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Guardian HQ in London

Guest blogger Kieran Mathers is back with the latest instalment of his journey towards self-publication…

As a birthday treat I was sent to Guardian Towers in London (90 York Way, near St. Pancras, if you’d like to know) to go on a ‘pitching your book’ master class. These courses are a joint effort between the Guardian newspaper and the publishing industry to fleece would-be writers and exploit… er, I do of course mean, ‘To gain the valuable experience of learning from publishing industry professionals’.

All joking aside, it was an extremely useful day and I learned an awful lot.

This article isn’t going to be a progress report. I don’t have an awful lot of development to reflect upon, as my cover artist is currently enjoying being part of Bollywood Carmen on BBC3 (lucky lady) so I’m still waiting to hear back from her. The sketches she’s sent me look good though and I should hopefully have something by the middle of the month.

But back to the master class.

PitchPitching is arguably the most important part of creating a book, after the actual writing. One of the key lessons I learned was ‘Don’t submit until its ready’ and that is so true. Your manuscript has to be the best it can possibly be or it simply will not get picked up. That said, it’s always possible to endlessly fool with a manuscript, so I’ve taken this advice to mean ‘Don’t submit until you’re happy with it’. Without a non-subjective basis for comparison, I think you just have to learn when it feels right, though it requires a difficult measure of self-confidence and trust. Like I said in the very first edition of Mundane Adventures, you have to write a lot before you’re able to recognise that moment. Submit then, and not before, or it’s wasted effort.

An actual pitch is quite a lot like a movie tag-line. You’ve got to express the themes of the book without resorting to simply quoting the text (yeah, I know…). This should be the opening paragraph of your pitch, and try and grab the reader. It was an incredible useful exercise to suddenly have to do this when challenged. The pitch for The Darkness Embraces suddenly moved from ‘Oh shit, I haven’t thought of a damn thing!’ to:

Captain Lillian Frenda has a war to fight. But in the darkness beneath the mountains, can she see who her enemy really is?

That was a five minute job, but I think it captures what The Darkness Embraces is all about. I’m told that paradox is overused as a marketing tool but to hell with it, I’m still new at this game.

Interestingly, the pitch for my period drama The Witch proved to be more trouble:

Ysabel rides through the hell of the Thirty Years War to save lost souls from their enemies, and sometimes from themselves.

I’m still not truly happy with this one, but it’s better than nothing.

The above exercise has taught me that you really have to understand the core of your story and express it pithily. Deception and the power of loyalty are the central themes of The Darkness Embraces.

The second useful thing I learned was harder to swallow, and that’s the fact that a personal recommendation is helpful indeed. Find someone in the publishing industry who will support you, and then quote them. It adds a huge amount of power to your pitch, especially if that other person is a writer or editor. This practice is so utterly nepotistic that I want to spit as I write this, but it’s also a recognised path to success. So if you don’t have anyone, you’d better find them soon.

Which brings me to my final point: Twitter. Most publishers these days are looking for ‘digital natives’ (As opposed to what? Digital colonists? Digital interventionists?) so you have to have a presence on the internet. This means Twitter and Facebook at a minimum, while a guest column on writing for self-publication doesn’t hurt either because you need to demonstrate that you’re willing to do your own marketing, which is what most publishers expect now.

It’s not all bad. Find one industry professional and follow everyone on their feed. That’s what I’m trying, and it’s working so far. On that note – @kieranmathers. Follow me and I’ll try not to bore you.

In next week’s Mundane Adventures, Kieran’s plans come to a sudden, grinding halt…

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