Cork World Book Fest interview – crime author Sam Blake
PWA’s Lizzie Strasser attended 2019’s Cork World Book Fest and spoke to author and founder of writing.ie and The Inkwell Publishing Group Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (who writes as Sam Blake). In this interview, they discuss what not to do when pitching to agents and publishers, the importance of social media and the rise of True Crime.
- Broaden your palette of techniques
- Master suspense and add intrigue to your plotlines and characterisation
- Explore a new genre and assess your potential
Literary festivals and book fairs are a staple of many writers’ calendars, and with good reason. Meeting your favourite authors, hearing them speak and attending workshops with them is a great way to get specialised advice on writing and the industry, but these events are also invaluable networking opportunities for those looking to get themselves published.
In this exclusive interview, Lizzie Strasser speaks to Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, who writes crime fiction as Sam Blake. Vanessa attends Cork World Book Fest every year and holds workshops with published authors and literary agents on how to get published, pitching to agents and perfecting the all-important first chapter.
Lizzie Strasser – Hi Vanessa! You’ve led two brilliant workshops on pitching your first page and how to write a captivating first chapter here at Cork World Book Fest today, and thanks for taking the time to talk to us! What are the most important things writers need to look out for when pitching their story to an agent?
Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin – Hi Lizzie! The first main mistake that writers make when submitting work to agents and publishers is that they send it too soon. The key thing for you to remember is that when that last full stop goes down on the page, that’s when the work really begins. It’s not the time to be sending it out.
Understanding your genre, understanding what length your book needs to be and understanding where it fits in the market is important. It wouldn’t necessarily be at the top of my list, but having a sense of what your book is about and where it’s going to fit is important, and often people don’t. If you’ve written a 246,000-word fantasy book, it’s going to be very hard to publish because there are limits to the number of pages that you can fit in a book. You want to be aware of those structures within publishing on the business side.
The key thing to understand is that rejection is very high in this business. That’s just the way it is. In order to avoid getting rejected – or to reduce your chances of rejection – research is crucial.
Do your research and find out who you’re sending it to. There’s no point sending it to me at www.writing.ie – I am a publisher, but I publish on the web and if you want to get your book published, then you need to send it either to an agent or to a book publisher. It also needs to be somebody who publishes in that genre or an agent who represents that genre. Today, we had Polly Nolan from the Greenhouse Literary Agency and James Wills from Watson Little, and they both specialise in particular areas. Polly specialises in children’s books, YA and picture books. There’s no point in sending her adult fiction. You’re going to get rejected.
The key thing to understand is that rejection is very high in this business. That’s just the way it is. In order to avoid getting rejected – or to reduce your chances of rejection – research is crucial. So again, if it’s a children’s book, for example, it’s understanding who your market’s going to be, who you’re writing for, how long the book should be, how old the protagonist should be…
All of those things are crucial. And they’re all about making a book that will work from a business perspective.Research is key. Finding out who you’re sending it to, making sure you’re sending it to the right person and making sure you’re sending the right thing. The book should be in the best possible place that it can be and as polished as possible.
At the end of the day, if it’s a fantastic book and it’s stand-out, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t got any followers on Twitter. It’s about the book and it’s about connecting with readers.
LS – How important is an active social media presence for new crime writers?
VFO – Social media is one of these strange things. Marketing departments love social media, so marketing departments will always love you if you’ve got a big social media following. But, at the end of the day, if it’s a fantastic book and it’s stand-out, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t got any followers on Twitter. It’s about the book and it’s about connecting with readers. It’s key for people to understand that it’s about the book and making it brilliant. When somebody picks up your book in a shop or reads a review of it, they have no concept of whether you’re on Twitter or not. The writing has to stand up on its own.
Twitter, Facebook and other social media are very useful in terms of marketing, selling your book and reaching new readers. I always think every follower you’ve got is a potential sale. There’s no bad thing about having a big following on Twitter, but if you don’t, don’t assume that you never get published. It really is all about the writing.
I think crime fiction will always be popular, fundamentally because it’s a way for people to understand their fears but within a safe environment.
LS –What are your thoughts on the rise of true crime?
VFO –True crime has always been big, but I think crime fiction has a special place. People are fascinated by crime. But crime fiction is a different genre and some people who read true crime never read crime fiction, and some people read crime fiction and then read a bit of true crime. Crime has many different sub-genres; from horror to psychological fiction through to YA. Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five novels were nearly crime books in their own way, and that’s where we all started reading. Then we move right through to Agatha Christie and Stephen King, so there are massive differences within that genre.
I think it will always be popular, fundamentally because it’s a way for people to understand their fears but within a safe environment. Because you’re safer within the pages of a book, and hopefully there’s a resolution for those characters at the end. As an author you have a contract with your reader to deliver a great story – maybe to frighten the pants off them or just to really hook them in, but also to deliver some sort of resolution at the end. I think that’s why crime is popular. There are many different reasons and lots of people have different ideas, but I don’t think it will ever not be popular.
LS – Thanks very much, Vanessa.
VFO– No problem.