Writers' Workshop Interview
Posted on 14 September 2009. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to The Writers' Workshop
Tell us all about Writers Workshop- history, ethos, aims etc.
When The Writers’ Workshop was set up a few years ago it was a small operation with just two editors. Now, with around 80 editors, a vast amount of editorial activity, and a multitude of courses, we are probably the biggest writers’ services company in the UK.
The Writers’ Workshop is run entirely by writers for writers. We passionately believe that only successful authors are fully capable of helping amateur authors come to grips with writing publishable work. This is reflected at every level of the organisation: the phone will be answered by a writer; decisions about passing material on to agents or publishers will be made by a writer; your manuscript will be assessed by a writer.
We also believe that writing is a truly worthwhile hobby, whether you get published or not, and are happy to work with everyone from the highly ambitious to those who just want to have a bit of fun with writing.
What special qualities do your editors need?
They have to have a significant history of publishing their work with mainstream publishers. It helps if they’ve taught Creative Writing courses at university level, but many of them are just good at remembering what it was like to be starting out, and therefore just need to be friendly, constructive, but nevertheless critical! We do feel that if somebody’s paying to have an assessment, the most important thing is for them to get feedback that will relentlessly focus on what they’re not doing right yet, and help them to improve. There’s no point in paying for empty praise.
What excites you about a piece of writing- what keeps you interested?
Good prose, obviously, but, in terms of being able to secure an agent, it’s very important that the book has a solid plot to keep you turning the pages.
and what makes your heart sink?
Probably when people have ignored evoking an internal world in their work, or rely too heavily on adjectives, or do any other things that make you distant from the material.
Talk us through a typical process/critique/assessment
When a manuscript arrives in the office, we’ll have a quick look at it to decide who might be the best editor for the job. This could be based on that they write similar material themselves, or on other factors, like that we know they’re knowledgeable about the subject area, or that they have a lot of editorial experience in dealing with books like this. After this, we’ll send it off to the editor, who could be based anywhere in the country (occasionally even abroad).
The editor will then spend a long time, reading it from cover to cover, and taking notes. When they’ve finished reading the book, they will write an in-depth report, explaining what the writer has done well, but focusing mostly on what they need to improve; this could be characterisation, plotting, prose style, punctuation – anything really. This is why it’s so important that we use professional authors to make the assessments; no matter what’s lacking from the manuscript, they’ll pick up on it, and be able to advise as to the best approach.
In the rare event that we receive something that’s marketable, the editor will let us know, and our editorial director, Harry Bingham, will read it again, to make sure. While Harry, like all our editors, is a professional author himself, he has a greater knowledge of current market conditions than any individual author is likely to have, because of the close contact he keeps with agents and publishers in his capacity as editorial director of the Writers’ Workshop.
What advice would you give to a new writer starting out?
Show; don’t tell! It seems that this old chestnut just can’t be emphasized enough.
What is the best stage for a writer to send work to you?
The ideal situation is if they’ve completed a book that is as good as they feel they can get it on their own. But, if they’re halfway through, or even if they’ve just started is fine, if they feel that they can’t constructively go further on their own. We can help people who need that extra perspective to help them put the finishing touches on their work, or those who have a lot to learn.
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