Preparing to Pitch

Prepare to Pitch

In the midst of hosting out-of-state relatives (which I’m super excited about), I’m working on the pitch for my young adult fantasy novel. After all, I’ve paid to pitch it to an agent and an editor next week at Willamette Writer’s Conference.

This isn’t a new subject for me to address. In the past, I have posted about using movie log-lines to help formulate your pitch. After I successfully pitched at last year’s conference, I shared my experiences.

I don’t want to repeat any of those posts, so please click over and read them if you want more information.

Now that I’m experienced in the fine art of pitching a novel (because one successfully pitched novel does an expert make *rolls eyes*), I wanted to share my journey toward preparing this year’s pitch.

Emotionally

Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Last year, I was an emotional wreck for weeks before the conference. I pored over my logline and rewrote my elevator pitch dozens of times.

I practiced the pitch endlessly in front of the mirror (not my favorite, looking at myself is distracting – Is that a wrinkle line above my lips?) until I’m sure I was mumbling my pitch in my sleep.

Am I nervous? Sure. A little bit of nerves makes a performance better. Do I feel like sprinting in the opposite direction of the conference? Not in the least.

The takeaway: pitch. The only way to get better at verbal pitches is to practice. On real agents. With real stakes.

To make a perfect pitch, you have to make a myriad of imperfect pitches.

Mentally

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the details you want to share.

This is what I needed to know about my novel:

  • Title: Doomsday Dragons
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Main character(s): A snarky Chinese teen who sees visions of the future and a geeky surfer dude from Hawaii with the ability to control animals with telepathy
  • Conflict: She must find him so he can awaken a sleeping dragon who can join with the dragon she first meets to defeat the vitriolic dragon bent on destroying everything in sight
  • Antagonist: mainly a fire-breathing dragon whose emerging from his prison in the Earth’s core
  • Stakes: The Earth will be ravaged by the red dragon (but there are also personal stakes involved – which might be better to include in the log-line.

This is the information I used to create my winning log-line and streamline the summary included on the One Sheet.

Review a written copy of your 100-word pitch. I like to rewrite it several times, so it feels natural when I present it.

Another important thing to remember is that the person I’m presenting to is INTERESTED. He or she wants to find good storytellers and help them down the publishing track. That’s their job. How can I show them I would make their job easier?

Love your story. Be able to describe what it resembles (the sarcasm of Rick Riordan combined with the diverse characters of Suzanne Collins).

The takeaway: if you know your story inside and out and believe it has value for the intended audience, you can make the agent believe in it, too.

How about you? How do you prepare for a career-changing interview?

How to pitch your novel to an agent

Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Most of the time, authors must impress an agent with a query letter. At a writer’s conference, a new (and nerve-wracking) avenue for getting your story idea heard crops up. They call it a pitch session.

I might rename it “An exercise in stressing out without giving in to the urge to vomit or run screaming from the room.” Whatever works.

All conferences are not created equal. Different groups organize these events with different priorities in mind. Attending a conference hosted by a group of writers? You can expect opportunities to pitch and improve your work.

I experienced my first one-on-one agent meeting on August 2, 2014. In the process, I learned a few things to help writers prepare.

Months Before

I scoured the page of prospective agents attending the conference before I even registered. (I signed on the first day registration opened, but that’s a different story.) I read the brief bio provided and followed the link to their agency webpage.

Some people I spoke with at the conference did likewise and still ended up pitching to someone who said they didn’t represent that sort of project. Thus, research and research again before investing your money to sit across the table from an agent and pitch in a genre they don’t accept.

Still online, I surfed well-known writing blogs for advice on how to make the best of this pitching session. I’ll admit, I learned the most profitable tidbits from those articles and posts written from an agent’s point of view. Go figure.

A pitch:

  • Should be short (100 words)
  • Include your protagonist and their desire
  • Include the major conflict in the story
  • Showcase your logline (more on how to develop one here)

So few words, really? You will say more, but as far as the story goes, those four elements will get the job done.

