I spent a rather lovely weekend doing some of my favourite things: meeting new authors and talking about books and publishing. This was my first time attending The Festival of Writing in York and, as such, I wasn't sure quite what to expect. I certainly wasn't expecting it to be quite as BIG with so many enthusiastic attendees.
I did two workshops and a series of one-to-ones. For anyone who knows me - they'll know how much I hate public speaking. I always over prepare and spend far too much time worrying about having an unreceptive or unresponsive audience . . . a lecture hall filled with empty seats and a long awkward silence. Thankfully - there was none of that!
The first workshop I did was: How to Get an Agent: The Dos and Dont's. Trying to come up with something fresh to say when there's SO much information on the Internet about it (Juliet Mushens' post on it is especially good), is always difficult. But the authors attending were fabulous. Lots of great ideas and information were exchanged and it was chatty, informal, and lots of fun. I may have been buzzing and gabbling a bit from the caffeine overdose but no one seemed to mind.
One of the most interesting questions for me as both editor and agent was: Who has the final say in the direction your novel is going? Who decides what can be kept and what gets changed? My personal answer to that is: You. The author. Agents and Editors are not there to rewrite your entire work to fit a template of their own making. They are not there to shoehorn it in a direction that you don't agree with. What they will try to do is help you shape it into something that fits within commercial expectations. They'll have a vision that uses those ideas and structures in the book that work and help you to take it a step further.
And for anyone attending that who wanted to know what a good pitch letter to me looks like then this is it:
THE PITCH LETTER
Dear (get the name right please),
1) One paragraph of an introduction to the book (listing the market, genre and readership you’re aiming at) and maybe one line or so about why you choose this agent. If it starts to feel like you’re following a script or template just keep the letter brief, businesslike and to the point. I'd much prefer succinct professionalism than overwriting.
2) A paragraph or two (more than that starts to feel like a retelling of the novel) about the book. The best pitches for me are those which read like cover copy rather than a synopsis…so a shoutline and then brief description.
3) A paragraph about yourself listing any relevant writing credits - look at published author bios - this is what you should be aiming at. Don't over share!
I also did a series of one-to-one meetings which I thoroughly enjoyed. I LOVE offering editorial feedback. It's one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. There were some brilliant concepts. Lots of wonderful writing. I don't think I totally ruined anyone's day. At least no one left in tears so that's always a plus! And I did ask for one complete script which I'm eagerly awaiting.
The Gala dinner was great, I got to catch-up with a few friends and make some new ones. But I did dash halfway through so could finish prepping for my workshop the next day.
Again, despite the large turnout - it felt like a really friendly, informative, sharing workshop. Everyone had ideas and thoughts about what worked to market your book on social media. I'd put a suvey poll on Twitter the night before:
So it was interesting to see that the hit rate for readers being influenced by social media in book sales was about 50% for those who participated, bearing in mind my usual followers are pretty book engaged. If it went out to a larger spread of people I'd expect it to go down...what we do know from the workshop is that no one likes the hard sell. Not from authors or publishers. And that the time you spend on Social Media will rarely result in equivalent book sales. If you're interested in the rest of the presentation you can find it here.
It's rough notes but could be useful. There are loads of great articles on the web though which go into a lot more detail than mine about how to market your book online.
All in all I thought the Festival was fabulous. The Writer's Workshop organised everything brilliantly and were happy to help wherever they could. I can see why it's such a popular festival and why so many authors return year after year. It's great for contacts, networking, up-to-date information, advice and support. As Tor Udall, author of A Thousand Paper Birds said, 'I sit in workshops at #FoW17 and I still learn.'
Don't we all.
Hope everyone enjoyed it and found it as useful as I did.