January 21, 2011

A query is not a pitch

Oh dear. I gave my last blog post the wrong name. I should have said “query,” not “pitch” in the title and in the plog post itself. In my rambles around the internet I stumbled upon the blog of Janet Reid, literary agent (http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2011/01/difference-between-pitch-and-query.html) and discovered the following:

"A pitch is short (VERY) and verbal.
A query is short (250 words, but not 25) and written.
A pitch is face to face.
A query is not.
A pitch requires some set up: my novel is finished; it's a historical romance; it's 78,000 words.  That helps your listener get ready to hear your pitch.
A query starts with the name of the main character and what problem or choice he faces.
A pitch is about 25 words.
A query is 250."

So now I know. And so do you. I am querying publishers in New Zealand re my novel. Seven of them. Each wants something different: a different length synopsis, more or less sample chapters, and so on. Have posted two, and have two more nearly ready. Response times vary between two and four months, and by all accounts (the extremely low percentage of unsolicited mss that get accepted) are most likely to be negative. Why am I doing this, then? I guess I want to try out the system before I grapple with knotty problems like confronting my own inabilities in the marketing area, the pros and cons of print on demand, ebooks and so on.

I am reading 99 Ways Into New Zealand Poetry, by Paula Green and Harry Rickets. It’s a fabulous book, a “how to read poetry” with oodles of examples and a mass of cross-referencing. It’s also an overview of New Zealand poets and poetry and the various ways they have clumped, or been clumped, together over the years. And the writers give poets who are women their due place and comment on ways they have been denied this place in the past. And there are useful short breakouts which are definitions of things like modernism and romanticism and some lovely covers from poetry books and photos of poets and pieces about their poetry by some of the poets and all in all it is a stunning cornucopia. I wish it wasn’t so heavy and the paper was less shiny, it’s hard to read in bed and/or some lights. Otherwise, it’s an education in a book.

A  novel that’s been on my to-read pile for a while that has just made it to the top, is The Housekeeper + The Professor, by Yoko Ogawa. She’s written a lot of novels in Japanese, some have been translated into English, some into French. A charming story involving a single mother and her son and the professor with a memory problem she housekeeps for and maths. It’s built around the excitement of numbers. I loved it. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand the bits about baseball — which incidentally involves pitching, which we all know I am not doing.

January 13, 2011


I've made a decision about the-novel-known-as-Ann. Actually, I've made two decisions. One is that, for now anyway, the title will be Where The HeArt Is. (The capital A in the middle of HeArt is deliberate.) I need a title because I'm going to offer it to some publishers. Not with any great expectation of success, but because it seems closer to what I want to do than self-publishing, or publishing it as a ebook only, which are the other options I have been thinking about.

So, I've been reading the internet about "making pitches" as it seems to be called and have written a "hook" and a synposis and am working on a "query letter." Most publishers' submission guidelines ask for these plus the 2 or 3 opening chapters. I have identified seven publishers in New Zealand that I will send to, carefully following the (different) guidelines for each. Most want printed, not emailed, submissions: for their "slush pile," which is publisher-speak for unsolicited manuscripts. Here's the "hook":

In Where The HeArt Is (52,000 words), forty-two-year-old New Zealander, Ann Williams, has intimate encounters with art treasures as she travels in New York, Washington DC, London and Paris, after losing her partner to another woman and her university job to redundancy. In the first three cities she is visiting relatives, at the instigation of her mother.
During an extended stay in London to help the family of her cousin, whose twins are two years old and whose wife is pregnant and afflicted with day-long 'morning sickness', she has an intimate encounter of a different kind with a librarian. The librarian, Suzanna, is a black citizen of the UK and insists on a 'present tense' affair — no sharing of past histories, no future planning. All the while, Ann seeks answers to her own questions about who she is and how she will determine her future when she returns home to New Zealand.

I am also going to send a "pitch" to an agency firm in the UK. I think my novel is more suited to the UK than to the US, and I liked the website of this outfit. I've never had an agent, but I gather to get a book published overseas you need one, so I'll give it a try.

Why aren't I including the names of the publishers and the agent? Because I found them in relation to my particular novel, and I think that is a useful thing for everyone to do, seek out publishers etc specifically for their own project. The website at http://publishers.org.nz/ has a list of members with plenty of information about each one.

So, that's the next couple of days' to do list. Here's where I'll be doing it:

January 4, 2011

Writing Dilemmas & Reading Pleasures

At the beginning of a year I tend to go back and read the notes I made the previous year on what I had read. One of my reasons for doing this is a very bad memory for names. Another is that I like to record quotes from the book that struck me when I was reading it. These are not necessarily  what I would note if I was doing a critique of the book, more things that remind me of something, or relate to an idea I’m thinking about, or even something I am writing.

This was brought home to me as I re-read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, which I first read a year ago and which is our reading group choice for January. The things I noted a year ago, and the things that struck me second time round are distinctly different from each other. The Lacuna stood up well to re-reading and I recommend it.

I have completed another revision of the-novel-known-as-Ann and made a list of all the poems, writing and art works that are quoted from or referred to in it. Now I will give it to a new reader, someone who hasn’t read any of the earlier versions and who has a perspective on an aspect of the story that I am keen to get input on. And nervous about.

So, deciding how to go about getting it out there, so to speak, is looming. I’ve been published by regular publishers, and self-published, so I know my way around. I’ve also kept reasonably up-to-date with what is happening in the epublishing world. So I know about the options. All have their pluses and minuses. I don't expect to sell a lot of books/ make money; I write about the lives of people to whom big, dramatic events don’t happen, although personal trials and tragedies do, and my protagonists are lesbian.

The biggest downside of any form of self-publishing, for me, is marketing and publicising, because I hate it and so don’t do it. It’s not that I can’t do it, more that I am overcome with resistance and fatigue whenever I set out to.

Watch this space as I figure out what I will do.

I don’t have another novel idea in mind, but I do have a lot of short pieces, some short stories, others shorter than that, which I will do some work on and gather together and see if they make something. If an idea for a short story or poem or novel comes along, I’ll go with that, too.

Whatever else. I’ll keep reading. Here are some of my favourite books from last year’s reading:

Burnt Shadows  by Kamila Shamsi. (She was at Writers & Readers)
Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Re-born Early diaries of Susan Sontag, edited by her son David Rieff
The Graveyard Book & American Gods by Neil Gaiman (he came to Writers & Readers too)
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
The Collected Short Stories of Lydia Davis
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Room by Emma Donohue
Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins
How To Live: A Life of Montaigne By Sarah Bakewell.

The Montaigne book is a real treat, and I strongly recommend it — one of those biographies that looks at the man and his work as a whole. I gather it will be out in paperback this month (I read a library copy). Two fairly random quotes from it:

“Montaigne … Saw himself as a thoroughly ordinary man in every respect, except for his habit of writing things down.”

Montaigne thought “that the solution to a world out of joint was for each person to get themselves back in joint: to learn ‘how to live,’ beginning with the art of keeping your feet on the ground.”