Within a week of my first Festival of Writing six agents offered representation. Last year I returned to judge Friday Night Live and co-deliver the final keynote. So having been on both sides, here’s a little advice:
Do your research. Look at the list of professionals attending and highlight which ones most resonate with your genre and style. Beyond your one-to-ones you can seek out others during the social events. Create a personal hit list of people to meet.
Know which authors the agent/publisher represents. But please don’t say you love a particular book if you haven’t read it. Be authentic.
Remember to take a notebook and pens (you’d be amazed how many people forget). Also take something warm (the lecture theatres can get cold when you’re sitting still). Leave space in your luggage to take home new books. Take a refillable bottle of water.
Being shortlisted for Friday Night Live or Best Opening Chapter is wonderful but don’t fret if your name isn’t on the list. I know many people who have had a successful festival and received lots of agent interest without this.
If you are reading during FNL, keep it simple. Let the writing do the talking for you. Read slowly and clearly. Don’t be apologetic. You deserve to be there. Revel in it.
Pace yourself. It’s a heady three days and you will be taking in a huge amount of information, new ideas and A-ha moments. By the end you will be spinning, so be kind to yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
It can be overwhelming walking into a room filled with strangers but remember that the majority of people are in the same boat. A flock of introverts is a funny thing – but this is also a room chock-full of book-lovers (heaven!), so chat about your favourite authors, share your successes and disappointments. I promise you that you will find incredible allies.
The festival is pretty flexible about what workshops you attend. So if you’ve just discovered that your dialogue needs work, swap sessions. The weekend is set up for you to hand-tailor the experience to your needs.
You can learn from EVERYONE so don’t be dismissive of other writers who work in another genre or are much older/younger or have less experience than you. The more different they are, the more opportunity there is to learn something new.
Social media is a handy way to make connections. People will be using the hashtag #FoW18 so you can find people easily on twitter then organise to meet up in the next break. On my way to my first festival I was tweeting with someone who happened to be on my train and weirdly we then sat next to each other at our first workshop. She was a huge support during the whole weekend and five years on we’re still in touch. The festival is a fantastic way to make new friends.
Don’t be frightened. The agents, editors and publishers have made the journey because they want to discover new talent. And, who knows, it could well be YOU that they’re looking for. So take a deep breath and introduce yourself.
If you’re wracked with nerves then do it for your characters. At this point, you’re the only one who can be their champion.
However … do NOT pitch your book to someone while they are sitting in the next toilet cubicle. This happened to me last year and I can promise you it’s not endearing. At least wait until you’re both washing your hands and ask them when would be a suitable time to chat!
I always appreciated it when writers asked me when was a good time to talk rather than just bustling in with their question/ pitch. Often my answer would be ‘now is good’ but it was great to have the option to say, actually I’m about to appear on a panel, can we talk at lunch? It shows professionalism and respect and immediately gets you off to a good start.
It’s an exhausting 3 days for everyone. The agents, authors, book doctors and publishers are delivering workshops, panels and one-to-ones (and at every meal they are surrounded by writers wanting advice) so it’s not surprising that they too need a little downtime. If, at midnight, they’re huddled together having a drink they’re not being cliquey, they’re just shattered and want ten minutes to chat about their pet/child/garden/favourite tv show. At that point don’t wade in there with a heavy pitch: connect with them as people.
Do take some quiet time out to gather your thoughts before those crucial 10 minutes. Ask yourself what you most need to know about your submission. Success isn’t only about being invited to send your full MS. It can be finally grasping your book’s theme, gaining clarity on your genre, or discovering what is and isn’t marketable about your work.
You want to spend most of your one-to-ones listening not talking. It can be helpful to take notes or you could ask if it would be OK to record the conversation on your phone. It’s such an adrenalin rush it can be hard to remember everything.
It’s useful to type up handwritten notes so you harvest as much learning as possible. Or go through your notebook with a highlighter pen marking what is most relevant. Spend time applying your notes/learning to your WIP as there often isn’t enough space to do this during the actual workshop. Do this as soon as you can after the festival while it’s still fresh.
Follow up any connections you’ve made with a thank you email or tweet. What you’re wanting to do is create relationships and to lodge yourself in people’s memories. Politeness and gratitude go a long way.
Also follow up any connections you’ve made with fellow delegates. Only other writers will truly understand what it is that you’re going through. They are gold dust.
In many ways you’ve done the hard part. You’ve believed in yourself and your work enough to book your ticket. It’s called a festival for good reason. It’s a celebration: of writers, books and the craft of great writing. So have fun. You will be with your people.
A Thousand Paper Birds (Bloomsbury) was longlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and has been translated in six languages. You can follow Tor’s journey on Twitter and at her website.
Tickets are still available for the Festival of Writing 2018 so don’t miss out on this fantastic opportunity to meet writers, agents and publishers. Buy tickets through the link here.