Life's a Pitch... Or Is It?

This weekend, I'll be participating in pitching practice with aspiring authors from one of my writers' groups. I've pitched in person a number of projects over the years, and I well remember how absolutely terrifying it was the first few times. And how terrible -- absolutely incapable -- I was of boiling down my plot and characters into tasty nugget form.

I've gotten better, largely because of experience and the realization (finally) that any visiting agents and editors I met at writers' conferences were just regular book-lovers, only mentally and physically exhausted from both the travel and the stress of being "on" with so many people (many of them desperate, which can be exhausting in itself). The industry pros aren't there to stomp to death anybody's dreams in their stilletos (or Doc Maarten's or what have you), but they have to take a practical approach to finding profitable commercial work or lose their livelihoods.

Another reason I've learned to relax about the whole ordeal is that I've never sold a blessed thing off of a face-to-face meeting, nor have I hooked up with any of my agents that way. Instead, I've done things the old-fashioned way, through mailed queries, and lately, through the new-fashioned way, e-mail. The truth is, these pitch meetings never actually seal the deal on selling any novel. They can, however, save you time if the editor/agent says your story is or is not the type of tale they'd like to see as a submission. Maybe the appointment will net you a little faster of a read, but more than likely, the industry pro looking at your work will not be thinking of you personally and your stammering or stumbling or the cute skirt you bought just for the Momentous Meeting. And that it as it should be; you *want* him or her concentrating on the work.

Exceptions: The agent or editor will definitely remember you -- and not in a good way -- if you show up dressed in some severely-whacko costume (say, an S&M rig to illustrate that the heroine is your story is a dominatrix) or if you come off as exceptionally rude, confrontational, demanding, needy, or psychotic. Teary meltdowns are also not recommended. But other than that, they'll chalk up a lot most of your "blunders" as nerves and go on about their business. After all, the proof is in the pudding and not the face or figure or the witty repartee of the one who holds the spoon.

So relax. Use a pitch to practice summing up what's special about your story, which is a skill you'll need for every sort of query anything. Use it to get an idea of the industry pro's needs and how closely your story fits them. Listen respectfully, speak briefly, and try not to waste the person's time, but don't make the mistake of thinking of any one session as the make it/break it point of your career.

Have any pitch stories to share here? Embarrassing blunders, spectacular successes, or cautionary tales? If so, we'd love to hear them.


Tessy said…
Great words of wisdom, Colleen.

My only suggestion is to research the agent or editor...the first pitch I made was to a woman who mostly represents Inspirational (not my thing), and even though I'd reasearched her, I had no idea...also at Nationals last year, I had an appointment with an editor, the RWA website said she took Single title, but when I sat down with her she said she only took Single title agented material. Strike two for me on pitches!!!

I don't think they're for me!
Very good point, Tessy. I've made the same mistake early on.
EmilyBryan said…
Another thing to keep in mind is that the editors/agents aren't looking for people who can talk. They want someone who can write. They know you're nervous. They want to know if you can write. A good pitch outcome is an invitation to submit with that all important "requested material" plastered on the envelope.
Good points, Emily. Thanks for stopping by and joining the discussion!
Nancy Kay Bowden said…
I once told an agent that I was so nervous I thought I might throw up. I wasn't really serious, but I was SO nervous. I'll never say something silly like that again. She was very nice but looked worried the whole time we talked. My fault. I was totally surprised she requested pages. Maybe it was to get me out of there quickly.

Colleen, GREAT blog--thank you!!!! And thank you for participating in NWH's pitch practice July 5th!
Thanks for sharing your story, Nancy. I was nearly positive I was going to hurl during my first pitch session. I botched it badly, pitching a fantasy to a romance editor and trying to shove the square peg of the story into her editorial needs.

I've heard of people getting into pitch sessions and bursting into tears. Also heard a rumor about a certain famously-irascible editor offering one such woman a crisp twenty if she'd just quit crying. LOL!

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