A live pitch session with an editor or agent can be an anxiety provoking experience, no matter how well you prepare. I’m sure chapter members in New York for RWA 2011 are suffering nerves at this very moment. Murphy and his snicker lurk everywhere, ready to strike. Here’s wishing you the best of luck, ladies! Murphy’s Law be damned!
When it’s your turn to pitch –and we should have plenty of writers pitching their manuscripts at Silken Sands Writers Conference in Pensacola come next March!– it’s best to go in confident, but expecting something will trip you up. Prepare for it in fact. Sit down and think of as many awkward scenarios as you can. And make an appropriate recovery plan.
Possibilities? Simple ones such as tripping as you approach the pitch table. Talk about a confidence wrecker. Your carefully groomed professional mien gone in one spastic, foot churning, elbow flapping moment. In a dress and heels no less. (I literally heard the echo of my brothers snorting with laughter and shouting “Go ahead, Grace!” as they did in childhood.)
Going blank as you sit down or forgetting to introduce yourself. (Have your business card ready. Practice your pitch beginning to end until it’s second nature. Write down a trigger word to get you going.)
An anxiety attack with accompanying hyperventilation. (If you hold the paper bag, try not to smear your friend’s lipstick with it. She’s embarrassed enough. Looking like a clown after the fact will make things worse and she’ll never pitch again.)
Losing your pitch security blanket, such as a paper with an outline or index cards with high points listed. I’ve helped mop papers dry when a glass of water was spilled (use ball point or pencil for writing them! Felt tip ink runs when wet. Or wept on.); and while moderating outdoor pitches I’ve chased wind-whipped index cards over so many different terrains it isn’t funny. (Number your cards! Even if simply dropped, it quickens getting them in order.)
There may be major problems, too. Helped clean up an agent once at a small conference in Houma. A young woman leaned in to deliver her pitch and the agent, a down-to-earth, conscientious person who tried to make authors as comfortable as possible, responded in kind. Imagine how horrified they both were when that poor girl was overwhelmed with pitch nerves and tossed her cookies!
If you’re to bring the first three chapters of your MS and the editor or agent reads as you pitch, don’t despair. She isn’t tuning you out. Remember: editors and agents constantly multi-task. They can listen to your twelve-minute condensation of 100k words as they read. What they read should match what you describe. Expect pertinent questions about your MS. Know it inside out; down to page numbers of scenes that demonstrate your ability to write emotions, descriptions and relationships — IF ASKED. Don’t walk in thinking all you have to do is direct him/her to a few isolated areas. They need to feel compelled to read your story from beginning to end. So give them the enticing book trailer version — but include the satisfactory ending. They have to know you can reach conclusions and tie up any loose ends. If it’s for a ‘hot’ line, be able to pinpoint a sex scene or describe the physical aspects you present. Not a blow-by-blow (no pun intended!) recitation of your writing, but the overall effect you’ve worked to achieve.
Know your genre. Know your pitch editor/agent. Be sure they match.
Know your characters. Talk about them as real people. Readers will temproarily live in the world you create, and they want characters they can identify with. An editor/agent looks for well-rounded, strong, and believable characters — that means with a weakness, or flaw, or insecurity, or challenge that makes them real, yet with a high degree of individuality.
Practice your pitch with whomever will listen. Over and over and over. To the point you can switch to auto-pilot if necessary. Work with writing buddies first; they can point out weak areas and applaud your strong ones. Then move on to non-writing buddies. If you can hold their attention, pique their interest or make them ask questions, you’re close to achieving your goal. Don’t trust the dog’s reaction. He sits there and listens, but his ears pricked forward can mean anything from his noticing your building panic, to your voice being too loud or shrill. Speaking of loud and shrill; record your pitch. Listen carefully for enthusiasm and confidence levels. Ensure you remain audible at all times without allowing excitement to make you out of breath or shrill. Exercise good diction. Avoid monotones.
Time your pitch to be sure you stay inside the pre-determined limits, yet speak clearly and concisely, unrushed. Don’t hurry through it because you’re nervous, or worried you won’t get it all in. (When timing yourself, make sure to allow a few seconds here and there for questions and answers. If questioned, make a deliberate mental note of where you are so you can pick up where you left off.) Fine tune your pitch. Then fine tune it again. Use words that are descriptive, emotive, provocative.
Questions I’ve been asked are “What makes this relationship unique?”, “How does your writing compare to what’s out there?”, “What do you feel is fresh enough about your writing to set it apart from what’s out there?”, “What is your favorite part of this story?”, “What specifically are you looking for in an editor/agent?” and “You said you were presenting this on its own, but see it as a series. Give me the basic concept of two more stories and their main characters.”
Yes, that last question threw me for a few seconds. Time is oppressive when you’re scrambling around in your head for what you need. I mention it because I don’t want anyone else caught like that. I’d concentrated on the single title I was pitching to the exclusion of other stories. You can believe I now have a thirty-second encapsulation of my envisioned series, and the accompanying three to five sentence interesting summaries of stories therein.
So, what have you encountered? Dreaded? What unexpected questions have you been asked you wish you’d been better prepared for? I’d appreciate your sharing them here so we can all prepare for literally anything. Murphy may show his face, but being able to stand on his coat tail and hold him at bay is an empowering thing.
It can get you through a pitch session. And earn you that request for a partial or a full!
Good writing, everyone! I’m working on my pitches for Silken Sands already. Stay safe over the Fourth of July weekend.