I recently participated in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Hook competition; a Dragons’ Den style event for five writers and illustrators brave/stupid* enough to pitch their work in front of a panel of four top literary agents and a rather large and overwhelming audience. The winner snags a one to one with an agent of their choice.
Last year I watched the event unfold live. It was my first SCBWI conference and I have vivid memories of not only admiring the awesome pitches, but even more so, the incredible bravery. I told myself: Not a chance I would EVER do that. NOT. NEVER. EVER.
So, what happened?
It was September, I was struggling with my pitch. I was writing one in preparation for various competitions and working towards submission. I had finally typed THE END on my middle-grade manuscript: The Curse of the Weird Wolf and was keen to nail the all-important pitch. The Curse of the Weird Wolf is a story about a boy who hides inside a cage every full-moon in order to avoid his werewolf parents and their salivating jaws.
During multiple drafts of my pitch a reminder popped up on social media about the looming deadline for the SCBWI Hook competition. It suddenly dawned on me … what better way to see if my pitch is any good than to enter what is probably the greatest pitching event on the writers’ calendar? Within an hour, my pitch, and the first six hundred words of my manuscript, were sent into cyberspace. I thought no more of it.
An email from SCBWIs Janette Carr pinged its way towards me. It started off well …
Thank you for applying … there have been lots of applicants … it has been a difficult decision … and I’m delighted to tell you …
… but the end surprised me.
What the …! (expletives removed)
So, I had secured a place. I was filled with both jubilation – my pitch had worked – and utter dread – did I really have to pitch my story in front of a HUGE audience and four AWESOME and HIGHLY CRITICAL agents?
Once the panic had subsided, I took the bull by the horns – or should that be the werewolf by the tail? – and spent many hours, if not days, honing my pitch. I was clueless. Where do you start? But then I saw a brilliant post that a writer friend, Sophie Anderson, shared from her agency. It simplified the pitching process for me and really helped clarify the essential elements. I won’t say too much about the process here because it is something I would like to blog about in the not too distant future. I’m very grateful to Sophie for sharing the structure I much needed. Sophie was also kind enough to read my pitch and comment on it – she was sworn to secrecy, of course – and actually thought it was good. I’m also very grateful to Emma Finlayson-Palmer, an experienced pitcher. She kindly let me run my pitch by her – again, sworn to secrecy – and also thought it worked. Result! (I should say at this point we were allowed to bounce ideas around with trusted friends.)
Confident that I had a workable pitch it was now time to practise. And practise I did. At least three to four times a day, for a month. Mostly completed whilst walking my dog. I swear by the end of it, my dog was reciting It too. He likes the sound of werewolves!
During the run up to the live event we had the opportunity to virtually meet our other pitchees, which was reassuring. At no point, however, did we discuss the content of our pitches. This was a blessing. I can’t imagine anything worse than admiring someone else’s pitch and realising how awful your own is.
On the day of the pitch, it’s fair to say, I walked around in a state of bewilderment. The words: What the hell are you doing? bounced around my head on repeat. Prior to the actual pitch we met the other contestants and the agents. The agents were lovely and reassuring. Some of them, it seemed, were as nervous as us! Both Emma Greenwood and Janette Carr were great at supporting us throughout the day and helped massively in keeping my anxiety under control – THANK YOU!
Apart from a few technical hitches, such as dodgy microphones, and me forgetting to take my props on stage, all went fairly smoothly. My nerves were turned up to the max, and no amount of practising it seems, will ever conquer them. It was a very shaky start and I really felt I had completely blown it …
But in the end (really not sure how) I WON!
And my prize? A one to one with agent Davinia Andrew-Lynch. I’ve already sent her more of my manuscript and we have arranged a date to discuss it. Blog to follow!
So, finally, if anyone is toying with the idea of whether to enter next year’s Hook competition. My advice: FORGET IT!
Actually, I’m joking. GO FOR IT!
It’s probably the single scariest experience you will ever have, but also the most wonderful. The SCBWI love, admiration and respect for putting yourself forward and doing The Hook is palpable. SCBWI members make a fabulous audience, even when things go a tiny bit wrong! Entering The Hook will allow you to perfect your pitch, it will push you out of your comfort zone, it will give you, and your story, exposure, it will provide you with useful feedback, and if nothing else, it’s an awesome natural laxative!
(* delete as appropriate)