Discovery day with lit agents Curtis Brown & Conville & Walsh

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20160227_132234_resizedWhen I heard back from @Foyles bookshop in London that I’d got a slot at #DiscoveryDay organised by literary agents Conville & Walsh and Curtis Brown Creative I felt I’d won the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory. These agents were going to listen to me pitch my novel,  read my first page and give feedback.

The rules were simple but excruciating. We had a maximum of 30 seconds to pitch. This needed to include background on myself, my novel, genre, and of course the plot of the whole story. 30 seconds? How was that possible? Luckily I had my writers group, Bristol Novelists, and even better, the chance to compare notes with talented Bristol writer, Mel Ciavucco who co-runs Talking Tales story-telling night to compare notes with ahead of the event.

Over the next few weeks I tried out endless pitch variations but some of the best feedback came from people at work who knew nothing about my novel and not much about me so there were in a similar position to the agents.

My colleagues all commented on my delivery. I was nervous and my passion for writing wasn’t coming across. I needed to slow down but the discipline of making every single word work as hard as possible was very satisfying. What to leave out was the trickiest – what would carry the most weight. When I compared this pitch with submissions I’d sent out last year I realised how much sharper I could be.

Curious? Here is the pitch:

I’m Grace, I founded Novel Nights to inspire writers in Bristol, I’ve read stories at Bristol Festival of Literature and National Flash Fiction day and I’m leaving my job as a press office to study the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa.

My novel, THE WISH BONE’s commercial women’s fiction  about childhood leukaemia and family breakdown told from three points of view. Mum, Caroline, tames her anger and anxiety, husband Will, chooses duty over his lover and against this background 13 year old Freddie laughs in the face of cancer, determined to live in case he dies.

Although called #DiscoveryDay it was clear that they weren’t expecting to sign anyone up on the day and my expectations were that I could use the day to test out my pitch, my first page and make improvements before my next round of submissions.

20160227_111335_resizedI got there about an hour early, nervous as hell and went up to the fifth floor cafe area where we checked in and waited with coffee until I had our slot. Writers and their supporters were everywhere – a cool woman in buttoned up blouse and high waisted trousers, a natty chap with spectacles, tweed jacket and black flower. I wore a green dress, but decided against my trademark hat for once. Game on. The queue snaked up two sets of stairs. Writers of children’s books on the left of the stairs and adults IMG_20160227_120141books on the right.

At the head of the stairs I was delivered to one of the 10 tables with waiting agents. I was delighted that out of all the agents in the room I was ushered towards Anna Davis. Anna is the founder and MD of Curtis Brown Creative, the only creative writing school to be run by a literary agency. When I was thinking about my MA I was considering either the course run by CBCreative or the MA. What swung it for me in the end was the fact that I wanted hands-on tuition and face to face tuition and that wasn’t practical for me to travel to London. Whilst Curtis Brown do run an online course I’m not so keen on remote studying so the Bath Spa MA suited me better.

Aware of my 30 seconds disappearing quickly I went straight into my pitch as I shook Anna’s hand. She listened intently to me and then asked to see my first page. She laughed on the second paragraph, and nodded her head throughout.

Wonderful!

I began to relax and feel more confident. She gave some feedback on a couple of things such as language appropriate to a 13 year old boy, picking out the words ‘little Chloe’ as a description which perhaps was an adult phrase and said that the first page gave a sense of something being awry. The first page was the prologue and although right in the heart of the action I had written it as if Freddie was looking back to a particular day. She advised that at the start of a novel you need what she called ‘ forward facing action’, in other words, no flash backs, however much it was rooted in the story.

Anna asked about my market and said that because it was aimed at women’s market rather than a teen audience I needed to have the adult voice first, and no I couldn’t fudge it with a teen prologue! This confirmed my suspicions and means that I need to go and rework the first three chapters again which is not easy when you have three stories intertwined.

