From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “Pitching to Publishers”

The Value of Conferences – CYA

CYA dinnerI can’t believe it’s been weeks since I attended the fantastic CYA Conference in Brisbane. I’ve been head-down ever since, following up on manuscript advice received during my two publisher assessment sessions and giving social media a narrow gaze.CYA 2016

Chris Bell CYA 2016 Highly CommendedI was really excited in the weeks prior to the conference to be shortlisted in the 2016 CYA Writing and Illustrating Competition – published author category. It was fantastic that I was already booked in to attend the conference and so I was there to receive a “Highly Commended” award for my middle-grade eco-fic novel Strange Creatures from the judge, Scholastic Australia publisher, Clare Hallifax. I was extra pleased with my HC as there was only one overall winner (congratulations Facebook buddy, Karen Collum), but no placings in this highly competitive category.

It was a great boost to see this 19000-word story that I wrote several years ago with the intention of making it book one in a trilogy appreciated and acknowledged. I’ve always loved the characters and the setting and thought I had not perhaps given it fair exposure at the time as it always seemed an awkward word-count. So I worked on it some more and entered it into CYA and it was really terrific to see it awarded in the competition. I look forward to reading the initial judging reports, which give the added bonus of feedback to entrants in the CYA competition.CYA 2016 Highly commended

During the conference I had two really positive and informative meetings with publishers regarding my YA historical novel and received some great advice. 1. Begin in setting and introduce character’s day-to-day life 2. Use less language of the time.

The first suggestion initially surprised me because I’d always been taught – in kid lit – begin with action. But during the conversations (which offered very similar advice) I came to realise that, with my character’s world and time being quite foreign to the reader, to begin in drama gave the reader no chance to come to know or care about the characters before the initial dramatic interaction and danger. Invaluable advice and well worth paying for. This is one the value of critique and manuscript assessment sessions offered to attendees of conferences and seminars.

Both publishers are keen to see the reworked manuscript, so it’s back to work for me.




Photo credit: Peter Allert


To pitch, or not to pitch…

To pitch, or not to pitch?

That is the question I asked myself before the SCBWI International Conference in Sydney last weekend.

Of course there’d be positives, maybe even joys, such as:

  • Feedback on my idea/WIP
  • Practice at presenting in public
  • Self-promotion benefits in getting my name and face in front of publishers and peers.

But there’d also be terrors:

  • What if I bombed in front of all those people?
  • What if no one liked my concept?
  • What if I knocked three publishers out of the equation in one fell pitch?

I can hardly believe that I not only answered yes to the question of pitching, but got up the courage to put my name in the hat (or vase in this case), and ended up being the first name called.

I suspect it helped having no time to get nervous in the days prior. With my 82 year-old Dad in hospital, looking at bypass surgery, pitching was the last thing on my mind. For a couple of days, attending the conference (that I’d so looked forward to for months) began to seem doubtful.

Besides, I’d thought that we’d had to put in to pitch months before while I was away overseas, and was surprised to read on the website a week prior that we could nominate to pitch up until the Saturday of the conference. And then I saw the words, “Make sure your pitch is entertaining.” “Do not tell the plot.” “Focus on the concept.” OMG!

Entertain? Who me?

Hilarious – I’m not, nor particularly quirky either. How on earth do you make a concept entertaining? I wondered, as I lay in bed on the Monday morning, musing over what I would do if I was brave and had any acting talent. The only way I could think of was to go into the voice of my character. All the while, another little voice nagged, you can’t do the accent. (The accent that comes whenever I’m writing the story. The accent I’ve been asked not to do by my adult children when I read aloud in their hearing.) But what would I do, if I were brave..?

I wrote out a few paragraphs that Maire, my protagonist, might say if she was talking to someone about her new life, all the while telling myself it was fine to do the exercise, because I’d never get up in front of room full of people, let alone publishers, to recite it.

Then my week turned spare, and I gave up all thoughts of preparing a pitch. That is until we got the all clear on Thursday evening, and I raced home to pack and type up Maire’s words onto labels, stuck them on my business cards, and wrote out my concept. I ran through it several times, subjecting hubby to two of the readings, and ran over it in my head before going to sleep, as soon as I woke up, in the shower next morning, and the same again in Sydney the night and morning prior.

I have to say a big part of my confidence to pitch came thanks to the encouragement of good writing friends. First, Claire Saxby at the airport, encouraging me not to miss such a great opportunity. Adding her hints to my arguments about nerves, “Breathe, go slow. Go as slow as you can. You can never go too slowly.” (Words that incidentally came back to me as I presented.) And it’s amazing how when you go slow, the words come to you and you don’t skip over or forget half.

Dee White and Alison Reynolds gave up their morning tea break to play publishers so I could practice on them, and they reminded me to locate the year first, because my novel is historical, and to state my word count among other valuable tips. Most important was their encouragement, once again, to go for it.

Chris Bell SCBWI pitch session. Photograph courtesy: Claire Saxby

Chris Bell SCBWI pitch session. Photograph courtesy: Claire Saxby

I’m pleased to say my pitch went very well, despite my stomach churning and my left hand beginning to shake so badly halfway through, I thought I’d drop my cue cards. I was thrilled to bits with the very positive response of the publishers, especially with all of them wanting to read more when it’s finished.

When I thanked one of them later, she suggested I must have practiced a lot. I mumbled that I hadn’t really, thinking guiltily about my horror week and how the pitch had come together. It was only later that I realised I had actually been preparing unknowingly for weeks. (Two years if you add the writing time spent on the novel.) But the concept aspect I’d been working on at uni through the RMIT Masters program, so I’d had the chance to boil down the essence of my novel to a sentence, and think of it as a concept and not just the story. So the basis was there, just waiting to come out. My character gave me the voice to do so. And the pitch session the opportunity.

I’m so glad I got brave. (Thanks to plenty of encouragement and positive feedback.)

I learned a lot about myself through the pitching experience and even more about my character.

My three best tips for a winning pitch:

  • Be brave enough to be creative
  • Know your project (let your passion show)
  • Practice (running it through in your head counts as practice).

PLUS: My very best advice for writers and illustrators who want to pitch to publishers:


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