Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Up and Down and Back Again

UP : I experienced an almighty high during the Theakston's Crime Writing Festival last month. It wasn't just the usual buzz from meeting my favourite authors, catching up with old and new friends, or revelling in the excitement that permeates Harrogate each year.

No, this high came from a successful Dragons' Pen experience. I stood up in front of 40 other students, a dozen authors and of course, the Dragons (two agents, one publisher and an editor) and pitched my novel. It went well, with both agents and the publisher putting their hand up for more. I was first to pitch and the only one to bag interest from both agents - result. The rest of the festival, I floated a foot off the ground, smiling from ear to ear.

DOWN: The following Monday, I fine tuned my synopsis and first chapter, then, holding my breath, I sent it off to my chosen agent and the publisher.

A week later, I received comments. I would be lying if I didn't say I expected glowing praise and a three book deal. Honestly, I think most people would. No one has read my novel yet (it's not complete) but I think its good and the pitch went well, so I was quite positive. Until someone tells you differently, you always think you are a star performer.

The comments that came back were constructive but mainly of the "needs improvement" variety. The critiques were professional and forthright (which I appreciate) but they did cut deep to the bone. There weren't too many positive statements that I could hang my hat on.

There is a horrible feeling when someone reads your book for the first time and doesn't like it or thinks it doesn't work. You shiver; you feel sick. It's worse when you haven't even finished. Output dries up; inspiration goes walkabout. As much as you believe you are the star performer, part of you also thinks your work is a steaming pile of crap. If the latter is reinforced, even subtly, the world comes crashing down. To progress, you need to find something to pull you up.

BACK AGAIN: I've been given a second chance, another go. The agent will look at a second attempt at the synopsis, as long as it is my best work. This brings with it even more anxiety -what if the second attempt is no better? Could I bounce back from that? But what pushes all of that down is the fact that I have been given a great opportunity to show what I can do and a chance to impress.

And that is enough to pull me back to the computer and start writing again . . .


Janet O'Kane said...

Hi Daryl
Apologies for commenting on such an old post, but I've just signed up for the 2010 Dragon's Pen at Harrogate, and would welcome any words of wisdom on the format and how you got such a high rate of approval from the panel.
I've just completed the first draft of my first novel, so can deliver on the 'what's it about, then?' question, but I wonder if that's enough?

Daryl said...

Hi Janet!

Well done on signing up for the Dragons' Pen! It's a great opportunity, not only to show off your novel, but to get some good pitching and presentation experience.

My advice, based on my experience last year, is to follow the Dragons' Pen guidelines carefully, ensuring you cover everything in your presentation that they ask you to.

That said, I think you only have 2 minutes to present, so you will need to prioritise. I would identify the hook in your novel, (i.e. the most interesting aspect of it), and begin with that, fleshing it out a little with the bare bones of the plot. The character or characters are important too, so spend some time on that as well. Try to stick to one or two characters though, as multiple names will get too confusing for the listener. Re: the other areas that they ask for - squeeze them in if you can.

My opinion is that the hook/premise and the character(s) are the most important. But don't ignore the other points - even if you cover them off in only a sentence, at least you've covered them off.

Focussing on an interesting pitch is essential. You want the dragons to get excited about what you are pitching - so make it exciting - and be excited!!

Finally, make sure you prepare and practice. Time your presentation so you are comfortable with the pace (not too quick) and the content.

I'm not sure why my pitch was well received, but I pretty much followed my advice above.

Oh and the most important part - have fun!!

Hope that helps - good luck - and let me know how it goes!!


Janet O'Kane said...

Thanks for the advice, though I can't imagine actually having fun (I'll leave that for the rest of the weekend).
Are you planning to be at Harrogate again this year?

Daryl said...

Most definitely! From Thurs onwards (but not doing Creative Thursday this year due to time constraints).

See you there!