Contract-winning pitches

For as long as I can remember I’ve been reading articles, and listening to discussions, about creating the perfect pitch to a publisher. I used to spend hours refining cover letters, CVs, synopses, and then refining again when the manuscript would be rejected, again, by my prospective publisher.

Fast forward several decades, switch chairs, I find myself now behind not only the editor’s desk, but the publisher’s desk, reading submission after submission (I refuse to call them slush, because writers deserve better than that). Some arrive with a simple how do you do, this is my story, others with a full-blown marketing strategy and pages long CV that details every accolade from the most obscure award given out by the local general store, to Governor General Literary Awards.

Do I read any of these extraneous pages of information? Not usually. Marketing pitches, quite frankly, piss me off. Terrible thing for me to write as a publisher, I realize, but it’s true. In fact, I’ve developed such an antipathy to marketing pitches that I often find myself sneering, muttering imprecations, grunting disbelief, and growling impatience.

CVs, particularly if they run into pages, have the same effect. I find myself snarling, “Do I care that you wrote the PM’s acceptance speech?”

This sort of badger-like behaviour isn’t my normal demeanour. Ask anyone who has come to know me. On any given day I’m normally a nice person, even given to smiles and laughter. So why the transformation when it comes to receiving a submission accompanied by bumph?

I’ve reasoned out that my antipathy arises out of the fact none of that information actually tells me if the writers can, well, write. What I do want to read is that first paragraph, first page, first chapter of the story. And if by 100 pages the author has made me forget about the resident badger, well, we’ve settled down to a reasonable and sane consideration of a literary work, whether fiction or non-fiction, that will make the cynic shut up and stay that way.

Then, and only then, after sating myself with a deliciously good read, will I turn to the CV first, mostly to find out what sort of experience and person with whom I’m potentially going to be entering a long-term relationship. And then, after that, turn to the pitch.

So, you see, for this house, for this editor and publisher, getting my attention isn’t about how good a huckster you can be. It IS about telling me a good, honest story. That’s it. Just write the most honest story you can, polish it (because grammar and punctuation errors will most definitely conjure the badger), and send it in — that is, of course, when Five Rivers is again open to submissions.

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