Claire Fuller at the Hampshire Writers’ Society

Report by Lisa Nightingale

‘You don’t need to know someone in the industry, in order to get published,’ award- winning author, Claire Fuller is keen to tell writers.

Claire is not at all bashful about having begun her writing career, aged 40, or how her first book, Our Endless Numbered Days was chosen from the ‘slush pile’ or that she was 48 before she was published.

She recalls that she was sitting in the back seat of a small car surrounded by cheese and bulging bin bags of wedding feast dregs, when she took the call from her agent with the news that Penguin had won the publishers’ auction for Our Endless Numbered Days . This debut novel was published in the UK and was sold to a further twelve countries. It was awarded the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction 2015 and long-listed for the Dublin Literary Award.

Claire directed a marketing company for a number of years though she had gained a degree in sculpture from the Winchester School of Art. While she was developing a succession of projects, she realised that she needed to extend her knowledge. She chose creative writing.

Although she had not written fiction since leaving school, aged 16, she submitted  a short story into the Hampshire Cultural Trust  Short Story Slam. Eighteen months later her submission won a competition and she was rewarded with the princely sum of £9.50! ‘Entering competitions is an excellent way to become recognised as an emerging writer’.

Fascinated by the story of Robin Van Helsum, a Dutch boy, who claimed to have lived in a German forest for five years, she wrote scenes of a young girl living in a forest, which she incorporated into her dissertation for her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester.

Claire readily admits to being someone who needs guidance and discipline. During the academic year’s summer break, she feared that her motivation would lapse. She loves the freedom writing brings to indulge in description and launched into a self- imposed project, turning the forest scenes into a book. She took part in live research and ‘watched an awful lot of Ray Mears programmes.’

She submitted a synopsis of 140 characters to #PitMad. The ‘likes’ that she received from agents motivated her further and she finished and revised the book. To find an agent, she submitted to a variety of agents and received the usual rejection letters.

However she did receive an invitation to tea in London from an agent.

‘We sat outdoors at a long table. She bought me the smallest cake in London,’ Claire recalls. But she was so friendly, supportive and genuinely interested in my novel. ‘I knew that she was the agent for me.’

A certain amount of luck is involved in finding the right agent. It is important to work with them, Claire advised. Although it is part of the publisher’s contractual agreement to market writers’ books, they like it when you support them.

Claire observed that when you live with your story for so long, you often don’t recognise overlong narrative scenes. Her editor has asked her to alter the placement of her scenes to improve the pace or to change of words, but they have never asked her to change her story line or her ideas.

Claire enjoys the editing process even more than the writing of the first draft. She is a member of a critiquing group, which she has found invaluable.

Because her publisher has only offered her a one book deal, she has prepared the  first draft of her next book while she was waiting for her first book to be printed, in her case, a period of eighteen months.

Swimming Lessons, her second book, was published by Fig Tree/Penguin in hardback and ebook in January 2017, published by Tin House, US, in February 2017, by House of Anansi, Canada and Piper in Germany in March 2017.

Swimming Lessons has received many favourable reviews including The Guardian, who reported that ‘ Swimming Lessons reveals a writer that has all the observational touches that show Fuller to be a serious novelist with an acute awareness of the nuances and patterns of human speech and behaviour.’

Meanwhile Claire she is working on Book 3. Then her submission process begins anew.

Lorella Belli – Literary Agent

 E-books, Publishing and Self-Publishing: an agent’s view

What are the pros and cons of getting a traditional deal or choosing the self-publishing route? In this rapidly changing landscape, what is the role of the agent? Report by Lisa Nightingale

It was Lorella Belli’s ambition to set up her own agency. She set out to know the publishing industry inside out. Her brief to discover ‘new blood’ gave her not just invaluable insider experience, but introduced her to many unpublished authors.

Mar 15 Lorella Belli and Barbara Larrge 2_1697‘An agent works for their Author.’ Lorella says. As an agent, her primary concern and something which she feels forms a vital part of the agent/author partnership is; ‘What does the author want from their writing?’

She is the first to declare that the agent’s role in the modern author’s career remains unchanged regardless of chosen route of publication – self or traditional. An area of particular interest is the protection and exploitation of the author’s rights and here, Lorella is well versed and undeniably diva.

For the most part, a writer wants readers, they want to see their work in a bookshop. Equally, it is important to recognise the financial aspects of a writer’s career. Both the traditional route and the contemporary self-publishing route provides remuneration, but in different ways.

