Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
This week, we’ve been telling you about our experiences at the ICRS convention where we spent the bulk of our time talking with publishers and editors about you — our clients. As Janet mentioned on Monday, we met with over 30 publishing professionals. These meetings put us in the same position you’re in at a writer’s conference when you’re pitching your project to an editor or agent.
- We have a limited amount of time.
- The people with whom we’re speaking have had many other meetings and are likely tired and overwhelmed.
- We are challenged to convey everything pertinent about each project in a brief verbal pitch.
- We have to tailor our pitches to each editor, giving them what (we hope) they want.
- We must generate excitement about each project on the spot for us to have a chance of selling it.
To accomplish this, each of the Books & Such agents used their own unique methods of presenting pitches and leave-behinds. Janet created visually stunning 2-sided postcards for each of the books she pitched. Wendy designed a beautiful 4-page brochure with summaries of several projects, complete with photos, and let editors know who all her clients are and what projects she has available. Mary and Rachel created personalized packets with each editor’s name on them, containing one-sheets for each book. I presented my pitches using visuals on my iPad and gave editors a one-sheet for each book.
We all kept it simple and clean, yet were memorable in that we each had our own style.
There are no rules for pitching! The point is to make an impact, and to be remembered. Not to be gimmicky, but rather to let them know that you have the goods.
As you’re getting ready to make your pitch at writer’s conferences, I encourage you to think through your pitches and spend significant time preparing your materials. The advance preparation can make a world of difference in the success of your meeting.
It’s also important to remember to practice your pitching aloud before the conference. If you’ve only written it down, you will have a stilted, unnatural sounding pitch. Some tips:
- Memorize. I discovered that, even though I’d written out terrific pitches, I ramble on way too long if I don’t stick to a mostly-memorized pitch. That’s when your pitch gets boring and falls apart. Know exactly what you’re going to say.
- Time yourself. Practice the pitch ahead of time, and keep it at 1 to 3 minutes. (Only go to the longer end of the spectrum if you’re pitching non-fiction and need to talk about your platform as well as the book.)
- Don’t try to tell the whole story. The pitch, like back cover copy, is designed to intrigue and entice someone to want to read the book. Keep it simple, and let them ask questions.
I gave detailed instructions on how to prepare a pitch in my post Secrets of a Great Pitch, so click over if you need a refresher.
Just remember that agents and editors have to pitch projects too, so we know what it’s like for you. No need to be overly nervous — just prepare in advance so that you are confident! And don’t be afraid to create leave-behinds that uniquely express who you are and what your project is about.
What do you like and dislike about pitching? What kind of materials do you prepare ahead of time? What do you find the most difficult?
When pitching, make an impact and be remembered. Don’t be gimmicky. Click to Tweet.
When pitching, don’t be afraid to be creative & unique in your leave-behinds. Click to Tweet.
Agents and editors have to pitch projects too, so we know what it’s like. Click to Tweet.
Pitching goes against the grain of most people around this neck of the woods because we are taught that talking about oneself is basically bragging.
A grave insult to a Canadian is “you sound like you’re bragging”.
Which is FUN when one wants to actually speak with enthusiasm about one’s own work.
So here, in my part of the world, there is a fine art to talking about the work without talking about the self. Which makes pitching feel like a self-inflicted wound.
I am cringing just typing this!!
I know this sounds slightly odd, but if I do what an actor does and get into character to become The Author Of The Book, it will become a much easier experience.
*I*, Jennifer, want to pass out when talking to a total stranger, or worse, an agent or editor about my work. But thanks to a bit of imagination, (bring it on, Anne Shirley!) I can be The Author and pitch my book from atop the mound and do a much better job than if I was ‘myself’, breathing into a paper bag and turning even more freckly white, like a marshmallow rolled in cinnamon.
I will spend quite a bit of time on the sell sheet, and maybe even acquire some vintage looking postcards from Arizona. I have a few other goodies up my sleeve, but no way am I saying what they are!!
When I do pitch at ACFW? I plan to up the wow factor. But until I have that all worked out? It’s all hush hush.
As a fellow canuck, I totally hear you! I think the secret is to be passionate about the book, not about yourself writing the book. Passion about your topic or idea never sounds like bragging to me unless its about how “I did this and that!”
Exactly!! Passion ABOUT (aboot?)the book carries the weight, as opposed to “look at me!” Which makes the whole process easier.
“I will spend quite a bit of time on the sell sheet, and maybe even acquire some vintage looking postcards from Arizona….”
