Well…that pitching post hasn’t happened yet for a variety of reasons, so here I am writing this post. Hey, we can’t help it if we’ve been caught up in bringing you a wonderful slate of awesome and interesting authors. It happens.
So, let me begin by saying…in the weird combination of circumstances that helped me get my agent, pitching was key. Reiterating: Pitching was key. Since 2007, I had been diligently querying agents over the course of 4 manuscripts. Last year I decided I would attend two pitch conferences, and I ended up pitching to agents, some who took queries and some who did not. In the end, I went with an agent whom I wouldn’t have met and sent a manuscript to if I hadn’t gone to San Francisco Writers. This agent did not accept open queries.
Pitching may sound to many of you like your worst nightmare. Hey, that’s cool. Paper is where authors often present best. We are, a bunch of us, introverts, and the idea of running through a pitch with someone in person, no, that frightens. Even a 140-word tweet, like something you would send in #PitMad or #SffPit frightens the bejeesus out of us. How do you reduce a 120K novel to its tiniest form?
On the other hand…
Some of are more trained for pitching. I am an introvert, but I play an extrovert at my day job as a professor. Every semester I teach, and I’ve been doing that since 1986. Presenting well, live, is what I do. You might too. You might have one of those professions where you get to talk, a lot. Or you may have a thing for theater or speech class. Some of us do like speaking and do have professional personas. If you are that person, consider pitching.
How do you pitch? Many conferences have pitching as part of their programming. There are pitches at World Con, for example, where you get an unprecedented half hour with an agent. The kind of scenarios at both of the conferences I went to were more like speed dating. We had a couple of minutes, a bell rang, and we talked to another agent.
The key to a good pitch is practice, practice, and more practice. You might get nervous. Knowing the pitch so well that you can follow through on it when you are jittery is important! I’ve heard agents don’t want you to read the pitch, so even though the pitch has a great deal in common with the cover letter, never read your pitch. Don’t rattle it off like it’s a race. Speak the basic plot and stakes, the genre and word count, and the comps. Emote if you can.
One of the things that helped each time I pitched was that I was on a team. In San Francisco, there were three of us pitching together. In New York, there were 4. We all practiced in our hotel rooms and gave each other tips and suggestions during the process of writing the pitch and during the day before and the morning of the pitch. This is important for the extrovert and the introvert. Never just wing it. We all repped professionally, dressing business so it looked like we took our writing seriously. In general, you want to pitch a finished book, just like you want to query a finished book, the exception being non-fiction.
Now, this might sound great to you. Get a group of friends together, find a writing conference with pitches, and go! That said, be prepared to spend a bit of cash. I like in Iowa. There are no pitch conferences in Iowa. Granted, there are opportunities closer than California and New York, but I’m gonna have to go somewhere. So, there’s plane and hotel and the conference itself. These conferences aren’t at your average SF/F conference rates. They generally are costs comparable to professional conferences. Is the investment worth it? Well, I understand from the statistics I’ve seen that pitching is more likely to get you an agent than a query, but getting an agent through either method is slim. Still, there’s networking, it’s another opportunity, and most writers conferences come with opportunities to meet professionals, get hot tips, and ramp up your game. Genre conferences are a different kind of networking opportunity. Mixing it up with a pro conference can teach you a lot about publishing, and get you a pitching opportunity at the same time.
It should come as no surprise that, having had a positive experience with most of the pitching I did, I would recommend it. Not every pitch was well-received. You will be told no, and you have to deal with that on an immediate time scale. Brush it off. It’s not personal. If you feel it’s personal, again, maybe pitching is not for you.