Around the Writers’ Table

Learn how to craft the best pitch for your book.

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Back in April, before we started sneezing and dusting the pollen off our cars, I wrote about the upcoming pitch panel at Islanders Write. The pitch panel is much like a mini-master class in pitching and publishing, and one of the highlights of this event.

During the pitch panel, five people with book projects will have an opportunity to pitch their books to four veteran industry professionals. Those of us in the audience will get to listen to the pitches and the critiques that follow. And this year we will be scheduling more time for audience questions.

Usually after we announce the pitch panel, the pitches start pouring in. This is important because it allows us to select five pitches in different genres. In the past we’ve had people pitching novels and nonfiction, self-help, cookbooks, and books for children.

But for some reason — perhaps we announced the pitch panel too early — we haven’t received many pitches so far, and so I am using this space to reannounce the return of the Islanders Write Pitch Panel.

We are delighted that editor Gretchen Young, agent Rosemary Stimola, author John Hough, Jr., and publishing executive Torrey Oberfest will be returning this year for the Islanders Write Pitch Panel!

Please send in your book pitches. Read on for more details.

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 it 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.

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. Their critiques are gentle, thoughtful, useful, and informed.

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?
Absolutely!

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.

Can you tell me more about the industry professionals on the pitch panel?
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.

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.