Tips for Pitching at a Writer’s Conference

Wow guys. May has been a doozy (good doozy, not bad doozy) and I’ve been away from my sweet blog for longer than I intended. It’s just that I completed TWO WHOLE MANUSCRIPTS (in completely different genres), went to a writer’s conference (in Utah no less), had my birthday (whee) and Mother’s Day (also whee; I’m the mother of !four! children), went to countless end of school recitals, performances, and “graduations” (none of my kids is yet old enough to actually graduate from anything real), and then my kids got OUT OF SCHOOL! So, you know, I’ve been busy and stuff.

But. I’ve still been excited to post, and just trying to find the time. At my conference last month, I had the chance to pitch both of my manuscripts and experience the ups and downs and terrors of it all. I learned a few things and wanted to write about them.

How to Pitch Well and Not Die or Hyperventilate or Harm Things in the Process

  1. Just Do It. If you have a chance for a pitch session and you have a completed manuscript, drop your $25 or $50 bucks for your ten minute pitch session, and give it a shot. (Note: If you don’t have an actual book ready to go and just have a bunch of really great ideas, then be excited, but hold off until the next conference when your manuscript is ready to do a pitch.)
  2. Practice. Before I was a writer, I was a musician. Musicians, perhaps more than anyone else, know that there’s nothing magical about your art form, or at least there’s nothing magical about your art form that not practicing can’t kill. Playing or singing a song well correlates pretty neatly to how many hours you put in. It’s not the most romantic thing I’ve ever said, but it’s possibly the most true. In fact, the older I get the more I realize how true it is, whether it’s music or marriage or writing a book, or cleaning a bathtub–the results are going to correlate pretty directly with the time and effort you put in. I believe that this is true of pitching too. So get your pitch ready, write it out, then practice saying it. Make people who love you listen. If you are brave, make people who don’t love you listen. Say it to a mirror, whatever. But say it. Many times. Say it so much that when you’re nervous sitting in front of that agent/publisher/important person, your conscious brain doesn’t have to remember what your book is about (it won’t; it will freak out) because your unconscious brain will tell your mouth what to say and you’ll say it. Sounding like you’ve practiced a little too much is preferable to stumbling around, forgetting what your book is actually about, and then just telling the agent that it’s really great because your mom told you so. So practice (just like your mom told you to.)
  3. It’s okay to be nervous, but don’t go nutso. This is just a pitch session. Just a pitch session. No children, or even bunnies, will be harmed or saved due to its success or failure. You might blow it; you might rock it. Either way, it’s not your last chance at life. I can pretty much guarantee you that even if the agent doesn’t request your full manuscript and to be the father of your first child, you can still send something their way at some point in time. And if you can’t, you can find someone else to send it to (and to father any children you wish to have). So don’t despair. At the conference, there was one pitch that I really felt I’d botched (and, truthfully, I kind of had). I was so sad. But the next day around lunch, I saw the editor and had a chance to chat with her. She ended up giving me her card and asking for the manuscript. I was so happy. Then, when I sent it she was like, “You know, this is the genre we publish, but your book seems to be on the fringe of it; I’m just not sure if it’s the specific genre we most want right now. We’ll read it sometime in the next few months, but don’t get your hopes up TOO high.” And the point of this story is that all those lows and highs and “This is the moments”–well, my manuscript kind of ended up where it would have ended up if I’d just sent it in the traditional way–in a slush pile somewhere hoping to wow someone. Maybe it will; maybe it won’t. But nothing that happened at the conference made or broke that. It’s up to the manuscript now. And it always kind of was. [Note: I know that this kind of seems to counter #1, but I really don’t think it does. I had a really great conversation–in person and then via email–with this editor. And, I had another really great pitch session with a totally different editor. My point is not that that personal contact means nothing–it helps, and it often adds speed in getting your manuscript noticed, which is valuable. It’s also a way to make good contacts for the future. My point is merely that it is not the single most important thing that will ever happen to you.]
  4. Smile. And sit up straight if you think about it in time. Wear professional clothing. Be polite. Act like a human and not a hungry, desperate teenage ogre who will shove this manuscript down someone’s unwilling throat or die.
  5. Ask questions if you have time. You paid for your ten minutes. Your pitch will take two. (Do not make your pitch take ten!) Use the rest of the time to chat. Ask if there’s anything that could be improved in your pitch/query. Ask what types of things the agent/editor/publisher likes best. Tell her you love her dress (if it’s true). The agent is  human. You’re human. Remember both of those facts and you’re gonna be alright. 

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