In publishing, you always have to pitch to someone, whether it’s as a writer to an agent or a publisher to a colleague. Pitching is an excellent skill to have and our speakers, Fiona Brownlee and Eleanor Collins, are experts!
“The first pitch in your career will be pitching yourself.”
Fiona Brownlee is the Managing Director at Brownlee Donald Associates. Fiona has previously worked at Pavilion Books, Midas PR and Mainstream Publishing. She set up Brownlee Donald Associates in January 2014 and currently sells rights for Jenny Brown Associates, Freight Books and handles PR for Freight (Glasgow), Greystone (Vancouver), Perseus (New York) and Old Street (London).
Joining her was Eleanor Collins, Senior Commissioning Editor at Floris Books. Eleanor works with children’s books and adult non-fiction in her current post. Before joining Floris she worked on the adult fiction list at Scribe Publications, Melbourne.
Fiona kicked off the session. “The first pitch in your career will be pitching yourself.” She recommends making as many contacts as possible by putting yourself out there. Do internships and be visible, confident and approachable.
“You’re doing a brilliant job of that just by being at this conference today,” she notes, adding that she wouldn’t have gotten into publishing if it weren’t for the SYP, so joining up is a great thing.
Be shameless in getting your name out there.
Since most people are talking via email these days, name recognition is really important. If you’re pitching a book to a publisher, try to have an attention grabbing headline, and in your email she recommends just the publication date and an elevator pitch. If you’re dealing in rights, however, use the title of the book in the subject, so it’s easy for people to search for the email.
Being able to pitch face to face makes all the difference, so it’s important to be at the international book fairs in London, Frankfurt and New York.
When you are pitching to someone, don’t read your whole list. Find out what they’re looking for at the start of the appointment and pitch them specific, relevant things. To do this well, you have to really know your list inside out. If you’re pitching to journalists, the format is usually a 10 minute slot in their office and her advice is the same, find out what they want.
When pitching yourself, Fiona’s parting advice was to be shameless at getting your name out there. If you go to see someone speak at a conference or event, and they impress you, email them afterwards to say so. Be persistent, but not annoying, when making connections.
Pitching is about being a matchmaker.
Eleanor Collins said pitching involves presentations and sales, which honestly, she finds awkward sometimes. However, selling rights is really important and it makes a huge difference to the bottom line at Floris and to the author.
She noted that it’s difficult to pitch a book you’ve edited, because it’s really easy to focus on all the negatives. There is no perfect book and you can’t always have things the way you want. You might find yourself looking at the book you’re pitching and thinking that the fourth chapter never reached a satisfying conclusion or the names aren’t right. Instead you need to concentrate on all the great things about the book.
Pitching is about being a matchmaker, pairing publishers with the perfect books for their list and making sure your books go to the right home as well. You should think of pitching yourself that way too, it’s about a place being the right fit for you as much as you being a fit for the company.
Eleanor advises trying to stay practical and not to be taken in by manuscripts that aren’t possible. Ask yourself: can fit into your list? Is there a market? Will the editorial department will have time to turn it around? Can it feasibly be produced?
Think about what’s happening for your audience.
As a tip for authors, both panelists noted how difficult it is to pitch yourself, because you’re too close to the material. Their advice is to keep it short and to read an excerpt rather than talk about the book too much.
Eleanor advised to always practice your presentations out loud beforehand and both panelists agreed again that reading your whole list was one of the worst mistakes you can make.
If you struggle with confidence, or are consumed with thoughts about how you’re coming across, remember it’s not really about you, it’s about the books. Instead of concentrating on yourself, try to think about what’s happening for your audience.
In terms of knowing who you need to pitch to, Fiona advises getting to know agents first and asking them for recommendations. You really have to build up contacts before you go to book fairs to make the most of it. Literary scouts are also great, they love hidden gems and small independent publishers. It can be good to think in terms of territories, Fiona sells to Germany and the US.
Finally we asked the panelists how to fill your time at London Book Fair as a student. They advised going to free seminars and trying to get really aware of the industry. You can also mention events you attended in interviews. If you felt inspired by a speaker, write and tell them you enjoyed meeting them.
Follow your interests, socialise, go to free parties and enjoy the wine! You won’t have time once you’re employed.
For all updates and recaps from #SYP2020, click here.