Jasmin Kirkbride investigates the successful formula of the Faber Academy, and learns that it involves focusing on the work rather than on the deal
Last week, Headline announced that the launch list of its new Wildfire imprint would contain three Faber Academy graduates: Colette McBeth (published previously by Headline Review) and debut novelists Karen Hamilton and Felicia Yap. This is the latest in a steady stream of deals for writers who have taken the course. What is the secret of their success?
Alex Clarke, Publishing Director at Wildfire, says: “There are a number of very good courses in the UK now, from the likes of Faber and Curtis Brown to the more traditional and longer-form UEA and Birkbeck. Each tends, broadly speaking, to have a particular ethos – and as writers, and consequently as publishers, the key is getting a feel for which course caters to your particular focus. We are seeing some very talented new voices coming from the Faber Academy and we are always keen to hear about the next set of graduates.”
Clarke isn’t the only one paying attention: the Faber Academy has achieved a notably high hit rate over the eight years it has been running, with approximately 50 writers winning publishing deals, including success stories such as the international bestseller and multi-award winning Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson and The Bees by Laline Paull (left), shortlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction.
Some 750 to 800 students take courses at the Faber Academy each year, but most deals come from graduates of the Writing a Novel course, which has accommodated about 450 students since 2009. Ian Ellard, Head of Faber Academy, refers to it as “The Big One”.
“Each course has its own requirements, but for ‘Writing a Novel’ there’s a fairly selective application process,” Ellard says. “It’s quite vague and that’s deliberate because people have a tendency to reveal themselves in those circumstances. The application process is there to triage people, it’s a rigorous course with a clear endpoint, so it’s really important that everyone in the room has the same expectations. We have rejected people on the basis of their having too much experience.”
It would appear that the secret is not to select writers based on an estimate of their likelihood of getting published. For the Faber Academy, it’s all about the art form. “This might sound trite, but really the aim is to help the student achieve the thing they want to achieve, whether that’s for the market or not. For us, it’s about trying to make it as effective a piece of art as we can…” [READ MORE]