Last week, I found out about Galleycat’s Book Pitch Party about an hour before its deadline. I like Galleycat; I haven’t been able to keep up with it as much, lately, but when I can, I’m not sure there’s a more valuable resource for publishing.
The Pitch Party, the contest post announced, was held in the W Union Square’s Underbar, which is one of the swanky-hip sorts of rooms Manhattan is famous for. Reminded me a lot, in fact, of the Happy Ending Lounge, on Broome Street, which is where I read for The Nervous Breakdown.
We can argue the real validity of writers reading in a bar. Most, unfortunately, can’t. It’s not writers’ fault; writing is held as a solitary sort of profession, and even I get nervous enough my stage presence isn’t yet where I’d like it to be. Probably takes a lot more practice than I have, even though I stand before classrooms all the time. There’s something, too, about reading in a dim lounge; there are always clinks and murmurs, and it’s obvious in a way it never is when a band’s on.
When I heard it was in New York, and it was for pitches, I had to submit. So I went through my email and basically lifted my usual query for The Prodigal Hour and sent it in.
The following day, I was congratulated to be a finalist. I was going to pitch!
I don’t know how many pitches Galleycat (and its editor, Jason Boog) received. I’d wager hundreds, knowing full well literary agencies receive that many every day. So I was pretty pleased to be chosen among ten finalists, not to mention the judges were a who’s who of who’s exciting in the publishing industry: Stephany Evans, president of Fine Print Lit, Richard Nash, founder of Cursor; and Jason Ashlock, founder of Movable Type. In terms of publishing as it was, is, and is gonna be, these guys and gal are at the forefront of what’s changing and how.
Which is, in many ways, terrific.
I’ll admit I expected a different experience. I knew there were ten of us, but I hadn’t thought it would take very long to pitch, no matter the pitch, and I figured that the judges would have comments or notes for each one.
The whole idea of pitching is becoming very popular, and oft talked about, lately. Pitch in an elevator. How do you pitch your story?
The answer is simple: your pitch is what your story is about. One sentence, really, which is what I think makes it most difficult for novelists–which again, is thought of as solitary–mainly because I think novelists get so focused on details and subplots and complexity that it gets hard to see the basic elements of the story.
A young man faces a choice of changing history for the better–and saving his father’s life–when he discovers a way to time travel.
That’s The Prodigal Hour.
That’s the pitch, even if it’s not in the query letter. It probably should be. Because novels should have loglines just like screenplays do.
Right now, the query starts with “Chance Sowin just wanted to start over again.”
I like that, as the query. It’s less general than the pitch, and it focuses attention on Chance, and gives you very important information: what he wants.
Now, I’m not saying it’s perfect, but hey, it was chosen as a finalist. I’m going to figure that counts for something.
Now, perhaps it’s because I went to USC and attended a graduate-level writing program, but I expected we–the finalists, I mean–would get some feedback. The three judges all offered advice about pitching and talked a bit about publishing–in ways that made publishing sound exciting, which let’s be honest and admit is not an easy task–but the advice and comments were general. I had thought there would be some American Idol-esque element to it, wherein a finalist would pitch and then the judges would opine about what they thought had worked and how perhaps a pitch could be improved.
I’m going to guess it was time constraints.
I’m going to also mention the stereotypically fragile egos of authors. I’m not sure how true that stereotype is, but I know that some of my colleagues at USC couldn’t handle feedback, and there were tears in class. Not sure if Galleycat was just hoping to avoid such scenes. If so, can’t blame them.
Then again, when you go see a Battle of the Bands, the bands mostly don’t get feedback, right? Just one of them emerges as best performance (which is not necessarily best band, or most musically talented, it’s worth noting). That’s how Better Than Ezra got its name, in fact; the band didn’t have one, and it went to a Battle of the Bands where Ezra played, and they were just like, “We’re better than Ezra.”
Which is sorta cocky but also sort of awesome. I mean, that’s the only context by which anyone really actually knows of Ezra. And I like Better Than Ezra.
I was doubly surprised by this lack when, prior to the event, while mingling with the judges, Jason Ashlock said one of his notes on my pitch had been my “exceptional title.” I’m quoting him on that, because he works on a lot of cool projects with a lot of cool clients, and I wasn’t among the three pitch “winners” but Jason made my night with that comment.
I put “winners” in quotation there because one of Jason Boog’s comments, as host-with-the-most, was to emphasize there were no winners or losers and everyone who participated was doing so because they had written something . . . well, exceptional, really.
Which is pretty awesome, and I’m totally not going to argue.
So the pitch party was ten writers reading their query letters and three judges’ comments about pitches and publishing, and surprisingly enough, it wasn’t nearly as boring as the previous clause probably made it sound. That whole solitary thing falls apart when you put writers in a room, especially when there’s alcohol involved. Because really the pitch party was a group of people who care about stories and words and how both can change the world talking and laughing and chatting about everything they cared about, which was, of course, not limited to any of those things.