Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Pitching to Agents and Publishers at the RNA Conference 2014 by Sophie Claire

This wasn’t my first conference, but it was definitely the scariest! 

This year I had three appointments with publishers and agents to pitch my work: one finished novel and one which still needs a bit of work. I was asked to send in my work beforehand – most wanted a chapter and synopsis – and I must confess that, waiting for the first appointment, I was a bag of nerves.

What if they asked me to give an elevator pitch (when you condense the premise of your book into one line, exciting enough to intrigue a jaded publisher)? Or asked me a question I couldn’t answer and I made a fool of myself? It felt like I was preparing for a job interview. However, I know it’s invaluable to get feedback from industry professionals, and these ten-minute appointments are like gold dust.

In the end I wasn’t asked to give an elevator pitch, and in fact we had some really interesting discussions. One publisher asked what I knew about them, which was fine because I’d done my research on the company, listened to an online interview with the company’s Managing Director, and a very kind friend who is published with them had spent 30 minutes on the phone telling me about her experience of working with them. In another appointment I was asked what had inspired the idea for my novel because it was unusual, and we discussed my characters in more depth. One editor had gone through my sample chapter with a red pen and asked me to check some finer points, like the legalities of a quick divorce in the UK. 

In all my appointments I could see the agents/publishers assessing not only my writing, but how it would fit in the market – they were looking for themes and topics which are current, or a setting which is a little different from the ordinary. This is the business side of writing, which we authors don’t always consider, but it can’t be ignored and perhaps it’s of particular interest to me because I used to work in Marketing.

Another important subject – it came up twice! – was the importance of writing novels which are consistent in terms of genre or style. Readers want to know what they’re buying when they pick up a book, and they don’t like nasty surprises! So there’s a fine line to be observed between not churning out the same story over and over again, but not writing wildly different books with no unifying element either.

Sophie Claire and Sophie King
If authors do write across genres, and I believe this is happening more and more as self-publishing allows authors the freedom to experiment, one solution is to use a pseudonym. Or, in the case of Sophie King (aka Janey Fraser and Jane Bidder), several pseudonyms!

You might remember that one of my short stories came 3rd in the Sophie King Prize earlier this year, and another highlight of the conference for me was to meet Sophie King in person for the first time. 

It’s always exciting to be in the company of established writers like Katie Fforde, and there were some interesting panel discussions at the conference this year, including this one about The Future for Romantic Fiction. 
Katie Fforde (left) in panel discussion

I was really sorry to have to leave the conference early for a family holiday. But before I vanished, there was time for an evening of glamour:

Dressed up for the gala dinner


  1. I was also at the RNA conference in July and I had the chance to pitch my novel. It was the first time I had come face-to-face with people who actually work in the industry as opposed to writers like myself trying to convince publishers to take on my work. The two young ladies I met were charming (although they made me feel very old!) In the end neither felt they could take my book any further but just being at the conference renewed my get-up-and-go, which had been flagging a bit and I am pleased to say I now have a contract with the Wild Rose Press, so it was all worth while in the end.

  2. That's great to hear, Jacqueline. You drew confidence from the experience and it paid off. Congratulations on your contract!


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