So you’re going to pitch your book – a guide.

It seems that lately there have been more opportunities than ever before for writers to pitch their as-yet-unpublished manuscript to industry professionals. At writers conventions, festivals and so on, more agents, editors and publishers are making themselves available to hear about your magnum opus. It really is a superb opportunity and these things usually get booked out. But man, I’ve heard some horror stories! It’s a hell of a thing, trying to sell yourself and your work with nerves making your guts into an ice storm. So I thought I’d ask a few key people in the industry for some tips to help you formulate your pitch should you get the chance.

Firstly, I’ll throw a tip or two of my own at you, then we’re going to hear from a small press publisher, a literary agent and a big press editor.

My tips are simple: Know what your book is about so you can formulate a killer elevator pitch. This is so named because it’s based on the premise that you meet a publisher in an elevator and have a few seconds before they reach their floor to sell them on the idea of your book. Here’s the elevator pitch for BOUND, as an example:

Underground cage fighter, Alex Caine, is drawn into a world he didn’t know existed – a world he wishes he’d never found. The harder he tries to get out, the deeper he’s dragged in. It’s magic, monsters, mayhem and martial arts in a fast-paced dark urban fantasy thriller.

After that, my suggestions are to have good ideas for explaining further what your book is about, what it’s like and who might enjoy it. Know your target market. Then have confidence in your work and yourself without acting like a dick. Remember, these folks taking pitches are just regular human people like yourself and they want to find good books. They’re not looking for an excuse to shut you down.

So, let’s hear from some of them directly.

Tehani Wesley is owner/editor at small press outfit Fablecroft Publishing. But don’t let small press fool you, I’m sure this publisher is going places. She’s going to be taking pitches for the first time at Conflux in Canberra in October. Here’s what she had to say:

What do you look for in a pitch?
A confident presentation with a tight synopsis that doesn’t tease me with the story – if I’m going to publish the book, I need to know where it goes, spoilers aren’t an issue! And don’t underestimate the value of a polished manuscript. I also need to see that the author has an understanding that the manuscript is not the end product – and neither is publication. There is a lot more to a successful book than great writing (much as we might wish it otherwise), and I need to work with someone who is willing and able to help drive the book beyond publication.

What advice do you have for pitchers?
I want to see authors passionate about their work – both the manuscript they are discussing, and their passion for writing in general. It’s really hard to work with writers who are negative about their own skill, their work, the life of being a writer, or publishing in general.

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Alex Adsett of Alex Adsett Publishing Services is an agent of exemplary power and skill (and I don’t only say that because she’s my agent!) Alex really knows this business, so listen hard.

What do you look for in a pitch?
I’m looking for full length genre fiction only for YA and adults, so SF/F, horror, crime & mystery and romance. Within that though, I’m pretty open to all comers. I’m also looking for a polished manuscript – so it is good to hear that an author has gone through multiple drafts and not only just typed “the end”. I also want to hear that the author has more manuscripts on the go and that they see this as an ongoing career for them and do not just have the one manuscript.

What advice do you have for pitchers?
Don’t panic! The person you are pitching to is there to hear your story and, maybe, see if you have a spark of connection. We do not mind if you read your pitch or just chat to us, it really all comes down to your story, and we don’t read that until later anyway.

Saying that, be prepared. Have an idea of what your book is about and how to articulate that within 3 minutes. To be safe, you should try to have three versions of a synopsis – one sentence, one paragraph and one page, so no matter how much or little time you have with your pitch person, you have something ready to go.

Do your research on the person you are pitching to. For example, there’s no point pitching me your memoir when I’m only after genre fiction. One of the best pitches was when the author rocked up with a coffee for me. I was a big fan of that author. At the same time, the most important thing is that I love the manuscript.

What’s the most common mistake pitchers make?
Panicking! So many authors are incredibly nervous about pitching their manuscripts. This isn’t a mistake, but is unnecessary.

Be careful pitching a manuscript that isn’t ready yet. On the one hand, we probably won’t mind and you might like the practice and building your contacts, but some publishers might feel you’re wasting their time to pitch if it isn’t finished and polished.

