Friday, June 13, 2008

Bitching About Pitching

I went to the NJSCBCI Conference last weekend too (see post below). Like J.A., I loved Cheryl Klein’s workshop on how to create characters. She basically had everyone in the room working together to create a character, by filling in a list of 20 or so character traits divided into two categories—who the character is (his/her essence) and what the character does (action). I’d like to try this exercise with my critique group on Friday, if everyone’s game.

Also great was a slide show presentation given by an editor (Robin Tordini) and creative director (Patrick Collins) from Henry Holt, showing interior and cover designs through each stage of the approval process from initial sketches through bound books. Even though the workshop had a design bent, it reminded me of how many people would have to approve my manuscript if it’s going to be accepted. Not that I needed or wanted reminding.

I opted out of the group speed-pitching session, but I stayed in the room and watched it happen (and took pictures, above). I must say, it scared the writerly pants off me. I don’t mean the pitching part. No, I mean seeing the large room, filled wall-to-wall with writers and illustrators, the noisy sound of simultaneous pitching, everyone clamoring to make a lasting impression on an editor. A writer had only two minutes to do this before the heartless whistle blew and he or she moved on to the next two editors. When the whistle blew a third time, it was game over. Time to leave the pitching mound. Buh-bye.

Sure, plenty of lovely requests for manuscripts came out of it, so why was it so scary? Because it was a living, breathing, deafening microcosm of what I’m up against as a writer: The mind-boggling number of writers trying to sell books, some just like mine. Editors becoming glassy-eyed (despite their best efforts) as they listened to pitch after pitch. I mean, how different could this be from reading piles of manuscripts at the office? It was yet another not-so-gentle reminder of how frighteningly competitive the market is. Not that I needed reminding about this either. But there it was.


  1. Regina Griffin mentioned how many "competent" manuscripts she receives. She said it used to be much easier to go through the slush. Yes, the competition is stiff.

  2. I've never experienced/suffered through a Pitch Session. I'm sure I'd be tongue-tied. But I do think it's valuable to learn to be able to describe your story in 25 words or less. I've never been very good at it.