Days Before

I wrote and rewrote my pitch. I practiced my top choices on my friends and family to weed out the things that didn’t work. Then I combined those voted “most likely to hold the agent’s interest” and read the result aloud several hundred dozen times.

Whatever it takes for you to embed the essence of your “elevator pitch” in your mind – do that.

Practice saying it aloud. I tried the mirror presentation, recommended by many articles on the subject, and it distracted me. I got distracted by how big my teeth look and how I move my hands when I’m talking.

In the end, I found sitting in a chair and staring at an invisible person worked best for me. Again, whatever you find eases your tension and helps you imagine speaking to a real purpose – do that. Over and over.

Eventually, the words will run through your mind like a live broadcast. This is a good thing as long as you can spill them with an ease that sounds unrehearsed. Rehearse so I sound unrehearsed? Yes, that’s the ticket.

I also prepared a One Sheet on my novel, which includes the log-line, a short synopsis and the character’s journey. It also has a short biography, photo of the author and contact information.

Minutes Before

Read over the pitch. Recite it in your mind.

Pace – because sitting with the others who are waiting raises your nervousness factor exponentially. Or maybe you’re a sitter and that will relax you.

Try to relax. Visualize yourself strolling confidently up to the agent. You are a professional. They want to hear about your story.

Do not throw up. I felt like throwing up while waiting the first day. Then I found out I had to reschedule the appointment for the next day. All that terror wasted.

During

Most of the time, a herd of pitchers will enter the pitching arena at the same time. I was (un)fortunate enough to be the only person scheduled to present to anyone when I made my pitching debut.

I strode over to her table, keeping eye contact. Reaching toward her, I shook her hand and introduced myself. I handed her the One Sheet and sat across the small table from her. So far, so good.

I asked how the conference was going and told her I enjoyed her workshop on the perfect pitch the day before. “I hope I can demonstrate I was paying close attention.” Laughs. Laughter conquers nerves for me.

Introduce your novel: title, genre and word count. Give an idea about what your writing is like: “Lord of the Flies meets Survivor.” I used two authors who write in the same genre as my book for my comparison.

Now it’s time to deliver your 100-word pitch. I started with my premise question “What if…?” The second sentence was my logline. The rest of the words included what the protagonist wanted, what stood in her way and a hint about the journey she would take.

Stop. Breathe. The hardest part is finished and you did it.

Let the agent ask questions. They will. Answer each question with simplicity and clarity. If they don’t ask for pages, ask them if they want you to send pages. (Thankfully, I didn’t have to ask that.)

After

Dance a jig, jump up and down, or, at this point, feel free to vomit if the urge persists.

Now, you’ll be thinking about how to prep your manuscript pages. If they ask for a synopsis as well, you might find yourself researching how best to write one.

Send what they requested as soon as it represents your best work. Within a week or two is probably best. In the query letter (yes, they still want one of those hideous beasts introductory pages), mention the meeting at the conference and remind them they requested to see your work.

They should have given you an address that will bypass their towering slush pile (up to 2,000 manuscripts per week). Check their website to find out how long before you might hear back from them (usually 4-8 weeks).

If you want to polish the rest of that manuscript in hopes they will be requesting to see it, that’s a great use of time. Write something new. Don’t sit by your computer staring at your email inbox.

What is your experience with pitching a project? Your words of wisdom are welcomed.

Writer’s Conference Reflections

Willamette-Writers2A puff of chocolaty goodness wafts by me when I open the door into the conference area. My mouth waters. Stillness underlies the hum of excited voices.

This is my first writing conference. Professionals attend conferences to network and build skills in their area of expertise. I may be pre-published, but I am a professional writer. Time to break out of my writing solace and enter the business world.

Women outnumber men. The largest demographic seems to be the over 55 crowd. This statistic gives me pause. Did they wait to pursue their dream until life settled down?

Everyone is a stranger and yet, strangely, invisible camaraderie pulls us together. The thread of love for words or creating worlds or setting our imagination free knits the crowd into something amazing.

