Winchester Writers’ Festival celebrated its 34th year by inviting @LitAgentDrury and me to present a Masters’ Course in Publishing, and then to spend the following day destroying hopes and dreams doing a series of one-to-one edit sessions . . . and we both spent a lot of time being completely blasé about the event before accidentally bumping into each other in the lounge . . . at 4 o’clock . . .in the morning . . .
At least I had a good excuse: I’d had a brilliant ideaTM of how to get a great deal of information over quickly without sending our class of hopefuls either to sleep or over the edge, and I wanted to get the details down before I fell asleep and forgot the subtle nuances. (I’m not sure @LitAgentDrury does ‘nuance’! He’s more your slash-and-burn-type representative of the Dark Side.) And Ian wanted to make sure all the statistics he had gathered were up to date . . .
When we agreed to this little lark we weren’t quite expecting 25 students (even though we’d been told the other master class running that day had sold out almost instantly as well!) but we were given an excellent volunteer (thanks, Josh!) and plentiful tea/coffee breaks, so it wasn’t just six and a half hours of blah. We both enjoyed it, but I think one of the highlights was the elevator pitch session – you know, where you walk into a lift and realise you’re standing next to a highly influential agent or editor, and then as you gibber and introduce yourself, said HIA/E says, ‘Go on, then. Pitch me your book. `You have until the 6th floor . . .’
It’s not the easiest thing to do when you’re sitting in the comfort of your own garret talking to a plush raven (not least because you know all you’ll get from him is, ‘It’s a sign!’), but when you’re put on the spot, it’s even harder.
We gave our students fair warning, telling them that we’d be expecting their pitches first thing after lunch – but we were genuinely impressed with the quality of pitches we got. And even the two or three which didn’t work first time out were beaten into shape in pretty short order. So a hint to all of you busy writing your bestselling novel out there: make sure you can always pitch your book in one line, and one paragraph – not just because you never know who you’re going to meet when, but also because if you can’t tell me what your book is all about and who it’s aimed at, how am I ever going to be able to explain to my own sales staff and booksellers?
Following our Master Class we had the one-to-one sessions, with a new hopeful every fifteen minutes. This being a writers’ festival, the delegates had the choice of up to five sessions over the course of the weekend, and that meant that both @LitAgentDrury and I heard, ‘Oh yes, the other agent/editor said that!’ during the course of the weekend. So it was a real relief to know we were not the only people saying, ‘No, I don’t think your stand-up-comic talking dog is a great protagonist for your dystopian YA science fantasy octet!’
So all in all, a good weekend – but a plea from the heart: your computer’s default settings should be Times New Roman, 12 point, double-spaced, and if it’s not, change it now. A lecturer in creative writing recently told me she’d had to reinstate the marks she took off for poor formatting, which is completely wrong: these things matter, a lot. It’s not hard to do, so why not give yourself a head-start from the beginning? I never want to see anything written in Arial again . . .