Monday, 7 March 2016

Perth Writer's Festival... Surprise!

Well, another PWF has come and gone, and for me, this one was by far the best. Not just because I got to meet a line-up of some pretty spectacular authors whose books I sell for a living, or the array of writers in the race for publication. No, there was much more to enjoy about this one (as always).

On the Thursday there is an exclusive day-long workshop for writers, and the final part of the day is The Pitch, where authors may get to do a three minute pitch for their book to whichever editors happen to have put their hands up for this interesting task. It's an amazing experience to be in a room filled with hopefuls who range from those who have never pitched before, to people who stroll through like old hands. But the Eds are always so encouraging. It's a nerve-wracking way to spend forty-five minutes and it goes up in smoke like you wouldn't believe.

Outdoors at PWF

This year the pitches were good and the Ed's responses were encouraging indeed, with a heady collection of local works up for offer. The way it works is that ten to fifteen names get drawn at random. Those who opt to try for The Pitch will have been writing down their names and details earlier in the day, and these are put into a box. Mixed emotions flood the atmosphere and you can hear a pin drop at each weighty silence.

We had just heard the fourth pitch for the afternoon, and I was murmuring to the lady next to me that the person who'd just made their pitch had what sounded like a good story when my name got called.


"You're on. You have three minutes."

Oh flip.

Sure of how it worked, I took the mic and dove straight in, giving what I refer to as a 'back page blurb' (telling the story as you might read it on the back of a novel in a bookshop), citing word count, genre, personal merits, what makes the story different and most importantly, what makes it saleable.

Now, I knew from the moment I received the festival program a month prior that none of the editors present at the festival would really publish contemporary romantic fiction. However I was aware that they know publishing and they can discern a strong story when they hear it. The feedback at times like these is valuable and the experience is necessary, so I went for it, truth, dare or torture. The responses went like this:

Ed 1) What are you reading to show you know the genre?
Me: I replied that I am very familiar with the genre as I work in a bookshop and am privileged to have all sorts of books at my disposal, many of them proof copies to take home and read. (I didn't even get to say 'My story would sit on the shelf alongside Fiona Palmer' because the first Ed simply nodded and said, "Say no more." She knew I knew my genre, and this is important to authors and publishers alike).

Ed 2) This is not a genre FP takes, but definitely send it to one of the big houses publishing the same.
Me: (too stunned to speak, but nodding in disbelief)

Ed 3) Lots of manuscripts get sent to MRP every week, so my advice to you is to make the first chapter really sparkle. It needs to stand out.
Me: I explained the setting of the first chapter and gave some of the details, and because I knew the region this Ed comes from and that he is about an hour away from where my story is set, he immediately connected with what I said and laughed with several other attendees as I spoke about the first chapter.

After this dumbstruck mini banter session, their consensus was:

"Good pitch!"
"Go big."
"Go to the top."
"Don't waste time."
"Go to one of the big houses who are publishing similar."
"Don't muck about. Go in haste."
"Don't delay."
"Go big."

They were all talking over the top of one another and repeating their advice by this stage and I was blown away, thanked them, and sat. Mind awash with more than I could concentrate on, I quickly set about writing down everything I could remember so that I could reflect upon it again when I could think straight and in a place more quiet. It was all so straightforward.
I'm glad I wrote it all down, because after the warm receptions from family members when I mentioned the experience, now comes the hard part of actively pitching and submitting. In some ways it's like being caught between a rock a hard place - praise vs. action. I write for the most saleable genre in the world, but my niche within it is barricaded by my own lack of knowledge on how to break in, but break in I shall, because I am determined. I've been writing for twenty years, and I'm getting better and better at every aspect, finding the ins and outs so necessary to traditional publication.

We'll see what happens next.

What's your story on the road to publication? Was it rocky and turbulent, or smooth and shady?

The pathway is so different for everyone.

"But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." Romans 8v25