Saturday, June 30, 2007

There's No Crying in Baseball... or Pitching!

The Buzz Girls' Conference Tips Week Continues with : Pitching!

If you've never been to a writers' conference, then you may not have encountered the animal known as the pitch appointment. Basically, this is where you sign up to meet with an agent or editor, usually in a group of 4-6 people and "pitch" your book to them. You cover the basics of the plot, talk about word count, sub-genre, etc...

The pitch appointment is a HUGE source of stress for most people. I've pitched many times, including once when I stressed so much about meeting a particular editor, I got up at 4:30 am and rewrote my (don't laugh) *four* page pitch for the third time. Yikes! When I got to the appointment, the editor looked down at my notebook and said, "You're not going to read all that, are you?" I gulped and said, "Oh, of course not!" then shut the book and pitched by the seat of my pants. I've learned a lot since those early days, and I'm happy to pass on that knowledge to you!

So, the first thing I'm going to say -- and feel free to disagree -- is that the pitching appointment is not all about your book. It's not even about you.

You're shocked. I can feel it permeating through my keyboard as I'm typing...

In my experience, the pitch appointment is your opportunity to meet someone you might work with in the future. The pitch appointment is your chance to see if you connect with a particular agent or editor. Seriously, they cannot tell if your book is a blockbuster or utter crap (which I'm sure it's not) until the pages hit their desk back in NYC. So, why stress out?

Seriously, my agent has told me stories of people *crying* during their pitches. He ususally helps them out by changing the subject. I think once he asked a lady what her favorite flavor of ice cream was to get her to stop shaking. Relax, people.

Some of the best pitches I've done were composed mostly of me giving a brief outline of the plot, asking the editor if she had questions, asking her questions about her line or the books she's recently edited, and genuinely listening to what she says.

Unless you are pitching something that she doesn't handle, or you pitch a book that sounds completely insane (two-headed alien hero meets vampire heroine during the American Revolution) the editor or agent will most likely invite you to send chapters. So, use the time to get to know the publisher or agency, and to see if this is someone you would like to work with.

Okay, you're saying.... that's great, but I want to pitch! So, if you're old school and you're determined to pitch that book the normal way... then fine, go for it. Some people are more comfortable doing it like that. In fact, I've been to conferences where the agent says at the beginning, I'd like to take chapters from everyone at the appointment and people got mad!

All this says to me is that they are not focused on building a relationship with the agent. Listen to me -- see beyond this one project you're focused on pitchin! See how you might work with the agent or editor. Ask questions and if they don't want to hear a canned pitch, be glad. I know that's only my opinion... I'm just saying...

Anyway, here are some pitching tips:

1) Dress in something professional and comfortable. Eat a breath mint. Introduce yourself and SMILE! You may be nervous, but you'll only make the agent nervous if you don't relax. And soooo many people forget to say who they are! It's the very first thing you do.

If you have a business card, you may want to give it to the agent at this point. You may want to say a line or two about yourself. "Hi, I'm Heather Davis. I write young adult fiction, and last year I was a Golden Heart finalist..." (Or whatever applies to you -- "I've been writing for three years..." Keep it simple and short.)

2) Say the name of your book, the word count, and sub-genre. "My book is called Never Cry Werewolf. It's a 65,000 word Young Adult paranormal romance."

3) Give a brief pitch that tells about the main characters (heroine and/or hero.) Start with how the heroine is at the beginning of the book. Move to the conflict. Finish with how she overcomes the conflict. Tell the ending of the book. In a romance, you'll want to cover what keeps the hero/heroine apart and what brings them together in the end. Goal, motivation, and conflict are helpful here. For example:

"In Never Cry Werewolf, 16 year-old Shelby is a sweet but reckless teen. She fibs to her parents, doesn't follow through, and constantly trusts and befriends the wrong people and guys. After being caught out past curfew with a boy (again!) her parents banish her to brat camp, a cushy resort in the forests of Oregon. Shelby's warned if she can't follow the rules at Camp Crescent, she'll be sent to a hellish bootcamp in the Utah desert for the rest of the summer, so Shelby resolves to fly straight.