At the end of the session she said when I It was a real confidence boost to have the tricky decisions about my book echoed back to me by Anna. ‘Whose story is it?’ may seem trivial but as I’m writing the stories of three characters it becomes important in terms of chapter order,

Then she said if I was going to submit to her agency she suggested a couple of agents she thought would be the best contacts within the agency. Fantastic! I was so chuffed and also got an email address from her for an agent speaker for Novel Nights. Result!

We were then ushered though in groups to sit on a round table with another agent, Jonathan Lloyd and ask questions in a 5 minute session. The things I learned from him as a result of the group questions were;

  • Don’t ever address an agent as Dear Sir or Madam and proof-read your submission for typos
  • 180,000 words is too long – around 100,000 is about right
  • He’s looking for something that makes your story stand out from other similar stories
  • Qu: Are you looking for concept or great writing from an unpublished author?
  • A: Mostly concept, the writing is a given, but the concept is what will sell it. “It’s got to be something I know I can sell, so I’ve got to be excited about it. When I pick up the phone to a publisher I’ve got 30 seconds to pitch the story – I may have ten stories that day about the same subject – so what is it that makes this story stand out?”
  • The average time to wait until you ask for feedback from an agent is 4 weeks – after this time you can enquire again.
  • In his opinion multiple submissions are ok. Send out to 5 agents at once but don’t tell them you are submitting to more than one, unless of course they want to talk more or see the m/s at which point you can go back to the others and explain that to them. As he pointed out why should an author wait  4 weeks before submitting to another agent. It just holds the whole process up.
  • If the cover letter doesn’t grab him he won’t look at the synopsis.

From listening to the range of questions I realised the range of knowledge that writers had varies from not much to more in depth. Running Novel Nights has certainly given me loads of insight over the last couple of years.

AAAbbott, Grace Palmer and Maithreyi Nandakumar

Bristol Writers at #DiscoveryDay

So that was it – I returned to my long suffering friend and then bumped into AAAbbott and Maithreyi Nandakumar, other Bristol writers that I know from Novel Nights and we compared notes.

On my way out I took a few screen shots of pitching tips from the day. Might have been useful earlier to see but I wasn’t complaining.

So, now the work begins (again, again) to polish up the novel before I send off to the agents. My children can’t understand the endless delays with the book. it is a long process but I feel like I’m inching closer to publication.

My top tips for #DiscoveryDay are

  • Research the agents and agencies
  • Prepare to talk about your novel and your key questions if you have a chance
  • Relax and enjoy it

Meet the author and agent: Young Adult Fiction and publishing

July 16 @ 8:00 pm10:00 pm

The Lansdown, Clifton Bristol

| £5

Chaired by literary agent Ben Illis,  hot-ticket authors Lu Hersey, Eugene Lambert and Stefan Mohamed will be discussing their books, techniques and roads to publication, with a focus on writing for young adults. Also readings by YA authors in the first half of the evening.

Guest speakers

Lu Hersey’s debut novel, DEEP WATER won the 2012 MsLexia Children’s Novel Writing Award, and is published by Usborne. Deep Water has been described as “outstanding” by Malorie Blackman and “excellent” by the Independent.

Stefan Mohamed’s superhero crossover novel, BITTER SIXTEEN, features probably the world’s coolest superhero sidekick – a talking beagle (and die-hard Bogart fan) called Daryl.
Praise for Bitter Sixteen:
“Highly original… clever and funny… I didn’t think the superheroes genre had anywhere left to go. Mohamed convinces otherwise. Daryl and Stanly have one of the greatest buddy relationships I can recall – the rapid fire dialogue between them enviable in its witty ease.” Alex O’Connell, Times
Stefan Mohamed

Stefan Mohamed
Eugene Lambert’s debut, THE SIGN OF ONE, has been described as a “page-turning sci-fi thriller trilogy”, and will publish in Spring 2016, on Egmont’s Electric Monkey list, with books 2 & 3 following 9-12 months apart.
Here’s some pre-publication praise for THE SIGN OF ONE: “Strongly-imagined, rhythmical, clear, strange” David Almond, author of Skellig
“Vivid and action-packed. Stakes are very high” Julia Green, author of Blue Moon
Eugene Lambert

