When it comes to engaging queer storytelling, Penguin Random House have released some of the best LGBTQ+ books in recent years.
From Crystal Rasmussen’s Diary of a Drag Queen and Paul Flynn’s Good As You, to Emily Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Dom&Ink’s Free To Be Me, they have championed LGBTQ+ voices and stories with great success. What’s more, their annual series of Penguin Pride events puts LGBTQ+ writers centre stage.
As part of their commitment to discovering, nurturing and publishing new writers from under-represented communities, Penguin Books launched WriteNow.
The award-winning programme gives new writers the opportunity to participate in an online workshop on how to get published, have access to Penguin’s editors for feedback, and could lead to a year-long programme to help develop your ideas with the possibility of the end result leading to a publishing deal.
So far they have published 10 writers who have particiapted in the WriteNow scheme, including Gareth Peters.
Gareth is an author and stay-at-home dad who landed several book contracts applying for WriteNow. He’s now preparing to release his new children’s picture book, My Daddies!, in May 2021.
Here, Gareth gives his insight on how aspiring LGBTQ+ writers can get published, what the process entails, and why they should submit their work to Penguin’s WriteNow programme.
Where do you get inspiration?
Inspiration can come from all around, everywhere and anywhere. I adopted two boys and I am always jotting down the quirky things they say. Not every idea will make a full story, but as long as you get them down they can be used in the most interesting ways. I find I never look for ideas… they look for me, usually when I am too busy to do anything about them. I’m thankful I carry a phone with me at all times, its full of random musings.
How do you fit writing around other commitments?
I am a parent first and a writer second. I have to fit writing around my everyday life. My usual day (prior to the lock down) is coffee, breakfast, school run, writing and biscuit eating, first school pick up, movie time, second pick up, playtime, dinner, kids’ bed…and decaf coffee. The day goes so fast, so I have to make use of every second I can to write. However, it is important to set aside time, when you can. The more you write, the better you get at it. It also may take some time to finish your story, but that is the important thing – finish the story. Always! Then comes the fun bit – editing.
How do you know what the ‘market’ wants or if your book will sell?
I think it’s impossible to follow current writing trends, as by the time you have finished your book, found a publisher and the book is published, that trend may have ended. You should always write stories you want to write and get a creative buzz from. If it follows a trend like unicorns or ‘flossing’, that’s great, but the heart of any story is the story itself, not the marketing hook. Write what you know. Write from experience and write from a place of love. What I will say is, read as much as you can. Different genres, different authors. Learn what you think is good writing and even what you don’t like. No one has a magic formula for book writing, so I think you should just concentrate on getting your heart, soul and characters down onto the page… or laptop.
Do you need a literary agent and what do they do?
So, you have an awesome story, what next? Step one – send it off to a publisher. However, many publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts (work from an un-agented author). Step two – find an agent. But that isn’t easy. Hundreds of writers are doing the same thing and there is no guarantee that they will read your work this year or sign you up. So, that is why WriteNow is so great. You don’t need an agent. You don’t even need a finished story. They are looking for fresh, raw talent. If you are successful, this major publishing house will help you develop your book and even assist you with finding an agent. And before you know it, you’ve completed step one and step two… as well as having a blast. You don’t need an agent to be a successful author, but for me it was essential. It’s never a bad thing to have someone championing you and your writing and someone who has a little glittery book full of publishing contacts.
How do you get a literary agent?
It is so important you find the right agent for you. There are so many and they each specialise in something different. Mine is perfect for me as she is friendly and is exclusively a children’s literary agent. She is also great at editing. That is exactly what I need. So do your research. Look at agency websites. Look at some of your writing idols and find who they are represented by. Read the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook which lists literary agents. But make sure you send out your work to them. Stories are no good sitting in a drawer, send them out, get feedback, and if it’s a no… move on to the next agent you connect with. So, my advice is send your work out, when you are happy with it, that is.
How will an agent sell your book into a publisher?
Once we have a text we think is ready, my agent will submit it to a few publishers, directly including editors we are already working with. And then we wait. It can feel like forever when you are sat at home eating more biscuits. But hopefully they will feedback with a ‘yes, we love this text and want to publish it’. Maybe they will need a few months to convince their team, but you will generally get an answer whether your work is right for that publisher or not.
Submissions is such a scary time as there is nothing you can do, it’s in someone else’s hands then. Your agent has marketed you and your story and the editor has read it… it’s then a nervous waiting game. Just be prepared for rejection. It’s a part of every writer’s life. But don’t see that as a negative thing, as every now and then the stars align and a book is sold. It’s magical and all the rejections are forgotten about.
What’s the role of a publisher?
Publishers are great – they pay you to print your books. It’s amazing! But of course, it doesn’t happen instantly and you have to work for it. Once they buy the rights for a book, you work with an editor to shape it and improve it. It gets proofed and a designer/illustrator makes pretty images for the cover. Marketing and publicity then drum up a campaign and try and get your book into every home.
It’s no mean feat getting a book out there. But it’s like a well-oiled machine, they know what they are doing. Just enjoy the ride and get on writing your next book. But the great thing is, you write and they do everything else. Sounds easy? I know it’s not, and I am forever thankful for their hard work.
How long does it take from getting your book agented, to the final book being published?
One of the biggest things to learn as a writer is patience and be prepared to wait and wait some more. There are so many factors that need to align to get a book published. Firstly, your agent needs to love it and think it is ready to submit to publishers. The specific editor she submitted to needs to initially connect with it and then has to convince their team that the book is amazing. Hopefully the writing will already do that. The marketing and sales team then get involved before it can be taken to the ‘buying meeting’ (called acquisitions.) If everyone agrees, an offer is made to your agent. If you accept, you then begin editing the book with the publishers. The art teams and proofing teams then get involved and you work on getting the book to its finial and best form. Its then time to send off to the printers and months later it arrives back, ready to be sent to the distributers before it goes to bookshops nationwide. This all takes time, up to two years. But its all worth it as everyone wants your book to be the best it can.
Why did you apply for WriteNow?
I applied for Penguin’s WriteNow programme as I heard it was a remarkable project that was looking for under-represented voices. It sounded like they were looking for me. This awesome publishing giant was actively seeking LGBTQ+ writers, so why would you not apply. I think it’s always important to seize the day and take any chances there are.
However, I didn’t think I stood a chance. Over 1700 people applied and I thankfully made the longlist. 150 of us attended attend a workshop. We received a 1-2-1 with an editor (which was amazing). Then it was a waiting game to see if we had been shortlisted. Amazingly I did, and the 40 applicants got to submit more work and have a telephone interview. It was a cross between The X Factor and a applying for a job. I honestly thought this was where it would end for me, and was grateful to have got some professional feedback on my work. But when I received the email to say I had been accepted… I did my victory dance.
What have you got out of the experience and what’s been the impact on you personally?
I got so much from the experience. Friendship, development, a career, but most importantly… a book. An actual book that you will be able to buy from a bookshop. With pictures and everything. It really is a dream come true… especially when I’ll get the chance to buy my own book. (And yes, I will be doing that with my sons.)
My first picture book, My Daddies! will be out next year under the Puffin Books imprint. It’s a brand I vividly remember from my childhood. I still can’t believe it. And it may not have happened without WriteNow. So, thank you… and go and apply… now!
You can find out more about Penguin’s WriteNow programme here.