Pitch Perfect: Pitch to Publishers

How does a pitch become a published book?

Illustration courtesy of Liz Anelli - the Panel

Illustration courtesy of Liz Anelli - the Panel

The room is filled with the sounds of chattering friends and strangers introducing themselves. Six industry professionals sit on the stage in a line.

I am aware of the eight people sitting in the front row to the right of the stage, papers in hand, not chatting as much as the rest of the room. My heart beats faster for these eight incredible people. Pitching in front of anyone isn’t easy, but pitching in front of more than 200 people takes some serious courage.

Our emcees, Tracey Hawkins and Nicole Godwin, hush the crowd from the stage and introduce the session. This is Pitch Perfect: Pitch to Publishers.

The Rules:

  • Three minutes (exactly) to pitch your work and read an extract

  • Timekeeper waves at 2.5 minutes

  • Timekeeper waves frantically at 3 minutes

  • Each industry professionals provides feedback on the pitch

The Judging Panel:

Things kick off with a success story from the last SCBWI conference pitching session. Super talented Christina Booth tells us the tale of a manuscript from her bottom drawer that had yet to find a home. When the last SCBWI pitching opportunity arose, she knew it was time to resurrect The Tiger’s Tale.

With some polish and extensive research on how to pitch a book to a panel, Christina pitched what would become One Careless Night, a stunning and haunting tale about the last thylacine.

After we are all wowed by Christina’s experience (and are all secretly searching on our phones to find out when we’ll be able to get her amazing book — it comes out June 2019 by the way), Tracey Hawkins calls, ‘and we’re off and running’, and indeed we are.

Things move really fast. The eight pitchers take the stage, one by one, and entertain us with exciting, thrilling, mysterious, hilarious and heart warming stories.

We hear tales of dragons and mysterious shadows, a family about to star in a reality TV show, a body swapping orangutan, a boy faced with a difficult family situation and very tough times, a courageous girl searching for her lost spark, a historical tale of family, mystery and a girl with some mammoth challenges to overcome, siblings tackling life with a sick mum and a life of hard work in a factory, and a girl who discovers a rhino washed upon a beach.

There’s a mix of middle grade, young adult and a picture book, and each is different and striking and moving. I laugh and giggle and smile and breathe deep and cry just a little as I listen to beautiful writing and wonderful stories I can’t wait to read in full.

After each pitch, the judging panel gets their chance to comment. We hear: ‘love your writing’, ‘great storytelling’, ‘so much fun’, ‘started with a bang’, ‘timely and hilarious’, ‘I’d like to read more’, ‘you’re really owning this’ and ‘the voice was beautiful’.

Through it all, there are snippets of advice that stick out in the feedback:

  • Make sure the set up for your story isn’t too complicated

  • Give thought to the age of the protagonist and make sure they are the right age for the target market

  • Know where your book sits in the market

  • Balance your descriptions

  • Read from chapter one when pitching so judges get to hear the introduction of characters and the set up of the story

  • You can never have too much nose picking and bum scratching!

Cate Whittle, Dee White, Heather Gallagher, Jo Burnell, Grace Bryant, Sheryl Gwyther, Cristy Burne and Neridah McMullin, you are all masters of words. Thank you for sharing your stories with the entire SCBWI community. Your bravery and talents are gargantuan and we all applaud you!

Shaye Wardrop


Chapter One: Pitch Perfect

The pitch to publishers session was an opportunity for 8 delegates to pitch their PB/MG/YA manuscript to a panel of industry experts in just 3 minutes.

An excited audience watched as Tracey Hawkins and Katrina Germein introduced a panel of publishers while 8 very brave delegates waited in the audience for their names to be called out.

The publishers:

Donna Rawlins – Book Designer, Walker Books

Lisa Berryman—Associate Publisher, HarperCollins
Clare Hallifax—Publishing Manager, Scholastic

Maryann Ballantyne—Publisher, Black Dog Books an imprint of Walker Books
Suzanne O'Sullivan—Commissioning Editor, Hachette
Sue Whiting - former editor for Walker and author

The pitchers should consider the following:

  1. What makes the publishers want to read on?
  2. What makes the publishers want to request a full manuscript?

Previous pitch winner:

Pamela Rushby explained how her successful pitch resulted in publication. Firstly, she was feeling terrified and had a lot of sympathy and empathy for the those pitching today.

When each publisher on the panel showed an interest in her manuscript she was delighted but it soon came back ‘like a homing pigeon.’ After a bit of reworking Clare Hallifax from Omnibus, Scholastic picked Pamela’s manuscript up.

