The Perfect Pitch

(Originally published in the December 07 Silken Sands Newsletter–Gulf Coast Chapter RWA)

This is it. Your time to shine. You’ve got ten minutes with an editor. Ten minutes with an agent. You get to pitch your story–impress the folks who can give you a book deal–or you can totally lose their interest.

The pressure is most definitely on in a pitching situation.

With conference season looming just after the holidays, now is the time to start preparing for the all-important (and all-stressful!) pitch sessions. And here is what you need to do…

Prepare in Advance

  1. Before you go in to pitch to an editor or agent, it is so very important to do your homework. Research the publishing house. Research the editor in particular. Google the agent. Make certain this person is interested in acquiring the type of work that you have to sell. Don’t waste your time–and do not waste the editor or agent’s time.
  2. Once you have an appointment with the right person, spend time working on your pitch. And by “working on your pitch”–don’t just try to memorize a few lines five minutes before you walk in to greet the editor. Days before the pitch, think about your story. Design a Pitch Plan.
  3. The Pitch Plan. On an index card, write down the title of your manuscript. Jot down the genre. Word count. If this story is being targeted for a particular category line (ex. Silhouette Desire or Harlequin Intrigue), make note of that, too. Then, write a hook–a few descriptive sentences that capture the conflict and power of your tale. On your index card, include a notation about your character names, the setting (location and time period) and any other pertinent information that you feel is necessary for the story.
  4. On the back of the card, write down a few notes about your writing career. How long have you been writing? How many manuscripts have you completed? Have you sold to other publishers?

Once your card is completed–learn your pitch! Then…

  1. Practice that pitch! If you’re stuck in traffic, pretend you’re in front of an agent. Give your pitch to the air. Tell it to your husband over supper. Tell it to your mother, your best friend, your RWA chapter group. Get feedback–and become comfortable with your pitch.
  2. A sample pitch. Here’s an example of a pitch (based off “The Pitch Plan”):

    Hello. My name is Sally Author. Today, I’d like to talk to you about NIGHT CRIMES, a sexy paranormal suspense novel that contains approximately 100,000 words. (Okay, time for the hook). BASIC INSTINCT meets THE X-FILES–and the result is NIGHT CRIMES. The heroine of my story, a succubus named Cara Firon, is suspected in a series of murders in Atlanta, Georgia. Todd Brooks is the lead detective on the case, and he knows from the first moment he sees Cara that the lady will be trouble. He knows that he may have to take her down–and prove her guilty of murder, but he never suspects that he’ll fall for his chief suspect…

  3. Okay, that would be the end of the initial opening. The editor or agent will ask follow-up questions about the story next, so be prepared to answer these questions (i.e., know your story–in and out! Don’t be caught off-guard. Be familiar with all the plot turns and twists. Be able to high-light the conflict and provide story-end details, if asked). Also, this “discussion” time is the perfect opportunity for you to insert details about your writing experience. You can easily lead in with “This manuscript is my third completed work.” Or, “In addition to this manuscript, I’ve completed three other novels, one of which I recently sold to Ellora’s Cave.” You decide when to insert your experience, but make certain you tell the editor or agent about your writing credentials.
  4. Create a business card that contains your name and contact information. On the back of the card, you can add details about your book (title, genre, word count, a hook). You can print business cards very inexpensively from such places as VistaPrint.com.

The Day of the Pitch

  1. Dress professionally.
  2. Arrive at least 10 minutes before your scheduled pitch session.
  3. When it is time for your pitch, smile, shake the editor/agent’s hand, and make good eye contact. Project confidence–you know your pitch by this point. Speak clearly and keep your energy high.
  4. After the pitch, thank the editor or agent for his/her time. Offer the editor/agent one of your business cards (complete with the details of your book on the back). If you’re lucky, the editor/agent will offer you one of her cards, too (along with a request to send the full manuscript right away!).
  5. Hold your head up high as you walk away. You’ve done a very, very good job.

If you follow all of the steps above, you pitch session should be a painless success.

Pitch Pitfalls

However, just as a quick warning, do NOT make the following mistakes:

  1. Do not take your complete manuscript to the pitch session. The editor flew down–she is not planning to stuff manuscripts into her luggage bag and fly them back home.
  2. Do not arrive late to your appointment. Agents aren’t going to wait and hold your spot. If you’re late, well, you’ll lose that slot–and leave a bad impression on the agent.
  3. Do not read verbatim from printed pages that you have prepared. Yes, I know that you can probably write a great synopsis of your story–one that is five pages long–but do NOT read those five pages to the editor! This is not the time for that much detail, and, seriously, if you break your eye contact to look down and read that many pages, you will lose the editor’s attention. You know this story–you wrote it–tell the editor about the conflict. Do not read verbatim from a synopsis.
  4. Do not tell the editor that this particular story has already been rejected by four other publishers but you’re sure “They’re wrong” and that she will “love it.” Information like that, well, it truly isn’t something that’s going to earn you a request.

Remember, this is your time to shine. Take a deep breath, and get ready for that pitch. Good luck!