Last week I had the opportunity to visit the Hachette offices in Sydney with a bunch of other writers as part of the Emerging Writers Festival at an event called ‘Inside the Publishing House’. It was an incredibly inspiring and energising day of panels, talks and workshops with the opportunity to pitch your own work to a publisher at the end of the day.
The best thing about the day was the glimpse inside the publishing house as a workplace with professional pressures and limitations just like any enterprise. The first panel of publishers talked about how limited their lists are, how everyone in the company has to be certain of the commercial viability of a book to take it on, and how they hate saying ‘No’ to authors even though they have to do it all the time.
Robert Watkins, head of literary publishing, led us in a session on how to develop a pitch. We were asked to write a letter to our ideal reader, and some pitches were shared with the group. For a commercial publisher, the ideal readership can’t be too narrow, and the pitch has to give this reader an emotional pull towards the story as well as a good idea of the content and why they’d want to read it.
We heard from a panel of Hachette editors and editors from the black&write! program that supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writing by matching and funding authors and editors. The editors talked about the different levels of editing, from structural down to copy editing, and the most common issues they see in the work of new authors. They gave the impression of editing as a highly collaborative process with the editor acting as a kind of intermediary between publisher and writer.
Julie Keys was shortlisted in 2017 for Hachette’s Richell Prize for emerging writers and we heard from her about her writing process and the story behind how she came to commit to writing a novel, and this novel in particular, after a long career in health-related roles. Julie’s book The Artist’s Portrait was picked up by Hachette after her shortlisting and is due to be published early next year.
Lastly, participants were given the chance to pitch to a publisher, a timed five-minute conversation about your work which goes all too quickly. A number of the publishers had mentioned earlier in the day how they do pick up a significant amount of work by meeting authors in person, so this seems to be a skill worth cultivating. This was the first time I’ve ever pitched my work in person and I’m not sure I used the time effectively. I hope I’ll do better next time!
I thoroughly recommend this event to anyone who has the opportunity to attend in future. Most writers have to work for a living somewhere outside of or tangential to publishing, and it was really wonderful to be invited to glimpse the inner workings of a major publishing house and to meet the actual humans who work there.