Pamela said you must make it enticing and intriguing so members on the panel will want it. She recommends having a tag line like she did for her own book as follows:

‘Princess Diaries meets Monster High.’

The Pitchers:

Christina Booth with ‘One Careless Night.’ A picture book based on historical events.

  • Sue Whiting said the story behind the story gave her chills.
  • Maryann Ballantyne said it was the kind of book Black Dog does best.
  • Lisa Berryman said it was a very good pitch spoken in a calm voice.
  • Jenny Hale with ‘Immortal Me.’ Historical fiction for ages 12+
  • Lisa Berryman said she loves historical fiction and that the story was compelling. She loved the sense of jeopardy.
  • Suzanne O’Sullivan was holding her breath due to the action and suspense.
  • Donna Rawlins said that she loved historical fiction and joked that she would love to do the cover.

Jodie Wells - Slowgrove with ‘Two Islands.’ A picture book for 8+

  • Maryann Ballantyne wanted to know more about the characters.
  • Clare Hallifax said the story was a universal theme that conveyed an enormous amount in so few words (300.)
  • Lisa Berryman’s brain was fizzing with illustration ideas.

Benjamin Johnston with ‘Shoes From Somewhere Else.’ A middle grade novel.

  • Suzanne O’Sullivan said it was an intriguing mystery.
  • Sue Whiting thought it was suitable for 8-12 year olds, not 10 to 14 as Ben had suggested. She loved the deeper meaning with lots of twists and turns.
  • Clare Hallifax thought the fairytale type of story was very evocative.

Karen Collum with ‘Hatch.’ Dystopian, 500 word picture book for 6-10 year olds.

  • Suzanne O’Sullivan said it was beautiful and that she had illustrations running through her head.
  • Clare said it was very emotive and the themes were love and conquering fear.
  • Sue Whiting wanted to know more about the characters fears and the world after the inciting event.


Gina Newton with ‘Tides of Orca.’ YA series and epic maritime adventure.

  • Lisa Berryman said strong female characters are popular.
  • Suzanne O’Sullivan said it was a complex story with strong characters and that she would be unlikely to sign up 5 books in one go but maybe 2 or 3.
  • Maryanne Ballantyne said Gina did well trying to pitch 90,000 words in 3 mintues.

Dee White with ‘Beyond Belief.’ Historical fiction based on a true events for 10-14 year olds.

  • Clare Hallifax said it was a beautiful pitch. She thought the story was gripping and timely and that she wanted Dee’s manuscript!!!
  • Suzanne O’Sullivan said she loves reading about WW2 as the stakes don’t get any higher than that.



Jenny Blackford with ‘Dead Girl In The Mirror.’ MG for 10 to 12 year olds.

  • Clare Hallifax loves a good ghost story.
  • Lisa Berryman thought it felt more suitable as YA (Young Adult).
  • Maryanne Ballantyne liked the fact it was a historical and ghost story all in one.

Anna Popova with ‘Button City.’

  • Suzanne O’Sullivan said there was so much potential for secret hidden worlds and that it was lots of fun.
  • Maryanne Ballantyne said she had extensive button tins and that it was an intriguing story.
  • Donna Rawlins loves tiny people worlds.

This session was so fascinating. I could not write my notes fast enough to keep up with all the nuggets of great information being shared by the publishing panel. They were generous in their encouragement and constructive feedback. So to wrap this up, if you are considering entering a pitch, think about the following:

  1. Give the genre (picture book, middle grade, young adult)
  2. Word count
  3. Age range
  4. Theme (environmental, dystopian, adventure)
  5. Tagline/pitch (your story in one sentence)
  6. Consider the illustration potential
  7. Research two comparables
  8. Who is your main character and why should we as the reader be rooting for them.
Donna Rawlins, Maryann Ballantyne, Sue Whiting, Clare Hallifax, Suzanne O'Sullivan & Lisa Berryman - The Publishers Photo attributed to Oliver Phommavanh

Donna Rawlins, Maryann Ballantyne, Sue Whiting, Clare Hallifax, Suzanne O'Sullivan & Lisa Berryman - The Publishers Photo attributed to Oliver Phommavanh

The other exciting snippet of information is that the publishers when attending a conference like SCBWI Sydney, do pick up new talent.

Suzanne O’Sullivan signed up an illustrator for KIDLITVIC2016.Clare Hallifax signed up an illustrator from KIDLITVIC2016.

Maryanne Ballantyne discovered 2 authors from CYA and 2 illustrators from SCBWISydney 2016.

They are on the look out for new talent so give them your best effort and goodluck!

Ramona Davy Roving Reporter