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
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:
GO FOR IT!