Ep 71 Aussie books being turned into movies, literary maps of America, a dress printed with first chapter of Harry Potter, and how you can win $50,000 with the Stella Prize. And we talk to literary agent Jacinta di Mase.

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

podcast-artwork In Episode 71 of So you want to be a writer: Five essential podcasts for writers, National Bookshop Day, Richard Linklater top choice to direct The Rosie Project movie, the psychology behind writer’s block, an awesome interactive map of the most famous road trips in American literature, Reservoir Dad the movie, text from Harry Potter printed on a dress, the Stella Prize 2015, continuously vs continually, Agent in Residence Jacinta di Mase, tax deductions for Aussie writers, and more!

Click play below to listen to the podcast. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Radio. Or add the podcast RSS feed manually to your favourite podcast app.

Show Notes

5 essential podcasts for writers

National Bookshop Day

Richard Linklater’s Next Gets 2016 Release Date, Sony Courts Him for ‘The Rosie Project’

The Psychology Behind Writer’s Block

Some Book Nerds Made an Interactive Map of the Most Famous Road Trips in American Literature

Truce Films Acquire Rights to Make ‘Reservoir Dad the Movie’

This Dress Printed With The First Chapter of Harry Potter Is Pure Genius

The Stella Prize 2015

Agent in Residence 

Jacinta di Mase
Agent Jacinta di MaseJacinta di Mase has a background in book selling and publishing, and worked for ten years in two of Australia’s premier literary agencies: Australian Literary Management (ALM), and Jenny Darling & Associates.

She graduated with distinction from the RMIT Graduate Diploma of Editing & Publishing (1996) and is currently studying Communications Law at Melbourne University. Jacinta is a member of the Australian Literary Agents’ Association (ALAA).

Follow Jacinta on Twitter

Visit Jacinta di Mase’s website

Working Writer’s Tip

What tax deductions are available for writers in Australia?

Answered in the podcast!

Giveaway Competition!

Win a copy of Techbitch by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza. Entries close 10th August.

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Share the love!

writer-Ep71-artwork

Interview Transcript

Allison: After more than twenty five years’ experience in the book industry, Jacinta Di Mase started her own literary agency in 2004, her agency is committed to the creation of quality books that engage, entertain and inspire. Based in Melbourne, Australia, the agency represents writers and illustrators across the diverse range of genre including picture books, young adult fiction, and fiction and non-fiction titles for the adult trade market. So, welcome to the program Jacinta and thank you so much for your time today.
Jacinta: Thanks Alli, I’m happy to be here.

Allison: Alright, so let’s talk about one the most interesting things about being a literary agent is how you actually become one. You know, so how did you? What led you to this place?

Jacinta: Well, what led me was a particular book called Colouring In, which was written by agent-author-duo Rose Creswell and Jean Bedford. A funny little book published by Penguin, must be almost thirty years ago, and I don’t know why I thought it sounded good but it was all about Rose getting up to hijinks and going out drinking with authors, and I thought it sounded like fun, and I still didn’t know what an agent was, even when I actually applied for a job as an agent. But anyway, I had in the back of my mind thinking that an agent sounded like the kind of job I’d be interested in and be good at.

And what happened was I was living in a share household in Melbourne and one of my housemates was book designer, Sandy Cole, and she also recognised in me something that would be good and play out well in publishing and suggested that I get into publishing. How does anyone do that? It’s a hidden job market. But she suggested that I get a job in a bookshop, which I did. And once in the bookshop, I had access to the Weekly Book Newsletter, which enabled me to see jobs advertised in the industry and my first job was an entry level publishing job with Macmillan Distribution Services, who where a company that did all the distribution for Pan Macmillan.

And from there, I met all sorts of people–authors, publishers, who are still in the industry, so it pays to do your job well, no matter what level you’re at. Because I met Jane Palfreyman when I was there James Fraser, Ross Gibb who’s still the MD for Pan Macmillan. And so from there I was able to.. then I think my next job was marketing at Pan. I took a maternity leave position, which was never advertised. So you’re able to move around once you’re in. And then I saw advertisement in the newsletter for an agent at Australian Literary Management and I got the job there. Still not really knowing what it was that agents did. But luckily I took to it like a duck to water, as they said. I’s really a very admin heavy job, and it’s about making connections, good memory, making connections and networking.

