Song of the Day: Bullet With Butterfly Wings by Smashing Pumpkins
With the RWA National Conference right around the corner, there has been quite a lot of buzz recently about pitching. What is pitching? Pitching is winding up your best fast ball (your novel) to deliver to a batter (an agent or editor) in the major league game of publishing. This is a little different than baseball. The goal is not to strike out the batter. Nope. The goal is having your ball, polished perfect and aerodynamic, make solid contact with the batter — at the very least hitting a base run.
Pitching can come in different forms. The most common is the sit down, face-to-face, in the flesh pitch, usually by appointment. Another type of pitch has been dubbed the “elevator” pitch. This usually occurs in passing or in casual conversation. An agent/editor may ask you what you are writing in the elevator, on a taxi ride, standing in a line, while waving dollar bills around at the male stripper club. There is also on-line pitching, such what we here at MuseTracks have provided. An agent or editor occasionally may use an internet blog or contest to harvest pitches.
So what exactly is a pitch? Well, a pitch is your story condensed down into a 30 second marketable spiel. It’s much like a blurb on the back of a book cover or a show’s listing in the TV Guide. A pitch can be one sentence or a short paragraph.
I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to perform my own pitches for a panel of agents. I know first-hand how daunting the experience can be. Although my knees knocked and I swear I acted like a babbling fool who just endured a root canal, I did received requests for a full from all the agents. Honestly, they may have just taken pity on me as I floundered on the table in front of them like a pathetic fish out of water. Or maybe, just maybe, I generated enough interest and they wanted to see more.
How do you put together a pitch? Geez! It’s just as hard as writing that dreaded synopsis. Fortunately, there are many with great advice on crafting a pitch and workshops are often available online. But I have found the teachings of Sharon Mignerey, author and writing instructor, to be the most concise and easy to grasp. She touts Dwight Swain’s craft book Techniques of the Selling Writer. According to him, there are five elements that can be found in every story.
* a situation the character is in
*the objective or goal
*an obstacle such as a villain, complication, antagonist
*the disastrous outcome if the objective or goal is not achieved
Apply these elements together in just a few sentences and you will have created a well-rounded pitch.
Easier said than done? Use the elements above like a questionnaire. Fill in the blanks. Try to answer these questions for someone who hasn’t read your project. Get help from your critique partners or writing buddies. I promise you can whittle it down until you feel ready to hurl that baby at the agent/editor with confidence. You want to pique their interest. If you do that, they are likely to ask questions about your story. At that point, it will be as easy as a cake walk.
When you do step into the playing field, be sure to give the agent/editor the pertinent information they want before you start your pitch. What genre, where it takes place, who the target audience is and the approximate word count. Think of it as a launch pad. “My finished manuscript is a 71,000 word historical set in 18th century Caribbean targeted for St. Martin Press.” Now you’re ready for the wind up.
But wait! There’s more! Here are a few more tips you should consider before stepping on the mound.
Do your research on the agent/editor. Know what they are looking for, what they like and who they represent. Read their bios and blogs. Just don’t stalk them. That’s a no-no and could get you a restraining order.
Never pitch a manuscript that is not complete. If an agent/editor requests your story, they generally want it now, not several months later when you write THE END. By then, they may have different interests and quite possibly see you as unorganized and ill-prepared. Pitching an unfinished manuscript wastes their time and yours.
Get in the bull-pen and practice. Recite your pitch for your buddies and critique partners.
Dress nice. Choose business casual over the cute tank, Daisy Duke cut-offs and flip-flops.
Don’t bring manuscript pages or disks to your appointment. It’s presumptuous and most agents would prefer you follow their submission guidelines.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get to know the agent/editor.
In the same breath, once your pitch is done, and they’ve asked to see more, don’t linger. Get their business card, thank them and excuse yourself. That is the polite and professional way to end the pitch session.
Be confident, but not cocky. Be excited about your project, but not too freaky. There are no cheerleaders in baseball. And don’t become too emotional. There’s no crying in baseball either! Silly analogies, I know.
Above all, relax. They are probably a little nervous. After all, they’re looking to score, too. If you are calm, cool and collected, you’ll both feel relaxed and you just may hear the crraaackk of your fast ball. It’s going, going, GONE!