Good evening blog fans. So, here it is then, the first of the ‘request blogs’ – this one is on pitching instincts. Specifically mine and, I guess, in general.
Apparently, this question came about through something I once said during a seminar session at BL Live (don’t think I parted with any such dubious pearls of wisdom at this year’s event – which was awesome by the way – but who knows…).
In response to a query about advice for pitching short stories, I supposedly said (and I only er on caution because I don’t remember saying this) something along the lines of: Cool. Space Marine. Story.
Hmm… a tad myopic perhaps, but it does illustrate a salient point. Pitch what sells. Yep, that’s right, think commercially people and try and divorce yourself from the petty or selfish urge to tell a particular story about the fish men of Aquapolis or that Fimir short, Ratling sniper novella (actually, that’d be pretty cool) or the weird Brothers of Obscurity Chapter you saw once in a box out in White Dwarf.
It’s highly like there’s only one person who wants to read that, and it’s the person pitching it. Or their mum. Or their mates (who are crap judges of your work and pitches, so don’t really on their feedback. For a tummy tickle and a feather plumping, sure, that’s nice but for good, honest to bejesus critique, get a stranger or a pro to do it). Tops.
I know, I’ve seen it time and again. Heard it time and again. It sounds harsh, but if you want to be a writer you need A) a bloody thick skin and B) the ability to see beyond the extent of your own navel.
Right, that’s the tough love out of the way.
Here comes the contradiction.
You should totally write and pitch what you’re passionate about.
‘Huh?’ you’re saying. ‘Didn’t he just tell me to scrap that kroot detective story?’
*sound of tearing paper and hair being pulled out*
Yeah, I did. What I am saying is, find yourself a commercial idea that you can be passionate about and pitch that. Hopefully, it’ll mean you won’t over egg the cake either. I have lost count of the number of over complicated, over detailed submissions I’ve read through. Man, it is hard work and I really don’t have time to read through a whole bunch of stuff because said pitcher thinks it’s essential to the plot.
And if you still think it is, you’re waaay too close to your piece and should step away immediately or this’ll be the only thing you ever try, and fail, to write.
Don’t be precious, be clever and pitch something we will like.
Reinventing the wheel or trying to pitch outside the genre is a mistake too. Show us the archetype but give them something interesting in their character that makes me take notice. Oh, and this is pulp sf, not some existential treatise on the nature of war or any of that load of old bollocks. If that’s what you want to write then you’re barking up the wrong treehouse. That isn’t to say that what you write shouldn’t have depth but a spade is a spade, and ours usually have a mag of bullets locked and loaded into them.
Be clear. If you’re not and can’t describe your story concept in a line (two max!) then we probably won’t look at it or like it.
When you’re a bit more established as a writer it does get easier. You do develop an instinct for what works and what doesn’t. Even go was far to consider would your idea work as a series. Could this fledgling short story blossom into an all singing, all dancing mega trilogy with audio dramas, novellas and the lot. Think about scope, but rather potential scope and not the scope of the piece in its own right – you’re getting into over complication and unwieldy plotting again if you do that.
There was a supplementary question appended to the one about pitching instincts (and once again a lot of this boils down to having a good commercial head on your shoulders, and knowing just what it is that your prospective publisher publishes). It concerned whether I get any pitching black spots, where whatever I suggest gets shot down and I’m locked in a dirty funk.
The short answer is: no. At least not yet. Thing is, I know what ranges BL produces. So do you, by the way, it’s articulated in the books that come out every month. Let’s just say if you pitch a story that ties in to Space Marine Battles or Warhammer Heroes, there’s a good chance it’ll get some consideration (especially if you can write and have a decent idea that’s based on a popular part of the background – can’t help you if the first part is deficient but the second one is easy: just read lots and pay attention to the races that get most attention from your fellow hobbyists).
As a writer, I’m already thinking about the next Salamanders series. I can do this because I’ve already put in the hard yards with pitching what was a commercial trilogy that I shored up with lots of short stories and other projects. I’ve got some Space Marine Battles ideas too (one, admittedly, that I had to re-purpose slightly in the light of resistance from our sales and marketing guys).
Re-purposing your story ideas is an interesting concept, and something I might leave for another blog post. You might have a great idea but the setting and context makes it not viable because it isn’t very commercial. What if you take that idea and frame it differently, in a different context. Fireborn started life as a Warhammer short story idea, believe it or not.
I do have a slightly leftfield idea circling around my shell-like. It’s not as commercial as Salamanders, I don’t think, but it is a wicked concept and the context in which it is set is extremely commercial. Certainly, there’s enough there for my editor to take a punt.
I don’t know if this really answers the pitching question. I hope there’s something of interest in what I’ve said.
Okay then, so what’s next?