A day trip to Winchester

I went to Winchester on Saturday. Not just for a jolly day out, although by all accounts it’s a lovely old town, but to attend Winchester Writers’ Conference.

For those that don’t know, Winchester is one of the biggest meetings of its type in the UK, and is regularly attended by some of the biggest names in the industry. This year’s Plenary speaker was (Lord) Julian Fellowes, writer of Downton Abbey and the Robert Altman-directed Gosford Park. Also attending was Jasper Fforde, Adrian Magson, Sophie King and many, many others. Industry figures were also there in their multitudes: agents, commissioning editors, publishing consultants… And many of these people were available for private ‘one-to-one’ sessions where they comment on the opening pages of your work.

I’ve never been to one of these things before – it’s all part of my push for professionalism that also led to the creation of this blog. I went just for the one day (it’s five days in total, the meat being on Friday, Saturday and Sunday). For my £185 plus travel I got to attend five lectures – choosing from an impressive fifty-five available – and had three of these one-to-ones. That’s a lot of money for my fiancée and I. So was it worth it?

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and got some genuinely useful advice. The lectures were a little disappointing, but that was mostly because I had to leave three of them after ten minutes (out of 50) to go to my one-to-ones. But these meetings were really, really good, and I’ve returned home with a real sense of ‘right, this is what I need to do now’-ness.

Due to numbers and logistics and whatever else, it’s not always possible to see exactly who you want to out of their impressively large selection. You have to choose seven, give them a priority, and then they’ll assign you three. Due to the last minute nature of my application, I missed out on all the agents and editors. I got three authors instead, and am very happy with the way it turned out.

I saw Steve Lockley, Eden Sharp and Daniel Clay, and I’d like to start by thanking them for their help. The big thing is that they all liked my work. Steve Lockley began my first appointment by saying ‘it’s got legs’, which is always nice to hear as you’re sitting down.

All three of them gave (different) suggestions for improvements which are tangible and straightforward, so I’ll be acting on those in the next few days. And they all gave me suggestions for ways to get into print. Steve suggested a few publishers to contact, Daniel gave good advice on my covering letter, whilst Eden advised going down the indie route, which I think basically means self-publishing.

I’ll have to have write a proper blog on self-publishing sometime. I’m in no way against it; it’s thoroughly disposed of its ‘vanity’ associations and with e-books so easy to set up (apparently) it’s now a real option and not just a last hurrah. That’s for another time, though. At the moment I’m still focussing on traditional publishing, whilst trying to soak up as much of this ‘knowledge’ stuff as humanly possible.

A few random thoughts about the conference:

  • If you’re not Caucasian and over forty, you may feel a little out of place
  • Do not underestimate elderly women
  • WinchesterUniversity is lovely, and a nice walk from the station
  • The ‘Book Fair’ was very disappointing. There were three stalls that sold things and five or so self-publishing companies. I was expecting more
  • Take the time to talk to people. Hang around for the evening networking sessions if you have the time (I didn’t, so I make no promises)
  • Writers generally appear to be happy, friendly people
  • If you’re going, book early
  • Take a stock of business cards. You never know who you might meet and who might take the time to check out your blog/website/twitter feed. Again, I didn’t do this because I’m lazy and feckless
  • Feckless is a wonderful word
  • Twitter: more and more people are advising me to go on twitter. It seems that this is the next ‘must have’ for aspiring authors
  • Julian Fellowes comes across as a very warm and witty individual
  • Why do agents/publishers ask that we put personal names at the head of submission letters, then make it so hard for us to find said names?

Right, that’s all for now. More next week…

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