In recent weeks, I have attended two publishing conferences: one in Dublin, and one in Belfast. Below, I’d like to compare and contrast what happened at each.
I’ve already touched on one particular take away I had from the Dublin conference in my previous post, so you might want to read that here first, but – putting that aside – the first event was part of International Literature Festival Dublin in association with Writing.ie. There was a ‘Date With An Agent’ element to the day for selected people, but I’m not going to cover that because I wasn’t one of the chosen few.
The day itself was split up into four main slots (not accounting the aforementioned DWAA) topped and tailed by comfort breaks and question & answer sessions. There was a panel with agents, one with editors, one with traditionally published authors, and a slightly more general talk by literary scout Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (who runs Writing.ie and Inkwell Group).
Vanessa was the event coordinator throughout the whole day. Her talk covered lots of practical tips about the submission process, particularly writing pitches, covering letters, and synopsises.
It was really interesting to hear the perspectives of agents, editors, and authors to see where they agreed and where they didn’t, but I think what was most interesting was not that the different groups had differing opinions with the others (agents with editors, or editors with authors), but that there were differing opinions within the groups, particularly the agents. This really underlined how things can be entirely different for everyone. There’s no one-size-fits-all path to publication.
One thing everyone kept coming back to, again and again, was that publishing (at least, that is, traditional publishing) is a process. I reference this process in my previous post, but here it was made explicit: each person has a part to play. There is a long time between submitting a book to an agent and that book making it on the shelf in a bookstore, because there are so many different working parts completed by different people at different stages. The stages will vary slightly, depending on a whole host of factors, but what it boils down to is what one of the editors referred to as a ‘chain of sales.’
An author must sell themselves and their book to an agent. Their agent will help them prepare the book for submission to editors at a publishing house, where it is again trying to sell itself. If editors pick it up, they must sell it to the rest of their team. There’s marketing, there are printers, there are retailers and, last but certainly not least, there are readers. That may seem like a long list, but it’s actually a summary that leaves out many of the other people and sub-processes. There might be translation or TV rights to deal with, for example. That’s another world of pitches and sales all in itself.
I relay these facts not to overwhelm aspiring novelists reading this post, but to help everyone appreciate what I think is perhaps the key benefit of traditional publishing over self-publishing: you’re not alone. What’s more, if you get an agent rather than bypassing that step and submitting directly to publishers, said agent will help navigate you through the rest of the journey and celebrate with you when you reach the end.
Ah, yes, except that’s not the end! If you’re really serious about writing, you won’t stop at one book. All being well, you and your agent will work together again and again throughout your career. This is the long haul, we’re talking about.
You’re probably getting the impression by this point that I am strongly in favour of agents and all that they do, and you’d be right. I think a good agent is worth their weight in gold. I’m planning to come back and discuss more about them in a follow-up post, and get around to talking about the Belfast conference, but this particular post is probably long enough for now.
To be continued!