Allison: So it’s a very social thing. So as an agent, what do you think are qualities that you need to be a good agent?

Jacinta: Good memory, attention to detail, obviously you need to love reading and read a lot and read quickly. It’s not the thought of reading you would expect, it’s not. I mean I do read for pleasure every day as well, but reading manuscripts is quite a different…. I don’t know if you want me to talk about that now, I know you’ve got a question lined up for me that specifically speaks to that but it’s that sort of skill. And it’s being able to, I guess, put pieces of a puzzle together. So we’re essentially match makers: connecting authors and publishers, authors and opportunities that might be with other… I’ve got Justine all times who works with me and is here today. We’ve got an author travelling to the UK and she’s putting together a whole list of connections for the author in the UK with other agents, with publishers, with literary festivals…

Allison: Wow! See, that sounds like fun. Setting that up.

Jacinta: Yes, it is interesting. It will be fun for Nick Falk when he gets to the UK and is able to follow up all these leads that we’ve been able to provide.

Allison: Yep, sounds great. Alright. So, what are your… Because I know that different agents have different interests… so what would you say your main interests are as an agent? Like is there a particular style or genre or category of book that you’d like to represent?

Jacinta: Oh, it’s true that different agents have different interests. And those interests can change over time. So that’s a good question. And for example, on my list in my non-fiction, when I started my agency, I had very young children and I’ve got a lot parenting books that I’ve represented. For example, Pinky McKay, whose written four books with Penguin. But I don’t want to take on any more parenting books. I’ve been there and done that. So, there’s partly that feeling of where you are in the world—your time and place and what your interests are. Speaking you, as in the general you, what agents, how you move through ages and stages. And the other thing for me, I suppose, because my children were young when I started my business, I had a lot of experience with picture books and junior fiction. And that they’ve really become the hallmark of my agency on the children’s side, is exactly that—series fiction and picture books. And working with Justine, who works with me, one day when she comes from a background as an illustration agent She also works with the Children’s Laureate and Books Illustrated. So I think as a team, we’ve got a pretty formidable eye when it comes to picture books and giving really good feedback, not just on text, but also on the visual literacy side. So, we’ve been able to take on illustrators as well.

Allison: Great. I noticed on your website that you’re actually closed for picture books submissions at the moment. Is that correct?

Jacinta: I know. That’s actually a good question, and to why that is. And it’s because we’ve already got a really busy list of very established authors. So, on the one hand, you know, we are interested in looking at new material but we get more than enough from the authors I already represent. For example this week, Phil Cummings has sent me three new texts to look at.

Allison: Wow.

Jacinta: And it’s not just a case of a quick glance. We often go back to him with feedback on looking at the rhythm, or choice of words, or making something more child centred, or shifting the focus in a particular way. So quite detailed, structural, and specific editorial advice before we’ll agree to represent that to publishers. So, the children’s books are one third of my business and the other third would be non-fiction, current affairs, and history. And the final third, or probably less than a third, is fiction: commercial and literary fiction. And I’m lucky that split of genre across my list marries exactly with how the market share is split in Australia. So the BookScan figures the show…I think I’ve got them yesterday to inform this interview, so let me quickly check that. Yes, so here we go. Non-fiction at the moment is actually slightly larger, 41% value share of the Australian market. 25% for fiction, which is slightly down on a couple of years ago, and 31% for children’s which is actually up a couple of percent in the last two years.

Allison: Interesting.

Jacinta: And my list mirrors that almost exactly. Which makes me realise that’s why my agency is functioning. It’s very tough out there in terms of selling and that’s the reason it’s very hard to take on pictures books because to break a newly established picture book writer into the market is very hard.

