The idea of ‘Literary Speed Dating’, standing in front of publishers and agents to pitch your novel, is enough to strike terror into the heart of most writers. I mean, we slave over our carefully crafted words FOR YEARS, honing them into something shiny and worthy of showing the world. The last thing we want to do after all that work is talk about it.
Nevertheless, Saturday 15th November, 2014, saw me lining up with 49 other hopefuls outside of the New South Wales Writers’ Centre in beautiful Rozelle, all awaiting our chance to dazzle our potential publisher or literary agent, and make the most of the three minutes (you read that right, just three minutes) in the spotlight, or at the very least to not make complete fools of ourselves!
Most of my waiting time was spent cursing my flippancy in January at signing up to the speed dating on a whim when my friend (and pitching buddy) Lisa Fleetwood (you can read her experience of the day here), told me she was going. I kept asking myself why I put myself through these sort of things, and wondering if the time I’d spent yesterday rehearsing my pitch a million times to the wall* might not better have been spent, well, writing something. Mostly it was spent just feeling really, really, hideously nervous.
*maybe not quite a million, but close enough
Then, they announced we were going in. As part of my research into Literary Speed Dating (or LSD, as it is affectionately called), I’d read this wonderful article by Diana Jenkins here, about her LSD experience. It gave me the impression that I’d be facing a scene somewhere between a mosh-pit and boxing-day sales trying to get into the queue I wanted, so I made sure I’d scoped out the rooms before the pitching started and knew right where I wanted to go first.
As it turned out, I need not have bothered. The event was expertly managed, the pitchers to publishers ratio meant there were no queues longer than about 10 people, and roving assistants moved along any pitchers who stayed glued to their chair much longer than the hooter.
Literary Speed Dating, with John Anet and Robin Riedstra
I joined the queue for my number one choice, and waited for the four people in front of me to finish up their pitches before taking my turn. The hooter went, and I was on. The first pitch went great. I’d made a little powerpoint video that ran on my ipad, which worked swimmingly, and my speech flowed without me even having to look at the paper. My first three chapters were requested.
There was only one other publisher who had expressed an interest in fantasy listed, so I lined up in her queue, and pitched again. Again, success. First three chapters taken.
Two from two, I thought, and I popped into the other room just to wish Lisa best of luck with her remaining pitches, when one of the friendly roving assistants suggested that one particular publisher was offering feedback on all pitches, and would I like the opportunity to practice my pitch again?
I could have said no. I could have gone home. But I was here. I’d put on a suit, for goodness sake, and done my makeup, and practiced the darn thing, yes, of course I’d take another opportunity to pitch! Again, the pitch went well. Three pitches in, all the nerves had dissipated and I’d really found my stride. This particular publisher looked at me and said ‘I don’t publish that, but I have a colleague who might be interested’. I’d only brought two copies of my first three chapters, so had to settle for exchanging business cards and a promise to send my work over.
I’m really done now, I thought. But I was feeling so on top of the world, I could have pitched another twenty times. By now, the queues were all but gone, and you could pretty much just plonk yourself down with any of the publishers, which I noticed that many people were doing, regardless of their “preferred” publications.
“I’d really hoped there would be more fantasy publishers”, I said to the lovely Jacqui Dent, a writer and employee of the ASA, who I have met at a couple of other events. She suggested I try one of the other publishers, even though I didn’t think they would be looking for the type of thing I write.
Well, it’s worth a shot. The worst they can say is ‘no’.
I explained my novel; very gritty, female-driven fantasy, and proceeded into my spiel. To my surprise, the publisher asked her colleague to listen to the pitch, so I did it all over again, and nearly fell over when this particular publisher requested, not just the first three chapters, but the WHOLE MANUSCRIPT. You could have knocked me off the chair with a feather.
Needless to say, I’m so grateful to Lisa who told me I should sign up to LSD. It was a great day, thanks to careful planning and a good pitch. Thank you to the ASA, the NSWWC and to all the publishers and agents who attended for a fantastic event, so well organized and valuable. I would highly recommend anyone with a novel waiting to find a home attend one of these events!
Now, of course, comes the hard part, waiting to find out if anyone wants my manuscript with a view to publication. I can only hope my words take me the rest of the way there.
How The Event Runs
You can read all the details on how the event runs on the ASA’s website here, but here are a few things they don’t mention that you might find useful:
- You pitch across a table, sitting down: This is useful to know, as it means you don’t need to worry about palm cards. A sheet of paper in front of you is quite sufficient, and there’s plenty of space to plop your bags down beside you. If, like me, you have anything digital planned, there is plenty of room to set up a laptop or iPad.
- Editors/Publishers are spread out around the room: This one should have been obvious, but I had this idea of all the publishers in a line for some reason. It means you don’t quite have to yell so loud. Publishers from the same publishing house sit next to each other.
