I am a walking bundle of contradictions: a strident feminist who still does the whole family’s ironing, a creative working in a non-creative field and, like many writers, an introvert who doesn’t feel at all comfortable about the idea of spruiking myself to agents and publishers, yet desperately wants to be noticed.
At some point, when a manuscript has been buffed and polished to a high gleam, if a writer wants to be published they need to face up to the dreaded pitch. Ready or not. So, last year I decided to ease myself gently into the bubbling cauldron—the publishing industry—by trying out some online options to learn how to sell my manuscript. And myself.
The first course I ‘attended’ was an online course called ‘Pitch Your Novel’, run by the Australian Writers Centre. It was an on-demand course, with no face-to-face teaching, i.e. no human contact at all. Once you purchase the course, you are able to access the course material for 12 months, and much of it is available to download and keep. Novelist, Natasha Lester, is the tutor and she presents each of the modules clearly and concisely in a pre-recorded video with an accompanying handout.
Was it worth the cost? Yes and no. While a trawl through the internet would have unearthed a lot of the information that the course covered, I loved Natasha’s step-by-step approach and the way that the structure of the course made each step seem a little more manageable. Natasha’s organised, type-A personality struck a chord with me, and I watched some parts of the course more than once, in particular when I was truly ready to start sending queries to agents.
However, I was still uncertain at the end of the process whether I was on the right track with my query letter and synopsis. Had I produced a convincing package, or an amateurish effort, cobbled together like one of my kid’s clay sculptures? I still had so many questions that couldn’t be answered because of the nature of the on-demand course. It was time to look further afield for advice.
Luckily, I stumbled across the Digital Writers’ Festival, which I had assumed was some sort of younger, cooler, trendier version of the Emerging Writers Festival for glamorous and earnest twenty-year-olds. There were a lot of sessions about digital narratives and other hip topics I know nothing about, but they were also running a pitching workshop, structured as a webinar. That option immediately piqued my interest. I figured that it would finally give me the opportunity to ask some of those nagging questions about my pitch. The best part of the deal, though, was the opportunity to send a written pitch to someone in the publishing business (agent or publisher) for feedback. Actual feedback on my actual pitch. How could I let that golden opportunity slide by?
So, on the given day, at the given hour, I plugged my newly-purchased headphones with microphone attached into my computer and spent a very fast hour listening to the tutor— Sarah Tooth, director of the South Australian Writers’ Centre—impart her knowledge of the art of pitching. I also sent many questions her way. All in all, it was a very informative, interactive hour, and well worth signing up for.
The real value, however, was the opportunity to receive written feedback from a publishing industry professional. Industry experts associated with the program included editors and publishers from Penguin Random House, Affirm Press, Black Inc., Curtis Brown, Hardie Grant and literary agents from JDM Management. There was no opportunity to request a particular person to view the submission, so I sent off my pitch, crossed my fingers, and waited.
My pitch was reviewed by James Read, submissions editor for Pantera Press. I was thrilled to receive his written feedback only a couple of weeks later. Two full pages of kind, generous observations about what was done well and areas for improvement. The report addressed the clarity of the pitch, the synopsis, and whether it made him want to read more.
Most importantly, it gave me the confidence to start sending my pitch out to agents and publishers. What happens next is largely out of my control, but at least I have gone into the process with a polished pitch, having done everything I can to make it as professional and enticing as possible.