Monday, July 2, 2012

Launch of Irish Writers' Centre Novel Fair

At the Irish Writers' Centre Novel Fair 2012 Launch, Jack Harte, Chairman of the IWC, spoke of the delight in celebrating the success of last year’s novel fair, and the launch of the adventure for 2012. He said - they were overwhelmed with the response last year, with a final tally of 570 entries.

A team of judges, professionals from the industry, who knew exactly what would be required, and who had a keen awareness of what publishers would be looking for did a fantastic job, and eventually picked 20 finalists which were show cased at the Novel Fair. 
The job was obviously done very well as the feedback from publishers and agents involved was that the work show cased was of an extremely high standard and of the 20 finalists show cased – currently, 9, have been signed with agents, and one of the final entries, The Herbalist, written by Niamh Boyce, has been acquired by Penguin Ireland. Jack Harte, is confident that as time progresses, this wonderful success will increase.
Launching next year’s Novel Fair – taking on board all the experience of last year, the final listing has been cut down to 10 finalists to ensure sufficient time is allowed for each publisher and agent to review the work on the day.

Patricia Deevy, Penguin Ireland, was also on hand to give some advice about the success of last year, to talk about how tough the industry is at the moment, and what pitching your novel really means.

'Obviously we all know in this room that the publishing world is not immune from the downturn. In the last two years fiction sales have dropped well over 10% each year and it’s proving more and more challenging to make things work. Yet – and I always say this at events so many of you will have heard me say it before – writers are the lifeblood of our industry. It might not always seem like it, but we are always hungry for new voices. There’s nothing more exciting to us than finding someone we believe in and want to present to the public.

It’s that key part of our job that I want to focus on here – bringing writers to the public. When Carrie and June briefed me for this evening they mentioned that it would be useful if I could talk about pitching and I’m very happy to do so because it sort of goes to the heart of what publishing is about. Writers starting out – and those who attended this year’s fair or hope to attend next year’s – might think of pitching as a one-off 15 minute ordeal, but in fact it’s pretty integral to what they’ll be doing as an author.

It’s self-evident, I suppose, but publishing is only half about writing. The other part of the equation is implied in the word publishing – making the writing public. When agents and editors look at submissions and have conversations with writers there are two things going on. They are looking at the quality of the work – whether it be genre fiction or literary fiction or anything in between – and they’re also thinking ‘Is this something we could make work?’

Making something work is about lots of things – the quality of the writing, timing, positioning a book properly so that it finds its audience … and crucially it’s about the conversations you can have about it. Publishing is an intensely conversational business – people who work in publishing love to get excited about a new book. They love it because they’re usually people who are in the business because they love reading. But they also love it because they love an opportunity and a challenge – to be part of making a success of something, whether that be selling lots of copies, or creating waves in the critical community, or in a perfect world, both.

As soon as the publisher starts to have conversations about a text, they’re into the business of pitching – internally – to colleagues in other departments of the company; externally to booksellers like Eason’s and Dubray and Waterstones’s and Tesco and also to the media.

For many of you who care passionately about writing it can be really hard to get past the idea that the quality of your work alone is not sufficient for a career as an author. In the gentlest way possible I’d urge you to simply get over it and figure out how to talk about your work in a way that’s comfortable for you.

It is naturally challenging for writers – many of whom are reflective and even solitary – to hear themselves talking about their work. It may even feel a little unseemly – a bit like they’re cheapening themselves by turning their writing into a commodity. We’ve all seen the satires on Hollywood – Robert Altman’s THE PLAYER comes to mind – that send up the business of pitching as being shallow and cynical.

I can see that these feelings could be hard to get over that but I think there are tricks you can play on yourself. Everyone will find their own method. One I’d suggest is to objectify your book – pretend it’s a book you love written by somebody else. How would talk about a book you loved to a friendly stranger on a bus or a train? Imagine you get chatting about reading and books and not far from your stop you mention a book you really loved reading recently. There isn’t time to go into all the nitty gritty of the plot, but you are passionate about wanting them to read it and you’re sure they’ll like it. So what you do you? You give them the essence of it in a few lines and maybe you compare it to other books out there.

The biggest mistake you can make when pitching a book is to try to explain the plot in detail. People in publishing are bombarded with material and there’s only so much we can absorb. The key is to figure out what the hook of your book – and it doesn’t have to be something very big and dramatic – and to use that as a jumping off point for talking about it. You can weave a certain amount of plot detail around that, but just enough to help draw out its themes.

Thinking about the novel fair and the very intense business of pitching in person, again I’d remind you of what I said at the start about publishers really wanting to find new authors. The people you will be talking to you are there in a receptive frame of mind, only dying to make a positive connection with you and your work.

If you are shy I think the trick is to acknowledge that that’s just who you are and see talking about your work and yourself as something you must work on as part of being an author. If you can become so completely absorbed in what you’re doing in your book, and if you’re confident in it, then you’ll probably feel less self-conscious talking about it. If you know it inside out and love it to pieces that’ll help. Practice will a sympathetic friend. Pitch in the shower. Talk to the cat. Do it on your commute to work.

Once you get rolling and you’ve got an editor’s attention the talk will flow from there and it’ll be a productive conversation.'

Afterwards, I spoke to Carrie King, who with Clodagh Moynan, of The Irish Writers' Centre, will be looking after the submission process this year.Carrie encourages anyone who has a debut novel, regardless of genre, to enter. It is all down to the quality of the writing. So get writing folks, and get submitting!!!

You can find further details about the Irish Writers' Centre Novel Fair on the IWC website www.writerscentre.ie/


  1. Hey, just met someone the bus that asked what my book was about and I listened to myself tell him. Weirdest feeling but now I know what has to be done - if ever I reach the PITCHING stage. Ta for that!

    1. Good luck LexRey - let me know about the next successful bus conversation/pitch!

  2. Pitching it as if it's a book you just read.......interesting!

    1. A great book Michelle - not just any book!!!!


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