On Saturday I spent the day at the Newcastle Writing Conference, a new event run by New Writing North in association with Northumbria University.
The event was packed with literary guest speakers, all poised to share their insights into the publishing industry. Along with 150 or so other writers, both published and aspiring, I made my way into the Great Hall at Northumbria University’s Sutherland Building and settled in to listen to the introductions and panel discussions.
The event opened with a keynote speech by writer Stephen May, who was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Novel Award for his second book, Life! Death! Prizes! May recounted the often convoluted story of his writing career to an amused and captive audience, and was definitely the hit of the day.
His opening sound bite that, “Writers are megalomaniacs with low self-esteem,” had the assembled writers laughing in recognition.
The day continued with talks about breaking into writing, market focus, selling books and digital writing from some notable industry professionals, including Barry Cunningham of Chicken House Publishing, who is best known for publishing the Harry Potter books after JK Rowling had been rejected numerous times. Cunningham was certainly entertaining and sat on what was probably the most interesting panel discussion of the day, alongside agents Mark Stanton and Julia Churchill and Faber & Faber publishing director Lee Brackstone.
Throughout the day the speakers shared plenty of useful tips and advice for would-be writers, as well as several amusing industry anecdotes. The phrase, “Don’t tweet that!” did crop up a couple of times!
I was particularly interested in a statistic from Chris White, Head Fiction Buyer at Waterstones, who revealed that the bookselling industry classes a heavy reader as someone who buys more than six books a year. God only knows what that makes me – and probably most of the people who attended the event!
I came away from the day with plenty to think about and having enjoyed conversations with several lovely writers. The main disappointment for me was that very little was said about self-publishing, especially as I was awakened to the possibilities at a New Writing North event 18 months ago and am currently working on my own novel with the end goal of releasing it for Kindle.
But it was exciting to hear some of the ways the publishing industry has changed in recent years in an effort to keep up with new technology and the rise of ebooks. Ultimately, the stories and advice seemed to have a positive effect on the audience; it’s always reassuring to hear the problems of other writers whilst you’re struggling to achieve your dreams.
And as Stephen May observed, writers who aren’t writing are miserable. So if you’re passionate about creating stories and stunning poetry or prose, don’t give up, keep working and improving and give yourself the best chance of success.