This 24 message thread spans 2 pages: 2 > >
We're thrilled that Rebecca Swift from The Literary Consultancy will host an honest and up-front Q and A about the role of literary consultancies- simply post your questions on this thread by 20 February and Rebecca will respond by 24th February.
Excellent - thanks, Anna.
Thanks for arranging this, Anna. Good to get some variety.
I have a question.
What kind of qualifications does a reader / editor for a literary consultancy need to have? Is it enough to be a good writer and reader or is there something extra needed? How would someone wanting to go about getting into this line of work aquire the necessary skills?
Thanks for setting this up, Anna.
Hope this isn't too stupid a question:
Bearing in mind that literary consultancies charge what for most people amounts to a fairly substantial wodge of cash, how much honesty should one expect from a report?
To clarify: painful as it would undoubtedly be at the time, I would much rather be told,fairly bluntly, if my magnum opus was in need of urgent triage/ICU/beyond saving, and then advised which areas - plot, style, whatever - needed to be worked on.
In your opinion, is this what we can/should expect from a reputable consultancy? If not, what would you see as its remit?
(Sorry, looks more like three questions, but it's only one really)
I am a reader for an agency (not TLC!) and would like to ask a question.
As part of the 'package', writers are entitled to a free follow-up phone call, email, Skype call, communication by pigeon post... to discuss their report and their manuscript with the reader (me). I find that no matter how much I stress their entitlement to this service in my covering email, hardly anyone takes me up on this. This is across the board - whether the report I have written is broadly positive or broadly critical of their manuscript makes no difference.
I think this is a terrible shame; you can get so much out of a real conversation. Why do you think people don't take up the offer of the follow-up call - which, after all, they have paid for as part of the manuscript critique? What can I say in my covering email to encourage them to do so?
I'd be interested to hear the answer to that one, too, in that my experience is exactly the opposite. I work for myself and can't recall a single author not taking up the offer for a conversation by phone, email, etc. However, I do this before and after the report, so perhaps it's the 'before' aspect that's important to the author, more than the 'after'. In my case, the pre-report/coaching contact follows me taking a quick look at the author's work, so we can discuss what he or she wants me to do; that way, they get the best value from us working together. But I suppose an agency might be less inclined to do this, since they tend to work to set report structures.
When I first read J.G. Farrell's 'Siege of Krishnapur' (decades ago!) I all but died through laughter. I re-read it recently and hardly raised a smile. Mood? Age? Familiarity? General increase in curmudgeonliness? (if there is such a word).
My question is about objectivity. So many factors determine our response to a book - life pressures, tiredness, health, immediate environment, etc etc. There are so many examples of books which were oft-rejected and finally were lauded. To what extent do you think a measure of objectivity is possible when making a judgement or is it always going to be on gut reaction?
If there are objective factors could you identify them?
Don't forget- post your questions here by 20 Feb!
How effective are the agency comments in practical terms - if the author then goes on to take advantage of the suggestions made, do they then get to produce a piece of work of publication standard or indeed to publication? What would the success rate be?
Thanks to your question about the qualifications we would expect from an editorial consultant at The Literary Consultancy (I can't speak for other outfits ...).
We stipulate that a reader must have either worked in commercial publishing as an editor, taught creative writing to MA level, and/or be a professionally published writer themselves. We will occasionally make exceptions for readers that come highly recommended and may have had slightly different trajectories (as reviewers, for example, or teachers in literary settings but not on MAs) but usually these qualifications would be those we would require. I always think 'who would I want to read my work?' and think in terms of employing people I myself would trust. Also of course we need to inspire confidence in our clients that we are offering help that has been tried and tested over time.
I should also say that having the qualifications in themselves are not the only important thing, because we do not use readers who don't have sufficient empathy and diplomacy, as well as powers of articulation when writing back to people at any level of ability. This can be a tricky job as you can imagine, to say the least and I admire our readers hugely for what they take on. In addition, readers have to understand commercial markets to some degree, although the in-house team are the market experts. They have to be good talent spotters on top of everything else ... In short, it's a tall order letting a reader loose on the public and we try to protect that public as far as we can although of course no consultancy can be perfect, we do try! We could not understand better how precious people's written work is, and how hope and fear will be bound up in that.
As for the second half of your question: whilst I am sure many people who write and read a lot would be able to make helpful comments and suggestions (and some may be brilliant), I think it's only fair to our clients who do pay for services, to provide what we call 'professional help.' I realise this means we lose out on a lot of skilled editors, but we have to draw a line.
Having worked in publishing myself I know that not all agents, and indeed not all commissioning editors within publishing houses, have what I would consider really brilliant editorial skills. Again, I seek out readers I would trust with my own written work as a writer, and as an editor, I hope I know what creative flare is necessary to really help people - as well as what level of tough honesty. We test all readers out carefully.
As to where to find editorial skills to make the difference between being taken on by a consultancy or not, there is no real road map in terms of how to become professionalised. Book Trust used to offer courses on copy editing and proof reading, but not, I think, what I call creative editing. It is tricky, and I am sorry not to be able to help. Do remember though that an understanding of publishing, especially vis a vis new online environments for writers, is also important - so it is not only being a good reader and writer that is required but knowing about publishing.
