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How to Get Published

18 March 2002

The How to Get Published conference, sponsored by the Daily Mail at the London Book Fair, drew a capacity audience of 450 writers, who took part in a series of sessions involving an agent, a publisher, four authors and three booksellers. The writers attending the conference were mostly very focused on the mechanics of getting published, putting forward questions such as how to present your material, how long the synopsis should be and how to get an agent. Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann, the author of From Pitch to Publication, estimated that her agency takes on only around eight new authors a year, even though the agency may, partly because of her book and her participation in events such as this one, get up to 50 unsolicited manuscripts submitted in a single day. Amanda Ridout, MD of HarperCollins General Division, thought that around 20% of authors published by her division in the last two years were first-timers. All the speakers emphasised the importance of new authors to the publishing industry.

The authors taking part had a great deal of useful advice to offer. Both Mike Gayle and Lisa Jewell emphasised the importance of rewriting. Mike Gayle said that you have to write because you really want to, that you should get friends to comment on your work and that it was important to have the right agent; 'You don't want to be represented by someone who doesn't understand what you're writing'.

Magnus Mills, the former bus driver and author of The Restraint of Beasts, gave an amusing account of his own sudden rise to fame, including the fact that his occupation had given his publisher an unbeatable publicity angle. Joanne Harris, the author of Chocolat, gave a powerful but modest account of her rise to writing success, via two early unsuccessful novels which she had lost the rights to. All the authors spoke of the importance of rewriting and pointed out that you needed persistence to get published.

The conference was good-humoured and constructive. There is a great gulf between unpublished writers 'out there' and the publishing business, often seen by the writers as inward-looking and difficult to penetrate. The writers I spoke to felt that this event was a useful first step in helping writers to work out just how to get to grips with the task of getting their work published.