Allison: Right, okay, well, that’s good to know. Do you think the role of the agent has changed in the last 5 to 10 years? Like is it still important to have an agent? And if I have an agent, what is the role of that agent for me now?
Jacinta: I don’t think the role of an agent has changed substantially at all. Agents are still an author’s number one advocate. And to be honest, I’ve been doing this for 20 plus years. I’ve been agenting for close to 20 years. Publishing’s always undergoing change. So whether it’s a change of personnel, whether it’s what happened yesterday with the ABC shops. ABC announcing they’re closing their retail—fifty stores. Whether it’s company restructures—as we’ve just seen with merger of Penguin Random House and also Harlequin and HarperCollins—or whether it’s the influence of technological change, and the big impact of digital on the publishing scene. All of those things have been happening over the years. What agents are able to offer is continuity for their clients in that sort of ever changing landscape.
Continuity and expertise. And the benefit of having been in the industry for so long that you’re able to provide perspective as well and say, “Look, we’ve been through something similar before, this is what happened last time, this is what we did.” And essentially being optimistic and reassuring, I suppose. You can usually find a way through.

Allison: Right, so you keep up with things so that your authors don’t have to. Is that how it works?

Jacinta: Absolutely. In fact, as a member of the Agents’ Association and current President, that’s what we’re all about. The background is the big picture. For example, we’ve just sent a letter last Friday, the Agents’ Association sent letter welcoming the new Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling and just letting him know that we have a few concerns about authors’ rights and the Copyright Agency whether we can have a meeting with him to talk about working more closely with Copyright Agency. I met last Friday with Michael Gordon Smith, he’s the CEO of the Australian Publisher’s Association to also talk about collaborating more closely and sharing perhaps research, working together on submissions to government, for example, especially in the recent changes that have affected the Australia Council for the Arts. So yes, agents are definitely always looking at the big picture, even in terms of copyright legislation and writing to the Law Reform Commission regarding proposed changes to copyright law.
Allison: Okay.

Jacinta: So definitely things for individual authors, whether it’s time, or expertise, or even knowing where you should send your letters, the Agents’ Association look after all of that.

Allison: Okay, So, if I’m looking for an agent, what do you think is the biggest mistake that writers make when they approach agents?
Jacinta: Probably not really doing research and that’s two pronged. The first, not so much a mistake, I suppose, not really understanding how the industry works. But a lot of—a surprising number of—authors don’t research their own genre. And by that, I mean reading widely, within their own genre and also reading in general across what’s happening in the Australian market. I suppose I see a lot of material where writers think all I need to do is write, so reading doesn’t play a major role in that.
Allison. Right, okay.

Jacinta: I know, you’re laughing because it’s sounds like, “Who’d do that?”, but you’d be surprise.
Allison: A surprising number, okay. Alright. So, you need to read what’s out there to understand where your book might fit or if your book fits?
Jacinta: Yes, yes. I often suggest to writers who, you know, are looking for advice to actually get to know book sellers, go to literary festivals, join a writers’ group, become part of, you know, online forums, go to the Wheeler Centre, if you’re in Melbourne, or your state writers’ centre wherever you live. Get connected and be aware of what’s happening in the industry. And I guess the other mistake that authors might make is not researching enough about the agent that they’re approaching. So they might send me speculative fiction, for example, when that’s not my area of expertise. That doesn’t happen so much because most agents have worked pretty hard to make it clear what we will look at and when our books are open and that sort of thing.
Allison: So, go through an agent’s website fairly thoroughly just to see exactly whether your book’s a fit for them.
Jacinta: I mean it’s so easy these days; you can follow an agent on Twitter and get an idea not just what the agents represent, but also what we’re interested in in general. You know, which is exactly what I do if I’m looking to keep up with publishers. I follow publishers on Twitter. I’m being part of the conversation. I notice what they’re publishing but also what they’re reading, what they’re watching on TV, what show they might’ve been to see. So it helps build up a picture on what their interests are more broadly.
Allison: And you, of course, are on Twitter and we will put the link to your Twitter handle in the show notes as well so people can find you. So, let’s talk about the number of submissions. We were talking about reading etc. earlier. How many submissions or query letters would you receive each week and how many of those do you actually follow up?
Jacinta: Okay, so we do get a lot. Probably, I’ve just been keeping a little tally since you first sent me the questions, I probably receive between seven and ten a day.
Allison: A day?
Jacinta: And they’re completely unsolicited.
Allison: Right.

Jacinta: That’s not including the submissions that come in from the almost fifty clients that I represent.
Allison: Right.

