Monday, February 14, 2011

Preparing to Pitch

Happy Valentine's Day!

I bought the man a Valentine's Day card over the weekend. In a cut out window, it shows a man and a woman having a candlelight dinner. They are holding up champagne, about to toast glasses, and below the window the card reads, "Being with you is always romantic..." (open card) " matter where we are." 

The inside picture shows the couple is actually sitting at their own dining room table with the candles, the glasses, dirty dishes piled up in the sink behind the wife, and three kids squabbling around the table. There's a ball bouncing through the room and a cat and dog running under everyone's feet. A true sentiment, that one. Love no matter what. I don't usually go for humorous cards, but I picked that one because it is a perfect picture of our family life.  

Hubby took one look at the card and said, "Ain't that the truth." Then he gave me a big kiss. :*)

Bless him, he gets it. I guess that's why we're still together after 20 years. If you're going to be married, if you're going to be parents, you don't have to have a sense of humor, but man, it sure helps!

Yesterday, when the phone wasn't ringing off the hook (How can this be?  We don't know that many people!) I managed to get the body of my pitch in order. It still needs some tweaking and polishing, but it's all in place, all on paper. Now, I plan to go back and make a shorter version of it since I heard that one of the agents I hope to pitch to at the 2011 Written in the Stars Conference prefers a short, elevator-style pitch, rather than the kind I've been taught how to build in various workshops. That means I have to cut it down to the keywords and high concept. 

Writer friends note: If you don't know how to break your book idea down to the high concept, you must read Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation, Conflict. She explains how to do this in Chapter One of her book. She doesn't tell you that's what she's doing, but that's exactly what's going on. That single chapter is worth the price of the entire book. It's a must have for any writer's keeper shelf. If you don't have it, I recommend you buy it.

I've gone back through my pitch and highlighted all the pertinent information, now to buff it out and make it smooth to the ears when read aloud. I absolutely plan to write my pitch info on note cards to take into the session with me. I can't remember where I put my glasses half the time, there's no way I could get through an entire paragraph by memory. Especially when I'll be reading it in front of a stranger. I need to enlist a couple of friends to practice pitch to before the big day. That way I'll be less likely to fumble my words. 

Honestly, though, I usually just wing it when I walk to the editor/agent's table. I've pitched many times over the last six years, and there are a few things I've learned from my past experiences. First, I square my shoulders and go in with confidence. If nothing else goes right, at least I know what I'm going to say about my book. I make darn sure I have it on cue cards if I forget. The rest of the pitch is what I think of as the "face test". I took a few lumps to learn that lesson, so I'll share it here. 

The first time I ever pitched I was at my first conference. I had no idea what I was doing. The night before the pitch appointments, I went to a workshop on how to pitch, and realized I wasn't prepared. Okay, not prepared is an understatement. I didn't know jack. I raced back to my hotel room, stayed up until after midnight working on getting my pitch "just right". I didn't have a printer, of course, so I hand wrote this pitch on the back of a conference flyer. 

The next morning, I was tired, strung out, and almost sick to my stomach. I then realized when I got my pitch appointments, that there was a mistake. They'd given me an agent I had not selected, someone who didn't take my genre of romance. I went back to the table to try changing it, worried that I done all the work for nothing. Well, they fixed the error, but the time for the pitch appointment had greatly changed since they had to pencil me in. I had to go straight to the pitch session after my Cold Read (which I was leaving for right after fixing the appointment snafu).  

It was horrendously nerve wracking. For those who don't know what a cold read is, it's when you're in a room full of people, plus a moderator and an editor/agent, and they take a section of your manuscript (it's all anonymous - no names on the work) and they read it aloud. Then, the agent gives feedback on it. In front of everyone. Scary right? You don't come across too many cold reads any more. Probably because it's nerve wracking for everybody involved...the agents included. Nevertheless, I'm glad I was able to experience a Cold Read.  

Anyway, I survived the cold read, the agent spoke favorably of my work, then I went right downstairs afterward to pitch... to the same agent. Whew! I was sweating bullets and shaking to bits when I approached the table. But she was very nice, and I actually got a partial request. I was wowed by the experience, and thought "I've been going about this the wrong way!"  Well, yes and no... 

The second time I pitched at conference, the experience was not so pleasant. At this conference, I learned the hard way that not all editors and agents are the same. Personalities differ. Tastes differ. Not everyone is going to be jovial face to face. In fact, some people can be downright cranky. You guessed it. I got the cranky agent. After a very awkward hello, introduction, and pitch, I was later told this person had been giving out solid NO's all morning. It put my pitch experience in a whole new perspective. 

