The perfect pitch

The path to publication can begin at Islanders Write.

The pitch panel, from left, Gretchen Young, John Hough, Jr., Rosemary Stimola, and Torrey Oberfest. — Anthony Esposito

A few weeks before my first picture book was published, I was meeting with my editor at Simon & Schuster to talk about my second book when she asked, “Do you want to see the preorders?” My editor pulled up a spreadsheet on her computer, and explained to me that the spreadsheet reflected the number of copies that bookstores had preordered of my beautiful book. 

“What’s that mean?” I asked, pointing to the 0 next to the Barnes & Noble box.

“Barnes & Noble passed on this book. But it’s still early, don’t worry,” she said. 

Don’t worry? Of course I was worried. And confused. It never occured to me that my book wouldn’t be on the shelves of one of the largest bookstore chains in the country. 

The path to publishing can be filled with unexpected obstacles with tangled tentacles, and we’ve decided to examine some of the lesser-known aspects to this complicated and competitive industry at this year’s Islanders Write. 

At 1 pm, the pitch panel will be returning to Islanders Write for the third time. Literary agent Rosemary Stimola, editor Gretchen Young, and novelist John Hough, Jr., will critique five pitches that have been chosen in advance. 

Rosemary Stimola, founder of Stimola Literary Studio, says a good pitch is your calling card. “Agents and editors are among the most overworked people I know. You don’t have a lot of time to capture their attention,” explains Stimola, whose clients include numerous awardwinning and New York Times bestselling authors. Stimola’s advice to writers: ”Lead with your strength; provide a couple of solid informative sentences about the work and its place in the market, and avoid apologies and hyperbole.” 

Gretchen Young, executive editor and vice president at Grand Central Publishing, has edited close to 60 New York Times bestsellers. “There is little time to get and keep an editor’s or agent’s attention. You want them to listen and marvel. That takes a well-honed pitch. Imagine you have 60 seconds — what would you say before that elevator door opens and you lose your audience? Now put those words down on the page and imagine your reader is about to receive another email or is about to get a phone call. Grab her with a compelling enough pitch before those distractions hit,” says Young. 

The feedback from the pitch panel sessions over the past two years has been informative and illuminating, and we are delighted that Stimola, Young, and Hough, along with pitch panel moderator Torrey Oberfest, have agreed to return to Islanders Write this year. 

“Will your story resonate? Why are you the right author of this story? How will you share it? We will help you figure this out and help make you think of the best way to tell it or if you have to rethink and pivot in your execution … and more,” says Young.

Stimola adds, “Hopefully our feedback will help people fine-tune their pitches to help them stand out from the crowd.”

Novelist and West Tisbury resident John Hough, Jr., says, “My feedback may differ somewhat from theirs, which will be based on their experience and their knowledge of the market these days, with its trends and eccentricities. I will react as writer to writer — does your idea sound solid to me, on its merits?”

If you are interested in pitching your book to the pitch panel, email a paragraph about your book project and a short bio to Kate Feiffer at kate@mvtimes.com before August 3, 2019. We are accepting pitch proposals for fiction and nonfiction, for the adult or children’s market. If selected, you will be given three minutes to pitch the pitch panel. (Please note that the editor and agent on this panel have generously agreed to offer their advice in order to help writers better understand the process of getting editors and agents interested in their books, and are not here seeking projects for themselves.) 

At 2 pm, Dawn Davis, Susan Branch, Dawn Braasch, and Ann Kingman will take us behind the scenes to discuss the lesser-known aspects on the path to publication. This is an opportunity to hear from four publishing professionals about the publishing pipeline. 

Editor Dawn Davis, who has her own imprint — 37Ink — at Simon & Schuster, has edited numerous best-selling and critically acclaimed books, including, “Heads of the Colored People” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, winner of a 2019 Whiting Award, and the National Book Award finalist, “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave” by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. Susan Branch, whose best-selling books were published by a traditional publisher until they weren’t, is now a successful self-published author. 

Dawn Braasch is the owner of Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, which has endured for 40 years in spite of a devastating fire, the introduction of digital devices, and online booksellers offering discounts to readers. “There are many factors that go into choosing what books fit our store. We have electronic sales histories for over 15 years, we have trusted sales reps who visit us four times a year for each upcoming season and make recommendations, we get advance copies of books to read to see if we think our customers might like them. We know what genres sell well for us, including literary fiction, current events, and maritime/Vineyard books, and order accordingly, and sometimes we go on gut instinct when we order or don’t order a book. We also rely on a very well-read customer base to help keep us informed of books they’d like to read,” explains Braasch. 

And Ann Kingman is a sales manager for Penguin Random House, who travels to independent bookstores across New England with a list of approximately 2,500 titles a year. “I try to get booksellers excited about the books that we’re publishing so that they can hand-sell them,” says Kingman. 

As for my first book, my editor was right, I didn’t have to worry. A few weeks after it was published, my book was reviewed in the New York Times, and within a week, the first printing was sold out. Barnes & Noble signed up for the second printing. 

Join us for these panels and more at Islanders Write on Monday, August 12, beginning at 8 am at Featherstone Center for the Arts. For a complete schedule of Islanders Write events, visit islanderswrite.com.