How to be a freelance journalist

27 May 2015

I’m on a panel tonight, weds 27 May, at Blackwell’s Bookshop, Oxford from 7pm to 9pm, talking about how to be a freelance journalist. Here’s how Blackwell’s describes the event:

‘We’ll be examining how producing work for newspapers and magazines differs from other kinds of writing and how one might earn a living from this kind of writing. On the panel will be Lucy Atkins, novelist, book critic and freelance feature writer; and Fleur Kinson, travel and property journalist. In the chair will be Cherry Mosteshar, founder of The Oxford Editors, author and journalist. Entry £3 and all welcome.
Group 2012 is a writers group based in Oxford and established by Blackwell’s Bookshop, The Oxford Editors and Hersilia Press. It meets on the fourth Wednesday of each month.’

If you want to build up a freelance writing career this could be a useful couple of hours. 

Feeling Tense at Chip Lit Fest

22 Feb 2015

Are you wScreen Shot 2015-02-22 at 16.19.01riting a book? All writing, no matter what the genre  – fiction or non-fiction – can benefit from a bit of tension. At this year’s Chipping Norton Literary Festival novelist Emily Barr  and I are running Creating Tension workshop where we’ll show you how to make your work more engrossing –  whether you’re writing autobiography, historical romance or a nail-biting thriller. It’s on Sunday 26th April, 10am.


Have you got a book in you?

22 Feb 2015

If you want to write a book (or have written one) but feel confused by the process of getting it published then come to the Oxford Literary Festival on Tuesday 24 March 2015, at 12Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at I’ll be doing a workshop with Fanny Blake – novelist, Woman & Home books editor and publishing guru – on how to get your book from brilliant idea to finished, publishable manuscript.

We’ll answer questions like –  do you need a literary agent? How do you write a book proposal? How do you approach an agent? What do editors do? We’ll be talking about fiction and non-fiction – all very informal. Bring questions, eat cupcakes.

Have You Got A Book In You? Event details here.

Festival of Writing

9 Sep 2014

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 17.19.29I will be there this weekend, in York, being a ‘book doctor’ and running a workshop with Stef Bierwerth, Quercus’s fiction publishing director. Pathetically glad to be escaping from my solitary basement to meet lots of writers, editors, agents and generally reacquaint myself with the human race. There’s even a Gala Dinner.

The Book Doctor Will See You Now (Festival of Writing September 2014)

2 Apr 2014

I’m already looking forward to September because I’ll be at The Festival of Writing  in York, 13-14 September, 2014, talking about finding an agent, the journey from manuscript to publication and other writerly matters, with  Stefanie Bierwerth, publishing director of Quercus books (you’ll want to meet her, she’s not only very nice indeed, she’s a powerhouse).  I’ll be a Book Doctor too: you can reserve a slot with me and I’ll give you honest one to one feedback on your book, with my two hats on: author – and Sunday Times book critic.

Festival of Writing is a big, lively annual event organized by The Writers’ Workshop. It’s brilliant because it turns people with manuscripts into people with book contracts, agents and, ultimately, published books.

More details to follow.

How to get a literary agent

18 Dec 2013

film cameraIt’s almost exactly a year since my literary agent, Judith Murray of Greene & Heaton, called to say she’d got me a two book deal with Quercus. Judith has been an incredible source of support, information and skill (both practical and editorial). I’m very lucky I found her. Finding a good agent is really vital for any writer.  So, this week, we filmed an interview together, aiming to demystify the process – and with luck, save people some time and anguish.

When you’re starting out, with no contacts, getting an agent can seem like a hopeless quest.  People often ask whether they really need one anyway. Well, yes, you do.  Without an agent it’s extremely hard to get your book published (basically, you’d have to self-publish it first, then somehow sell a ton of copies to get a mainstream publisher interested). A good agent like Judith has strong relationships with editors at publishing houses. They trust her judgement. If she sends them a novel, they will definitely read it. Your agent, then, is your hotline to the editor who will offer you a publishing deal. Editors don’t have time to read unsolicited manuscripts – but they do have time for good agents.

There’s the small matter of writing a really good novel, of course, but even good novels can get overlooked by agents. So, how do you make sure yours isn’t? Do you carpet-bomb fifty agents with your unfinished manuscript? Do you send them the whole book or just a ‘teaser’? Do you find out where they live and stalk them? Here are short versions of Judith’s answers to some key questions.

Q: How do I choose which agents to approach?

A: Look in the acknowledgements pages of the novels you love or admire, especially ones that appeal to the kind of readers you would like for your own book. If authors think their agents have done a good job for them, they often thank those agents in the acknowledgements pages – and from this you can draw up a shortlist of agents you want to approach.

Q: What sort of novels do you want?

A: I want a combination of powerful writing and story-telling that grabs my attention and holds it. I want a book that makes me miss my tube stop (The Missing One did that, and that’s how I knew it was for me).

Q: How do I get you to read mine though? Should I phone to tell you about it first, or do something else to make you read it?

A: Phoning doesn’t help. Nor do gimmicks like coloured paper or funny fonts. It’s all about the writing. I get up to 30 submissions every week, but I look at every one of them.  If you are a journalist or someone else who writes or tells stories in other media (eg documentary or film maker) and/or if you have done a creative writing course, do mention that in the first paragraph of the covering email you send with your submission – that will make your submission stand out for me.

Q: So do I just stick my novel in the post then?

A: No, don’t send the whole thing and do send the submission via email if possible (most agents have websites on which you can find our submissions guidelines). Lucy sent me a short email introducing herself, attaching the first three chapters of The Missing One, and a one page synopsis. This is exactly the right approach. If I am interested, I ask to see the rest of the book.

You’ll able to watch the full video interview online here in January.  Judith and I are also doing some talks in the New Year (see Events) where we’ll expand on these questions, and talk more about the process of editing and revising your novel for publication.  You may think that as an artist you should be above this sort of thing but the truth is that there are a lot of unpublished books out there. Knowing the basics can make all the difference.

‘How to Get Published’ Talk & Wine at Blackwell’s, Oxford

3 Dec 2013

judith murraypicWednesday 19 March 2014, 7-9pm.

Have you got a book in you? Then get it out there! Lucy and literary agent Judith Murray (pictured) of London-based literary agents Greene and Heaton will be discussing the process of getting your book published: what do agents and editors actually do? How do you find and approach an agent? (What are agents for? What do agents love and hate?). How does your book evolve from first idea to published novel? (Why rewrites are not a sign of failure). Can self-publishing really work? Are creative writing courses actually useful?  Lucy and Judith will also discuss the evolution of The Missing One from first submission to publication.


Talk, then a glass of wine, then lively discussion –  £3.

Tickets from Blackwell’s Bookshop, 51 Broad St, Oxford, OX1 3BQ (or on the door). Tel: 01865 333623

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