London Writers’ Salon was set up by Matt Trinetti and Parul Bavishi in early 2019 as a space for writers to get unblocked, connect with fellow writers and build successful creative careers. Both have experience in self-publishing and publishing respectively and were eager to build a community for writers, aspiring or established, to come together and learn through interviews and masterclasses. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, they quickly pivoted their idea to online, establishing the Writers’ Hour, a virtual space where writers can log in and join a Zoom gallery of other writers every morning at 8am for a dedicated hour of productivity. Since launching, the Writers’ Hour now runs four times a day every weekday so that writers from every timezone can join in.
What started as a space to encourage productivity has flourished into a community, with many people seeing it as a lifeline during the pandemic. I (like many others) discovered London Writers’ Salon through their Writers’ Hour which I was introduced to by my PR friend Antonia Taylor. There is some kind of magic in the air with the daily check ins where we have 55 minutes of solid writing (no Instagram distractions) to kick off the day. I’ve focused my writing into the creation of a book (coming soon) plus met wonderful and creative people in this space. To celebrate (or commemorate) a year in Lockdown, and therefore a WHOLE YEAR of Writers’ Hour, I chatted to Matt and Parul about their backgrounds, where the business idea came from and future of the London Writer’s Salon.
Interview with Matt Trinetti and Parul Bavishi from London Writer’s Salon
NakedPRGirl: Where are you from? And where do you live now?
Matthew: I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, where I spent the first 17-18 years years of my life. I live in London now and I’ve been here for about six years. In between there, I lived in Atlanta and Chicago and different places, and was a vagabond for a bit.
Parul: I was born in New Zealand, in Wellington. But I am a Londoner and I’ve been in London for many, many years. I live in South-West London.
NakedPRGirl: How did you meet?
Parul: I met Matt at Escape To The Woods which was part of Escape The City, which is a fantastic organisation. I discovered them years ago and I went to Escape to the Woods because I’d left publishing temporarily. I knew that I wanted to get back in, but I didn’t know how. So I thought I’d go on a weekend camping trip where we just discussed careers and futures. And Matt was facilitating.
Matthew: Yeah. That’s what brought me to London. I came to help. I became friends with the guys who started Escape the City back when I was in Chicago, I’d been internet pen pals with them. I came over in 2014 to London to help them launch a school for people who wanted to leave their corporate jobs and do something else. One of the events we ran in the first year I was there was called Escape to the Woods. That’s where Parul and I first met. So that was six and a half years ago.
Parul: We just stayed in touch. At some point years down the line when I was a freelance editor, I was talking to Matt about ideas. We both knew there was something we wanted to create. But we didn’t know what it would look like. That was the start of our discussion about what eventually became the London Writer’s Salon.
NakedPRGirl: What did you both study and what was your first job? Has writing always been part of your life?
Parul: For me, no. I studied philosophy at university, and I originally wanted to be Andrew Lloyd Webber. I wanted to write musicals, but I don’t think I was good enough. I ended up getting into management consultancy. But being in publishing wasn’t a career option, my Indian parents never would have encouraged that, because the pay was terrible. So I decided to become a management consultant first, because I didn’t know what else to do. And it offered good money. I got offered a job before I graduated.
So I did that for a long time for around five years. Then a friend of mine worked in publishing and I was about to go travel the world. Instead, I decided to take an internship across five publishers, and ended up becoming an editorial assistant at Quercus, which is now part of Hachette.That’s how I ended up going into publishing. I became an editor.
Matthew: I’m a pretty similar story except I never really got into publishing, I’ve always been an outsider. I was good at math and science, so I studied engineering at university. I was an industrial and systems engineer and some of my first jobs while I was still studying were at a concrete manufacturing plant. So I was doing process improvements on the manufacturing line. My first job out of uni was at IBM doing IT management and management consulting, so not too dissimilar Parul, and I equally disliked it.
