Ask a Literary Consultant at Bath Literature Festival

Have you ever wondered just how you break into the industry? What do you need to do? What kind of book do publishers want? Literary consultant Helen Bryant can answer all your questions...

Ask a Literary Consultant at Bath Literature Festival

Helen Bryant is the founder of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, an organisation which offers a bespoke service of help and advice to novelists and writers in the publishing industry, whether just getting started or already published.

This session was smaller and ran much more like a workshop than the others I have seen so far and after a brief talk from Helen on Cornerstones and her own literary journey, she immediately opened questions to the floor and the discussion took off. The questions spanned all sorts of topics related to every aspect of the industry:

How do you identify trends in the market?

Is a character allowed to be passive?

What do you do if you have an agent but your books aren't selling?

These are a few examples which show the extent of the discussion, covering the author, to the agent who represents them, to publishing houses, as well as sales forces, distributors and editors. At first I felt like I had been thrown in the deep end, not quite keeping up with the terms, relationships and connections but Bryant was quick to jump in an explain things and thankfully I was never left hanging or not quite understanding something.

Though it started off quite tentatively, people became much more comfortable and willing to talk about their own work, and Bryant was keen to encourage this, talking about journeys of her own writers who had faced or overcome various similar issues. She also proactively helped with ideas and exercises about the creative process, talking about the differences between edited versions, and how to plan out your story, or check you are sticking to the right plan. But she is in no way prescriptive, telling us that 'once you know the rules you can break them'.

This image is my (very rough) sketch of the mapping technique Bryant showed us, to follow and help drive the plot around your character. She explained that different genres might approach this differently, for example you can set the scene and 'world build' for a lot longer in fantasy than other types of novels. Equally the line is just a guidance, so you might stray from it at any point, and the resolution could reduce or raise the tension for the reader.

The workshop was a really interesting insight and exploration into the industry. As a student I found it it really helpful in terms of thinking a bit further than simply the books and I imagine it was immensely helpful to those looking to get published.


Ellen Orange

Ellen Orange Contributor

I am a 24 year old Marketing Officer from the North East with a passion for arts and writing. I did a BA in English Literature and an MA in Twentieth and Twenty First Century Literature at Durham University, because I love books and reading! I have experience in writing for a variety of student publications, as well as having contributed to Living North, a regional magazine and Culture magazine, a supplement to regional newspaper, The Journal. I have been part of a Young Journalists scheme writing for NewcastleGateshead's Juice Festival, a young people's arts and culture festival, and have since become a Team Juice member. As well as reading and writing, I love theatre, photography and crafts.

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