- There’s a little give-and-take with the bell: Again, I had this idea that you’d be cut off mid-sentence if you went over the three minutes, and the person behind you would be pushing you out of the seat. There was about ten seconds to wrap-up for each person after the hooter, (enough time to exchange cards and information) after which time, the ASA rep would move you along.
My Top Tips for a Successful LSD Event
BEFORE THE EVENT
- Book Early: Really early. This event ran in November, but I believe it was pretty much a sell-out by May.
- Dress to Impress: Obviously, it is up to you what you wear and what you feel comfortable in, but I wore a suit and jacket. For me, the most important thing was to make a publisher believe in me and my work, and that meant looking ‘business-y’ and professional. When you’ve only got three minutes to make an impression, everything counts. Chose your outfit well in advance. Choose two outfits, one you can wear in cold weather and one in warm, as the weather can be quite changeable in November, and you don’t want to be sweating if its hot!
- Write a Killer Pitch: This is easier said than done, of course. If you don’t know how to write a pitch (or even if you think you do), it is highly recommended to attend the ASA’s Pitch Perfect course. This was an invaluable course, and I got a lot of take-aways from it that were hugely useful for the pitching, many of which I’d never read in books about pitching. The most important thing, though, was that the course included having a publisher look over my pitch. Start writing your pitch early. Speed Dating comes around before you know it, and you’ll want a week at least to practice your pitch. Make sure you include all the most important things: length of m/s, genre, audience (adult, YA), whether it is ready for submission or not.
- Practice, practice, practice: Practice on the wall. Practice on your friends, your dog, your kids. Get feedback. What works? What doesn’t? Are there any boring parts? Does your listener understand what your book is about? Do they have any questions that need answering? Do you speak too fast? Do your words slur together? Do you have any annoying habits, like playing with jewellery or fiddling with your fingers? Now’s the time to iron out the kinks. Time your speech. You’ve only got three minutes, and the publisher/agent will want to ask questions. Your speech should not be much more than two minutes.
- Prepare your paperwork: The ASA recommends bringing your entire m/s to the event. I don’t know why you would want to do this. Apart from being a huge waste of paper if your m/s isn’t requested, the publishers might listen to up to 40 pitches each. Unless you write picture books, there’s no way they want to carry home 40 manuscripts. I suggest you bring a standard submission pack – synopsis, three chapters (polished until they are as shiny as a drill-sergeant’s boots) and your contact details. If you have business cards, attach one. If you are not too shy, consider putting your face on your business card. It may look a bit OTT, but you’d be surprised how much easier it makes the publisher’s job when they can attach the face to the work later on.
- Prepare Yourself: Make a list of the publishers you want to see, and their names. Prioritise. Just like any important event, make sure you’ve checked your map and know where you’re going. Being late will make you stressed. Eat a good breakfast/lunch. Carbs are important to make your brain function, and a growling tummy is a big distraction!
DURING THE EVENT
- Scope it out: When you get to the event, register, and make sure you ask where the person you most want to see will be seated. I highly recommend having a quick sticky-beak inside the venue if you can. This way you can see the set up, and know exactly where your preferred publishers are sitting.
- Pitch Your Heart Out: Be confident, and personable when pitching. Smile and introduce yourself. Shake hands. No matter how nervous you are, acknowledging that the publisher/agent is a person is always going to stand you in good stead. Deliver your pitch with a strong voice. It can be quite noisy in the venue, especially when lots of people are talking at once.
- Be gracious: Whatever feedback you are given, take it on board, and with good grace. These people are experts. They know what they’re talking about. Say thank you when you leave.
- Consider others. When the hooter goes, try to wrap up your conversation quickly, exchange cards and information, and move on. This event only works if people respect one another. (Just out of interest, there is a small buffer in the bell system, allowing a few seconds for intros / wrap-ups, so you will probably find the person in front of you will go over 10 secs or so, and you will do the same).
- See your publishers/agents in order of preference: Whatever that may be. Some people like to see their second preference first, to shake out the nerves before hitting up their preferred publisher. Whatever works. If you completely stuff it, there’s always the opportunity to join the back of the queue and try again.
- If you’ve time: In my experience, it is worth asking publishers if they’re interested in your pitch, even if you may not be in their preferred genre. Do this at the end, when the crowds are thinning, so you’re not getting in the way of anyone who is desperate to pitch to that publisher. At the very least, you may be able to get some feedback on your pitch, and if they really like you, they may have someone they can refer you to.
- Wine Time! Regardless of the outcome of your speed dating event, by the end of the two hours you deserve a pat on the back and a reward (I suggest chocolate and alcohol, but that’s just my preference). You’ve achieved something amazing – putting yourself into the firing line, and putting yourself ‘out there’ for something you really believe in – your novel! That in itself is an awesome achievement.
Until next time!