The National Creative Writing Industry Day was held on the 19th of November at Manchester Metropolitan University by the prestigious Comma Press, giving aspiring writers a day full of tips and advice on how to get your work published.
The event was attended by people at all stages of their writing journey. It was great to see such a diverse range of people at the event who were all given the opportunity to learn more about the industry and pitch their work to agents. Here is our experience of the day, separated in to four parts, and why we believe more creative writing students, or budding writers should get involved.
Following an hour direct train to Manchester from Lancaster, the event began with a Keynote Speech by Vanessa Onwuemezi, an award winning published short-story writer.
Despite the posh and official title of a “keynote speech”, Onwuemezi gave us a grounded speech on her writing journey. Originally a biologist, it was only when she listened to her heart, moved to France, and coincidentally picked up Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, that she started to get more invested in literature. Onwuemezi believes that “you already know what’s right” and that writers should learn from others feedback, as well as their own mistakes
She shared an occasion where an agent refused to publish her short story collection, as they believe short stories are a “commercial suicide”. Emphasising why writers need to find the right agents to work with, she suggested researching their areas of interest and experience. A similar strategy should be applied to entering competitions, too. She advised writers to look for the competition’s previous shortlisted work to understand what type of work they favour. Then track your entries in a spreadsheet, so you can track your progress and create a portfolio
2- The Panels
From Print to Publication was panelled by Vanessa Onwuemezi, poet and lecturer Kim Moore, agent Julie Gowinchas , and publishing director Genevieve Pegg.
These four women offered a thoughtful and honest insight into the process of querying your work. When your manuscript is finished, you contact either an agent who you’d like to represent you, or a publishing house directly, telling them about your work and why it deserves to be published. The desired outcome is that someone will say yes to your work, but for many, this process can become long and demoralising. The panel gave advice on how to keep yourself motivated by spending your time wisely, sending more curated queries to agents that specialise in your style of work. They also encouraged honesty, both about the work, but also to yourself, so that you are putting your best self forward.
A really vital thing that Onwemuezi pointed out was knowing when to stand your ground. You know your work the best. If there is a something that is really important for you, be honest with your editor. Discuss if there is something you could do at an earlier point that would cement that later section of the work. Each of the panellist offered a unique and refreshing perspective on publishing, and their passion gave real insight into the diverse and fascinating world of publishing.
Through the Climate Crisis, featured nature writers, hosted by Anjum Malik. An important takeaway is, as Anita Sethi mentioned, humans are a part of the climate. She believes climate is inextricably linked to our lifestyles, hence inseparable with literature as well. Sethi added that we have to be honest about nature and avoid editing out its “ugliness”. Literature is an important way of activism and the panellists agree, that we should harness the rage on the page and challenge the system on the climate crisis.
The afternoon consisted of two slots that swapped halfway to give equal opportunities to everyone. Running simultaneously were specialised workshops, on offer there was Eco Poetry, Writing on Mental Health, Synopsis Writing, How to Market Yourself as an Author, Nature Writing, Arts Council Funding, Food Writing, and Publishing. We attended Eco Poetry and Marketing to sample both the creative and practical workshops.
How to Market yourself as an Author was ran by Isabelle Kenyon, poet, a freelance editor and the founder of Fly on the Wall Press. She was charismatic and knowledgeable, being honest with the attendees about the dwindling marketing budgets in publishing houses and how a big part of being an author, is having to market yourself. She put a great emphasis on working out which methods work best for you, that don’t consume all your time and energy, but a real takeaway from the session came from a question asked at the end. A lot of what Isabelle talked about came back to using social media to promote your work. This was because social media can have one of the biggest influences on your work doing well, and people do not have to be searching your name to discover your content.
Isabelle gave an example of a writer who attends as many open mics as he can, and contacts writers he really loves, to say something about his work. Another also reminded us of the power of computers and how there are scheduling programs that will publish content on your behalf, so that you only have to logon to approve and to interact with people. The session was really useful and gave ideas for things like newsletters and blog tours that we never would have thought about on our own.
The eco-poetry workshop was hosted by Anna Percy, a Creative Writing PhD candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University. She expressed her frustration with many older eco poems that have an elegiac mindset without providing any solution. Percy also pointed out a usual practice in eco-poetry to anthropomorphise the earth as a woman and describes how it is conquered and trampled by human beings.
She believes eco poetry should not be stuck in this mode of grieving, instead, it should raise awareness in its audience and encourage them to make a difference. Echoing with the panel that literature should be used to speak and impact an audience to act upon the climate crisis. In the workshop, Percy read out some poems as inspiration for the group to free write something related to it. The prompts were refreshing and the group was encouraged to move away from the prompt if anything else came to mind. The group was enthusiastic in sharing their work, despite how they were written in a limited time.
4-One to One meetings
In these one-to-one meetings with agents in which writers got to pitch their work, we followed up with attendee and third year English Literature and Creative Writing student, Ella Crean, about her experience pitching to an agent. Ella has recently finished her high fae fantasy manuscript and is in the process of querying her work for publication. Ella attended the industry day last year, when her manuscript was unfinished and used the feedback that she gained previously, to improve her book and pitch this year.
Comma press arranged two 15 minute agent meetings for each participant where they were asked to give an elevator pitch of their work, then discuss it. There was a wide range of agents with different specialisms at the event, so Ella was paired with two who specialised in fantasy writing. Ella said that this in person experience was better than the email querying process because you weren’t just getting “soul destroying” rejections all the time, giving Lancs student and young writers confidence to pursue their dream.