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How to win the JLF Perfect Pitch Contest: Subi Taba tells us

Subi Taba won the JLF Perfect Pitch Contest in 2023.

Fortunately for us, Subi is an HWR alum, and a frequent participant in our First Draft Clubs (FDCs). We asked Subi how she was able to crack the contest, and what all she did as preparation. 

Before we dig in, it’ll help you to know Subi a bit.  Subi is from Arunachal Pradesh. She has a great love for literature and aspires to be an acclaimed writer. Her debut book “Dear Bohemian Man” was published in 2015. She loves travelling, singing and dancing. She was adjudged Miss North East 1st Runner up in 2013.

HWR : So Subi, tell me about the competition, and how it works.

Subi: It’s a big deal, of course, as it is the JLF Perfect pitch Contest, emphasis on JLF. The major condition of the contest was that our manuscript must be ready and complete. 

HWR : So they need you to turn in the whole Manuscript?

Subi: No, they ask for a synopsis. 

The contest was exciting. In the HWR course I attended I learnt elements of craft of writing. But this contest is about mentoring and a possible book deal. 

The contest winner gets mentored in one-on-one sessions with experienced editors from Penguin. These folks have commissioned best-selling books and their efforts have led to many awards.  Shreya Punj, also known as The Editor Recommends, also mentors the selected author. And the biggest deal, of course, is that Penguin will now consider my book for publication. 

For submission details you can check out this website : Click Here.

HWR : Oh Shreya. Yes we know her – she’s awesome! She’s led a couple of courses for us. So how did you prepare the synopsis? 

Subi: I was working on my Synopsis for about 1-2 months for the purpose of querying, so that preparation really helped when the submission notice came. Only when we work on our synopsis after we have finished the story we get to revisit our stories. I saw each story from a different critical view point, so as to explain/narrate it to the other person. 

HWR : Nice. Sounds like great timing. So the Judges must have been some publishing veterans, then? 

Subi: The judges were respected folks from the literary world: Tanuj Solanki, Arunava Sinha and three senior editors from Penguin. 

More details of the judges and finalists profile can be read here : Learn More.

HWR: Arunava teaches a translations masterclass for us too. Small world! Okay so how did the contest go? They must have had hundreds of entries.  Was there a shortlisting process?

Subi: I am told there were 215 entries. Of these 14 were longlisted and then from there, 5 short listed authors were selected. Among the finalists, there was one romance genre, two family dramas, one dystopian and mine was short story collection. I was the only short story candidate. 

HWR : A Short Story Collection. Wow. Typically publishers stay away from those. So tell us more about your stories, and what you wrote. 

Subi: A good story is a prerequisite for a good pitch. In every story, there has to be a high stakes drama arc. At least that’s what I tried to maintain in my stories. Also one thing that I tried to show in each story was a unique traditional element of Arunachal through the characters or the events. 

But I believe stories are also subjective. 

In my case, well I really loved the stories I wrote. I wrote stories that I wanted to read with some dark elements and lots of nature and wilderness. 

HWR: Reminds me of “Boats on Land” by Janice Pariat. But those are spread over almost 200 years. Are your stories all contemporary or do they also span many years? 

Subi : My short stories span a long time – actually similar to Boats on Land. One story about head hunters in eastern Arunachal in set in the 1850. Another one is from the Pandemic. But they all have them common aspect of small villages running through them. That is why the title is “Tales from the Hinterland”.

HWR: Okay so coming back to the contest, how did the actual pitching work? Did only the finalists get to pitch?
Subi:  Yes, and the time limit for the pitching was just 2 minutes. In fact we didn’t even know that in advance and I had prepared a longer pitch. But then they said we had 2 minutes each, so that was it. 2 mins was very less to explain 10 short stories !!

But I felt that using the limited time, it is very important to emphasize what is different about your work? Or what is new about your work? Something that will create curiosity in people.

HWR : So how did you do it? Did you have the whole 2 minutes written down and practiced? Or  did you have pointers and did you speak extempore? 

Subi: My plans went for a bit of a toss because of the shortened duration. Still, I did have a pitch and some points written down. This is what I had written down – my actual pitch, and this is more or less what I said:

“Good Afternoon, everyone. I am Subi Taba from Arunachal Pradesh, a state nestled in the far east of India with the most obscure history. I bet less than 1% people present in this festival would be actually aware of the unique societal norms followed by the ethnic communities of Arunachal.

So my work “Tales From The Hinterland” is a sincere attempt to present the readers of India a raw glimpse into the mystical world of Arunachal Pradesh with ten short stories flavoured with traditional elements, shaped by the geography of lofty mountains, conspired by the wild creatures hiding in the dark forests and lived in the oral memories of tribes with supernatural faith and belief system.

  1. A night with a Tiger
  2. Macabre memories of Headless Humans
  3. The Last priest
  4. The Lost Village
  5. Curse of the high Priest
  6. Love and Longing in Srijosa
  7. The spirit of the Forest
  8. The Lobaa Man
  9. Plant, Pig & Human
  10. A man from China

So with this I conclude my pitch with an aspiration that my stories will reach out to yours.”

HWR : This is so great. Thanks for sharing.
Subi: but it was a nerve-racking experience for me to speak in such a big audience. I was feeling like a school kid.

HWR : So last question – Did the course you did with us : Kritika Pandey’s Masterclass on Short story writing – actually help you? With the writing and the pitch.

Subi: Yes definitely. That and some of the courses I did all helped my writing. I had been eyeing your site for a long time – well before the Pandemic. Back then you were doing only physical courses. Then with the Pandemic you started doing online courses, and Kritika’s Masterclass was an obvious choice for me because it was  exactly what I was interested in. 

The course made me realize the nuances of the craft and made me much more serious about my writing. In fact I had not even heard of the Commonwealth Prize before I attended the course. I realized what a big deal the prize if only after the course. 

Also, the South Asia speaks mentorship also helped me a lot. So did the First Draft Club every time I joined. 

HWR : Thanks so much Subi. All the best for your writing. Tell us when Penguin has published your short story collection!

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