Thursday, May 20, 2010

Interview with author Harry Bingham!

‘Harry is the author of five novels, all from HarperCollins. The first, The Money Makers, shot straight onto the Sunday Times bestseller list.
The second, Sweet Talking Money, was shortlisted for the WHS Thumping Good Read Award 2002.
The Sons of Adam came out in 2004, and was picked by the Bookseller as one of the most exciting books of the year.
Glory Boys came out in 2005, with the Bookseller commenting, ‘If you haven’t yet discovered the sales potential or sheer story-telling power of this author then you are missing out. He is the next [Jeffrey] Archer or [Sidney] Sheldon.’
The Lieutenant's Lover is out in paperback, Oct 2006.
This Little Britain, published by 4th Estate in 2007, is his first non-fiction publication. It's an entertaining, argumentative romp through British history, full of surprising facts. It's available from all good bookshops. Harry lives in Oxfordshire with his wife and dogs.’-WW

First of all, I want to give a HUGE thank you to Harry for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions.

Between running The Writer’s Workshop, editing, scouting, and organizing festivals-  Do you still manage to find time to write ?
Um, yes, more or less, in fits and starts. I do still think of myself as a writer mostly, and a WW person only secondarily.

Are you currently working on a new project and if so, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Yes indeedy. I’m writing a detective story, set in Wales and featuring a young woman detective. The murder mystery part is fairly conventional. The interesting bit is that there are two extra layers of mystery. First, the detective is clearly hiding some huge secret about her past from the reader. Secondly, it turns out that there’s a second huge secret about her past which she isn’t even aware of. The reader comes to learn more about both of those two things, but only at the very end of the book.
**This sounds really fascinating!

What gave you the idea to start ‘The Writer’s Workshop’?
I came to writing when I gave up a proper job to look after  my wife, who was very sick at the time. When she started to get better, I had more time on my hands, so the WW seemed like a logical step.

When a manuscript arrives at The Workshop- how do you decide which editor is going to take it on?
We always look fairly closely at the manuscript to understand more about its genre and its quality. Obviously we know our editors very well: what they’re good with, what they love handling. Since we have a lot of editors, we can normally pair manuscripts to editors pretty well.

What criteria must a manuscript under editing meet to be considered ‘strong enough to sell’ to one of the agencies or publishers the WW scouts for?
Er, well, in the end it needs to be saleable to a publisher. For commercial writing (crime, women’s fiction, fantasy, etc), that means that the writing itself needs to be competent, and the story needs to be powerful. In literary fiction, the bar is set higher when it comes to prose style, but possibly lower when it comes to storytelling. Either way, the book needs a strong angle or marketing hook to grab an agent or publisher.

Can I ask which agencies or publishers ‘The Writers Workshop’ has worked with in the past?
A lot of them. We’ve had clients taken on by AM Heath, Conville and Walsh, Rogers Coleridge and White, Curtis Brown, MBA – but too many to name. We don’t usually place books direct with publishers, though we do have a book coming out with Orion this summer that we sold to them directly ourselves.
**For those of you who haven’t been familiarized with agents yet- these are all really big names.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that first time writers make?
Oh dear. There are so many ways things can go wrong. But I’d say that good writers always focus on the quality of their writing. Literally caring about each sentence. If you have that care for the texture of your work, you’re not likely to be slipshod about the bigger things.

Do the manuscripts that you present to agents most often the ones that required the least amount of editorial work or have there been cases where the WW has helped to completely transform a manuscript that went on to be successful?
On the whole, I suppose good manuscripts look good right from the start. But yes, there are definitely plenty of authors who just work hard at understanding what isn’t working in their writing and then they work away at those things till they get them right. We’ve definitely had successes from people who I thought would never make it – so now I know that I can’t pre-judge these things.

