Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Writers’ conference season is in full swing, and many of you are preparing for the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference in September. One of the most anxiety-provoking parts of a conference is knowing you’ll need to verbally pitch your book (which I’ve previously covered in Creatively Pitching Your Project and Secrets of a Great Pitch).
Several writers have asked me, why pitch verbally at all, when it’s the writing that matters? Why is so much importance put on the verbal pitch?
Both the query and the verbal pitch serve as an introduction to you and your project, leading the agent or editor to make a decision about whether they want to read some of the manuscript. While the writing matters most, the in-person connection has some advantages:
1. The verbal pitch allows you to express yourself not only with words but facial expressions and gestures.
2. The verbal pitch allows a conversation to develop, in which the agent can ask questions and probe for more information if needed.
3. If you get lost in your pitch or you’re not being clear, the agent can redirect you or help you get focused.
4. There’s the possibility that you’ll “click” with the agent and she’ll really want to work with you, secretly hoping your manuscript is awesome so she can rep you.
5. The in-person meeting allows agents and editors to see how you present yourself. As a published author, you’ll need to be able to talk to people about your book. You may be interviewed, you might do book signings, you’ll probably have some events in which you’ll need to interact and discuss your book. Taking into account that you’re probably nervous at the pitch meeting, agents and editors can still get a good feel for the “public persona” you’ll have as an author. It probably won’t be a deciding factor in whether to request your manuscript, but it’s one piece of information contributing to the whole picture of “you.”
6. The meeting also gives agents and editors an opportunity to glance at a page or two of your manuscript if it’s available during the pitch meeting. Between that and the verbal pitch, we’ll know if we want to see more.
7. Even if the pitch doesn’t go well, the agent/editor may ask you to send your manuscript after the conference. This is an acknowledgment that it really is about the writing. Writers are nervous when they pitch and might not be presenting their book in the best light, so by requesting pages, an agent ensures she doesn’t miss something. She wants to make the most of her conference attendance.
People often ask me whether pitch meetings at conferences are worthwhile and whether anything ever comes of them. I have several clients, all of whom are in the middle of multi-book publishing contracts, with whom I wouldn’t be working except for meetings at conferences. So from my perspective (and probably theirs), pitch meetings are conferences are definitely valuable.
What do you like, or dislike, about the verbal pitch? Which do you think is more effective, the face-to-face pitch or the email query?
Why pitch verbally at all, when it’s the writing that matters? @RachelleGardner on the verbal pitch. Click to Tweet.
“The in-person meeting allows agents and editors to see how you present yourself.” Click to Tweet.
“The verbal pitch allows a conversation to develop.” @RachelleGardner on pitching. Click to Tweet.
There are two things from high school and college that I’m so grateful for (okay, there’s more, but for this comment, these two apply)–typing class, and speech class. Certainly it’s all about the writing, but I enjoyed being able to make my story come alive during my pitches at ACFW the last time I attended. I think the verbal pitch is invaluable. But it does take practice to get comfortable in your own skin. I’ll be talking out loud to myself within a few weeks as I practice saying it out loud ahead of time. That way, I can relax and have more fun with it when it’s the real thing!
I agree with you, Anne. The best class I took in college was one on public speaking.
Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner)
Anne — you’ve hit on the key to a successful pitch: practice!
And the pitch humanizes the entire somewhat frustrating, distant process, reminding aspiring authors that publishers are staffed by humans who laugh, smile, and engage. I actually enjoy the pitch (and have worked very hard on three different ones depending on the situaiton). Pitching it gives me the opportunity to see if my material resonates with someone else outside my head (and Mary’s), and puts a human face on entities who might one day publish my work. NLBH
Sorry for the duplicate post. Technology isn’t for cowards. Or me, sometimes. Feel free to delete one of these if you’d like.
Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner)
Norma, you’re right, the verbal interaction really humanizes the process, on both sides of the table!
And the pitch humanizes the entire somewhat frustrating, distant process, reminding aspiring authors that publishers are staffed by humans who laugh, smile, and engage. I actually enjoy the pitch (and have worked very hard on three different ones depending on the situation). Pitching gives me the opportunity to see if my material resonates with someone else outside my head (and Mary’s), and puts a human face on entities who might one day publish my work. NLBH
I’m looking forward to the verbal pitch, Rachelle, for all the reasons you mentioned. With a query letter, the author and agent both miss out on a handshake, smiles, tone of voice, intensity/passion of discussion, images on the one-sheet, an opportunity to clarify and answer questions.
