Last Friday I cut class for what we might call a game of Pitch and Putt. I ditched poetry in favour of prose. 2016 is the inaugural year of Abergavenny Writing Festival and I took the chance to go to a talk given by Fergus Collins, drawing on his extensive experience of working on and editing a number of BBC magazines,, particularly his current role as editor of Countryfile Magazine .
Fergus talked about several situations that vex editors in most genres; submissions from people who have clearly read neither the magazine nor the submission guidelines. As a busy editor he appreciates a pitch where the writer has considered aspects like what time of year would be relevant to the article (bluebell woods do not a Christmas issue make). It was all hugely interesting.
My writing life has sometimes needed to both write pitches and consider pitches. As a transportation planning consultant for national and local government as well as in the private sector, pitches were often necessary to secure funding for projects. In the music magazine world, writing a good pitch about a feature article on an emerging talent or a rock legend could make the difference between receiving an enthusiastic go-ahead from the editor or a dismayed thumbs-down; as a contributing editor it sometimes fell on me to give that thumbs up or down.
This opportunity to reflect on how much pitching I used to do made me think about how little I currently do in the world of poetry. Normally I am sending poems in to a specific submission window, so, apart from the cover letter which is pitching me, I am not expressly pitching the poems; I think that is something I could make more of. The other main routes that I send poems through are competitions, either single poem prizes or pamphlet competitions. Neither of those really present much opportunity to pitch the poems or the pamphlet, and with many submission manager systems you can attach your entry, plus a brief (typically 50 to 80 word) bio, and that is it; no pitching.
It is obviously a different situation where a poet is approaching an editor with a proposal for a pamphlet or a collection of poems, in which case you generally are not sending off a book length manuscript and simply saying to the editor "would you be interested in publishing this?" Helena Nelson of HappenStance press, in her book 'How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published' illustrates cases where poets have sent in their life's work, dating back to the poems they wrote as a 6 year old, so such happenings do occur. I am sure an editor likes to know a writer has a strong connection with the genre in which they are writing, maybe with a blog or a Twitter presence where they talk about books and events relevant to their particular genre. I have this website with its blog page where I talk about poetry related things; I have my Twitter profile @Bix_cool which is a personal Twitter profile but which talks about poetry things 99 percent of the time. What I want to try and catch the interest of an editor with is a pitch about why all the millions of Twitter poetry people who have never heard of me would be interested in my new book or pamphlet.
When I follow a poet on social media and I hear that they have a new book or pamphlet released then I pop off pronto to buy it. What captures my imagination most though is when a poet I have never heard of publishes a pamphlet, and maybe the title sounds interesting, or another poet recommends the pamphlet, or a publisher alerts people to the new publication; if they look interesting to me with their titles or blurb (the blurb is the pamphlet pitching itself to me, telling me that I need to read its pages) then that's what leads me towards the Proceed to Checkout button.
>>Proceed to pitch pamphlet button