Friday, January 20, 2012

The Joys of Pitching

my pitch index card book
Last year I bounded out of the Writer's Digest Conference onto the wintery streets of Manhattan and almost walked the full 50 blocks back to Harlem. I was glassy-eyed and wired from the two-hour agent pitch session, grin still plastered on my face. It took about an hour to adjust back to the normal speed of life, where every nerve in your body isn't on edge and you start to speak like a half-sane person again. Pitching my manuscript was part scary, part exhilarating, and completely exhausting.

Well tomorrow, I'm going back in! And as I'm preparing for an even longer pitch slam this year, I've been contemplating what worked last time around.  Here's what I learned from my experience:

First - I used these articles to research the nuts and bolts of an in-person pitch:
Here's where to take it from there:

-Format a pitch outline. This will really depend on how much time you have to pitch your manuscript, plus listen to feedback. An easy way to kick off your pitch is with the skeleton of a TV Guide-style one-liner - aka a logline. There are many tips out there on how to write a logline. Here is a simple formula that can get you started:
 TITLE is a GENRE story about MAIN CHARACTER, whose life is changed when INCITING INCIDENT occurs

This is just a start - be creative, but clear. And after you describe your main hook, get into the details that are worth including (why we care about this character, what makes their world unique or interesting, what creates the most tension or suspense for the reader). You can't include everything - so choose wisely! And remember to practice out loud and to time yourself.

-Be excited about your book! While I was practicing my pitch, I was so focused on memorizing what I wanted to say that I ended up boring myself. No one should be a greater advocate for your story than you! I went back to the drawing board and approached my pitch like I was telling a story to a good friend. I adjusted my body language, sat on the edge of my chair, and even threw in a gesture to demonstrate the action a character took during a climactic moment.

-Prepare notes. Narrow down the list of agents you want to chat with by first checking which ones represent your genre. After choosing agents, research what kind of work they like, want, and already represent. Then, rank what order you'd like to talk to them. I jotted down notes about each agent to customize my pitch with details I found out about them from interviews, their bio, and their agency website. I put my notes for each agent in an index card book I could easily flip through as I waited in line (pictured above) - and then jotted down exactly what they requested for me on their card after the pitch was over (it's also handy to bring along paper clips to attach their business cards to your notes).

-Kill your inner Micro Machines Man. The ticking clock combined with nerves might make you start talking *reallyreallyfast*. Take a breath. Slow down. Cramming 100 extra words in your synopsis won't matter if the agent or editor doesn't understand what you're saying!

-Listen and learn. Agents and editors are pretty in-demand people - so use this time to get as much feedback on your pitch and your concept as you can. Be open minded to what you hear, especially if they spot plot problems or other issues. And also remember that this interview isn't just going one way. Consider how the conversation is going - would you want to work with this person?

-Follow up in a timely manner. When you get requests, make sure you are clear on time expectations. I pitched too early last year (at the time, I didn't realize my revisions would take so long!), and didn't end up sending my manuscript to any of the agents who requested it. Sending your manuscript before it's ready will inevitably close doors, so it's really best to pitch when you are 100% finished, or when the timeline for sending it is open. Follow the instructions they give for sending your work (subject line, format, amount of pages, with/without query or synopsis, etc.), and add details from your conversation or their feedback that are worth mentioning.

This post is getting pretty lengthy, and I'm seriously tempted to start throwing in [har] baseball metaphors. So what are some of your pitching tips?


  1. Wow, thanks for the great post! I wished I lived in the U.S. so I could go to a writer's conference.

    How long does a pitch usually have to be?

    Good luck! I hope you get some requests!

  2. thanks komal! in this case, writers have 3 minutes total with each agent, and it's supposed to be split in half (90 seconds to pitch, 90 for feedback). sort of like insane speed dating!

    but the format really varies. at an scbwi event i went to, you could sign up for a 5-minute pitch with one agent, so there's a little more time to chat, and less pressure overall...

  3. Great tips! I can see why you did so well last year AND this year. :) It certainly was an interesting, exciting and exhausting experience!

  4. these tips are awesome... I'm bookmarking this page as a resource!