Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pointers for Pitchers

On Friday and Saturday, I'll be going to the NECRWA's Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference. This is the first of several conferences for me this spring, and it'll be the most relaxing. I'm not presenting a workshop this year or pitching any manuscripts (my agent's got that covered!) but NEC is my local RWA chapter so I'm going to support my friends.

If the thought of attending a national conference gives you the willies, I encourage you to look into the smaller regional conferences. The fees to attend a regional conference are much less than for nationals but there are still wonderful writing craft workshops, the opportunity to network with industry professionals and pitch to acquiring agents and editors.

Pitching is nerve-wracking for most writers. The first time I did it, I felt my career would be doomed if my tongue tripped over a single word. Ridiculous. A pitch is more like a job interview than anything else and it goes both ways. The editor/agent is interested in hearing about your story, but they also want to know if you're the type of person they can work with for the long haul. A writer needs to find out if this editor/agent is a good fit for them.

Here's what they want to hear in your pitch:

1. What you're selling--title, subgenre, word count, FINISHED MANUSCRIPT (Please don't pitch less than a finished manuscript if you're not yet published. It's a waste of everyone's time. For first timers, an editor needs to see that you can deliver the finished product.), which of their specific lines you think it would fit (shows you've done your homework!)

2. Brief synopsis
--Main character's goal and why it's not happening. Last week, Saranna DeWylde encapsulated her story in a single sentence. It's a tough roe to hoe for a Cupid who doesn't believe in love. If I was doing one for STROKE OF GENIUS it would be An artistic genius transforms an American heiress into the most sought-after Original, while trying not to fall for her himself.

3. Stop talking and listen. Let the editor/agent ask you questions. They know what they want to know better than you do. Don't try to control the conversation by talking without a breath.

4. Send in what they request. This seems like such a no-brainer, but editors and agents tell me they often get excited about a proposal at a conference and it never appears on their desk. Maybe the author said the manuscript was finished and they only had three chapters, so they're scribbling furiously to finish it. This is such a no-no. First, you started the business relationship with a lie. Not an auspicious beginning for a relationship based on trust. Second, the quality of your work is bound to suffer for the rush. And third, by the time you finally send it in, the editor/agent will have moved on and is interested in something else.

If the editor/agent asks to see your material, send them exactly what they request. If they want 3 chapters and synopsis, don't send the full manuscript. Following directions is a good indicator of how well you'll respond to revisions. And send it quickly! If you get the request on Saturday, put the package in the mail on Monday!

So if you're pitching, take a deep breath and relax. No one is going to buy or reject your work based on what you say in the pitch session. It's still about the writing. Don't feel you've blown it if you didn't get a request for material. They may already have enough of what you're selling. A pitch appointment is like a bus. There's another one coming.

And if you're in the New England area this weekend, I'd love to see you at the "Open to the Public" bookfair on Saturday:

NEC Book Fair for Literacy
March 27, 2010
4-6 PM
Sheraton Tara
1657 Worcester Rd.
Framingham MA 01701

Mary Janice Davidson, Judith Arnold and Brenda Novak will be there. I hope to see you as well!

Have you had a pitch experience you'd like to share? Any questions? Suggestions?


Edie Ramer said...

Great tips! I have my one-liner ready for the WisRWA conference in May. Have fun at NEC's conference!

Anna Carrasco Bowling said...

NEC is a fabulous conference, and the pitching advice is much appreciated. Practicing pitch for postapocalyptic medieval novella for this year.

Janell said...

I'm going to start thinking about that one-liner now. the WisRWA conference will be my first time at this so your tips are very helpful.

EmilyBryan said...

Good luck, Edie! I've heard good things about the Wisrwa conference!

EmilyBryan said...

Anna--My ears pricked at the words "postapocalyptic medieval." It begs a host of questions which is what you want.

EmilyBryan said...

Janell--It's good to have a catch phrase to cling to when you go into a pitch. I've seen writers carrying notecards to help them through their conversation. While editors/agents realize we're nervous, notecards send the message that we're afraid to connect with people and sadly, writers need to be able to "go forth" to help sell their books in this market.

Sandy said...

Great tips, Emily. I won't be going to a conference this year, but I'll remember them for the future.

EmilyBryan said...

Glad to help, Sandy.

Unknown said...

Great tips! I'll be at the NEC conference, but not pitching. I'm still excited to be going for the first time.

EmilyBryan said...

Yay, Amber! I'll see you there.

Kelly said...

one thing I include in my Pitch workshop Top 10 list - Be prepared with a business card. On the back, print the name of the book you're pitching and the name/date of the conference. Hand this to him/her when you introduce yourself (and thank them for their time).

When you get home and are preparing the ms for mailing, include a duplicate business card and paper clip to your cover letter. This allows your interview to stand out from the sea of pitches they received over the course of the conference. said...

Great tip, Emily. Thanks so much for sharing. I will be headed to Chicago in April and signed up for a pitch. I'll take all the advice I can get.

Donna Marie Rogers said...

I sure wish I could go, Emily, I finaled in the Bean Pot! But I can only afford one conference this year, and I've been anxious to attend National again since Atlanta. :-)

EmilyBryan said...

Excellent idea, Kelly! No one will accept a manuscript or partial at conference (even if you slide it under the bathroom stall door at them!) but everyone has room for a business card!

EmilyBryan said...

Good luck in Chicago, Samantha! What conference is happening there?

EmilyBryan said...

Donna--My fingers and toes are crossed for you. The Bean Pot is a great contest!

Glynis Peters said...

I would love to attend a conference just to absorb the atmosphere. Sadly, Cyprus does not hold them, so I will probably never attend one here. I often wonder if I can fit a visit to family in UK that coincides with one there.
Have fun at yours and thanks so much for the tips.

EmilyBryan said...

RT has a large contingent from Australia each year. My roomie for RWA Nationals is from Thailand. Kris Hohl, the editor of Loveletter magazine in Germany, always comes. We do have some internationals at conference, so save up your frequent flyer miles, Glynis.

My goal is to make it down to one of the Aussie conferences someday!