Last month, I blogged about attending this year’s ASA literary speed dating event in Sydney. As a follow-up, I thought I’d cover my preparation for the event, the questions I was asked, and what I’d do differently with the benefit of hindsight. And offer a few tips for anyone keen to take on a similar challenge.
As these events always book out, I registered early then promptly buried my head in the sand. As the date crept closer, and lists of attending publishers appeared in my inbox, I could no longer pretend it wasn’t happening. I needed to prepare, so I consulted Google, messaged an author friend who survived a similar ordeal, and bounced ideas off a writing-group buddy.
Here are my tips for preparing a verbal pitch:
The time allocated for each pitch was three minutes, and we were advised to allow enough time for questions. I’ve blogged about pitching before, and there are loads of resources online, but writing a smooth, interesting pitch and delivering it in under 90 seconds is challenging to say the least. Here are some questions that need to be addressed in a pitch. If these are not covered in your pitch, be prepared to answer them afterwards, because editors and agents will probably ask:
- Who are you and what do you write?
- Title of your manuscript.
- Word count.
- Writing experience.
- Life experience, only if it’s relevant to the work you’re pitching.
- Hook. What’s most interesting about your story? Character, story, conflict, interesting devices used etc.
- Main character. What is most appealing about them? What challenges do they face? What makes them different? What is their journey? In the end, I rewrote my pitch to focus on my protagonist’s main story arc. A minute and a half is not long.
- Who do you write like? Which authors have a similar style to you?
- What novels compare to yours? And how do they differ?
- Who will read your novel? Target audience.
I cobbled together a pitch based on these questions, tried it out on my nearest and dearest and made adjustments based on their feedback. I then wrote the speech out on palm cards and committed it to memory, walking around the neighbourhood, reciting the pitch like a crazy woman until I could regurgitate it under pressure. I took the palm cards along with me on the day in case I needed a prompt in the heat of the moment.
- Business cards. The ASA advised us to bring business cards along, and I did hand several out to editors. Designing creative business cards online was easy and hands down the most enjoyable part of the whole process.
- Synopsis or other supplementary materials. All the advice I had from those in the know was that no one would want any printed materials. Fortunately, at the last minute I included a couple of printed synopses and bios, as two of the editors did ask for paper copies. I’m not sure they would have wanted sample chapters—they didn’t specifically ask for them—but I can’t help but wonder if I missed an opportunity by not having them with me.
- List of publishers and agents attending. Although this was given to us on the day, it’s a good idea to go into an event like this armed with knowledge of what the different publishers are looking for so you can decide who to approach and whether you can fine-tune your pitch for different audiences. In other words, do your research.
My last tip is to be prepared for obvious and left-field questions. These are some of the questions I was asked:
- Do you know any other authors?
- What is your day job?
- Do you think this novel could be *insert genre other than the one you are pitching*?
- Do you have a social media profile? How many followers?
- Have you written anything else? Prizes? Publications?
In conclusion, preparation is key. Memorise your speech, or, if you’re the relaxed, off-the-cuff type, make sure you have an answer to the above questions. Take notes or palm cards along in case you seize up and need prompts, and have business cards, and a few printed samples of your work just in case. Do your research and have a strategy, and above all, relax. It’s not a make or break situation, merely one opportunity of many.