Preparing for a Live Pitch to an Agent or Editor

Feb 12, 2013

Writing conference season is near-- hooray! I'm signed up for LDStorymakers in May, which I'm really excited for, especially because I'll get to meet my awesome agent, Hannah Bowman! I'm also (possibly) going to Life, the Universe, and Everything this weekend, if I can get away from baby Noodles for a bit.

Don't do this. (source)
One thing that's awesome about conferences is the chance to meet-- and pitch to-- agents and editors. I pitched to Holly Root at last year's Storymakers, and it was a great experience. Did I end up signing with her? Obviously not. Did that make it worthless? Not at all. I got the chance to talk with a great agent, and get used to talking about my book, both in short and at length. It gave me confidence, motivated me, and made me comfortable knowing agent's are like you and me. So here are a few tips I learned from pitching last year.

Crafting your Pitch
I recommend having a short, one-sentence elevator pitch, as well as a slightly longer (query-length) pitch. I crafted my short pitch first, using the 4 C's format: Character, Conflict, Choice, and Consequence. Something similar to, "When [character] faces [conflict], he/she must [choice] before [consequence]." You can change it up however works. From their, expand on the story. A pitch is simply a short story that tells...well, the story of your story! Choose the details that can structure your pitch like a story. Tell the first part only-- you don't want to give away the end. A good point is to tell up to your first plot point/inciting incident/hero's call to action. Remember, you've got limited time, so keep it short and catchy.

Prepping your Pitch
People have different ideas on this, but my preference is to MEMORIZE your pitch. You want to give it naturally if possible (i.e. you don't want to sound like a robot droning out a script), but you want to be able to give it, period. And odds are, you'll be nervous. So memorize the pitch, in case you need to fall back on that. If you do end up a little robot-like (raising my hand, here), the agent/editor won't mind. They know you're a little nervous!

After memorizing your pitch, PRACTICE it. Not just reciting it. Practice telling it like you'd tell a story. Maybe inject a little information, or leave some out. Let yourself get excited. You want them to be excited too, and they can't be if you aren't! 

One thing I did was prep a document I called a Pitch Plan. I wrote out the who/what/when/where's, typed out my pitches, and put all my research I'd done on the agent (which I HIGHLY recommend). I also prepped answers to common questions agents/editors ask: Why does your book stand out in this market? Who are your characters? What are the themes? What published author would you compare your style to? Who are your favorite authors/books? Is this a series/explain more about future books? Next, I wrote out some questions I wanted to ask the agent: What's your communication style? How do you approach edits and marketing? What are some of your favorite books/authors? How do you feel an agent/author can stay on top of the publishing game?

Then, I staged it. Yup, that's right. I imagined the agent sitting in front of me and staged our conversation, multiple times, in multiple ways. Out loud and early in the morning when no one could hear. :) This helped a TON with my nerves, because I felt truly prepared.

Delivering Your Pitch
And now for the scary/fun part: giving the pitch. Before you go in, give yourself some time to breathe deeply-- this does actually help with nerves. Then, smile. It will give you confidence and help you be in the right mode for talking. Go in, give a firm handshake and a smile, and thank them for meeting with you. It's okay to wait for them to start-- they've likely got more experience, and will probably chat for a brief minute, then ask about your book.

You're ready-- you've practiced. Tell them about your book. Give your pitch. Be enthusiastic, but not overbearing. Share your love for the book, not just the book itself. Then, see if they ask for more, or ask a question. This is your book, so even if they ask a question you didn't prep, you know how to answer. If you've got time left, ask some questions of your own. If they request pages, take down the information and thank them again.

And you're done! And you did great. :)

So, my friends, have you pitched before? Any tips? Will you be pitching soon and have any questions? Ask away! And check out the WriteOnCon Mid-Winter Pitch Fest to learn about pitching online!


Michelle Merrill said...

Thanks Shallee! Your advice is usual :)

Crystal Collier said...

The art of pitching... Awesome post. If I'm ever rich enough to attend a physical conference, I'll be coming back here for advice. =)

ilima said...

That will be so fun to meet your agent! I *almost* met mine when I was in SF a few weeks ago but she was trapped at home with the flu. Maybe one day. :)

Yolanda Renée said...

Excellent advice, Shallee!

I remember my first pitch -- I choked!
Made a 'weird' statement and was caught off guard by her question. It was horrible, and yet she asked for the first three chapters. I think she did that with every 'newbie'. But it was nice to walk out with a smile on my face instead of the a frown. Although, I knew it was a disaster. Great learning experience though!

David P. King said...

Perfect post, Shallee. Perfect for the start of conference season. I'll be at LTUE, so we'll have to hang out if the Noodle will let you. :)

Jennie Bennett said...

Wonderful tips, I'll be reading this again before I go into give my pitch I'm sure that will help with my nerves as well. Great Post!

Christy said...

Perfect timing thanks! I'll be pitching at LTUE.

Beth said...

I only did the pitch thing one time, and I sincerely doubt I ever do it again. LOL

Jessie Humphries said...

Oh man, that will be so cool to meet your agent! I can't wait for the day to meet mine. But great advice in the pitch. I've done it almost a dozen times in the last three years and I always enjoyed it. One on one agent time is priceless!

Romance Book Haven said...

Thanks for this great advice, Shallee!


MKHutchins said...

I'm making it down to LTUE this year, too. Hopefully you'll be able to come by.

Romance Book Haven said...

Pitching to an agent seems incredibly hard work. Yet some people actually manage without them. It is so strange....


Rachna Chhabria said...

Thanks Shallee, for this post and advice. I am never good at pitching my stories.

Naina Gupta said...

Great advice :D

Mark Means said...

I'm not at this point, yet, but some great advice and I'll remember it.

Thanks for sharing :)

Tara Tyler said...

excellent pep talk!
if you are prepared & polite, you will be perfect!

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