How to be a Successful Author
Eliza Robertson’s work ethic puts most writers to shame. She shrugs and recalls how as an undergrad she was writing 5,000 words a week and sending her work out to literary journals on a regular basis.
In 2012 Eliza Robertson completed her MA in Creative Writing and the very next year she signed a two book deal with Bloomsbury. As an aspiring writer on the University of East Anglia Creative Writing MA I had heard stories about Eliza Robertson’s recent success and her award winning collection of short stories Wallflowers. Hot on the Norwich literary scene Eliza became well known for her strange and stunning prose that turned heads in international literary circles. The Guardian called her collection “assured and ambitious”.
I sat down to interview Eliza in a café to talk about her journey from creative writing student to award winning author. She greeted me with an effortless cool, unassuming vibe and a smooth Canadian accent.
Originally from British Columbia Canada, she began her first degree in Political Science at the University of Victoria. However, she decided to pick up Creative Writing as a second degree, a decision which would end up changing the course of her career. She traces her writing style to this period of her life: “I did most of my improvement and development as a writer as an undergrad.”
In her undergrad workshops she focused on short stories. She said: “We handed in 5,000 words every week. If we had gotten a story back and it was an A- or A then we were advised to submit it.” She believes that in Canada there is more of an “ethos” for literary magazines which allowed her to submit and publish.
During her early career she recalls that, “Once you wrote a story and were satisfied with it, you’d send it out to a magazine right away. I was just in the habit of doing that. Nearly every story in Wallflowers had been published, with maybe one or two exceptions.” Immediately following her bachelor’s degree she decided to pursue a Creative Writing masters.
Adapting your writing style
She heard about the UEA program through a friend and she received the Man Booker Scholarship and a Curtis Brown prize for best writer. Here she was introduced to the practical side of writing. She recalls, “UEA introduced me to the industry side of writing, which is important because London is such a powerhouse when it comes to publishing.”
It was at UEA where she got in contact with an agent and kicked off her career as an author. A friend, the talented writer D.W Wilson, introduced her to her agent, Carolina Sutton, who represented the legendary writer Margaret Attwood, during her year long masters.
She remembers: “I talked to who became my agent in the autumn of that year. It was just one phone call and I didn’t follow it up until she came for an agent visit, which must have been in March. I introduced myself there and we agreed to meet in London. I sent her some more work by then and she said she wanted to work with me. It was an informal agreement to work together.”
Over the next year she formed a relationship with the agent and sent her short stories and “a draft of my novel that was ready. When you are publishing a short story collection you have to do it on the back of a novel.”
However, the push to publish the collection of short stories, that would later become Wallflower, did not begin until Eliza won the prestigious Commonwealth Short Story Prize. After this award her agent told her “we need to start sending out the stories.”
After the stories went on the market to publishing houses in both the UK and Canada. She recalls “the writer doesn’t have much say in what happens after that. It gets sent out to every publisher that seems applicable and they’ll either reject it make an offer.” In the UK, Bloomsbury picked up the collection. This seemed to be a perfect fit she explained, “Bloomsbury have a bit more of a track record with short stories. So there is more of a precedent for taking that risk.” In Canada her work began a bidding war between two publishing houses for the rights.
Wallflower came out to critical acclaim in both the UK and Canada, including great reviews in The Guardian, Independent and Toronto Times.
Now Eliza is finishing her PhD at UEA in Creative and Critical Writing. The postgraduate degree allows her to work on yet another novel and also explore some of the critical components to the art of writing.
Her best advice to young writers, “Make time for it. If you are someone who doesn’t have enough time to write you are never going to write a book. It’s easy to let other things get in the way. Two or three of my writing friends are mothers with small children, so if they can write I think none of us have excuses.”
Laura Lovett is a staff reporter at Gatehouse Media New England. She is a graduate of The University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing masters (nonfiction). Her work has appeared in The Guardian and The Independent. She is currently completing a memoir about teaching in the American South.