EWF Unpacking: Polish Your Pitch and Publishing Masterclass

I’ve been pretty dilatory about posting up these notes, but I’m slowly getting them out there! Here’s some more useful wisdom from the Emerging Writers’ Festival!

I took very few photos at the festival, but I did manage to get this one of my name tag and my awesome shoes.

I took very few photos at the festival, but I did manage to get this one of my name tag and my awesome shoes.

Polish Your Pitch - Class by Jennifer Baker (publishing professional of 16 years, host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, contributing editor to Electric Literature, essayist)

I have pages and pages of notes from this class taught by Jennifer Baker, including some very specific suggestions she made for a story I’ve been trying to pitch. Here are some of the highlights though:

  • First, follow the rules on pitching. Actually read the publication’s submission guidelines and make sure you know what type of work they’re working for. It’s a waste of your time and theirs if you pitch something that doesn’t follow their guidelines and/or is just totally wrong for their publication.

  • Your article topics need to be specific and interesting. Your goal is to get a “I haven’t heard this before” from the person you’re pitching to. If you’re writing on a common topic, make sure to specify what makes your spin different and unique.

  • If you can’t find a person’s name or can’t figure out how they identify, it’s okay if you just say “Dear Editor.” Just don’t make assumptions!

  • The editor is coming at your piece with a few things in their minds: “Can you do the thing you’re saying you can do?” “Is it worth my time and effort to pay you?” “Is the structure and voice of the piece there?” You want to be able to answer all these questions in your pitch. The more fleshed out and structured the idea, the less work the editor needs to do to get it up to par.

  • If someone rejects your pitch, don’t take it personally! Jennifer said: “As an editor, I have rarely ever NOT taken a pitch because of someone’s bad writing. I don’t believe in bad writing, but I do see unfocused writing.”

Publishing Masterclass - Class by Jane Friedman (20 years of experience in publishing industry, author of The Business of Being a Writer and The Authors Guild Guide to E-Publishing)

I actually had to leave this class 1/3 of the way through to go volunteer for the festival in another location, but I still learned SO MUCH. I’m really glad I got to go for at least that much.

I found this sweet pupper hanging out in Old Town Alexandria near the festival while walking between events one day. <3

I found this sweet pupper hanging out in Old Town Alexandria near the festival while walking between events one day. <3

  • To submit to publishers, you need:

    • A finished manuscript for a fiction book

    • A book proposal for a nonfiction book

    • For a memoir, you probably should have both a finished manuscript and a book proposal, as some publishers will want one or the other and plenty will want both.

  • Before you submit, you need to make sure your manuscript or proposal is the best you can make it. You need to resolve all the problems or hire someone to do it for you. No one EXPECTS you to hire an editor for revisions, but it’s certainly an option.

  • If you want a large/mid-size publisher, it’s a good idea to get an agent.

  • It’s really important to define the genre of your book so you can find the correct agents and publishers. This can be hard since some book genres are pretty nebulous.

    • For example, “Literary fiction” is sometimes publisher code for “will not sell.” However, once it makes the best seller list, a literary fiction book’s genre tends to magically change to “mainstream fiction.” (There are no particular requirements for either of these genres).

    • You can sometimes get away without picking a genre for your book by comparing it to another work instead, but that doesn’t always work.

  • Hard to sell works: Poetry, collections, multi-genre work, “hard to categorize” books

    • Even if your work is “hard to categorize,” just label it something. People run in the opposite direction at the sound of “hard to categorize.” “If you don’t know, they won’t know either.”

  • Projects that are more commercially viable:

    • Fiction - Genre, commercial, or mainstream narratives of about 80,000 words. You can go as low as 50,000, but that’s as low as you can go. Once you reach 100,000, you’ll get some pushback about it being too long or needing more editing.

    • If you’re trying to get a nonfiction book published by a large publisher, you need a platform. Your visibility and authority can matter as much as the content. They expect you to bring the audience to the publisher, not vice versa.

      • if you’re a journalist or professor or have some sort of career that gives you credibility on a topic, that can help you with your nonfiction author platform.

  • Less commercially viable projects:

    • Narratives that are 120,000+ words.

    • Children’s picture books, cookbooks, travel, short fiction, essay collections, poetry, anthologies of any kind