National Creative Writing Industry Conference reveals how publishers work with writers

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The National Creative Writing Industry Conference kicked off with a panel discussion titled ‘How Publishers Work With You’. The event featured Jonathan de Peyer, commissioning editor at HarperNorth, Cherise Lopes-Baker, commissioning editor at Jacaranda Books and Poppy Stimpson, publicist at Pushkin Press.

The event was chaired by Nicholas Royle, publisher at Nightjar Press and Reader in Creative Writing at Manchester Writing School. The four industry professionals discussed their experience working in the industry and the relationship between the author and publisher. They explained how relationships are established with writers and the process of acquiring new authors.

Cherise from Jacaranda Books talked about an extensive questionnaire that the author fills out which is then referred to throughout the publication process. She explained that in an effort from publishers to be more accessible, agents are not often needed to submit a manuscript.

Jonathan explained that bigger names like HarperNorth welcome open submissions as well as agented authors because agents are “gateways to unexpected authors”. He says, “Publishing is almost tourism, it’s a relationship business based on trust, partnership, and a degree of empathy.”

“There comes a time when you have to place faith in your own work. You could end up tinkering for decades. As long as you are sufficiently happy with what you are submitting, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.”

Jonathan de Peyer, HarperNorth

The panel focused on the importance of demythologising the process of publishing and familiarising aspiring authors with the jargon of the publishing world.

Poppy from Pushkin explained that the role of a publicist often starts at acquisition while pitching for an author, or most often six months pre-publication. “Author care” is a key component, with a publicist often playing the role of an “advisory cheerleader”.

“A pitch is a love letter to the book and the author.”

Poppy Stimpson, Pushkin Press

The panel recognised the problems that can arise when editing a book. This brings up the question of how to communicate with the author to resolve these issues. Cherise explains that this is especially relevant during structural edits. She says: “You’re going through the structure of the book saying maybe the plot doesn’t work this way or [the] characterisation, shifting the big parts around to make the story come together in a cohesive way.

“You’re working with the authors to solidify the central ideas [therefore] problems can occur due to lack of communication. Because it can delay the whole process of publishing if the writer is adamant on sticking to certain ideas.”

Jonathan acknowledged that people can also experience life upheavals. The editor, knowing what’s happening in the author’s life, needs to step up. There are also some authors who are never ready to let the manuscript go. The process on both sides is one of expectation management.

He explained how publishers should remember that “somebody’s book is probably the most important thing in their lives”. He added: “It is natural they check up on the editor but similarly, authors should remember occasionally that their book is one of many.”

Poppy talked about the different ways that publicity works, which includes getting important people to read the book, newspaper coverage, creating an online presence, blog tours, interviews, hashtags, rolling build-up of fans, endorsement and working with literary estates among many others.

“When [a book] is published I get to celebrate it with the author… At the launch, at a review, when it gets a prize – the book has a long life and the relationship with the author is longer. You both put a lot a blood, sweat and tears into it, you celebrate it.”

Cherise Lopes-Baker, Jacaranda Books

The panel confirmed that work experience and internships are the best way to enter the industry. They also promoted The Society of Authors, a trade union for professional writers.

The National Creative Writing Industry Conference events are available to stream online over on the Comma Press YouTube channel.

About the author / 

Meera Jacob

New to Manchester, currently doing my MA in Creative Writing, Novel Route at Manchester Met.

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