May’s Byte The Book was a bustling affair – the venue was so packed that people were being turned away at the door. Authors and industry professionals alike gathered in droves to hear chairman of the London Book Fair David Roche, agent Donald Winchester, production expert Heather O’Connell and accountant Andrew Subramaniam discuss how today’s “authorpreneurs” can get ahead in the book business.
Our sponsors HW Fisher from left to right, Barry Kernon, Chris Pitsillides, Deena Samachetty and Andrew Subramaniam
David, who was chairing the event, began by asking each panelist what an author’s first step should be on the road to publication. Donald pointed out that, while finding an agent is traditionally the first rung on the industry ladder, before approaching agencies writers must, quite simply, “write something good”. He lamented the all-too-frequent e-mails he receives from authors announcing that their manuscript “isn’t that great”, and requesting his editorial input (he likened this to walking up to a stranger in the street and offering them a half-baked cake). Once your book is ready for submission, Donald added, you must do your research. The information available online today is exponentially greater than it used to be, and there’s no excuse for not following agency guidelines.
Heather counselled authors to think about what they actually want to achieve before diving headlong into the melee. Are you publishing “for fun”, she asked, or do you want to make a serious career as a novelist? The answer to this question will inform almost every aspect of your writing life, so it’s worth having a strong idea of your goals from the very beginning (she added, as a caveat, that if your ambition is “to become an internationally best-selling author”, you may have to accept that the odds are against you!). Next, bringing a dash of financial practicality to the discussion, Andrew Subramaniam – partner at the HW Fisher accountancy firm – advised authors to register as self-employed with the Inland Revenue as soon as they anticipate generating income from their writing. On landing a deal, he said, it’s not uncommon for novelists to be careless with their advances, failing to realise that in the not-too-distant future they will need to pay a reasonable chunk of this money to the government in tax.
Our event was packed out – again!
David then swung the discussion back to Donald, asking precisely why an author needs an agent in an age when, in theory, they are able to achieve so much on their own. Donald cited an example of an unrepresented writer who had contacted him after signing what he described as “the worst contract I’d ever seen”. An agent, explained Donald, never accepts draft one of an agreement, and acts as an essential negotiation buffer between authors and their prospective publishers. Without an agent, as this poor soul had discovered a little too late, a writer can be ripped off without even knowing it (the company in question, incidentally, was no tin-pot operation – it was a well-known and respected publishing house). Heather agreed, advising writers to seek out experts at every stage of their career, from lawyers and accountants to publicists and printers. She explained that, while it is possible for self-published writers to get their books onto the shelves of major bookstores, those books must be effectively indistinguishable from traditionally published works. The cover, the blurb, the content, the marketing – everything must be 100% slick and professional for a bookstore to gamble their valuable shelf space on an aspiring author.
Super smart, Harper Collins’ Sam Missingham’s brilliant interjections from the floor
The buzzwords and sound bites of the evening? Perseverance. Tenacity. Do your research. Ask the experts. Hone your product, be professional, pay your taxes, and never offer a stranger an under-cooked cake. Because although everyone loves cake, nobody enjoys salmonella.
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