I got into writing when I wanted to leave IBM, this was 2012. I decided I was going to quit, but instead I asked for a sabbatical. I got a seven month sabbatical from IBM. During that time, I didn’t know if I was going to work at IBM, what I was going to do. So I just traveled for a bit, just as I figured out my way. That’s when I met writing, I started a blog called GiveLiveExplore, just to document my travels. I thought I wanted to be a travel blogger.
That was what sparked my interest in publishing and blogging and writing. In particular, just how publishing was changing and how places like Amazon and others were making it easier for people to self-publish. My entry into publishing was through self-publishing a book that I partnered with a friend on.
NakedPRGirl: What was the book?
Matthew: It’s called Tales of Iceland, and we actually interviewed my friend, Steve, who wrote it. It’s a memoir, a little travelogue of us on our travels through Iceland. It still sells.
About London Writers’ Salon
NakedPRGirl: Is this around the time you were getting together and starting to think about London Writers’ Salon?
Matthew: So it was 2013 that I got involved with the book and in 2014 I came to London, and I left behind the self-publishing stuff when I came to Escape the City. That’s when I started focusing on facilitation and career change and entrepreneurship and building community. That’s when Parul and I met. But it wasn’t until the end of 2018 that we were having some coffees and said I’m meeting people at Escape the City who have writing ambitions and I had writing ambitions myself. What if we created something like Escape? But for those people? We wanted to make publishing more accessible to people. Those two ideas coming together.
Parul: Yeah, exactly. Before that I’d thought about wanting to create my own publishing company or literary agency because I wanted to somehow put together what I love doing, which is editing and working with words, but also the entrepreneurial side of things. I remembered Matt and we were talking about this idea, but we hadn’t quite nailed it. Then Matt messaged the library on St. Martin’s Lane with a pitch for an idea of what this might look like and then we had two or three months to prepare for it. And we just hashed it out. Our approach was very much what it is right now, which is, we don’t want to be pretentious. We want to ask the questions that writers don’t get to ask. We want to talk about money. We want to help everyone feel like they can be a part of the writing industry, whatever medium it might be.
It started off as an interview series. Our first one was in January 2019. And more people showed up than we thought. At the time we thought, this will be worth it even if just two people show up, but in the end we had 35 or more.
We literally just messaged everyone on our contact list and said, If you know anyone who’s interested in writing, come to this session, the event was called Make 2019 the Year of Writing.
NakedPRGirl: How long did you go on with that format before the pandemic? Were you planning to do this online? Or was it more like you wanted to do it in person for a while?
Matthew: Everything changed with Covid in March, almost a year ago. By that time, we were doing monthly events, interviews, we had started doing masterclasses in person, we had thought about digital and online like many people had, it was an idea that one day, we’ll build this. Then all of a sudden we were forced to do it. It was London Writer’s Salon 1.0 in January 2019, until March 22, 2020 and then March 23rd 2020, it was LWS 2.0. That’s when we opened up our first zoom Writers’ Hour.
Parul: We didn’t know we would reach beyond London. I always thought it’s going to be based in London. And we joked about setting up one in New York. But this was so much cooler.
NakedPRGirl: After the lockdown started, did it grow from there? Did you set up with different time zones?
Parul: It was really such a small experiment. It was Sunday night, we were crapping ourselves because the world looked like it was shutting down. My entire family had Covid and we had an event lined up for that week, and weeks after. We just thought, it’s gonna have to change. We noticed that businesses were on the cusp of trying to figure out whether to cancel things or not.
Matthew: Then we sent an email that night at 10pm on a Sunday to our email list. Basically everyone who had come to an event up until then, and said, we’re starting this thing, we’re calling it the Writers Hour. We’re doing it for 10 days, join us at 8am, Monday to Friday, for the next two weeks. And we’ll see what happens. We haven’t stopped since.
In the very first couple days, someone said, is there any way I can help support this? Do you have a Patreon or something? So then the next day we went to Patreon and created an account for us.