Eugene Lambert

Chaired by Ben Illis, literary agent.  The BIA was established in 2012 by Ben Illis to offer specialist literary representation, focussing on writers of Children’s, Young Adult and crossover fiction and select clients who also write for adults

Tickets £5 on the door. Doors open 7:30

Writing comedy and social media for writers with Nikesh Shukla

Aside

Novel Nights is on April 16th at the Landsdown. 8pm – 10pm. Tickets £5

Guest: Nikesh Shukla

Readings by Hari Ramakrishnan, LE Turner, Maithreyi Nandakuman and AAAbbott

 

Short Stories with Tania Hershman

WHEN: March 19th
WHERE: The Lansdown
Short story writer, Tania Hershmanpoet and teacher, Tania Hershman will be reading and talking about writing short stories. Her latest book is Writing Short Stories: A Writers and Artists Companion (Bloomsbury 2014) which she co-wrote and edited with Courttia Newland.

Tania’s achievements grown year on year. Publications include short story collections: The White Road and Other Stories (Salt 2008), and a collection of very short fiction: My Mother was an Upright Piano (Tangent Press 2012). She curates a fabulous website about UK & Ireland short story activity ShortStops (you’d be mad not to join her mailing list!), and her list of awards and prizes is enough to make you dizzy.

She’s the Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow in the faculties of science at Bristol University, and is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, and teaches on Arvon courses.

Join Novel Nights for another unmissable event.

We will also be featuring  readings and flash fiction from Bristol-based writers. Confirmed: Ken Elkes, Judy Darley Louise Gethin, Harriet Kline, Freya Morris, Thomas David Parker

See you there Tickets on the door £5

Should writers pigeon-hole themselves? Talk on genre and themes

Thursday 19th February

 Talk with prolific Bristol author, C.L.Taylor the Lansdown, Clifton, Bristol 8pm.

Cally Taylor began her writing career in 2005 with short stories, then wrote two rom-com novels, HEAVEN CAN WAIT and HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, published in 2009 and 2011, with Home for Christmas made into a film in 2014.

Her first psychological thriller THE ACCIDENT was published by Avon HarperColllins in April 2014 and has sold 150,000 copies to date,has been published in eight countries, and was one of the top ten debut bestsellers for 2014 (according to The Bookseller magazine). Her second psychological thriller THE LIE is out in April 2015 and she is currently working on her third.

Come to Novel Nights on the 19th Feb to hear Cally in discussion with Grace Palmer about writing, genres and themes. Writers will also read extracts from work-in-progress.

20140227_081418 Tickets £5 on the door

and online

 

 

How to wow a literary agent with Juliet Pickering, Blake Friedmann

The first Novel Nights event for 2015 takes place on January 29th with literary agent, Juliet Pickering, from Blake Friedmann.

Tickets here:

Literary agent, Juliet Pickering, from Blake Friedmann, is coming to Novel Nights to share her expertise as an agent and her knowledge of contemporary publishing. So if you’re writing a book, dreaming about publication, need a new agent, or love reading, don’t miss this event.

Juliet will give advice on submitting your manuscript to literary agents and the role agents play between writers and publishers. There will be plenty of time for questions.

Local writers will also be reading the first pages of their novels. What makes a great opening for a novel? And do you judge a book by its cover, or genre, first lines or endings? Get acquainted with your local writers, whether they are published and unpublished, and see if you can spot the next literary sensation.

Juliet represents authors of fiction across  literary, commercial, mystery, crime and thriller genres as well as non-fiction memoir, pop culture, social history, feminist and political commentary and food writing. Her clients include Costa, Commnwealth, Orwell Prize, Sky Arts and Guardian First Book shortlisted authors.

Blake Friedmann is a top London agency whose focus is to represent the most talented, dynamic and exciting writers and directors across all genres. “Our intention has always been to represent writers’ careers rather than individual books or projects, and to sell those writers into as many markets, languages and media platforms as possible.”

The event starts at 8.00 sharp with doors open at 7.30. Come and meet the friendly community of writers and readers at Novel Nights who share a love of writing and good books.

