Feeling Grateful for Bookish People…

It’s events like these, Geneva Writers’ Group Meet the Agent and Publisher weekend , and people like these

From left to right: Jo Unwin, Joelle Delbourgo, Kathy Bijleveld, Karen Sullivan, Eric Ruben, Christine Breede-Schechter and Susan Tiberghien.

who make me happy to be alive and talking about books. I have tweeted some of the pearls of wisdom these guests have shared with us under #GWGlit, but my favourite insight – manifesto, almost – comes from Joelle Delbourgo: ‘We are not just sellers of books, we are purveyors of culture.’ Thoughtful words and diversity of points of view are more important than ever nowadays, so a huge thanks to these wonderful people who keep the passion and the flame alive.

And. of course, the backdrop couldn’t have been lovelier. The place I called home for 7 of the past ten years does not disappoint.


But there were some important lessons I learnt too as an organiser and writer:

  1. You have to be present yourself professionally as a writer, not just as a creative individual. That means respecting the publisher or agent’s time, following guidelines, meeting deadlines and keeping your appointments. It also means not changing your mind several times about what you are submitting and then expecting them to read the latest version overnight. It might mean not signing up for one-to-one feedback sessions in the first place if you think there is a chance you might not be able to attend, since there is a long waiting-list of participants who have been turned down because you took that place. I know life gets in the way at times, but would I dare to behave like that with my corporate clients? No. So why should I behave like that with literary people, just because I assume they are nicer and more forgiving on the whole?
  2. It isn’t easy to write a great first page, but it is far easier to write a great first page than to write a whole novel. And it really helps if you do have the whole novel to send to the agent when they get excited about your first page, otherwise the magic might be gone by the time you finally finish your manuscript… (this one reeks of bitter experience)
  3. We all secretly hope they will love our writing, recognise us for the geniuses which our families don’t think (or do think) we are, but in most cases there is still work to be done. Even if you get accepted by an agent or publisher, there is still work to be done. Don’t get so defensive that you refuse to listen to any advice or feedback that these busy, busy people are giving you with the best of intentions. Writing is a life-time job of learning and self-improvement. You have to be humble and willing to learn, even as we all admit that no single person has all the answers or God-given right to judge. We are unlikely to please all people all of the time, but when more than one person tells us we are over-writing or trying too hard to be literary, maybe we should listen.
  4. There is no point in complaining, sighing and fretting that it’s all about commercial interest nowadays. Of course it is, it always has been. Agents want to sell your oeuvre – otherwise they don’t make any money. The commissioning editor then needs to sell it to the marketing and finance team, the publisher then needs to sell it to the media and booksellers, the bookshops need to sell it to the readers. It is impossible to win literary prizes until you have jumped through a few of these hoops. You don’t have to write genre or sell hugely, but someone at some point in the process must have been ‘sold’ on your idea. Don’t make it too hard for them to pass on this vision – you are planting the seed of something which they and others can get excited about. We can have debates about just how diverse publishing is and how many mediocre books are getting published, while more worthy ones are sinking without a trace, but… that’s the game. Harsh but true: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, but don’t lament that cooking is all fast food these days. You can only change things from within.
Gratuitous shot of the Jura Mountains, just in case they were feeling neglected...
Gratuitous shot of the Jura Mountains, just in case they were feeling neglected…

17 thoughts on “Feeling Grateful for Bookish People…”

  1. You learned some very important lessons, Marina Sofia, some I struggle with, myself. And I’m so very happy for you that you had this experience. It sounds wonderful.

    1. Gosh yes, me too: huge gap between what I know I should be doing/thinking and what I really feel like inside and how I behave on occasion. This is written more to remind myself than anything!

  2. What a wonderful experience, MarinaSofia! I’m glad you had time to go back to your beloved Geneva to enjoy yourself a bit. Events and people like the ones you describe are what make life worth-living!

    1. Patient, helpful, not at all condescending – but then I would say that, since I chose them! However, even I was surprised how well they all hit it off and what fun we had together.

  3. I can relate to many of these lessons – especially the one about not getting too precious about your work. I’ve seen that happen with articles and speeches people have written and then sent to me for review – I make suggestions for improvement and they get very upset, thinking their work cannot possibly be improved…..

  4. Thank you for sharing this great advice Marina, I need to look up your tweets, although I’m not very good with Twitter and don’t really understand how to use it properly! I agree with you about online sharing having it’s place (and also agree, as you say, to a point) and also about offline friends, I don’t see mine as much as I would like. The life of a writer can be isolating at times. How wonderful to attend a weekend like this!

    1. I was planning to do a thread about it on Twitter, but I couldn’t figure out how to – so my technical ‘expertise’ is only inch-deep… You have to figure out what works for you on social media, and what you are comfortable about using, not just using it because everyone else is.

      1. I just went over there from your link and retweeted a few, so at least I know how to do that much! And yes, totally agree about social media.

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