Jacinta: So, it can be very frustrating for authors waiting in the wings because obviously my duty, first and foremost, is to look at the work from the authors that I already represent. Now, we do try and reply to all of the submissions, which is a big time drain, but we feel at least the courtesy of saying, “Sorry, this is not right for our list,” at least. Or, “I’m sorry, we’re not taking on picture books at the moment,” if they haven’t read the guidelines. And from maybe seven to ten a day, I’ll have to read maybe one or two sample chapters. Because often what happen, Alli, is you get a fabulous synopsis or the email letter that people write can make something sound super readable and commercial, but it’s all in the writing, for me, it’s all about the story.
Allison: Okay.

Jacinta: So, I’ll have to read at least the first three or four chapters. And from there, I can ascertain pretty quickly whether I want to keep going. And in the case of the fictional, I’ll always have to read the entire manuscript. Or if it’s a non-fiction proposal, I’d be looking on the proposal itself, an introduction, and a couple of sample chapters.

Allison: Right, okay, so with fiction though, you’ll read sort of three chapters before you decide if you want to read the full manuscript? You will give it three full chapters?

Jacinta: Yes.

Allison: Well, that’s pretty generous because I’ve spoken to a lot of agents who’d be like yeah, I’d get to the end of the first page and I think, “Nup.”
Jacinta: Well, to be honest, if the first page is a shocker, you’re not generally going to go on. You know, if there are grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, of course. And it would be the same for you, if you picked up a book off the shelf in a bookstore and you read the first couple of pages, you can pretty quickly tell, “Oh, look I don’t think this is for me.” And the other thing is that I’m looking at things and thinking commercially is this for me? So a) do I love it? Am I really responding to this in a “I’m a reader” kind of way? And b) if I am doing that, okay, I’m loving this but can I actually sell it? Because sometimes you can get something… I’ve actually got something at the moment that I think, “Gee I really like this,” but I’m wracking my brains as to think where could I sell it at the moment. It’s a memoir, a historical sort of memoir/war-type story based on letters. And I just think, are we market saturated with that genre at the moment, having had everything with the Centenary of Gallipoli and so on? I think I’d be really fighting an uphill battle trying to place a work of that nature at the moment.
Allison: So, that’s disappointing, isn’t it? Like you’ve got what’s essentially a great manuscript and the timing’s just wrong.
Jacinta: Yeah, it’s often about timing. And it’s interesting you’ve mentioned timing because we’ve got things on our list, for example Tea and Sugar Christmas that won the ABIA award—that’s the Australian Book Industry Award—won the picture book award in May. And it’s also on the shortlist for the Eve Pownall Award for the Children’s Book Council this year, that took seven years to sell.
Allison: Seven years? Wow!

Jacinta: The text. Not that I was trying every week to sell it, but I did try for a long time and the timing stars finally aligned, and I found the right publisher, and Susan Hall at the National Library. And that came about in a completely unusual way in that Susan had approach me to work with this historian that I represent, Claire Wright, to work on an illustrated adult non-fiction book, sing memorabilia, photographs and ephemera from the National Library’s collection.
Allison: Right

Jacinta: So, she and I talked a bit about that project and actually Claire didn’t end up taking on the commission because she already had a couple of contracts to honour. But I thought if the library’s going to do that for adults, I wonder whether they’ve got material for this tea and sugar train? Jane Jolly’s manuscript is sitting there, so I sent it to her and she loved it. And of course the library has thousands of photographs from the tea and sugar train and the book sold close to 12,000 copies now.
Allison: Fantastic!

Jacinta: I know, I’m so thrilled. When she got Robert Ingpen to illustrate, we nearly lost our minds when we heard who she had chosen to illustrate the book. And it’s got his beautiful illustrations and then at the back of the book all these wonderful photographs, and maps, and just bits of information about the tea and sugar train.

Allison: So, that’s an interesting story because you obviously really believed in that manuscript and like that’s something you really thought that’s gonna happen.
Jacinta: Totally loved the manuscript. Yep, the problem we were coming up against, wasn’t that publishers didn’t adore the story, it’s beautiful, but they felt that the window for selling it, would be limited to Christmas, because it is a Christmas story, it’s about Santa who used to go on a tea and sugar train you know on the week before the Christmas and bring presents to the children along the line out on the Nullarbor.
Allison: Yep.

