To Pitch or Not to Pitch

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

With a number of writers conferences on the horizon, I want to explore the question uppermost in many writers’ minds: to pitch or not to pitch?

What is pitching for a writer? There are scores of classes and workshops on the subject, and I’m guessing there are as many definitions and opinions on the subject as there are workshop presenters. But in a nutshell pitching means presenting your book idea to an editor or an agent in a succinct and compelling manner during a pre-scheduled appointment at a conference. There is also the pitch called an elevator pitch in which an author happens to catch an agent or editor outside of a scheduled appointment–like in an elevator–and can give them the gist of the book in the time it takes for an elevator to climb a few floors. Phew!

I am one of those who holds an opinion on the subject. Just one. But because I’ve listened to hundreds and hundreds of pitches, I’d like to tackle the question, to pitch or not to pitch.

Elevator Pitch

  • Don’t bother. Those chance meetings are not long enough to pitch a shred of what makes your book wonderful.
  • It is far better to just connect naturally in those serendipitous meetings. You could smile and say, “I liked your workshop. By bringing up the permissions issue you gave me a lot to think about.” Not flattery but only a sincere comment if you have one. Feedback is a wonderful gift to offer whether it is one of your fellow writers or someone you’d like to know.
  • If you can connect in a personal way that doesn’t feel like stalking, that’s appropriate too. “I follow you on Facebook and have enjoyed seeing your twins growing up.”
  • If a two-way conversation were to take place in an elevator, by all means, don’t get off on your floor. Stay with the conversation. 🙂

Appointment Pitch

Say you have a fifteen-minute or a ten-minute appointment with your target editor or agent. Many experts will tell you to have a carefully crafted pitch memorized so that you can shake hands, sit down and get right to business. I say don’t do it, for a number of reasons:

  • I’ve found that most conferees get so wound up in remembering the pitch they perfected that they become automatons–glazed eyes, sweat glistening on their brow and hands clenched on the proposal they are hoping to pass across the table.
  • Hint: Most editors and agents are introverts as well and may be every bit as nervous as you. Connecting person-to-person with that agent or editor is a gift. One we’ll remember.
  • Nearly every pitch I’ve heard is filled with powerful words that have been worked over and worked over again. No listener can grasp the concept in one sitting. Don’t believe me? Try it out on someone. Pitch it in that fast, nervous way you’d pitch it at a conference and see if the person you’re pitching to can make heads or tales of it.
  • Heading straight into the pitch is putting the cart before the horse. First, we need to know whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction. We won’t get the pitch at all if we think it’s one thing, but it’s another. We also need to know the genre or the category the book will fall in. First things first.
  • Don’t start with the book’s core issue if your manuscript is fiction. I’ve heard many a novelist say, “my book is about abortion.” Fiction is about characters, not an issue. The issue may play into the pitch as briefly tell the story, but it should not be front and center. The person sitting across the table may mistakenly think you are trying to use fiction to make a point rather than to tell a story.
  • For me, I love it when a writer comes in, sits down, smiles, tells me what kind of book she’s writing and then sketches a story that makes me hungry to read it.

Appointment Non-Pitch

I had a client meeting today about an upcoming conference. She asked if she should take an appointment just to connect with the editors since her manuscript is making the rounds. YES! This is a wonderful chance to get to know one another. That way the editor will remember her when he reads her proposal. Or even if he has declined the current proposal, a career is a long-term proposition. Chances are she’ll work with him in some capacity at some time.

Your turn: Does this fly in the face of everything you’ve heard? What do you feel works best? What are you planning to do?

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