Linda Bennett, Salt director and crime editor, gave an author’s surgery at Winchester Literary Festival again this year. As it was last year, the festival was impeccably organised by Judith Heneghan and Sara Gangai. Once again it took place in brilliant sunshine, which made it yet more festive. Midsummer is clearly a wise time to choose for holding literary festivals.
Overall, the submissions were of a higher standard than last year and some were exceptional. This doesn’t necessarily mean that ultimately Salt will publish the final versions: however inspired they are, they will also have to be a good fit with the list and not overlap too much with the work of existing Salt authors. Nevertheless, two of them looked very promising.
Linda much enjoyed talking to the authors and thought that reading their work and meeting them was a good investment of her time. Based on her experiences at Winchester, here are her five top ‘dos’ and don’ts’ for authors presenting their work at festival surgeries.
- When you prepare your submission, DO give me your best shot. You’re being unfair both to yourself and to me if you present me with an early draft and explain when you arrive that you didn’t have time to do much work on it.
- DO shake hands when you come into the room, look me in the eye, and seem pleased to see me.
- DO come to the meeting with some knowledge about Salt and Salt authors. I know that it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that Salt still publishes in certain areas that it’s now discontinued – single-author poetry collections, for example, and memoirs – but both this year and last I received Young Adult submissions. Salt has never been a YA publisher.
- DO send the submission well in advance. Winchester continues to receive entries after the closing date for sending MSs on to editors, and asks the editors to give feedback on the day to authors of late submissions. While I’m perfectly happy to do this, you won’t get such a considered opinion if it is delivered on the hoof.
- DO listen to all that I say about your work. I’ll have spent a considerable amount of time reading your synopsis and sample chapters, and sometimes additional work as well, very carefully in order to give a balanced view. If you dwell too much on individual points of praise or suggestions for improvement, you will go away with a distorted picture of my opinion.
- DON’T argue with me or try to talk me out of my opinion. It IS only an opinion and I don’t claim to think it is the only possible view to take of your work, but remember your purpose in sending it to me was to receive as honest and impartial feedback from me as possible. If the members of your writing group are more enthusiastic than I am about your work, that reflects the nature of writing groups. I hope it isn’t too curmudgeonly to point out that they aren’t required to take the financial risk of publishing your book.
- DON’T try to use your festival slot as a sales pitch.
- DON’T tell me you are bound to be a good writer because you are or have been a university lecturer or journalist, or have already been published. The purpose of our meeting is solely to discuss the merits of your submission. As an aside, there are about a third of a million university lecturers in the UK, and I can assure you that not all are accomplished writers! As a further aside, one of the most promising Winchester submissions this year was indeed by a journalist.
- DON’T fail to show up to the meeting or show up late and tell me that you’re not sure that you should be talking to me because you’ve just met someone who’s prepared to be your agent. I’m constantly surprised by how many authors think they’ve arrived when they’ve found an agent. An agent won’t publish your work for you, though he or she will increase your chances of finding a publisher. And Salt is, of course, more than happy to work with agents.
- DON’T tell me that you write like Alison Moore. Every second would-be Salt author I meet says this (and I have yet to encounter one who does!).
Finally – I say this a little tongue-in-cheek and hope the perpetrator is not blushing too much – do try not to spill coffee all over my business cards. It is a tribute to the quality of Salt’s business cards that I was able to dry them off with paper towels until they looked as good as new. However, if you were one of my afternoon authors and there’s a strong smell of coffee coming from your handbag or wallet, you now know the reason why!