Ron and I attended the inaugural New Writers’ Conference held by Literature Works, the literature development charity for South West England. It took place on Sunday 2 November, at Plymouth University.

The Conference was designed to assist writers who have the manuscript of their novel “ready to go” (or nearly so!) Professionals working in the industry gave advice and information on finding an agent, working with editors, getting a publishing deal, and marketing the book after publication.

Please follow this link if you’re interested in seeing the full programme of events.

I’ve picked three or four pieces of advice from each of the sessions (otherwise, as Ron will tell you, I will write pages….)

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Opening remarks by Tracey Guiry, CEO of Literature Works

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Pan MacMillan Senior Editor Sophie Orme (left) with novelist Susanna Jones 

  • Editing includes checking for issues with narrators, timelines, continuity, momentum, events, the resolution of unanswered questions, and overall structure and voice (to name but a few). It can also involve re-writing or moving sentences (or even full chapters) to reshape and improve your book, particularly if the “real story” starts at your original chapter three! 
  • “Top and tail” chapters where needed. When writing, you may have written sentences or sections to feel your way into the chapter (or out of it). If your reader doesn’t need it, cut or change it. You leave space for the remaining words to breathe, then. 🙂
  • A chapter should be as long as it needs to be. (We’ve always worked on that basis!) A book is as long as it needs to be, too!  (Ditto!)
    However the industry is set up for standard sizing and most will only take novels of between 65,000 – 230,000 words (the really long books are often those in the Historical genre). A length of 60,000 words means the book is too slim for standard jacket formats, and too short for standard pricing. For comparison, our own The Cordello Quest is just over 100,000 words.

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Debut children’s/YA novelist Kim Slater (left) and agent Clare Wallace of Darley Anderson (right) 

  • An agent needs to be a good match to the author, and to share a vision for the book. Don’t accept the first offer of representation you get (out of fear you’ll never get another!) if you don’t feel a good fit. An agent represents an author, not just the book which has interested them. You’re both in it for the long haul, like a marriage. 🙂
  • Try agencies who represent authors that you like, and who write in your genre. Your submission letter can refer to those authors, and you may interest the agent if you can state that your work is similar to someone with whom they already work. Address and tailor your submission to a named agent (i.e. do your research!) and also say what makes you qualified to write your story.
  • A synopsis shows that you know how to tell a story. Agents know they’re hard to write!

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Kate Offord from the Arts Council (South West Area). This was a shorter presentation.

  • We were advised that the presentation would be shared on the LitWorks website at some stage, but I have not found it yet. Writers may apply for grants – and have successfully been awarded funding – however the applicant must demonstrate that the work would provide a potential benefit to the public. Non-fiction is not usually permitted unless it’s a memoir or travelogue.
  • The application questions are thorough, and are designed so that you can illustrate why you think your book is worth funding (artistic quality), how it will benefit the public, and how you will manage the creative project and the grant. Of 8,500 applications in 2013, over 3000 were successful. 

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Local author Tom Vowler (left) and agent Charlie Brotherstone (right)

  • Tom’s writing experience – blogging his writing process, interviewing authors, offering tips, taking part in an online critique group – helped him to showcase his commitment to writing as a career. This is one of the reasons Charlie wanted to represent him.
  • Tom has a regular writing target, although he doesn’t write at the same time each day. Don’t wait for the muse to turn up. You have to show up and do the work. Even if the result is “rubbish”, at least you have something to start from. Working with Charlie, the editing process for Tom’s first published book took several months.
  • Tom admitted he’d change his earlier books! Like most writers, he’s always dissatisfied, always feels he could go back and “improve” (I know that feeling!) Deadlines forced him to stop tinkering. If you’re moving commas around, it’s time to let the book go. 😉
  • Tom often has several projects (e.g. short stories) out on submission so that when he gets a rejection (yes, it still happens!) he has other work to focus on. Later, he’ll return to the rejected piece and can often see what needs to be done to improve it.


In addition to the sessions in the lecture hall, there was plenty of time (Registration, Break, Lunch, Drinks Reception) to mingle and chat with the other attendees. It was good to meet Teresa and Joy who are part of the Penzance LitFest team, as well as several other people with interesting stories and ideas, and – we hope – long and fulfilling careers as authors ahead! 🙂

Although our brains were spinning (half-dead, actually) by the end of it all, we felt it was a worthwhile day, and we are glad we went!

Please note this blog post has no official connection with the conference or with LitWorks. All words are my own – taken from my notes – and the photographs are, of course, also mine. 🙂

I hope you’ve found this information useful if you’re a writer – whether you’re self-publishing or hoping to obtain a traditional publishing contract.

Please do share (and Like) the post if you’ve enjoyed it or found it interesting. It encourages us (*smile*), and may help writers we can’t reach without your help. 🙂

~ Joanna