Publishers need to engage with writers in new ways
Today, anyone who wants to be a writer has a wealth of options to choose from on the internet: blogging, self-publishing eBooks and digital magazines, taking part in ‘citizen’ journalism, airing opinions on social media networks and much more.
The irony is that although it’s now easier than ever for people to share their writing with others, the task of finding the most promising authors has become much harder for publishers. The nature of the challenge that publishers face can be compared to standing in the middle of a train station at rush hour, surrounded by a cacophony of voices, while trying to hear someone whispering your name.
In order to have the best chance of discovering talented, under-the-radar authors, publishers clearly need novel ways to engage with the ever-expanding writing community.
Sponsor competitions for unpublished writers
If you’re a publisher who’s keen to keep your finger on the pulse, why not sponsor a competition aimed at undiscovered writers – or even organise one of your own?
Undiscovered Voices, the brainchild of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators British Isles, is a competition for children’s authors and illustrators who haven’t yet been published and aren’t represented by a literary agent. The competition has boosted numerous finalists’ careers; its website notes that since 2008, more than half of the forty-eight writers and illustrators featured in its anthologies have secured publishing contracts.
As Undiscovered Voices proves, a wealth of creative talent is just waiting to be uncovered.
Support up-and-coming young authors
While most writers need to spend years honing their skills, some are staggeringly talented from an early age. The novelist Helen Oyeyemi became a publishing sensation after writing her first novel, The Icarus Girl, while studying for her A-levels.
Publishers that form links with schools and universities – perhaps by giving talks about writing and publishing or donating relevant library books – may well discover students with noteworthy literary talents and inspire future generations of authors.
Discuss the publishing industry with writers’ groups
Writers’ groups are a fertile ground for under-the-radar writers who are passionate about their craft. You could attend group meetings to discuss the kind of writing you’d like to publish and raise awareness of how authors can best approach you.
The key is to welcome new writing while being specific about what you want.
Run networking events at literary festivals
The UK boasts several prestigious festivals that are popular with both amateur and professional writers, such as Cheltenham Literature Festival and Hay Festival. By hosting networking events at such important occasions in the literary calendar, you might come into contact with numerous skilled, undiscovered authors.
You could even organise a literary festival of your own, aimed specifically at under-the-radar writers. Australia’s Emerging Writers’ Festival offers not only a platform for new voices but also insights into the publishing industry and related subjects.
Scour blogs and social media for talented voices
Delve into blogs and social media networks in order to seek out authors who have a strong following online but are still waiting for their big break. Many publishers are active on Facebook, Twitter, etc. – why not use your social media profiles to engage with under-the-radar writers and promote creativity? You could post writing prompts or ask authors to give you one-sentence summaries of their unpublished novels.
Give rejected writers a second chance
It’s well known that JK Rowling’s manuscript for the first in her magical series of children’s books, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was rejected by a dozen publishers before being put into print. The fact it soon became an international phenomenon goes to show that some rejected manuscripts deserve a second chance.
If you’re a publisher with many demands on your time, it’s probably tempting to overlook the so-called ‘slush pile’ of unsolicited manuscripts. However, by making time to read those works, as well as talking to colleagues and friends at literary agencies about manuscripts they’ve recently turned down, you may find a gem.
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