One of the most agonizing experiences of a writer’s life is pitching to an editor or agent. In five minutes–or less–you must prove–coherently–what your book is about and how it’s the next best thing. Most writers find it difficult to talk about something that may have obsessed them for months or years, and Austen rarely talked about her writing to anyone except close family. Here’s my tribute to Jane Austen and the chance to win a prize: a set of postcards featuring the beautiful Jane Austen stamp designs from 2013 (a collector’s item!), and I’m throwing in a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate:
Editor: Hi Jane, take your time. What do you have for me?
Jane: It’s a Regency-set romance about two sisters whose family has fallen on hard times and they—
Editor: So they become courtesans to save the family? Are there dukes in it?
Jane: No. The younger sister falls in love with a rake but he has to leave her to fight a duel because–
Editor: Is that before or after they’ve had sex?
Jane: They don’t ever have sex, because he’s had sex with another girl and–
Editor: Oh, so she’s the heroine.
Jane: No, she’s the ward of Colonel Brandon, who’s in love with the youngest sister—
Editor: Oh great, readers love a damaged military hero.
Jane: He’s actually in quite good shape for his age, but—
Editor: How does the other sister play into it? It seems you have quite a few characters already.
Jane: She’s in love with a clergyman.
Editor: A clergyman! So he’s dying to get her into bed? That’s really sexy.
Jane: Not so you’d notice.
Editor: OK, send me a partial. What else do you have?
Jane: My next book is about five sisters.
Editor: A series?
Editor: Then why are there five? Do you need them all?
Jane: Well, yes. Lizzie, the eldest, meets a gentleman, Darcy, at an assembly—
Editor: Would our readers know what that is? Is it a sex club?
Jane: It’s a dance. But–
Editor: Is he a duke?
Jane: No. But he has ten thousand a year.
Editor: Is that as much as a duke makes?
Jane: More or less. But the hero Darcy is too proud to dance with Lizzie and then his friend falls in love with her sister and Darcy opposes the match—
Editor: He’s jealous? Great, a m/m element. How graphic do you get?
Jane: They talk about money a lot.
Editor: OK, send me a partial. Anything else?
Jane: I have a book, Mansfield Park, which—
Editor: Is that the hero’s name?
Jane: No his name is Edmund. He’s the cousin of the heroine Fanny.
Editor: Her cousin? Sorry, we don’t publish that sort of book.
Jane: Oh dear. I have a romantic comedy that is also a gothic.
Editor: Are there dukes?
Editor: Anything else?
Jane: My book Emma is about a woman who dominates her community.
Jane: No, Highbury.
Editor: Anything else?
Jane: My book Persuasion is about a second chance at love.
Editor: We see rather a lot of those. What’s your hook? Does your heroine or hero have agonizing emotional baggage, for instance?
Jane: She has trouble with her complexion, according to her father.
Editor: Is she a courtesan? I think the market is a little over-saturated but readers love them.
Jane: No, not really. The hero is a sailor.
Editor: Interesting. You could rewrite it as a contemporary and make him a Navy Seal.
Jane: I’ve just started a comedy about invalids.
Editor: I don’t think our readers would go for that. Unless they’re dukes who are soldiers who’ve been emotionally damaged by war. (Waving at someone across the room) Oh great, it’s lunchtime. Thanks, Jane.