That’s a neat idea, having something representing the novel itself. I know there are quite a few writers here who are working on projects set in the 19th century, so I always wondered if they ever thought about wearing elements of period clothing when pitching their project?
Or are there any other interesting, unique items writers here have thought about as showcasing their pitch to agents or editors?
Great ideas, Larry. My options for period costumes are 1890’s Boston, or Dine/Navajo attire.
I’ll stick with the Dine/Navajo JEWELRY.
Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner)
Jennifer, I highly recommend the book by Daniel Pink, “To Sell is Human.” He talks about how people in the majority of careers or jobs are sales people. We are all in the business of “moving others,” especially writers! Even moms are salespeople. You can really move beyond the “bragging” mindset when you see that we are all involved in some kind of persuasion.
Jacqueline Gillam Fairchild
Dear Rachel: I was rather surprised, but I am not sure why…to read that as an agent you spend most of your time at conventions pitching editors. I mistakenly thought you would spend most of your time meeting writers and looking for new clients and that you already had established relationships with editors you knew and frequently used. Thank you for the information. Jacqueline Gillam Fairchild
Thank you for all you do for so many, Rachelle!
I never thought about agents having to pitch projects too. These are great tips, thank you. I’m really looking forward to preparing for this. Although, when the time comes I know I will be beyond nervous 🙂
Perhaps the hardest thing for me in pitching is to place myself inside the mind of someone who knows zero about my story and then to decide which key elements will snare that pro’s interest in 60 seconds.
As an afterthought, it would be interesting and educational to sit invisibly beside you and to watch other authors’ pitches. By observing others, I suspect each of us could spot good ideas to emulate and some less-than-impressive approaches to avoid in our own pitches.
Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner)
Rick, it’s true – I enjoy sitting in a meeting where my fellow agents are pitching, because I learn a lot from listening to them.
Good timing….writing my pitch for ACFW and I find it a challenge to say the least. I’m never nervous when I pitch, just surprised at what comes out of my mouth no matter how much I’ve practiced! So I depend on notes besides my memory. A lot rides on this short verbal exchange!
“And don’t be afraid to create leave-behinds that uniquely express who you are and what your project is about.”
Soooo…….bribe with chocolate? 🙂
One of the elements of the pitching process I dislike is that agents and editors can be so vague about what they want. Sure, listing a genre will obviously make it easier to know not to pitch the Regency Romance to someone looking for a book about contemporary socio-political problems, but rarely does it seem to get more specific than that.
It’d be a much better process if authors knew, “Here are the trends regarding protagonists and overall story we are currently accepting, we are looking for X number (minimum) of sequels…..”
With so many authors, I’m sure there are plenty who have books matching exactly what an agency or publishing house is specifically looking for. It just seems a bit more logical (and fair) to help all the parties involved not have to jump through all the various hoops of the pitching process, and can help authors, agents, and editors all the better find the best publishing partner.
Now, the following may just be a cynical observation of the industry, but it seems that the reason that this isn’t done is that it’s just another way to leverage power against authors: because the agent or editor just might find that title or titles outside what they are predominately looking for, or to try to encourage potential clients (authors) to enter an industry by making it appear their publishing opportunities are greater than what they actually are:
“I’d like to write a romance novel! There’s agents and publishers who want romance novels! I’ll write a book!”
“Oh…..well, I don’t want to write a romance novel following “X,Y,Z” formula, nor do I really think that there is material for sequels to it, or to start an entire brand around…..guess I’ll stick to the day job.”
Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner)
Larry, your comment is deserving of an entire blog post. But I’ll just say that I believe it’s wrong for agents/editors to narrowly and specifically define what they’re looking for. We need to keep our minds open, and be able to recognize something that’s really good and creative and unique, whether or not it fits a preconceived notion of what we “thought” we wanted.
Sure we can tell people what we’re looking for “in general.” But the minute we start to narrowly define our acquisitions, we become closed to possibilities that could be world-changing. I want to be open to the creativity that writers bring to the table.
Rachelle, what a great reminder that you know what it’s like to be pitching a project. 🙂 How is pitching to a publisher different than a writer pitching to an agent? For example, I know as writers, we are encouraged to get to know those we meet with a little bit, and then share our pitch. At least I think that’s what I remember from last year. 🙂 Are agent-publisher meetings strictly business since time is tight? I’m just curious.
For me, I like the challenge of preparing to pitch well. Creating a one-sheet, and figuring out how to be concise in sharing my story. It’s not easy, but it’s a process that stretches me.
