How to grab the attention of a publisher (and keep it) – The Emerging Writers’ Festival and ‘The Pitch’

The Wheeler Centre was packed out with emerging artists keen to maximise their chances of a successful pitch

The Wheeler Centre was packed out with emerging artists keen to maximise their chances of a successful pitch

How do you grab the attention of a publisher (and keep it)? This was the over-arching question posed to panellists of The Pitch. The Emerging Writers’ Festival session was fittingly chaired by writer Nina Gibb, who is in the midst of Pitch Frenzy, 50 pitches/submissions/proposals in 11 days.

The first panellist to be introduced was Vanessa Radnidge, Publisher at Hachette Australia. Hachette accept unsolicited manuscripts, but prioritise agent submissions. All submissions (including unsolicited) are read, but Hachette do not necessarily read the entire submission. Vanessa offered a few tips for writers:

  1. Read widely in the genre to gain an awareness of, and display a passion for, your chosen genre. Read outside the genre to help foster your own writing skills.
  2. Resist the urge to send off your manuscript to publishers as soon as you’ve written that last sentence. After you’ve completed a full draft, step away from your manuscript and let it breathe.
  3. Proof read your work. Don’t do it on screen.
  4. When sending off a manuscript to publishers, include the following:
    • An author bio
    • 300 words describing the work (read book blurbs to get a sense of eye-catching summaries)
    • Detailed synopsis (1 page at the most)

Acknowledging the hard slog faced by writers, Vanessa urged artists to take time to celebrate the achievements and to not be disheartened by rejection. ‘If you love your writing, write’.

Next up was Patrick Lenton, Digital Marketer at Momentum Books. Momentum primarily publish genre fiction (owing to strong online demand), and look closely at authors who have a strong online presence (Patrick cited blogs, Twitter and online networks such as Goodreads as great platforms).  Being a digital publisher, Momentum have an opportunity to experiment and take on new writers. While there is a chance that Pan Macmillan may acquire a Momentum title and release a print publication, the main priority of Momentum is strong global digital sales. Manuscripts do not need to have an Australian setting, as Momentum sell e-books globally.

Sam Cooney, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Lifted Brow , is on the look-out for innovative and experimental narratives that are ‘more than text on the page or on the screen’. He told the audience ‘if you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not challenging your reader’. Sam believes it is better to know a publisher, and to submit work to one or two publishers, than to send work to a multitude of publishers.  When submitting via email, Sam recommends limiting your amazing personality to the first line of your email and let your manuscript showcase your talents.

Julia Carlomagno, Scribe editor and co-founder of Harvest, looks for three things in a manuscript:

  1. Distinctive voice
  2. Quality of the writing
  3. Strength of the idea

Julia urged writers not to be drawn in by the prospect of large advances, because if you don’t earn your advance in sales, all publishers who look on Bookscan (and they all do) will notice. Julia warned writers against comparing themselves to, and getting dismayed by, author marketing on social media. ‘Put the work first. Write because you want to write, because you have something to say. Eventually the work will find its way.’

A few highlights from audience question time

Q: What state of polish is acceptable?

Julia will consider a manuscript if it was a strong voice, but not if it’s really poorly presented to the extent that it compromises the legibility.

Sam stressed ‘if the grammar gets in the way, you’re just putting one more hurdle in the way between you and the reader’. Writers need to be aware, and follow, submission guidelines.

Patrick reminded writers of the financial costs involved in helping polish a work. Momentum may be willing to fork out for a structural edit.

Q. What can get a manuscript over the line?

Nina suggested writers keep an eye out for manuscript development opportunities with various arts organisations.

Patrick told the audience to be aware of a saturated market.

Vanessa asked writers to consider the possibility that if a manuscript isn’t successful, then perhaps it won’t be the break-out novel. Move on to your next manuscript.

Q. What tips do you have for pitching in person?

Patrick recommended being bold and direct with your pitch. Give the publisher/agent a tangible description.

Sam told writers to ask themselves ‘what makes it different to anything else? Why do you believe your work deserves to be published?’

Q. What advice do you have for literary speed dating? What do you want to hear?

Vanessa wants to know the hook. Why should I want to read it?

Julia looks out for a strong story, and writers who have an awareness of their potential readership.

Sam wants to know why you are the best placed person to tell this story. What unique perspective do you have to offer? He looks for signs of sustained interest from the writer. Sam said to remember that it is a conversation – plan what you’re going to say; have cue-cards if you need, but don’t recite from slabs of text.

Q. Do writers need to define their manuscripts by sub-genres?

Patrick informed the audience that sub genres are used as meta-data in digital publishing, enabling readers to more closely choose what they want to read.

Sam said if you strongly pitch the story, the editor/publisher will be able to sub-categorise the manuscript themselves.

Vanessa needs to describe a manuscript to the Publishing Director/CEO in a maximum of two to three lines. The author needs a hook that can be relayed to the bookshop owner. Catch someone’s attention.

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