Jacinta: So, publishers felt quite nervous about investing in a picture book, which is a huge investment and then only having perhaps a window of 3 – 4 weeks to sell it and then it’s being shelved. But luckily what we’ve found with the book, is that it’s not just limited to before Christmas, that it has kept selling because of the history.
Allison: Fantastic!

Jacinta: And that it just sells more at Christmas time. We’ve been lucky with that one.

Allison: Alright, do you look at things beside the manuscript in front of you when deciding whether to represent a client, like there’s a lot of talk about author platforms? Is it important to you?

Jacinta: Ah, that’s a good question. Yes – ish.

Allison: Okay, ish. I love an ish.

Jacinta: I was taking notes about this, and I was thinking actually I know I should but I rarely look at author platform when someone first emails me and I know some of my colleagues in publishing and another agents they just go “Oh, really the first thing I do is just run to Doctor Google and Google them” And I’m just like, “Yeah, I probably should do that more,” but I don’t.
Allison: Right.

Jacinta: For me, it’s really the work, first and foremost, and can I sell it. If this author has no platform at all, could I still sell the work?
Allison: Right.

Jacinta: Cause sometimes you can do that.

Allison: Yep.

Jacinta: An author platform can be created. For me, it’s really the work: is it sellable? Commercially.

Allison: So, if you took the manuscript on and decided it was sellable, would you at that point you know as you were sort of preparing for the sell it, would you be suggesting to the author at that point that they should get themselves some kind of profile.
Jacinta: Well, Yes, I know, how daggy does it sound? You can’t really create a social media platform overnight and you can’t really manufacture it you know Cindy Cole sort of way. I mean the publishers always say, you know it has to be authentic. Well that sense of the authentic comes over time and building up conversations so you can’t back create it. So what I would do, for example recently even with Natasha Lester, our colleague, we talked to Natasha about revamping her… She had an amazing social media platform, but the edges were a bit blurred, the lines were blurred in terms of her writing, mentoring, and workshop and her Natasha Lester, the author. So what we worked with her to do was to create and I did this, I’ve got a lot of advice from my American sub agent actually Catherine Drayton at InkWell Management.
Allison: Oh yes.

Jacinta: She was saying we really need to make Natasha’s profile look a lot more sophisticated – her author profile – so that when American publishers are doing their research, they’ll see the manuscript, they’ll immediately Google Natasha Lester and we want them to land on her author page, so I’d urge listeners to go and do exactly right now and they’ll see Natasha’s wonderful author page which is very evocative.
Allison: It’s quite different to what it was before.

Jacinta: Very, very evocative of her new book, which is sold to Hachette in Australia but her American agent, my sub agent, is working on selling that now after the summer break in the US and Natasha’s mentoring and workshop persona is on a separate landing page and more through Facebook.
Allison: Right, yeah, that’s interesting, yeah, that’s great.
Jacinta: And then recently, I sold a book about two weeks ago, Sunni Overend, and this answers one of your other questions, Alli, do I take on authors who self-publish? Sunni self-published a book called March which is commercial women’s fiction but very super contemporary. So readers of Lena Dunham, people who like Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, Maggie Alderson’s early books will love Sunni Overend’s work. Sunni appealed to me partly because she has this super commercial, sassy, sort of sexy, 30 something voice that is not sort of Liane Moriarty, I adore Liane Moriarty’s books, but Liane Moriarty to me, I love it because I’m a mum and she just nails that mum-playground, you know that sort of milieu.
Sunni hasn’t got kids, she’s not interested in having kids at the moment, she’s more you know, it’s in the world of design, fashion magazines, clothes, architecture, the art world, food. So I think sort of Gourmet Traveller and meets Vogue, meets Wallpaper, and I couldn’t think of anything else in Australia that’s like that. So I read Sunni’s next manuscript and we sold that to HarperCollins and the publisher there really wanted to find out more about Sunni’s platform because she said I can see she’s on Instragram, I can she’s on – got a website, she’s on Twitter, but she hasn’t done much, she hasn’t been regularly posting. So it’s interesting to talk to Sunni about that and because she is a designer, she just said “Oh I just can’t fake it, I can’t just put anything up. And I have to really image craft it, you know”. That’s why she doesn’t post often.
But when she does post it’s absolutely gorgeous! So it’s just interesting to have that whole discussion about managing, you know is it quantity over quality? And building an audience and in a quite a different way to what the publisher would be used to seeing. So they’ve found a happy medium now where Sunni has agreed to post more, and the publishers agreed to accept a bit less, on a you know sort of bombarding the social media.
Allison: Yeah, I don’t think to bombard, I think it’s about being there but being there in a way that you want to be there and in a way that’s easy for you as well, I think that’s really important.

