Frequently Asked Questions
Welcome to the Literature Works Frequently Asked Questions page. Here you’ll find information on some of the most common queries that come our way.
We get asked this a lot. It may sound obvious, but the real starting point is the finishing point – the moment when your manuscript is as polished as you can possibly get it. You’d be surprised how many times we see people ask writers or publishers for practical advice on getting published, when their work is incomplete or not started. This is completely okay, and often very valuable to know when setting out to write something for publication – but only in the same way that it’s useful to plan a driving route from Penzance to Gloucester, before you’ve learned to drive a car : )
Agents and Publishers will only look at finished work. Most likely, it will still be edited later, but before you send it to them, make it as complete and perfect as you can. Different writers get to this point in different ways – some work methodically on a set number of words at a set time of day at a set kitchen table, while others are more sporadic – but they all work on several drafts until it shines. Whichever suits you best is fine, but you still need to get the manuscript finished, then redrafted, and redrafted …
If you’re confident working on a manuscript on your own, that’s great, but some writers join writers groups for feedback, or do courses in Creative Writing, or take part in workshops. Occasionally, you’ll see workshops dedicated to getting to the finish line, or studying the process of redrafting and editing.
A piece of advice we see given all the time is to simply write that first draft whatever it takes – just sit down and hammer it out, however lengthy an experience and in whatever order the pieces come together to get finished, without looking back. The idea is that getting the first draft in place is the most important thing, then go back and tidy it up. There must be mountains of started, half-started and half-finished manuscripts (we’ve got a few ourselves), so there’s definitely a logic in just bashing out that first draft. Lots of people use National Novel Writing in a Month as an incentive. It’s something like getting a boulder to the top of the hill no matter how, and then concentrate on the sculpting.
You’ll see lots of advice in the interviews and resources on our site, and we’d also really recommend you look at www.writersandartists.co.uk. This is a vital resource and it’s well worth getting a copy of their annual guide.
One of our favourite books on writing, is called exactly that – On Writing – and it’s by Stephen King. It’s full of inspiration and encouragement, and let’s face it – Stephen King knows a thing or two about getting published.
Finally, speaking of books, we’ve heard many writers and publishers over the years say that reading is a vital component of writing well – reading widely and deeply, and if you’re writing in a particular genre, get to know what’s out there!
Choosing an agent or publisher to send your finished work to is a challenge. Here, we recommend research. Make sure you follow submission guidelines, and that you’re sending your work to an agent or publisher sympathetic to your style, genre and so on.
One way to do this is to pop into your local bookshop and try to ‘find’ your unpublished book. If it was magically published that day, where would it be in the shop, which section? We all like to think our work is unique, but the truth is that whatever we write, there will be a category – and hopefully a publisher!
Once you find the section in the shop where your magically imaginary published book sits, note the books around it, the names of the authors, the publishers, maybe even skim the thank you’s for mention of an agent. Then, fire up the internet and find out how to contact these agents or publishers, search their websites for submission guidelines.
Half the battle is making sure that you send your manuscript to a suitable place. We have a resource page on securing an agent here.
It’s true to say that most funding application processes cover similar areas. There are of course differences across various funders and funding streams, but we think the following are some sound steps for all funders:
- Start with the project. Make sure that the activity you want to do is carefully planned and costed. For larger funding applications you might even need to supply a full business plan. Basically though, at all levels, you need to be very clear about what you want to do and when, why you want to do it, what you want to achieve from it, and who is going to be involved. You need to know how much it’s going to cost, and how it’s going to be managed and delivered. Funders want to know about participants, how people will know about your project, and how you will assess its value at the end. If you work through this carefully as the beginning point, you’ll be better able to find a funder that matches your aims, and writing the application will be much easier. Funders spot when people try to fit a project into their funding stream, when it doesn’t quite match up. Build the project, know it inside out and then research the funder. It would be great if we just got funding for ideas, but the reality is that funders want to fund projects that have advanced beyond the idea stage into something planned and costed. Even applications for exploratory work will still need to set out in detail how the money will be used.
- Read the guidelines carefully, and before you start the application, so that you know what’s coming up and how the different parts of your project meet different sections of the form. Nowadays, application guidelines are less about being ‘rules’ and more about the funder really trying to help applicants understand the process and submit good applications. They actually want to give the money away! Many, many enquiries to funders are actually about issues that are covered in the guidelines.
- Be methodical in how you fill out the application form – working with the Guidelines to hand, make sure that you’re answering each question with exactly the information the funder needs. It’s a bit like the process of filling out a job application, where you try to make certain that every aspect of the job requirements is covered in your response. Imagine that each section of your application is being scored against the guidelines.
