Thursday, 26 April 2012

Plus and minus

The plus was that yesterday eve I was paid to go to Chichester to speak on a ‘Publishing Panel Event’ and that despite the rain the room was packed and it was all impeccably organised by Karen Stevens, who teaches creative writing there, with taxis from the station and wine and sandwiches provided, and who am I to complain.

I’m not exactly complaining. Nor was anyone else. But there was something awry. The panel: one London literary agent and two representatives from other London agencies; one editor from Hamish Hamilton/Penguin; Debbie Taylor, founder and editor of Mslexia (she was great); me (the oldest). The audience, as far as I could tell: some students, some ‘general public’, many of the latter over a certain age. The Q&A session: some inconclusive waffle about self-publishing (with questioners being reassured that no, self-publishing didn’t disqualify them from possible later ‘proper’ publication); a silly amount of time spent on the ‘covering letter’ to agents, wordcounts or no wordcounts, synopses ditto, how much to send, etc.* Because of the make-up of the panel (I was token small press, Debbie, I think, was token ‘alternative’) the whole thing reinforced the traditional model: write, send to agents, then – even if you’re taken on – wait around for two years (the period given by one of the agents present) to be placed, or not. The publishing industry (a word used yesterday without any irony) professionals brought down from London to speak from on high: this felt, to me, inappropriate to the audience.

There are now many other publishing models than the one involving agents. And for those in yesterday’s audience who had perhaps thought of self-publishing but didn’t know where to start, the know-how is becoming more widely available. See, for example, this service, started by Bobby Nayyar of Limehouse Books.

* There is no ‘submissions guidelines’ button on the CBe site because there are no guidelines. If anyone wants to send material, just send. You’re a grown-up; you don’t need me to tell you how to make a cup of tea, how to start talking to another person.

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