Thursday, 17 March 2011

How to get published

Sally Bavage writes:
How to get published was the theme for tonight’s session of the fourth Headingley Litfest, held in the Claremont room at the brand new Heart Community Centre on Bennett Road.  More than forty people crammed in to a packed and lively session to hear Isabel Losada give some wannabe authors very practical advice about getting their literary baby into the welcoming arms of an agent or publishing house. 

Realism not idealism is the key, she insists.  “You must believe passionately in your book and persevere to find the right agent or publisher who likes your work.” 

George Orwell claimed that the secret of being published was ‘brevity, clarity, precision’ – something Isabel emphasised through many pragmatic examples.  There are some tough questions to ask yourself first so that you can be very clear with any would-be agent:

Who is the book really for?
What section of the bookshop would you find it in?
Does it engage the attention of the reader from the first paragraph?
What is the unique selling point of this book?
What books are similar? (so you can describe it)
How would you sell it? (produce a marketing plan)

Isabel has published six books; her latest The Battersea Park Road to Paradise will be out in paperback in May 2011. You must be a self-critical editor who has the courage of their convictions and ignores the (wildly differing) opinions of friends who would each ask you to change something different.  You also need resilience to bounce back from the inevitable rejection letters and the confidence to just keep going. 

And you won’t make your fortune, unless your initials are J K.  Sadly, ninety percent of authors earn less than working on a checkout till, and the average advance of less than three thousand pounds is hardly the step to financial heaven – although J K Rowling was told in one rejection letter that “You’ll never make any money writing children’s books.” 

Isabel herself got quite a few rejection slips for books.  “We’re too mainline for you” and “Covers too many different subject areas” or “Put it on the shelf and put it down to experience” were some; the comments were conflicting and could have been demoralising unless you have the iron determination to just keep going.  She has and she did – her books have now sold one hundred thousand copies in sixteen languages.

Isabel has worked as an actress, singer, dancer, researcher, TV producer, broadcaster, public speaker, comedian as well as staying committed to her writing.   She brought a number of these skills to a lively session, trying to sell us a broom (“handcrafted bristles, lovingly grouped, woven together for months” – you get the idea) and singing a line from a Madonna number.  As one feedback quote said, “Informative, fun and inspiring! 

If you are interested in her books that focus on the pursuit of happiness through the development of human potential through the media of nuns, men and the Dalai Llama, to name but a few, then take a look here.

    1 comment:

    1. That sounds as if it was very interesting, informative and encouraging.Apparently Stephen King had dozens of rejections for 'Carrie' and kept the letters pinned to a beam in his bedroom! William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' was said to be ' an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which is rubbish and dull'. Even good old Charlotte Bronte was told by the then poet laureate Robert Southey 'literature cannot be the business of a women's life and it ought not to be'. It's good that the above were not discouraged and I am sure any would be authors in the audience last night would be encouraged by what Isabel Losada had to say.
      Quite by coincidence last night I was listening to a lecture by a Buddhist monk so I will read your link to Ms Losada's books with interest.