- Contact the funder if you need to – they are there to help. You might like to have a conversation with them at the beginning to check the suitability of your proposal, or later, for support with your application. Be considerate about application questioning, though, as they’re usually very busy with multiple applications on the go at one time, and may be limited to giving guidance on process rather than content – so as to be fair to all applicants. As you’re working through the guidelines and the form, note any queries you have so that one email or phone call will cover them all. All the funders we know are keen to support applicants and pleased to help – just remember to read the guidelines first so you’re not wasting their time : )
- Concentrate on the budget. It’s tempting sometimes to cut costs to fit your project into a funding stream grant ceiling, but don’t. Work and re-work your budget and cashflow so that you’re certain you will have enough money – particularly if the grant is perhaps paid in stages. For bigger bids the funder may want to see a detailed cash flow. Spreadsheets are great – they can make any budget “add up”, but be very careful not to ask for too little, or indeed, too much. Importantly, with next to no exceptions, funders expect you to spend the money on what you told them you would spend it on – or pay it back!
- Find as much match and inkind funding as you can – most funders demand this and only very rarely support applications with no match. But make sure that the cash match is confirmed – it can leave a terrible hole in your budget if not – and don’t get it confused with inkind. Inkind support to projects is costing someone something all the time – staff hours, overheads and the like – but it isn’t cash income as far as your application is concerned. Projects get in trouble when this gets confused and inkind support is considered cash – and suddenly the project is out of money!
- It is easy to over-write funding bids, or to fill them with too much jargon, or even to be self-consciously ‘artistic’ in our prose to mirror the aims of our projects. But resist! Funders want clear and simple language – bullet points sometimes – so that they can quickly and easily get to the purpose of your project. Pay close attention to recommended word limits and the like and always try to keep it simple. Even if you feel their guidelines seem jargon-laden, they will still be expecting clarity from you as the applicant. If you’re applying as part of a team or a partnership, share the writing. That flowery passage of 300 words you had in there – somebody else might be brave enough to point out that it doesn’t make sense : )
Literature Events can be great fun and hugely rewarding. Planning is the key to making sure they are a success.
Some key points to consider for your event:
- Find out whether there are any literature events happening around the same time as your event. Tying your own poetry event in with National Poetry Day, for example, could help raise the profile of the event. On the other hand, if you’re investing lots of time and resources into your event, make sure you take the initiative and check for clashes with other events in your area. Remember to consider all kinds of events and not just literature events – a big gig or the opening night of a new play could easily take away your audience!
- Get in touch with publishers or agents to find out the availability of the writer you wish to visit, and details of the fee and travel expenses. This helps you plan your budget. Sometimes if you type in the author’s name + agent into a search engine (e.g. Helen Dunmore + Agent) you can find this out quickly. Many authors now have their own websites and Twitter accounts – although we strongly recommend you always approach an author through a publisher, agent or website first. It can be very difficult to book writers you want and it is a good idea to leave as much time in planning as you can – some writers have tours and appearances scheduled years in advance. We recommend you visit the Society of Authors for information on working with writers and likely fees. We always advocate paying writers properly.
- Consider inviting local writers if your travel budget is low, and promote writers in your own community.
- If your event involves young people and children try to liaise with local schools and school librarians in the planning and safeguarding for the event.
- Investigate a co-sponsor. Perhaps there is a local bookshop, theatre, or library that might be willing to help with a venue, marketing and other in kind services and partnerships? This can also help greatly with important considerations like insurance and risk assessments, and other practical issues like box office and ticketing.
- Choosing the right venue is very important. Make sure you can find a venue that will be flexible for the audience you are expecting and can still look well attended even if ticket sales don’t go as well as expected! Make sure you consider all the technical requirements of the venue well in advance, e.g. microphones, seat arrangements, licenses, catering and so on.
- Remember that as the event organiser you have responsibilities for the health and safety of your audience. Make sure you meet any requirements here – for example, by completing risk assessments, checking your insurances, checking safeguarding and liaising carefully with your venue. Remember, if you invite people to an event, you’re responsible for their wellbeing. If you have any questions about liability, ask your insurer.
- Find free advertising. There are lots of South West publications and websites that will help promote your event. Make sure you list your event on the Literature Works calendar.
- Don’t forget to use social media as well as print marketing. Twitter is a fantastic way of spreading the word. You can also make sure to have complimentary tickets for local media. Make sure you have a camera on hand to take photos of the event for future marketing – but make sure you have permissions to do this.
- Order in copies of the author’s books to sell on the day. Maybe you could make a contact with a local bookshop to help. Make it a priority to have your writer’s books on sale, and to have a signing table ready if needed.
- Look after your helpers! Make sure you allocate some money for refreshments and to cover any costs for your volunteers.
