The Gollancz Festival 2017

On the first Sunday of November I attended The Gollancz Festival 2017 at Foyles on Charing Cross Road, London.

For those who don’t know, Gollancz is one of the UK’s top publishers of Science Fiction and Fantasy, home to some of my favourite contemporary authors—Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson and Scott Lynch.

The Festival itself was a two-day event [after some moronic dithering on my behalf, I missed my chance to buy a ticket for the Saturday before it sold out] made up of various sessions held by writers and industry professionals (editors, literary agents, publicists and so on).

Each session focused on different topics and the one I attended was entitled A Publishing Masterclass, which was aimed at people like myself: those who want to turn the dream of becoming a published author into a reality.

The session was split into four talks, with different authors/professionals attending:

  1. How it all began: Writing, Publishing & Getting an Agent
  2. Pitch Perfect: Learn How to Perfect Your Book Pitch
  3. A Book From Start to Finish
  4. Life After Publication?

The introvert that I am, I arrived early and took a seat next to the isle, hoping someone would sit beside me and strike up conversation—possibly even friendship. One thing I’ve missed since my MA is being in a room surrounded by like-minded people with similar ambitions.

Of course no one sat next to me.

Who can blame them?

Emily has suggested I join some Facebook groups and other online communities, which I am certainly going to do. I did join one a couple of months back [‘m trying to recall the name . . .] but that’s been as active as an extinct volcano. Attending The Gollancz Festival has motivated me to rectify that. Tom needs writer friends! Unfortunately, those I’ve kept in touch with from my MA no longer pursue their writing like they used to. [Scribophile, that’s it!]

Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed each talk, and sat eager-eared with a newly-opened notebook pressed between my knee and writing hand.

It was encouraging to hear writers such as Joanne M. Harris, Joe Hill, Alastair Reynolds, Elizabeth May and Kristen Ciccarelli discuss how they write a first draft and how its shape constantly changes throughout the novel-writing process. They all had different views on how they approached a first draft, but they all agreed that it’s OK to write an abysmal one.

I admit (rather shamefully), that I’ve not yet read any of these author’s works. Joanne M. Harris and Joe Hill have been on my to-read radar since the beginning of the year, I’m just working my way towards them. Damn there being so many wonderful books out there to read!

Joe Hill is actually the son of my favourite author, Stephen King. (Despite his heavy mop and matching beard, the resemblance was uncanny. That comment is verging dangerously on being inane. After all, they’re father and son. Still . . .) But his books sound worth reading on their own merit, not his father’s.

Since the session, I’m also eager to read some of Alastair Reynold’s work, along with Ben Aaronovitch, Aliette de Bodard and Catriona Ward, who attended the final talk.

Despite not having [yet] read any of their works, I was familiar with most of the writers. Even if I hadn’t been, their advice would still have been invaluable. Here’s a couple of my favourite quotes. (Unfortunately, in my rush to catch the words in ink, I didn’t label who said what.)

“You have your whole life to write your first book. Once you’re published, you only have six months to write your second.”

It makes sense, but I didn’t realise the sharp turn-around that’s needed for a debut author to produce a second book, especially if they want to build an audience and make a career out of writing. As I said, it makes sense. It added further value to the authors who stressed the importance of moving on to the next work once the current one was finished. I’d come across this advice before, but it wasn’t until the session that it really impressed upon me. [A nice problem I hope to someday have!]

“No one day actually matters. Good or bad. Writing a book takes a long time. Don’t get caught up in meaningless, small days.”

This is my favourite quote of the day, and perhaps the best advice I’ve heard in a long time. (Yup, even better than the advice I mentioned last week.) Emily has told me this before in similar words and I’ve tried (and failed) to live my writing life by it. For whatever reason, it really seemed to resonate with me by hearing it a second, slightly-reworded time.

“You can ignore flaws and come back once the whole first draft is finished.”

I’ll take any excuse to hear that it’s OK for my writing to be crap.

One of the authors whose work I had read was Ed McDonald’s recently published Blackwingwhich was just as well. McDonald, along with a panellist of industry professionals, talked through the process of getting the book published, which for someone like me was fascinating.

The second thing that was impressed upon me came up during this third talk: the importance of social media. Authors are like a brand. Being personal, honest and direct over social media can go a long way, even if it’s sharing the writing process [I’m glad I’ve already been doing that] or your love of cooking. The phrase that was used most was, “Make yourself useful. Put your best foot forward.”

Don’t be surprised if I soon start plugging newly-activated Twitter and Instagram accounts swarmed with posts about writing and Golden Retrievers.

I’d recommend an event like this to anyone with a similar passion to my own, as well as to those who—whatever their motive—want to garner a better understanding of the publishing world. It was a reassuring, reinvigorating afternoon, and all for the reasonable price of £20. I’ll be hoping to attend other similar events in the near future.

Having already been aware of a lot of the information and advice that was given, it didn’t lessen the value of the session, nor make it feel in any way like a waste of time. Rather, it was comforting. My last few months spent constructing a better understanding of the craft felt validated by the afternoon. There’s also no harm in hearing the same information twice (especially if it slipped by the first time as less important . . .) and you can never get enough good advice; it’s much more engaging being spoken to you when you’re in a room surrounded by like-minded people with similar ambitions.

Even if none of them sat next to me.

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