By Guest Blogger, on 12 October 2011
Emily Everett, UCL alumna (English Language & Literature 2008) reports on last week’s Alumni Professional Networking event: How to get a book published.
The short answer? Write a good one. That was best-seller Ken Follett’s first piece of advice, and it was quickly seconded by the rest of the experts on UCL’s all-star publishing panel. But they also seemed to agree that it isn’t always quite that simple – so they shared insider advice on how to bridge that colossal gap between aspirant writer and published author.
Some people dream of seeing their name in lights; I’ve always dreamed of seeing mine in Waterstones. When I heard of this event, I hoped it might be the catalyst I needed to actually get started with the process. As a teenager I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I eventually talked myself into more modest dreams that came with higher success rates. It was heartening to see that so many other UCL alumni share the same pipe dream, and encouraging to hear that there might yet be hope for us in the world of publishing.
Together, the panellists represent all aspects of the publishing process – successful authors and UCL alums Ken Follett and Joanna Briscoe, literary agent Luigi Bonomi and Bloomsbury Publishing’s Editor-in-Chief, Alexandra Pringle. Follett and Briscoe discussed how they first entered the business, and answered many questions about their writing and editing processes. Both agreed that you have to be willing to write, rewrite and rewrite again to please agents and editors, and stressed the importance of having honest and critical friends to read your work.
After explaining that his small agency receives roughly 5,000 submissions a year (of which they might work with only 10), Bonomi explained why first impressions are so important for an agent. “It has to hit us very quickly,” he warned, “within the first two to three pages.” Bonomi also gave a list of literary submission ‘Don’ts’ that had us all scrambling for a pen to take notes – he said agents cringe at single-spaced, double-sided manuscripts (if you want to save paper, this isn’t the field for you), and probably won’t read a page of your book if you give it all away in your submission letter.
Pringle’s insights into the world of publishing were particularly interesting since she really has seen it all – she started in the business as an “office slave” in 1978. Her primary advice was to secure a literary agent, to “find your champion” who will move you from the pile of unsolicited and generally discarded manuscripts to the recommended pile instead. “With an agent,” she said, “it’s not a blind date, but a date with a proper introduction.”
The most valuable advice that I took away from the event was a sense of the hard work (as opposed to raw talent) that it takes to produce something worthy of an agent and, eventually, a publisher. While the panellists agreed that a capacity for imagination and good prose was the minimum requirement, they emphasized that work and diligence were really necessary to turn an aspiration into something that might actually make the grade and get noticed. Briscoe chided us all, “Why are you here? You should be home writing.”
Please note that panel member Luigi Bonomi is happy to accept submissions from UCL alumni, please click here for more information.
Watch the UCL Alumni Networking Panel Discussion here: