Emerging Writers Festival: The Pitch

Fiona Mackrell

EMERGING WRITERS FESTIVAL: The world is weighed down with stories of the hundreds of manuscripts piling up on editors desk, the seeming impossibility of getting your beloved work in print. Little wonder then that The Pitch one of the Special Events at the Town Hall for Melbourne’s Emerging Writers’ Festival was a full house.
Emerging Writers Festival: The Pitch
Getting published whether it’s your first short story, first article or first novel can be a harrowing business. The world is weighed down with stories of the hundreds of manuscripts piling up on editors desk, the seeming impossibility of getting your beloved work in print. Little wonder then that The Pitch one of the Special Events at the Town Hall for Melbourne’s Emerging Writers’ Festival was a full house. Festival Director, Lisa Dempster was calling the roll in her stage blacks down in the Swanston Room as twelve panellists from the world independent publishing settled at the top table. They were a brave bunch of editors, producers, literary agents and publishers. All facing up to a crowd of their nemesis’s, nemesisi ?– all those people who keep submitting stuff. There was Caitln Yates from Black Inc. Books, the enthusiastic and inspiring Bryan Whalen from Wet Ink, Alexandra Payne from UQP and Sabina Hopfer from Ilura Press, Anica Boulanger-Mashberg from Islet, literary soundscapers Jessie Borrelle and Jon Tjhia from Paper Radio, Donica Bettanin from Jenny Darling & Assoicates, Scott-Patrick Mitchell from performance project Cottonmouth all the way over in Perth and Johannes Jakob from Express Media’s Voiceworks who despite being in the job a month was ready to help young writers out. And they all had more or less the same advice – read our submission guidelines. Sophie Black from Crikey kicked things off by explaining this was a mutually beneficial opportunity to vent about the pitches that give her the shits every day. Which boils down to stuff she doesn’t need, want, understand and can’t use. It’s not that she doesn’t want good ideas she just gets 100s of emails a week and she does not want to talk to you about your idea on the phone for 10 minutes. She hasn’t got the time. You’ve got seconds to get her attention, so get it right. The specific criteria of each publications submission guidelines vary so you need to read them carefully whenever you send your work. But a few patterns quickly emerged. Emails are preferable but make your short and sweet, be clear. In the subject line say what it’s about, in the body of the email get to the point. A few lines about who you are, what you’ve done and links to your work are all they need. They just want to know what your idea is. So make it relevant to them, timely, and show why you can write this in an interesting way. Tell the story. The Don’ts were beautifully illustrated by Anica Boulanger-Mashberg from Islet who read two potential letters to contributors, one showing what goes wrong, the other how different the response is when the submission is right. Some of the things that go wrong are frighteningly simple, like not including your name, giving them the wrong return email, getting the name of the person wrong. For example, don’t say ‘Dear Sir’ when only women work there. Don’t send attachments that can’t be opened and don’t ccing the same email to multiple publishers. Others preferences ranged from the technical such as whether to attach documents or not, the whole book or not, (generally not) and giving attachments file names that make them easier to keep track of, like including your name. But obvious frustration was vented about submissions, which did not have appropriate word limits or genres. Use the phone? Ring only if you haven’t heard anything from your email, but give the organization an appropriate time to respond. Time driven stories can be chased up earlier with a quick polite follow up email or call, novels take a lot longer to read. It’s okay to send an email asking who the appropriate person to contact for your work should be, or if it’s a magazine check the credits which usually appear at the front in the latest issue, not one that’s 12 months old. After all explained literary agent, Donica Bettanin from Jenny Darling & Associates you are looking for a professional relationship, whether it is with an agent or a publisher, so treat it like a job application. Get to know them, what they’ve done recently, who works there. Make your presentation professional, spell check it, correct the grammar and punctuation, keep to the guidelines. You stand out by ‘being awesome’ but for crazy fonts, coloured papers or other gimmicks. There were two really exciting presentations at the session. One came from Alexandra Payne of University of Queensland Press, for her sheer enthusiasm for non-fiction publishing. She explained, she knows her market, she has her editors, what she needs in the pitch is what ‘nails’ the story, are you going to be someone she can work with, that can cope with the deadlines and compromises that come with publishing schedules. The other came from Caitlin Yates of Black Inc. Books for her amazing revelation – publishers are looking for you. Not in the unsolicited manuscripts pile but out in the world. They are voracious readers, of newspapers, literary journals, and anthologies, of the whole publishing industry. If you want to be a writer get in there and support your industry, she said. Subscribe to these journals and magazines that support emerging writers. Editors read them, and they keep clippings, they watch if a writer they like comes up again, they take notice of who wins mentorships, short story prizes, and who goes to Varuna. These are the things that show you take yourself seriously and that others in the industry are taking you seriously too. The more you put in to developing your craft, your commitment and own career the better. Market yourself through developing a website, a blog, a twitter following and just getting your name up and out there in the world. It makes you easier to sell to a marketing and sales department, and easier for an editor or publisher who loves your work to get you published. Be excellent and they’ll find you. The Pitch was part of the 2010 Melbourne Emerging Writers’ Festival Saturday 29 May, 4:00-5:30pm

About the author

Fiona Mackrell is a Melbourne based freelancer. You can follow her at @McFifi or check out www.fionamackrell.com