On 24 November, Faber & Faber kindly played host to a 26 event for a second time. It was nearly a year since we listened to Simon Armitage’s astonishing poetry reading in the same venue. Appropriate really, given that the evening was something of a masterclass on how to get published. If more inspiration were needed, it was surely provided by the knowledge that we were meeting in TS Eliot’s penthouse flat.
The format of the evening was that our three publishing guests spoke for about 15 to 20 minutes, followed by a question-and-answer session from 26 members. The three speakers provided a fascinating contrast. Hannah Griffiths from Faber is a fiction editor, but she’s also worked as an agent at Curtis Brown and a publicity department at Penguin, so her experience embraces the whole publishing process, from raw manuscript to the marketing campaign.
Martin Liu from Cyan offered the perspective from non-fiction and business publishing, and emphasised the need for budding authors in this category to have a clear eye on the eventual market for their books before setting out on writing. He also offered highly practical advice about the benefits of people with expert knowledge but not necessarily trained writing skills collaborating with ghost writers to complete their books.
The final speaker was Tony Lacey, the editorial director for fiction at Penguin, who spoke with great conviction for the primacy of the author’s own inspiration in the publishing process. He (and Hannah also) spoke of the way in which an editor would far rather receive a highly flawed but hugely ambitious book than a neat, nicely turned out but limited book.
All three speakers spoke with passion, humour and shared valuable insights into the dos – and especially the don’ts – of getting published. They also dealt with all our questions with candour and generosity. Personally speaking, I’m going to go back to my synopsis and expunge all reference to Nick Hornby…