Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pitchapalooza 2016

Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) helped me turn a corner as a writer. Once I joined in the annual November festivities of attempting to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month's time, I released my inner editor and actually began finishing manuscripts instead of writing three or four chapters and then abandoning the work when the next idea took hold. It was like a gate opened up at the races and I poured out of it determined to cross the finish line.

When a writer completes the 50,000 word goal (and most of the time, for me that is only part-way to the end of the manuscript, so I often write into December until that first draft is completed), Nanowrimo sends out alerts of various winner offers. This year, one of the offers jumped out at me. It was a pitching contest called Pitchapalooza, presented by The Book Doctors, the husband and wife team of Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry.

You are only allowed 250 words or less, so I hammered and honed a pitch for my most recent Nanowrimo effort, my YA novel entitled The Probability Code, and sent it off. The Book Doctors review the pitches and randomly select 25 to critique on their website. Writers are encouraged to visit the site, review the pitches and critiques, and then vote for their favorite one. The popular vote is announced and The Book Doctors also select their favorite. The popular vote winner receives a free one hour consultation with The Book Doctors and the top winner is introduced to a publisher/agent who is a fit for that particular pitch. It is a great opportunity to learn about pitching your work (enticing an agent or publisher to read your whole manuscript).

This year there were 758 entries. Sadly, my pitch was not randomly selected for critique. But, there was another offer. If you purchase The Book Doctors' book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It ... Successfully, and present evidence of the purchase, you will receive a free twenty minute consultation with The Book Doctors, worth $100. Knowing the chance was slim that my pitch would be randomly selected for critique, I opted to buy the book.

Today was my consultation with The Book Doctors and, although the time went very quickly, I was able to present my pitch for The Probability Code and to receive David Sterry's opinions on its viability. Here is my pitch:

"For fourteen-year-old Kamal Malone life is anything but easy. While everything seems to drop into place for her older sister, Cosmos, for Kamal, just going to school fills her heart with dread. Besieged by social anxiety, walking through the crowded halls of her high school produces the same adrenaline rush most people experience during the running of the bulls. Only for Kamal, it is simply terrifying with none of the excitement factor.

"And now, thanks to the Population Control Council, Kamal's anxiety is at a fever pitch. Due to the perfect storm of food, water, and energy shortages, the Council has instituted the Probability Code Exam. This exam is supposed to determine an individual's probability of societal success. Cosmos passed the exam with ease the previous Spring, but now Kamal's name is on the list and seeing her name there brings on a full-blown panic attack.

"Those with the highest scores are culled to work in the Nurturing Program, flooding genetically rich infants with stimulation to encourage brain development. Thus, Cosmos is paired with the handsome and intelligent Ned Finnegan to work with Clay Taylor. But those who score in the lower ten percent on the exam will be shipped off to segregation communities with minimal resources. Will Kamal's test anxiety keep her from revealing her true potential? Can Cosmos and Ned help Kamal fight the anxieties that hold her hostage? If she doesn't pass the exam, how will she possibly handle life in the mysterious segregation community?"

Here was the primary observation David offered me: The pitch is telling ideas but not presenting actions. I need to make the reader root for the character more and get more inside the character's mind and emotions. Thus, I offered to read to David the first paragraph of the novel itself:

"She would die of a heart attack right there on the locker room floor. She wouldn't even be allowed to die alone. No. It would have to happen right there with Penny Schumacher standing at her locker staring at her, open-mouthed, as she crawled along on the floor gasping for breath, trying to ease the painful throb deep in her chest."

He seemed very pleased with that snippet, announcing that it revealed good writing, an enticing voice, and the full range of emotions presented so that he could actually feel what the character was feeling. He encouraged me to rework the pitch so that I condensed the action and emotion of that first paragraph of the actual novel into a nugget. He reminded me to think of the pitch as a movie trailer, presenting a scene economically and then pulling back to present the world the character is inhabiting and the obstacles she faces. I simply need to show it more clearly, instead of telling the ideas behind the novel. Once I rework the pitch, he encouraged me to road test it by sending it out to ten people. He suggested that I join the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), where I can meet others who could provide me with valuable feedback and also come in contact with editors who might be enticed by my pitch.

All in all, it was a very encouraging and beneficial critique session. He seemed to feel that my idea was a solid one, worth devoting the time and energy to refine and pursue. He said that my first paragraph revealed what he felt would probably be the ability to pull off the ideas presented in the pitch. Best of all, he offered to accept further correspondence (I know he was under no obligation to give me another moment of his time) when I have refined the pitch. He believes he knows several appropriate agents he might pass the pitch along to for consideration. That was really encouraging. Oftentimes in the publishing world, you need to find that someone who knows someone who might be interested in reviewing your work. Connections can be key.

Now, I have several goals before me. I need to finish a few revisions of the novel to make it the best possible manuscript it can be. I need to rework the pitch to provide more action and entice more with the character's emotional response to the conflict. I need to find a few beta readers for the revised manuscript and find ten people to review the revised pitch. And, I agree that I should probably join the SCBWI (where some of those readers might be waiting).

This encouraging consultation came at just the right time. A few weeks ago, I finally heard back from the agent who had requested my If Bones Could Speak manuscript almost a year ago. He wrote: "after some deliberation I've decided your work just isn't quite right for me.  As I'm sure you know, whether or not to take on a client is a very personal decision, and has as much to do with an agent's personal preferences as it does an author's writing abilities."

I will admit, it was discouraging to hear that this agent wasn't a good fit for representation of my manuscript. I had to fight those inner demons yelling, "Just give up. Just quit writing. You obviously aren't any good at this and nobody is ever going to say yes." Now I can fight back against those defeatist attitudes with the encouragement from David Sterry. He seemed to think my manuscript holds great promise. He believes in it enough to offer to pass my work on to someone who might bite (after I revise the pitch further, of course). The hard work will be in getting it polished to the point where I don't believe I can polish it further and learning how to present the best pitch possible (although I do feel I'm not far off because I've enticed two agents and two editors to request my manuscripts based on previous pitches/queries).

If you are a writer you might consider checking out The Book Doctors' book and free consultation offer. Moreover, they are holding a free webinar tomorrow. The links for that are found on their website. As for me, I'm hoping I can listen in so that I can glean even more wisdom about presenting the perfect pitch and pursuing publication for my writing.

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