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Speed Dating Publishers – What I Learned

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

I must admit I wasn’t overjoyed at the idea when the Australian Writers Association gave me the opportunity to participating in a one-on-one meeting with two publishers. We were allowed three minutes to give our elevator pitch. Gulp! I’ve never tried ‘speed dating’, but that’s what it sounded like. The hook was a follow up meeting with the publishers if the ‘date’ was successful. AWA also gave us the criteria the publishers considered to help match us with someone ‘interesting’. There was also some excellent information on how to prepare for our ‘speed date’. Keen for a publisher for my almost-finished second novel Nelson’s Lost Son, I decided it was time to try something new.

Image: Surely this woman was a publisher? With thanks to artist David Kumalagov

Preparing the Pitch

In order to get everything important into the three minutes, it was suggested the “pitch” be divided into “What”, “Why” and “How”.

What? 15 seconds was allocated to the basics including genre and subgenre. (Mine is “Historical fiction within the subgenre “Adventure/The age of Fighting Sail” – according to the Sarah Johnson classification of Historical Fiction). The basics also included word count – 100,000 and working title – Nelson’s Lost Son - and the target reader- men and women over thirty.

The Synopsis. This followed for a generous 60 seconds. It was important that the theme featured strongly in this section. I said “When a young man confronts his failures in life, he often blames others before he is compelled by circumstance to examine himself.” This was then followed by a more detailed outline and a concluding sentence – “A new age is dawning but in the meantime the French must be defeated.”

Image: Looks like I’m not the first author in history to find it hard to reach a publisher

Why? This section was allocated 45 seconds. This was to do with my motivation in writing the novel. I said I was a direct descendant of the main protagonist Josiah Nesbitt. Also one of my goals as an author was to challenge the myths behind the durable legend of British naval superstar Horatio Nelson, Josiah’s stepfather.

How? The final part - allocated another whole 45 seconds - needed to focus on one’s own writing bio and the writers who have influenced me. I included Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey Novels and Bernard Cornwell’s The Fort. Also I like Phillip Kerr because he challenges the legends of history as I do. I concluded by describing the reviews of my first book, Nelson’s Folly by several quality reviewers, my promotional social media and my public speaking. I finished with 35 seconds to spare.

As I’ve learned from my business career, the tighter the timeframe the more important the planning, so I did invest significant time into understanding and meeting the specifications.

On the Day

I knew there was no need to put a rose in my lapel and carry a copy of the Times under my arm to be recognised as zoom provides the name tags. I resisted setting a romantic background for my screen - it may feel like speed dating, but this was cut-throat business.

In the event, the first of the two meetings seemed to go well. I was congratulated in covering as much as I did. I even sensed some level of interest- although to call it author/publisher ‘chemistry’ would be going way too far.

In the second meeting, the publisher had sent out the wrong zoom details and everything was delayed and everyone was tense. She said dismissively that the subject matter was not of interest to a wide enough audience, although she congratulated me on my presentation. I wondered whatever happened to niche marketing which seemed the buzz word in all other industries, but there was no time to ask. And no one to debrief with afterwards. Maybe I should’ve had a wing man in the background.

Then came waiting for the call. It made me grateful to be happily married. Yet I still needed expert help to get my book published and promoted effectively.

In due course, I received a brief email that that neither publisher had any interest. It all ended as an in vain attempt on my part to short cut the system and unfortunately without any useful inside information from the publishers either. But “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, they say and I do now have a much tighter, sharper pitch than I had used previously.

Another toughening up experience in the life of a wannabe author!

Speed dating; looks like I will be single for a while…or perhaps not. Amazon is always up for a date.

Have you tried any unusual ways to reach publishers? Please share your story in the comments or I'd be delighted to publish your experiences as a guest blog.

Would you like more information about my next novel, Nelson's Lost Son? Email me at:

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