Friday, October 23, 2015

Pitch Perfect?

One of the most important steps in selling your novel is the pitch. If you’re sending your manuscript to an agent or publisher, then the pitch is your query letter. A query letter differs from an actual face-to-face pitch in that you have time to run it by others to make sure it’s perfect. With the face-to-face pitch, my biggest concern is trying to keep idiocy and desperation at bay. Let’s face it, trying to fill three or five minutes weaving an enticing and unique story description with a complete stranger is, at best, daunting—at worst, terrifying. What’s a lowly writer to do when faced with her Holy Grail?

First, if you’re pitching, you have to be prepared for the request. You know, that coveted goal where someone asks for a full manuscript. If you don’t have a finished or nearly finished product, you shouldn’t be pitching. Trust me. My initial pitch experience was great. The publisher asked for a full manuscript. I floated out of that room, accepting accolades from my fellow writers. The only problem I had was that the story wasn’t finished. Instead of trying to finish it and send it in later with apologies, I gave up.

So, maybe you think you could pitch it and finish it later and send it in. You could, however, think about how many others pitched to that same person that day, and those people probably sent their manuscript in immediately. Now, the agent/publisher selects one or more stories. By the time your manuscript arrives, the slots that were available to that agent/publisher have been filled. No matter the quality of your story, there is no more room. So, do yourself a favor and be ready.

Remember that the person to whom you are pitching wants to hear what you have to say. They are actively looking for their next book and hope you may be its author. They’re rooting for you to succeed.

Next, have a good grasp of your work. It’s all well and good to have memorized a catchy paragraph about your story, but what happens when the agent asks about your character motivations or story arc? Oh no, not the blank face! If they’re interested, you need to be prepared to field questions and flesh out your story. What sets your story apart from all the thousands out there?

And that catchy paragraph needs to not only
outline your story, but tell the listener what will pull the reader in. What is unique about your story? Is the protagonist famous? Remember Eleanor Roosevelt solving mysteries? Does the story take place in a different setting like the Supreme Court? Was the body found in highly unusual circumstances, i.e. the locked room? An agent or publisher is looking for fascinating situations that will pull the reader in. Whether your protagonist belongs to a witch's coven or is the wife of the president of the United States, mention it in your pitch. Throw in a hook at the end that will prompt questions from the agent/publisher as well as the reader.

Most conferences have a class to help you perfect your pitch. Take it!

The last piece of advice I have is the one I find most difficult. And that is to relax and be yourself at the session. By the time I sit down at the table to begin my pitch, I’m in such a frenzy, I want to throw up. It doesn’t help to know I’m not alone in my terror. Of course, by the end of those few minutes, I feel much better and can even smile. I wish I could be more relaxed, but I’m sure the person across from me is used to the nervous writer. I can tell you that if your pitch is part of a fest where you get to pitch to more than one person, then it gets much easier to be yourself.

Multiple pitches? If you are lucky enough to pitch to more than one person, you need a plan. I learned this at Thriller Fest two years ago. First, make sure to research all the agents/publishers ahead of time and choose the ones who will value your work. Rate them in order of your preference. Then, make your first pitch to the person least important to you. Why? Because you will shower the worst of your nerves and mistakes on that person and learn from the experience. By the time you speak to your number one option, your pitch will have become much better.

Good Luck! I’m in the process right now of revving up my own pitch to deliver at the New England Crime Bake conference in a few weeks. Yikes!

Remember, keep writing!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post, Margo. I'm in the process of perfecting my own pitch for Crime Bake and plan to follow your excellent advice.