Sunday, May 26, 2019

International literature festival Dublin: Insider's guide to publishing


The International Literature Festival Dublin is a great series of events-I had the good fortune to attend Patrick McCabe and Nicole Flattery in conversation about their influences (with Flattery counting McCabe, author of "The Butcher Boy" as one).

Given that I'm currently writing a book, I was particularly psyched to attend the full-day Insider's Guide to Getting Published.

The first panel, of five different agents, didn't always have the same preferences for submissions or how to handle them. Nonetheless, they give a clear sense of an agent's remit (and repeatedly emphasize not to sign a contract with a publisher until the agent has had a look!) We also get some useful advise on editing, and three authors (with work spanning literary to more commercial work) describe how their debuts got published. Vanessa Fox-O'Loughlin (who writes as Sam Blake) also delivers a commendably clear solo masterclass on nailing your synopsis, pitch and cover letter.

The main reason I'm at this event is that I was selected for a 10 minute one-on-one with a literary agent. The 60 people put forward for this 'date' with an agent have been selected from circa 480 submissions. Speaking to a few of them during the day, I was surprised at the extent to which some struggled to give a concise pitch about their work. Even when getting set up to meet an agent, it's easy to forget that beyond writing your work, there is a separate skillset to flogging your work!

Not that I'm so great in this regard either. I have a few pithy elevator pitch statements to make about my book, but at the meeting with the agent it's clear that my synopsis can undermine the apparent marketability of the book. It can be difficult to sell something that's straddling two different areas of literature, particularly at as broad a level as combining fiction and non-fiction (what shelf is the book going to go on?). So even if I go with fiction with non-fiction elements, it's best to pigeonhole the book as one or the other. Given that I'm not going "high" literary with this book, the agent's suggestion that I include a student's perspective on the lectures makes a lot of sense (it might be a big ask for a mainstream audience to spend an entire book in the mind of such an unlikeable/alienating protagonist as David Hector).

It's certainly made me think a bit about what I want to do with my book. From the Q & A at the broader sessions, it's clear most people taking part (myself included) are probably engaging in certain number of cognitive biases (confirmation) to keep ourselves going in the face of the challenge of actually getting published. But who knows-one of the debut authors giving a talk was in the audience five years ago.


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