Hi cHEwY gum gums
This Saturday I’ll be attending the Kids and YA festival at the NSW Writers Centre (or KIDYA for short hehe). I’m on a panel about writing humour with some of my funny buddies, Tim Harris and R.A Spratt. This festival holds a special place in my heart, as it’s given me plenty of boosts to my cHEwY journey. It’s where I met my agent!
It’s still not too late, come down and say hi! You’ll get the lowdown on the children’s books industry. The panels are thought-provoking and relevant and there’s plenty of chances to
stalk and hound approach agents, publishers and editors. One way to get their attention is to sign up for their pitching competition, where you get a minute or so to get them interested in your story. Think of it like Shark Tank/The Voice blind auditions. I like going to these sessions because the panel’s feedback on each pitch is valuable in itself, it gives you a taste of what they’re looking for.
But it also gives you a foot in the door to opportunities. How do I know? Because I won the pitching session at the KIDYA festival, 10 years ago.
*cue flashback music*
Back then, the pitching session was a first line contest, where you had to read the opening sentence (or two) of your manuscript. The panel included publisher Leonie Tyle (who worked for UQP back then) and author James Roy.
I decided to read the first line of my Thai-riffic! manuscript, which was this:
I hate it on trains when Asians speak in their own language. It makes me paranoid that they’re speaking about me. Especially when it’s my own family.
For those cHEwY gum gums out there, you know that became the opening line for my Thai-riffic! story, Bulk To School haha.
Maybe I got lucky because nobody before me was pitching a funny book. But like my spiky hair, it really did stand out. Basically, my first line was a joke. It was different enough than the rest of the other entries, which were prompted by a preamble to set the scene/story. The opening line should be able to do that anyway. Nailing the first line is important. I once read that editors have a very limited time to go through the ‘slush pile’ (unsolicited manuscripts) and they only read the first line, and then the first page…so you need to make sure it hooks people in.
Pitches have to do the same. You have a little luxury of selling the whole story/concept, not just the first line, but you still have to make each word count. You still have to focus on how different and radical your story is, and how it’s going to make an impact on the scene.
After I won the pitching contest, James Roy took me aside and said I that I should totally email Leonie about my story. At that stage, Thai-riffic! was still incomplete, so I sent Leonie a follow up letter and I got a reply! Yay! That’s another plus of these kind of festivals, once a publisher/editor/agent has met you face to face, you have a slight advantage than just a cold call. It was such a huge boost to my confidence and kept me chugging along. By the time I did complete Thai-riffic!, Leonie had left UQP, but I had other nibbles and avenues to explore with Thai-riffic!, including a chance meeting with my agent. And the rest they say, is cHEwY history haha.
These days, there are plenty of pitching sessions at various events, some even run online such as Pitch Wars, where you can pitch over Twitter. Now that’s pretty cool because everyone can see your pitch (and you never know who is watching haha)
KIDYA festival director, Belinda Murrell has offered her tips of how to do a perfect pitch (that’s where I borrowed the title hehe). All I can say is to have a go and trust me, whether you land a nibble or not, putting yourself out there can only be a good thing 🙂
Follow me on Twitter (@oliverwinfree) for updates and reports from the KIDYA festival (I’ll be that nerd who tweets out the writing wisdom haha).