Yesterday I had a delightfully bookish day attending not one but two literary events where I got to meet some of the authors I have featured on my blog.
For the first of these I returned to a town I worked in some twenty years ago. Swindon does not appear to have changed markedly in that time, but it has acquired a fabulous new library.
As part of an initiative run by Literature Works (the literature development charity for South West England and Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation) called Reading Passport (a partnership between South West Regional Library Service, Literature Works, the Royal Literary Fund, and supported by Read South West) the library had organised an author talk by one time local girl, Sarah Jasmon, whose debut novel, ‘The Summer of Secrets’, was published earlier this year. I overheard one of the organisers commenting that the talk was one of the best attended in the series.
When I arrived Sarah was working her way around the room chatting to the various groups of attendees. It was lovely to see an author being so open and friendly, and it set the tone for what was to be a captivating hour.
After the introductions Sarah gave a reading from her book before going on to tell the audience about her journey from aspiring to published author.
Although she had been tinkering with writing for many years, it wasn’t until she enrolled in a Creative Writing MA, just before her fortieth birthday, that she succeeded in completing a novel. Sarah talked of the advice she was given on the course, that beautiful prose is all very well but a plot requires that things happen along the way. She talked of the complexity of her initial draft and how this was simplified during rewrites, how she found her voice and ended up in the genre of contemporary fiction.
Sarah admits to a degree of luck in finding both an editor and an agent while her novel was still in early format. Listening to her story it is clear that she also put in the groundwork herself, not just with writing a good book but in being willing to pitch it to the publishing industry whenever she had the opportunity.
From the questions being asked it appeared that there were many writers in the room keen to learn from Sarah’s experiences. They listened attentively as she spoke of the importance of networking, social media, perfecting what she called an elevator pitch, the submissions process, working with both editor and publisher, and an author’s input into the packaging of the finished work. It would seem that writing a book is only the beginning, that to become a published author also requires what sounded very much like standard business skills.
One comment in particular stayed with me. Sarah talked of always thinking the next milestone was the one that would get her to where she wanted to be: finishing her novel; finding an agent; signing a book deal; seeing her book published; meeting a sales target. Sometimes, she said, it is necessary to just enjoy where she is.
After the event a good number of books were sold, Sarah taking the time to sign each one and to chat to her eager readers. I introduced myself and felt chuffed when she knew who I was. It was lovely to meet such a friendly and personable author, and she made me feel truly welcome.