Jacinta: Exactly and Sunni said, I could spend days doing this, but it’s gonna suck me dry and I want to be focusing on my writing. And the other thing about platform and non-fiction, that’s where I think it is more important. Because non-fiction really does need to come from a place of authority and experience. And most non-fiction writers, for example whether they’re writing about parenting or some sort of medical or health based woks, even current affairs, politics, they’ve probably already got the social media platform whether it’s a website, or they’re journalist or experts in a particular field. So that would be yes, when you would want to check to make sure that they really had the credentials to do what they wanna do.
Allison: Okay. Alright, so we talk earlier about if writers are looking for an agent to send their work to they need to make sure that their agent’s interest is in line with theirs and that sort of thing. That the agent will be interested in the kind of work that they will be sending them. But are there any other things that they should think about when deciding if an agent if the right fit for them? Because I personally think that the relationship is important with your agent, in the sense that you need to feel like you’re on the same page.
Jacinta: Oh, it’s all about the relationship.
Allison: Yep, great. ‘Cause sometimes I think that people are so excited to have an agent interested in them that they will overlook the fact that perhaps they don’t just really get on. At all.
Jacinta: Well, yes, because you’re going to be getting career advice from an agent. So, for a start, you’d have to at least respect your agent and trust your agent to let me do my job, that would be a first. But it is often a very long relationship and I’ve got clients on my list that I’ve represented for close to 20 years. So you really do get to know each other and you know it’s about that sort of trust that I really do have their best interest at heart and know what their long term hopes and goals are and can work so I’m not just trying to sell on a highest bidder or do things in an expedient way, but really looking more long term, in where they want to be, in what they want to achieved. For example, Roseanne Hawke, 10 years ago, published pretty much exclusively with Lothian.
But she, I believed wasn’t being challenged editorially on that list and they were taking her books, publishing them, and they were doing quite well. Soraya the storyteller still sells. Still in print. But I had the conversation with Roseanne about maybe stepping up and moving to a new publisher in fact the decision was more or less made for us anyway when Lothian, the Lothian list was sold to first Transworld and then to Hachette. But we had already been talking about moving so what we had to do was wait for the right manuscript. A manuscript that had enough commercial clout to be sent out more widely to some of the bigger publishers and we were lucky that Lisa Berryman at Harper Collins picked up one of her manuscripts and then really did provide the kind of challenging editorial feedback that took Roseanne to the next level.
Allison: Right
Jacinta: And she hasn’t looked back, she’s done some very successful books with Allen and Unwin, with Harper Collins. And yeah, she’s been very happy and has definitely grown as a writer because of that advice.
Allison: Fantastic. So, that’s not necessary something an author would think of on their own either would they? Because if you were happily ensconced with a publisher…
Jacinta: No, why would she, exactly. You wouldn’t want to step outside that you know comfort zone in a way. But then what can happen is in the case of Lothian being sold, I think she might have found herself a bit in publishing wasteland, if we hadn’t already had those strategies in place for moving and looking for the right manuscript that would enable that transition.
Allison: Okay, so now something that comes a lot is that people are going to conferences and workshops and they’re pitching at those conferences and workshops – doing the agent pitch thing. Do you attend that sort of thing and do you have any tips for authors who might be making a pitch under those circumstances?
Jacinta: Yes, I’ve just been at the CYA conference in Brisbane and I’m going to the RWA conference here in Melbourne in a couple of weeks’ time.
Allison: Oh, terrific, that would be fun! I’ve been to a few of those.
Jacinta: I know it is fun, I went to a first time last year and, oh my goodness, I could barely walk the next day after the dance floor drama, so much fun!
Allison: So much fun.

Jacinta: Yes, loved it.

Allison: And you were taking pitches, of course, very seriously.