It is her belief that an agent has a responsibility to be aware of the many platforms of publication available to authors both new and experienced, how those platforms work and therefore be able to fit the author to the best publisher.

Lorella’s agency is vocational towards the needs of an author. There is no room for the agent’s preciousness over writing. ‘So what if the book is ‘trashy’.’ Lorella says, ‘If the writer is happy, then their readers are happy and so is the publisher.’

An author can retain some control over publishing decisions e.g. the cover even through the traditional route. An informed agent will know to insert such clauses into their contract. Similarly, self-publishing has given the publishing houses some much needed competition – authors now have an alternative.

However, authors must be aware that by choosing the self-publishing route, they are choosing to take on their career in its entirety and inevitably this will cut into writing time. A publishing house provides editing, a marketing department, a sales department and publicity.

The traditional route may seem like it is taking its time, whereas self-publishing can be a whirlwind. Of course this is after the author has learned all the skills needed to be a publisher.

One huge pro for the appointment of an agent – they get the hurtful rejections! However, an agent of Lorella’s talent will believe in the book and wants to see it published. It is that agent’s job to spot the writer’s talent and therefore their target audience.

It is hugely important that authors remain professional. When an agent is passionate about a book and has an author that they can build on, they will stand more chance of promoting it, even if it does not appear to fit, or is the wrong length.

Even to an agent as talented as Lorella, the next big thing is a mystery. There will always be the wild card – who could have predicted 50 Shades of Grey? However, a writer can keep their eye on publicity to hang on e.g. the Olympics.

As a writer grows more successful, their chosen path can become more complex. Lorella suggests building a team, delegate, remember the AAA (Association of Authors’ Agents) and ask an agent for advice. That is the bottom line of their job – to work for the author.

An agent’s website will state what they are looking for. There is no divide between male and female, it is all down to what that agent wants to feel when reading a book. For Lorella, it is what makes her laugh and what makes her cry.

The members present were left in no doubt of Lorella’s message – the agent works for the author, no one else, not themselves, not the publishers. Just the author. They thanked her for her candid, refreshing approach and dependably constant open door.

Special Guests: Moira Blackwell and Liz Nankivel, joint authors of the Binky Bear books

Now on their third title, Binky Goes to London, Lizzy and Moira are completely self-published.

Mar 15 LIz Nankivell & Moira Blackwell _1698Being a parent reader at a local school, Lizzy acquired a good feel for what children like to read. This gave the two women confidence when the traditional publishing route closed to them saying; ‘stories with photograph pictures will not sell.’

As partners, every decision and every woe is shared. As are their venture’s financial commitments. Lizzy advised us that using grants from the European Structural and Investment Funds, they attended locally run business courses.

The two authors keep to a strict business type functionality when making decisions. Once they settled on their chosen format things moved quickly. Within a year they were selling Binky books from a stall at Arlesford. Moira admitted to having to become brazen about their sales – marching into bookshops and asking the manager to put the book on the shelves. ‘When you’ve done it once, it gets easier’, she says. They now have some prestigious outlets including Harrods, Selfridges, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

Binky Bear is one hundred percent British. He is printed using Cedar Press in Romsey and with the Union Jack branding, Moira and Lizzy now have an opening to sell Binky in Florida.

Claire Fuller. Author of Our Endless Numbered Days.

Forty-seven year old, mum of two, HWS member Claire refused to be dissuaded from writing when she was advised by a writer less than half her age, who had met her agent at a party and been signed up, that what matters is not what you know, but who you know.

Claire is proud of her writing and enjoyed it. She began an MA in Creative Writing and Our Endless Numbered Days was her dissertation. But she cannot say that her consequent success was secured by the MA. However, she is adamant that a writer should find a good writing group who will critique constructively.

Our Endless Numbered Days was submitted to a lot of agents, many of which Claire did not hear from at all. Her pitch letter stuck rigidly to the requirements stated on the Agent’s website. ‘See it as a job application.’ she advises, ‘If the application is asked for in one way, you would not submit it another.’ She also listed her previous publications which gave her credibility.

The agent that Claire chose wanted a face-to-face meeting. This told her that the agent was checking her out to ensure that she was workable with. It is worth remembering that an agent must sell the author as well as the book.

