Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the guest post series, we recently heard from one of my favorite authors, Tania Hershman. Writing novels can be a difficult task, and today it is my pleasure to welcome Aki Schilz from The Literary Consultancy, London, who gives an insight into how they can help aspiring authors.
1. You help run The Literary Consultancy. Could you tell us more about it?
The Literary Consultancy was the first professional editing service for writers in the UK. It was set up in 1996 by TLC Director Rebecca Swift and her colleague Hannah Griffiths (latterly publisher for fiction and paperbacks at Faber and Faber). The idea was to set up a fee-paying editorial service that allowed any writer writing in English at any level and in any genre to get honest, straightforward feedback on their work from a professional reader with a good sense of the market. Some of the original TLC readers included editing luminaries like Julia Bell (now head of the Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck), Richard Skinner (now head of Faber Academy), Jane Harris (prize-winning novelist), and Sara Maitland (acclaimed non-fiction writer). TLC still provides its core ‘manuscript assessment‘ service through a team of 90 editors. It now also runs a mentoring scheme for writers (Chapter and Verse), as well a series of events from its base at the Free Word Centre in London. TLC is partly funded through Arts Council England, which puts us in the unique position among consultancies to be able to offer bursaries to support writers from low-income and marginalised backgrounds through our nation-wide Free Reads scheme.
2. At what stage should an author approach The Literary Consultancy for help with their writing?
Our manuscript assessment service is open to all – we believe that any writer willing to invest money in feedback for their work deserves serious consideration by a professional reader, and our reports aim to help the writer better understand what is working, and what isn’t, and where they might fit into the plethora of markets available to the modern writer.
We’re lucky enough to be both well-connected and well-regarded, and can also refer writers onwards to various trusted services for things like copy-editing, proofreading, and publishing services. Where we see manuscripts of a particularly high quality, we are often able to help writers onwards towards publication, usually via agents. We would never recommend that a writer engage with any service promising to do this, as there simply isn’t any guarantee of success.
3. What are you reading right now? Which books from 2015 would you recommend?
I’m just coming to the end of Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff which is gorgeously written, tongue-in-cheek, and quietly devastating all at once. I also loved the exuberant perspective on ageing disgracefully of Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika (Cassava Republic Press) and the lush yet muscular, uncategorisable Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen (Dodo Ink). I’m a big fan of the short story form, especially when experimental in style (Lydia Davis, Angela Readman, and Kelly Link are all heroes, and indirectly Maxine Chernoff, for her prose poetry). Having heard her read and fallen totally in love with her strange and brilliant writing, I’m really looking forward to Attrib and other stories by Eley Williams, which is out next year with Influx Press.
4. What do you look for in manuscripts when you take on an author for mentorship ?
Generally speaking, the Chapter and Verse mentoring programme works best for writers who have made a start on a project (be that a novel, a memoir, or a collection of stories or poetry ) and need help getting that project to completion. We encourage writers to have made at least a solid headstart before signing up, to avoid being led too much in the early stages of the writing process by their mentor; it’s not necessary for writers to have a clear idea of where the book’s going – the mentor can help with this – but it is essential that the ideas are there, and that they are the writer’s own. Chapter and Verse can be used for completed manuscripts, but only in cases where the writer is happy to re-configure it over the course of the six feedback sessions and final assessment.
5. Can you tell us about a few author success stories that have come up from The Literary Consultancy ?
Certainly! Some of our big early successes helped really cement TLC’s reputation as discerners of talent, with clients like Jenny Downham (Before I Die, David Fickling Books, now a major motion picture), Prue Leith and Terry Darlington (Narrow Dog to Carcassone, which sold 30,000 in hardback). We work internationally, and helped Neamat Imam get published by Penguin India with his debut The Black Coat, which was recently published in the UK by Periscope. More recently, we’ve been delighted to share publication news about former clients including Perdita and Honor Cargill (Waiting for Callback, Simon & Schuster) whom we introduced to their agent Hannah Sheppard, and 2014 TLC Pen Factor Writing Competition winner Guinevere Glasfurd (The Words in My Hand). Here are some of our success stories and client feedback. One of our clients, Tina Seskis, had a fascinating journey to publication initially via the self-pub route and was eventually published traditionally in a much-publicised series of deals brokered by her agent Jon Elek.
6. The Literary Consultancy runs writers’ retreats. What can a writer signing up for a retreat expect?
We run a yearly Literary Adventure writing retreat, currently at the beautiful Casa Ana in Spain. Actually, I’m just back from our 2016 retreat, with a really inspiring group of writers. There are daily writing workshops led by experienced tutors (this year novelist and Peepal Tree Press Associate Editor Jacob Ross) as well as a publishing session. (More, here.) The week is designed to help serious writers focus on a book project, either in fiction or memoir, though you don’t need to be published or ‘advanced’ to attend. We also run a series of events at our London base for writers, and both our Director Rebecca Swift and I regularly attend events and conferences, so you might well see us around. We hope to see you at a TLC event soon if you’re in London, or talk to you online if you feel we might be able to help with assessment or mentoring. In any case, wishing all of you the best of luck with your writing!
Aki Schilz is a writer and editor based in London. She is co-founder of the #LossLit Twitter writing project alongside Kit Caless, and co-editor of LossLit Magazine. Her poetry, flash fiction, short stories and creative non-fiction have been published online (inc. And Other Poems, Mnemoscape, tNY.Press, The Bohemyth, CHEAP POP) and in print (inc. An Unreliable Guide to London, Popshot Magazine, Birdbook: Saltwater and Shore, Best Small Fictions 2015), and she is the winner of the inaugural Visual Verse Prize (2013) and the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction (2014). Aki works at The Literary Consultancy, where she is the Editorial Services Manager. She tweets at @AkiSchilz.
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