As a writer, any successes I’ve had have come about as a result of trying something just a little bit new. Today, I add my virgin #pitmad experience to my “so glad I did that” list, and here’s why:
Erin Fitzgerald is a writer and editor whose intuition about my work is uncanny, and anything I published in 2013–14 came about because she told me where to submit. Seriously, she matches my work to journals the way a pool shark calls shots. So last September, when she urged me to test out #pitmad, I took her advice seriously, even though I thought she was way off base. I looked at past pitches, and I thought my work wasn’t nearly commercial enough to compete. My fiction straddles genres and can be, um, er, digressive. That is, it likes to get dressed up, but it looks weird on the dance floor.
Yet, Erin’s judgment was still better than mine, and this experiment was low risk. In the name of science, I posted three crafted pitches during #pitmad, and all of them rolled by thoroughly ignored, unless you count the fave from a poet friend who had no idea what was going on. Otherwise, crickets . . .
Closer to 8 p.m., I had a glass of wine and composed one more pitch, just for the hell of it:
Ding-ding-ding. Okay, just one Ding. The acquisitions editor of a relatively new press faved the pitch. Validation was mine, temporarily. I’m nothing if not an expert at second guessing good news. As I looked into the press’ guidelines for queries, I couldn’t imagine how my novel would fit in with the catalog; they had produced a few mainstream lit titles, but the majority of their books were in pop genres like fantasy and paranormal. As with the whole exercise, I doubted the legitimacy of the fave and procrastinated for 22 days before I sent the query off — again, after many nudges from Erin.
After one day, the press asked for a full manuscript. I sobered up and sent it off.
Erin and I goofed around on Twitter that weekend, and the publisher joined in, teasing that she was reading my manuscript, giving the impression that she was having fun with it. You know that thing when your ears feel clogged because something amazing might be happening? No? Maybe I should see someone about that.
Anyway. My ears, that weekend. I sat still a lot.
I only had to wait ten days before the publisher asked to acquire the novel. She acknowledged that my book, The Juliet, did not fit conventional genres, and she was looking for more titles like mine. That means I almost blew it by assuming that my novel was the wrong fit. The publisher and I talked for about an hour, after which I came away feeling like Stephen King. Lesson learned: Erin is always right.
I was stunned. In my world, literature happens at a snail’s pace. Writing is slow, reading is slow, and the submission/response cycle is really slow. With my debut novel, Death Wishing, the time from pitch to offer took a year and was contingent on a substantial rewrite of the second half. By comparison, the #pitmad discourse of speed and concision felt like love at first sight — another phenomenon I’d never experienced.
Maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid double-fisted, but dang if I didn’t find an innovative publisher via #pitmad. Is my experience typical? Probably not — except for me. As I said at the beginning, I make progress when I try something new.
That said, it’s important to accept that any new strategy for calling attention to one’s creative work will have a short shelf life. Currently #pitmad is effective, so I encourage you to take advantage of it now, but also keep an open mind so you’re ready when the next innovation comes along. Not everyone has an Erin (and you can’t have mine).
PS: Speaking of open minds . . . good thing I didn’t know that #pitmad wasn’t “cool” before I tried it — Details to appear in a rant/post on my own blog sometime — but if having a book contract and an enthusiastic, creative publisher is the price I pay for being un-hip, so be it.
Laura Ellen Scott is the author of Death Wishing (Ig Publishing, 2011), Curio (Uncanny Valley Press, 2011), and The Juliet (Pandamoon Publishing, 2016). She lives in Fairfax, Virginia, and teaches in George Mason University’s BA and BFA programs in creative writing.
Column originally published on 3/10/15