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Monday, January 21, 2013

Novels in the Spotlight

I introduced my enormous project, Seven Noble Knights, on this blog in early 2011 with an exciting announcement: my "pitch" was up for reader voting at the Book Doctors' NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza. (See that post here. The Book Doctors' link is still active, so you can still see the pitches I was up against.)

At that point, I knew I would one day finish the book, but I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to attend one of these Pitchapalooza sessions in person. Happily, I heard about the one that took place at Anderson's (fabulous independent) Bookstore in Naperville this last Saturday just in time to make a snap decision about what to do with the weekend and the gas money.

You have one minute. Sixty seconds only!
The way it works is that they randomly select twenty writers from all those in attendance and those writers give all the information they can about their book in just sixty seconds. It's meant to be like the pitch you would write in your query letters, but it also helps make writers more orally articulate about what makes their books so wonderful. The panel of judges in Naperville included The Book Doctors (Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published among other achievements), as well as a knowledgable middle grade author and charming representative of Loyola Press whose names I lost in all the excitement. After all the presentations, they chose a winner who received a most coveted prize: an introduction to an agent or publisher in their book's genre.

It was two hours of laughter and nerves. I convinced myself that because there were forty or fifty writers in attendance, and Seven Noble Knights had already been randomly chosen before, it could not possibly be again. Just in case, I had my pitch pared down to a one-minute delivery time and printed out in the leaves of my notebook. My unspeakably wonderful husband took photos of the event. And then, when my name was called, he took a video of my pitch.

Yes, I was randomly selected again! It's a sign, folks. This book is going places. The video of my pitch is hard for me to watch, but please be aware that I was suffering some intense stage fright. I'm thrilled I was actually speaking coherent sentences!

The delivery sounds pretty fast to me -- I wanted to fit a lot in -- but these guys are from the New York publishing scene. They can listen fast. They all seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. The video doesn't include it, but The Book Doctors actually said, "I can tell you're a writer just by listening to you speak, and that you're the right person to write this book." How often do you get that kind of outside, impartial validation of the work you love to do? Not often!

That's the back of my head. The front of it is receiving great wisdom.
And trying to take notes with a hand that's shaking with nerves!

I got lots of really great feedback I'm looking forward to using to further hone my pitch. Some of the feedback is in this video.

I had purposefully left out the comparisons with popular books, planning to look around some more and really think it over. But they gave me the most to think about with the YA suggestion. This is not the first time someone has said my book might be YA. I've been through a lot of discussions about what distinguishes YA from general adult, and it's ranged from sex to violence to the ages of the protagonists and grade level of the language. But these fine panelists made the unique suggestion that the pacing of the book has a lot to do with which shelf a book belongs on. While Seven Noble Knights is definitely fast-paced, I remain skeptical that liking a lightning-fast story is the domain of any one age group. I've got more investigating to do before I can decide how to categorize the novel. I'd hate to say it's YA just because that's what will sell.

I didn't win this round, although my husband swears I must have been first runner-up. The prize went to a well-presented book about a gay hockey player in Chicago in the 1920's. It goes to show, different and defined are what counts most when finding your audience.

To cap off the whirlwind day at Anderson's, I spoke briefly with Arielle and Henry David and it turned out that they remembered my pitch from two years ago! It's always good to be memorable.