Launching a writing career can be baffling and overwhelming, and so at June’s Byte the Book, a panel from all corners of the industry met to discuss what authors need to publish professionally. David Roche of the London Book Fair chaired the event, which brought together Canongate’s Hannah Knowles, Suresh Ariaratnam of the Sprung Sultan Agency, Marina Kemp of Ink Academy and specialist literary accountant Chris Pitsillides (of HW Fisher, who also sponsored the evening).
Our fantastic sponsors, HW Fisher with from left to right, Andrew Subramaniam, Bunty Bhudia, and Chris Pitsillides
David began by asking Marina whether a new author – with their first manuscript under their belt – ought to consider editing assistance prior to submitting to agents. “It’s very difficult to know for sure,” considered Marina, “but it’s best to assume that, as a general rule, most manuscripts benefit from more editing”. She suggested that one practical approach is to submit to a only handful of agents first, then carefully monitor the feedback. “If you get eight swift, undecorated rejections, that may mean you require more editorial help”. At the same time, explained Suresh, literary agents aren’t necessarily expecting authors to come to them entirely polished and ready to publish. “Nothing comes out of the ocean fully-formed like Venus,” he commented. “I’m not just looking for current greatness, but long-term potential too”.
Our excellent speakers relaxing in the House of St Barnabas garden before the event from left to right: Marina Kemp, David Roche, Hannah Knowles,Suresh Ariaratnam and Chris Pitsillides
Turning to Hannah, David then pondered why, in an era of ever more sophisticated self-publishing platforms, a writer might make the decision to give up around 85% of their sales revenue in a traditional publishing deal. “It always comes down to what individual authors want,” replied Hannah. “That should be your key thought as you’re writing. If all you want to do is get a book out there into the world, self-publishing will probably suit your needs”. However, she continued, if you’re seeking to build a serious career as a writer, there are many other factors to consider; and part of the reason an author would relinquish such a large percentage to a publisher is to pass on the responsibility of the many “plank costs” of producing and marketing a book (editing, proofreading, typesetting, printing, distribution, publicity and so on). “That’s what we’re giving to you,” she said. “It may not be the right route for everyone, and that’s fine”.
The panel in full flow in the chapel
Moving on to the sticky topic of tax, David asked Chris at what point an author should consult the advice of an accountant, or financial advisor. Chris’ response was unwavering: “Ideally authors should come to us before they’re earning; before they even sign a deal, even. If the horse has already bolted, it becomes more difficult for us to use the tips and tricks of the trade to save them money”. He went on to point out that, by the time they receive an advance, most writers have already invested a great deal of time in their work, so avoiding serious tax leakage is paramount. “You should be claiming your allowable expenses right from the very start, for instance, and maybe using averaging for larger advances. The earlier you get in and speak to someone, the better”.
As well as the talk Byte The Book events are also about making useful connections (here’s Andrew Subramaniam of HW Fisher talking to author Amanda Dewinter)
Ultimately, it was agreed that all authors, whether traditionally or self-published, need to surround themselves with a competent team (“Success is never a solo operation,” commented Suresh). At the same time, writers shouldn’t be afraid to follow their guts: “Listen to advice,” concluded Marina, “but don’t decimate your own work simply to please everyone else”.
In other words, in a complex, fragmented marketplace, the conclusion was unanimous: every author needs to find the path that’s right for them.
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