Winchester Writers’ Festival is an amazing opportunity.
Hundreds of writers of all types to meet and talk to. Workshops, talks, panels and presentations on all aspects of the craft and the industry. And, most importantly, submitting your work to agents and getting face-to-face feedback.
I did not get an agent at Winchester, but then I wasn’t expecting to. One agent told me he gets 2000 submissions a year and signs maybe four new authors.
What Winchester did for me was to teach me important things about myself and what I want from my writing, which made it an extremely valuable experience.
I saw four agents over two days, and they all gave me detailed and constructive feedback, for which I’m very grateful. But it was also wildly contradictory, which made the whole thing quite baffling.
Still, the opening to my first workshop of the weekend was:
There are no absolutes in publishing.
And most of publishing is wholly subjective.
I learned from sending my first draft out to about fifteen readers that people respond very differently to fiction. If they all highlight the same issue, then you’ve got a problem you need to fix. But if they violently disagree on whether or not particular things work, you’ve got something that at least some people are going to love.
The same thing, of course, applies to agent feedback. Contradictory advice on what ‘needs’ changing or improving suggests that there are some agents out there that will love my novel just as it is, and it’s simply a case of finding the right one.
My last workshop of the weekend reinforced that principle, by repeating the age-old advice - the only way to get published is to persevere. Keep sending your work out until you find that one person who’s going to believe in your novel as much as you do.
But it’s not that simple. Sure, there was one writer at that workshop who said she’d sent her novel out to 300+ agents over the course of five years, and eventually landed a two-book deal from a publisher a couple of weeks ago. I’m amazingly impressed with her staying power, and I’m delighted for her that it eventually paid off. But there was a another writer I met, who got an agent at Winchester last year, but whose book still hadn’t sold to a publisher a year on, so she was back with a different book to try and find a different agent.
Finding an agent is only the first (very difficult) step in a long and complicated process that involves a huge amount of work, revision, patience, self-marketing and conviction. And, even with a publishing deal, there are certainly no guarantees of success.
For those who are prepared to go through that, and put the work in - I salute you and wish you all the luck in the world.
But I have decided that the traditional publishing route is not for me. At least not right now.
I don’t know yet what I’m going to do with my novel. In a few months’ time, I may come back to it, do another pass, maybe send it out to some small independent presses, or bite the bullet and self-publish, just to get it out there in the world. Time will tell.
In the meantime, I’m going to focus on my short fiction, which I love writing, and which I know I can sell. The defining moment of my weekend at Winchester came during Friday’s dinner, when I got an email from a print magazine, saying they want to publish my favourite short story I’ve written in the last couple of years - for more than twice what I’ve been paid for my short fiction before. It made me so happy, and it showed me where my passion and my writing future lies - at least for now. I’m not out to be famous or make lots of money from my writing. I just want to enjoy the process and see my work in print every now and then. And that’s okay.
So, thank you to the Winchester Writers’ Festival for helping me figure out what I want.