I imagine it’s a bit like an audition for film role, a casting session, where all the potential actors size each other up in the waiting area. Ultimately they have the same aim, and they can’t all get the part. But they’ve been on a similar journey, fought the same or similar battles for recognition, and at the same time, there is the shy need for acceptance in this singular group of characters.
But no, this is an event for emerging writers, and we’re all anxious for the chance to pitch for our lives at the end. Regardless of the advice we’ve been told and hold as consolation: what will be, will be, a fervent anxiety swells. The chance this month to pitch to a publisher saved my 2017 resolution and accomplished so much more. For all my friends in the real (non-book) world, this might form some kind of explanation as to what goes on in the broad hopes and dreams of us writer types, dreamers that we are.
It was a crazy rare chance to see inside an actual publishing house, and needless to say, one that had published a number of books I’ve reviewed this year. No names, because in the (likely) event of rejection, I will have to console myself with the good feeling while it lasts. But how good it is.
We arrived at a gorgeous (colour-coded) assemblage of books – “Read”, and there was the front desk. You can’t hide the flutters of excitement. It starts with lunch, and you shyly sidle up to other writers, they’re like you, you realise – many have the same anxieties, the same flutters of anticipation. We’re not necessarily a social bunch – we gather in small circles, finding our acquaintances, and in awkward fits and starts blurt out what our life’s work has been to date. Others are so perfectly polished in their delivery, you can’t help but feel they’re already practicing their elevator pitch. Choreographed intimidation. They have speeches prepared. Business cards. In those cases you patiently nod, smile, anticipate the end and are glad that their work is so different from yours. I’m struck again by a feeling I can’t avoid – the “sizing up” – what are you writing? Phew. Young adult literature. Historical fiction. Dodged. But what if that’s the work in demand, the little voice inside asks?
Still, it’s an amazing experience to meet other writers in the same boat. After all, it is such an individual vocation, and often quite isolating. There’s nothing like broadening your horizons to meet other people. Your people.
I can’t detail the whole series of talks throughout the day – mentally there is a disproportionate weight levied on the end pitches. Everyone in that room knows this is a rare chance to avoid the unsolicited slush pile. But there is so much still to be gleaned from those we have come here to emulate. From an in-conversation with a cool young writer, who discusses her journey and relationship with the publisher as “project manager”, to the nitty gritty behind-the-scenes rundown of media, marketing, acquisitions and more. There is a heartening emphasis on stories that create a link to readers, and a particularly human appeal from the publishers themselves: a great story triumphs over all. This is despite the bleakly confronting reality of publishing as a business, with the story – the manuscript – as a product. It’s curious to consider that these were all realities I thought I was conscientiously aware of, yet on that day it seemed like witnessing an anatomical demonstration. The careful dissection of how a book comes to be.
When it came to that brutal moment of pitching, I shook in my literal boots. It’s like a job interview, but the job is one you’ve dreamt of day and night, whether openly or in secret. You’ve taken your soul and imparted it in those typed pages. It’s been years of writing. Hundreds of hours of thought and deliberation. Dreams and nightmares. Despite all the inspirational talks that explain great writers took nine manuscripts, forty rejections and a human sacrifice to be published, it always must seem to hinge on this one interaction, this pitch that has all your hopes vested in it.
Having acquired a spontaneous superstitiousness, I won’t say how the pitch went, but it was an amazing, eye-opening experience, and resulted in forging new friendships. I was able to say to one person, a professional I admire, that their work meant an incredible amount to me. And maybe that person did, in fact, request my submission for consideration.