What are your feelings about current market conditions (ie- what’s hot and what’s not for fiction these days?)
Gosh, it’s really tough. And the trouble in saying anything about market conditions is that it’s really hard to give writers information that’s useful. Misery memoirs were really hot a few years back, but within a year of the peak it was hard to sell anything except the very strongest work in the category. Same thing with vampire work now. Unless you have some startlingly strong & original work in that genre, it’s really hard to sell – despite the fact that Stephanie Meyer is still huge. And of course the huge sellers are never expected. No marketing department ever said, ‘Bring me a book about a boy wizard!’ or ‘What we need is a Vatican-based conspiracy novel now!’

Do you feel like the American publishing industry is easier or harder to break into than the U.K. industry for fiction and why or why not?
Not much difference, I don’t think. The US market is very hard to crack if you’re a Brit resident in Britain. But if you’re an American in America, then the challenges you face are much the same there as here.

Do you feel like there is a large difference between what is being sold in the U.S. market and the U.K. market?
No. I think there’s a general perception that the US non-fiction lists are smarter than British ones. Nothing to do with readers, more with the way the retailers work. And of course the Christian market is way bigger in the US than it is here. But no, on the whole there’s no colossal difference I wouldn’t have said.

I notice that many U.K. agents still require hard copy queries by mail whereas most American agents now prefer queries by email.  Why do you think this is and do you think the U.K. agents will open themselves up to email queries sooner or later?
I’ve no idea! I’d love to know. I think it’s because the British industry still secretly hankers for quill pens and coal fires and leather bound ledgers. It’s bananas.
** Since this just about sums up my American-minded stereotype of the British book industry- this answer made me laugh out loud.

Did you have to query to find your agent and if so, how long did it take you to find one?
I’ve had two different agents. With my first, I sent out about a dozen letters all told (in two waves) and ended up with offers from two agents. The whole process took about 3 months. With my current agent, I just made an appointment to see him. We liked each other. It took me some time to get a manuscript into a shape that he was comfortable with, but then we signed on the dotted line straight away. But that kind of thing is only possible really if you have a track record.

 Under what circumstances would you recommend a writer seek editorial help for their manuscript?
My answer to that one is a bit useless really: writers should get help if they think they need it. Plenty of good writers will get an agent without outside help. Plenty of other good writers will make excellent use of expert advice. If you’ve tried to get an agent already and failed (ie: you’ve made a professional approach to 10-12 agents), then it probably makes sense to get a genuinely expert outside view on your work. If you feel that you’re going round in circles, or you know that there’s something wrong but you’re not sure what, then you need editorial help. But if you complete your MS and you’re very confident in it, then you should certainly go direct to agents. No point in spending money on editorial help if you truly won’t benefit.

Do you have any other advice for writers hoping to break into the publishing industry?
Always, always kidnap a member of the agent’s family before submitting your MS. Treat publishers with aggression and disdain – they’ll think you’re a star in the making. And always speak contemptuously about your peers: it’s a brilliant way to make friends.
... More seriously, though, if you write a good book, approach agents professionally, and treat everyone you come across in a courteous and businesslike way, then you’ll do just fine. If you need more detailed info, then as it happens I have a book on just this subject coming out in a few months. It’s called Getting Published; it’s coming out with A&C Black; and it’ll be available from 27 September.
**Awesome!  Thanks so much Harry for taking the time to answer my questions and I will definitely be on the look-out for ‘Getting Published’- which sounds like it will be a great resource for us aspiring writers!


Jessica Bell said...

Wow! What a great interview! Thanks so much to you both for this. It was very insightful :) Great stuff!

Vicki Rocho said...

(waving) Hello Harry! Nicely done, Creepy, I enjoyed this.

Olive said...

Thanks so much for visiting my blog Write Olive. Great interview and I like the part where Harry says that you have to care about each sentence.

India Drummond said...

Great stuff. His new WIP sounds like a winner.

Unknown said...

This was amazing!!! You out did yourself for sure! Great questions and of course he had some amazing answers!

His latest story sounds really intriguing, I'm ready to start reading already!

Great job chica!

Susan Fields said...

Kidnap a member of the agent's family - why didn't I think of that?!

Great interview, lots of good information. Harry's new detective story sounds really good - I absolutely love secrets!

Unknown said...

Don't worry you made up for not posting a video!!! Don't feel too bad, next week you can make up for it!!! :)

Laura Pauling said...

