. . . and here’s the pitch! Pitching at writing conferences.

This weekend, I’ll be at the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation (OWFI) conference, and I’m supposed to pitch at least one of my novels.

Here’s the thing:  I can’t! 

How many of us can walk into a room and immediately start to talk about ourselves? Some can. Some of us can’t. I can’t. Give me someone else’s book to pitch, and I’d be great. Give me my own novel to pitch, and I sort of dissolve into a dribble of incoherent pudding. You know, like Donald Trump trying to talk about – well, anything.

See, I’ve done this before. Four years ago, to be precise, I pitched at this same conference. And I was lucky enough to not only get a request for the partial, but also (later) for the full. The agent was serious about the book, but . . . I realized it needed far more work than I’d realized when I pitched it, and so I bowed out. It was a hard choice, but I think I made the right one for me at the time.

This time, I’ve got two novels that I could pitch, and agents there who seem like decent fits. It’s just hard because a.) neither novel is really ‘done’ yet, and b.) I HATE TALKING ABOUT MY OWN WORK!

You know how sometimes you have dreams that make absolute sense at the time, and then when you start trying to describe them to someone else, you can’t explain why the polka-dot dog/unicorn things were at a meeting between you and Caligula, or why the Japanese businessmen were all wearing alien suits? Yeah. That’s what I sound like when I try to explain my urban fantasy novel. “There’s ghosts,” is about as coherent as I get.  Nicky’s easier – somehow “My protagonist is a 14-year old rumrunner in the 1920s, trying to save his family and avoid the Klan” rolls off the tongue a bit more easily than “My protagonist sees ghosts and moves to England and then has all these ghosts she has to sort out there, and oh by the way it’s the first in a series.” Right. Who’s going to want to read that? 

In fact, I’ve always had an aversion to pitch sessions. It’s not the end-all, be-all of publishing, in my mind. (Of course, I’m neither an agent nor a published author, so take that as you will.) I think I communicate better in writing. Makes sense. We’re writers. Why wouldn’t we be better in writing than in person?

I also want to point out that in the brief amount of research I did for this post, I ran across some blogs from agents in which they decry the whole pitching process. Yes. That’s right. Some agents don’t like pitch sessions. For various reasons. Andy Ross sums it up like this:

When I get pitched at conferences, too often I find that the attendees have been so over-coached that by the time they get in front of the agent, they act like their heads are going to explode. They read from note cards, they recite  from memory in a sing-songy way, they stare at me with an intensity that spooks me out. A lot of times they are taught that the 10 minutes they get to spend in front of an agent will determine whether their book will get published. AND EVERY SINGLE WORD THEY SAY DURING THE PITCH MUST BE PERFECTLY CRAFTED AND CALIBRATED.

Oh, puh – lease!

And I’ve listed those blogs at the bottom of the page for your enjoyment later.

But if you’re hell-bent on it anyway, here’s a few tips I’ve picked up:

1.) KNOW YOUR BOOK INSIDE AND OUT. And I don’t just mean the plot – know your characters, too, including your antagonist. What do they want? Who’s trying to stop them from getting it, and why? What motivates them? What’s their main problem?

2.) WRITE YOUR PITCH. You will not read from this, unless you are so nervous that reading your script is better than bolting from the room. But this helps you solidify what you want to say. You get only a few minutes – anywhere from 5-10 minutes – to get an agent interested enough to say “send me the first 50 pages.” So your pitch needs to be . . .

3.) BOLD, CONCISE, INTERESTING, ENGAGING.  I KNOW. That’s a huge order! I hear your gears grinding in agony already. Don’t start with your setting. Start with your main character and his/her main problem. Why is it interesting enough that this agent should spend time reading about it – and then, hopefully, spend time selling it? Remember, your time is short. Your pitch should be, too. Why? Because . . .

4.) THE AGENT WILL WANT TO ASK QUESTIONS. If they’re interested, they’re going to ask questions. Mine did. It might be about the setting, the plot, the characters. They might ask if the novel is complete. Maybe they’re curious about you – what led you to write this, what research you’ve done. Take deep breaths. Answer them. Remember that the more questions they ask, the more interested they are. As ‘Miss Snark,’ Literary Agent, says, the well-prepared author will win the day if they have the following answers ready:

  • genre
  • word count
  • plot line
  • hook
  • who would read this?
  • is it like any books I’ve sold?
  • what’s interesting to you about the characters and story ?

In fact, one of the questions they might ask is “Why did you choose me? Why do you think I’m a good fit for this project?” You’d better be ready with a killer answer, based on . . .

5.) YOUR RESEARCH INTO THE AGENT. Never, ever, unless it’s one of those last-minute, hey-we’ve-got-a-free-agent things, go into a pitch session without researching the agent first. Why do you want them to represent your book? What makes them a good fit? It can’t be their resemblance to George Clooney, sorry. It needs to be a real answer. They represent your genre, for one thing, They’re looking for X fiction or X nonfiction projects. They recently sold X, which is similar to your book because __. One thing that caught the eye of the agent that requested my manuscript was that I knew she’d graduated from Harvard with a degree in Early American History; that gave us common ground and since my book dealt in part with history, she knew chances were good that my research was sound.

