Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 4, 2013

Wrap-up of Matera Women’s Fiction Festival 2013

Matera Women's Fiction FestivalI am just back from my fabulous annual pilgrimage to the Matera Women’s Fiction Festival. This is my third year participating in this inspiring event.

Once again, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about publishing from the experts, had a great time at live pitching sessions to agents and publishers, met a wonderful group of interesting and fun women writers, explored the beautiful sassi (caves) of Matera, and ate and drank far too much excellent Italian food and wine (thank goodness for all of Matera’s steps to help work it off).

Since – unfortunately – I can’t share all that great food and wine with you virtually, I can at least pass on some of the tips I’ve learned at this year’s festival:

The world’s a big place. Well, perhaps I knew this before, but it’s great to apply this to publishing, too. Authors should learn about the major markets out there. You may be looking to publish in your home country, but readership is increasingly international. The growth of e-readership will only strengthen this trend. We were lucky to have authors, editors, literary agents and translators from the US, UK, Irish, Australian, Italian, French and German markets. Educate yourself about the markets out there, and think actively about promoting your work in foreign markets.

Matera, ItalyPublishing is changing rapidly. Stay informed. E-readers, digital-first publishing, self-publishing, new-and often restrictive-clauses in author contracts – these are all the aspects from the business side that authors must stay on top of. The industry is changing rapidly, and, as authors, it’s our job to keep on top of it. The insight from agents, editors, publishers and authors on the rapid changes in the industry is priceless.

Luckily for writers, information has never been more readily available. Authors can learn not only from great conferences like Matera, but on author blogs, interviews with agents and editors, and writer groups and associations. Keep learning.

Pitches are fun! And literary agents and publishers don’t bite. I’d already learned this, but it was nice to have the messages reinforced this year. : ) I’ve just started pitching, and my first experience with live-pitching my story was at last year’s festival. This year I expanded my appointments to nine and made my way to agents and publishers like a diligent speed-dater, pitching two separate projects in English and Italian.

It’s actually lots of fun, and a great way to start talking about your work and to get feedback from the ‘gatekeepers’. The agents and publishers sit through pitch after pitch each day, and they’re still so generous with their encouragement and advice. I highly recommend that you take advantage of this golden opportunity at your next writer’s conference. It’s such a great way to meet people in the industry, to practice presenting your stories, and, yes, requests to read your full manuscript are certainly the icing on the cake.

Matera, ItalyWriters need to do more than just write. The verdict is in. Yes, the most important task for a writer is to write the best book he or she can. But there’s no getting around it, with very few notable, bestselling author exceptions (see the recent Jonathan Franzen flap), most writers need to get savvy about marketing and promoting their work. Be present on social media, author a blog, Tweet, guest blog, get out there and build relationships. It’s all key to today’s publishing world. Go in with a good attitude, and have fun in the process.

You’ve finished your novel. Great! Now revise. UK author Jane Corry offered a great workshop on revisions. Many tips I knew, many were new and I’ll be taking them on. But finishing your novel is only the beginning of your work, you need to go back and to keep perfecting your novel, polishing, weeding out inconsistencies or unnecessary segments, scrapping wooden dialogue, and improving that first draft.

Poisoning someone is hard work. Professor of Forensic Medicine, Francesco Introna, of the University of Bari gave an amazing lecture on poisons for mystery and thriller writers. He started with a historical background of poison from ancient Rome to the King of poisons, Pope Alexander VI and his brethren, who had a penchant for poisoning in the infamous “Borgia wine”.

Professor Introna’s lecture was incredibly informative – and amusing. I don’t write thrillers or mysteries, but I do write historical novels, so this lecture was very useful. My husband just looked extremely nervous, and asked how detailed my notes were when I told him excitedly about all my new knowledge on the topic. : )

Be persistent. This is true of so much in life, but especially in writing. There was a young, Italian author, Giuliana Altamura, who spoke alongside her publisher at Marsilio press. The publisher rejected her first attempt at a novel, providing her with feedback. She returned with a second novel. He didn’t accept that either, so she wrote a third, and the third time was the charm. Your first novel might not make it, so go back and write the second, and the third, learning and improving each time. Agents and publishers want to see this tenacity. Keep working and growing as a writer, and you’ll eventually get there.

