by Kelly Allen
I am Lena Dunham. No, actually, I am Hannah, the aspiring writer from Girls. I say inappropriate things, I overthink everything, I have way too many books and more than anything, I want to be accepted as a real writer. We all love imagining ourselves as the next Carrie Bradshaw, writing from a beautiful apartment and wearing pretty things, but the reality is that being a writer is hard, hard, hard work. Did I mention that it would be hard? Because it will be. This is one of the (many) reasons I can completely relate to Hannah from Girls. So, in honour of Hannah and her search for the perfect prose, I hopped on the train and headed to London to attend The Getting Published Day, to see what it really means to be a writer.
Since moving from Birmingham to Llantrisant (a lovely village not far from Cardiff) I have become accustomed to a slower pace of life. So it was only natural that I felt a little scared, but also super excited to be doing something different from my day-to-day life. When I arrived at Cardiff train station it was heaving with people, but I met a lovely couple who helped make sure I boarded the right train (if anyone was going to end up in Scotland by mistake it would be me, or Hannah!). I travelled with First Great Western and I have to say the journey calmed my nerves and I was able to relax and edit my work as we travelled to the big city. There’s something incredibly easy about working on train journeys, and First Great Western make it so very simple and accessible. I’d almost prefer a travelling writing room, to my real, stationary one!
Upon arriving in London I was met by my very wonderful friend John who guided me from Paddington to Regent’s Park, stopping by Baker Street to take a peek at Sherlock Holmes’s digs. London was buzzing with people and it felt a little surreal to be there, especially since I have days of the week where I don’t see anyone on my adventures in the countryside.
When I arrived at the event I was welcomed with complimentary tea and seated in a large room, where I would spend the rest of the afternoon learning all about the world of publishing. I met a lovely fellow writer called Brian, who had been there for the full day, and was really impressed by the morning session with C.M Taylor, which focused on character.
When the afternoon session began we were first introduced to David Headley, who presented us with a Getting Published Masterclass. This was probably the best part of the day for me. David was extremely passionate about books, and he made me feel excited and determined to write my current novel, as well as getting me thinking about my future career as a writer. His main point being that once you have completed the first book, you should be full of ideas for the next, and the next, and the next. He explained that he has a small press and that he makes the effort to read every query personally, and he detests the phrase ‘the slushpile’. He made several important points regarding submissions, such as finding the right agent for you and your needs, instead of sending out queries randomly. Do you need good marketing skills or do you need an agent that can nurture your skills as a writer? These are the key points to consider before you approach any agencies.
After a short coffee break it was time for the Q&A with Diana Beaumont, Chris Wellbelove, David Maybury and Emma Darwin. There were some very interesting points made in reference to publishing, and for me, this was the part of the day when reality hit me as an aspiring writer. David Maybury gave us the lowdown on his queries, and it was a reality check to say the least! He said that, on average, he gets around 100 submissions a week, he then requests one sometimes two full manuscripts each week, and over the course of a year will publish around five books. So that means that (if we count every week of the year) he gets 5200 queries, of that he requests a maximum of 104, and only publishes five. Maximum. I think I can safely say my stomach flipped when I heard this, and for a moment I felt deflated, perturbed and even heartbroken.
I wanted to storm out of the room and scream at the world, “Don’t you know how long I have spent writing this book? Don’t you realise that my heart and soul has gone into every word, every edit, and every character?”
My book isn’t even there yet with regards to submissions, so I thought for a second that this was it, the end of the road, because from the information provided, even a finished manuscript needs to be polished to perfection and presented with a great query letter and an excellent succinct synopsis. I felt utterly doomed. For a second.
Then I started to think about how much I loved my novel, and what it meant to me. I could hear David Headley’s voice in my head, passionate and devoted to books, and as I thought about my book, the world I had created, I realised that this day had given me the tools to write that perfect query letter and synopsis and that the authors, editors and agents had given me the insight into the real side of being a writer and the hard work they do to get the books on the shelves for people to buy and read and love. I realised the situation wasn’t completely hopeless, that in the many letters piling up in the many agencies around the UK, one day mine would join the pile and I would hold onto the hope that with the tools and knowledge gained from the day. I could be in the minority of writers asked for a full submission; my novel and I may even go as far as being offered a contract, and this hope, this feeling of utter devotion to the story I have to tell, well, that’s all I need to keep pushing forward.
With my positive head back in place, it was time to move onto ‘The Slushpile’ session, where only the bravest writers read their work aloud, whether this be the query letter or first page of a novel. This was a great session, but beware, the whole point of this process is to produce a flawless result, so be ready for realistic criticism. With the day slowly coming to a close I had the pleasure of meeting another fellow writer called Debbie, who kindly explained the process of the Book Doctor to me. During the day, each writer has the chance to discuss their query letter, synopsis and first 4,000 words of their novel with an author or agent of their choice. From speaking with the lovely Debbie, I gauged that this was an invaluable part of the Getting Published Day, giving each writer detailed feedback and support with their work. I managed to snag a little bit of time with the wonderful and very friendly (yes, I thought the book doctor process would be terrifying, but it wasn’t) Andrew Wille. Andrew was very kind and supportive, offering his suggestions and advice about the ways in which I could grab an editor’s attention with my query letter, as well as shortening my synopsis by keeping to the main storyline and key events. We also discussed the importance of writing groups, critiques and editing all with a view to tighten the prose and keep the reader interested throughout.
When the day was over, everyone enjoyed a complimentary glass of wine, and this was a great opportunity to meet other writers, authors and agents. It was a very relaxed end to the day, and after meeting a few people, it was time for me to head back to Wales. Cue a lovely walk at dusk alongside Regent’s Park lake, passing by the herons and swans adorning the waterfront, the hubbub of people slowly turning into a calming drip drop of people. When it was time to jump on the tube, the mania returned until I was safely planted on my seat in the Great First Western carriage, where I sat dreaming about the future for me and my book … or should I say, books!
The Getting Published Day was fun, energetic, informative and very, very real. I suggest every aspiring writer attend, because there is something there for everyone. My biggest gain was forming friendships with the hope of exchanging manuscripts and getting those novel polished to perfection so that one day, not too far away, I will get the chance to ask someone to love my book as much as I do.
Thanks to First Great Western. To keep up-to-date with more events for writers, like the Festival of Writing in York, you can visit The Writers’ Workshop. Girls: The Complete Fourth Season is available to own on digital download.