Jay Ludowyke on face-to-face pitching

Jay Ludowyke  

Dr Jay Ludowyke is an author and academic with a research focus on narrative nonfiction, objects and artefacts. She holds qualifications in writing, history and library services. Jay teaches at the University of the Sunshine Coast and has been employed in local government and public libraries. She was the recipient of an Australian Postgraduate Award (a $75,000 scholarship) and her writing has appeared in esteemed publications such as Meniscus, Visible Ink and TEXT. She lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Jay successfully pitched her book Carpathia: The extraordinary story of the ship that rescued the survivors of the Titanic at Inside the Publishing House in 2017, it was released by Hachette Australia, on 10 July 2018.

How did you prepare for your pitching session? 

I was a little nervous about the pitching session because I had never done one before, and I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t sure if I would have to answer questions, or be prepared with a polished speech if I sat across from someone and they simply said, ‘Go’. I prepared for the latter scenario like crazy, and spent a few days writing and learning a three-minute pitch following the format given in the Digital Writers Festival book pitching webinar, which I had attended. I was so prepared for someone to simply say ‘go’, that when my now-editor started by asking me, ‘What is your book about?’ I remember thinking, that’s now where we’re supposed to begin (I was writing it as part of my postgraduate degree and thought that I should start with my qualifications). I laugh about it now, but back then I mentally scrambled, pulled forth the correct answer, then launched into the remainder of my pitch. That only lasted a few moments before I was asked another question, but from there I quickly relaxed and the conversation developed organically. However, because I’d prepared a thorough pitch, I had articulate, considered responses to the questions I was asked. I also came with a ‘pitch package’ which included a cover letter, author CV, book synopsis, market analysis and chapter outline, using the format in the Australian Society of Author’s A Decent Proposal.

What do you believe makes a great pitch?

A pitch requires you to speak about your book when, as writers, we’re probably more comfortable putting our words on paper. But being able to speak articulately —passionately, coherently and succinctly — about what you have written, is critically important. Practice your public speaking if necessary, because when you sit across from someone at pitch session, they’re usually a decisionmaker. You’ve bypassed the slush pile, you’re sitting in front of the right person, and now you need to make them want to read your book. I had actually sent my unsolicited manuscript into Hachette a few months before the pitch session and heard nothing. Yet, now I’m one of their authors. Sometime later, after my book was released, I asked my editor what it was during that pitching session that made her ask for the full manuscript. She told me it was the way I was able to talk about my book, and the high quality of my pitch package.

What are your top tips for writers who are thinking about pitching at Inside the Publishing House? 

Tip 1: Remember that a publisher is business, your book is a product, and you need to convince them that it will sell. You can’t simply say, ‘I wrote this book because I’m passionate about this subject and so you should publish it’. You have to think about your book from a sales and marketing perspective, because that’s how a publisher thinks about it.
Tip 2: Have a prepared pitch, and practice it. But also be flexible. Don’t get flustered if things don’t go quite the way you imagine they will.
Tip 3: Don’t be intimidated by the situation. Remember that the person you are pitching to is probably a very nice human being who has lots of experience guiding a pitching session, and will lead you where you need to go.

How did your editor help you to develop and refine your manuscript for publication?  

My editor at Hachette was amazing. We didn’t have any major structural changes, but there were a few stylistic ones because I originally wrote the manuscript as part of a thesis. The suggestions my editor made worked better for a commercial (rather than academic) readership. For example, because my book is historical narrative nonfiction and written in present tense, I had experimented with present tense flashbacks and using minimal date markers. We refined these scenes to ensure that the reader wasn’t stymied by my experimentations, and I’m so happy with the finished product. They also let me include a map, a glossary, a timeline and an index which all complement the manuscript perfectly.
 What was the most exciting moment in your publishing journey?    

There have been so many exciting moments: being offered my first book contract… red-penning my typeset proofs… being invited onto ABC Conversations… holding my book for the first time… But if I had to choose, I’d say it was my book launch. I held it at an art gallery and made it open invitation. Over 150 people attended. It was the first event where I did a book signing, with a line so long I couldn’t see the end of it, and the first time I talked to people I didn’t know, who had bought my book. It was surreal. The kind of launch that every debut author dreams about and the culmination of so much hard work. Just thinking about it still makes me smile.

Inside the Publishing House is happening again at Hachette Australia in Sydney on Wed 7 Nov, book your tickets now to pitch your own book idea direct to the Hachette team!