Secrets of a Great Pitch
Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Next week I’m headed out to the ACFW conference (American Christian Fiction Writers) and I’m sure I’ll see some of you there! Rachel’s post yesterday gave some great advice about talking to agents and editors at conferences: It’s Not All About the Pitch. But I know many of you will be pitching, so I wanted to go over some tips.
I think the secret to making a great pitch is to start with a bit of context or background, then tell me about your book. It doesn’t have to be in-depth, considering your time restraints. But take a moment to introduce yourself and your project before pitching.
Too often, people sit down and nervously launch into some kind of story and I find myself dizzy with confusion. I feel like a deer in the headlights and then I say something like, “Let’s back up. What’s your name? And what genre are you writing?”
To me, the best pitches include the following information without me having to ask for it:
Hello, my name is _____ and I wanted to meet with you because _____.
I’m writing ______ (what genre).
My publishing history includes _____(number of books, genres).
Today I want to tell you about my book called _____ .
Then, launch into your pitch. This should be 1 to 3 minutes long, allowing time for the agent or editor to ask questions. Have a 30-second pitch prepared, too, in case of mealtime or elevator pitches.
Here are some guidelines:
→ Don’t try to tell the whole story. Start with the plot catalyst, the event that gets the story started.
→ Then give the set-up, i.e. what happens in the first 30 to 50 pages that drives the reader into the rest of the book. Include the pressing story question or the major story conflict.
→ Fill out your pitch with any of the following: plot elements, character information, setting, backstory, or theme. You want to include just enough information to really intrigue your listener. Note that your pitch doesn’t have to be all “plot.” If your story is more character driven, then fill out your pitch with interesting character details. If the setting is an important element, talk about that. If the backstory plays heavily, round out your pitch with that. Be intentional in how you structure your pitch.
→ Finish by giving an idea of the climactic scenes and the story resolution.
→ Try not to tell too much of the story in the pitch. The pitch is supposed to get somebody interested, not tell the whole story. Stick to the high points, but be sure to tell enough that you don’t leave your listener confused.
→ Include only a couple of characters.
→ Include one plot thread, or two if they’re closely intertwined. You can hint at the existence of other characters and plot lines.
Be prepared to answer questions that could include things like:
→ How does your story end?
→ What published author’s style would you compare your writing to?
→ Who are your favorite authors in your genre?
→ Is this a series? And if so, what are the subsequent books about?
→ Have you worked with a critique group or a professional editor?
→ Have you pitched this to publishers in the past? If so, what was the response?
Important: Know all the key points of your pitch, but don’t memorize your pitch verbatim. You want to be ready to speak it aloud and sound natural, whether during a planned meeting, a meal, in an elevator or a random encounter. Having your pitches prepared ahead of time (and adjusting them as necessary if you learn new things in workshops) will raise your confidence level.
And most important: To help raise your confidence and lower the nervousness, realize that agents and editors are regular people just like you. We clean our toilets, we change our kids’ poopy diapers, we stress over what to wear and whether we’re having a bad hair day. Also, we REALLY like chocolate. How much more normal could we be?
Have you had any mortifying experiences pitching at conferences? Any great experiences? If you haven’t pitched verbally before, what’s your biggest fear?