The old adage that quality work will ‘out’ or rise to the top of the pile, still exists, but there is another new and louder cry that goes with it: marketing, strategy, marketing. Whether you are an indie publisher or going the traditional route – it’s marketing that gets you sold.
Sir Julian Fellowes boomed out to a packed auditorium on Saturday morning that we should all be anarchists, listen to our hearts and don’t try and write like anyone else, which perked the whole audience who already felt cowered by agents and publishers who under the cloak of saying they wanted original work, really meant they wanted something very like existing work with just a fresh twist. We heard over and over that publishers were being very cautious. “Try to dodge the bullets, be tenacious and definitely don’t listen to that Key fella…. what is his name…? He struggled for the name… McKee? I called out from the audience. “Ah, yes, he said.”
So, where are things going? Well to quote Julian Fellowes again: “Nobody knows.”
But there were some emerging new trends.
Indie publishing goes down well with traditional publishers as they can see that you are building a market for yourself as a writer. The idea that self-publishing might put them off has flown out the window. There is plenty of room for mix and match. But take caution as it won’t be long before it will almost be de rigueur to be self published along with good sales before going into the industry.
Becky Bagnell (agent) posed the question – Who needs an Agent? In her presentation she put forward differing case studies for using an agent’s services or when a better deal might be obtained without, while maintaining the relationship. An author could self-publish a title, then come back to their agent with the next. If a certain amount of sales were realised, the agent might suggest the book could come back into the mainstream and be sold round the world. She illustrated how a flexible agent/author relationship could include all permutations of indie and traditional publishing where both parties could benefit.
A new initiative in the marketing hall saw the arrival of The Shed for publicising and selling indie published books. I joined this enterprising group with Icon Painter’s Angel and we sold our novels and pooled our knowledge. In fact the talks we had between us proved to be as valuable as a workshop. In future years, though, I would probably only do one or the other, sell my novel in The Shed or do the conference as both are full time and it’s impossible to be in two places at the same time.
Madeleine Milburn (agent) went through a clear list of items to put into your covering letter. Starting with an Elevator Pitch, meaning a sentence that describes your novel in a nutshell, and to use should you bump into famous publisher/agent in a lift. Although this may never happen having this clarity will help you get to the heart of your novel and write a better synopsis. Example: ‘Orphan, Jane Eyre, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, finding love and independence when she takes a job working as a governess for the mysterious Mr Rochester.’ Madeleine’s handout listed the other requirements: the Sales Handle, the Book Description, a short summary of the books appeal, and the selling points. I would be glad to forward her document to anyone who is compiling a sales letter and needs an update on what is required.
I had lively talks with publishers and editors about my new work and came away with interesting yet completely opposing advice. However, having been longlisted for the novel prize, I now have a list of agents and publishers to approach when it is finished. It will take some time to digest the varying responses and be clear about my strategy before the tenacious anarchist puts sword to paper and continues on her quest to win the contest next year.