If you’ve been reading House With No Name for a while, you’ll know that I’m a writing workshop addict. Hearing other writers speak about their work and picking up advice and guidance along the way is one of my favourite pastimes.
So yesterday I jumped at the chance to hear five bloggers present a workshop entitled The Path to Getting Published – Bloggers Who Have Done It. The session was part of BritMums Live, a massive two-day event in London attended by 500 bloggers that I’ll be writing about soon.
The publishing workshop was chaired by US-based writer Toni Hargis, author of the Expat Mum blog, and as she astutely said at the start “there is no right way to publish - but the one thing you do need is a product.”
First up was writer Kate Morris, author of three novels, including Seven Days One Summer. It was fascinating to meet Kate at last because we once wrote a pair of blogs called Country Wife and City Wife for Easy Living magazine. Even though it felt like we know each other well we’d never actually met in person before.
Kate admitted that writing a novel is “a long, lonely journey and a scary process,” and advised budding novelists to make sure they send out “a very polished product that’s as tight and compelling as possible.” Rather than submitting a book too soon, she reckons it’s a good idea to ask people you trust to read your work and give an objective view. They could be close friends or fellow writers or members of a writing group, but make sure they give “constructive and truthful criticism” and then take on board “what resonates with you.”
Next came the dynamic Emily Carlisle, who writes the ultra-successful More Than Just a Mother blog. She said she felt like “a complete fraud” because she hasn’t had a book published yet, but thanks to the success of her blog she has been approached by three agents who love her work. She's now signed up with one of them and is working on a novel.
“All three told me that having an online presence and a solid platform is absolutely crucial,” said Emily. “It means you have a group of readers who are coming back for more and it means you are marketable.”
She also came up with a list of five tips for bloggers who want to write books:
- Keep your blog fresh, original and professional.
- Make sure you have an About Me section on your page (so agents and publishers can find out more about you).
- Make sure your contact details are on there.
- Include a page about your writing aspirations. Agents want to know you are in "for the long haul.”
- If you have done interviews for radio or TV, then put them on your blog. It shows that you can hold your own in conversation and that you are marketable.
Meanwhile American agent Erin Niumata, senior vice president at Folio Literary Management, added some practical advice on submitting work to agents. She advised writers to send a query letter, a synopsis of three to five pages (including the ending) and the first three chapters or 50 pages. “Send them something they can actually read,” she quipped. “And don’t put glitter inside, don’t send gifts and don’t call to follow up. Don’t do any of that.”
Erin pointed out that agents frequently look at blogs – “we are out there, lurking in the dark, looking at you,” she said. “The bigger your platform, the better. So be clever, be smart and write something that is original.”
Last, but not least, came writer Cari Rosen, a former TV producer whose first book was published last year. The Secret Diary of a New Mum (Aged 43 ¾) is the story of “one woman, one baby, a slipped disc and rather too many wrinkles,” and as Cari explained, she wrote it in five months, sitting on the sofa in her pyjamas with a bag of M&Ms. The TV rights have now been sold in the US, so watch this space...