At some point, we said if we get 15 patrons, we will continue it through April. And then it was month to month, we said should we continue this through May? Keep in mind, we all thought Covid was maybe over by the summer.
So that’s why we had to go month-by-month because it was just the plan. Anything beyond that felt silly, but we use patrons as a gauge of is this valuable enough. I think we’d get stormed with pitchforks and torches if we were to stop it now because it’s such a cool space.
NakedPRGirl: With your Patreon, you’ve got a few different levels. How did you work out what you were offering them?
Matthew: Right now, the main thing is Silver, and that’s kind of where things start to get interesting as we have a Slack channel, a slack group that we use to make it easy to connect. And where that came is we saw a lot of people trying to chat in the Zoom box here. And we realised that it’s pretty horrendous to try to connect with anyone in this chat box and people are exchanging emails. So we said, Well, why don’t we just make it easy to connect?’ That’s when Slack came about. We made it a perk for people who really felt like they were engaged and wanted to be there. Then because we had transitioned our interviews online, we then thought, well, maybe we’ll throw those in if you become a Silver, you get free access to all the interviews we run.
And at the time, it was just every month. Now we’re weekly. So it’s definitely amped up what we and how we do it.
NakedPRGirl: Do you have feedback from people that you’ve really helped them break through?
Parul: Yeah. The first book that came from Writers’ Hour was called How to Quit Fast Fashion by Emma Matthews and she only had a deadline of like, six weeks. That book was published last year. That was our first Writers’ Hour book. That was so cool. And it’s still exciting. We have a weekly roundup so we can see what everyone’s been up to and help celebrate and push each other’s work out.
On working together, rebranding and the future
NakedPRGirl: You’ve got like that great partnership, which must also help?
Parul: Yeah, I’ve learned so much from that just working with Matt. Sure, it sounds cheesy, but times when I’ve been a bit tired or down, I feel like he’ll pick me up. He’ll fill in if I need to stay out of the inbox for a while or pull away from something.
Matthew: Yeah and ditto. That’s the beauty of a partnership. I’m always amazed and a little bit perplexed when anyone does something on their own, because I know how difficult it is. It’s funny because I think both of us are historically terrible committers. The way that we’ve tricked ourselves is we’ve set small commitments that felt doable. So 10 days, one month, two months, one month, we can commit to that.
But yeah, on March 23 2020, if you’d said for the next year, every Monday to Friday, you’re gonna do this thing, we’d be like, there’s no way. Being there for each other and doing it with each other has certainly helped.
NakedPRGirl: Is the plan that you would try to continue after lockdown?
Matthew: Yeah, it’d be a shame to stop it. But ultimately, I think we want to keep doing it. To keep listening and if this is something that people still value, then we’re going to find a way to do it.
NakedPRGirl: I spotted you have just rebranded. Tell me about that?
Parul: Yeah. Emma Winterschladen (she’s @hungryromantic on Instagram) is such a wonderful artist. She joined quite early on and she came to one of our master classes and then I think I saw her Instagram feed and we’d been looking for someone to help us out. We commissioned her to do a bit of a rebrand for us. When I’ve tried to brand things, but I’ve cared about too much and been a perfectionist about it.
I’m glad that we took our time because in a way we didn’t need it to look as beautiful as it does now. It makes me realise again, working with someone else helps me because I’m not as concerned about putting things out in the world with imperfections.
Matthew: Making the logo beautiful wasn’t stopping us from creating a space for writers. So just to remember that, and I’m glad it came at the time it did. We love it.
I had some pretty terrible ideas of what we should call it. And I’m so glad Parul convinced me to go with London Writers Salon. I was less tied to London.
Parul: I remember exactly when we’re having that discussion, because we knew each other, but how well do you know someone when you can say ‘I’m not sure’? I remember standing in the train station having a discussion, a bit like when you have your first disagreement with your friend or a partner, and you’re like, are we gonna survive this? Is this gonna be okay? How far can I go?
NakedPRGirl: So how do you deal with disagreements? Are you just really honest with each other and quite calm about it?
Parul: I think we mostly are on the same page. I’m very open to being wrong. That helps.
Matthew: I think what also helps is we’re on the same page and what we’re trying to create. So we’re on the same team. If we disagree, it’s because we have a different opinion on how we get there, but we’re also open to being proven wrong.
NakedPRGirl: With social media and your newsletters, you seem to have quite a slick operation there. You’ve always got a post going out, so how do you deal with that side? How do you balance all of that with everything else you’ve got to do?
Matthew: I think we’re still figuring that out. We take different things. So I take most of the emails, the newsletters and our emails. Parul takes most of the social stuff.
On marketing and social media for London Writers’ Salon
NakedPRGirl: What is the most useful social media channel for you guys?
Parul: I mostly prefer Instagram. So that’s where I put most of my attention. I don’t particularly like Twitter, but that’s because I see a lot of negative sentiment on there. Particularly in the publishing world. If you’re part of the publishing world, it’s very siloed.
With Instagram, it feels more about the image and it feels like a sweeter, calmer community. Because we put more out on Instagram, most of our interaction comes from there. We get DMs all the time and people share things with us and I love it. I love it when people send photos of their morning and afternoon writing space. I try to repost that purely because I want us to meet each other.
NakedPRGirl: Does it feel really in control from your side as well? Do you schedule things far in advance like the social and newsletters? Is it quite easy to organise? Or do you feel like is it quite hard?
Matthew: It’s definitely gotten easier. We’re so fortunate that one writer in our community, Alicia, has stepped up and has been helping us in particular with the email side of stuff. She’s helped us streamline some of those things.
It’s definitely more of a slick operation than it was in the early days. About six months ago, we transitioned all of our emails to MailChimp. Before there was a manual email going out. So since we moved to MailChimp, it’s been a huge load off.
Parul: When we first started the ‘Words of Wisdom’, which is a quote or passage to help us kickstart our writing – was done manually. I was literally just going through a book and I’d pick one probably the night before or that morning. Now we have a form. Matt and I do Monday and Friday, but it’s wonderful hearing everyone else’s selections the rest of the week. It’s now scheduled into a spreadsheet.
Matthew: You realise how many things we were doing manually. We still are and this is a constant conversation we have is what adds value for us to do and what’s not. Some of those things, while important to get things going and figuring out what the system is, at some point, we have to let them go. So we can focus on the community space building.
Parul: I started ‘Open Mic’ because I just thought it’d be fun to share, to hang out with the writers in the group. But there came a point where it was too much and I tried to close it down. I just put a message out, saying I think we have to close down and immediately it was like, ‘No, I’ll take over’. So Monica and KK and Rachel took over Open Mic and now they run it for us. That’s fantastic.
On London Writers’ Salon Highlights
NakedPRGirl: Do you have a particular highlight, somebody who you may be interviewed or even a highlight from your career that you look back on and think was amazing?
Parul: It’s wonderful when we hit certain numbers and when we get emails. But actually, it’s when we speak to people and then we’ve had instances where we’ve spoken to someone and you realise that they would never have normally come to something like this. Maybe they have trouble in their own life, or maybe they have some sort of physical illness. Those are the times when you feel touched in a way that nothing else compares.
Matthew: I think that’s been the big surprise, is how much this space while we thought it would be for productivity has actually been for mental health, helping loneliness, community connection.
We had an end of year party for our patrons and a bunch of people came together and made this video for us saying how much they meant the space meant to them. It was a tear jerker. The moments like that smack us in the face and say that something is different here. We’re creating something a little different than we thought, but in the best possible way.
The other moments that I love are, sometimes there are some pretty amazing people who come into this room. You know, Elisabeth Luard, who shows up every day, and she’s an iconic food writer. And we’ve had actors and actresses and people who I look up later. It’s like, oh, wow, you’re a BAFTA nominated actress. You’re a TED speaker. You never know who you’re going to be next to, in this room, rubbing elbows with. And it doesn’t matter. Because we’re all here.
NakedPRGirl: Do you guys both do things outside of London Writer’s Salon or are you full time with that now? Do you have other projects you work on?
Matthew: For me, this is full time. Thanks to our patrons, it’s been possible. Before this, I was making my living mostly as a facilitator, doing training and courses and stuff like that. I just stopped looking for work as this started to pick up.
Parul: I’ve been a freelance editor for a very long time. I do work with The Story Grid, a fantastic organisation. They have a university and a publishing house and I still do editorial work, I definitely take on less, I don’t have as much capacity to do editorial work. For me, giving that up is impossible. Because I love editing. What’s nice is it fits in very nicely to this. So both Matt and I also offer mentoring and coaching and we have a few select folk that we know that we’ve worked with who we offer out as coaches as well, including a few agents and editors. So the editorial side fits in very nicely with the salon.
NakedPRGirl: So who in the industry inspires you?
Parul: What Tim Grover and Shawn Coyne are doing over at the Story Grid is incredible. Shawn Coyne is an ex-editor at Random House. He was a publisher when he left, he’s also been an agent and the story grid is like a methodology. It’s a bit like the hero’s journey, Save the Cat, that sort of methodology. But they’ve created an education system, you can learn about storytelling. They’ve just created a publishing house, which is really interesting. It’s a different royalty split. So it’s 40%, to the writer 10% of the editor and 50% for the publishing house and these books are distributed via subscription service, which I find fascinating. I love what they’re doing. And Tim is on a very low key basis our mentor, he’s someone we’ve interviewed and someone I tried to learn from. So I like that they’re disrupting the space.
Matthew: Yeah, I’d agree with what Parul said. I like Ryan Holiday, I don’t know if he’s considered industry or not, but in the way that we admire people who both care about the craft, but are entrepreneurial, and have a start-up mindset. Like Shawn and Tim, with Story Grid, Ryan Holiday with the different things he does with his podcasts, and newsletters, and publishing and marketing. But then also there’s a softer side, Mary Oliver, just a poetic sensibility. I don’t know if she’d be considered industry, but we do like to make sure there’s heart in it. Not just business.
NakedPRGirl: What do you think the future is going hold then? For the industry?
Parul: From what I see places like The Story Grid and that what they’re offering is still considered very much on the periphery, they are still on the bleeding edge of revolution in the publishing industry. That’s from my understanding of the publishing industry and my friends still in it, because I am definitely outside of it. It still seems very much all the same. I don’t know that there’s been any seismic change.
Amazon has been the big seismic change and they’re normally put down as the awful beast that has damaged publishing, when in actual fact they were the innovators who actually decided to distribute books online, when other people wouldn’t do it. So I feel like change is slow. But it’s these independent companies like The Story Grid, they’re doing really cool things.
Matthew: A lot of people we interview are traditionally published authors of books, but we do try to interview self-published people, spoken word, people using Substack, Medium, because we see that as the industry of the future.
NakedPRGirl: Do you have a motto or a mantra that you live by?
Parul: There’s some things we say a lot to each other, like let’s have fun with this before every masterclass or anything we do.
Matthew: I think for us, the phrase that kind of has come in my head since we transitioned online is serve and listen. So we see this as very much an act of service to the writing community and to just keep listening: what would you all find most useful? What can we do better? What can we do differently? Serve, build, listen, keep and repeat.
NakedPRGirl: And finally, where would you like to be in 10 years time (if the pandemic allows)? Any grand plans that you’d like to tick off?
Matthew: I’d like to be able to go outside in 10 years time! For me, I don’t know if this will exist in 10 years. If it does, then we’re continuing to serve the writing community in the same way that we are. But hopefully we’ve become bigger and better.
Parul: I hope I would be doing work that you love with people that you’d like being around…What more could you ask from life?
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Watch the interview on YouTube below: