I have an appointment this weekend to pitch one of my manuscripts to a real, live agent. I get five whole minutes with her during the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference in Denver.What is a pitch, you ask? In this video, the charming Nathan Bransford describes it as, “how you would describe your book at a cocktail party.” Besides the fact that giving a pitch sounds infinitely more fun at a cocktail party than at a conference, his description is apt. In a pitch, you distill your book down to 1-3 sentences that you can deliver verbally in a face-to-face meeting.
I’ve never pitched to a publishing professional before, so I am both excited and nervous. Before signing up for this opportunity, I really had no idea what a pitch was all about. So I did a lot of research and came to the conclusion that there are four building blocks to a great pitch session. Here they are, along with lots of juicy links to posts written by people far more expert than myself.
- Research. Going into the session, you should know exactly who you are pitching to and why this specific person at this specific agency or publishing house would be interested in your specific book. Yes, I do realize I used the word specific three times. Vague is not intriguing or likely to take you to the next step. So, how can you research the agent or editor ahead of time? Check out my How to Research Editors and Agents post for tips on how to get started. Honestly though, even Googling the name of the agent or editor is better than doing nothing. At There Are No Rules, Jane Friedman also provides a list of things to know about your book, your writing, and your career before going to the pitch session.
- Writing. Unfortunately, before you can deliver a pitch, you actually have to write one. Luckily, I found several great posts on how to do this. Chris Richman from Upstart Crow Literary talks about writing a pitch that is 25 words or less. The pitch, he says, should cover “who the story is about, what challenges the protagonist faces, and some standout detail that makes it feel unique.” Once again, Nathan Bransford weighs in with some great advice on How to Write a One Sentence Pitch AND how to write The One sentence, One paragraph and Two paragraph pitch. Try to get feedback from your critique group on your pitch, or participate in a forum like WriteOnCon where you can get peer reviews. I also discovered that JoJo Jenson from Savvy Authors does a Pimp My Pitch post every Tuesday, where she selects one pitch and provides comments. Even if your pitch isn’t selected, you can learn a lot from reading the other entries.
- Delivery. I can’t speak from personal experience on this one (yet), but luckily there are others who have provided excellent guidance on the actual act of delivering your pitch. From what I’ve read, the most important things seem to be: 1) Be prepared (see above) and professional; 2) Respect the agent’s time and stay within the confines of your appointment; 3) Be natural. Try not to recite your pitch from memory in a monotone voice. The agent is looking to learn about you the person, too, not just about your book; and 4) Don’t be a wingnut. Losing your temper, claiming yourself as the next J.K. Rowling/Stephenie Meyer/Suzanne Collins, or following the agent into the restroom are all out. Take the time to read this post that describes the pitch appointment from the agent/editor perspective. Agent Rachelle Gardner, in Secrets of a Great Pitch, provides a perfect template for structuring your pitch sessions, including a list of questions to be prepared to answer AFTER you’ve given your pitch. Jane Friedman gives 3 rules for live pitching. My favorite of these is to SHUT UP (although Jane puts it much more politely). After you’ve said your piece, give the agent time to respond. You are there to get feedback, after all. Finally, at BellaOnline, Annamaria Farbizio goes into more detail about the verbal aspect of a pitch and why it’s a good idea to practice it before you go “live” with an editor or agent.
- Follow-up. No matter what response you get from the agent, always get a business card so you can send a thank you note. If you do get the chance to submit your work, do so in a timely manner according to the submission guidelines s/he provides. As soon as you leave the session, WRITE DOWN ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING YOU CAN REMEMBER BEFORE YOU FORGET. This article From Writing-World.com covers the entire process of pitching at a conference, including the follow-up. Definitely worth a read.
Besides all of these steps, there are also some intangibles. How well you and the agent hit it off and whether you see eye to eye on the business of writing and publishing are a couple. But there’s also an emotional factor. Is s/he as excited about the project as you are? Are you conveying your passion about your book. In one of Casey McCormick’s posts she cautions, “It’s not always about ‘strict accuracy’ in the pitch. It’s about conveying/evoking a visual image in the agent’s mind.” Think of this as the emotional pitch of your story. Is it sweet, funny, scary, quirky? All of the above? In other words, it’s not all about plot and storyline.
*ETA: Another great post on pitch by Rachelle Gardner.
**ETA: Agent Natalie Fischer spills on what NOT to do during pitch sessions.
Have you ever given a pitch? Any advice you have to offer or other resources you’d recommend?