Was there ever one particular pitch that just blew your mind? (Not personal details, just generalities.)
Pitches that have a really tight premise that ticks my boxes and make me sit up and take notice. One of the best pitches I ever had was from author J.T Clay. She pitched her zom-rom-com – zombie comedy romance, and it was smart, funny and I just loved the premise. The manuscript absolutely matched the quality of her pitch, and I was desperate to sign her up as one of my authors. That novel is now published with Momentum as The Single Girl’s Guide To the Zombie Apocalypse, and it’s like an Australian Shaun of the Dead with lots of zombie in jokes.

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Rochelle Fernandez is the Associate Publisher of Voyager, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins, and Impulse, the digital imprint. She has been an editor for ten years, across fiction and non-fiction and tweets at @roch_town. You can often find her in a bookstore or at a Rabbitohs game. Here’s what she says about pitching:

What do you look for?
In a submission, I look for good writing first and foremost. An original concept is great, and so is an unoriginal concept told in an original way or written in a compelling way. I look for strong, interesting characters – characters people can empathise with, characters that are not caricatures — a too-good hero is just as boring as an all-bad hero.

In a pitcher, I look for someone who knows the benefits of their story. I look for someone who is confident that they have written the best story possible and can articulate what is so great about it. I look for someone who knows who their book is for, who has thought about the type of person who would like to read their story (often writers write for themselves, and that’s fine, but if you want to be published, then someone else must want to read it too!)

I look for whether it fits with what Voyager publishes. I look for whether this sort of story is popular.

What advice do you have for pitchers?
Don’t be nervous! Or if you are nervous, try to hide it. You believe in your story, now make me believe in it too!

Don’t get bogged down by trying to tell the whole plot to me – a few lines about the general gist will suffice.

Think carefully about comparisons – tell me who your work resembles but tell me why it resembles that. Pick accurate comparisons, not just ones you knew sold well or were made into a movie.

Hone your elevator pitch! A snappy line that will stick in my head is a great way to get me hooked into your story.

Don’t expect an immediate answer – it usually takes me about 2 months (sometimes longer!) to get to read a submission.

Tell me if you’ve self-published or submitted to another publisher or been published before.

Tell me what spurred you on to write the book.

Tell me a little bit about yourself too – where you work, what your writing influences are etc.

Describe to me the person who you imagine will buy your story – your target market. Tell me where they shop, what they eat for breakfast, what else they read. The more detail the better!

What’s the most common mistake pitchers make?
Use up all their time telling me the intricacies of the plot instead of condensing it into a few sentences to get me hooked.

Being too nervous and shy and self deprecating. If you don’t believe in your book, why should anyone else?

Was there ever one particular pitch that just blew your mind? (Not personal details, just generalities.)
One was a completely original concept that was such a great storyline I was just blown away. However … I am still waiting for the manuscript! Perhaps that should be a tip – make sure you are ready to supply the manuscript if I like your pitch.

One was really solid – a good concept, well thought out and nicely delivered. There was nothing really stand out about it, but I knew the book was going to be good by the amount of thought the pitcher had put into it.

*****

So there you have it. That’s some seriously good advice from some stellar industry professionals. I hope you find it useful and it helps you to hone your pitch should you get that sweet opportunity. Good luck!

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Photoshop Bound giveaway winners

So I stole this idea from Mark Lawrence and asked people to photoshop the cover of Bound into whacky pictures, just for a laugh. I was going to pick a winner. Then I couldn’t decide and asked people to go the Facebook album where I put all the pics and Like their favourites. Then I decided to reward the top three, which turned out to be four due to a tie! So I’ll be sending out four signed copies this week.

Here are the results:

Geoff Brown’s entry was a clear winner with 27 Likes (plus it panders beautifully to my ego.)

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Also:

David Wood with 11 Likes (you sick fuckers, all o’ya!)

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And joint third:

Voytek Zochowski and Josh Connolly with 7 Likes each. And come on, Bruce Lee and CoD Predator? Top work.

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Click on each image for  larger version. Those Likes might change, but that’s how they stood at 11pm Sunday when I decided to call it.

I’ll contact the winners privately for address details. Congrats all, and thanks to everyone who entered. What a lot of fun that was!

