Find a unique perspective

Friday, December 15, 2017
By: 
Fran Berry interviewed by Amy Adeney

Fran Berry headshot
Fran Berry

"Whilst style and story craft are still major assessment points," says tutor Fran Berry, "in non-fiction and memoir we are first drawn to the subject, issue or unique perspective that the writer brings to their subject." Ahead of her upcoming workshop, we talked to Fran about strategies for pitching memoir and non-fiction.

Is the pitching process for memoir and non-fiction significantly different from pitching works of fiction?

In general yes. Apart from established fiction writers who may have multiple book deals based on previous success, fiction writers mostly need to have a completed novel to submit. Because style and story craft are amongst the main considerations this is tricky to judge without a complete work which truly shows the skill, story and character arcs etc.. In contrast, whilst style and story craft are still major assessment points, in non-fiction and memoir we are first drawn to the subject, issue or unique perspective that the writer brings to their subject. Therefore a pitch may not always be a complete work but may include sample chapters, outline and story plan, but most importantly is able to articulate what it is, why it is different, and why we need to read it.

Participants in your upcoming workshop will learn how to present themselves as authors – what role does an online presence play in a writer’s credibility or appeal to publishers? 

These days a solid online presence is almost mandatory for authors. Be it via their own website, blog, or social media platforms, authors can develop an audience and following which can translate as a readership to bring to their published book. Whilst Publishers will promote and publicise new books it is certainly expected that authors will partner in promotion and use their own networks. The larger following and community you have built for your writing the more attractive you are going to be for a publisher.

What are some of the common mistakes writers make when pitching memoir and non-fiction?

Probably the most common mistake would be not doing enough research on what other books are already out there on your chosen subject and pitching the same project. If there are already six other books covering exactly what you intend writing about, there may be little point unless you can find a unique perspective and can articulate the difference. Talk to booksellers and find out what customers are asking for and what they are buying, know what people are reading and are interested in, maybe you can identify a gap.

Your upcoming workshop will also cover how to pitch before you’ve completed a manuscript – is this something you’d recommend when writing memoir or non-fiction? 

It is entirely possible to pitch a non-fiction or memoir book project without a completed manuscript but with a substantial chapter outline, sample chapters and synopsis, however it is always going to be more beneficial to have a complete manuscript, especially if you are an emerging writer who does not have a body work to show you are capable of completing the final work.

What are some great examples of memoir and non-fiction that you would recommend to writers working in these genres?

Two of the most inspiring works of non-fiction for me as a Publisher would have to be Behind the Beautiful Forevers by US journalist Katherine Boo who takes us inside a Mumbai slum and details a treacherous underworld and a cast of incredible real characters with whom you cannot help but become emotionally involved.  Truly like reading the most compelling novel. Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man, was a stand out book for me of documentary storytelling, intense, unsettling and morally troubling but told with great discipline and power. As a memoir, Osamah Sami’s Good Muslim Boy would have to be up there in my all time faves.  It is rare to get a manuscript which can in equal parts make you laugh and cry, take you to a place you know nothing of, and leave you with a genuine positive appreciation of humanity.

About Fran Berry

Fran Berry is a publisher with over twenty years experience in the publishing industry. Fran’s publishing career has spanned roles in marketing, publicity, rights management, imported book buying and commissioning. Most recently, Fran was Publishing Director at Hardie Grant Publishing, a company she helped establish. Fran has commissioned and acquired numerous authors and books including several award winning and bestselling titles. Authors include Denise Scott, Shaun Micallef, Phil Jarratt, James Halliday, Steve Kilbey, Osamah Sami, PJ Parker and Mark Isaacs. Fran is currently working as a literary scout and consultant for both publishers and filmmakers.

About Amy Adeney

Amy Adeney is a Writers Victoria intern. She is a primary teacher and founder of Busy Bookworms, a bookclub for preschoolers.