to say that Bella Pagan of Pan Macmillan had made an offer. The deal was officially announced in February, and a month later the US rights sold to Berkeley Publishing, part of the Random House group. The Space Between the Stars will be published on 5th May 2017.

It can seem as though York is a springboard, catapulting a lucky few to instant success, but my experience shows that are all sorts of ways in which the festival can push writers forward in their publication journey. If you’re in the early stages of the process, the most important thing you can do at the festival is go along and listen and learn. If you’re further along the writing path, you can make useful connections, and gain valuable confidence in your work. Even if you don’t walk away with an offer of representation, you may well find that a chance conversation over dinner bears fruit further down the line when an agent reads your submission and thinks oh yes, I remember her. For some the Festival of Writing is a springboard; for others, like me, it’s a foundation on which to build something solid. York didn’t lead to overnight success for me, but it did set the wheels in motion for everything that followed.



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