Saturday, 17 June 2017


As a debut novelist, I’ve quickly learned that one of the key skills required, as well as writing a darned good read, is the ability to pitch a novel, both in writing and, perhaps more dauntingly, in person.

I’ve read self-help books, blog posts, writing magazine articles, all designed to teach writers how best to develop a pitch. But although there’s loads of help out there, it still feels tricky to do!


So imagine my apprehension when my writing friends from the Aberdeen Writers’ Studio, suggested that I pitch to a panel of publishers and agents at XPO North.

I already had experience of pitching work on a one-to-one basis (at a Romantic Novelists’ Association conference – but that’s another blog post!), which was, to say the least, butterfly inducing. But would I have the confidence required to pitch to a panel of industry experts?

I’d never know, it I didn’t try. So I followed the guidelines, forwarding a synopsis and first five chapters of my debut novel, Food Bank Baby, and anxiously waited for a reply.

Emily Utter (front left) and me (front right) with our
Aberdeen Writers' Studio friends on the bus to Inverness
Within days I’d been invited to pitch at XPO North!


XPO North, held on Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th June this year, is billed as Scotland’s leading creative industries festival; a two-day event in the picturesque highland city of Inverness, in northern Scotland, on the banks of the River Ness, where it’s fun to keep a look out for the famous Loch Ness Monster.

Held at the Eden Court Theatre and Arts' centre, entry to the event is free – always attractive to Scots!

As well as the opportunity to pitch to publishers and agents, XPO North also offered such varied workshops as:
The BBC Writers Room: Starting Your Television Writing Career 
The Birth of a Book: Dream, Plan, Do - How To Crowdfund Your Novel with Patricia van den Akker 
Discover How To Make The Most of Instagram... and more…

But my attention at XPO North was firmly focused on the literary pitching sessions.


Chaired by world-renowned literary agent Jenny Brownof Jenny Brown Associates - one of the leading literary agencies in the UK - the panel was extremely supportive and encouraging of all the writers pitching. Jenny explained that after receiving a whooping 120 submissions, the shortlist was then narrowed to 18, in the panel’s hunt for best new fiction and non-fiction.

The highly experienced publishing panel members included:

Francine Toon - literary fiction editor at Sceptre Books, also representing Hodder & Stoughton

Vikki Reilly – literary fiction editor at independent publisher, Birlinn Books, also representing Polygon Books.

Andrea Johnstone – literary fiction editor at independent publisher, Canongate Books

Moira Forsyth  - author of The Treacle Well and editorial Director of Sandstone Press


Pitching was broken up into three sessions – non-fiction, literary fiction and commercial fiction (including crime).

I write commercial women’s fiction but attended all three pitching sessions, which were both hugely interesting (remember I LOVE books!) but also extremely helpful, in terms of learning from the suggestions offered and advice given by panel members.


Not only was I thrilled to have bagged a much-sought after place on the pitching short-list, but was
Moral support from Aberdeen Writers' Studio friends
equally delighted that my good friends Rachelle Atalla and Emily Utter from the Aberdeen Writers’ Studio each received highly encouraging praise for their wonderful literary fiction writing.

Rachelle’s debut novel, Shedding Skin, offers ‘an unsettling glimpse into a father-daughter bond as they embark on a curious trip across the Southern Hemisphere’.

Whilst, Emily’s debut, Wedgewood, explores the question ‘is the biggest lie a family can tell itself is that it is perfect?’

And so it came to my turn.

Me - mid pitch!
Although nervous, I was also buoyed by the excellent quality of pitches delivered by Emily and Rachelle, and felt determined not to let them down.

‘Two hungry little girls. One violent father.
How far would you go to save a stranger’s family from danger?’

And so began my pitch for Food Bank Baby
I gave it my best shot and was overjoyed with the feedback received from both the publishers and Jenny Brown.

Will my pitch to lead to anything further? – Only time will tell.

Was I glad I quashed my fears and accepted the opportunity to pitch? – you bet!


Pitching at XPO North was a fantastic experience and one I’d strongly recommend, particularly for debut writers. So, if you’ve yet to pitch to a panel and would like feedback on your work, then why not enter next year?

And if you already have experience of pitching to a panel, or simply have a fab pitching tale to share, then I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.


P.S. - and I promise to let you know if my pitching to a panel story has a happy ending!


  1. Well done Rae! I've been dying to hear how you got on. It sounds like a great experience. Fingers crossed for good news x

  2. Thanks, Gill. The whole experience was definitely made easier with the support of friends. Perhaps we can meet up next year? : )

  3. A great experience for you- well done!

    1. Thanks for popping by, Nancy. Hope we can meet up sometime soon.

  4. Great post Rae. The idea of pitching a novel on a one-to-one terrifies me, but your post made it sound quite fun. :)

  5. Thanks for sharing, Victoria. The whole day was made less terrifying with friends. :)

  6. Marvellous post Rae. Lovely to meet you and be your pitching neighbour! Love this blog!

    1. Oh that's so kind of you to mention, Jane and thanks for dropping by. The whole day at XPONorth had a warm, supportive feel to it. The tone set by Jenny Brown, the publishers, and the encouraging applause from the other writers each time someone completed their pitch. Good luck with your novel and please keep in touch. : )

  7. Fascinating although sounds very nerve-wracking. Fingers crossed for you but whatever, it will have been a useful experience. Best wishes for next project too.

  8. Hello, Rosalind and thanks so much for reading, commenting and your good wishes. When our applications were successful and we were invited to pitch, the XPONorth organiser explained that we should treat the opportunity as an introduction and make good use of any feedback given - sound advice. : )

  9. Fascinating, Rae. You deserve to succeed.

    1. That's really kind, Bill. I owe a lot to all my generous writing friends. Hopefully we can meet up at a Writers' Scotland get-together really soon.

  10. What a great experience, Rae,and you tell it in such a lively style. good luck with the next stage - I'm sure there'll be one. anne

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Anne and thanks so much for your encouragement. Rae x

  11. Brilliant experience if nerve wracking. Next one will seem less daunting and then one off after that a piece of cake. You're on a roll Rae, keep going.

    1. Thanks, Lizzie. Having to consider and refine my pitch was a useful exercise in itself. All the positives gained from taking part definitely outweighed the effort of keeping nerves in check! : )

  12. What a fantastic opportunity, Rae! Well done for getting to that stage and all the very best with what happens next. Love your 'elevator pitch' introduction to your novel and definitely want to read more!

    1. That's wonderful to hear, Rosemary - thanks! It was really useful to be forced to focus on my pitch. We each had 5 minutes to sell our work, followed by 5 minutes of questioning - which, amazingly, flew by! : )

  13. Thanks for sharing, Rae. Love your pitch. Fingers crossed something good comes of it.x

  14. Aw thanks, Sophie and also thanks for dropping by. : )

  15. Well done, Rae - sounds like you did brilliantly x

  16. Thanks, Wendy. It was a brilliant experience, made all the more exciting as I was surrounded by friends. : )