Sunday 3 February 2019

Two Inspiring Guest Lectures

By Karen Rust

This week we were treated to two very different, but equally inspiring guest speakers in the School of Arts.

Kim Slater, full-time author, known for her award-winning Young Adult novels and bestselling crime novels, gave us a guest lecture with the fantastic title: ‘From MA to a Million Copies Sold’ - the holy grail for aspiring novelists.

Kim outlined her lengthy journey from wannabe to bestseller: the countless rejections, the roller coaster of emotions as doubt and lack of self-belief set in and the turning point when she decided to go back to University and study. She completed a full-time BA in English Literature and Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University whilst holding down a job and looking after a family, which says a lot about her. Moving straight onto the MA, she experimented with different genres and discovered she enjoyed writing for young adults.  A short story written for that module received a universal thumbs up from her course peers and went on to become her first novel Smart. She had it professionally edited and sent it to six literary agents, five of whom offered her representation. The book sold quickly, so by the time Kim graduated she had both an agent and a publisher. 

She soon found she wanted to write more than one YA book every two years, even though she was still working, and returned to her first love – crime writing, as K.L. Slater. 

Bookouture, an innovative digital publisher, new to the market at that time, signed her up and she’s gone on to write full time and sell over a million copies for them. 

Kim has created a lovely balance for herself; the YA books are more literary and have won tens of awards, whilst the crime is commercial, formulaic but fun and pays the bills in a big way.

Her hard work, tenacity and self-belief has got her to this point. Writing three or four crime books a year as well as a YA novel every two years is no mean feat. An inspiring journey. 

Our second guest speaker this week was another inspiring woman, Crystal Mahey-Morgan. Crystal wrote for The Guardian and Face magazine aged sixteen, as well as running open-mic sessions for poets and hip-hop artists whilst performing herself. She became marketing Manager for the Raindance film festival aged nineteen, and then moved into traditional publishing for several years.

Seeing a gap in the market she set up OWN IT! with her partner, Jason Morgan, a storytelling lifestyle brand that cuts across books, music, fashion and film. 

Crystal spoke with passion about her experience inside traditional publishing and the lack of diversity of voices she saw being published. OWN IT! aims to make books accessible to young people by publishing stories they can identify with and come across in the kind of places they frequent – for example, titles are stocked in West Indian takeaways in London.

Books published so far include an exploration of black masculinity set against a backdrop of crime and violence, a memoir from a young lesbian raised in a Catholic family on an inner-city housing estate, and a journey exploring family ties across generations by a woman with Maori heritage.

The company also publishes music, collaborates with film makers and produces fashion that sits alongside the other art forms. Mixing media and art forms sits at the core of their ethos.

Instead of a standard launch party at Waterstone's with cheap white wine, OWN IT!’s first book launch took place at Hackney Empire with hip hop and grime musicians taking to the stage alongside poets and readings from the book. Thirteen hundred tickets sold out for the event.

They are constantly on the look out for something fresh and different, across any genre. Their publishing contract is also innovative – a 50/50 split on the net profit between publisher and artist. Most recently, they have set up an agenting arm with Crystal at the helm.

I, for one, am super excited by their approach and rooting for them to show the publishing industry establishment the way to go.

About the author
Karen is an aspiring novelist, currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.  Check out her blog at:

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