After spending more than a year writing a full-length novel with more than 100,000 words, Brinda Charry of Keene was worried that summarizing it in one paragraph for a book-pitch competition would be challenging.
The 123-word synopsis she wrote earned Charry, who chairs the English Department at Keene State College, first place in an inaugural “pitch party” competition held last month by the literary arts nonprofit N.H. Writers’ Project.
The virtual competition, part of the Manchester organization’s annual 603 Writers’ Conference, was judged by a five-member panel representing the literary and visual arts industries, as well as radio. They awarded Charry top prize from a final group of five pitches, which conferred a $250 prize and, she said, validated her efforts as an author.
“The East Indian” is a fictional account of the first person from the Indian subcontinent to appear in the American colonial record — a real boy, 14, who worked on Virginia tobacco plantations after arriving via London in 1635 — according to Charry.
The subject stems from her scholarly research on colonial-era intercultural encounters, which is how she initially discovered the existence of Tony, as he is referred to in records. Charry, who immigrated to the United States from India, herself, said she began exploring Tony’s circumstances a couple of years ago, traveling to Virginia for archival work, and has been writing the novel for more than a year.
“But, neither black, white, nor Native American, and neither indentured servant nor slave, Tony must also discover his own unique place in America,” she wrote in her N.H. Writers’ Project pitch. “While ‘Tony’ is barely a footnote to American colonial history, this novel retells that history from his point of view, that of the first Indian-American.”
Charry explained that this year’s edition of the 603 Writers’ Conference, held virtually on Oct. 17, caught her attention because it was specifically designed to offer publishing advice for Granite State writers.
“Most of my fiction has been published abroad, so I thought, ‘You know, I need to learn a little bit more about the way the U.S. market works,” she said.
Charry has previously written two novels and a collection of short stories, as well as a book on the English Renaissance and commentary on a Shakespeare play, according to a N.H. Writers’ Project news release. Her novels were published in India and the United Kingdom because she believed their themes would draw greater interest in those markets, she said.
In 2018, Charry received a Ruth and James Ewing Arts Award for her literary achievements.
The N.H. Writers’ Project conference, which the organization’s marketing director, Beth D’Ovidio, said is typically held in the spring but was moved to October due to the coronavirus pandemic, included a book pitch competition for the first time. Charry decided to enter.
She was one of 16 writers to submit pitches, which were winnowed to five finalists in a first round before the conference, according to D’Ovidio.
As part of the conference, New Hampshire-based actor Christopher Savage read the final submissions to a panel of judges that included N.H. Public Radio host Peter Biello, bestselling author Brunonia Barry and award-winning film producer Chris Stinson. The judges evaluated pitches based on their ability to convey each novel accurately and concisely, D’Ovidio explained.
She said the competition gave participants an opportunity to practice important marketing skills and receive advice from industry experts that may help them secure publishing deals and avoid self-publishing their work — an increasingly common, but often less lucrative, option.
“A big part of that is to know how to pitch your book to a publisher or an editing house,” D’Ovidio said. “… To get the feedback from that caliber of professional is huge.”
She added that the N.H. Writers’ Project plans to reprise the competition during next year’s 603 Writers’ Conference, which will also take place in the fall.
After expecting the pitch-writing process to be “painful and annoying,” Charry said she enjoyed the experience. She added that its emphasis on brevity forces authors to consider the central themes of their work and its relevance to potential readers.
“I think it’s great practice for any writer,” she said. “You learn to get to the absolute gist of what your book is about.”
The competition also encouraged Charry to begin searching for someone to publish “The East Indian” — when there is much more at stake than $250. She said the process is challenging but that several writing agents have expressed interest in the novel.
Her victory in the N.H. Writers’ Project’s pitch competition was hardly superficial, however. Charry explained that it proved her research and writing efforts were not misguided.
“Winning it, I think, really validated the project for me because the judges were literary agents and well-known authors,” she said. “It made me realize that this project is worth it.”