Isabel Losada on How to Get Published at the SW11 Literary Festival

23rd Sep 2010

Isabel Losada

If you were one of the tardy arrivals at an event about how to be published at the SW11 Literary Festival earlier this week, you might have been baffled to sneak inside Waterstones on St Johns Road to see author Isabel Losada and an elderly thespian selected from the audience acting out a bizarre skit about a broom.

A metaphor about the importance of an author’s sales patter when pitching their book to an agent or edit, in her guise as a broom saleswoman, Isbael emotionally attempted to convince the cynical audience member by making uncertain, hyperbolic claims:

The handle’s a bit wonky, and I have some reservations about the quality of the glue. But the bristles! I’ve spent weeks on the bristles of this broom. I’ve suffered a lot for some of these bristles. I’ve had ten years of therapy to help me create them.

The moral of the story , of course, is just how essential it is to “believe in your broom,” and to put time and thought into how to sell it as a product, rather than an emotional labour of love. The key lessons from Isabel, a brash, no-nonsense but also funny and entertaining public speaker who has regularly been featured at literary festivals across the land, were all about research, confidence and resilience.

She had some valuable advice on not being afraid of or intimidated by agents, urging the audience to ignore the cautions in the Writers’ and Artists Yearbook sternly ordering readers not to phone. Isabel’s tactic, she explained, is to phone them, charm the secretaries into answering any questions and find out all the necessary particulars to best match your book to an agent:

We’re the schmucks spending months at home on a product they can make a profit on. And they’re also all scared. Publishing is an industry of English graduates, and that’s not the bravest subject. They’re looking for the next book that will make people excited. They are overworked, underpaid and unhappy. Have mercy on the poor creatures and send them a thin envelope. Some people say to send the first three chapters of your book but I’d advise you to only send one. It’s a simple lesson in empathy, sending only one chapter, but they’ll appreciate it and be more likely to reply.

Isabel’s talk was informative, with valuable insider advice about including a photo when sending sample chapters and a synopsis to agents or editors, and the importance of sales tactics such as commendations and using web and social media presences as leverage to convince publishers of your book’s sales potential.

But as useful as all that was, the most illuminating aspect of the evening was Isabel’s brave and comical readings from the assortment of rejection letters she received for her book, The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment. Despite being rejected by numerous major publishers and then her agent, the book eventually found a home with Bloomsbury, and has since been published in sixteen countries, sold more than 100,000 copies.

Isabel’s reminder that international bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull received almost a hundred rejection letters before it was published hammered this point home further. Although this seemed dispiriting at first, it reinforced one of the most essential lessons to be learnt by would-be published authors; to love writing, be proactive, enthusiastic, resilient and ambitious, and don’t be discouraged by rejection…

Post by Jane Bradley


  • Kerry says:

    I needed that pep talk! Thanks Jane!

  • Hello loyal ‘For Books’ Sake’ followers.

    Just to let you know that this year at the SW11 Festival (2011) on 29th September 2-5pm – I’ll be doing a workshop on how to get published rather than a talk. Will be fun and useful too.

    x isabel