Pitch perfect

Authors can give it their best shot at the Islanders Write pitch panel.

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

I don’t know if the ability to shape and present a pitch should be considered an art form, but there is an artistry and craft to doing it well. Pitching your book to agents, editors, and sales reps — for those seeking to publish — is a part of the process of getting published. And while creating the perfect pitch may feel like a frustrating part of the process — if you’ve just written the next great American novel, must you also write the great American pitch? — understanding the intricacies of pitching and learning what editors and agents are seeking is invaluable information. Not to mention that the exercise of writing and refining a pitch, summarizing your project, and explaining its merits, can also be illuminating in unexpected ways.

We are delighted to announce the return of the pitch panel at this summer’s Islanders Write. With their eye toward publication, five writers with book projects will be selected in advance and allotted three minutes each to pitch their projects to four esteemed industry professionals, who will evaluate the merits and issues of each project pitched. And yes, this will be done in front of an audience. 

Who is on the pitch panel?

Islanders Write is delighted to welcome back Rosemary Stimola, Gretchen Young, John Hough, Jr., and Torrey Oberfest.

Gretchen Young (vice president and executive editor at Grand Central Publishing) works on books in various genres — 100 of which have become New York Times bestsellers. Agent Rosemary Stimola (founder of Stimola Literary Studio) represents fiction and nonfiction from preschool through young adult, and her clients have won every coveted award and then some; John Hough, Jr., is a novelist and the author of the invaluable “The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue.” Hough, whose most recent novel, published in 2021, is “The Sweetest Days,” also facilitates writing workshops. Rounding out the pitch panel is Torrey Oberfest (a former vice president of corporate strategy at Hachette Book Group), who will be moderating the discussion. For more detailed bios, visit islanderswrite.com. 

How are the pitches chosen?

We will choose five pitches in advance of the event to be presented. The final pitches will represent a variety of genres and types of projects — in the past, we’ve had novels, cookbooks, historical fiction, children’s books, and memoir. We carefully select the projects to be pitched with an eye on various types of projects because it is more helpful to hear the feedback about different types of projects than hearing five pitches for, say, contemporary novels set on Martha’s Vineyard. If your pitch isn’t selected, it in no way indicates that we didn’t think your project wasn’t good enough.

What will I have to do if my book project is picked to pitch?

If your project is picked, you must be available to be at the Pitch Panel in person on Sunday, July 31, at Featherstone Center for the Arts. Each “pitcher” will be allotted three minutes to make their pitch — if the three-minute time is exceeded, you will be gently, yet firmly, cut off by the ding of Tibetan wind chimes. The publishing professionals on the panel will then critique your pitch.

Might I find an agent or editor at the pitch panel?

The short answer is no. This pitch panel is not a marketplace. Rosemary Stimola and Gretchen Young 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; they are not here seeking projects for themselves.

Do you have any advice for writing a pitch?

Gretchen Young says, “Articulate in a sentence or two what your book is.” She advises brevity. “No need to get into the details, you’ll lose your audience — highlights only.” Young adds that it is important to make sure to explain why you are the right person to write your book. For example, let’s say you were a professional child ballerina and your book project is a social history of the children who danced in “The Nutcracker”; make sure to mention that you danced the role of Clara and to explain — in a sentence or two — how that experience makes you the person with the insights to be writing this book. Young adds, “It’s always good to mention other books out in the market that are similar, but don’t use comps that are million-copy sellers, the category killers.” She advises, “Use comps to give us a sense of style and category — or similar subject.” And make sure to answer these questions. “Why should your book be out in the world? How and why will it resonate? What are the universal themes?” 

Rosemary Stimola has warned in the past against overselling yourself, “I am immediately moved to pass when opening lines are filled with hyperbole — ‘a guaranteed bestseller … the next big movie franchise.’” She advises, “Keep it straightforward; set up rationale for your book in the marketplace, provide a brief synopsis and a brief bio.”

John Hough, who provides the authorial perspective of a writer with decades of experience pitching books and evaluating stories, emphasizes the importance of the narrative, no matter what kind of book you are pitching. Explains Hough: “The one imperative I have, which I say over and over again when I teach: Tell a good story, a good one. This applies to history and memoir, as well as (obviously) fiction. David McCullough is a superb historian. Why? Because he’s a good storyteller.” 

What if my project isn’t selected?

Listening to the pitches and hearing the feedback is useful and informative, whether it directly relates to your book project or not. We will also allow time for audience questions at the end. And we reiterate, if your project isn’t selected it does not reflect the merit of your work. 

If I presented to the pitch panel in the past, can I submit to pitch again?


How do I apply to pitch my book project at Islanders Write?

Write up a brief description of your book project and a one-paragraph bio, and submit them to us online at islanderswrite.com, or email to Kate Feiffer at kate@mvtimes.com. If you do not receive confirmation that your pitch has been received within 48 hours, please resubmit.

Is there a deadline for submitting my pitch?

Pitches must be submitted by or before July 9.

When will I find out if my pitch was selected?

You will find out if your pitch was selected to present at Islanders Write on July 15. This will give you two weeks to work on and practice your final pitch. 

The Islanders Write Pitch Panel will take place on Sunday, July 31, time to be announced at a later date. For more information about Islanders Write, visit islanderswrite.com.