Let’s talk about this: winding up for the pitch…

I am planning to toss up one of my patented nice, long revision-oriented posts this afternoon, but before I do, a quick question: are many of you planning to be giving conference pitches this summer and fall? If so, would you like me to spend a few weeks going over how to pull it off gracefully.

Yes, I said a few weeks. This is me we are talking about, after all: I’m not a big fan of the unturned stone.

A few of you have approached me privately about this, and I’m inclined to think these brave souls are right about the time’s being ripe for a little stone-turning. I haven’t done a series on pitching in a couple of years — the combination of a slow economy, a novelty-shy literary market, and rising writers’ conference price tags seemed to have resulted in fewer members of the Author! Author! community shelling out the sometimes hefty dosh required to garner a pitch appointment. And, frankly, I’ve just seen what a local conference is sending out to its prospective attendees on the subject, and I’m guessing that some of you might like just a bit more practical guidance.

Like revision, pitching well is a matter of learning the ground rules — and practicing, practicing, practicing. It would be helpful for me to know, though, what kind of pitch sessions any of you may be considering; every conference has slightly different rules.

No need to name names — I’m just trying to get a sense of what you will be facing. Are those conference brochures and websites telling you to plan on 2 minutes? 10 minutes? 30 seconds? Three sentences max?

Also, for those of you who will be pitching for the first time, what (if anything) about the prospect is stressing you out the most? Writing the pitch itself? Staying within the aforementioned time constraints? Or will this be the first time you will have spoken face-to-face with someone in the publishing industry about your book?

Finally, for those of you who have pitched and lived to tell the tale, what do you most wish someone had told you before you shook hands with that agent or editor?

If those last few paragraphs sent your blood pressure skyrocketing, calm down: by the end of Pitchingpalooza, you will be able to handle any of these conversations with aplomb. Heck, your heart rate might not even rise when someone asks you, “So what do you write?”

Seem impossible? Believe me, it isn’t — but the more you can tell me about specific (or even general) concerns, the more I can tailor Pitchingpalooza to help you allay them.

So please speak up, campers — and, of course, keep up the good work!

8 Replies to “Let’s talk about this: winding up for the pitch…”

  1. I won’t be pitching at conferences anytime soon, but I can still use help on this. Even thought I’ve written a multitude of ever-shorter-pitches, whenever a hapless friend asks what I’m writing, they’re in for a long rambling ride. If I were to meet an agent in an elevator, I’d… well, it wouldn’t be pretty.

    How do we make it sound conversational without being wordy? Surely they don’t want us to just memorize our back-cover copy? (Or do they…?)

    1. Oh, that’s such a great question, Robin. I may open the series with that. (As a reward for your cleverness in asking it: the short answer on the back jacket copy is HEAVENS, no!)

      1. I second Robin’s request… I’m not planning any pitching soon, and so had honestly ignored the whole issue, thinking, “Let me work on writing now, and I’ll work on actually *speaking* later.” But somehow this spring I found myself at two different conferences (and not writers conferences) where I ended up face-to-face with varoius writerly people who asked me what my novel was about. Oh dear. I made a complete hash of it.

        My big struggle is what to tell: Do I set up a word picture of my main character and the first exciting conflict to appear? Do I skip to the main conflict of the book? Do I give both — which ends up giving an implicit answer to the initial conflict by the simple fact that the character must obvioulsy have survived it (this might be unique to my novel, but I’m imagining it might not be — I’ve read several books where solving an initial problem only opens the door for the rest to occur). Or do I present instead my reasons for writing the novel, to address issue X, and describe the main conflict in that context?

        And if I think ahead to real pitches, I wonder — how in the world do you start? Are polite greetings and such expected, or considered a waste of time? How and when do you plunge into the book?

        1. Oh, that’s all most helpful, Anne A. — and I’m glad you brought up the surprisingly common phenomenon of suddenly finding oneself in an unanticipated pitching situation. Even if that never happened, though, having worked out a pitch is quite handy for general social situations (even a gentle “So what do you write?” can be rather stressful without it). Not to mention being a good tool for improving one’s query letter!

  2. Is pitching for everyone? If an author has a strong feeling that she would do well to stick to words on paper, should she do just that? Or if one of the top two agents on her to-query list happens to be coming to a writers’ conference in her city, should she suck it up and go and then hope the agent won’t later recall having already encountered her name or her plot if she bombs the pitch miserably but still wants her controllable, nit-pick-able words on paper to get their chance?

    I inevitably feel like an awkward little country bumpkin after meeting new and interesting people. I never know what to say until several hours afterward. …Which is why I’m a writer. Surely I’m not alone in feeling that the idea of pitching in person is exciting but is also the stuff of nightmares.

    Why *should* an author pitch in person? When should she stick to plain old queries?

    1. Ooh, I could write several posts on that, Carmen — and I probably shall. The verbal pitch is relatively new to the writers’ conference circuit, for precisely the reason you mention: writers tend to be far more comfortable presenting their ideas in writing. And it’s not as though writers ever get picked up on pitches alone; basically, pitching just allows a writer to skip the querying stage.

      That being said, if the agent of one’s dreams is going to be at a local conference, I say go, if you possibly can get an appointment with her; it’s a chance to meet the agent directly, without having to get past her Millicent. Perhaps for that reason, the “Okay, send me X pages,” rate from face-to-face pitches tends to be quite a bit higher than acceptance rates for query letters. You might just do very well. And if not, agents hear far too many pitches at large conferences — and often at several per year — to harbor negative memories of a botched pitch. (They do tend to remember rudeness, but I’m sure you’re too nice to run the risk of that.)

      Even if one doesn’t work up the nerve to pitch — a completely acceptable outcome, and more common at conferences than one might think, even amongst attendees with pitching appointments — it provides a dandy opening for a query letter: I so enjoyed hearing you speak at Conference X that I am hoping you will be interested in my novel… Even in the current hyper-competitive market, Millicents are usually trained to take a query that mentions having seen the agent at a conference more seriously; such writers are deemed to be more likely to have done their homework about how the industry works.

      1. Excellent, excellent final point. I hope you do decide to spend time addressing this topic.

        (I missed my opportunity with said agent this past spring, but I have a hunch she’ll come around again. Makes for a nice deadline.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *