Allie Spencer’s Route to Publishing Via Winchester Writers’ Festival

allie-spencer[1]I always wanted to be a writer and, whether it was university essays, short stories or legal pleadings (I’m a lawyer by trade) I have always put pen to paper in one form or another. The idea of writing a novel, though, was rather daunting. As someone who read a lot of novels, it was probably inevitable that sooner or later I would have a go but…well…they’re quite big, aren’t they? And don’t they take a long time to write? Then, after a bit of research, I discovered that all people initially want to see of your novel are three chapters and a synopsis – and that instantly seemed a lot more manageable. So, with an idea in mind and a rough synopsis beside me, I booted up the laptop, opened a new Word document and typed ‘Chapter One’ at the top of the page.

Writing the novel was easier than I’d imagined. The flaw was that once I’d finished it, no-one seemed to like it. In fact, after the blood and – literal – tears sweated over it, the poor thing was roundly rejected by every single agent in the country. One publisher did ask to see the full manuscript but, after due and weighty consideration, they rejected it too. However, I’d been well and truly bitten by the bug and I duly began Book Two. Around this time, I heard about an event in Winchester called a ‘Writers’ Conference’ (now the Festival of Writing). Here, I was told, you could not only attend classes and workshops but you had the opportunity of pitching your work directly to agents and publishers. I signed up for a Saturday session and the most extraordinary things began to happen. I saw an agent and an editor who were both very enthusiastic about Book Two. Crucially, this gave me the confidence I needed to press on, get it finished and begin the submission process all over again. This time, the outcome was completely different: twelve months later, I had secured an agent and, the year after that, I had a two book deal. tug-of-love-150x243 ‘Tug of Love’ – formerly known as Book Two – went on to win the Romantic Novelists’ Association award for the best debut and was shortlisted for the prestigious Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance.

The Winchester Writers’ Festival, though, is about more than publishing deals. Being an author is a lonely life and it is all too easy to let doubts creep in about your work or for you to feel isolated and unsupported in what is a highly competitive industry. Coming to Winchester allows you to be part of a writing family; a family where people want the best for you and will do what they can to help you succeed. Each Festival I have attended – whether as a delegate or, later, as a tutor – allowed me to come away recharged and enthusiastic. It is about meeting kindred spirits, finding your tribe and, most importantly, it is one of the best ways I can imagine to get your writing journey off to a flying start.




Competition Winners October 2012

Write a cover letter to a publisher’

Adjudicator: Mary Chamberlain, freelance editor

Mary Chamberlain began by pointing out that letters would be addressed to an agent and not an editor. The agent’s role, Mary reminded us, was to find a suitable publisher for the writer.

Mary found three good entrants for this month’s competition which were each awarded a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize on the basis of the interest they sparked in the reader, and whether they were correctly presented and addressed.

1st place – Claire Buckley

2nd place – Gill Hollands

3rd place – Nita Saini

The writers read their letters out. Gill Hollands’ second letter drew laughs from all, as the author professed to being a burglar, there were obvious spelling mistakes throughout, and it ended with the salutation: “love and kisses.”

Hermione Laake: Chair of Competitions, was asked to read Nita Saini’s letter, in her absence.

“Mary gave excellent and very thorough feedback,” said many of the attendees on the evening.

The feedback given

comp2Mary stressed the importance of properly addressing your correspondence. If you do not get this right, said Mary, then editors will not feel connected to you sufficiently. “Find out about where Mary Chamberlain comes from.” Mary reminded us that agents like letters to be addressed to them specifically, by name. Do your homework on this, said Mary. “Look them up; [similarly] don’t forget your postcode as an agent will be too busy to look it up.”

Mary emphasized the importance of assertive language, stressing, “Don’t use, I believe, or I feel.” Some personal information was a good idea, and where your work would sit in the current market was also something writers should address in letters to agents.

With regard to the presentation of the letter Mary said that staples were preferable and that paper clips were not acceptable. One page was enough.

One letter with the nom de plume, Jane Austen, Mary Chamberlain found particularly intriguing. Mary put this letter in the Highly Commended category as it did not have an email or postcode. This letter was written by our very own, meticulous secretary, Celia Livesey. However, we soon discovered the reason for the lack of email and postcode; this letter was written by somebody from the past. Thus the evening not only began on an historical note, with our Pro Vice Chancellor, Liz Stuart drawing on the history of Winchester University, it also ended on an historical note, yet with a clever twist, as the historical was married with the creative in the shape of a fictional letter.