A Rookie’s Guide to Literary Speed Dating

Three Minutes to Pitch

Authors have a tough time breaking into the traditional publishing world. We send our work via email or online submission portals and rarely meet an agent or publisher face-to-face. Literary Speed Dating is designed to give us an opportunity to pitch in person. The catch? We only have three minutes.

Last weekend, I went to Australian Society of Authors’ (ASA) Literary Speed Dating hosted by Writer’s Victoria. ASA recommended that we prepare a one-minute blurb about our book. In the remaining time, the agent/publisher can ask questions and give feedback; the event is as much about learning as to secure interest in your project.

There were six agents/publishers and perhaps eighty authors. I waited with the authors in one section of the room, while the agents/publishers sat at tables on the other side of a partition wall. We were told to line up behind the name of the person we wanted to see. When I reached the head of the queue, I was taken  to a second waiting area behind the partition wall. When the timer went off and the current author left, I took my place at the table.

Despite my preparation, I made some rookie mistakes, so I thought I’d share some tips to save others from some red-faced moments.

  1. Research the attending agents/publishers. Find out as much as you can about their company, its culture and what they are looking for. Only approach people who are interested in your genre.
  2. Rehearse your one-minute blurb, but be ready to change direction. I was so caught up in my rehearsed pitch that I was thrown when I was asked a question part way through. Listen and be flexible.
  3. Anticipate likely questions. I planned for:

What are comparative titles?
What qualifies you or inspired you to write this story?
Who is your likely audience?

I should have planned for:

What happens in the rest of the book? Given my one-minute pitch didn’t tell the ending of the story, this is such an obvious question. Of course, I knew the answer, but I floundered. I have spent hours writing a one-page synopsis, which explains the entire plot, but I hadn’t rehearsed it verbally.
Is there a key message in your book? was another great question, which I might have predicted based on the publisher’s culture.

  1. Bring copies of your query, synopsis and sample pages. I assumed that if anyone was interested, I would email my material, but one of them asked for it on the spot. What a missed opportunity.
  2. Meet other authors—while waiting in queue, you can discuss the process and hear about other people’s work. Chatting also helped me keep my nerves in check, although I did have to shut off at some points so I could refocus on my pitch and learn from my mistakes.

Thank you to ASA and Writer’s Victoria for arranging this event. Thank you to the agents and publishers for being so encouraging. I hope my pointers help others to prepare for future speed dating.

Next time: The Pros and Cons of Writing Memoir

4 thoughts on “A Rookie’s Guide to Literary Speed Dating

  1. Wow! This is absolutely brutal. I’m so glad you have the perseverance to think of what you haven taken away from this and are thinking about next time! To be an artist and a tough cookie at the same time is quite remarkable.
    I don’t have to tell you to “hang in there” because you already do!
    Keep it up Andrea. It’s time readers can appreciate your work!


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