Writing festivals: fun, frantic and sometimes frustrating…

During October, the Prime Writers are discussing their experiences of writing festivals and conferences.  There are many reasons to attend them – for the opportunity to hang out with other people who share your writing passion, to meet agents, editors and network with other authors, to learn and improve your img_2054craft…Kerry Fisher (After The Lie, Bookouture) talks about her one-to-one disasters as an unpublished author and how she inspires writers with a collection of her one-star reviews…

Before I was a published author, I went to lots of writing conferences and festivals in the hope of meeting an agent who might take me on. At one festival, I’d entered a competition and one of the judges very generously phoned me up to find out which agents I was seeing for my one-to-ones because she wanted my manuscript – and me – to have the best chance of impressing one of the industry experts. She suggested a whole list of questions I should be ready for. So as a measure of my determination – or derangement – I spent hours getting my friends and family to ask me difficult questions about my novel in the lead up to the festival, so I could be utterly confident about my pitch. On the day, I sat down in the hot seat all geared up to impress, when the agent said, ‘I’ve got a migraine, just pop it in the post to me.’

She never did take me on.

That experience of the one-to-ones stayed with me: it feels as though so much is riding on those ten minutes in front of the industry gatekeepers. Sometimes nerves and adrenaline make it difficult to take in the advice. So this year, when I was working as a one-to-one book doctor at the York Festival of Writing, the first thing I said to everyone was ‘You don’t need to be nervous with me!’ I got such a buzz from seeing my input lead to a few light bulb moments for the writers there. And I do try to point out to everyone who comes to my workshops that even when you’re published, you still get feedback from agents and editors – and not all of it makes your heart sing! I read out my worst one-star reviews – ‘I wish I’d spent the money on a Twix instead of this stupid book’ – to prove the point that not all feedback feels positive but the skill lies in deciding which observations to explore and incorporate and which to overlook.

Overall, I think writing conferences and festivals can be really valuable especially when you’re trying to get published. The opportunity to meet and chat informally with agents and editors is like gold dust, but it’s also a chance to meet other writers on your wavelength. I met my writing buddy, author Jenny Ashcroft, at the York Festival of Writing in 2012. She reads my first drafts and gives me honest feedback – and is also a sounding board when things are going well – or otherwise – in the publishing world! Almost all of my best publishing opportunities have come from face-to-face networking rather than social media – so it’s definitely worth getting out and about.


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