Great interviews! Thanks!

Matthew MacNish said...

Great interview, thanks for sharing Katie.

Jaydee Morgan said...

Another great interview! Always something to learn :)

About Me said...

Great interview and I agree with Harry, we need to kidnap an agent's family member. :)

Clara said...

I Loved this interview, thanks Kd and Harry for this!

Myne said...

This is a great interview. I'll be checking out Harry's book and the WW too. Thanks CQG

Zoe C. Courtman said...

"The British industry still secretly hankers for quill pens and coal fires and leather bound ledgers" -- ooh, me, too! Me, too!! *sigh* Maybe cuz me mum's a Brit, perhaps. Nice interview, girl - was a good read!!

Aubrie said...

Great interview! I like the idea that a story had to be "powerful" to sell. I need to think about that for my own story.

Candyland said...

Fantastic interview. He's funny:)

MBW aka Olleymae said...

I want to read his detective story!!!

Thanks for sharing the interview. :)

Shannon said...

Fantastic interview! I really enjoyed Harry's quips and insight. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Agreed with others that I'm interested in reading Harry's new story when it comes out.

Thanks again. Very enjoyable read.

Jo Schaffer said...

Awesome interview. (=

Paula RC said...

Very interesting! Great read too.

Now I'm off to kidnap an agent's family member... Now where did I put my W&A yearbook!

Lindsay said...

Awesome interview, and really informative.
I've read on updates to QT that some UK agents are finally opening themselves up to email submissions. Not a lot at the moment, but it will be interesting to see if this changes.

Unknown said...

wow very cool very usefull interview! Thank you for that!

Dawn Ius said...

Wow, I have so much to say to you today.

1. Awesome interview.
2. I suck. I forgot until JUST NOW to plug this on my blog. I've put it at the top and bolded it, as well as linked to your page. Forgive me?
3. AWESOME entry into Janet Reid's contest. I'd vote for you :-)

Carolyn V. said...

Oh my gosh! How cool is this interview!

It only took him three months to get an agent? I am so impressed. =)

Lydia Kang said...

Excellent, excellent interview! So interesting and full of lots of juicy insider tips! Thanks!

MTeacress said...

Hey, this was very informative. I especially like the bit of humor at the end. What a fun interview. Great job!

Stina said...

Great interview. I had to laugh about the quill pens and coal fires and leather bound ledgers. Too funny!

Suzanne Casamento said...

Great interview. Very informative and FUNNY! Thanks!

Angie Paxton said...

Fantastic interview! I'd heard about Writer's Workshop and was curious about it. It was great to get more info on it from the horse's mouth as it were. Thanks for this.

Unknown said...

What a superb interview!

Thanks to you both.

Theresa Milstein said...

This may be one of the best interviews I've ever read from a writer doling out writing advice. Thank you both!

And to top it off, he's funny:

"I think it’s because the British industry still secretly hankers for quill pens and coal fires and leather bound ledgers. It’s bananas."

Myne said...

I'll check back later for your blogfest entry.

Talei said...

Great interview and great tips, loved reading this. Thanks for interviewing and sharing! ;)

Lola Sharp said...

Great interview. I enjoyed Harry's thoughts...and humor.
I secretly long for quill pens and leather bound ledgers. And I'm American.

Happy Weekend to you and Harry!

Creepy Query Girl said...

Thanks everybody for your comments and I'm really glad you enjoyed this interview!

notesfromnadir said...

Thanks for posting this interview. Harry Bingham has a great sense of humor! Like the part about quill pens! Interesting to learn about the differences/lack of differences between American & British publishers.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Wonderful interview. The Writer's Workshop sounds like a great resource for writers.

His new WIP sounds exciting. Great job to both of you.

Slamdunk said...

I am late on reading this, but great job. It is helpful to hear someone successful who seems so humble. He just is offering his opinion and it is up to writers to make things work.

Also, you have to respect someone who leaves a job to care for an ill spouse.

Nishant said...

Great interview and I like the part where Harry says that you have to care about each sentence.
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