My Write-Up of The Literary Consultancy's Writers' Day (part two)
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
This the second of three posts about what I learned from the TLC Writers' Day on Saturday. I'm going to talk about the importance of editing and seven things I learned about pitching a novel.
Lunch was great. I got to have a chat with both the morning speakers Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Sam Missingham. I also met a few of the fellow writers and hear about their projects. I have to say that if Saturday is anything to go by, then new British literature is in fantastic shape. A legal thriller set during Robert Mugabe's land reclamation? I'm in. A coming-of-age story in 17th century West Africa? Yes please!
I was able to say hello to Nell Andrew who is my friend Louise Hare's literary agent. Louise's book This Lovely City is comes out in March and the online proofs I've seen look stunning. You should definitely check it out in the springtime.
During the break, we heard from Robert Scragg. Robert told us about his path to publication and about how the TLC's services had really helped him get his manuscript into shape. He spoke about the challenges of a split timeline narrative and the central importance of good editing. Robert then read the opening to his debut crime thriller What Falls Between the Cracks. Talk about creating a sense of atmosphere! I think every writer should go and download the Amazon preview of this book study exactly how Robert crafted such an uncomfortable sense of suspense.
When lunch was over, we all piled back into the main auditorium for the Pen Factor panel.
Before the conference, attendees were invited to submit 2000 words to TLC who then selected five writers to pitch their novel to a panel of top literary agents. The panel gives live feedback on the pitches and the rest of us get to watch. Pen Factor was of particular interest to me because I'm planning on being traditionally published. This means that when I finish editing my novel All of our Tomorrows, I'm going to have to pitch it to agents.
The five finalists each spoke a little about themselves and followed it with a short reading from their work. I loved it. The finalist transported me to a sinister meeting in a booth in a British pub, an espionage encounter in Ankarra during World War II, a childhood recollection of an Arabian drama and some gut-wrenching treachery following PhD viva.
The winner was Lizzie Damilola Blackburn with her story called Yinka - Where is your husband? Lizzie entertained us all with her vivid and hilarious descriptions of a Nigerian family gathering. Lizzie made us feel like we were all right there in that room with her characters. Many Pen Factor winners and finalists have gone on to do great things, so I'm to watch what happens next with Lizzie and the rest of the finalists with great interest.
For me personally, seeing the pitches and hearing the agents talk through their thought-processes was invaluable. Here are seven things that I learned:
1. Be specific. Talking in general terms is actually not as interesting as being very specific. One of the agents said that if you can use your pitch letter to paint a picture, then the agent will keep that picture in mind when reading the rest of your submission and this will help a lot. Also, try and be specific about which area of the market you see your book in.
2. The pitch itself needs conflict. There has to be a sense of drama. At the end of the day, fiction is all about drama and this drama should also be in the pitch or submission letter.
3. Explain why this is the story you need to write. Talk about who you are and what inspired you. This is something I've shied away from in the past, but one of the agents made the very good point that if the writer aligns themselves with the story in this way, then it gives the agent confidence that they truly know what story they want to tell. Certainly from now on, when I'm talking about my novel, I'm also going to talk about what inspired me to tell that story and how my life experiences have helped me create the book.
4. Think about your writing future. What are your ambitions? Agents also like to get a sense of the sort of author that you want to be as it helps them decide which publishers they are going to pitch your book to.
5. Get a little of your writing style into your pitch letter. This is something that I hadn't even thought about, but once the agent said it, it made perfect sense.
6. Don't forget the title. Say it early, it's OK to say it more than once.
7. Comparisons are useful in the pitch. What other books are similar to yours?
And if you ever get an opportunity to do a live pitch, speak slowly when reading your work and a little bit of acting goes a long way!
I'll be back with the third and final post about the TLC Writers' Day very soon.
Bye for now,