Wednesday, July 08, 2015

A Writer's Guide to Being Pitch Perfect

It's July and that means pitches. Lots and lots of pitches.

This month I'll be attending both Thrillerfest and RWA and I'll be taking appointed pitches at both as well as, I hope and assume, I'll be meeting authors throughout the conference who might want to pitch their work. 

There are a ton of great places to find tips on pitching, including this blog, instead I'm just going to talk generally about pitch appointments. 

First things first, I think there is far too much emphasis placed on the pitch. I've been told by conference organizers that I have to take five hours (8 hours sometimes) of pitches because that's all the authors want. If that's really the case that's a shame, but I don't believe it's true. I think pitch appointments make it easy for conference organizers to fill time and not have to juggle workshop schedules for agents and editors.

Pitch appointments will not get you published. They are no different from a query letter except they are in person and will probably stress you out a whole lot more. In fact, most standard pitch appointments won't do you any good at all unless you take control of the pitch.

Of course every agent feels differently about how those 10 minutes (3 minutes sometimes) should be used, but since this is my blog I'm going to tell you how I think it should be used.

I think pitches are an opportunity for you to get to meet agents personally and see if they might be the right person for your book. I know I've told this story before, but one of my best pitch appointments was with author Shelley Coriell. Shelley sat down not to pitch her book, but to meet me. She told me this right away. She explained her goals for her career, talked briefly about her book and handed me a recipe for one of her favorite desserts (Blackberry Cobbler). She told me that since her book wasn't ready she would simply query me when the time came. In the 10 minutes we had Shelley made herself memorable. We chatted about a few things, her career, publishing in general and my philosophy as an agent (she did ask me questions as well as told me about herself). There was no point in Shelley pitching because she knew she could query me when the time was right.

All that being said, let's find a way to make pitches more enjoyable for both of us.

Relax. Don't think of me as the interviewer, think of yourself as the interviewer.

Have your pitch ready, but don't think of it as the only thing you're going to do. Also come prepared with some questions. Ask about me, the agency, publishing, or ask me my opinion on something that came up in an earlier panel or a discussion with other agents.

Listen. I will listen to your pitch and then I'm going to critique it. If I'm not asking for material I'm going to ask you questions that address my concerns. It could be that the hook feels slight or the plot feels overly complicated. Don't try to argue with me about why I'm wrong or how that's in there. If you need to take the full 10 minutes to explain your story there's a problem with your story. Even if I am asking for material I might ask some questions. Don't just defend your book, think of my questions as something you can use to hone your pitch and your query.

Enjoy. Conferences are a great way to feel energized about what you're doing. Pat yourself on the back for going to a pitch appointment in the first place. It's not easy and it's one more step toward publication.



Elissa M said...

I have thought that if I ever made it to a conference, I would avoid pitching. Now I think I'll steal Shelley Coriell's approach. It sounds much less terrifying to use the pitch time to meet the agent rather than try to "sell" my book. And I love the idea of thinking of myself as the interviewer. Thanks for the tips!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Way too scary.
I prefer hiding behind my keyboard.
Face to face I'd probably talk more about how nice it is to have your blog back and that you let me query you when you were closed to queries. I know I have mentioned that before but it meant a lot at the time, still does.

Melonie said...

This is how I've always felt about the pitch process and it's nice to know an agent feels the same! I will be sharing your thoughts with my chapter (Chicago-North RWA)and hope they will give your suggestions a try :)

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Susan B James said...

Thank you!