The Pitchening!

Actually, it should be ‘Writer’s Idol,’ but I am inexplicably fond of a James Franco/Danny McBride fantasy/quest movie called ‘Your Highness.’ If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry about it, it’s probably for the best. But it features an evil wizard who wants to bring about doomsday by deflowering the Princess, a process he calls the ‘****ening.’ So, I like ‘The Pitchening.

And just now, on the subject of this blog, it occurs to me that maybe knowing more about my process is not a good thing.

Anyhow, here’s the deal. The Luck is coming out on August 1 (you’ll get tired of hearing that), so I need to get on the old promotional trail. That includes conventions, and I suppose that conventions include Winnipeg’s oldest and most respected Sci Fi Convention, Keycon.

So I’ve signed up for Keycon, bought my membership and all. I’d have done it anyway, Steve Erickson, the Malazan Empire guy, is the guest this year, and he’s a friend, we were in a writers group together back in the day (seriously – look up the dedication in Gardens of the Moon, there we all are). So it will be nice to see him, and maybe see if he’ll give me a plug for old time’s sake.

I’m also going to try and get on a few panels. I like panels, I’m good at them.

It’s peculiar. I have no social skills. No small talk at all, my idea of small talk is to make eye contact and stare at someone until they go away. Making conversation is excruciating. Oddly, that works for me, because apparently I’m a terrific and sympathetic listener. But really, no social skills. Find it, fix it, build it, kill it, I’m right there – object oriented programming, task based, achievement focused, process driven, learn, do, goal, object, closure completion – that’s me. Having a conversation? That’s sometimes excruciating. Sometimes I’m kind of like a robot, but with less personality (apologies to robots).

But I am a terrific public speaker. Maybe it’s the schoolteacher background, or the lawyer, or even the journalist. Whatever it is, put me up in front of a crowd, and I’m in my element. I’m charming, witty, informative, I’m just dynamic as hell. I’m good as a one man show, I enjoy panels, they’re lots of fun. I think it’s the structure. Whatever it is, I can be frighteningly charismatic, which is a nice change from the bad old days, when I was simply frightening.

I like doing funky panels. One of my favourites was a ‘Liar’s Panel on Getting Published’ with Joe Haldeman and someone else out in Conversion, in Edmonton. And I also did panel on Vampires with Larry Niven (and someone else) one Keycon. I mention these because they were fun, and because I was absolutely thrilled to actually be in a room with either of these legends.

Sometimes panels are too sincere. A lot of writers panels are like that. You get two or three writers together, and we sit there and have solemn thoughts on important literary questions like ‘Is characterization important’ or ‘How do you do plots’ as if we’re on CBC or PBS. They’re fine and they can be informative and interesting, and all that, but sometimes… All too often, it feels ‘soft technical’ to me, and I like to go ‘hard technical.’ Does that make any sense?

But it’s the funky ones I really like doing. An Unnatural History of Giant Monsters, the Secret History of the Lady Doctors, Getting to Know Your Zombies, that kind of thing – a bit personal, a bit off the wall, entertaining, informative, suprising, unconventional. This year I’m pitching Keycon on a ‘What Went Wrong’ panel, to commemorate the implosion of so many franchises in the last few years – Star Trek, Star Wars, Terminator, Ghostbusters, Charley’s Angels, Dark Universe, DC Cinematic Universe, Jurassic Haemorhoid, etc. etc. – basically a line of turds trying to make buck off our childhoods.

Readings. Not a big fan of reading. Don’t get me wrong, readings are fine. They’re just a bit too sincere and dull for the audience. I’ve done a lot of readings, and I’d like to think I’m usually pretty good at them. The best readings I’ve had, in terms of audiences rather than performance, are usually at events where people are there for some other reason, so they’re trapped in a room with you.

Unless you’re someone like Guy Gavriel Kay, it’s a pretty humbling experience. I’ve done lots of readings at conventions – Keycon, Conversion, Ad Astra, Valentines Con, even Dragoncon, and on average, I think my audience for them is one or two people. I’m not a name, most of us aren’t, so I have no idea why anyone shows up. I think that people attend readings on the vague sentiment that it’s good for them somehow, like taking multivitamins.

I’m not dissing readings. It’s good practice for … something, and you can put it on a resume if you’re doing a grant application or something. But here’s a tip – if you want to do a reading you have to either a) be an established name; b) get into some kind of event where people can’t escape the room; or c) recruit family and friends.

But where was I? Oh yeah, The Pitchening.

I had this great idea for a panel that I’m flinging at Keycon. I’m not sure if they’ll pick it up. But it’s a terrific idea, so I’m putting it up here: The Pitchening, aka Writers Idol.

Let me give you a little background. Technology has just changed the game. Used to be, to get a book out, you needed an entire gigantic infrastructure, hell just getting the typesetting done was a major undertaking. But now with computers, you can do 99% of publishing on a laptop. Now we have ebooks, and we have print on demand, and small press runs. We’ve had an explosion of self-publishers, micropress publishers, small press publishers, all over.

Now, a young woman, or a housewife, if they’re motivated, can get their fantasy novel out into the world, a story that’s been rattling around compulsively inside their head. They can take this thing they’ve been dreaming of, working on, believing in, and make it real.

My god, that’s glorious!

