For writers living in the wilds of the north, opportunities to meet literary agents are rare. Speaking to an agent face-to-face usually necessitates an expensive journey down to London – and if you’re a writer, this is something you’re unlikely to be able to afford on a regular basis.
I subscribe to New Writing North’s newsletter – an invaluable source of information – and I was very excited to discover through them that Comma Press and MMU were holding a day of panel events and talks for writers, and that representatives from some of the top London agencies would be making their way to Manchester for an afternoon of pitching sessions. This was a great opportunity and I signed up immediately. I’m so glad I did!
I’d had to travel to Manchester from the even greater wilderness of the Yorkshire moors, and so I was sorry to arrive too late to hear author Kit de Waal’s opening speech. I heard from other writers that her talk focused on diversifying the industry, discussing race, gender, and class. This was welcome news to many of us who still see the publishing industry as white , middle-class and London-centric. The fact that so many agents took the time to travel up to Manchester was really encouraging, and I can’t stress the importance of events like these to writers who live outside London.
The day consisted of a tempting array of panel sessions and workshops. I came away with lots to think about. Since I have several novels published I’m already aware of the importance of a social media platform for writers. After the panel on Reaching Your Audience I began to ask myself who am I trying to reach with my Twitter feed and Facebook posts? Do I want to network with other writers? Impress potential publishers? Reach real readers? I realised I needed to focus my efforts more and not just treat people to my random selection of photos and blog posts.
From this panel – and from Elizabeth Baines’ excellent workshop on Blogging, Vlogging and Digital Content – I learned that blogging isn’t necessarily the best way for writers to reach people these days. It’s time-consuming and takes away from the hours you could spend actually writing your book. (But isn’t all social media like this? I wondered. It’s the modern dilemma for writers – how much time to spend promoting your work, and how much time to spend actually writing.)
In the afternoon came the pitching sessions. Each session lasted fifteen minutes, with a whistle blow to end it. It was a bit like speed-dating. A nerve-wracking experience! I got through it by reminding myself that these agents had come all the way to Manchester because they were looking for new authors and they were actually interested in what I had to say. In the end the two agents I spoke to couldn’t have been more helpful. They were friendly, interested and gave me invaluable advice. For any writer who is nervous about pitching (and since a lot of us writers are introverts it’s not an experience we relish) I’d urge you to take the opportunity if it arises. For those of us in the north, especially, this was a rare and welcome chance to get some expert feedback.
Thanks very much to all the organisers of the event – Comma Press, MMU, the Manchester Writing School and the Arts Council – and to all the agents who travelled out of London to attend. I look forward to next year!
Helena Fairfax was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s got used to the cold now and lives in an old Victorian mill town in Yorkshire. When not battling the elements on the Yorkshire moors with her rescue dog, Helena is a freelance writer, editor, and author of women’s fiction and romance. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Global Ebook Awards, the I Heart Indie Awards, and the Exeter Novel Prize.
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