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Thoughts on pitching – how does a pitch work?

7/24/2012

Girl Holding Books IllustrationI was just over on Facebook where a friend was talking about pitching for the upcoming Romance Writers of Australia Conference.

The first time I pitched I had no idea what to expect. I felt sick. I was anxious. I was out of my depth.

Why do people pitch? The reason is simple. There are very few ways to sit down with an agent or a publisher and tell them about your book. Many publishers won’t read manuscripts that aren’t submitted to them by an agent and many agents have closed books. This is a golden opportunity for a writer.

Pitching, for the uninitiated, is like doing a very quick job interview. Well, I think conference pitching is a cross between speed-dating and a job interview actually.

A conference pitch session is usually 5 minutes which is a lot shorter than any decent job interview. I think if your job interview only lasts five minutes it is safe to say you didn’t get the job. I believe speed dating is usually less time at the table closer to 2-3 minutes. (I am happy to report I’ve never been speed dating which is lucky because I would have stunk at it. I’m flirting impaired. It’s a fact.)

Like speed-dating lots of conference pitches take place in a group environment where several agents and publishers are in the same room but each at their own little table. When your time comes the door opens and you go and sit opposite the person you have been allocated and then at the end the bell rings and you say your good-byes. Just like speed-dating!

The job interview objective is get the job or get a second interview. In speed-dating you want the person you like to choose you and ask you on a date.

At a pitch you have an objective as well. You want them to ask to see your manuscript. Some agents/authors ask for a partial (manuscript) some ask for a full. You want to be asked for a full. If you’re asked for partial that’s great but it’s more like you’ve been asked out for coffee than dinner and you want dinner! Either way though you dance out of there happy and full of hope (See why it’s like dating?)

On a side-not I have also done group pitching. I would equate that to being asked on the group date on The Bachelor. It’s pre-set and some publishers/agents only do group pitches. For the pitchee it’s actually more nerve-wracking because on top of the usual fear and jitters you have to worry about the other people at the table. You’re not really competing against each other but it can feel that way and you certainly feed off the energy of the others. It’s awkward and afterwards if one person is asked for a partial and another for nothing, well, there’s less dancing your way out of the room.

Just like in a job interview you want the interviewee to like what you have to offer. You want to appear competent and knowledgeable. You hope the time you’ve spent developing your skills will shine through and you will be selected. You understand it’s a pragmatic business like interaction. They may not choose you and it may have nothing at all to do with you or your ability. (They’re looking for rural women’s fiction and you are pitching romantic suspense for example. They’re list is full in your area. They just published someone similar to you.)

However, I think it crosses over into the dating realm again because so much of your heart and soul goes into a book. You love your novel. You want it to be loved. You want the person across from the table to “get you” and want to know more about this great love. You want it to be a shared passion and so the rejection feels personal and so does any success.

That’s what pitching looks like and feels like. Each time you do it I think it gets less scary. I would say I’m still not great at it and my nerves are evident each time but I keep going back and people keep reading my work which of course is the objective.

I’ll do another post with practical tips on another day.

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