I’m in the midst of preparing for an upcoming trip to Arizona to attend the Desert Dreams Conference sponsored by Desert Rose, a regional chapter of RWA. My travel arrangements are booked, I’ve chosen the workshops I’ll attend, my itinerary for the research portion of my trip is almost set, my business cards are ordered, and I’m in the process of freshening up my website. There’s just one thing left to do: Prepare for my pitch session.
I don’t know about you, but pitching my book ranks right up there with talking in front of a group (of two or more people), asking a strange man in a bar for a date, or buying a chili dog with the works from a street vendor. In other words, at the top of my “most scary things ever” list. Fortunately, I’m no novice when it comes to pitching so I know it’s survivable (barely). I pitched my first book several years ago at a regional conference in Ohio. I was nervous. I was excited. And I was determined to do my very best.
To prepare, I wrote out my pitch on three by five lined cards, practiced and rehearsed my pitch, stewed over this phrase and that, revised, and practiced some more. During lunch I relayed my fear and anxiety to a “real” writer (no, I didn’t truly believe I was a writer then), sure that her advice would fill me with strength and confidence.
Instead, I was filled with dismay when she laughed and told me that I was wasting my time. She regaled me with her experiences pitching and deemed the process itself worthless since she had never received a publishing contract. When I told her I was going to go anyway, she cautioned me not to get my hopes up if I was asked to send in a partial. Apparently, virtually everyone that pitched was asked for a partial which was code for “not interested”. Sort of the bad date equivalent of “I’ll call you.”
Oh, how I wanted an excuse not to go to that pitch session, but as I pushed away from that table and her I knew something more than pitching my book was at stake now. I had to go. I stood in line sweating through my clothes wondering why an agent or editor would subject themselves to writer after writer stuttering about their books if they weren’t interested in finding stories to publish. (Hint, they wouldn’t). Still I felt like a lamb to the slaughter as I fingered my little cards and waited for my turn.
Finally, the writer ahead of me came running from the room (she literally jumped into the air) gushing about the “partial” the editor had asked her for (apparently she hadn’t met Betty buzz-kill). I congratulated her, but inside I felt sick. She’d been duped.
I was waved into the room. I forced my stiff legs to move, not exactly power walking into the room (think wooden soldier), put out my hand, and introduced myself. The editor was very gracious, tried to put me at ease, and asked me to tell her about my book. My mind went blank. I looked down at my cards. Crap. I’d forgotten my reading glasses and the text was blurry. I removed my glasses, mumbling something about the hell of getting old, and began reading. Now I could read my pitch (a terrible idea on so many levels), but the agent’s face was fuzzy and unreadable. This was a disaster. I wasn’t sure if I was making eye contact or looking her in the nose, plus I had no visual clues to her reaction. There was nothing to do but plow on—wasn’t my five minutes up yet??—which I did while wishing I was dead.
The editor asked me a question about the conflict (conflict? What does she mean, conflict?), and then she wrapped up by, yes, you guessed it, asking me for a partial. I thanked her, and left the room sure old Betty was right, but determine to send my first pages in, anyway (oh yes, I did). Still, I was humilitated. I’d bumbled my way through the whole thing, reading my pitch instead of telling her about my book (Good grief, what could she have been thinking? Maybe it was a good thing I couldn’t read her expression).
Now, I am on the eve of my second pitch session. I know what my story conflict is (thank you, Jenny Crusie), and I can describe what Cheyenne and Hawk are about in a sentence or two. I can talk easily about my story, but I’m more nervous now than I was the first time around. Why? Because Betty Buzzkill was wrong. Pitching does matter. It’s a way to get your work in front of someone who may be able to help you fulfill your writing goals. More importantly, pitching isn’t just about getting our work read, it’s about selling ourselves.
So here are a few tips I’ll be following this time around:
- Present a Professional Appearance. This is a job interview of sorts. Editors/agents are looking for writers they can work with as well as a good story. I’ll look my best.
- Keep Expectations Realistic. Pitching is not about getting a writing contract; it’s about getting my story read. Period. If the agent/editor requests a partial, I’ll consider that a victory and send it in.
- Keep the pitch short, but make it powerful. I’ll start with the hook; add a sentence or two on the goal and motivation of Cheyenne and Hawk (and maybe Reed – the hero?) as well as the conflict between them.
- I’ll be wearing bifocals (yes, I’m that old), but I won’t read from cards (though I’ll probably have them with me for quick reference).
- I’ll leave a bit of time for questions, and thank the editor/agent for their time.
Have you pitched and if so, what did you take away from the experience? What would you do differently next time? Tips appreciated but not required.