Until she meets Austin, the son of a rockstar, who's hiding a major secret -- he's a werewolf and the camp has confiscated his anti-change drug. He tells Shelby his secret because the full moon is approaching and he needs help -- and he sees in Shelby someone he can trust. At first Shelby doesn't believe him and she knows she must stay away to keep herself out of trouble. But when she gets real proof he is telling the truth, and starts falling for Austin too, she must decide to break the rules of Camp Crescent in order to save him. In keeping his secret and helping him to freedom, she learns that she is a trustworthy person and that sometimes you have to do the wrong thing for the right reason."

Okay, so that's a really, really brief example and I left some stuff out -- but do you see how I show the "character arc" for Shelby? How she is at the beginning, what changes her in the middle, and how she is different at the end. Notice I included some "hooks" of the story -- brat camp, werewolf hero, etc. I also gave a little bit of the theme of the book...

That's what an effective pitch should do, in my opinion.

4. Then you say, "Do you have any questions for me?" And the agent may ask a follow up to the pitch. "How does Shelby help Austin escape?" "Has the manuscript been submitted anywhere?"

5) Then, you ask a brief question or two of the agent or editor. "What was the last project you sold that you fell in love with?" "How long have you edited for HaperCollins?"

6) Hopefully, she'll ask to see some chapters of the book. Make sure you know how she likes things submitted -- email, paper, with or without a written synopsis, etc... Take her card if she offers it.

7) THANK her for her time! She has other pitches to hear, so you'll want to move things along out of courtesy. Listen politely to the other pitchers at the table. Take note of the agent's reaction to each of the projects -- and file that away in your memory bank for future reference. "Note to self -- agent hates Cowboys, etc..." Even if it's not useful to you now, you may be able to help a friend who asks about that agent... You never know.

8) When you get home IMMEDIATELY send a well-chosen thank you note to the agent, referencing your pitch appointment and letting her know you'll be sending your submission soon. This is a crucial step, especially if it might take you a while to get the submission together. This keeps you in the forefront of the agent's mind, and is just plain nice. They have to sit through so many pitches -- but you will be remembered for your courtesy. Choose a cute yet professional card. Don't spend a million bucks on the card, but send something that shows a little personality. If I wrote a book about a dog trainer, I would send a card with a dog picture on it... Anything to jog her memory and brand yourself.

9) Submit the damn project! They always remember when they really liked something and you wimped out on them and didn't send it. Even if it takes you a few months (see #8) to send the project, make sure it is your BEST work. Take the time to polish and make the most of your shot.

10) Whatever the outcome of the submission (even a rejection!) send a thank you note -- especially if they gave you any feedback.

"Thanks so much for reading my submission CATS IN SPACE. I agree with your comment that the hero appeared a bit finicky in the opening chapter. Though CATS IN SPACE wasn't right for you, I hope to try you again with my next project, a thriller called TWO FEATHERS AND A PISTOL. Sincerely, Heather Davis." Or something like that.

Agents and editors have great memories. That's part of what makes them so good at what they do. So, throughout the pitch appointment and submission process be professional, polite and friendly. Set yourself apart by getting to know them and listening to what they say. Be nice.

Remember -- it's not all about you or your book. It's about the start of what could be a beautiful relationship.



Heather Davis is the author of
Never Cry Werewolf
coming in 2008 from HarperCollins


stephhale said...

I have to admit I'm thrilled I never had to pitch in person. I probably would have passed out. These are such great tips. When you are looking for an agent/editor it's so hard to remember that they are human too when you feel like they are holding your future in their hands. But they are human. And they want to represent/buy your great book just as much as you want them to! Good luck everybody!

Tera Lynn Childs said...

Okay, I love your entire approach, but my absolute favorite tip is the Thank You note right after conference. That both eases stress about getting the project in immediately and give the requester one more chance to remember you/your name. Brilliant.

But Steph is right, when you're unagented or unpubbed it's sooo hard to not stress.


Shelli Stevens said...

Great tips, Heather! I really crack up over the "you're not really going to read that" part. :)

I need to remember that thank you card trick!

Dona Sarkar-Mishra said...

I love the card trick and wish I'd remembered to do that in the past. Oh well, next time :)