I am chuffed that highly-respected UK editor turned writing coach, Kathy Gale, has written a guest piece for Fusion View - a personal account of her experience of working with writers while an editor at the top London publishing companies and as an independent writing mentor.
Kathy Gale has been Senior Editor of Pan Books, Macmillan and Hodder & Stoughton; Editorial Director at Pan Macmillan; Marketing Director of Simon & Schuster; and Joint Managing Director of The Women’s Press. She currently heads her own writing consultancy, KG Publishing Services.
As an editor and publisher for over twenty years, I’ve worked with many writers and I’ve always shared the common publishing view that you’ve either got writing talent or you haven’t. If the flair’s there, it’s worth honing, nurturing and developing. If it isn’t, don’t encourage the writer.
I held this view steadfastly during my time as Senior Editor at Pan Books, Macmillan and Hodder & Stoughton, and when I became Editorial Director of Pan Macmillan and Joint Managing Director of The Women’s Press. But in 2005, I decided to go it alone and set up my own business as a publishing consultant and writing coach.
Breaking down the barriers
I began working with writers who were just starting out - reading their work, meeting them, talking to them on the telephone, helping them to understand the bewildering world of publishing and what publishers and agents actually want. When I started, I thought I would mostly be telling writers, gently and clearly, that they hadn’t got what it takes. And then I noticed a remarkable thing. As I worked with authors, and as I talked to them about the difficulties they were experiencing, the challenges they faced, the reasons their work wasn’t having enough of an emotional impact on the reader, often something was unlocked. Often, draft two or draft three was suddenly remarkably different. At that point, I began to change my mind about the whole talent question. Perhaps, in reality, we all have talent, but there are barriers – lack of knowledge of the publishing world, fear of exposure or failure, the ability to create the time and space to write – that hold us back.
It’s a tough world out there
This isn’t to say that I’m not realistic. I still give writers clear and honest feedback about their potential to be published and that’s often not the feedback the writer wants to hear. And I alert writers to the realities of the publishing world – it is extremely and increasingly tough to get a publishing deal. But I have been surprised by the amount of talent that is out there, just needing some encouragement and support to flourish.
Our beloved babies
For some of my writers, publication is the aim and nothing else will do. Others want to write the best book they can possibly write for the satisfaction that gives them. That changes the advice I give and the way I work. Some writers will come to me for initial feedback on their work and then go away for months as they rewrite. Others come regularly for detailed editing and support throughout the writing process. All of them come to accept that writing a good book takes months, often years, of sustained, hard, committed work. But most find it a highly satisfying and rewarding process. Alice Walker once said that having a child was like letting your heart walk around outside your body – a graphic picture of the vulnerability motherhood creates. And I think writing is a little like that – something internal and personal is being put out in the world for other people to look at and comment on. This can be a delicate, painful process. But most mothers would say that they wouldn’t be without their children. And I bet most writers wouldn’t be without their books.
Currently, Kathy’s key consultancy role is as Project Director of Quick Reads, a major publishing industry initiative to bring short, fast-paced books to people who struggle with reading or who have lost the reading habit. Quick Reads is a collaboration between bestselling writers, publishers, the BBC, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, Arts Council England and many more. It was shortlisted for the British Book Award for Innovation, 2006.
Kathy’s other consultancy clients have included the National Institute for Continuing Adult Education (NIACE) and National Book Tokens.
With Harriet Spicer, Kathy co-runs Working Edge, an organization that runs groups for professional people to increase their success and satisfaction at work.
To contact Kathy Gale about her work as a writing coach:
Photo: thanks to bookseller.com