Roxanne Sherwood Gray
I agree with Meghan, plus, Rachelle’s suggestion: “The possibility that you’ll “click” with the agent and she’ll really want to work with you.”
(Of course, I secretly hope the agent finds my manuscript awesome and wants to rep me too.) 😉
Meghan, you’re right. The personal component can add depth to what an agent sees. I needed your perspective. 🙂
(Yes!! Day Two of Internet in a Log Cabin!!)
One thing I love is a live microphone in front of a crowd. But ONLY if I’m not supposed to be there. I’m the girl who makes rabbit ears in people’s photos. Or speaks in a British accent in a Skype call. Or prank calls her BFF with a Texan accent.
Notice a pattern?
A slight amount of misplaced bravery.
But…I lived through a Communist riot in a foreign country. Yes, the local law enforcement was heavily armed.
So I figure, during a pitch, “Hey, how bad can the nerves get? This person is *slightly* unlikely to have a water cannon under her desk.”
I know you’re all shocked to hear this, but I can actually carry on a complete conversation >>that makes sense<< with a total stranger. I'm more nervous about walking into the newbie orientation than I am about sitting down one on one and talking about my book.
But, I did just bump my head…so…if you see a weepy redhead breathing into a paper bag in Indy, you'll know it's me.
Given the choice, I prefer a face to face, as it is really hard to convey one's personality and passion in a query letter.
That's one reason I like to vlog, so that if an agent is scoping me out , they can see and hear me and get an idea of what I'm like.
I enjoy the exclusive opportunity to get acquainted. The people who attend events such as the ACFW conferences tend to be pretty awesome. Sure, writers can meet agents and editors around a dining table, but there we must share the time. The pitch time promotes the manuscript, of course, but it also allows us authors a chance to connect with others in the industry with a passion for books, which is fun in any setting.
Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner)
Rick, the meetings are nice for us, for the same reason. It’s good to be able to focus on one person and start to get to know them.
I agree with what Meghan said. The personal component makes a verbal pitch effective because it conveys so much more than an email or a query can. That being said, they make me nervous. 🙂 When I am speaking in front of people, I tend to cover over nerves with a very calm demeanor. This is good, but it masks enthusiasm for my projects. That is not good. 🙂 My goal in pitching this year is to try to relax more, to be myself and have a good perspective about my meetings—it’s a time to get to know an agent or editor and for them to get to know me.
Rachelle, your reminder that agents are looking beyond how polished the pitch to who the person is reassures me. 🙂
What I like…all the things you mentioned. I think it’s great to see how you and an agent or editor get along. What I don’t like…unexpected questions. I try to prepare as best I can, but you never know which direction the conversation is going to take. That makes me more nervous than if I were, say, giving a presentation. It’s the unknown interaction piece. I always fear I’m going to fumble my answer and come across looking dumb.
Leah E. Good
Those unexpected questions can be tricky, Lindsay! I had a few fumble moments during my first pitching experience. Thankfully the editor was patient and everything worked out fine. The whole experience helped me grow so much and was enjoyable too. Next time I’ll have answers for the questions she asked. 😉
One additional observation–although this might not be the right time for you to become represented, you and the agent may cross paths again in the future. If you “clicked” at that first meeting, the agent may remember you, like what you’re writing now, and agree to represent you.
I’d far prefer verbal pitches to emailed queries. I find that when I have had to evaluate submissions for a technical journal, the ‘sameness’ of the visual presentations on the computer screen made me look for reasons to reject.
Same for academic job applications – go through a few dozen multipage CV’s (with additional supporting documents), and one can start feeling almost hostile to the applicants. I did.
There’s also the ‘presence’ factor. Sending an email is easy. Showing up for a conference shows commitment. If I were an agent, I know which would impress me more, in terms of a professional approach to a possible relationship.
(And right now I’m limited to email, because the resources to go to a conference simply don’t exist. Sigh…)
Just as I posted my comment, a question occurred to me –
I would guess that significantly more MS are requested following verbal pitches, when compared to emailed queries – is this true?
And if so – is it more a function of the greater professionalism of the writers attending conferences (i.e., they bring a better product), or more intuition based on the presentation and ‘personal touch’?
Okay, not one question. Two.
Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner)
Andrew, I don’t have any data to accurately answer your question. But I’d say, percentage-wise, you’re right that we request more manuscripts from verbal pitches than queries.
In general, I think it’s because people who are invested enough to attend a conference have also take the time to hone their craft, as well as target the agent who has a good chance of being a fit.
