Pitch Live!: Advice for Writers
22nd Sep 2013 in Writing
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:
- 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.