A visit to Leeds for the fiction roadshow

“I thought I’d be out of here at eleven but that was actually really interesting!” A lady confides in me as she drops her evaluation form in the box on the way out. Sitting in a room for four hours with the temptation of a Christmas market sparkling outside is difficult, but evidently worth it. Besides, our audience are writers so they’re used to a challenge.

There’s a queue of eager people waiting outside our room at The Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds before the event starts. Our Fiction event is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular one so far.

There’s a brief introduction and welcome from New Writing North’s Chief Exec, Claire Malcolm, then we’re off. First up, Senior Commissioning Editor, Sophie Buchan navigates the publishing landscape with literary agent, Carrie Plitt.

It’s an interesting and unusual pairing; agents and editors work with writers at different stages of a manuscript’s life but it’s intriguing to get both perspectives. An agent takes 15% of your earnings so sometimes it’s prudent to go with the publisher who is offering the most money for your work. Publishing houses can offer more than just money though and it’s good to weigh up other factors, such as a well devised marketing plan, if you’re lucky enough to find yourself at the centre of a bidding war.

Both Sophie and Carrie agree though, it’s not wise to try and anticipate the market to the extent where you’re just second-guessing the industry.

After all, as Sophie says, “Who would ever have predicted that badly written erotic fiction would have been the next big thing?”

By the time you’ve written your book, edited it, sent it to and secured (easy) an agent and it’s ready to be sent out to editors, the publishing landscape will have inevitably changed. Write the book you want to write not the book you think publishers want to read.

Of course, one of the questions on every writer’s mind in the North is, “Are agents in the South interested in writers here?” With so many agents and publishing houses based in London, are we forgotten about?

Carrie puts everyone’s mind at ease with her response, “Location is not a problem and just because you’re based in the North doesn’t mean that agents from the South won’t be interested in you.

“Besides,” she adds casually, “sometimes it’s fun to travel down to Oxford to visit your agent.”

It’s worth mentioning at this point that Carrie is looking for authors to add to her list, so if a trip down to Oxford to visit your agent sounds like fun to you, you should get in touch.

The second subject tackled by Carrie who is joined by author and Northern Writers’ Awards winner, Mark Illis, is ‘Knowing Who You’re Writing For’. This throws up questions including ‘Does my YA novel have too much swearing in it?” The answer, if you’re wondering, is a bit of a grey area. Mark explains that his YA novel was originally intended for older teens but he was advised that removing the swearing would open it up to a wider market.

A leisurely return from lunch (it’s very relaxed in Yorkshire) leads to a discussion between Sophie and Stacey Sampson, writer, actor, facilitator, mother and another Northern Writers’ Award winner. The subject of this panel is ‘Editing and Preparing Your Work for Submission”.

“I have a writer friend,” Stacey tells the audience, “who puts two pounds in a jar for every thousand words she writes and at the end she buys a bottle of champagne.”

This tip appears to be the most popular advice of the event and it’s clear to see why you might need it when it comes to the onerous task of redrafting before submission. Stacey’s advice is to complete your first draft, just get to the end, no looking back and worry about corrections later. Don’t look at it for at least two weeks once you’ve finished to give yourself distance from it and then you can start editing.

During the final panel of the day, Stacey and Mark discuss how winning a Northern Writers’ award has opened up doors for them. Stacey was able to pay herself £100 a day to write using the money she received but both of them agree that the greatest benefit was the support and opportunities it provided. Meeting agents at the talent party, hosted by New Writing North, gave them the opportunity to see that they’re not all scary and, actually, they need you as much as you need them.


You can still catch us for Writing for TV and Radio Roadshow on 3 December in Preston and Early Career Writers’ Roadshow on 15 December in Middlesborough.