I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Wind Up for the Pitch

Eep! RWA's national conference is in just a few weeks. I can't speak for everyone, but those of us who plan to attend are either a) freaking out or b) calmly, methodically planning out which socks we'll wear.

I vacillate between both. One thing I'm focusing on is my pitch appointment with an editor. I am deciding what to wear (something red, so I stand out? or classic black?) and, of course, reading up on The Pitch.

A pitch is just what it sounds like: a brief opportunity to intrigue an editor. I was going to write, "sell your manuscript," but that wouldn't come out right. I've never heard of anyone buying a manuscript from a pitch appointment. Buying one after reading the manuscript which was requested at a pitch appointment, yes.

Our expectations have to be realistic. What am I hoping to come out of my pitch appointment?

  1. I'd like to make a positive connection with the editor.
  2. I'd like the editor to request the proposal for my manuscript.
That's it. Sounds easy, right?

Hah. I've only pitched once, but I can safely say there is nothing cool, smooth, or ennui-inducing about pitching. One agent has written of writers bursting into tears during their pitch appointments. High drama!

Hopefully, preparation will help me. I am no expert (remember, I've only pitched once.) But here's what I've learned:
  • You get 10 or 15 minutes, so don't dawdle. There is no time for a lot of up-front small talk beyond polite greetings.
  • Despite what I just said, don't forget the up-front small talk. Smile, shake hands, make eye contact, introduce yourself, and say thank-you. Common courtesy goes a long way in life. At least that's what I tell my kids.
  • Write the pitch ahead of time and practice it. A pitch, or "elevator pitch" (because you could theoretically corner an editor or agent in an elevator and give them the pitch) should boil down your story in 30 words or less. This is tricky, but necessary. A pitch requires you to get to the essence of the story. There's no "well, there's this guy, Louis Abercrombie Bluebee IV, and he hates his name so he goes by Skeeter, and he's the heir to a diamond mine, and he's been having a hard time since his brother stole his girlfriend, so he decides to take over the diamond mine board, but first he goes surfing and finds a body on the beach," sort of stuff. What you want is precision. No names. Descriptive words to describe the emotional state/job/your protagonist (or, in a romance, hero and heroine). State the conflict and what's at stake. An embittered diamond heir and a haughty, anti-gem activist must work together to survive after they stumble into a gem-smuggler's deal gone bad. Not a fabulous pitch. And not my story, either. But hopefully this helps get the idea across. Describing the hero as a diamond heir and the heroine as an activist means there might be sparks and some internal conflict. And a gem-cartel's deal gone bad? That will mean danger and external conflict. Again, not my story. Or a great example.
  • Do your research. Some editors/agents prefer 15 word pitches. One agent likes 7 words. Seven? Gulp. Thirty is hard enough. The point is, find out what the agent or editor wants. Check out their websites. If they're attending ACFW this year, visit the conference section of the website. They'll tell you if they have a pitch length preference. They'll also tell you whether or not they want a one-sheet, writing sample, etc. Have those ready to go. (Seven word pitch, by the way, tends to be something you'd see on a book cover. Divided by will, united by murder.) Please say you're snickering at these examples!
  • Be ready to share more than the pitch when the editor/agent asks. Think "back cover blurb" type stuff (again, pre-write this and practice it).  
  • Cheat. You can have your blurb and pitch on a one-sheet. If you have to read it, read it. Try to memorize it, but reading it shouldn't kill our chances.Then, the editor/agent might ask a few more questions. This will be a bit more fun because you get to talk about your story.
  • But don't talk too much. In my one measly experience, I was asked specific questions about my characters' motivations. If I'd babbled, I wouldn't have given the editor/agent any time to become engaged.
  • Remember editors/agents are people, too, and they know we're nervous.
  • One last thing, respect the editor's/agent's time and personal space outside of the pitch appointment. Politely thank then when your time is up, get up, and make room for the next person. Do not stalk them later. Do not approach them in restrooms. Many have said if they run into writers in the hallways, they don't mind being approached. I don't know how universal that is.
Lots of do's and don'ts, I know.  And much of it is common sense. But it's not terribly natural.

I've printed out my pitch. Next stop, Memorization City. Hopefully when it's my turn to pitch, I'll be ready.


Anita Mae Draper said...

It looks like you're well prepared, Susie.

I've pitched a dozen times now and I can say that the best ones were the ones I prepared for, but didn't memorize my pitch. Why? Because I drew a blank at the crucial moment and then couldn't remember anything about my book. At all.

So yes, you can memorize if you need to, but the agent/editor would rather you tell it naturaly and succinctly. If you can memorize and say it without looking strangled or without staring at the wall as if the words were written there, go head.

I couldn't. And then when asked, I panicked.

I'm getting super-excited at finally meeting you. :D

Susanne Dietze said...

I'm excited to meet you, too, Anita!

Good advice about the pitch. I'll practice so it's smooth (I hope) but I won't hesitate to read my pitch if I need to.

I'm still nervous, though!

Thanks for coming by.