Pitch Live!: Advice for Writers
22nd Sep 2013 in Writing
On Saturday 21 September, 50 emerging novelists were treated to talks and one-on-one sessions with agents and editors at Pitch Live!, organised by NAWE and Creative Scotland.
The publishing experts offered valuable advice on writing cover letters, elevator pitches, and how to properly begin and build your writing career. I live-tweeted with #pitchlive – but don’t worry if you missed it, because here are the highlights.
Francis Bickmore, Publishing Director at Canongate Books:
(Follow Francis @kinhead)
- Follow your curiosity. If you’re bored writing it, readers won’t even get past the first chapter.
- Researching historical detail isn’t as important as exploring your heart and mind – the human story grips the reader.
- Find someone who will give you honest advice.
- As the saying goes: the hair shines with brushing. Edit, edit, edit. If it’s not vital to the story, cut it.
- Remember that publishers aren’t charities. They have to be sustainable businesses. No one is entitled to be published.
- In a cover letter, don’t be apologetic about yourself. Present yourself as a writer. Have confidence.
- A pitch letter is not a place for rhetoric. Always start with the story.
- Don’t say ‘I’ve written the next Harry Potter‘, but do present some titles similar to your book for comparison.
- Presenting a question or a moral quandary can work well in a pitch.
- Remember to include your email and phone number, not just an address – if the agent or editor loves your book they’ll want to get in touch immediately.
- In your pitch, your personal circumstances don’t matter – just mention any writing experience such as prizes or publications.
- Social networking can be counterproductive if it’s forced. Do what you’re comfortable with.
- Writing is a solitary pursuit. Find your community for feedback, and to commiserate and celebrate with.
- Don’t expect success instantly. And if it doesn’t happen instantly, don’t write off your book. Timing is vital.
- Give out but don’t give up. Maybe you just haven’t found the right editor for your book yet.
- The book trade favours easy pitches, but the books I’ll remember on my deathbed are the unusual, unprecedented ones.
Oliver Munson, Literary Agent at A.M. Heath:
(Follow Oliver @OliAgent)
- When pitching face-to-face, be concise, confident and quick. Don’t back an agent into a corner and bore them for 20 minutes!
- Most books can be pitched in several different ways. Choose the angle best suited to the person you’re approaching.
- The problem with self-publishing is our desire for instant gratification. There’s benefit in getting feedback and steady editing.
- Describing your book as ‘literary’ doesn’t tell us much about the book – only how good you think it is. You don’t walk into a bookshop and go to the Literary section, so it’s not particularly useful to state it as the genre.
- The X meets X formula is fine, but you must express what your book is about on its own terms, free of comparison.
- Agents sit at the crossroads of creativity and commercialisation. I need a great book that I can talk about easily.
Jenny Brown, Literary Agent at Jenny Brown Associates
(Follow Jenny @AgentJenny)
- My advice to people who want to self-publish is to get a freelance editor.
- About a third of the books I’ve taken on have changed title during the publication process.
- If you try to follow a trend, it will be over by the time your book is finished.
Adrian Searle, Publisher at Freight Books:
(Follow Adrian @DesignandBooks and @FreightBooks)
- The book is what matters, but the pitch is what makes you pick it out of the pile of manuscripts.
Clare Hey, Senior Commissioning Editor at Simon & Schuster:
(Follow Clare @Clareaux)
- I want stories that transcend genre – a book I can recommend to anyone. Those books are few and far between.
- Great storytelling is at the heart of everything I edit, irrespective of genre.
- Be polite, be patient – and don’t ever add an editor’s email address to your own promotional mailing list!
- If an agent can’t be bothered to phone me, they’re not that excited about the book. If they phone, I pay attention.
- Your pitch has to bear repeating. Editors will have to say it over and over at sales and publicity meetings – and then to sell it to readers.
- If you’ve written in multiple genres, think about where you want your career to go and focus on that first.
- It’s ideal if each of your books can be entirely original, but will appeal to the same readership.
- Launching a debut novel takes a lot of time and effort. Editors want it to be the start of a long career.
- Don’t be downhearted if your book is not immediately picked up. If it’s a good book, you’ll find the right editor eventually.
Thank you for this, Kirsty. I was sad I was working that day – but this has made my lunch hour much cheerier!
I took notes on the afternoon as well, but this is a very valuable summary of the main points for reflection.