Tag: cultural appropriation

How to pitch to a publisher

How to pitch to a publisher

In recent years there have been great opportunities open up for aspiring authors to present their work to publishers. Most of the big five Australian companies now have one day a week when they accept manuscripts from unagented writers. And there has been a proliferation of festivals, workshops and other events that offer a pitch session. This gives writers the opportunity to meet publishers and pitch their book.

On the weekend I had the opportunity to sit on the other side of the table, representing Odyssey Books (my publisher) and hearing writers’ pitches. It was definitely a good way to gain understanding of a publisher’s perspective. Here are some of the things I learned.

Make your pitch sing

You’re a writer, right? So use those skills to prepare. You have very little time to catch the publisher’s attention. You want them to be intrigued so they ask for your manuscript. There are two types of pitches. The first is the ‘elevator pitch’. This is the one you use if you are stuck in an elevator with Steven Spielberg and have one floor to get him interested in your story. It needs to stick to one sentence, but instantly grab the listener. Here’s the one for Harlequin’s Riddle.

A young woman gets caught up with a troupe of travelling actors who steal dreams, and realises she is the only one who can stop the damage they are causing. 

When I did my Masters degree we spent an entire two hour tutorial writing and refining these, with feedback from the rest of the class. Unless you’re a Hollywood copywriter, you won’t get it right first time. But if you put in the effort to get your elevator pitch perfect you may just catch someone’s attention.

Keep it snappy

The second pitch can be longer, but it’s not a synopsis. A synopsis is one to two pages that summarises the plot of the book. I heard several of these in the session, and they were not what I was after. I had other people waiting their turn and after hearing numerous pitches I really, really wanted people to just get to the point.  Dazzle the publisher with your synopsis when they ask you to email it to them.

In the meantime, don’t lose their interest by trying to include too much when they’re busy. Keep your second pitch to one or two paragraphs. These should give an idea of the key characters and what is driving the story – a basic plot outline.  Giving the publisher an idea of theme and the tone of the book is also worthwhile. Definitely don’t get into sub-plots or other fine detail.

Be prepared

You need to show how your book fits in and stands out!

If you’ve caught the publisher’s interest, they will ask you some questions. It’s not hard to work out what these might be – have a look at the publisher’s submission page on the website and they’ll probably all be there. They will be things like:

  • what makes your book unique?
  • why are you the best person to write this books?
  • what other books is yours similar to?
  • are you working on anything else?

While you may think your book is unlike anything else on the market, that’s not actually helpful to the publisher gaining an understanding of your work. By comparing it to other books you are giving them more information. And the point of the pitch session is to give them enough information that they fall in love with your story. Saying there’s nothing like it gives them nothing.

The Tales of Tarya fit in the realm of theatrical and circus fantasy. One of the most well known books in this area is The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. By mentioning that title I give people something familiar that creates a clearer picture of my books. But I also talk about what makes them stand out: they explore what would happen if creativity opened a portal to magic. It’s a balancing act but it’s worth taking the time to work out how your book fits the market and stands out.

Do your research

One of the questions I asked on the weekend was ‘Why do you think your book might be a good fit for Odyssey?’ It quickly became obvious who had done their research and who hadn’t. Some people were pitching to me because I was (representing) a publisher. It didn’t seem to matter which publisher. Others had researched what sort of books Odyssey published and what its mission statement is. They talked about how their work fitted with this, which increased my interest and demonstrated they were organised, committed and serious. Those who hadn’t taken the time to find out about Odyssey created a poor impression. And if their books were not a good fit, they were wasting my time and theirs.

Watch the attitude

In a pitch session you don’t have long to make a good impression. Publishers aren’t just looking for books. They also want people they can work with in the long term. I noticed three kinds of people as I sat on the publisher side of the table:

A professional attitude matters
  • the disorganised hobbyists
  • those who brought an attitude with them
  • those with a professional approach

If you come across as under-prepared and disorganised you give the impression of being a ‘hobbyist’, not a serious writer. Your book might be great, but it’s hard to tell if you don’t get to the point.  And if you can’t articulate the key selling points of your book briefly and in an interesting way, it doesn’t give a good impression of your ability to structure and write an entire novel.

No matter what your background or writing ability, or how great your idea, publishing is a cooperative process. An author and publisher work closely together to create the finished book. If you come across as arrogant, pushy, or unwilling to consider the necessity of rewriting, the publisher may not see a long-term publishing relationship as a viable option.

And if the publisher questions whether you have used sensitivity readers, take them seriously. In the current climate, writing about someone vastly removed from yourself requires empathy and a responsible approach. (I can’t go into the whole debate about cultural appropriation but if you’re writing about someone far removed from you, you need to think about this. Start your reading here.)  Publishers will not want to open themselves up to major controversy.

Being professional

Ultimately, sitting on the publisher’s side of the table, what I noticed was that being professional made all the difference. Yes, you need a great story idea. But then you need to present it in a concise, interesting way. And it helps a lot to show that you take your writing seriously and will be a good person to work with.