My day at the National Writers’ Conference
On Saturday 30th June 2018 it was the National Writers’ Conference at Birmingham. After negotiating the trains I had to take, I walked into the University of Birmingham’s Bramall Music Building under hot, sunny skies.
First of all, the whole team from Writing West Midlands were extremely friendly. I met my own friend there, and after a complimentary cup of coffee and Danish pastry, we made our way to the opening talk given by Shoo Rayner.
Now, I’m sure Shoo wouldn’t mind me saying that his speech was a little depressing. He has been working in the world of children’s literature for over thirty years and told us about the dramatic decline in author royalties, resulting in the average wage for an author now being less that £11k per year. However, he was wonderfully charismatic and gave us hope by saying authors should look at themselves as entrepreneurs. Think about how you can grow your business through many different and varied pathways.
The next talk that I attended was called ‘Working with Agents and Publishers’. Local writer, Liam Brown told us how he got published and admitted that he didn’t really have a solid plan. His third book is now out and he is published by Legend Press. The managing director of Legend Press, Tom Chalmers, was also on the panel, along with literary agent Rebecca Carter who works with Janklow & Nesbit. All of them were more optimistic than Shoo Rayner about the publishing world. It is widely thought that most writers now need an agent to find a publisher, and agents are particularly useful for helping authors with the legal side of things which can be very tricky. The average agent takes a 15% commission. Yet, Legend Press are one of a few of publishers who accept direct submissions, and Tom Chalmers said that his press accepts roughly 2-4 submissions per year.
It was straight onto the next talk, which was ‘Writing for Film and TV’. Hayley McKenzie, the founder of Script Angel, writer and producer Dave Payne, and scriptwriter Kim Revill, talked of their experiences within the chaotic world of TV. Both Dave and Kim have worked on British soap operas. They recommended viewing the opportunities that are emerging online for new scriptwriters, such as BBC Writersroom. Their tips included reading as many scripts as possible to become aware of the specific layout, to keep practicing and rewriting and always improving, and to try to network. Dave and Hayley also said that producing your own plays - and therefore getting them seen and read at a local/amateur level - can help you improve your scripts and also get you noticed. Kim was especially passionate about getting paid, saying that writing is a job like any other (I agree!).
It was then time for a light lunch and a chat to other attendees. Everyone was talkative and interested in each other. I was given a few cards and it was refreshing to be in a place filled with like-minded people.
Then on to the final talk, which was ‘DIY and Independent Publishing’. Stuart Bartholomew, founder of indie Verve Poetry Press, was on the panel and it was inspiring to see his dedication to local talent. He also co-directs and programmes the Verve Festival of Poetry and Spoken Word, so check it out if you're local to Birmingham and enjoy poetry. Self-published author, Heide Goody, and the Editor-at-Large for Unbound, Rachael Kerr, talked about the self-publishing world for novelists. Heide Goody recommended researching Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, Nick Stephenson, and the Facebook group ‘20BooksTo50K’, in order to learn how to be a successful self-publisher. Rachael Kerr talked us through Unbound, a halfway house between self and traditional publishing which works on a crowdfunding principal. A piece of advice from Heide was to do a blog tour as a way of publicising work, and all of the panellists stressed the importance of finding your reader (mainly through social media) and getting a mailing list.
After a cup of tea, we were nearing the end of the event. Kit de Waal was supposed to be giving the final keynote address, however she had been called away to a family issue. Poet, performer, and teacher, Jo Bell, spoke instead. She was funny, sincere, and inspiring. She spoke about the confidence to say yes, no, please and thank you. She urged us to say yes to anything we wanted to, even if doubt was nagging at us. She told us it was ok to refuse to do something we really didn’t want. She said that we should ask for help. She said that we should thank those who have helped us so far, for we are never alone on our journey.
So, thank you, Writing West Midlands. I had such a lovely day with such wonderful people. I would like to say yes at being braver with my work, and please to any mentoring schemes or bursaries that may help me along my writing journey. And I would like to say no to the sweaty, cramped tram service that I was forced to take in order to get home from the event because the train was cancelled … I guess I can’t win them all!
For more information about Writing West Midlands, including their latest events and schemes, click here. Next year's Conference is on Saturday 22nd June 2019.