Hope this helps! Best, Rebecca
Thanks for your question ...
Honesty is vital when it comes to responding to clients. I couldn't agree with you more, that only honest feedback can really progress you as a writer. I would say it was a vital part of a consultancy's role to be honest, but at the same time to try not to unduly devastate a writer: it can be a tricky balance! I also believe that writers need to be able to 'hear' what is said to them by readers, and if a writer is too defensive it can limit their creative growth. This said, a writer also needs most of all, to learn to trust their own mind ... Learning to be a professional writer is a lifetime's vocation.
The reason I set up TLC was that fifteen years ago there was nowhere for writers to go (that wasn't stigmatised and difficult to find) for honest, professional feedback. See my response to Anna above for what we would expect of our readers.
To go on a bit (sorry!) the question of 'being honest' of course, is in itself not a simple one. One reader might consider one thing decently handled, and another might hate it. How do we deal with this? As I mentioned to Anna, readers need a high level of diplomacy and also empathy to respond to writers at all levels and we at TLC also have to understand which readers are better with what kind of work, not only which genres, but what kinds of personalities that have written each piece of writing that comes in. Readers need active management, and we are here in-house to deal with any problems that may arise from a genuine mis-match. We can't always get it right - but we do out best. Of course we also have to expect that not all writers will like what we say ... It can be difficult being told you are not as good as you hoped you were. Only a vanity outfit would lie, and we think that is ethically wrong.
Sorry for long answers - I need a cup of tea! Will deal with the others in a bit ...
Thanks to all have good days.
Hi Steerpike's sister,
I am not sure if this was so much a question for me at TLC or not ... but I'll answer anyway! Recently we asked our readers about what they thought the value of follow up phone calls with clients would be, and interestingly one also said that when offered, it was rarely taken up. I would have expected it to be otherwise ... but it may indicate that it is the anonymity of an in-deoth report that people value? Also, realistically, we should expect clients to feel complicated about reports as a good report will set them lots of challenges, and may have thrown expectations for a brief while. It may be that a follow up call is too intimate, while people are managing their feelings, and responses to feedback?
Anyway, personally, I don't really believe that personal phone calls are a necessary part of a feedback service and have always avoided it. Of course, if clients have queries about their reports, then they call in and talk to us about that and we forward queries on to readers where appropriate, but generally, the report itself should do the work of focussing the reader on the editorial work-in-hand.
I also think that personal contact can be detrimental to a writers' interest, as a reader is less likely to be able to maintain the honesty and distance needed once personal contact is made. I know I find it harder to be detached when I have spoken to someone ... and it is not helpful to me or the client for this to become the case.
See my reply to Steerpike's sister. Those who want phone calls and personal contact tend to go to environments where they can find it ... I should have said that on our mentoring scheme, the mentors do offer a limited number of phone calls as part of the package because within that the feedback is designed to be part of a more intimate relationship.
We never use set templates for reports by the way, I hate them.
This 24 message thread spans 2 pages: 2 > >
Good question, an important one. Part of my answer is touched upon in my reply to Anna about what we expect from a reader ... and I would love to embark on a proper study of measurability in reader's responses, but can't do so for the sake of this answer. Let me know if you think of something!
I agree, of course, there are moods in which the same book (or film, or any experience in fact perhaps) will appear one way, and not the other. I recall watching a film on video and hating it, then again in a year or two, and thinking it was brilliant. How do we, as readers, learn a degree of 'objectivity' and is there ever such a thing?
The answer clearly is no, there can be no such thing as total objectivity which is in a way why the publishing industry is so interesting, complicated and sometimes maddening. Stories about of editors turning down mss that then go on to do brilliantly, and a good talent spotter within an editorial department is a highly valued thing! Now of course, sales teams are asked to try to ensure marketability by adding their commercial views to talent, and as we know, they are often wrong. The failure of the publishing industry to rationalise its 'product' is fascinating - and an indicator that even at top levels, objectivity does not exist.
However, I do also believe that some editors are better than others at spotting things that work beyond their own taste remit, and at entering in to the world of the writer, and empathising with what they are trying to achieve and articulating whether or not they have achieved this technically. This takes particular kinds of skill and as I've said, not all editors have them by any means. Also, it is possible to encourage readers to leave their own tastes to one side while they judge.
Those of us that have worked in publishing learn quickly that what we like isn't necessarily the same as someone else, and so we learn from our mistakes if you like, to keep an open-mind: at least that is how I try to encourage our readers to think.
So to read objectively: Open mind, open heart, put your own tastes to one side, use your intelligence and when it comes to writing, concentrate on what seems effective and skillful, and encourage that. Also draw on your experience of reading, and noticing books you yourself wouldn't buy, but which do well or others seems to like.
There is a whole conversation to be had about what is 'technically' good or not, we don't have time for it, but suffice to say there would be measurables in this I think, but you'd have to look at each writing genre within its own terms to think about engaging with it.
Finally, I hate to say it but much writing is weak (cliched, lacking in pace, self importantly uninteresting etc.) that finding an author that is above averagely interesting is more noticeable than people who don't read a lot of unpublished mss would think. I know this is always said, but it's true.