Publisher Sam Eades and agent Nelle Andrew gave a session at the Killer Women Festival 2016 on what they look for…
Killer Women is a group of female crime-writers, who this weekend held their first day-long festival with a host of best-selling authors.
One of the sessions featured literary agent Nelle Andrew, of PFD, and publisher Sam Eades of the Trapeze imprint at Orion, discussing tips for authors pitching their work. I live-tweeted the session, and here is a summary of my notes…
The host began by asking if they have wish-lists of the kind of books they want to find.
Sam: “I do have a shopping list — at the moment I’m looking for a ghost story — but sometimes books I love come out of left field.”
Nelle: “I’m looking for a book that defies my expectations, blows me away, makes me want to read more than watch Netflix.”
It was agreed that the trend at the moment is very much for psychological thrillers. Sam says: “I got 300 submissions in my first year, and probably about 150 have been psychological suspense. They’re a big thing, but I don’t think they’ll go away.”
But what is it that makes a great book?
“I’m such a geek,” Sam says, “When I started in editorial I dissected ten bestsellers looking at structure, voice to see what made them work.” She suggests that similar study can help authors to learn too.
“We don’t read like normal people,” Nelle says, “It’s incredibly fast, and we’re reading with a sense of the wider audience — who would buy this? It’s rare to read a book, even one that isn’t to your taste, and not see why it succeeded. Except the Elena Ferrante books — they don’t have any of the traditional elements you’d look for.”
But books don’t have to be perfect. In fact Sam says she has discovered she enjoys getting her ‘’hands dirty”.
“When books arrive it’s like doing up a house,” Sam says, “As long as the foundations (good writing) are good you can sort the rest (character, plot etc) out. But you have to only take on books you really love, because you’ll be talking to colleagues and the industry about them for two years.”
Regarding the all important cover letter for submitting your work, Nelle says she “will judge you” on that. Her main tips are just to be business-like, describe the novel, a few lines about yourself, and highlight why you are approaching that particular agent. What do you admire on their list? Sam adds “And don’t try to be funny.”
Finally the discussion turned to getting noticed in the first place, and all were agreed that it’s not about knowing people in the industry. Books do get found from the slush pile, but there are other things you can do to get noticed. Sam suggested things such as taking part in the writing courses run by Faber or Curtis Brown, or taking part in various online events such as #PitchCB on Twitter. But she also says that “Publishers now don’t look down on self publishing anymore, they look for talent through that channel.”