Publishing roulette

I spent last weekend at the NY Pitch Conference, working with authors who were pitching their books to publishing agents and editors. Very exciting. Very nerve-wrecking, and very unpredictable! One editor will love a book, the next editor will hate the exact same book, and a third will look just bored. It’s like playing roulette. You just don’t know where you’re going to land.

Publishing roulette

Some years ago I attended the same exact conference, but then I was one of the authors, not a workshop leader. I was hoping to sell my first novel, The Fiction Class.

Bad news, better news, good news

You can only imagine my trepidation when I approached the first editor. I’d never met a book editor before. This young woman was from one of the big publishing houses. I gave her my pitch. She peered at me and said, “No one will want to read that.”

I had one of those moments when time seems to stop and the tips of your fingers go numb. However, I persevered. Met with two other editors who were more pleasant, though not interested, and then finally, on the last day of the conference, I met with the very last editor, a young woman from Penguin Random House, and she said, “I love this book. We’re going to want to buy it.”

Agatha Christie

Lately I’ve been reading Laura Thompson’s wonderful biography of Agatha Christie. There was a time when Christie thought she would never be published. In 1918, Christie’s first mystery–The Mysterious Affair at Styles–had been turned down by a number of publishers. Thompson writes, “and what they thought about this later can only be imagined.” Finally, after a year of depression and turmoil, Agatha Christie met with publisher John Lane who said that her manuscript “might have” possibilities. She went on to sell more than 2 billion books.

I love thinking about these things on good days and on bad, because one of the exciting things (and nerve-wracking things) about publishing is that you just never know what any day will bring. How about you? Do you have any exciting publishing stories? Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Susan Breen is the author of the Maggie Dove mystery series. Her stories have been published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The MWA anthology, Crime Hits Home, in which she has a story, just won an Anthony Award. She teaches novel-writing at Gotham Writers and is on the staff of the New York Write to Pitch Conference.


  1. I took a look at your link. I see they’re still doing online event in June. Awesome for those of us who don’t want to travel!
    Question: is it only for pitching or can you get developmental critique as well? How does that work?

  2. Keenan and other interested parties:

    I attended NY Pitch last week and fortunately had Susan as my instructor. I wanted to learn the difference between MFA/literary work and commercially viable work. I’ve worked so hard on my writing, and tried to bolster my confidence before I landed in Manhattan. I was shattered by the first two meetings with editor/agent types, but kept rewriting my pitch. The third and fourth meetings were successful. More importantly, I left the conference with a plan of action. I need to revise, revise, revise my manuscript before I send it to the interested parties. Finally, our group bonded and we are continuing to collaborate and develop our manuscripts. The conference pre-work really focused on developing the story before the pitch conference.

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