Matera, ItalyWriting is an exciting, but difficult, journey. Make friends along the way. This is undoubtedly the biggest draw that keeps bringing me back to Matera. Writers – and I’m going to exhibit some reverse sexism here – especially women writers are a smart, collaborative, creative, interesting, nurturing, generous bunch. I’ve made great friendships here, and I look forward to making many more.

Meet and befriend fellow writers. They’re your sounding boards, your supporters, your sympathetic listeners when you’re down and your cheerleaders when you’re up. I look forward to keeping in touch with all my amazing Matera friends, and keeping up with their projects this year.

I’ll definitely be back in 2014. Writers ready to shop around your novels and looking for a good excuse to get to beautiful Matera, hoping you’ll join me next September.


  1. It was wonderful, wasn’t it? I really treasure last week! So much to think about and work towards. Like my trip to Rome!

    • It was great, wasn’t it? Books and reading and good wine. Let’s continue when you come to Rome!

  2. Sounds like you had another amazing Matera experience. Very true about the “keep revising” step. It’s easy to rush out a work that’s not 100% perfect or little more than a first draft.

    • TOO true, Grace. I really do hope you’ll join me one year. You’d love it.

  3. A very interesting post. Thanks for sharing! Er…did you get any requests for a full MS?🙂

    • Hi Nicola! Yes, I did. It’s keeping me – gulp – busy. I hope Martha (and her author) will be making the trip next year. LOTS of interest in fantasy from agents and publishers… September 2014?

      • *squeee* That’s so exciting! Dare I ask which MS? Please say ‘Janet’!🙂

        Me? Oh, I’d love to come, but I’m pretty tied to Blighty for the foreseeable.😦 Martha’s just going to have to take her chances swimming in the self-pub pool. But I have to finish writing her first.

        Ah well, back to yet another sword fight. And you know how much I love writing those…not! My job’d be a lot easier if they’d all just sit down and discuss things rationally over a bottle of nice vino. Bah!

        Btw, are you using Pinterest yet? I’m finding so useful. I have a WIP board so you can see Martha’s dog, Forge, and get some idea of how I see the other characters.

  4. Maybe next year… why not?

  5. Funny, Nicola. I can’t believe you hate writing battle scenes. They come out so realistically. Yes, I pitched Janet, and got requests (though I must chop word count) and I also pitched my MS set in Abruzzo. It was all I could do to keep my own stories straight in my confused head. No, I don’t use Pinterest, but I’ve heard great things from it from writer friends. Off to check out your page. Hope you have Martha (and Vadim!), too.

  6. Every year I read your posts about this I yearn to be there. Fingers crossed for your MS, you are taking all the right steps, I am sure the reward for all your hard work is getting very close to realisation.🙂

    • Thanks, Claire. It’s every year in September. Hope you’ll come next time! I’m sure you’d love it.

  7. […] want to learn more about the Matera festival, take a look at my round-ups of what went on at the 2013 Festival and the 2012 […]

  8. Nice post! I’m planning to go this year😀

    • Greta, Marissa! Look forward to seeing you there!

      • I will definitely look out for you! Thanks Kimberly.😀

      • Perfect. Look forward to chatting-even better over a glass of wine- in Matera. See you in September!

  9. […] then, and want to see my wrap-ups of recent years, please see my posts on what I learned at the 2013 Festival and the 2012 […]

  10. […] attended before, see my wrap-up posts for the 2014 festival  and the 2013 festival to get an idea of what’s on offer. There are seminars, agent pitch sessions, brainstorming […]

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