Gawking like a foreigner, I locate the priority one item on my list. It’s just to the right of the main entrance. Yes, the ladies’ restroom. Who can concentrate on anything when the bladder screams like a crowded rollercoaster?

Highlights from the weekend will be covered in this post. Over the next several weeks, I will embellish on certain points that impacted me the most.

Sessions

The planners organized things according to different segments of writing. On the “TV Guide” schedule of events, categories like “literature,” “genre fiction,” “nonfiction” and “business of writing” head the colorful columns. It’s not surprising that most of my choices come from the literature column.

StoryEnginewebConveniently, that will keep me in the same conference classroom for the entire morning. It’s the room where the amazing Larry Brooks expounded his structural genius. (I found out he grew up in Portland, OR, and went to high school with Sam Eliott – of the Dodge voice track.)

Most of the sessions ask us to participate, which gave them a workshop feel. Write the definition of a premise. List the words you know you overuse in your writing. Things that help attendees ingest the information and immediately apply it to their writing.

Presenters ranged from authors to agents, from editors to social media gurus. Each one shared their expertise and opened themselves to questions about their topic. Some of them even rubbed elbows with the masses after the session.

Panels

The first session I attended was a panel of three agents. For an entire hour, those in the audience could ask any question burning in their minds. To say it was an eye-opening introduction to the writing world might be understating things.

Agents might respond to my query in eight weeks. After I send them the full manuscript, it could be another two to three months before I get the phone call offering representation. Or the rejection letter.

Say I sign with Ms. Ideal Agent. I have a contract. But not a publishing contract. It might take as many as 18 months for my advocate to find the perfect publisher for my novel. 18 months? That’s crazy!

After I get a real contract from a publisher, it could be another 18 months before my book makes the shelves of the Barnes & Noble at the mall. Talk about a LONG process. No wonder so many people are independently or self-publishing.

I’m hardly a mathmetician but that looks like almost three and a half years from original query to holding a published novel in my hand. That’s the math if my first querying attempt nets a manuscript request which leads to agent love. So that whole five year timeline from finished to published makes more sense now.

No wonder people are self publishing books on Amazon like there’s no tomorrow. Five years is more tomorrows than some people have to invest in a writing dream.

Critiques

For an additional fee, writers could submit twenty pages of their manuscript and a short synopsis to an agent, editor or author of their choice. This had to be done six weeks before the conference for best results. Some people walked in with a manuscript to get a critique on the spot, but since the windows for meetings were ten to fifteen minutes, I doubt it could have been in-depth.

I surfed the conference webpage to find someone who wrote or represented my genre. The closest I could find was a writer of adult urban fantasy. I booked her and whipped out a synopsis (which I felt clueless about producing) and submitted the pages.

I was her last appointment for the afternoon because she was presenting a class on hour later. We spent more than 30 minutes discussing my manuscript weaknesses. It was well worth the money spent.

More on this process later.

Pitches

Isn’t being discovered the reason pre-published writers attend conferences? Based on the number of attendees presenting to three or more agents or editors, the answer must be yes.

Fortunately, I attended a session taught by the agent to whom I presented my work. My pitch seemed to already meet her guidelines. It pays off to spend hours researching.

Pitch sessions lasted ten minutes (which is a long time in the real world of pitching ideas). The group of authors entered the room and shuffled to the round table where their industry professional sat waiting.

A surreal process really. More specific details about my own pitching experience in a future post.

Attending this conference opened my eyes to many things about my chosen path:

  • It is packed with thousands of others hoping for the same outcome
  • It takes fortitude to stay the course in the face of rejections
  • I don’t know as much about the craft of writing as I thought
  • The business of writing? I know nothing, Jon Snow.

At this juncture, I intend to attend this conference (or another local one) next year. I hope to network more at that future event. I may need to take a class: “How introverts network with other introverts.”

Is there a specific aspect of the conference you would like me to share information about? Have you attended a conference? What advice do you have to help me build networking skills?