Jacinta: The thing about the RWA and also CYA is that those conferences are very good at helping their authors learn about how to pitch. And I was incredibly impressed by the quality of pitches at RWA last year. I actually signed an author, Silk Chen, after that experience but without exception, the pitches there were high quality. And I think what they – well, I don’t know exactly how they train them, but what’s important in a pitch is not to read your synopsis. That’s not what a pitch is about. In a pitch, you need to be thinking about the market, competition – so complimentary and competing titles – so understanding where your book fits in the market. Who’s your readership? Really having a clear idea. And being able to name competing and complimentary titles as well, and authors, talk about your inspirations.
Who does the author read? Who does the author admire the work of? And the pitch, this is one of the biggest mistake authors make, partly because they’re really nervous is that they don’t allow time to feedback. So they just think say they’ve got five minutes or ten minutes, they spend the whole time reading from their pitch or talking and not allowing a bit of a discussion to unfold. And I have been in some pitches with some other more ruthless publishers and agents than me and they’ve just come out and gone, “Well, I didn’t give any feedback because the author didn’t stop talking.” I’m like, “Really?” “Oh no, there’s only like you know five minutes and that’s it. Bad luck.” I was like, “Oh okay, Well, maybe I’m a bit green, I’ll try it a bit harder next time as well.” But yeah, I’ve heard that after pitching sessions.
Allison: Wow, okay. So leave a bit of room in your pitch for some feedback, basically. And I think the other thing to remember is that you’re selling the story, you’re not necessarily outlining it. Is that correct?
Jacinta: Exactly. I couldn’t have said it better. You’re not telling me the story, you are selling the story, why do I want to read this?
Allison: We got a slogan right there.

Jacinta: I know! Well done. And you should also be aware in pitching and I think this plays into the nervous thing, and I try to reassure people whenever they’re in front of me, I’m just another person in the industry and I’m crazy about books, I’m looking for the next great book. So tell me. But be aware that my feedback is going to be commercial not personal. So, I’m thinking about, I’m factoring in what publishers are we looking for, what’s already published, as well as what might clash on my list. So if someone’s pitching me, I don’t know, pony stories or a book about netball, I’m gonna say no. Because I’ve already got you know more than enough in those particular areas and they’re gonna be a direct… competing with authors I already represent. So that might be a reason that a publisher or an agent might say no.

Allison: Wow, so many reasons.

Jacinta: But usually you know, you’ll get that feedback going “It sounds great, but I’ve already got two authors that are writing, and I actually have two authors that do amazing pony and horse stories on my list, so probably I wouldn’t take someone else on.” But I would suggest where the author could go in those instances.
Allison: And try somewhere else.

Jacinta: Yeah.

Allison: Alright, so well let’s wrap up with our famous top three tips.

Jacinta: Oh my gosh, I agonised this. Well, story, and my motto, “engage, entertain, inspire”. Or at least two out of three. Evidence of reading widely and knowledge of the current market in your genre, and show that you’re connected in the industry, as I’ve said, member of a writing group, active member of say, the RWA, if you’re a romance writer, or CBCA in your local area if you’re in children’s writing or SCBWI, ASA. There are so many ways in being able to be connected, and interested and informed.
Allison: And it’s so useful, isn’t it? Like I was a member of the RWA for a long time. I let my membership lapse this year just due to the fact that I was hopeless with admin. But I learned so much from their newsletter and their conference all of that sort of stuff was amazing. And since I started writing children’s fiction, I’ve become more involved with the CBCA and all the different things. Because you just don’t even know what’s happening until you start talking to people and suddenly you’re like “Oh, I had no idea this was even out here.”
Jacinta: Exactly, exactly. And I think that’s important to agents because the relationship is a collaborative one and we’re actually working together to get the best results for an author or illustrator. So working with someone who’s connected and motivated and not just you know sitting back and hoping that everyone would tick the boxes for them. I mean it’s just more rewarding if you work together, and you definitely get better results.
Allison: Fantastic. Alright Jacinta, well thank you so much for your time today. It’s been really interesting and informative and entertaining, engaging and inspirational. And I’m sure that our listeners will have got an awful lot out of it. We will put the link to your website in the show notes along with your Twitter etc. But yes, thank you very much for your time, really appreciate it.
Jacinta: Pleasure, Alli, thanks a lot. Bye for now.
Allison: Bye.


Comments