It was that time of year again folks. I headed off to Winchester Writers’ Fest and put myself into a perpetual state of worry and self-doubt for at least 48 hours.
For those of you who don’t know, Winchester University holds a festival each year for writers. They have authors, agents, publishers, editors, etc running workshops and giving talks on all aspects of the writing and publishing process. An intense (but worth it) weekend.
The bit that causes me the most anxiety? Agent one-to-ones. 15 minute slots with your chosen agents where you try to pitch them your novel without turning into a babbling idiot. And by gum do I say some strange things when I’m nervous.Ultimately, it’s important to try and grow a tough skin that you can wear just for these occasions. Take it off and be the soft and sensitive person you love to be 99% of the time. But have it ready for battle. Because if you’re a writer and you’re serious about getting published then you will have set-backs and rejections and the odd rude comment. It happens. You gotta learn to deal with it.
Here’s some things that I have learnt from attending the festival over the years (this was my third go at it)
1. Develop a strong sense of ‘who you are’ as a writer. This makes it easier to sort through the feedback you’ll receive from agents/editors etc.
2. Listen. Just because you know who you are doesn’t mean you’ve stopped growing and getting better. Criticism is useful, when it’s constructive.
3. They’ve already read your work (probably, hopefully) and made up their mind about you. That said, you can also usually work this out within the first couple of minutes. It gets easier to tell when someone just isn’t interested in your book and it’s at this point that you need to change tactic. Try and get out of them something useful, even if you’re not going to be successful in the way you’d hoped.
4. Learn the difference between “constructive” and “dismissive”. It happens. Related to the above; some people just aren’t interested. So pick out any legit points and ignore the rest.
5. Consider feedback carefully, but don’t dissect it too much “in the moment”. My initial reaction to any kind of criticism is to spiral into a pit of self-doubt and disgust. But I know how my brain works now, and I know that I need to just let that run its course before I start sorting through the feedback with a clearer heart and mind.
6. Everyone will say something different. Follow your instincts. Only jump through the hoops you want to jump through.
7. Having a thick skin doesn’t mean you have to be prickly or get mad. Always be polite, even though you’re boiling with rage and disappointment with yourself on the inside.
8. Take notes. If you’re like me you might struggle to do this during a meeting, but don’t hesitate to jot down some notes straight after. For later.
9. Speak to a friend. They’ll let you bounce any initial knee-jerk reactions off them. It gets it out of your system faster.
10. Remember that you ARE a writer. And you WILL write again. Accept criticism as a challenge; edit, rewrite and resubmit. Prove the haters wrong.
11. Don’t take it personally. Agents are just doing their job. Sure, they want to find books that they love. But ultimately they want something they can SELL.
12. Have fun with it. It’s not the end of everything if you don’t get a single crumb of success. It means you just haven’t made it “yet”. Laugh, eat good food, and network with anyone and everyone. You never know who you’ll meet, and connections can take you far.
(gutting when they forget you, though)
I had a blast at the weekend. Not least of all because I was with some great friends and made even more. We laughed (literally to tears), we stuffed our faces and we learned a lot about our writing, and about ourselves. Overall a great success and yep, even if I’ve managed the impossible and bagged myself an agent by next year, I’ll still be going again. I’ve got the Winchester bug.