Monday, August 10, 2009

Pitching: 2009 Conference Series

I stink at pitching. I'll just forewarn you up front. I talk way too fast, I stutter over my words when I'm nervous, and I have a VERY real fear of throwing up on said agent/editor in front of me.

Now that I've given you every reason not to listen to my advice, I'll give you a few tips on what not to do. I know those things VERY well.

First, I thought I'd give you an inside peek at my first attempt at pitching. Poor Steve Laube had the unfortunate distinction of being the first agent I ever pitched to at a conference (ACFW 2008). I feel sorry for him to this day.

It went a little something like this:

Krista: Uh, hi.

Steve (smiling): Hi.

Krista: I uh, I've never done this before. Um, uh, My book's about, uh, yeah, a guy, and a uh, girl, and, um, well, can I just give you this?

*Krista thrusts onesheet into Steve's hands, hoping that the sweat from her own hasn't caused the ink to bleed.

Steve: Sure. Let me just look over this really quick.

*He scans the sheet.

Steve: So they meet in a chat room?

*Krista nodds, not able to find her tongue quite yet

Steve: Okay, do you have a sample writing?

*Krista digs through her fancy folder, chastising herself for not having this ready

Krista: Here.

*She again shoves her sample pages in his direction.

*Steve skims the first few pages, laughs a few times, while Krista practices deep breathing exercises she learned in child birth classes, praying that she isn't really going "HE HE HOOOOO" out loud.

Steve: I don't see a description of your character.

*Krista starts to shake. Jenny has red hair, Jack has brown. She knows these things, and knows they are in there SOMEWHERE, but for the life of her she can't remember where.

Krista: Uh, I, uh, I did. Someplace.

Steve: You need to let your reader see your character and describe them soon. I just skimmed your first six pages and didn't see a description once.

*Krista commands herself not to faint.

Krista: I'm sure I did. I think maybe on the next page?

Steve (smiling patiently): Well, our time is up. It's been good talking to you.

************

And that's the end of that. There were other things that I don't recall now... I really do think I blocked much of the horrific experience out. (Not because of the Mr. Laube by the way, he was OH so patient and kind. I feel sorry for him having to deal with my fumbling first attempt.)

I tell everyone that I didn't get rejected on my first pitch. Neither did I get "accepted" or "invited" to send more, but I walked out with one under my belt, with my dignity (sorta) and the will to do better on the next one.

My second pitch was with an editor and went MUCH better, and my third pitch... well, that's a different story all together.

So, here is my "what not to do"'s that I've learned from my limited experience, and from hearing other stories. I hope they help you avoid similar pitfalls.

  1. Don't get defensive. If an agent gives you critical feedback, give your appreciation. Arguing will NOT help your case.

  2. Don't wing it. I did this the first time and regretted it. Have a rough idea of what you are going to say in your head, but don't let it sound TOO rehearsed.

  3. Don't idolize an agent/editor. They are human beings just like us. If you go in there with a worshipful, almost fearful (in my case) attitude, it will make you more nervous. As my sister lectured me, they all poop and fart just the like the rest of us. (I seriously can NOT believe I just typed that...)

  4. Don't forget to go to the bathroom before your pitch session. (this is NOT from personal experience... but just sounds like good advice!)

  5. Don't worry about being perfect. Agents/Editors understand that writers aren't always speakers. They don't expect an eloquent, perfectly articulated speech. They just want to hear about your story from your heart.

  6. Don't eat right before you pitch. Food on a nervous stomach = potential disaster.

  7. Don't talk about the weather, the latest fashions, or how your favorite sports team is doing. You only have a short period of time to use. Make the best of it. Small talk might break the ice, but it also will kill your time.

  8. Don't cry. Disappointment WILL come sometimes, but wait until you are in your room or at least out of the pitch room to unleash your tears.

  9. Don't rip up and trash your onesheet/proposal/sample chapters, or stomp off mad. These things will potentially ruin the rest of the conference for you and/or jeopardize your future career.

  10. MOST IMPORTANT: Don't forget to PRAY! I'm a firm believer that God has a plan for each and every one of us. That doesn't mean if you pray, an agent will show interest. But it does mean that you will have God going with you into that pitch, and wow... there's nothing better than having THAT kind of support, folks.


Discussion: For you conference veterans, any do's or don't's you want to share? For those newbies... any burning questions about pitching?

**side note** In case you are wondering, I've revised the first chapter of the book Steve skimmed over many times since then. There now includes descriptions of the characters... and it's MUCH better. So even though you may not get an invitation to submit out of a pitch session... you very well may get some valuable feedback that helps you improve your book.

15 comments:

Jody Hedlund said...

That is so cool that Steve gave you feedback. I think that's one of the huge benefits of going. It's like querying, but only face to face. And you don't have to wait for months to hear back and get that feedback. It's immediate and upfront!

I'm sure everything is overwhelming and intimidating for a first time conferee, like me. On the loop this past week, someone asked what kind of bag/breif case most people carried, and I hadn't even thought of that! I'd have been walking around with a stack of things in my arms or shoved in my purse. I'm learning so much as I go, and I'm sure I'll learn so much when I get there that I'll do differently next year!

Katie Ganshert said...

