I'm about a month late posting this, but I'm a bit behind on things in general. At the end of January, I attended a Pitch Party and Contest hosted by the Fairfield County Writers' Studio. If you were pitching, you had a three-minute window to read a blurb about your novel – for most of us, it was our query letter. The three judges - literary agent Marilyn Allen and writers Tessa Smith McGovern and Carol Dannhauser - then gave us a couple of minutes of feedback. At the end of everyone's pitches, they chose three winners whose books would be sent on to editors at Penguin Random House and Sourcebooks, Inc. Alternately, if a winning manuscript wasn't ready to be sent, instead it would receive a free edit. The fee to pitch was $30, to observe $15. Names were drawn randomly from a jar for the order of the writers pitching.
They capped the pitching to twenty participants, and it was a full house in terms of both pitchers and observers. Ms. Allen gave us a little bit of information about the process of publishing, as she worked in publishing for over twenty-eight years. Her advice was summed up as: "Be positive and be professional." She said, as an agent, she sees about 200-300 queries a week, but most of them aren't salable – only a handful each week require careful consideration, since the rest often failed to follow her submission instructions for one reason or another.
And then we dove straight into the pitches. Like last year, the majority of the pitches were memoirs and/or nonfiction, with only a handful of fiction entries. And, like last year, the majority of the pitchers were women, with only a handful of men.
There were certain themes that kept on showing up in the pitches, and also certain comments that reoccurred in the feedback by the judges.
For the pitches themselves, there were several memoirs having to do with medical battles, including against alcoholism, cancer and mental illness. One theme that showed up a lot was problematic marriages. In terms of the fiction pitches, more were genre rather than literary.
There was some common positive feedback about the pitches:
- Personalized introductions to the judges/agents, including how the writer knew the agent or had met her before,
- Comparisons of one's book to other books similar to it.
- Having a great hook.
- Having a unique idea.
- Having a great voice and/or humor in the query.
There was also some common negative feedback:
- Having too long a query letter.
- Having an unfocused query.
- no tension
- no hook
- no clear goals for the characters
- no focus on marketability or audience
- Having a confused plot synopsis.
- A letter lacking the author's personal voice.
I pitched last, like I did last year – of course, being a very nervous speaker, my hands were shaking as I stood up in front of the judges and read my query letter. I had some great feedback, though, and I felt good about the experience afterwards. During - not so much. I thought I was having a heart attack.
The three winners were Anya Liftig for her memoir Irretrievable Breakdown, Kathryn Haydon for her self-help book If School Sucked for You, You're Probably a Genius and Vanessa Mickan for her self-help book Touchstones (Emotions of Cancer). The two runners-up were Gina Ryan for her memoir Brokeback Marriage and me for my romance novel, The Impossible Guy.
Again, congrats to Anya, Kathryn, Vanessa and Gina, and also congrats to everyone who participated! As a white-knuckled speaker, I know how hard it can be to stand up in front of even a friendly crowd of people and talk about one's writing, so it was quite an accomplishment for everyone involved. And I'll see all of you next year!
Who the heck is Alison McBain?
I am a freelance writer and poet with nearly a hundred short pieces published in magazines and anthologies. If the Walking Dead isn't on, I draw pictures and do origami meditation in Connecticut, where I live with my family. If the Walking Dead is on... shhhh! The Walking Dead is on! For more info, please check out my "About Me" page.
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