Once signed, Our Endless Numbered Days was ready for publication in 19 months. Debuts are published in the Spring. Claire’s enviable deal is for one book, so although the publisher is harassing her for book two, she can relax – book two is passed draft one.

Claire and her publisher, Penguin will be hosting a workshop at the Winchester Writer’s Festival this year. We hope that success will not go to her head and she will return to keep us updated on her future successes.

Madeleine Milburn, literary agent, at the HWS

report by Carole Hastings

Chairman Barbara Large set the scene for an interesting evening. She congratulated Kirsty Whittle, winner of two competitions at the Winchester Writers’ Conference in 2011 and co-author of Journeys and What-not, for making it to the last eight in the Macmillan “Write Now” competition for Young Adult fiction. The winner’s book will be published later this year and is yet to be decided…

Pippa from the West Meon Festival talked about their festival of books taking place July 11-14.  The have a workshop and a great line-up of speakers – Michael Morpurgo, Kate Mosse, Elizabeth Buchan, Jane Gardam and many others. for details.

Madelaine Clark publisher of the new New Writer Magazine explained how she and her partner Alison Glinn took over the magazine when the previous editor wanted to retire after 113 issues.  They have injected new life into it, extending the remit to attracting writing groups, developing it as a sister magazine to the their other publication New Books.  They gave everyone a copy and encouraged people to subscribe at a special price of £18 per year.  Check the and

Madeleine&Barabara (2)David Eadsforth introduced Madeleine Milburn of the eponymous literary agency who shared a thought provoking presentation.  Madeleine started her career at AP Watts 10years ago.  The agency is the oldest in the UK and represents highbrow writers such as Zadie Smith and Sebastian Barry who are less prolific than many of the more commercial authors she handled when she made the move to Darley Anderson.  Here Madeleine built her own list of authors in the female fiction, young adult and children’s genres.  These moved with her to her own agency and she works closely with all 25 of them and is branching into crime and thrillers.

The digital age has seen a 66% increase in 2012 of books being read on e-readers amounting to £3.34 bn and just a small slippage on physical books of 1% £2.9 bn so overall more people are reading these days.

Her advice to all writers is to try to get an agent before you consider self-publishing as although self-publishers have control of their book they have no advantages that a publisher brings such as editing, marketing, publicity, advance, editing costs, advance. Also low sales of a self published book may put off prospective agents.

An agent will always fight your corner and give you editorial guidance whilst pitching, networking and negotiating rights in other media and overseas.  Publishers are interested in international best sellers and agents can facilitate this.  She recommended that all writers blog, tweet, network, constantly self promote and be prepared for editorial criticism.

Madeleine looks for a hook, the most powerful voice, authentic characters, excellent dialogue, a good backstory with the minimum “telling”.  She expects a three chapter submission to be well presented with a one page synopsis covering who, when, what, where.  Titles need to make sense or be very different e.g. The Hunger Games, Before I Go to Sleep, Lovely Bones etc.  Full manuscripts should be available if requested.  She tends to get back to writers within a day or so, if she loves their writing, but receives 30-40 submissions a day.
She encouraged writers to develop a pitch that sells their story by checking out back of book blurbs and testing pitches by tweeting to keep them succinct.  Distill a paragraph into sentence to help focus the pitch.  Think of a different angle to your book.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a no 1 best selling thriller with an unreliable narrator that holds a reader’s attention throughout.

It is important to approach agents that you think is on your wavelength, so research is key – their websites, Facebook, bookseller, festivals etc will all help.  Send your work to 4-5 suitable agents at once.  Your covering letter needs to be positive and conversational with the aim to pitch your book by introducing yourself, saying why you think that agency is right for you.  Tell them what you are in the process of writing next.  All Madeleine’s writers produced stunning letters that accompanied unsolicited submissions!  Publishers need to know you have a book a year or at least every eighteen months in order to outlay advances and promotion funds.

Currently short story anthologies aren’t selling well but some publishers are using their popular authors to write digital shorts to build their names in between novels.  Some booksellers will not sell short story collections at all.
Key tips for successful agent catching:
Join writing groups
Attend festivals and book fairs

Follow agents on social media

Digest The Bookseller & Publishers Weekly

Read writing magazines

Go to writing retreats

Read best selling books

Study trends

She advised that poetry needs to be pitched directly to publishers these days.
The talk was exceptionally useful for anyone who seriously wants to be published.