When I approached that table, the agent seemed reserved. They didn't greet me, or introduce themselves. I knew right away, at first glance, our business personalities didn't mesh. Feeling less than comfortable, I read my pitch, gave my credentials, and answered a few questions that the agent asked me. To me, it seemed like a total bomb. When the agent seemed disinterested in my project, I didn't waste the person's time. I told them thank you for the opportunity, and got up to leave. Out of a ten minute pitch, I'd been there roughly three minutes. I didn't see the point in wasting the agent's time, or my own. However, before I could pick up all my cards and walk away from the table, that agent surprised me by asking for a partial. I feel like my professionalism is what got that request, even though they weren't exactly wowed by my pitch. 

The #1 cardinal rule of the pitch: no matter what, always be professional.

That particular experience was humbling, but I learned a very valuable lesson that I have carried with me ever since. You are not going to be compatible with every agent you come across just because they represent what you write. It helps to know that before walking into a pitch session. It truly is like a job interview. There is no better way to judge compatibility than to meet an editor or agent in person to see if they are someone you could picture yourself working with. 

For the naysayers who don't think it matters if you and the editor/agent have conflicting personalities as long as he/she can sell your book, think of it this way: they're going to be doing more than selling your book. They will be dissecting your work. Offering pointers. Telling you when your writing is not up to snuff. They are not going to mince words when they do this, because their reputation is on the line. This is a business relationship. And I can guarantee you it's far easier to take criticism from someone you like and respect than from someone you dread hearing from when the shit hits the fan. 

I've since figured out it's better to go to a pitch appointment with your personality on display, but in a professional way. Be yourself, but be confident. (Not aggressive.There is a huge difference.) It's not necessary to rehearse every single thing you're going to say. You're not a robot, you're a person. Think of it has having a brief conversation where the focus is on your book and writing credentials. 

Editors and agents are people too. Everyone has different personalities, and I want to see how the agent or editor reacts to mine. Of course I always hope they like what I'm pitching, but seeing how they act toward me as a person is a bonus. It shows me whether or not we'd be able to work together. 

A final note to all of that. There are great highs and lows to pitching in person. Getting a request is a nice high. You'll be floating on cloud nine for the rest of the conference. That's assured. But if it doesn't happen at your next pitch, don't take the face to face rejection personally. Consider it time shaved off the submission process.  

Again, it's not personal, it's business. If an editor or agent says they aren't interested in your project, brush it off. Put on your big girl panties and be brave. Thank the person for their time, then get up and walk away. If things go down that way, you have my permission to go back to your hotel room, down a box of chocolates, and cry into a shot of vodka if it will make you feel better. But, please, for your own sake, do not make a scene at the table. It won't help your situation at all. And trust me, they will remember you. There are countless horror stories out there, if you don't believe me.  

Writing updates: I wrote 10 pages yesterday. I have errands to run this morning, post office, bank, and grocery shopping, and hopefully I'll be back home before 1pm so I can write another 10 pages. It's easier to get those words out before Mini gets off the school bus. What can I say?  A mom's duty is never done.

Have a happy Monday, everyone!    


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  2. I am terrified of pitching. I swear, I just know I'll either freeze up and become monosyllable woman, lol, or I'll jabber like someone on speed, and may or may not mention my book as I whiz on past. :p

  3. You won't, girl. You'll do fine. You only have a set amount of time, so your mind will go into business mode once you walk in the room. *thumbs up*

  4. Cora, this was SUCH an informative post! Thank you! Last year was my first time to pitch, and I must say, my knees felt like Jello, and by the time I walked out of the room, my head was hurting somethin' fierce. My problem? I didn't practice. At least not well. That, and I couldn't keep my hands from shaking. SO embarrassing. At any rate, I will definitely put into play some of your great tips here for the upcoming NOLA STARs conference. Thanks again! Oh, and kudos to you for writing 10 pages before (what I like to call) halftime. I am pea-green with envy. :)

  5. Cara cora questo post è molto bello io penso che l'amore non sia solo fisico ma spirituale trovo particolare ma mi piace molto anche io scrivo libri.Con amicizia Giovanni.

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  7. Best of luck on your pitch! I live in the back of beyond Wyoming but might try getting down to Denver for a small conference this summer. Not sure I'll have anything to pitch!

  8. I wish GMC was on Kindle!

  9. That sounds completely nerve wracking. All the stuff you authors have to go through to get a book published, still amazes me.

  10. Hey Melisse, thanks for the well wishes! If you go to conference, I hope you blog about your experience. I love hearing other writer's conference stories. ^_^

    I looked for GMC on Kindle too, lol. I also called my local library looking for it, but it was a no go. I ended up ordering a copy. It was well worth it.

  11. Hi Mary! It can be nerve wracking depending on who you're pitching to, but pitching, by itself, does feel more natural with practice.

  12. Hi Giovanni, thanks for dropping by. I had to babelfish your comment to read it. Glad to hear you write books. :)


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