I still don’t know if I’ll pitch. I know there are a couple of agents at OWFI that would be a good fit for Nicky, but he’s nowhere near done. And I do not want a repeat of the last time – a whirlwind of rewrites that ultimately left me feeling hollow and browbeaten. (Not by the agent:  by myself!) But at least if I decide to, I can walk in there knowing a bit more about what agents want.

 

Here’s a few articles and blogs about pitching to agents at conferences:

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/7-tips-for-pitching-to-an-agent-or-editor-at-a-conference

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/how-to-pitch-agents-at-a-writers-conference

https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-pitch-your-novel-at-a-pitch-conference-1277304

http://www.writing-world.com/publish/pitch.shtml

http://www.writing-world.com/publish/pitch2.shtml

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/4-questions-agents-ask-at-pitch-sessions

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2014/01/rant-pitch-sessions-are-spawn-of-satan.html (From an agent who actually despises pitches – and wants to revamp the entire process.)

https://andyrossagency.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/how-to-pitch-to-an-agent/ (Tips from an agent on what he’s looking for in a good pitch.)

http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2007/02/pitch-sessions-at-writing-conferences.html (THIS one is fantastic – both funny and insightful.)

http://nelsonagency.com/category/query-letters/pitch-sessions/

https://carlywatters.com/2013/05/06/how-to-pitch-an-agent/

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Pitches, Pitchapalooza, and What the Bleep Have I Done?

“If you can’t describe a book in one or two pithy sentences that would make you or your mother want to read it, then of course you can’t sell it.”– Michael Kordon, editor-in-chief, Simon & Schuster (Wall Street Journal, June 26, 1984).

I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing I really hate about writing, it’s the pitching process. Especially with that kind of pressure! Thank you, Mr. Kordon.

I know – it’s a necessary evil if you want an agent. I get it. But there’s so much to it. And the sad part is, I can write a pitch for almost any book I’ve read – but not mine. There’s something about self-aggrandizement that really gets under my skin and makes me want to rip my eyeballs out. Pitching my own book is almost impossible.

What do you leave in? What do you leave out? Is that secondary plotline really important? How much setting do you give vs. how much character development? Are you really getting the point across and grabbing someone’s attention? Every. Single. Word. Counts. Especially if you only have 250 words to do it in, like I did this past week.

Pretty much on a whim, I decided to try my luck at NaNoWriMo’s “Pitchapalooza,” hosted by The Book Doctors, Ariel Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. I haven’t seen a Pitchapalooza in person, though I know they do them at writing conferences and book fairs – basically, authors get 1 minute to pitch their book, not just in front of Ariel and David, but in front of a live audience. The best pitch wins a free consult with them, and hopefully will lead to a better book overall, and introductions to agents who are actively seeking something exactly like your book.

My friend Debra Dockter (debradockter.com) won Pitchapalooza at the Kansas Writer’s Association Conference a few years ago. They made suggestions and introduced her to her current agent. So I knew things could happen. You know, good things.

This Pitchapalooza, though, was online. You got just 250 words to convey the essence of your novel. In addition, the ideal pitch would:

  • showcase your writing ability
  • explain why YOU are the one to write it
  • show what’s unique about this novel
  • and create the same kind of “I have to know what happens next” feeling of a movie trailer.

Not hard, right? No pressure. None at all. So. After working with Deb on my pitch for my young adult novel (Nicky’s story!), I sent it in. They would choose 25 pitches at random to go on their website and be critiqued. The public would then vote and the ‘fan favorite’ would get a consultation.

Random + me = not a snowball’s chance in hell. But I sent it in anyway.

And surprise – I’m one of the 25!

The point of this whole thing is twofold.

One:  here’s a chance to see 25 pitches, for all genres and in all kinds of writing styles and levels of expertise, in one place, complete with fairly in-depth expert commentary on what they like about them – and what needs improved. If you’re not good at writing pitches (like me), this is a GREAT learning opportunity.

And two:  go vote for me and Nicky. 🙂 No, seriously, you should vote for your favorite, but if your favorite happens to be Nicky, that would be brilliant.

In the meantime, I’ll be frantically writing. Because Nicky’s story? It ain’t quite done yet. 🙂

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http://www.thebookdoctors.com/2015-nanowrimo-pitchapalooza – The website for the pitches, and where you can vote.

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Some helpful links for writing that pitch:

http://www.writersconferenceguidelines.com/getting-your-pitch-right.html

http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/thebusinessofwriting/a/How-To-Pitch-Your-Novel.htm

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000755331 – the winning pitches for Amazon.com’s 2013 Breakthrough Novel Awards.

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/pitching – the best of Writer’s Digest’s pitch articles, in one convenient location!

http://thrillerfest.com/pitchfest/pitch-tips/