At the Writing Smithy we know that for many writers, getting published is a burning goal, a life’s dream and one of the ambitions that drives them back to the desk when things, as they always do, get tricky. Sadly, this urgency and passion can also make new writers vulnerable – to either making a hasty decision, or choosing a path that seemed right at the time, but proved to be a wrong turning.
While we’d love, of course, for you to consider us first if you felt you were at the point in your writing career where you’d benefit from some one on one guidance, we’re more interested in making sure you find the right person to work with you. That’s why at the Writing Smithy we encourage all of our clients to think carefully about what they want, to shop around and ask as many questions as they need to before they commit their time or money. We think any mentoring or appraisal consultancy worth its salt will be doing the same thing.
What do I want?
It’s easy for us to ask – more difficult for you to answer. Flexibility is good – being open to unexpected growth and changes in direction is a positive thing. But having a goal is important too. And the goal needs to be realistic – something you’re able to achieve in the time you have available. ‘Getting published’ might be your ultimate goal, but no-one can grant you that wish except the publisher who buys your manuscript and we’d advise you to be very careful of any agency that makes that sort of promise. ‘Edit my collection by 2/3s, choosing the strongest poems and ordering them to give the pamphlet shape and direction’ is a much clearer and more attainable goal and when you achieve it, you do increase your chances of attracting the interest of a publisher.
How do I want to work?
We know that some people work best in isolation – they prefer to read, to reflect, to journal or make notes alone. Perhaps a lively classroom discussion feels too much like writing-by-committee just now, or perhaps you’ve had a bad experience in the past and need the privacy of a one on one tutor, an online course, or a telephone mentor to build up your confidence before you venture back in. Maybe you prefer to think on your feet, and love the cut and thrust of the workshop environment. Or perhaps it’s a mixture of these.
While stretching yourself as a writer is important, and sometimes the things we resist end up doing us the most good, knowing how you learn, how you prefer to work and even having a firm and realistic grasp of the practicalities of your writing existence (some of you can work five hours a day, others only three hours a week) is essential. Once you know what you want, and how you want to achieve it, you’re in a much better position to pick the editor or mentor who is going to work best for you.
Who do I want to work with?
Teaching, editing and mentoring are hard work and involve some risk. You need to be able to trust the professionals you choose to work with. Do you want to be challenged? Supported? Do you need someone to help you set deadlines, or someone to build up your confidence? Good teachers and mentors do all of these things, but when choosing someone to work with you’ll want to get as much of a feel for their personal style as you can, as well as their own writing ‘qualifications’. Is it important you work with someone who reads and publishes in the same genre as you? That depends on what you want to achieve – poets can make excellent mentors for novelists, and vice versa.
What qualifies someone to teach creative writing, to be a mentor and to write appraisal reports? While a string of publications doesn’t necessary mean someone’s going to run an excellent course, or be able to help you edit your work effectively we’d advise you to be aware of someone offering writing advice and tuition who doesn’t have a track record in their own field.
If you’re booking an appraisal report, do you know exactly who is going to be reading your work? Some agencies never introduce you to your reader / editor – or advertise a bank of professionals without allowing you to choose between them. Others will encourage direct contact – and writer led agencies (like ours) get rid of the middle men altogether. There’s no right or wrong way to do it – but it is useful to take a moment to think about how important a personal relationship is to you when you’re comparing different agencies and consultancies.
What are the costs?
Nothing in life is free. While editing and appraisal agencies have different costs – some of them offering low income discounts and assistance with funding applications and some not – it’s really important to read the small print, and ask questions if you’re not sure. Are there additional charges for printing? What about postage? What if you have follow-up questions, or you aren’t happy with the report or mentoring? Can you get your money back? Are there discounted charges if you become a repeat client? Will the reader or agency expect a cut of any advance or fee you receive if you go on to sell your novel / collection to a publisher?
As well as the financial costs, you might also want to think about the amount of time you’ll be spending on the process. An MA can be a full time commitment for a year, or possibly longer. A mentoring relationship could be a similar proposition. How much time do you have to spend on your writing? How long will the reader or agency take to read your work and respond to it? How much of your reader or mentor’s time can you expect to claim as your own? There are no right answers to these questions – but it’s important you consider them before you proceed.
If you’ve chewed over these questions, or you need some help finding the answers, both Sarah and I can be contacted via our website or here in the comments.