Pitching a Manuscript (Or Behind the Scenes at a Weeklong Retreat)

Monday, July 14, 2014
Day 1: We arrive at our retreat, nervous and excited. Everyone’s in a fine mood as we gather for dinner, getting to know one another. But hold on a tic. Did you hear someone mention that there’s a pitch session on the last day? You laugh gaily and have a glass of wine. You have all week to write, revise and learn the ins and outs of pitching. In fact, maybe you’ll have two glasses of wine. After all, you have an entire week of work ahead of you. Might as well live a little.

Day 2: You spend the day at a writing boot camp. Your brain is about to burst with all the information gleaned, and you can’t wait to apply all that new knowledge to your own little manuscript. But first, you need a little break, a chance to let the gray cells rejuvenate and take in all that new stuff. So you sit around after dinner, make a few new friends. Besides, tomorrow, you’ll do a roundtable critique. You’ll have plenty of time to figure out that manuscript before the pitch.

Day 3: After quite the informative workshop, you are ready to tackle that manuscript at last. To be honest, you’re pretty sure it’s awesome and all the people at your table will love it. Probably, it just needs a few tweaks and then it’s time to start thinking up that pitch.

Day 3 (A few hours later): Well, okay, you’ve suffered a bit of a setback. The tweaks you planned have morphed into major revisions. But not to worry! You know exactly what to do to fix it—and you will—right after the bonfire. And after you talk to that agent you met earlier. And after you stop at a friend’s room for a last glass of wine. And you know what? It’s way too late to work. But you’re not concerned. You have a “first thing in the morning” plan, right?

Day 4: You oversleep. You barely make it to the first workshop, but whew! You head to lunch and what’s that you hear? Another roundtable critique? Okay, fine. You remembered to bring two manuscripts, so you’ll just sit back and listen to what others have to say and really, this is a much stronger manuscript anyway. So you probably won’t have to fix a thing. And then, you can start thinking about that pitch coming up in three days.

Day 4: (After dinner): You are beginning to think the people in your roundtable group have it out for you. Nothing pleases those persnickety writers. For crying out loud, they want plot arcs, and emotional depth, and protagonists with agency—in a PICTURE BOOK—and frankly, you’re pretty sure they don’t even know what that means. You decide to stop at someone’s cabin (someone not in your critique group!) for a wee bit of a chat before you hit the revision. Maybe she can explain that whole agency thing to you over a glass of Merlot.

Day 4 (Midnight): Tomorrow is another day. And at least you understand agency now. Sort of.

Day 5: You slap down a revised manuscript at the roundtable and dare your critique partners to find anything wrong with it. They do not say a word (but they scribble furiously). You scribble back on their manuscripts. At dinner, the room is abuzz with talks about the pitching session. Writers are filling up gallon jugs with coffee and stuffing two-pound chocolate bars in their laptop bags. (You are not speaking to your critique group partners.)

Day 6 (5:00 PM): You have back-to-back-to-back workshops, ending with “how to make a strong pitch.” You receive directions for the pitch session (where there will be a collection of editors, agents, and publishers). You hear something about it beginning the next morning, promptly at nine. You pass out.

Day 6 (5:30 PM): You scramble to find your dear, loving critique partners, the folks who, if you promise to listen to their pitch, will listen to yours. You wolf down salad, or kale, or something green and hunker down with 20 other writers.

Day 6 (9:00): You decide the pitch session is not worth all this angst. Your manuscript’s not ready. You get a glass of wine. You feel a sense of calm. Ommmmm.

Day 6 (9:21): You bang on the back kitchen door, begging for one lousy glass of tea! Caffeine in hand, you buckle down. You will write that perfect pitch. (You hear someone outside humming “ommmm.” You yell at them to shut the heck up.)

Day 6 (9:37): You cry. Your partners tell you that no, your pitch does not suck at all. (But you know they’re lying.)

Day 6 (9:49): Your critique partners (and new best friends forever) have your back. Together, you come up with the most awesome pitch known to mankind.

Day 6 (10:49): You have 34 pitches and you have to decide which one is best. You think maybe a glass of wine will come in handy in this process.

Day 6 (11:29): It does not.

Day 7: You make your pitch. It’s a blur, but you have a couple business cards from agents and publishers and whatnot and your writer friends are hugging you and you smile and nod. Honestly, you had this figured out all along. Cheers!

~Cathy C. Hall


Margo Dill said...

This sounds like my daily life when querying complete with wine

Anonymous said...

Hilarious, and so true, Cathy. When you mentioned the bonfire, I thought it might be for your manuscript. ;)

Stacy S. Jensen said...

Good for you to try. I wish I had been able to attend for practice. It was a great week. Glad I got to meet you in person. Good luck with the revisions. I have a ton. :)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Hahahaa, Sioux! No one actually burned a manuscript but I'm sure I wasn't the only one who wanted to!

Stacy, I ended up pitching one of my MG manuscripts because all of the PB's? SO many revisions yet! :-)

Anonymous said...

Haha. Witty AND informative. See I just knew it. And there was a common thread in there . . . the wine! That sounds like a great retreat. Congrats on your pitch, too. I'm sure it was awesome. :)

Debra Mayhew said...

Well, I'm not a wine drinker, so I was beginning to think I'd never have survived this retreat. But then you threw in a two pound chocolate bar and now I'm thinking maybe someday I can give one of these a go. Glad you survived and made it home in one piece!

Sherri Jones Rivers said...

Oh, Cathy. You nailed it! Clever, clever. Planning a return trip?

Cathy C. Hall said...

Well, technically, the wine is optional, Debra, so I hope that one day you'll make a retreat like this one (but I'd bring my own chocolate--candy bars around women writers does NOT last long!) And Sherri, thanks! I can't think of returning until I recuperate from this one!! :-)

BECKY said...

Wow! A WEEKLONG writing retreat?? Amazing! I could sure use one of those...Well, actually, I could use just a "regular" retreat....you know, with being alone a lot, being quiet and taking in nature, listening to some beautiful music and/or choirs.....I could REALLY enjoy one of those. But, hey...nice to hear all about yours, Cathy C! :)

Beverley Baird said...

So laughed at your day to day post! The retreat was so much more than I expected and I feel blessed to have gone. Congrats on the pitch!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Love this, Cathy! So glad the pitch went well. :)

Madeline @ The Shellshank Redemption

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