Publishing agents give insider tips to writers at the National Creative Writing Industry Conference

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By Kerry Power and Meera Jacob

Unpublished writers were given the opportunity to pitch to established agents as part of the 2020 National Creative Writing Industry Conference.

The event was organised by Comma Press, a Manchester-based publishing house, and held in partnership with the Manchester Writing School.

For many aspiring authors, the NCWIC offered them their first experience to pitch their work. Comma Press provided guidance in the form of a video from agent James Spackman, packed with top tips to help writers prepare.

Aspiring authors were then paired with agents who specialise in, or are particularly interested in, the chosen genre of the writer. The one-to-one pitches were part of a ticketed package, which also involved attending one of the two available workshops.

First year MA Creative Writing student Kerry Power, was paired with literary agent Susan Yearwood. Yearwood is based in London and works with debut and published writers in adult fiction, non-fiction, and children’s/young adult fiction in both the UK and US.

Kerry started her Masters in Creative Writing in September and is currently writing her first novel. Kerry explained that she had never pitched before and felt quite nervous before her session. Kerry said, “It was a daunting but exhilarating experience. Once I started talking, I think the passion for my book and my love of writing came through.

“Susan was immediately personable and reassuring. She listened as I pitched and then asked questions about my novel. I was overwhelmed with excitement when she asked how long it would take to get my completed first draft to her. I feel so lucky to have had this positive experience and will continue to develop my novel before submitting to her.”

The 2020 National Creative Writing Industry Conference has featured a whole host of industry workshops alongside the one-to-one pitching sessions for aspiring writers.

American writer Yvonne Battle-Felton hosted a workshop titled ‘How to Plot Your Novels’. She said, “I write to get to know myself, other people and other places… To see diverse character on and off the page.”

Battle-Felton’s workshop opened with a writing exercise on writing about a person that just walked into into the room and the participants were given time to answer a list of questions to flesh out their character.

Introducing the exercise, Battle-Felton said: “I write to find the creative space because I have questions… I find those answers by getting to know this characters.”

Workshop attendee and international student of Creative Writing at Manchester Met, Meera Jacob, said: “The workshop was perhaps the most useful part for me personally. The panel talks pointed me in the right direction but it was the workshops that told me how to get there.

As a writer who often hits blocks, the biggest lesson learnt was to ‘reverse outline’ how you got there.”

Battle-Felton advised attendees to give themselves the permission to write a messy draft. She encouraged the writers to remember that it is not your story you are not writing and to “let them come on to their own”.

Battle-Felton added, “Read it out loud in the voice of their character, not just read, perform.”

“[Stories] sometimes come from a name, or a phrase, a song, something I see, maybe a movement or a smell. I write to figure out what I want to know and what I need to know also to figure out who I am writing and what they want me to tell me.”

– Yvonne Battle-Felton

Laura Williams of Greene & Heaton, a literary agency based in London, hosted an interactive workshop focussed on supporting authors to submit their work.

Williams, who is currently looking for fiction and non fiction submissions from authors, shared her top tips for every aspect of submitting – from the cover letter and book synopsis to the selection of sample chapters.

Williams told writers that agents get thousands of submissions each month and talked them through how to make theirs stand out, for example by researching the agency/agents, viewing their wish list and how to tailor their cover letter.

There was also an opportunity for the attendees to share their elevator pitch and receive feedback.

Manchester Writing School manager James Draper, said: “The Manchester Writing School is delighted to be working with Comma Press on the sixth National Creative Writing Industry Conference.

“This event captures the great strength of Manchester as a UNESCO City of Literature, with two organisations coming together to share expertise, resources and contacts to support aspiring writers and enable the development of literary careers. 

“It’s testament to the spirit of our city, and the resourcefulness and creativity of our friends at Comma, that we’re able to stage the event this year despite the extraordinary circumstances – and switching to a week-long programme of digital activities will hopefully mean we can reach and support a wider range of writers, and potentially make it an International Creative Writing Industry Conference!

“This is a very challenging time for those in the creative professions and we want the conference to have a positive impact, highlighting opportunities and offering practical advice right from the heart of the industry – and ultimately helping writers get published and launch a literary career.”

Zoe Turner, Publicity and Outreach Officer for Comma Press, said, “To move the conference online seemed daunting at first, as there are so many different elements to the event: the keynote, the panels, workshops and pitch meetings. But once I’d figured out a format, the digitisation of the event opened so many doors.

“It’s been so exciting to see our audiences grow far beyond what we could host at our usual venue, Manchester Metropolitan University, and as much as we’ve missed seeing everyone in person, the industry professional’s participation and our attendees enthusiasm has been amazing to witness this year.

“I’m so glad to have brought so much insight and inspiration into people’s homes with our brilliant programme of speakers.”

The National Creative Writing Industry Conference events are available to stream online over on the Comma Press YouTube channel.

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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