Last night was the first talk of six by visiting speakers, which should be one of the main real joys of the course – access to professionals in the industry. Sophie Lambert from CB’s sister agency Conville and Walsh came in with Alexa von Hirschberg, commissioning editor at Bloomsbury. They were pretty relaxed with each other, having collaborated on a couple of projects . This relationship was the interesting point or at least the new angle for me as I haven’t seen such a relaxed double act speak before, about what is a pretty fraught and aggressive industry according to the general hype.
This charming duo, paragons of publishing went into some detail about how they both work intensively to ‘grow’ their authors and are not put off by anything except excessive arrogance AS LONG AS THE WRITING IS GOOD – THE STORY IS EVERYTHING. Neither of them reject a manuscript from the first page (speak not of rejection from the first paragraph), Sophie reads at least 25 pages and Alexa up to 40 pages, although it must be said they both receive their diet pre-filtered by in-house readers. In fact Alexa credits the readers at Bloomsbury with discovering several of their big talents and calls them ‘the cleverest people I know’. No need to differentiate your manuscript with anything wacky AS LONG AS THE WRITING IS GOOD, it will get the recognition it deserves. Before rushing to apply for a job as a reader – apparently the CB/ C & W agents have received some outlandish submissions in the past, memorably one with the manuscript nailed to a sheep’s head and another one with dead rats, which, no surprises, didn’t get them an agent.
Both women are highly professional so maybe they were going easy on us since we’re vulnerable newbies, or maybe there really is humanity out there. Most comforting was the way Alexa talked about writers finding a home. Anyway – Please God, let us all be blessed with agents and publishers like them.