Sunday, 17 July 2011
Legend Press seminar
I spent yesterday in Birmingham at a seminar organised by Legend Press. The owner of the business Tom Chalmers, together with two writers and an agent operated as a panel, doing a mixture of presenting material that they had planned beforehand and responding to each other and the audience.
What did I learn? Not much that I didn't have a pretty good inkling of already, but in a way that's not the point. Confirming pre existing concepts and notions is an important part of learning. A bit like an MOT on what I know already. Part of the attraction of the seminar was a critique from a legend editor. I sent a chapter of the Young Adult book that I am working on and got a very constructive and encouraging report.
The seminar re-exposed many of the usual nostrums. Don't submit too early; with of course no objective test of how you can tell. Lots of emphasis on how long it all takes and how much we all have to learn.
More useful, in a sad sort of way was an almost enthusiastic repetition of the idea that publishing is a subjective business. There was no data, no surveys, no focus groups, and no feedback from reading groups. In fact, as far as this group of lectures felt able to say, it is a complete mystery why anyone reads Dan Brown or Steig Larson. I did ask one lecturer afterwards and her best guess was the readers don't want to be challenged. She may be right, but where does that leave the writer, and how does that relate to when a novel is ready? Ready for what? Ready for whom?
The thing I find slightly incredible about attending such events is that I don't come away depressed. Anyone who sets out to be a writer appears to be guaranteed a lot of rejection and frustration. I'm not normally a masochistic, so I am not doing this because I enjoy the pain. I write because I like to write and I get a lift from it that I don't get from anything else. Understanding the landscape that has to be negotiated in the publishing world is helpful only in so far as it is useful to have a map if you set out on a dangerous or complicated journey. The map doesn't really add or subtract from the pleasure or necessity of the journey, but it does reduce the chances of falling off a cliff.
Of course if it was a treasure map, that might be a different story…
More of that later, this topic is challenging my ability to be brief; so part two will follow tomorrow.