- Take care of your writer. Writers are more likely to visit again or recommend you to other writers if you treat them well. It helps to have a performance agreement in place with your author so that all arrangements are understood from the very beginning, e.g. fees, travel and accommodation and subsistence. Make sure that there is a quiet green room space with refreshments provided, and to go through the running order. We always recommend that you keep up to date with the information on the Society of Authors website. This site is a great resource of information on author fees and other guidelines. We can’t stress strongly enough how important it is to pay authors reasonable fees. Most writers don’t earn nearly as much as you’d think!
- Hand out evaluation sheets to your audience and your guest writer. For future funding, it is hugely beneficial to have information on successful prior events and for future events it’s really useful to have constructive advice.
- In terms of funding, it’s a good idea to calculate the cost of your event as early and carefully as you can, and as realistically as you can. This helps in funding applications and trying to find sponsors. If your event is likely to cost more than £1000 you may be eligible to apply for an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts award. If your event is under £1000 you may be able to receive a grant from the Literature Works Annual Fund. Check our website for more details.
- Allow time for people to meet and mingle! Who knows, a sponsor for your event might be in the audience!
When our Annual Fund is open, we can fund activities up to £500. Our Annual Fund typically provides awards to help communities get involved with reading and writing, particularly in areas where funds might be hard to find, or events and projects are not already happening. We’ve funded small festivals, library and school visits, author visits, reader group activities and writing workshops all over the South West. What we really like to do is help support smaller activities to bring in authors.
If your activity will cost over £1000, the most likely source of funding will be an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts award. Grants for the arts is the Arts Council’s Lottery-funded grant programme for individuals, arts organisations and other people who use the arts in their work. Grants are available for activities carried out over a set period and which engage people in England in arts activities and help artists and arts organisations in England carry out their work – every year they fund lots and lots of literature activities all over the country. The Arts Council offers awards from £1,000 to £100,000 to support a wide variety of arts-related activities, including literature. There is also a separate Grants for the Arts programme for libraries. For more information, visit the Arts Council’s website.
There are many other sources of funding for larger scale arts awards, and you can find out more here.
Writing groups can be great fun, great places to make new friends, build up confidence and work towards publication. Even some published authors still have writing groups they visit, or informal networks of writing friends to share work with. It is a lonely business, writing, but as Stephen King says, there does come a point where you need to write with “the door open” and writing groups can be incredibly helpful.
The note of caution is that they need to be run properly. Writing Groups should always be enjoyable and even challenging, but always constructive experiences. If you want to find one to join, we recommend you pop into your local library or arts venue to see if they run one, or know of established ones in your local area. The best writing groups will have some kind of ground rules in place, maybe even written down, so that the experience is as positive as it can be, every meeting. No one likes to hear their latest work being slaughtered, but in a good writing group, this isn’t going to happen – everyone will be there to be supportive and positive, and will have developed an understanding about how to balance criticism and praise. In a good writing group no one writer hogs the whole evening, and there will be processes to make sure everyone gets a fair input. If you find a writing group that doesn’t work this way, consider leaving it! We always recommend joining supported writing groups, e.g. as part of your local library or arts centre.
There is a National Association of Writing Groups.
If you are particularly writing poetry, the Poetry Society have a series of Stanzas across the country.
If you are thinking of starting a group, our recommendation is not to do it alone. It can be a lot of work, and to manage it the way it needs to be managed, it’s always better to have the support of an organisation, their staff and venue. This is particularly the case in terms of health and safety, insurance, and so on. Again, try asking if your local library or arts venue would be interested to help. Once the group is up and running, work very carefully at the beginning on what the ground rules are, and what every member’s expectations are. That way, you should be able to have fun, and enjoy writing!
Reading Groups are great – brilliant places to make new friends, and to try reading books you’d never normally read.
There are all sorts of reading groups too – from friendship groups meeting in local cafes, to more organised groups in libraries or arts venues. We recommend that you pop into your local library or arts venue to see if they run one, or know of an established group in your locality. We always recommend that you try to join a group that is supported by your library or other organisation.
Starting a group is more complicated. A reading group can be very rewarding, but also hard work. If it’s not a group with a couple of friends, you can also face issues such as health and safety, insurance and so on. So, we recommend trying to start up a reading group in partnership with your local arts venue or library.
Literature Works, Peninsula Arts, Plymouth University, Roland Levinsky Building, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA
Literature Works is a registered charity and Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation, and company limited by guarantee set up to enable and nurture literature development activity in South West England: Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire, unitary authorities of Bath and North East Somerset, Bournemouth, Bristol, Isles of Scilly, North Somerset, Plymouth, Poole, South Gloucestershire, Swindon and Torbay.