… at the Geneva Writers’ Conference

Some quotes, insights and advice I gleaned from attending various panel discussions and Q&A events from the following experts:

Colin Harrison; vice-president and senior editor at Scribner, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, New York

David Applefield; guerilla publisher, media specialist and online publisher at Creating Bestsellers

Dinah Lee Küng; Orange Prize nominee, long-term reporter on China and e-book convert

John Zimmer; lawyer, writer and public speaker, expert on use of writers’ platforms

CH: Be realistic. A writer can rarely write a book in a year. If they say they can, and even if their agents say they can, I negotiate a contract which allows them to deliver in eighteen months. But I’d prefer two years.

DLK: Write good books. When readers find your work and like it, they will seek out more. Have it ready for them.

DA: Give something to your potential readers first. Be useful. On your website or better still, your blog. Grow your tribe and when you have a following, you can expect to sell something.

JZ: Build your platform and interact with people. Use Facebook strategically. You can have an author page on which only you can post. You can keep the content focused on you and your work. Online writing communities can be helpful, but beware yet another time suck.

CH: While writers’ platforms are essential, “protect the instrument”. Make a conscious choice to switch off and use your writing mind. You are a writer. Spend three days away from the internet. Protect yourself from that intrusiveness and the anxiety it creates.

DLK: Be focused with your time and with your readership. I write for two very different markets and so use two names. A pen name is very useful. It allows you to cross genres and appeal to various markets. It’s also very liberating if your mother is still alive.

CH: Agents and publishers are part colleagues, part adversaries. If I take on an author, it’s going to get up close and personal because we’ll be refining their work. I never talk to authors about money; that would be unethical. The agent is a vital practical link who provides more support for the writer, whereas my focus is on the book.

JZ: There’s no inherent contradiction between e-readers and paper books. Books are objects of veneration and hold a different attraction. Apparently, e-book readers buy 21% more paperbacks. Although an e-reader doesn’t show anyone the cover, so no one knows what’s making you laugh, cry or nod.

Kids are now reading Victorian novels such as The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins on e-readers, because they’re not put off by a huge great hardback.

DLK: Maximise your readership by using sites where readers go. Goodreads, or Shelfari, or Librarything. Use these sites as a reader and a writer. Be active and get your book in front of more people than you can ever hope to reach on your own.

DA: There’s confusion between literary merit and saleability. You may be rejected because your agent/publisher can’t see how to sell your work. Define your bottom line as a writer. Do you want your book to find an audience? That’s always possible. The old models are no longer working, so it’s time to create ones. For most books, there is a readership. You just need to find it.