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Photoshop competition for a signed copy of Bound

I saw this done by Mark Lawrence on Facebook and I’m shamelessly stealing it because it’s a very cool concept. The idea is that you photoshop my book into another image and link me to your work of art. The one I like (or perhaps the one that disturbs me) the most, gets a signed copy of Bound. Even though the book is only out in the Australia and New Zealand region this week, I’ll send the comp winner anywhere in the world, so you could score the book long before it’s available in your area.

The cover images are below. Click on them for a higher res version, then right click and save as, and let your creativity fly. You don’t have to be a dab hand at photoshop either – I don’t care about your technical skills so much as the idea. Dodgy graphic art can be hilarious. Impress, amuse or disturb me and you could score the book. Think things like King Kong reading a copy of Bound atop the Empire State Building, or Batman with a copy in the Batmobile or Bound as the Necronomicon or… or… the possibilities are endless. Get surreal, get nightmarish, get weird. When you’ve made your image, you can post a link to it in the comments here, or post it on my Facebook page here, or Tweet it to me here. I’ll start a gallery of entries on my Facebook page and pick a winner at some future point not too far from now.

EDIT: Some entries are coming in and they’re very cool. I’ve started to collect them in an album on my Facebook page here.

Here are the images – have at it!

Front cover:

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Full cover:

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3D book mockup:

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Devilish Dr Slatter Digs the Dirt

My good pal and extraordinarily talented writer, Dr Angela Slatter, had me over to her blog the other day where  she dug into the skinny on all things Bound. She introduced the interview thusly:

So, my mate Alan Baxter has a book out on 1 July 2014. Bound is an action-packed, kickass, pulpy urban fantasy with martial arts, evil demons (is there any other kind?), a troubled hero, a take-no-crap heroine, and a really really scary grimoire. Yeah, I’ve read, and it’s already getting some terrific reviews.

She goes on to ask me about the inspiration for Bound, my early life as a writer, my favourite writers, kickass female heroes, the lack of a title on the front cover and much more. See all my innermost thoughts* laid bear over at her blog, here.

*Note: Might not be all my innermost thoughts. No one needs to see those.

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Obligatory eligibility post for award season

It’s award season in the SFF world and I’ve seen several people post things on Twitter and Facebook and the like that basically say, “Yes, I want a reminder of what you’ve had published in 2013 so I can make informed votes, but no, I don’t want to be spammed upside the head with it constantly.” Which is really fair enough. I’ve been enjoying several of these posts and remembering books and stories I enjoyed last year. So, I’ll just leave this post here for people to do with as they please.

In short fiction, I’ve had the following publications in 2013 (if there’s a link, you can read it online):

Not the Worst of Sins” – Beneath Ceaseless Skies #133 (October 31st, 2013)

“Roll the Bones” – Crowded Magazine issue #2 (August 2013)

“The Beat Of A Pale Wing” – A Killer Among Demons anthology (Dark Prints Press, June 2013)

“The Fathomed Wreck To See” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 9 (May 2013)

“On A Crooked Leg Lightly” – Dreaming Of Djinn anthology (Ticonderoga Publications, May 2013)

“Quantum Echoes” – Next anthology (CFSG Publishing, April 2013)

“A Time For Redemption” – Urban Occult anthology (Anachron Press, March 2013)

“It’s Always the Children Who Suffer” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 10, Winner of the 2013 AHWA Short Story Competition (due end of December, 2013)

“Exposure Compensation” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 10 (due end of December, 2013)

Also published in 2013 was “Dark Rite”, the short horror novel I co-wrote with David Wood. That’s some good, pulpy, Hammer-esque horror fun if you’re into that sort of thing, and barely more than a novella, so a quick, easy read.

All the anthologies, magazines, novels and so on I’ve talked about above, and all the others I’m involved with, can be tracked down via this page: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/books/.

So if you enjoyed any of the above last year and you fancy voting for it anywhere, I would be most grateful. And remember to check in with the blogs of your favourite writers for a reminder of their eligible stuff. The more people who vote in popular awards, the better the awards reflect the will of the reading public. Have at it.

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