Tuesday, August 6, 2013

All About Pitching Your Novel

As most of you know, I recently attended RWA13 in ATL. It was ah mazing (see my posts here and here).

One of the staples of writers conferences, I’m told, is pitching. I’ve only been to one Con so far but all the industry vets said that pitching was common. Which might make an introvert, well, more than a little nervous.

If you don’t know, pitching is basically speed dating for writers/agents/editors. You get 10 minutes to quickly highlight the kickassery of your MS.

If it sounds scary, wait, there's more: Pitching is not just some horrible hazing designed to scare off prepub writers. Pitching is done throughout the pub process. Once you get an agent you will still need to pitch to editors. And once you sell your shiny book baby you’ll need to pitch to your fans. And when you try to sell the next book baby, guess what. *gasps* you’ll need to pitch again.

The good news is, pitching is a skill and like all skills it gets better when practiced. Do you think Buffy was this good at butt kicking without practice?

So what goes into a pitch? And what can you expect if you are brave enough to pitch at a Con? How can you practice?

I’m glad you asked.

Pitches should read like a log line. Or very succinct back jacket copy. It’s not as long as a blurb but it’s detailed enough to communicate the premise and leave the person hearing your pitch wanting more. One super cool author at RWA said she thinks of pitches like this: She is ___________. *He is ___________. Together they must___________.

*Note, since it was a romance con, and romance novels have 2 protag’s, this formula works. If you don’t have a second protag it’s totally fine to leave this part out.

The important thing to remember is that each sentence should use the most powerful language available. You don’t have space for boring words.

Here’s an example of a boring pitch for Sleepless in Seattle:

She’s a journalist engaged to be married. He’s a widower raising a son. Together they must overcome their prejudice about true love to find happiness.

Pretty boring right? I mean, you get nothing of their personalities or their situation. This is ‘just the facts, ma’am.’ Which is fine – but not great.

Here’s my attempt at a punchier pitch:

She’s by-the-book, in life and love, which is why she’s about to marry the nicest, most boring man in Maryland. He’s a recently-widowed, believer in true love who struggles to hide his pain in order to provide stability for his son in Seattle. When a popular radio show connects the two, against all odds, they must decide to break through their own walls in order to let love in.

Better right? You know more about the people and their stories without knowing too much. You want more.

It’s a great formula and it really helped me when I pitched. At RWA I pitched 4 times. 7 if you count my practice pitches.

Here’s what to expect when you pitch:

1. It’s similar to an audition for a play. The Agents/Editors will be in a room. Pitch participants will be corralled while they wait for their turn. Generally, someone will be calling out times and names. When your Agent/Editor is called for your time slot you will fall into line.

2. When your time slot begins you will be walked into the room where the Agents/Editors are sitting. At RWA there were three rows of little tables. Each Agent/Editor had a name tag on their table. The volunteers working the pitch area walked the participants in and dropped you off at your table.

3. Agents/Editors are people. Just people, like you and me. They love books and stories and they love this industry. They want to hear about your story. They want you to succeed. Heck, they need you. They don’t have jobs without your product. So they are excited to meet you. Everyone I pitched to was really nice throughout the entire thing. I even ended up pitching to two Editors that had no interest in my work. I misunderstood how it was all supposed to work and I ended up picking two editors that managed lines in Harlequin that had no interest in me. Even those Editors were still super nice. They listened, they laughed, they talked. It’s like a really short job interview. It’s normal to be nervous but if you make it a conversation – don’t just talk at them – you will have an enjoyable pitch session.

4. After the pitch the Agent/Editor might hand you their card. They might say ‘send me something to review.’ *cue internal happy dance*

5. Someone will call ‘1 minute’ and then ‘Time.’ That means your session is over and you have to leave. You stand up, thank the Agent/Editor, shake their hand, and leave. That’s live pitching in a nutshell.

Now, how do you practice pitching?

Easy, pitch. Just pitch. Write the pitch for your story early, while the MS is still firmly in the WIP territory. That way, when a friend or coworker asks you the question “What’s your book about?” you can drop the pitch bomb on them. It’s important to practice saying the pitch because the words can get twisted on your tongue like a cherry step. Say it out loud in the car. Say it to your bestie. Say it out loud in front of the mirror.

Just keep saying it. It does get easier. Still feeling uneasy? Here's an epic hug to make you feel better *sigh*

Have you pitched? What was your experience like?

For more on pitching, see this recap post from WriteOnCon 13

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