Developing first-time writers

 4 July 2011

Harry Bingham is the best-selling author of eight books. He combines writing with running The Writers’ Workshop, which exists to offer help and advice to first-time writers.

Harry Bingham is Managing Director of The Writers’ Workshop.
Harry Bingham is Managing Director of The Writers’ Workshop.

As well as honest one-to-one advice, The Writers’ Workshop offers a range of online courses, writing festivals and workshops for authors. Authors of all ages, from teenagers to octogenarians, have benefitted from its expert advice. He has also developed the Agent Hunter website, an online resource for writers to find agents. 

Their online courses include how to write a novel and writing for children. In the space of six years, Harry has built a successful organisation for literary development.

A career in literature

Leaving Oxford University with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Harry spent ten years working in the City as an economist and investment banker. But his heart was never in this work, and Harry knew that he wanted to be an author.

“My wife unfortunately became ill and I decided to give up my job in the City to care for her. Whilst I enjoyed my work in investment banking and it certainly paid the bills, the job meant nothing to me and was just not fulfilling.

"At this time I started work on my first novel, The Money Makers, which went on to become a best-seller. This was followed by four more novels and three non-fiction titles."

Moving into literary development

"It is very difficult to make a living from writing books. I could also see that there was not much help out there for new writers.”

This is what inspired Harry, after working as an author for five years, to start The Writers’ Workshop. It has since placed work with countless literary agents and launched numerous authors including John Fenton, Louise Berridge and Barbara Tate.

"Nearly all writing teachers are professional authors who use editorial and teaching work to supplement their income"

“Professional writers have agents and editors to help them. New authors need that help even more, but they don’t normally have access to that.

"Providing professional assistance to new authors makes a massive difference to them. They may or may not get published, but they will certainly improve.

“At the heart of what we do is editorial feedback. My job involves reading the manuscripts of new authors from cover to cover and offering them guidance as to whether or not their work is marketable. I have a team of 70-80 authors and editors to help me with this.

"If the work looks really promising, then we put them in touch with publishing companies and commissioning editors. If the manuscript is not yet ready to be published, we offer tough constructive advice about what the author needs to improve on before they can move forward.”

Running a small creative business

Harry employs three full-time staff to help him run The Writers’ Workshop. They take care of the day-to-day running of the organisation, including dealing with enquires and taking bookings. Harry is responsible for managing their work.

“I am based at The Writers’ Workshop every day to make sure that I am in touch with everything that is going on. However, I only spend about two days a week on this work – the rest of the time I am working in my office here, writing books. I have another novel due to be published next year.”

One of the main challenges with a small company of this kind is marketing and publicity.

“Finding potential editors and authors to work with is easy. Finding new clients can be much harder. Everything is down to getting the publicity right. We do online advertising with Google, placing advertisements on the right of search results pages. The use of keywords relating to our business makes this more effective.”

Having a successful website has also contributed to the success of the organisation. Most of the site is done in-house by Harry and his team.

“The website is the shop window for the world and this is important for our international business. The website now has about 30,000 pages and we paid someone to create the first six or so of those. Some of the content is user generated but basically we build the site as a team.”

Development events for writers

The Writer's Workshop's annual Festival of Writing brings together agents, publishers and book doctors to offer help to prospective writers and review their work. A wide range of workshops are offered including:

  • Advice on how to get published
  • Different writing genres
  • How to write a best-sellers
  • Characterisation.
  • One-to-one sessions with literary agents, publishers, authors and book doctors are a particularly effective way of helping new authors to progress.

"Providing professional assistance to new authors makes a massive difference to them."

“The Festival of Writing is an opportunity for new writers to meet agents and editors and to pitch work directly to them.

"It is vital that I get the right mix of agents, publishers and book doctors involved in the event and offer some interesting workshops. If you get this right then people will want to come. Our Festivals of Writing are amazingly successful. This year five authors were offered book deals after this spring’s festival.”

Advice for a career in literature

  • Literature development is a very small sector of employment
  • Nearly all writing teachers and freelance editors are professional authors who use their editorial and teaching work to supplement their income
  • If you are interested in such work, first and foremost you need to establish a strong track record as a novelist or non-fiction author
  • Becoming an author is exceptionally competitive, so you will need very strong writing skills
  • Taking a good ‘how to write a novel’ course or getting expert feedback on your work is probably the best first steps you can take on what will be a challenging journey.

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