Words by Bec Fleming, Blogger in Residence
Pitch session. Two little words holding much promise and terror. Usually held at conferences, pitch sessions are brief meetings sometimes five minutes, sometimes less, with agents and publishers. An opportunity to meet face to face to pitch your story. For me, with a not yet completed manuscript the idea of a pitch session is a distant mirage. But there are some who have been to the distant land of the pitch and survived to tell the tale. Canberra author Justine Lewis shared her story of a successful pitch at the 2014 RWA conference with me.
How did you know your manuscript was ready to pitch?
I had finished several drafts and had good feedback from my critique partner. The MS had also placed in the finals of one of Romance Writers of Australia’s contests.
How did you prepare for the pitch session?
I started by Googling the editors I’d be pitching to to find out whether they had expressed any particular preferences. They wanted ‘punchy’ pitches, so I went from there. I also searched for tips on how to pitch – there is a lot of helpful information out there.
I prepared an opening basically describing what my book is about. The advice I read was that the opening should refer to the story ‘hook’ and the central conflict; it is a bit like a blurb, though you wouldn’t say it like a blurb. For romances, you can mention the tropes you are using, and if you are twisting them, then you say how.
Explaining what a novel is about in a sentence or two is tricky. If you are having trouble (or even if you’re not) you could try asking your critique partners and beta-readers what they think the book is about.
I opened with ‘The Secret Prince is a 50 thousand word contemporary Cinderella/mistaken identity story set in the age of social media. It is about a runaway European prince and an Australian journalist who must chose between her job and keeping a secret for the man she loves.’
Romance writing is all about character so I also prepared short descriptions of my two main characters, outlining their goal, motivation and conflict.
I also prepared a short (three paragraphs or so) description of the story, focusing on the main conflicts, emotions and turning points and briefly set out how the story was resolved. Most of all I kept it short – the whole thing was less than two pages double-spaced. (Last year I gave a failed pitch that consisted of a long-winded description of the book, including all the plot twists I thought were fascinating, but the editor I was pitching too nearly fell asleep.)
Then I practiced! Mostly on my long-suffering husband. He hadn’t read the book but he could tell me what did and didn’t make sense. This helped me to cut it down and make it more understandable.
What happened during the session? Were you asked to submit the manuscript?
My pitch to my editor at Destiny Romance went really well. She put me instantly at ease by saying that she loved my title right away. After I’d given her my short blurb she told me that she had heard enough and said she wanted to read the MS rather than have me tell her the ending. We then talked generally about me, my background, and how long I’d been writing.
I gave another successful pitch to an editor at Harper Impulse though she wanted to hear the full pitch. She also asked to see the full MS.
Did you make changes to your manuscript when you submitted it?
Not major ones. But I was surprised that both editors asked to see the full MS (I had heard that publishers usually only want to see a partial to begin with). While I had the first three chapters ready to go I had to work quickly to proofread the rest, though I didn’t make any substantial plot changes.
What advice would you give for people about to pitch for the first time?
Be prepared – know your hook sentence and character descriptions inside out.
Practice – on whomever is willing. The more times you practice the pitch the more confident you’ll be.
Arrive a bit early and chat to the other authors. They are as nervous as you and, in my limited experience, also appreciated a bit of distraction at that point.
Most of all remember that this isn’t your only opportunity – you can still submit your MS through the usual channels to any publisher. Conversely, a successful pitch doesn’t mean a book deal – it just means you get to leapfrog over the slush pile. There are also other ways to get noticed by a publisher (e.g. contests). A bad pitch doesn’t mean it is a bad book – the book I pitched badly last year went on to win a prestigious RWA award.
Think of the pitch as an opportunity to talk about the book you love and even if the editor doesn’t ask to see your MS they may give you some valuable feedback.
Can you tell us a little about how you felt when you were told your book would be published?
Excited, but also a bit daunted. I still have a lot to learn about the publishing process and the marketing side of things.
When is it due to be released?
4 November 2014, as an eBook.
How are you planning to celebrate?
With a few friends and a couple of glasses of bubbly.
I am working a few other new books and hoping this wasn’t a fluke!
Bec Fleming is a Canberra based writer, historian and poet. She graduated with a PhD in history from the University of New England in 2010. She has spoken at the National Portrait Gallery, the Australian War Memorial and for the ABC program Now Hear This. Her poem ‘An untimely death’ was shortlisted for the 2013 Michael Thwaites poetry award. She has loved words for as long as she can remember and thinks it is a little bit magic when they line themselves up in just the right order.