Last year I pitched for the first time and walked away from the conference with two editor requests, an offer of representation (from an agent who I didn’t feel was the best fit for me) and a recommendation to a second agent who started representing me six months later (and is a perfect fit!). All of this because of verbal pitches at the ACFW Conference. So, yes, I think verbal pitches and one-on-one meetings are extremely important. I’m looking forward to pitching again this year. My biggest concern is trying to wrap up my entire novel in a handful of words. It’s a daunting task!
I feel verbal pitches get easier the more you do them. I’ve made pitches online and in person. I come away with a much better understanding and several helpful comments after a face-to-face meeting.
I used to think written queries were better. if I’m a writer, I can certainly WRITE a query! But there are so many varying opinions on what a query letter should look like, it almost makes sense to do the verbal pitch. I’ve done one, and it was nerve-wracking, but now that I gotten it out of the way, the next one should be all that bad. I also think time is a factor. The last conference I attended allowed 3-minute pitches in a tiny room with three other agents listening to other pitches at the same time. Half of my allotted time was spent repeating what I said over the din.
I enjoy the verbal pitch sessions. It’s a more effective way for the author and the agent to see if they will be a good fit as a team and for an editor to see if you have the “presence” it takes to move to all the next levels of the publication, marketing and promotion process. Besides, it’s fun to meet new people in the business face to face. Looking forward to meeting you and many others at ACFW!
I attended an excellent pitching workshop at RWA put on by Winnie Griggs and her agent and an editor. I had been confused on what to include in my pitch and she gave just the advice I needed. A pitch really is very short and you want to allow plenty of time for questions. That’s when you know if they are interested. I pitched at RWA and got requests from the editors & agent I met with. Try to keep things in perspective too, pitching is just the next step in the process. It’s just about trying to get them interested enough to want to read your work. It’s not about getting a contract right then.
The thought of a verbal pitch scares me to death. I was once quite good at thinking on my feet (public speaking in HS) and talking before people (drama/theater in college), but the past 15 years or so has seen a great deterioration in that skill. Why, I don’t know, but if called on today to do an oral presentation with follow-up questions, I think I would really blow it. Any suggestions from you kind folk out there who have had this problem?
Be yourself. Market YOU. Think about your positive qualities, and build on those. I think we get so bogged down with all the things we may forget to do that we forget to act naturally. You did a great job of presenting yourself sincerely in your comment. You didn’t try to impress the readers. You were just YOU. I think most people are willing to listen to other people who come across as being sincere.
Thanks, Teresa. Hey, I was myself, wasn’t I? Maybe that’s a hint: Get comfortable with your surroundings and the people and just let it happen. Possibly what has made me nervous was due to an incident with my kid sister a few years ago.(Okay, she’s not a kid, 53, 14 years younger than me.) I told her I was working on a book and she asked me what it was about. I began laying out the story line and after a few minutes she interrupted with, “I really need the elevator version.” I couldn’t do it. I tried several times in private to get it down to less than a minute but only when I memorized the short synopsis I’d written did I succeed. I can write far better than I can talk (lots of time to edit, doncha know) and this scared me. Should someone ask me a question beyond the recitation of the synopsis, I knew I was a goner; I’d just freeze. But thanks to your tip, to just be comfortable with me I know I’ll get better.
Pitching at the ACFW conferences introduced me to a new level of writing. When I am face to face with an editor or agent, I reaffirm my commitment to writing professionally. Yes, I’m nervous, but pitching builds my confidence. I have learned as much from face to face feedback as I have from workshops. I am a stronger, wiser writer, and this year at ACFW I will see myself as the CEO of Teresa Lockhart, professional writer, not just a wannabe.
Those face to face meetings really are helpful. Verbal pitches make me so nervous but it’s, I think, a good induction into the world of publishing itself. With radio interviews and speaking that can often accompany being an author, those initial pitches about our work really can help prepare us for the rest of it, and probably also helps people in the industry see if we can think on our feet 🙂
I have attended a few book Conferences in the past, but they were before I had any understanding to writing at all, so I did not pitch properly. Now however I have gained so much understanding and knowledge from the many blogs and books I read, it’s awesome. Unfortunately I will be unable to attend this year, but I am looking forward to it in the near future. I have been told by some who know me that they can hear my voice, personality, and attitude in my writing. I wanted to know if you can hear a person’s passion, attitude, or creativity in their writing through emails and queries or other correspondence received from them?