A packed lecture theatre with air-conditioning set to Arctic+, three publishers and 15 opportunities to pitch – what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, nothing and everything…

At the start the daylong publishing seminar, everyone interested in pitching their book was encouraged to put their name down on a list – and many did. The list was closed mid afternoon and the names were put into a large box as individual strips of paper. Once the actual pitch session started, 15 names were selected at random across the course of the hour. This meant we didn’t know if we’d been chosen until our name was called, at which point we had no more than three minutes to impress.

The best possible outcome was for one or more of the publishers to say something along the lines of ‘I’d like to hear more; send your manuscript to me’. Next best was to be asked questions that showed engagement and interest of some sort. Less good was if the comments showed either no interest or were really feedback to say that the book was an unlikely contender. Worst was to stand up and freeze – or simply choose to not pitch even though your name was drawn.

One person left before it even started and one other chose not to pitch. That left thirteen slots – and a room full of anxious hopefuls. As I listened to each of the pitches I was reminded of a number of things: speak clearly, don’t ramble, be prepared to answer whatever questions are thrown your way, don’t try to tell the whole story, and use humour if you can (but only if you can do it well!). Of the thirteen pitches I heard, four appeared to get the nod – I wasn’t one of them

By the time the second last name was to be called I’d accepted that it was unlikely that I’d be pitching. Then event MC read out my name – and the world got a bit fuzzy for a moment. I could claim that my chronic sinus infection and (very) annoying cough played a part in my less than stellar performance, but it was probably nerves more than anything else. I rushed through my piece and was left in a well of silence for a moment before anyone responded. My brain went into meltdown trying to figure out whether the silence was a good thing or a bad thing, so when the questions finally came my answers took a moment or two to formulate. The questions the publishers asked and the comments they made led me to understand that my pitch hadn’t informed the audience in the way that I’d intended. Although I spoke clearly, didn’t ramble and was more or less prepared for questions, I hadn’t provided enough detail – or perhaps the right sort of detail. Just as well I’d avoided humour… and possibly a pity I didn’t resort to cookies!

Actually, the most entertaining part of the afternoon was seeing the MC dip her hand into the box of names, recoil slightly and then discreetly call the sound engineer over to her table. After a quiet chat, he put his hand into the box and came out with… an enormous cockroach. By now my attention was riveted on the by-play and on the MC’s combination of tightly controlled horror and suppressed giggles. These only increased when the A/V guy looked around, casually placed the granddaddy of all cockroaches on his arm, then turned and walked quietly out of the auditorium. It was excruciatingly funny, particularly as it took place during one of the pitches and most of the audience and all of the publishers were focused on the speaker and appeared oblivious to the entire incident.

It may be time for me to get back into formal public speaking in order to hone the rusty skills and quell the butterflies. Meantime, I have an elevator pitch to work on, and author bio to update and a book proposal to submit.

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