Halarious. Well, if I do horribly, I at least know who I can come to for moral support. :) Great advice, Krista!

Heather Sunseri said...

What an awesome story, Krista! I totally felt that as you told it. I wish I was joining you guys at a conference. It sounds fun, intimidating, and memorable! What a great way to make amazing contacts. Good for you! I'm really glad you didn't throw up on Steve, although that would be one way to get an agent to remember us.

Candee Fick said...

Great tips. And I'm dying to know the story of your third pitch. Or is that one coming in September?

I'd add -- do your research. Know what they are looking for and what they have represented, sold, or published in the past year. I've heard about others pitching something in a genre the "target" hates.

In addition to the appointment pitch (where you'll have your one-sheet to glance at in case your brain hiccups), practice an elevator pitch. That short summary for anyone who asks "So, what do you write?" I'm going to recruit several friends or family members to call randomly and ask that question. Until I can answer with only three "um"s instead of twenty.

Terri Tiffany said...

Wow-- this was one of the most honest experiences anyone ever wrote about I sooo appreciate it! I was right there with you nervous and ready to throw up too!! You did good to get through it and gave me some great advice:))

Stephanie Faris said...

I pitched at RWA chapter conferences several times. I think the editors/agents know you're going to be nervous. It's expected. But they're just as eager to find you as you are to impress them. It's just intimidating -- like a job interview. Yet even as nervous as we are, we were at some point able to land a job through an interview.

Jill Kemerer said...

Oh, yes, Krista. Pitching is NOT my idea of a good time!!

Here are a few other gems I learned:

1. Be prepared for unfriendly body language. They might not like you, the conference, the last person who pitched to them, their water, who knows? Sometimes it's our job to put them at ease!

2. Try to remember a few sentences that sum up your book. Don't throw the character names in if it's too much to remember. Keep it short, simple and easy.

It's kind of like a job interview. Some go well, some stink. We just move on.

Thanks for the hilarious post! My first pitches were in the throes of one of the worst migraines ever!

Krista Phillips said...

Jody: There is a lot... but don't stress out about it. Go into it determined to have fun, network, and learn about writing and you'll be just fine. FYI on the bag: They do provide you (or at least did last year) with a bag to tote some stuff around in. If you're using your laptop during sessions though, you'll probably want a laptop bag.

Katie: I am SO here for moral support! *grin*

Heather: I'm glad I didn't throw up on him too! (and I'm sure he's even more glad than I...)

Candee: Ohhhhh, the elevator pitch! A very important piece of the puzzle. This can also be the "lunch" pitch because you'll have opportunities to sit with agents/editors during lunch, and pitch your stuff too. My advise: Memorize your pitch, but not TOO much. Be comfortable with your material enough that you can change it around, and talk like a person instead of like someone giving a speach. getting friends to call you out of the blue is a GREAT idea. I need to practice this too!!!

Terri: Glad you gleaned something from my experience!! *grin*

Stephanie: SO very true! The same skills used in a job interview can be used, to a point, in pitching. I think what makes pitching harder than job interviews, for me anyway, is that our writing is personal. That, and in my job, I've worked, successfully, for ten years in my profession. I've proven that I can do it, and do it well. I'm not AS confident in my writing, as I'm trying to break in to the market for the first time. I guess it's like switching career paths and starting over.

Krista Phillips said...

Jill, GREAT points!!! And so true about the agent/editor's mood. So many things can affect them... it's important that we keep that in mind.

Erica Vetsch said...

Oh, man, my first pitch to an editor, I was at a conference, and I had a fever! She was so sweet, she just prayed with me, and then asked me to send the full ms (later rejected.)

Carol Bruce Collett said...

LOL! I've never pitched and I'm nauseated just thinking about the time when I will have to.

Steve Laube said...

Your sister is right. A little graphic, but she is right.

And I actually remember visiting with you after seeing your picture. I had no idea I was your first pitch.

May you have great success next time around!

Krista Phillips said...

Erica: A fever, oh no! How sweet though that she prayed with you!

Carol: You'll done fine. If I can do it, ANYONE can!

Steve: LOL, my sister CAN be a bit graphic... but she serves for a good laugh and great insight. And yes, it was my first time... SO glad it's over with and thanks again for being so kind. Maybe I'll actually remember to breathe this year!

Tara said...

Thanks for sharing your experience with such candor. I've never pitched, but I'll have my first opportunity in Sept. I tend to take things personally, so the reminder that it might not be that is the cause of the negative body language is very helpful.

Jessica said...

Oh my gosh! ROFL!!!!

I wish I'd read this. Unlike you, I have no fears of vomiting. More like peeing my pants. Before doing speeches I've learned to always go to the bathroom first.

Funny thing, Steve was the first agent I ever met with too! I don't say pitch because my manuscript wasn't done and only later did I realize that was a no-no. So I told him that when we sat down and he still looked at my first chapter and then, he totally did to me what he did to you! Heeehee. Actually, he said, "When does the dialogue start?" And I was like, "Uhhhh" *blinking eyes really fast*
Eventually we figured out that it started like on page 8. Snort! Yes, my first manuscript was filled with backstory. :-)
But he was so nice and so helpful that he def. made my first meeting a good memory.
Thanks for sharing Krista!