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Sally Moore is on the blog today. Sally and I met some time ago at one of Barbara Kyle’s writing workshops and kept in touch in that loose way that we do these days via social media. To my delight she was a fellow Canadian at HNS London 2014 conference and we had a chance to catch up properly, the old fashioned way! Since I chose not to participate in the conference’s pitch sessions – 7 minute sessions with agents and editors – Sally has graciously agreed to share her experience of this nail-biting, anxiety-Sally Moore Writesproducing event. 

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London, September 5, 6, 7: Westminster University on Marylebone Road was invigorated with students returning to school, footprints pasted on the floors to guide the uninitiated, and a new addition to the excitement: 140 Historical Novel Society enthusiasts.

From plenary address, to indie book and short story contest announcements, panel discussions, networking, dinners, breakout sessions and book signings, the event was a marvel in historical context, evaluation and provocative thought.  For me, one of the most dramatic components of the conference was the line up outside Room 220 – the pitch session waiting space.

Pitch sessions are an invaluable opportunity to present your work to an industry professional.  For 7 glorious minutes, you have the attention of a person looking for your passion: that pearl inside the oyster that glows in its lustrous sheen of imagination. The seed of a best-selling novel.

For those of us sitting outside the pitch room, anticipating our session with a mixture of excitement and nervous tension, this hallway is more than a corridor leading to the breakout sessions and other classrooms.  It’s a passage to a new phase in the journey of our work.  This pause before our name is called, the time between what could be years of outlining and writing, preparation work on a submission, the practising of the pitch, and the actual delivery of a project has its own unique purpose in the experience of writing.

A lot happened in that hallway.  Stories were exchanged, contacts made, support given.  One writer on her way to a session even introduced herself, wished us luck and gave us her book to read during the wait. For me that was over an hour on the Saturday.  In that time, I made friends, learned a lot about the projects to be pitched, and picked up information about the editors and publishers taking pitches.  And it gave me time to reflect on why I was here, what had brought me to this place.

Every writer will tell you that writing is the greatest joy and the hardest thing they’ve ever done.  There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the challenges of a changing world of business that has impacted the publishing world in the last decade.  But I think what is most difficult of all is the sharing of our innermost imaginings, boiled down to a 7-minute bite that must catch the imagination of an industry person who hears ten to twenty of these a day.

Those moments in the hallway, what one of the writers likened to a ‘trip to the principal’s office’, can teach us a lot:

Patience.  You need it to be a writer, you need it to accept the challenges of being a writer.  To examine what got you here, and how to manage the thousands of hours it takes, the sacrifices to leisure, family and job that writing and learning to write inevitably demand.

Humour.  Take in stride what seem like obstacles, snafus, inconsistencies and mix ups: the best laid plans can go awry, but if you see the humour in it, you might just find something invaluable in the process, and prevent problems in the future.  And a positive attitude is a key component to convincing people they’d like to work with you.

Resilience and resourcefulness.  When a door closes, open a window and pop your head in.  If the editor or agent doesn’t get what you are pitching, ask them what they are looking for, pitch something new, find out what the trends in publishing are, get a contact name, just don’t leave empty-handed.

Knowledge.  Every pitch is a chance to learn.  Learn about the industry, about books, people, and mostly yourself.  Can you improve your presentation?  What are the challenges of your project and its genre?  Can you be more concise?  Show more passion?  Can you be more comfortable with publishers, and learn what they respond to?  An unsuccessful pitch session today can lead to a successful one tomorrow.

In the hallway at my second pitch on the Sunday, someone asked me if it ever gets any easier, and without hesitation I said, “No, it never does. But you get better at it.”

Can a writer deliver an entire concept and passion for a project they’ve worked years upon, invested their whole imaginative being into, in 7 minutes?  My second pitch proved that you can. 6-and-a-half minutes to be precise.  In those few moments, fresh from another 20 minutes time-out in the hallway, I made a connection with a publisher I admire, managed to get to know her a bit better, told her about my rather complex premise and setting, my main characters and the story, answered her questions and talked market for good measure.  In the end, I shook hands with her, hearing those golden words, “I’m really quite interested.”

My time in the hallway, those pre-pitch moments, surrounded by the anticipation and hopes of writers with a mutual love and respect for historical fiction, gave me the presence of mind and the magical momentum it took to be who I am: a writer of historical fiction with  a big story to tell.

#HNSLondon14, thank-you for those moments, for the gathering of people of like mind who appreciate HF, and have a passion for story.  Our own histories we bring with us, sitting in that hallway and the many hallways and coffee shops and writing retreats to come, to pour our stories on paper and contribute to a dynamic interaction with others that has its own historical context.

Vive le Historical Novel Society conference.  See you all in Denver 2015!

Sally Moore

Many thanks for sharing your story, Sally and for the wise words of wisdom. 

Sally Moore is an award-winning poet, author of Legend of Three CrownsWings of a Fly You can find more of her writing at www.samoorewrites.com. She’s on Twitter: @SallyMoore11 and is also President, Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) www.wcdr.ca Twitter: @WCDR1