Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mastering the Elevator Pitch

Anyone who is a member of RWA knows that today kicks off the RWA National conference in Orlando, and, as always, I will be in attendance. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I will be doing things a little differently this year. This year, I have not signed up to hold author pitch appointments. I’m already participating in two workshops and at least one agent panel. Adding in appointments would severely cut into the time I have with clients, and since that’s why I’m really there, it just didn’t make sense for me this year.

So what do you do if you were hoping to pitch to me and are disappointed I’m not taking pitches, or what if you planned to pitch to another agent but didn’t get a slot with her? Why, the elevator pitch, of course. Or the bar pitch, the breakfast pitch, the lobby pitch. Just whatever you do, don’t try the bathroom pitch or the gym pitch.

Every agent will have a different suggestion for how to pitch agents outside of a traditional pitch appointment. What’s mine? Toss the pitch altogether. I hate the feeling that the only reason an author is talking to me is for the opportunity to pitch a story. That being said, I love to talk about this business. If you happen to catch me at the bar by myself or enjoying a cup of coffee in the corner, don’t hesitate to approach me. It’s almost guaranteed that I’ll be reading something, but if I’m in public I’m expecting to talk to people. If I want a break I’ll sneak out of the hotel for a walk or up to my room for a nap.

How do you approach? Walk right up, say excuse me and ask if I would mind if you joined me for a minute or if you could talk to me. I like to think I’m a pretty friendly person and I don’t think I’ve ever turned anyone down. I might tell you I only have a few minutes, but since it’s National I always only have a few minutes.

What to say? Come with some questions, some comments, or compliment me on my brilliant shoe choice that day. In other words, have a conversation with me. It’s almost guaranteed that I’ll ask you about your writing at some point, but if not, what you’re doing is making an impression. Listen, I accept queries from everyone. Getting a query to me isn’t the point. Making yourself memorable is. If you have questions about the business, want a professional’s advice on your book idea, or just want to sit down and take a load off for a minute, this is the time for that. If our time is cut short and you haven’t pitched, I think that’s fine. In fact, it’s great. I’m usually tired of the pitches and networking is about far more than pitches. And this way, when you query (which is often a more comfortable way to pitch anyway) you can say that we enjoyed a nice talk in the corner of Starbucks right before my meeting with Sally MacKenzie. I’m sure to remember you and that’s what networking is all about. As to whether or not it means I’ll request your work: A verbal pitch won’t do that either, but it might give your work that extra little push if I’m on the fence.

Can’t wait to meet you.



adam.purple said...

Still terrified at the thought. Still taking the stairs.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I've just finished my bagel thin and cream cheese and as I sit here I notice you,on my computer. It's pretty quiet here so I figured I'd approach you, I don't think anyone will bother us and because I know you are the friendly-type, oh well...gulp...I'll try.

Jessica, how's the conference going? I introduce myself and you reach out your hand, and I am hoping my handsake is strong enough, but not to strong. I'm pretty sure you offered me a seat at your duce.

We're not talking about writing, the weather actually, and the oil spill of all things.
Because I read your blog I do mention how I respect your stab at getting caught up, we all need to do that sort of thing from time to time. You laughed when I told you the name I blog under.I liked that.

A woman approaches us, you smile, your back straightens and I can tell this person is important within the industry. I don't know who she is but you do and you introduce us, we are not able to shake hands because she holds a plate of cantalope and honeydew melon slices and whole wheat toast. It is obvious to me that she is a health nut and time for me to relinquish my seat.

It was great speaking with you, and turning to the woman who took my seat, it was nice meeting you. She smiles, you smile and I walk away hearing one of you mention something about stuffed anacondas.

I'm hoping when I query you, you will recall our few minutes together, if not PLEASE pretend, humor me and I promise I'll leave you alone.
By the way...nice shoes.

Internet Lawyer Sam Redlich, Esq. said...

I would probably start with something like "come here often?" or "can I buy you a drink (when we get out of the elevator)". I used to ask agents "what's your sign" - but that turned out to be less effective.

Joseph L. Selby said...

I was raised in a "don't speak unless you're spoken to" household. Approaching people I don't know in public is very difficult for me most of the time.

While I won't be at RWA, thank you for posting this. It makes the notion a little less terrifying. :)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Thanks for this advice, Jessica. Now I know not to tackle an agent in the gym and flood their ears with the glory that is my book.

Totally kidding. :)

Have a great conference!


Marta Daniels said...

So hard for those of us who don't live in NYC and don't have the means to travel to these conferences. Self pub seems the only way to go these days! God bless

ryan field said...

I applaud authors who can do the elevator pitch. I could never do it. And if I did, I'd probably screw it up :)

Aimlesswriter said...

It's still scary. Someday I want you for my agent and I'm afraid I'll make a fool of myself. Then one day you'll offer to represent me and think; Oh God, that was the idiot from the conference.
From all your blogging we already know you're a nice person, but I don't want you to think I'm some wacko. (which I'm not-I just tend to babble when nervous.)
Scary but nice to know we're welcome.

Tara Maya said...

Wait, you mean socialize like a normal human being?


I once read about a conference for people's with Asperger's Syndrome where the participants wore name tags color coded to indicate how comfortable they were with social niceties. Green for "can occasionally make eye contact while speaking to you", Yellow for "I'm pretending this is a Mac store and you are a computer: Play along", Red for "this is my corner, go curl up in a ball and scream somewhere else."

I would love to go a conference like that, where I could be the most socially adroit person present. Or at least in the top 10%.

I don't think there were any literary agents there.

ANGRY CAT said...

Oh, thank you for this post. The elevator pitch has been deified to the point where it's tres intimidating -- and this post is a gift to unpublished authors.

Martha Ramirez said...

Wish I could be there to meet you, Jessica!

S Spann said...

One of my best experiences at the Maui Writer's Conference a few years back (before it went defunct, apparently) was standing in the courtyard and having a fabulous conversation with an editor from a major publishing house about historical fiction and trends in the industry. I didn't pitch my novel (though I had one to pitch). I had approached him with a genuine question about trending, in part to make sure I was writing in the right direction, but he was an editor and I had no agent - therefore my mind wasn't even on the pitch.

About ten minutes later (it was an extremely long and very interesting conversation) he looked at me strangely and said "Do you have a novel to pitch?" When I said yes, but that I was pitching agents instead of publishers, he asked me to tell him anyway - and then said as soon as I had an agent I should have her (or him) contact him.

In other words - they know why you're there, and sometimes if you have an awesome conversation they'll ASK you for the pitch.

Moral of the story: agents and publishers are (gasp) people. They rarely bite, and getting one into a "not-my-pitch-but-something-else" conversation at a conference is one of the absolute best ways to track the industry. You can learn plenty, even if the conversation isn't about you at all.

Sheila Cull said...

If I met you in person Jessica, I'd be star struck, really excited and I'd jump up and down. You wouldn't forget me.

I wish I could meet you. But (I know there shouldn't be a but, but there's a but) I have a white cane meaning transportation as it is, is difficult and time consuming and I work. Okay, forget the "but"; where there's a will there's a way. If I plan it way in advance, I can make it to a great conference like the one Orlando. Yes I can. I want to make it in this business so I'll do what I have to. Thanks for your time and have fun.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the great advice. I'm going to a SCBWI conference this Fall and am going to follow your advice. Hope you have fun at your conference.

Kaye George said...

I DID meet you at Malice Domestic! So that part's done. :)

Steven Till said...

What kind of coffee do you like?