Pitch Perfect @ Byron

The Byron Bay Writers Festival has been ahhhhh-mazing! It’s been on the Vision Board since 2013. And I’m addicted. It’s like a three-day feast of ideas, conversation and story. For little old me from regional NSW, it was like a big cultural shot in the arm and I can only hope it sustains me until next year.

Totes stoked to be at this festival.  Yep - totes stoked.

Totes stoked to be at this festival. Yep – totes stoked.

The last session I went to on Saturday arvo was Pitch Perfect and it was fantastic! I made a bunch of notes so I could share them with the Posse and you – our devoted readers.

So Pitch Perfect worked like this. Earlier this year, the Byron Bay Writers Festival called for entries into the Pitch Perfect competition. Writers submitted manuscripts in the hope of winning a chance to pitch to real live agents and publishers. A panel of Festival Co-ordinators sifted through these manuscripts and selected three to go through to the Pitch Perfect Panel competition. Before the Pitch Perfect event, these lucky writers had the luxury of a “pitching mentorship” with Dr Jesse Blackadder.

At the Pitch Perfect event, the three writers were then allowed five minutes each to pitch their novel to a panel of publishers/agents who may (or may not) ask to read the rest of the manuscript.

From L-R, the back of Cate Paterson, the back of Alex Adsett, the back of Sophie Hamley

From L-R, the back of Cate Paterson, the back of Alex Adsett, the back of Sophie Hamley

On the panel was:

Cate Paterson – Publishing Director of Pan Macmillan

Alex Adsett – Consultant and Literary Agent, manager of Alex Adsett Publishing Services.

Sophie Hamley – non-fiction publisher Hachette Australia

The three writers waiting to pitch looked pale and sickly. All the mentoring in the world can’t prepare you for a panel like that. Also palpable in the tent that afternoon was the sense of opportunity. The fortune of these wannabe writers could turn within the hour and their manuscripts could make the heroic leap from the slush pile to the desk. I didn’t know any of the pitching writers personally, but as I watched them chew their nails, slide their hands into pockets and fidget their feet I found myself hoping and hoping that they’d hear each panel member say the magic words “I’m in!”

The three pitchers from L-R are Megan, Claire and Cynthis.  Here they are debriefing with panel chair Zachary after giving their pitches.

The three pitchers from L-R are Megan, Claire and Cynthia. Here they are debriefing with panel chair Zachary after giving their pitches.

The first pitcher/writer was Claire and she was pitching a series of three crime novels. Her pitch included a basic rundown of the plot in the first book and then more broadly how it spans three books. She described her protagonist in terms of characters from books and TV; “She’s X meets Y, if X and Y wore dresses!” She read a tiny excerpt from the manuscript and promised a strong main character with a solid ensemble cast. I felt like it was a good pitch that captured the pacey, gritty voice of the manuscript. But it wasn’t me she had to impress…

Sophie Hamley said “I’m in”

Alex Adsett said “I’m in”

Cate Paterson said “I’m in”

First writer/pitcher nervously takes to the podium.  I was dying a thousand deaths for her and I didn't even know her!

First writer/pitcher nervously takes to the podium. I was dying a thousand deaths for her and I didn’t even know her!

The second pitch was from a lady whose name is just destined to be on the cover of a book – Cynthia Pretty. She started with a true story of how she once rescued a drowning woman. Cynthia then explained how this extraordinary event had stayed with her and germinated to become a larger, imagined story. She used words like ‘wistfulness’ to describe the mood of her story and named published books that her story could be likened to. This pitch had me at hello and once Cynthia read an excerpt I found myself wanting to shout ‘I’m in!’ just so I could find out what happened next.

Sophie Hamley said “I’m in”

Alex Adsett said “No thanks”

Cate Paterson said “I’m in”

Beautiful Sculptures were on display and for sale at the festival.

Beautiful Sculptures were on display and for sale at the festival.

The last pitch was from Megan who had a raft of publishing experiences under her belt, namely short pieces for journals. Megan’s pitch was about a boy gone missing and the impact of broken relationships on child safety and security. The story sounded plot driven and Megan explained that the story moved from place to place. Like the other pitchers/writers, Megan read an excerpt, described who the story would appeal to and gave a word count. I got the sense that we would be in capable hands with Megan’s story.

Sophie Hamley said “I’m in”

Alex Adsett said “No thanks”

Cate Paterson said “I’m in”

Flag all the following points in your notebook.  (And how cool is this sculpture?)

Flag all the following points in your notebook. (And how cool is this sculpture?)

After each pitch, the judges gave feedback. Here’s what they said:

* Don’t be reluctant to use boastful adjectives that will sell your work! Use words like strong and engrossing, or better yet, riveting and compelling. Use these strong descriptive words early in your pitch.

* Hook us in with those first few sentences, just as you would with your novel. Make the publisher want to read on.

* Set the context of your work; genre, setting, potential readership, other stories it’s like, describe the style of your work

* If you’re pitching a series, suggest a tag line that summarises each novel

* Include the word length

* Include a brief bio of yourself as an author or relevant aspects of other work that you do. Make your bio as interesting as it can be. Cate Paterson (publisher) confessed that she agreed to Cynthia’s pitch just because her bio was interesting.

Truly a magical festival...

Truly a magical festival…

* Consider that publishers and agents are always looking for a reason to reject, so your pitch needs to be tight, convincing and reject-proof

* If you’ve published a previous book, ‘close that off’ – explain why you aren’t being published by your previous publisher

* Your pitch should include who your story would appeal to, the major themes within the novel and what shelf it would sit on in a bookshop

* If you’re writing non-genre (ie: It’s a story that doesn’t fall neatly into romance or crime or young adult or thriller or sci-fi or whatever) then your pitch should include an especially detailed description of the themes that your work is canvassing

* If you are pitching to Australian publishers and agents, then the books that you liken your work to should be Australian. The panel all agreed this was super important – they said this shows many things:

  1. you read Australian work
  2. you’ve done your homework about the books you’ll be competing with
  3. you have an awareness of the Australian market and industry

* Know thy publisher (or agent) – Alex Adsett (agent) explained that while she found Cynthia’s story intriguing, she was looking for works with a strong narrative drive and she didn’t think Cynthia’s story offered that. The panel went on to talk about how publishers are always categorising books and considering where a book would ‘fit’ within their publishing house. So, as writers/pitchers, we need to know who the perfect publisher/agent is for our kind of story.

* Explain why your story is different – Megan’s pitch intimated that her story related to the events of 911. Cate Paterson (publisher) said that writers need to recognise themes/ events/ ideas that have already saturated the market and make their pitch stand out above those. She said the pitch should clearly justify why a tired idea has been included or explain how this representation of that idea is different.

* Publishers are people too! They have personal tastes, just like a normal reader. Sometimes it’s just that a story doesn’t appeal to them.

* Understand the bigger picture, the market and the business of marketing. Many people are involved in the process of selecting a book for publication. At the regular ‘acquisitions meetings’ that publishers have, the publisher has to champion your book to a panel of people who are considering the potential sales, marketing and publicity of your story.

* Remember that publishers are BOMBARDED with submissions. There are more published books out there than can ever be read.

* Often, publishers select novels based on their instinct guided by their own passion for books and stories.

Phew!

It was a great session and I was sooo proud of these three complete strangers/ fellow writers who each got a minimum of two publishers to take a look at their work.

I hope next year, when I’m back the Byron Bay Writers Festival, I’ll see them sitting up there on the stage in an official ‘guest author capacity’ talking about how their published book was picked up at the 2015 Pitch Perfect event.

More than that, I hope I’m on stage next to them.

But I’ll settle for being in the audience if I have to!

Ahhhh Byron...

Ahhhh Byron…

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Categories: Uncategorized | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Pitch Perfect @ Byron

  1. Excellent run down of the session! Thank you, mgstroudy.

    Like

    • mgstroudy

      Hey Sheryl, It was a terrific session. I’m glad you got something from my summary.

      Like

  2. Shannon from Oh Creative Day

    If only the publishers say in swivel chairs… Oh wait. That’s The Voice!
    What a daunting process. Good on you for turning your vision board item into a reality!!

    Like

    • Shannon from Oh Creative Day

      Sat not say. Editing- it’s a valuable thing!!

      Like

    • mgstroudy

      I’m a big fan of the Vision Board! I’ll have to send you a pic of mine one day! It’s funny you should mention the Voice chairs because the Panel Chairperson – Zachary – jokingly suggested large red leather swivel chairs and big flashy buttons for the publishers and agents! Imagine that on Australian television. It’d have to be on ABC or SBS!

      Like

  3. Pingback: Ready. Set. Pitch. | {The Print Posse}

  4. Pingback: Share your pitch | {The Print Posse}

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