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Pitching – or: What’s the point anyway?

21. July 2008

Whether you’re going to RWA’s National Conference in San Francisco or attending RWNZ’s or our very own RWA conference here in Melbourne, you’re probably thinking about pitching to an editor or agent.
After all, time and time again, the one thing conference attendees want the most is pitching sessions.
We’re all desperate for that look inside the head of someone who could potentially make or break our careers. but how useful are pitch sessions really?

JenWriter stresses that she does her research beforehand.

I told them why I chose to pitch them. “I decided to pitch you because you are the agent of [author], and I’m a huge fan. Plus, my work is in the same genre so I thought you might be interested.” Every time I mentioned a client’s name, instant connection. Their faces lit up, they smiled. For the ones where I mentioned only genre from reading their bios, they also seemed pleased I did my homework. But the ones where I mentioned actual clients seemed to make better impressions.

Anne Mini has a clear goal in mind before she hones her pitch. She wants the editor/agent to *want* to read her work. her advice? Don’t start by summarising your book. She has a lot of great advice, in fact, she even wrote a second post on the subject matter.

On the other side of the fence, agent Rachelle Gardner has a couple of gems to offer pitching writers, mainly about taking things one step at a time. You don’t want to finish your pitch only to have the first question be “Hold on, what genre is this?”
She offers this as a pitch starting pint:

My name is _____ and I wanted to meet with you because _____.

I’m represented by _____ (agent name if applicable).

I’m writing ______ (what genre).

My publishing history includes _____. OR I’m currently unpublished but have been writing for ___ years.

Today I want to tell you about my book called _____ which is a ____(genre).

This book won the _____ award (if relevant).

I’m writing about this topic because ____ (if relevant. For example, you are a police officer and you’re writing a cop thriller).

My tagline is _____ (20 words or so that capture your book).

Then, launch into your pitch.

What a great idea!

Agent Kristin Nelson suggests that you don’t have to try to sum up your whole novel. Instead, just focus on the first 50 pages ore so and find the catalyst, the moment that really sets the story soaring. She also has some specific advice about a contemporary romance and a romantic suspense.

Agent Nathan Bransford has a more cynical (or honest?) outlook on pitch sessions, saying more often than not, he just requests a partial because it’s easier than saying no.

Agent Scott Eagan shares this view, saying that often, editors and agents will ask for the full MS, just so they can weed out those who haven’t completed their project.
He also warns that while editors might acquire across the lines, it won’t mean they’ll be the ones to read your project.

So what can you do to make you and your work stand out from all the others?
It’s all about the branding, says Jen n at AuthorMBA. In other words, present yourself how you want to be perceived. For most of us, that means professional, savvy and classy. So no sweats and lunch-stained T-shirts, please!

Does all this discourage you? Maybe you don’t want to pitch a project. Maybe you’re just keen for some one-on-one time with an industry professional. You figure you’ll give them a little break, pick their brains, chat about your marketability, get some feedback.
Be careful, warns Rachelle Gardner. Not everyone will be happy to do this. Especially agents are there to find new clients, not hold your hand and help you along.
She does concede that editors might be more open to this approach. Be very careful, and just in case, have something to pitch.
You could always ask if the agent/editor would mind you picking their brains instead, stating that while you do have a pitchable project, you are much more keen on having your questions XYZ addressed in these few precious minutes.
Use discretion.

So what should you do?
Be prepared, be professional, and above all, know yourself and your work.
Be polite and interesting. It doesn’t matter how introverted you are in real life or how nervous you get.
Practice at home in front of your friend, cat or mirror until you can pitch while doing cartwheels (or at least without tripping over your own words).
And above all, try and have fun with it.
Odds are good they’ll look at your stuff.
And then you can send that coveted –requested materials– envelope and let your brilliant writing do the talking.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Wendy Toliver permalink
    21. July 2008 3:49 am

    Great advice, all around.

    Here’s what I have to add. First of all, try not to be nervous. Yes, this person *might* have the power to help launch your career, but the keyword here is “person.” Not God or Goddess or Superhuman. Along these lines, I agree with “not launching right into the pitch.” Both you and the editor/agent will need a sec to collect thoughts, breathe, take everything in. So introduce yourself, ask how he or she is doing, smile. Then tell him or her about you and your work, keeping it conversational. In other words, include the person. I think a good way to get rid of the jitters and present yourself in the best light is to pretend the agent/editor is your friend who just asked, “So what are you working on now?”

    Second, wear something that is professional but also shows some of your personality. A unique necklace, a pretty hairpin, a funky watch, a stylish blouse …

    Third, be enthusiastic about your project. Smiles and enthusiasm are contageous.

    Lastly, don’t linger when your appointment is over. Thank him or her, maybe shake hands, and get outta there so the next person can get started.

    Hope that helps!

    Wendy

  2. Authorness permalink
    22. July 2008 12:13 am

    Great advice, Kiki. I agree with Wendy too – enthusiasm goes a long way. Focus on how much you enjoyed writing the book instead of how nervous you are about pitching it.

    And if you see an agent/editor roaming about at the conference, it’s okay to say hi but don’t launch into an impromptu pitch unless they invite you to.

    Vanessa

  3. Tina C permalink
    22. July 2008 1:08 am

    Hey Kiki

    Good idea blogging about this – man, with conference around the corner, my stomach always lurches at the thought of pitching. A necessity – but a nightmare at the same time!

    See you at Conference in Melbourne.

    Bye 4 now
    Tina
    http://www.tinamclark.com
    http://www.cyaconference.com

  4. Kiki permalink
    22. July 2008 11:38 pm

    Hey Wendy,
    I love the idea of having a ‘personality piece’. And I don’t just say that because I always look like I was dressed by blind monkeys… ^_^

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