Literary Speed Dating

Yesterday I arrived at The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne half an hour before the start time of my first Literary Speed Dating event, organised by the Australian Society of Authors.

Wind the clock back five hours and I had just turned off my alarm after lying in bed for at least thirty minutes waiting for it to go off. I felt surprisingly calm and mentally gave myself a pat on the back. Ten minutes later I had my leggings on and was jogging on my mini trampoline. I hadn’t exercised for a couple of weeks because every waking, non-working moment had been spent at my computer rewriting, editing, tearing chunks out of my manuscript and rewriting again.

Breakfast. Shower. The nerves started to hit. I practised my pitch in the shower, while getting dressed and finally to the mirror in the living room, complete with well-placed smiles and gestures. I clutched my manuscript and practised my pitch walking to the tram and in the tram, fleetingly wondering if anyone was watching my lips move.

Back to my entry into the Wheeler Centre. I wasn’t the first one there. I had my name checked off and entered the large room to the left. Chairs were placed along the longer walls and a few people were sitting. I was far too nervous to sit. My heart was almost punching through my rib cage with every beat. I thought I was going to faint. Writers Victoria staff and volunteers were moving around, chatting to everyone and trying to keep anxiety levels down.

Finally the session began. We were allowed into the next room where seven publishers were sitting behind tables placed around the edge. We had been instructed to line up in front of our preferred publisher. Soon the lines snaked close to each other but everyone appeared to know who they were waited for. Somehow I found myself second in line for my first choice.

Each of us had three minutes to pitch. It had been suggested to keep our pitches to one minute, leaving two minutes for any questions the publisher might have. I had timed my pitch to perfection and, when my time came, was able to deliver it word perfect, including smiles and gestures. As I spoke I wondered if the lady across the table from me could see my heart creating rhythmic bumps in my chest.

Despite my efforts, the first publisher did not offer to take my manuscript, but she did suggest I submit online. So I moved into the line for my second choice. I was still feeling nervous, but I could manage a short chat with others in my line. Looking around the room I saw an eclectic bunch of would be authors. There must be a myriad of stories here, just waiting to be told.

I approached my second choice of publisher with no expectations. I smiled, spoke each rehearsed word as eloquently as I could and waited for her polite rejection. Instead she seemed interested and asked a few questions. I could hardly believe it when she indicated I could leave my manuscript with her. I suddenly knew what the expression “walking on air” felt like.

As I left the building I put everything into perspective. Mine was not the only offering the same publisher had accepted. She had a small pile on the corner of her table. Theoretically it was possible she was simply a nice person who had accepted something from everyone who had pitched to her. Still, she had taken my manuscript. Despite knowing her simple act might lead nowhere, I am happy.

Pitching to persuade

I’m nearing the end. After three years and ten months of writing and researching, I can almost say I’m finished with the memoir I began after the death of my father. I’m still rewriting and tweaking and cutting and pasting and editing, but it is nearly there.

Every ending is also a beginning and, in this case, I am beginning to work out how to get my memoir published. Is it even publishable? Will anyone else want to read my story? Have I managed to capture the emotions which propelled me; the see-sawing between dread and excitement which kept me going? Is my writing good enough? These are questions I ask myself. One way to find out is to begin to put my manuscript out there, to pitch my memoir to publishers and agents. At the end of this month I will be attending a Literary Speed Dating event and I have spent much of this weekend working on my pitch to the publishers and agents who will be there. It has been an enlightening and somewhat frustrating exercise.

There are parameters for the pitch. The central concept of my memoir, which is around 80,000 words, must be delivered in no longer than one minute, two at the maximum. One minute to explain the intricacies of my research into my father’s past, much of it having to be translated from a foreign language. One minute to describe my quest into discovering his history. One minute in which to condense almost four years of investigation, not only into his life but also into the times in which he lived. One minute!

It is an exercise which has challenged, not only my writing skills, but also my perception of my memoir. I had to continually ask myself what I had written about, what themes had I explored, what did my narrative expose about my father, myself and our relationship. And more importantly, what if anything, would persuade a publisher or agent to publish my story.

After I wrote the few short sentences which feel like the hundredth version of my pitch, and with the assistance of my mentor Lee Kofman, I am hopeful. I believe I have managed to distill into one succinct minute, the essence of my quest to delve into the past of the enigmatic man I knew as Daddy. Only time will tell if my pitch is successful.