Back in 2004 our local Word on the Street festival decided to hold a “Pitch the Publisher” session – inviting three maritime publishers to sit in judgement – ala Dragons Den and/or Shark Tank – over the pitches of several dozen local writers.
The deal was that you got about three minutes to stand up and tell those publishers just why they could not go on living without publishing your next book.
I was one of those first-pitch writers.
About this time last year I was asked for an interview for a local literary magazine. They were doing a feature on PITCH THE PUBLISHER – and they wanted to interview me about my experiences at the very first Halifax Word on the Street PITCH THE PUBLISHER sessions.
Unfortunately, I was sick at the time they asked me – pneumonia, if I recollect – which is my way of saying that I fumbled the ball. By the time I had returned the answers to their interview I was too late for the magazine deadline.
So this interview – never before published – is appearing here today.
I’m posting this because they have just opened the gates for applications to this year’s PITCH THE PUBLISHER session – http://www.atlanticpublishers.ca/news-events/entry/pitch-the-publisher-registration-opens-september-10/ – and I figure a lot of local writers might benefit from my experience.
PITCH THE PUBLISHER
One Success Story
Why did you decide to first participate in Pitch the Publisher?
I got into writing back in the mid-80’s and had grown accustomed and frustrated with the entire process of dealing with your editors through slow tedious snailmail. This is a hard concept for some young writers to wrap their heads around but there was a time when writers had to buy postage stamps in bulk. We had to know what an SASE was. We had to get used to waiting weeks and weeks to hear back from an editor or a publisher. E-mail has changed all that. I can get online and talk to a publisher in minutes – if the wind is blowing in the proper direction. But there was still a feeling of distance. I saw the Pitch the Publisher session as a solid gold opportunity to meet with these mysterious beings that I had been corresponding with for so many years. It was a little like a holy man getting an interview with God. Finally, I had the chance to look them in the eye and grin at them.
Did you present an idea, or did you have a manuscript completed?
I had nothing but an idea – which is probably the worst way to go into a Pitch the Publisher session. But I was armed with an uncanny sense of self confidence, honed by years of live storytelling. When you get up in front of an audience, seeking to entertain, you require an inordinate amount of moxie and chutzpah. Making the pitch was nothing more than telling these folks a story about what I wanted to write. At the end of the pitch one of the publishers asked me if I was some kind of a stand-up comedian. I took that as a good omen.
What did you get out of it the first time?
What did I get out of it? A shot at a publishing contract. A chance to hear how publishers actually think. All of that and some funny smelling stains beneath my armpits.
How did you feel about the experience?
It was nerve wracking, make no mistake about that. But it was also entertaining and highly educational. I hunkered down and sat for the whole morning taking in as many pitches as I could. Getting the opportunity to hear how publishers think is invaluable in the submission process. Pitch the Publisher gave me the opportunity to hear what publishers were looking for and what they definitely were not looking for. This insight gave me a fresh perspective on how I wanted to package my initial submission.
What happened next?
I met with Sandra McIntyre, who was then the head editor at Nimbus. She told me what she was looking for and then I went home to write it. We started with a few sample stories to give her an idea of my style. Then I went on to put the whole book together. We went through about six title and cover changes before coming up with Haunted Harbours. The title was my idea – but believe you me, I had a whole lot of ideas back then. Originally, the book was to have been called A Chowder of Ghosts – which isn’t bad but might lead potential buyers to imagine that they are getting themselves a cookbook, rather than a collection of ghost stories. They edited it until the pages looked bloodstained and I went home and corrected every one of the goof-ups that they’d caught me at. There were an awful lot of goof-ups, let me tell you. Then I handed it back. They looked at it some more. There was another bout of slashing edits that I had to endure. More corrections.
Finally, it was done.
Your pitch was picked up by Nimbus–how did this happen?
I remember this clearly. Two publishers were looking at it – Formac and Nimbus. They kind of talked it over and flipped a coin and decided that I should go with Nimbus. In hindsight I am intensely grateful that that invisible coin fell the way it did. Nimbus has been absolutely wonderful to work with. I see me working with them for a lot of years to come. I still might like to work with a YA specific publisher – simply because I am a greedily practical kind of man and the thought of four steady royalty checks a year makes me giggle like a giddy little school girl.
What was the process like pitching your second book to Nimbus? How did this compare to the Pitch the Publisher experience?
The second book was easier to pitch. By the time I approached Nimbus, the first book had sold a couple thousand copies and they felt that it was time to move ahead with another book. I suggested a follow-up collection to Haunted Harbours and they counter-suggested me trying my hand at a collection of stories from New Brunswick – which resulted in my second collection, Wicked Woods.
What do you have to say to the aspiring (or closeted) writers contemplating making a pitch? One piece of sound advice that would equip one with for their big moment?
Let me quote you from an e-mail of advice I wrote my sister-in-law when she was taking part in Pitch the Publisher.
Stand up and speak clearly.
Be ready for questions like – What is your book about? Have a short explanation ready. Think about the blurb you might read on your television schedule about an upcoming movie. You’ll also be asked why you think that you are the person to write this book. Have an answer ready. Be ready to hit them with your answers like a gunfighter drawing his pistol. Think fast and aim for accuracy.
Other questions that you will be asked include – What is your market? Who can we sell this book too?
Be clear, concise and confident. Be yourself. Above all else have fun.
So that’s it. That’s the interview. I hope it helps some.
For any writers in the maritime area who do not make the time to attend WORD ON THE STREET this year – do yourself and bend over and kick yourself twice, hard.
WORD ON THE STREET is our maritime equivalent of Woodstock. I make it a point to attend every year. Actually, I was a participant in the original Word On The Street. I stood on Spring Garden Road on a milk carton, shouting poetry to those folks who cared to listen.
The milk carton didn’t break.
I was thinner back then.
I also told pirate stories at a storytelling corner and read a horror story at a local science fiction group’s table.
I’ve always had a great time at Word on the Street. I have met wonderful people, heard amazing words, bought heaps of books and just plain had fun.
Which is what this whole life is supposed to be – isn’t it?
I’ll be there this year at WORD ON THE STREET – reading from my brand new collection MARITIME MURDER.
For more information on this year’s WORD ON THE STREET festival go to their website.
They usually update that page at the very last minute – so keep an eye on it for current developments.
I am scheduled to read at the “Open Book” stage from 4:00 – 4:30 with a signing following that.
I hope to be signing my books throughout the day at a couple of other unannounced locations.
I’ll keep you all posted.
Yours in storytelling,