What can I do with an arts degree?

Creative Writing & Publishing Panel report – EXPO10

By Katherine Roscoe

Who was speaking?

  1. Beccy Stirrup is a creative writing lecturer at the University of Leeds. She also writes comics. She started out as a community writer.
  2. Jonathan Telfer is editor of Writers’ News and Writing Magazine.
  3. Janet Davidson is a publisher for Writers’ News and Writing Magazine. She previously worked as a newspaper and magazine journalist.
  4. Steve Mosby is a  full time crime writer

How do you get into publishing?

Experience is the most important thing when you’re applying for a job in publishing. Find work experience or create your own publishing opportunities. When looking for paid or unpaid work make sure you pinpoint an area that you are interested in and knowledgeable about. Also, smaller publishing houses are more likely to give you a chance. The Writers and Artist’s Yearbook is a useful directory to choose which publishers you want to join (available in the Careers Centre). The Arts Council of England (http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/) also has a good resource package for local organisations you might want to apply to. When it comes to interview it is useful to know what’s going on in the publishing industry at the moment. To do so join www.thebookseller.com email list, visit www.absolutewrite.com and borrow The Writer’s Handbook from the library. There are courses in publishing, but these are not necessary to be successful in the industry.

What qualities do you need to be a successful publisher?

A love of literature and a diligence to your task are the most important qualities. An attention to detail and understanding of grammar is also important. For example, make sure there are no typos on your C.V.

Do you need an agent to become a publisher author or poet? If so, how do you choose one?

It is very difficult to get your foot in the door without an agent – you simply won’t get read without one. Agents are also extremely useful as a buffer between you and the publisher when it comes to contracts. When choosing an agent the Writer’s Handbook is your best resource.

How likely are you to become a full-time writer?

Average author earns around £8000, and it is important to remember that this figure is booted up by   big earners. Since writers don’t earn a lot of money it is common for them to earn their living elsewhere. Whilst some manage to juggle a challenging career along with writing, you can also opt for something that isn’t mentally challenging in order to be able to think about your ideas at the same time as working. If you get an office job you may even be able to sneak writing in during the working day!

Do creative writing courses help your chance of success?

Courses can help you to develop more quickly as writer, but the key thing is to keep writing in your free time. If you feel in need of feedback a course is not the only option – Leeds Writers Circle will give you constructive criticism. Meeting with and learning from published authors will improve both your writing and your network. Literary events like Harrogate Crime Festival, monthly groups like Wicked Words and workshops by LUU society Scribe are all excellent opportunities in the local area. If you want to share your work then Wicked Words, Scribe and Cadaverine are local organisations where you can do so.   If you are applying for a course in creative writing make sure you don’t get drawn in by big names – there’s often not that much contact time with them. Instead take the time to read the work of the lesser-known authors who would be teaching you.

How do you get into creative writing teaching?

The most important thing is to get a portfolio together with reviews on anything you’ve taught. Community centres always want someone to speak or run workshops, so they’re a useful place to start off. You could, for example, teach homeless people creative writing. A benefit of creative writing teaching is that it makes you develop quickly as writer as you understand the craft more fully.

How are VAT rises going to affect the publishing industry?

Publishers are already embracing digital technology to avoid the fate of music industry. As such the publishing industry isn’t disappearing, it’s developing. For writers this is the time to jump right in because the market is being opened up. Be aware of these changes because you need knowledge of the industry to be successful in it.

Want some help on getting into the industry? Email: r.j.stirrup@leeds.ac.uk

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