Winchester Writers’ Festival 2015 – Guest Post from Judith Heneghan

Head shot Finding an agent and getting published can seem decidedly Sisyphean to many emerging writers. Most publishers won’t accept unsolicited submissions and literary agents talk of their slush pile’s precipitous slopes.

‘If only I could meet with an agent or an editor in person,’ we cry. ‘All I need is 15 minutes – I just want to know what they think.’

Fortunately the Winchester Writers’ Festival is on hand to facilitate just this kind of face-to-face encounter. Now in its 35th year, the Festival nurtures new and established creative writers from around the UK and overseas working in all forms and genres.

The 2015 Festival takes place on 19 – 21 June, offering three days of master courses, workshops, panels and talks. Of particular interest for writers with a complete draft are the 750 one-to-ones with 70 literary agents, commissioning editors, best-selling authors and publishing experts. Those attending for Friday and Saturday can book up to four appointments.

But what do you actually get for your precious 15 minutes?

Well, agents are human beings, just like the rest of us. They have opinions and their tastes are subjective so writers are urged to do their homework first. Make an appointment with an agent who is looking for the kind of work you produce. Look at their website, follow them on Twitter, see what other kinds of writers they represent. They will ask to see some material in advance and possibly a cover letter and/or synopsis. Make sure you understand what they require and present it professionally.

In return, you can expect honest critical feedback: a sense of what’s working and what’s not. They will consider the commercial aspects of your work, its appeal and its place in the market. If it’s not for them, they’ll tell you why. If they want to see more, they’ll tell you this too; the Festival only books agents and editors who are actively building their lists and seeking new authors. As you might expect, many writers are advised to keep refining their work – that it’s not yet ready. This is invaluable advice. Yet each year debuts do emerge from the Festival, and sometimes agents get quite competitive when the talent is strong!

group shot of studentsYoung writers who feel they cannot afford to attend the Festival may be able to take advantage of the Festival Scholarship Scheme. This scheme is available to all writers aged 18-25 who wish to apply to have their attendance fees waived (this includes lunch on all three days but excludes breakfast, dinner, accommodation and travel). There are 10 scholarship places in total.

If you’d like to attend, to apply for a scholarship place, or perhaps enter one of the ten writing competitions (another way to find yourself noticed by agents and editors) then visit www.writersfestival.co.uk and see what the Festival can do for you.

head shot of Judith HeneghanJudith Heneghan
Director, The University of Winchester Writers’ Festival
Programme Leader, MA Writing for Children, University of Winchester

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