Novel Nights with Jane Shemilt 20th November

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Tickets are now on sale for the next Novel Nights with author Jane Shemilt.

Jane Shemilt’s psychological thriller, ‘Daughter’, was published by Penguin in August. Daughter’s been chosen as a Richard and Judy book club choice, has been in the top ten of the Sunday Times Best Seller list since published, and the rights have been sold to 14 countries.  Author Jane Shemilt

Jane will discuss her  novel, giving up a career as a GP in order to write, and much more with Kathryn Atkins, from Durdham Down Bookshop. Copies will be on sale. 

There’s a stranger in your daughter’s room. It’s your daughter.

Daughter“It’s every mother’s nightmare: the disappearance of a child.  But in DAUGHTER, what appears to be a simple abduction soon turns into something far more complex and baffling.  Jane Shemilt builds layer upon layer of tension in a novel you won’t be able to put down.” Tess Gerritsen

  Novel Nights is a monthly event for writers and readers. Guest writers read  and talk about writing, novels, getting published and more in this live lit event. In the second half writers read extracts of their work. Novel Nights supports local, published and unpublished novelists. Buy tickets with eventbrite or on the door. £4 

Also reading Fiona Longsdon & Mina Bancheva

Venue: The Lansdown, Clifton Bristol. BS8

Any questions just email: Grace  at novelnightsbristol@gmail.com

Novel Nights with Anna Freeman October 9th

October 9th 2014 at the Lansdown, Clifton Bristol 8pm. Anna Freeman reads from her debut novel, The Fair Fight which won the Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize 2013.  ‘Hugely exciting, I loved it.’ Sarah Waters.

 The Fair Fight is a raucous and intoxicating tale of courage, revenge and female boxing.   Bristol, 1799. In a warren of streets nestled in the filth of the bustling city is a brothel called The Convent. Within this gaudy, bawdy space is born Ruth, wholly plain and fairly unremarkable and by no stretch suitable for the life of prostitution

  • Also featuring readings from Bristol and Bath novelists.
  • Mike Manson will read from his book about the Bristol Riots in 1831.
  • Lesley Gillilan
  • Duncan Bonner will give tips on performing  aloud for writers.
  • Tickets £3 on the door.

Anna Freeman author photos credit Paul BlakemoreThe Fair Fight by Anna Freeman jacket image

Review of September Novel Nights

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Nick Rawlinson, Sarah Hilary,

Nick Rawlinson, Sarah Hilary, Aaron Anthony and Abigail Moore

 

Bristol Players read an extract from Sarah Hilary’s gripping debut novel, Someone Else’s Skin  at September Novel Nights followed bynovelist,  Dr Sanjida O’Connell, having a Q and A with Sarah.

 

Sarah Hilary with Dr Sanjida O' Connell at Novel Nights

Sarah Hilary with Dr Sanjida O’ Connell at Novel Nights

During the second half of Novel Nights we were treated to local writers performing extracts from their work: Anne Corlett, was a criminal lawyer for 13 years, but is in the process of switching to freelance writing.  Anne read  from Fallen, her second novel. She is represented by the Richford Beklow Agency, recently won the HE Bates prize and was placed third in the Bristol Short Story Prize. She is starting an MA in writing at Bath Spa University

Kate Simants moved from London six years ago, but she still finds herself writing about the capital because it suits her style of bleak noir better than Keynsham. She is currently working on a second novel, and shared an extract from her first novel The Blanks, which was inspired in part by her work as an undercover TV journalist.

 Trevor Coombs writes historical fiction and performs monologues around Bristol and read from his latest work.

And lastly, Sanjida O’Connell had an extract of Bone by Bone, the thriller she is working on, read by Nick Rawlinson. Sanjida is a novelist and non-fiction writer with four novels and four non-fiction works published.

 Next Novel Nights: 9th October with guest speaker Anna Freeman presenting her debut novel A Fairfight.

20th November with Jane Shemilt, author of Daughter, a Richard and Judy Book Club Choice, and currently No 2 in the Sunday Times Bestseller Charts. Don’t miss!