I don’t know if it results in a readable manuscript, that part is hit and miss. But the realizing your dream part, getting it out into the world, that’s just wonderful.

I would go to these Comic Conventions, walking up and down the hucksters tables, and I’d see all these people with their little booths and tables selling their self published or small press novels. There they are out there, selling their books, getting out into the world. All the love and labour of writing, of getting it formatted, eventually getting copies published and renting that table to try and meet your public.

I know how hard it is to write a story or a book, I know what they go through, I know the hurdles and the heartbreak, so to see them there… I just love that. I would go to a comic con and I would try and buy as many as I could, if possible at least one book from every writer brave enough to put themselves forward like that. For some people, I was their first sale ever. It was wonderful to see so many of them, wonderful to see such enthusiasm, such a community.

Because when I started out writing, the genre writing community in Manitoba was…. Me.

That was it. Just me. I remember signing up with the Manitoba Writers Guild and asking what they had for resources for speculative fiction wroters. They had nothing, so I went and photocopied every writers guidelines and bit of market information I had and gave it to them. Years later, I’d check to see what they had for genre… and their file was just all my old stuff.

There were a few others in Manitoba doing what I was doing. But we were few and far between, and really not aware of each other. It was a lonely thing to be a writer back then.

Of course, later I joined writers groups, but that’s another story.

The point is that nowadays, there are a lot of writers around doing genre, a lot more community. Nowadays we have in Winnipeg a vibrant community of genre writers. People like A.P. Fuchs (pronounce it ‘Fox’), and Ron Hore (pronounce it ‘Hooray’), Casia Schreyer, Gerald Brandt, Leia Getty, Chadwick Ginther, L.E. Derksen, GMB Chomichuk, Melinda Friesen and others. Majors, minors, self publishers, small press, pro, zines, comics, what have you. We don’t actually hang out. But there are venues, a seasonal round of conventions and occasions where we run across each other selling books, trying to get into the marketplace, trying to find your readers, trying to get noticed. I’m sure that every large to middling city has that, and every convention has it.

So I was looking at all these wonderful people, all of them, all of us struggling to break through. And I was looking at Keycon, and I had an idea.

How about we jazz it up. Try and make it kinetic. Try and do something to reach out to people?

Panels and readings, that’s nice, but it’s dull and sincere and it doesn’t make much of an impact.
Why not take the game show approach? Instead of American Idol, let’s do Writers Idol?

Here’s my idea:

One hour.

Ten Writers.

Five Minutes Each.

One after the other.

You go up there, and you pitch! It’s not a reading. You can do a reading with your five minutes if you want. But you can do anything. Recite verse, do stand up, play a video, you can explain the novel, tell a story, you can act out a scene. You have five minutes to pitch yourself and/or your novel or your collection of short stories, your poetry, your anthology, your comic book, whatever. You got five minutes to tell them why its terrific, and why they should be interested and buy it!

Just pitch it. If you believe in something enough to have taken it all the way from idea, to writing to publishing, to sitting at a table at a convention… Then you have five minutes in you for a pitch.

Five minutes isn’t long enough to bore the heck out of the audience. It’s not long enough to put too much stress on the writer (we’re writers, not performers). It’s just long enough to get a really good pitch going, or if it doesn’t… its short enough to keep it going till the next one comes up. It’s manageable on both sides.

We get some moderators or MC’s in there to keep it moving, say polite things, crack a few jokes, lead the audience a bit, rescue a writer if he freezes up, etc. Maybe even get someone famous or semi-famous, a name writer, or a publisher or agent to MC. Hell, maybe we can get professionals into the audience.

I think we’d have a good chance of actually getting an audience – ten writers, getting their friends and acquaintances in, buttonholing random strangers at the convention… that’s got to be something. Then there’s the funky freak show nature of the event, I think there’d be a real shot at an audience.

And it could be a real shot at exposure for people who are otherwise just sitting at tables in the dealers room, trying to make eye contact and sell their books. Maybe sell a few extra books.

A few thoughts – I’d restrict it to people who actually have something to sell. An actual physical published or self published book or ebook (ebooks aren’t actually physical, but you know what I mean). No unpublished novels, works in progress, etc. (I’m not slagging those, I think that’s just for a different forum).

I’d like it to be non-competitive – we’re all there pitching our hearts out and doing our best. Let’s not mess with ranks and hierarchies, declare winners. No Judging by Judges, no Judging by audience score. Winning would be the experience of going back to the Dealers Room and selling an extra ten or twenty copies. Let’s celebrate each other, support each other.

I mean sure, if something like this took off to the point of being a regular thing at conventions, and a lot of people participating… yeah, then fine, then we can start making it competitive. But starting out, it’s just to give a little platform to people who are trying their hearts out.

Finally, the thing with this idea, is that it’s portable. I don’t know if Keycon will go for it or not. I don’t know if it will work at Keycon if they do pick it up.

But it seems to me that it’s an idea that could work at just about any convention or comic-con or dealers convention. It could work in any community that hosts a decent number of small writers. So I’m putting it out here on my blog. Anyone that wants to can pick it up.

All you need is a bunch of writers, an MC, five minutes apiece, push yourself and your work for all you’re worth…. and support each other.

Oh, and if you do pick up on it, I’d appreciate it if you called it…

The Pitchening!