Those £4 were actually well spent, since about a month ago Lorella Belli invited me to a free seminar she was running on how to get published. Even better, it was just a 15-minute walk from my house. I read a lot of agents blogs in the US, but the UK is still somewhat of a black hole for me, so I was really looking forward to meeting an agent face-to-face and getting some insight into the process from the ground up.
Unsure exactly what to expect, I traipsed down Portobello Road in my now-unfamiliar high-heeled boots, slightly nervous. As I entered the seminar room -- the roar of the Westway and the rumble of the Underground filling the air -- Lorella's friendly face instantly made me feel comfortable. An Italian who has been living the England for many years, she wasn't the 'scary agent' I'd worried about meeting. The small group of eight people -- from illustrators to screen-play writers -- was also welcoming. Most people, like me, were in the beginning stages of their writing careers.
While most of the session was quite basic, it was invaluable to hear the information straight from the horse's mouth. Listening to other people's questions about how to classify their writing, or the difference between publishers and agents, made me realize that I have learned a lot in the past year. Lorella's depth of industry knowledge also showed me that I have a lot more to understand!
Unfortunately, as I have come to learn, there are always one or two in every small group who behave to the detriment of the whole. I have to admit I was stunned at the confrontational attitude adopted by certain members. NOT a good way to get an agent! And one refused to even talk about what genre he was writing -- he was so worried people would steal his idea. Now, I can understand a little bit of artistic paranoia, but how on earth can you expect to get an agent when you can't even pitch your idea? It was a good lesson in how not to behave.
Some key points from the seminar:
(Copyright Lorella Belli 2007)
- There are now more than 120,000 new titles published a year.
- Choosing to become a professional writer is a bit like starting a business and should be approached the same way.
- There are over 150 literary agents in the UK.
- Commission charges are pretty standard in the industry: 15% (UK sales); 20% (US sales)
- Lorella Belli agency is interested in non fiction, women's fiction - strong memorable characters, original storyline, pace and good story-telling.
- Reading a novel is like watching a film: when you start watching it, if you think it's boring, you change the channel. That's what agents and publishers do if your work isn't strong enough to engage them.