Emma Morgan is the Deputy Editor of IdeasTap. She began her career at the age of 17, writing for the NME, and went on to write for Select, Elle and Total Film. A failed novelist, she shares her insights on self-promotion, self-publishing – and self-preservation…
What is your name/age/job title?
Emma Morgan, 36, Deputy Editor.
What one thing do you wish you’d known at the start of your career that you know now?
Self-promotion is really important for a writer. It’s not enough to do good work, you have to tell people about it too. Ugh. I suppose it’s relatively easy now, with social networking, but for me, being part-hermit, it feels gauche to honk on and on about what I’ve done. (And yes, to paraphrase Sideshow Bob, I’m aware of the irony of writing about myself in order to decry it…) But needs must when the Devil’s online.
If you could go back and give your younger self any practical advice, what would it be?
Keep all your cuttings. I failed to do this. I have somewhere a scrapbook with my first few NME reviews in it but I got bored and stopped. I have most of what I did for other magazines but I suspect much of my online stuff is now long gone, alas. There won’t be a Morganthology any time soon…
If someone had told your 16-year-old self that you would be a professional writer, would have believed them? Or did you have other ambitions?
I think it was when I was 16, sitting my GCSEs, that I first read England’s Dreaming, Jon Savage’s amazing history of punk rock, in which he tells of how Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons started writing for the NME when they answered the now-legendary ‘Hip Young Gunslingers’ ad; I wanted some of that ‘kinderbunker’ action. A year later, I was writing for NME – albeit a solitary weekly live review rather than some filth-filled on-the-road opus. I’ve always written – my dad keeps finding books and magazines I made when I was little, in the loft – so I’d have hoped it might become my career, but I think I was toying with architecture at that time. As one does…
Is there an embarrassing episode from your past that you wish you could edit out?
I’ve had people not happy about what I wrote, swearing revenge on me. One local Manchester band left messages on our family answerphone and harangued my editor about my review, even took out a small ad to decry my opinion. Sometimes you have writer’s remorse, knowing you’ve overstepped the line, but I didn’t in that situation – they were awful and I said so. The other notable instance involved a very famous musician, who I won’t name, taking something the wrong way, but let’s just say he got some fairly instant karma… So not embarrassing episodes, but unpleasant ones.
Is there a single thing that you wish you’d known about when you started out? Something that has shaped the way you work today?
I was very lucky and got a break when I was 17, and I think when that happens – whoever you are and whatever your discipline – you can’t help but think that’s it, you’re made for life now, everything will come as easily. Nowadays, you’d look at X Factor finalists as cautionary tales – getting ahead is one thing, staying ahead is another (see: self-promotion). You have to see every job, every commission, as an audition or interview for the next, and not coast, never coast. When you’re as lazy as me, this is a very hard, unwelcome lesson to learn, but there you go.
Is there a project of which you are particularly proud?
Yes – the one I’m yet to earn a penny for… A few years ago, I realised I really wanted to write a novel but I was never going to do it while working full-time, so I saved up enough money to live off for six months, and quit my job. I wrote and redrafted the book in that time, then assumed all I had to do was sent it off to a few agents, pick one (!) and they’d sell it and I’d get to do it all again and look forward to flogging the movie rights. Or something like that. In the end, disheartened by rejections, I self-published it, on Amazon and using Smashwords. But I’m still proud of the fact I managed to parp out 80,000 words – even if no-one’s read ’em.
What would you consider your ‘big break’? And how did you get it?
My planets aligned; I had some holiday to take from my Saturday job at Tesco, and there was a writing workshop that weekend which I went to. At the workshop, I met someone whose friend worked for Sounds (a music weekly that folded in 1991) then NME, from sending in an unsolicited review. I thought, ‘I could do that’, and did. I sent in a review when they didn’t have anyone based in Manchester, and what I wrote – slagging off The Cranberries – caught their eye. Almost 20 years later I’m still a journalist. And I still hate The Cranberries.