I went to the Australian Society of Authors ‘Literary Speed Dating’ day last week. I know it sounds like something I found on Tinder, but really it’s where you line up at the publisher you think would be most likely to be interested in your much-slaved-over-masterpiece and spend 90 seconds telling them about it, and another 90 seconds answering their questions (if they’re interested).
First, let me say I wasn’t ready to pitch. At all. Nowhere near it. I almost didn’t even go but I didn’t want to let down a friend who was also going. And I supposed it would be good practice (even though there were only two publishers I had even half a chance with between them, AND I’d rather pitch to agents).
But I’m so glad I went! Last minute addition to the publishing line-up was Zoe Walton from Penguin Random House. I was third in her line so got to make my pitch almost straight away. She laughed in all the right places and I guess she loved it.
But when I told her it was YA she was blown away. ‘No,’ she said. ‘It’s waaaaaayy younger than that.’ So I repitched it to another publisher as Upper Middle Grade (and knocked a pretend 20,000 words off the count to compensate) and yet I was told it was still waaaaaayy younger. And the second publisher had no questions for me. We were done. Gone in 90 seconds. It wasn’t for her. *Cue sad music*
So. What next? Is my pitch truly reflective of the story? Or have I totally misunderstood what different age groups like? Either way, this is something I’m really glad I found out now. (And no, in case you’re wondering, giving up is not on the cards!)
Let’s break it down: both publishers are telling me “animals as main characters = children’s book”.
I didn’t have time (or presence of mind) to ask: then what of George Orwell’s Animal Farm? or Richard Adams’ Watership Down?
Anyway I would have sounded argumentative and I definitely wasn’t being that way. I truly appreciated Zoe’s advice. I saved my sad face and hurt for later on, where no-one could see…
So, after a weekend of soul-searching (and re-visiting the NSW curriculum to see what the young adults are being
forced encouraged to read in school) I’ve decided it’s a bit of both, with my pitch containing the bigger wrong. I can’t share the pitch itself with you here (as pitches pretty much give away the end of the story) but I can share the signs that point to where I’ve gone wrong.
Firstly, if you’ve ever written a pitch, you know how hawking hard it is! Do I pitch the novel, or do I pitch the series? Is what’s happening to the character the best way to sum up the story, or is the allegory of his journey the better way? (And with questions like that, deciding which characters and events to put in or leave out were the easy questions! All this in about 250 words…)
And secondly, if you’ve read my ‘Birds of a Feather‘ page on my website, you’ll know I’ve been having a lot of trouble nailing down a genre. Big Clue Number Two.
So. Obviously I first I need to nail down the genre. My story is a tongue-in-cheek look at humanity (that part of the pitch I can share). It’s what us Aussies call a piss-take. I also view it as a cross between John Green’s and David Levithan’s YA masterpiece Will Grayson, Will Grayson (because my MC is too caught up in himself to see things clearly) and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld (in its world-building scope and range of non-human characters). So why isn’t it YA?
Well, YA often deals with experiencing questions of sexuality, death, and the lure of all things exciting for the first time. Mine does not deal with death as something to be discussed, understood, wondered at – it deals with death as an everyday event. It doesn’t question the rights and wrongs of sexuality, it accepts sexuality as different for everyone and moves on. Excitement in the form of fast races, alcoholism and addictions occur without remark. It is not YA. And it is definitely not younger.
Secondly, I think my pitch needs to lose its cutesiness and find some hard grit, while keeping the laughs. Now that’s going to be the hard part. I’ll let you know how I go. In the meantime, I’ll keep my beak up!