Rachel McLean

Author of Twisted Realities

How the Festival of Writing Changed My Life (But Not in the Way It Was Supposed To)

The lovely people at Jericho Writers have been asking writers who’ve used their services to post reviews on their blogs. So instead of writing a normal review I thought I’d do what I like doing best – tell a story.

This is the story of how the Festival of Writing, which Jericho Writers put on every year at York University (pictured above), changed my writing career.

2016 – Rookie Writer

I went to my first Festival of Writing in September 2016, when A House Divided was in a very early (and very rough) draft. I had two meetings with agents, both of whom thought it had potential, but one of whom effectively told me I’d written two books.

She was right. I took the original manuscript, made some big thematic changes to it, and split it into two. The result was the first two books in the Division Bell trilogy – A House Divided and Divide and Rule. Divided We Stand came a while later.

But the biggest eye-opener for me at my first FoW was the learning. I attended many, many workshops and came away with copious notes. This was the first time I’d been to a festival with professional authors giving high-quality lectures rather than just panels or interviews which never go into enough depth.

I learned loads. And it set me onto the learning journey as a writer which still continues, and will do until the day I’m too frail to hold a pen (or type on a keyboard, or dictate… ok, never).

2017 – A Big Decision

But the Festival of Writing made the biggest difference for me in 2017. I went along with the manuscript of Thicker Than Water and had a couple of agents show some interest in it.

But the element of the festival which changed my mindset was the Futurecast panel on Sunday morning. This is an annual fixture in which a panel of industry insiders talks about what the future holds for publishing. Harry Bingham, the head of Jericho Writers, presents a series of statistics about the state of the industry and gets us to vote on a statement at the beginning and end of the session. That statement is: ‘The only place for an ambitious writer right now is with the Big 5 publishers’.

The panel were all from the traditional publishing industry. Writers, agents, publishers. Not one indie. Except for Harry, who is hybrid (he publishes with a traditional publisher in the UK and is indie in the US).

The impression I got from the panel was that they were defending a way of working that didn’t suit my personality. And at the end of the session, I changed my vote from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’.

The very next day, I put Thicker Than Water up for pre-order on Amazon, and spent the three months before it was published learning all about becoming an indie author (as well as getting it professionally edited and getting a cover designed – it was busy 90 days!)

2018 – Finding my Tribe

In 2018, I hummed and haahed about going to the Festival of Writing. Its primary goal is to introduce authors to agents. I was already working on a series of indie published books, and had no interest in meeting agents.]

But one thing changed my mind – they booked David Gaughran, indie guru, to speak. This demonstrated a shift in the culture and purpose of the festival, and of Jericho Writers themselves.

I booked my ticket and went to David’s talk. It was as insightful and original as I’d hoped. Afterwards, I offered to buy him a drink later on if I could ask him some more questions. As it turned out, when we started chatting he’d just bought a bottle of wine so he gave me a drink from that (I still owe him). But spending an hour talking to one of the self publishing community’s most established and genuine experts was hugely valuable to me. I based my launch campaign for the Division Bell trilogy on what he told me. And I also got chatting to other writers, indie and trad, about writing, publishing and the world in general.

Freed form the pressure of touting my work to agents, I was free to enjoy the conference. I got chatting to dozens of authors, found myself gravitating towards other indies, and learned even more form those panels. And in the Futurecast panel on the Sunday (which included David and Harry representing indies), the vote was an overwhelming ‘No’. Times are certainly changing in this industry.

I fully intend to go back in 2019. My goal one day is to achieve enough success in my career that Jericho Writers will invite me to speak at a Festival of Writing!

So – thanks, Jericho Writers. Your goal was to change authors’ lives by introducing us to agents. But you changed my life by helping me see that I didn’t need one.

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