Building block of the pitch #7: so this agent was walking down the hall…


I picked a soothing image for today, because it’s been a hectic last few weeks here at Author! Author, hasn’t it? We’ve gone over how to narrow down your book’s category (June 26-27), identify your target market (June 27-28), brainstorm selling points for your book (June 29-July 1) and a platform for you (June 19, July 1, July 6), and construct a snappy keynote statement (July 1-2). We’ve seen how to introduce ourselves and our work with the magic first 100 words (July 2) as well as how to tease the premise with the elevator speech (July 3-6).

Not only that, but we’ve also wrested some of the most basic fears most writers harbor about pitching out from under that space under the bed that they share with the bogeyman and dealt with ‘em (June 20, 21, 24 and July 6). You’d think, after all that, that we’d deserve a rest.

Not by a long shot. We’re just coming to the point where all of that hard work is going to pay off, whether you’re planning to pitch a book this conference season, query an agent this year, or plot out the next decade of your writing career.

How so, you ask? Because you now have in your writers tool bag all of the elements you need for a successful hallway pitch — or, indeed, an informal pitch in virtually any social situation.

Did that one creep up on you? I swear, it’s true:


Ta da! It honestly is that simple.

You thought I was talking at random when I made you promise yesterday that at the next conference you attended, you would pitch to at least three agents or editors with whom you do NOT have a pre-arranged appointment, didn’t you? Well, gotcha: you now have the skills to do it. All that you need to add to that mix is the guts to walk up to an agent who represents your type of book, smile, and begin:

“Hi, I’m (YOUR NAME), and I write (BOOK CATEGORY). My latest project, (TITLE), is geared toward (TARGET MARKET). See how it grabs you: (KEYNOTE).” Wait for encouraging look, nod, or ask if it’s okay to continue. “(ELEVATOR SPEECH).”

I’m not saying that working up the guts to do this is easy; it certainly isn’t, especially the first time.

But if you watch the flow of bodies at conferences, as I do, you will notice something: except for when the agents and editors are in assigned locations — on a dais, teaching a class, keeping pitching appointments — or socializing amongst themselves (in that bar that’s never more than 100 yards from any writers’ conference, anywhere), they have two states of social interaction: swamped and alone.

With virtually no significant chunk of time that cannot legitimately be categorized as one or the other.

Watch — you’ll see that I’m right. In social situations, there will always be many, many more writers giving an agent or editor a wide berth, in order to avoid the possibility of having to give a hallway pitch. For this reason, it’s often easier than one might think to catch an agent or editor alone at a conference.

Especially if they smoke.

Your first time giving a hallway pitch, you might want to approach during the swamped phase, when you can watch others in action before you jump in yourself. Immediately after the agents’ and editors’ fora, for instance, after the forum is over but before anyone has left, is a GREAT time for a hallway pitch.

So is immediately after a conference class one of them has taught. You probably will have to stand in line, but it’s worth it.

Don’t be shy; you’re prepared for this now. Just walk right up to ‘em afterward. Remember, they come to the conference in order to meet writers — writers, in fact, provide their bread and butter on a daily basis.

Actually, it’s not uncommon for an agent or editor not to know anyone else at a conference, other than other agents and editors. So if the agent of your dreams is standing alone, waiting for his turn in the coffee line, he may not mind at all if you introduce yourself.

(He will mind, however, if you pursue this line of logic in the bathroom, shower in the hotel’s gym facility, or anyplace else that finding oneself barricaded in a small space with a stranger might be a tad, well, uncomfortable. Trust me on this one.)

So remember that bar I keep mentioning, the one that is reliably a hundred yards or less from any writers’ conference? Guess where the pros — agents, editors, authors in town to promote their books, local authors looking for companionship amongst their own kind — tend to hang out in their spare moments?

Suppose that’s a good place to find pitching prospects?

One caveat: if an agent or editor is already engrossed in social conversation in said bar, it is considered a trifle rude to interrupt that conversation so you can give your hallway pitch. The accepted method is to act as though this were any other party, introducing yourself and chatting until someone asks you, “So, Georgette, what do you write?”

Yes, that IS the invitation you think it is.

This is the moment for which you’ve been preparing, kiddo. Don’t equivocate. Smile and answer like the professional writer that you are:

“I write (BOOK CATEGORY). My latest project, (TITLE), is geared toward (TARGET MARKET). See how it grabs you: (KEYNOTE). Would you like to hear more? Yes? (ELEVATOR SPEECH).”

After you have said all this, though, both etiquette and strategy dictate that you do one thing more: stop talking.

I’m quite serious about this; most hallway pitchers get so excited that they have absolutely no idea when to shut up. Don’t let nervousness prompt you to keep chattering. This is a social situation, after all, not a pitch appointment: if the agent or editor who asked what you write was intrigued, trust me, she’ll hand you a card.

If she doesn’t, don’t push.

The same rules apply to the bar and the smokers’ area, by the way. These are public spaces, true, but they are also designated as relaxation places, rather than places of business. (Oh, and if you plan to pitch in the bar, keeping the refreshments light is an excellent idea. I usually settle for club soda and lime — the better to keep my wits about me, my dear.)

Regardless of where you pick for your informal speech, stick to the script. That way, you will know for a fact that you’re NOT rambling on endlessly.

I’m NOT kidding about this. Other than serving as a reliable, professional-sounding introduction for yourself and your work, this formula for a hallway pitch has another benefit: if you put it together properly, you will not have to waste precious seconds of informal pitching time checking your watch.

Because, you see, the hallway pitch is self-timing. With advance preparation and practice, you should be able to say all of this comprehensibly within 30 — 45 seconds, certainly a short enough time that you need not feel guilty about turning to the agent next to you in the dinner line, or walking up to her after the agents’ forum, and asking if she can spare a minute to hear your pitch.

Always ask first to make sure it’s okay, of course.

But to set your conscience at ease, we’re not talking about a big imposition here: you will be taking up less than a minute of her time. So you may feel professional, not intrusive, by giving your hallway pitch immediately after saying, “Please pass the rolls.”

You’re welcome.

Oh, and because hallway pitches are almost invariably delivered standing, do me a favor: just before you start speaking, bend your knees a little.

No need to do a deep, ballerina-style plié; just soften the knees. Pitching with locked knees can make a person get light-headed. Which means that they can faint.

Naturally, the elevator speech also gives you a concise, professional follow-up after someone you meet at a conference responds to your magic first hundred words with, “Wow. Tell me more.” Don’t be afraid to give your hallway speech to other writers at the conference — it’s great practice, and it is absolutely the best way imaginable to meet other people who write what you do.

Other than starting a blog, of course.

The elevator speech has other uses, too, the most important being that it makes a stellar describe-your-book paragraph in your query letter. There, too, you will be incorporating the elements of the magic first hundred words — minus the “Hi, my name is” part, they make a terrific opening paragraph for a query.

In short, we’ve been pulling together a complex set of implements for your writer’s tool bag. A hammer is not going to be the right tool for a job that requires a screwdriver, but that doesn’t mean that a hammer doesn’t have a heck of a lot of uses.

The hallway pitch and its constituent parts are tools of the trade, nothing more. It’s up to you to use them effectively and appropriately.

All of which is a nice way of saying: hey, don’t give everyone you see a 5-minute pitch. And let the agent finish his drink, for heaven’s sake.

But now that you have the tools to make a hallway pitch, get out there and do it!

Okay, now we’re coming up on the main course: the two-minute pitch. But that, my friends, is a subject for another day. Keep up the good work!

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