The conference went on, with all of us trying to revise our novel pitches into something that would pique an agent or publisher’s interest. A pitch, for those with an interest in these things, is a short description of your novel, including its setting, major plot points and characters, couched in terms that make it sound both original and exciting, all in the space of 150-200 words if written, or in about two minutes if spoken. If that sounds hard, it is. Oh, and you also have to give “comparables” – books which are similar in style or thrust to yours – as well as a brief description of yourself and your qualifications to write said book. This is called a “platform.”
I found it extremely difficult to write my pitch. I thought I’d written a good novel, with bright, interesting characters and a strong plot, but based on my pitch, Gadfly told me it was nothing special. Expanding on that, he told me my pitch lacked a hook and an original premise. Since I was writing fantasy, I needed something that would make my novel stand out from the crowd. Even thought he hadn’t read Word One of my novel, I knew Gadfly was right, but I couldn’t figure out how to emphasize the novel’s strong points within the strictures of the pitch form. Beyond pointing out the flaws in my pitch, Gadfly wasn’t a lot of help; he had very strong opinions about what would or wouldn’t sell. He hated my main character’s name and told me there were too many characters with the same name (I did some research and couldn’t find one). He was particularly enamored of steampunk and suggested it not only to me but to at least one other fantasy writer in the group. Some of his suggestions bordered on trying to write my book for me, and I could feel myself digging in my heels, which meant I was going nowhere. By midday I was feeling hopeless. Some of my fellow writers were in the same camp, but the majority of them were scribbling away on new pitches – some of them with completely new plots and characters – which we were expected to present that afternoon. In two days we would be pitching our novels to a couple of real agents, so the pressure was on. I wasn’t willing to pitch major rewrites until I knew where I was headed, so I told Gadfly I felt like my legs had been cut out from under me, and to my surprise, he promised to work with me that evening after dinner.
Saratoga and Oz were also unhappy. Saratoga’s solution was to put the novel she’d pitched aside and pitch a different one altogether, but neither Oz nor I had that option. Oz had come a long way to the conference, at considerable expense, and she said she was thinking about chucking it all and going to NYC, just to get some fun out of the trip. After we broke for the day she had a meeting with Gadfly that turned hostile (no surprise). We went to dinner and commiserated. When I got back I talked with Gadfly about my pitch issues. I told him that I understood and agreed with many of his criticisms, but that I couldn’t simply jettison everything I’d written just to come up with something that had a sexy marketing hook, not in two days. I also refused to change my main character’s name, or the setting of the story. He was annoyed, but not excessively so. While he met with two other writers, I sat at the dining room table with a glass of wine and knocked out a pitch that while not brilliant, at least was a little more palatable to Gadfly and still true to the novel I’d written. I even shared my bottle with Gadfly, who seemed to appreciate it.
The next morning I was up early (I hadn’t been sleeping much anyway; few of us had) and as I made my tea, Gadfly came out on the landing above. “Good morning, Miss Stubborn!” he said to me, and I just smiled and said, “That’s me.” The pressure was off for the morning; we had a guest speaker, a respected but not big-name author who was also a teacher, and he fielded our questions about the writing life. He was friendly and comforting and full of wonderful advice, and I felt as if I’d been thrown a life-preserver of sanity in the midst of all our writing turmoil. We broke for lunch, then it was back to the pitches. I presented my revised pitch to general approval, but I felt that while all of us now knew what Gadfly was asking for and were largely able to deliver it, there was still a lot of tension and unhappiness in the room. Things weren’t helped along when we discovered that neither of the two agents we’d be pitching the next day dealt in fiction.
For a change, Gadfly had given us an actual writing exercise to do for the following day, and I was so grateful not to have to work on my pitch any more that ideas were almost spewing out of me. I sat at the dining table with laptop, wine and good music feeding through my earphones, and wrote almost nonstop. Our guest speaker had told us about writing with his computer screen turned off so he didn’t disturb his flow by editing as he went; I didn’t go so far as that, but I did decide to go to bed without the extensive editing that I normally do after I write something. I poured Gadfly a glass of wine and went to bed, and for a change, I actually slept.