Currents: What I’m working on, by Jennifer Bryce

A couple of months ago I finished the manuscript of my second novel, working title Edith Ascending. Finished? I think we all know that a piece of writing is never ‘finished’. Even after my first novel was published and stacked on shelves within its beautiful cover, there were bits I wanted to rewrite – things I could have left out, things I could have added. But with Edith, I’d reached a stage where I needed to do something more than re-reading and tweaking. Fortunately this stage of my writing coincided with a program of Virtual Literary Speed Dating organised by the Australian Society of Authors (ASA).

Writers are aware that it is extremely hard to get commercially published in Australia if you are not well-known. But I wanted to give it a go. Get a literary agent? There are not many agents in Australia and most of them, it seems, don’t have room to take on new clients. The alternative is to trundle your manuscript around to publishers, hoping that one of them won’t assign your work to the slush pile.

If you are brave, Virtual Literary Speed Dating is another pathway to a publisher’s door. The ASA sets up a three-minute time-slot (on Zoom) where you can ‘sell’ your book to a publisher you’ve selected from a list of about 12 provided by ASA (some of these may not be suitable, for example if they mainly publish YA or children’s picture books). You have to be a member of ASA to participate.

I’d never before done any kind of speed dating, but the similarity with the more usual kind of dating is clear. Is this my kind of match? Do we like each other? Could we get along together?

I found the ASA very supportive. I attended a preliminary online workshop where there was advice about preparing for the three-minute presentation, including a suggested template for structuring your pitch. Spend 1½ minutes outlining what you want to pitch: genre, word count, brief synopsis and a selection of three or four similar books – I tried to select titles from the list of the publisher I was pitching to. Then 30 seconds on why you wrote the book: I was inspired by a particular composer, etc. And finally, 45 seconds about yourself (the most difficult): previous publications, writing courses you’ve taken, other publicity such as radio interviews.

I don’t know how many times I recorded myself practising my pitch, timing the presentation to within a microsecond! I discovered that you can look at the camera on your laptop whilst reading from notes stuck to the side of the screen – better than glancing down the screen to read a document and thus not looking straight at the camera. My colleagues from Elwood Writers were a huge support, both in suggestions for my synopsis and bio, and also in keeping the presentation enthusiastic.

It was all worthwhile. I think I was fortunate that the publisher’s representative who heard my pitch is interested in music and asked to read the whole manuscript, which is the best outcome I could hope for. This doesn’t mean that they will take on the publication, but it’s a step in that direction – a very pleasing result.