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A Year of Writing and Pitching in Place

By Kathryn Pritchett
March 23, 2021

When the pandemic began, I was still recovering from my first round of rejections for my debut novel. A few months before, I’d pitched three agents and a publisher who all asked for the full manuscript after receiving my query and opening pages. My head was spinning. How was I going to decide which top-tier professional would midwife my book about a frontier midwife? 

Not to worry. Two agents got back to me with encouraging responses but nevertheless passed because the novel turned out not to be a good fit after all. The third agent asked me to cut a quarter of the book and then resubmit. I never heard back from the publisher.

Shaken by the request/reject whiplash, I put pitching aside and enjoyed some previously planned travel at the beginning of 2020. By March I cautiously revisited my list of potential agents, even though I was distracted by talk of the virus. And then the order to shelter in place came.

You would think that would have been the perfect set-up for pitching–stuck at home, the whole publishing industry still at my fingertips. What else was I going to do with my time? Turns out just about anything else. 

I read, gardened, walked, sanitized groceries, Zoomed. But I couldn’t pitch. Pitching felt both inappropriate—how could I bother agents with my dreams when we’d all been thrust into a collective nightmare? —and too vulnerable. I couldn’t take the sting of rejection on top of the fear and isolation.

Fortunately, a newspaper editor asked me to write a series of pandemic posts. I also contributed content here on the PLW blog and elsewhere. Teaching gigs moved to Zoom and forced me not only to compose my thoughts, but to develop PowerPoint slides to illustrate what I was teaching–both writing adjacent activities that kept me playing with ideas and communication. Within months it seemed I was back to writing a lot. Just not writing fiction.

Then I stumbled upon a novel-writing workshop with Berlin-based writing coach Caroline Donahue. The course would run from June through August and the goal was to end up with a first draft of a novel. The first draft of my first novel had taken years of small writing bursts to produce. Finishing a first draft in three months seemed highly unlikely, but with a completely cleared calendar in front of me, I decided “why not?” I didn’t know what I wanted my next novel to be about, but I’d set a 2020 New Year’s goal to figure it out. Research for my first novel had introduced me to a turn-of-the-last-century actress named Maude Adams. I’d read a short biography and thought there might be something there. I signed up for the workshop.

Which meant that every weekday of our pandemic summer I tried to be at my desk by 7 a.m. to check in with my fellow workshop mates writing around the globe. I took a leap of faith in faith-shaking times that Maude’s story would be revealed if I’d just get out of bed, make a cup of “Get Relaxed” tea and sit down at the computer. To keep up with the daily word count, I left plenty of gaps that would need further research to fill in. Still, by the end of the summer, I’d written a 60,000-word rough draft and, more importantly, I knew the story I wanted to tell. 

I also began editing the first book to get it in fighting trim. Somehow, generating new material every morning made it easier to whittle down the old material in the afternoon.

Six months into my shelter in place year, I began the second draft of the new novel. Six months later, I’m still happily filling in those research gaps. It’s engaging work, now that I know where the story is headed. 

As for pitching the first novel? A year after I retreated from pitching, I’m back at it. So far, the results are mixed—there have been more requests for full manuscripts, some rejections, and, yes, maddening silence. But I’m able to bear the uncertainty better now—after all, I’ve been through what writer Anne Lamott calls “Covid College.” 

So what have I learned about writing and pitching during this year of sheltering in place? I now know that I have more than one book in me, which has been a remarkable gift—a bit of faith restored. Without the forced isolation I’m certain I wouldn’t have generated the new work in such a short period. And it might have taken me much, much longer to face the rigors of pitching anew.

Kathryn Pritchett
Written by Kathryn Pritchett

Kathryn Pritchett writes about strong women forged in the American West. To interact with her and the other Paper Lantern Writers, join us in our Facebook group SHINE, on Instagram, and Twitter.

View Kathryn’s PLW Profile

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