I like meeting with agents and editors, but I haven’t done it enough to feel completely at ease. That’s what I’ll be working on for this fall’s ACFW.
I don’t like the fear of forgetting, even when I have practiced my pitch ahead of time. 🙂
The materials I prepare ahead of time include my business card with a picture on it, a one sheet, a short synopsis sheet (one page) and I have my first chapter printed out, just in case someone asks to see it.
Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner)
Jeane, the difference is that in the majority of cases, we already know the editors to whom we’re pitching. We know many of them very well, with relationships spanning years or decades. Another difference is that even when we don’t know them, we’re in a different situation than an author, so we’re not so nervous except to the extent that, like you, we’re putting ourselves out there and we want people to like what we’re pitching!
It’s never “strictly business” in the sense that these are our colleagues in the industry, so we chat about all kinds of things.
Thanks for taking the time to explain. It’s nice to get a feel for what it’s like in that stage of the publishing process. 🙂
Rachelle, thank you for the advice. It’s great to learn these things from someone who’s been there, done that.
I’m with Rick: “Perhaps the hardest thing for me in pitching is to place myself inside the mind of someone who knows zero about my story and then to decide which key elements will snare that pro’s interest in 60 seconds.” Add to that my tendency to not only ramble (all the more when I’m nervous) but my incredibly perfected ability to say dumb stuff, which only makes me more self-conscious, which only adds to the problem, la la la. I also am NOT AT ALL quick on my thinking feet and rarely ever give that really awesome answer I will certainly come up with 4 hours later. 🙂 AND…if we are a person who doesn’t go to many conferences due to budget limits, there is added pressure to “get it right” in 60 seconds because this may be the one shot we may ever have to do this. So these are several of the difficulties I’ve run into. (You did ask…)
What I like about pitching is…
give me a minute…
One thing that helps is remembering I am connecting with an editor (who is human with a mortgage, health concerns, kids who need them, etc) face to face in a way that allows them to know the real person behind the work, and that this is someone who loves books and could be the person who will take my work and make it shine. Focus on the other human, not me. Check.
I’ve taken one sheets and business cards, which they’ve usually taken. I probably spend as much time on the graphic, the layout, the story summary, and the bio on the one sheet that I do writing the blasted book. I am thinking chocolate would be far easier and more effective though. 🙂
Thank you, Rachelle, for going before us and putting in so much hard, behind-the-scenes work!
Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner)
You nailed it… the best thing about pitching is connecting with another human. That’s the way to think about it!
Chocolate is good but I’d rather have a good book any day. 🙂
Roxanne Sherwood Gray
I’m always intrigued by your “insider” info and enjoy hearing what it’s like on your side of the table. Thanks!
Once I memorized my short pitch, it became so much easier to tell acquaintances what my story was about without following a rabbit trail and fumbling like an idiot. Nothing worse than telling someone you’re a writer but not having a concise answer to: “what’s your book about?” So, hopefully, I’ll sound prepared when I pitch to an editor or agent.
But, to answer your question, what do I dislike about pitching? That so much is on the line, and I only have a brief opportunity to sell my project. But that’s what it’s like for you too.
There are the ‘physical’ aspects of pitching, as well. As in a job interview – or a first date – the impression you make in the first minute is huge. It speaks to your competence.
– Dress well, and dress clean. Food stains and mismatched socks may have been fine for Einstein, but he didn’t write romance novels. Be professional, and if you forget your black socks, guys…Kiwi boot polish covers a multitude of sins.
– Practice a confident walk, with even paces. Don’t drag your feet, or slouch, or saunter.
– Speak clearly, and make your ‘Hello’ both clear and well-modulated. Practice this!
– Make sure you know, and can pronounce, the name of the person to whom you’re pitching.
– Handshakes – one and a half to two ‘pumps’, and then gently push the other’s hand back while releasing your grip. Two-handed handshakes, or overlong ones, are an absolute no-no.
– Maintain eye contact, but don’t stare. You’re pitching, not interrogating an Al-Quaeda operative.
– Smile. A good trick not to show too many teeth is to put your tongue against the back of your upper teeth. Prevents the ‘Steinway Showroom’ look.
– If you talk with your hands (I do) give yourself a little more room. Flying hands and fingers can make people uncomfortable if too close.
– Check your breath. Don’t eat a whole box of Altoids…that goes from curiously refreshing to simply weird. But make sure you find an effective freshener, and skip the French onion soup before the pitch. Please.
– Check your teeth. Nothing is worse than realizing you have a piece of lettuce stuck between your incisors…because the person you’re pitching to is staring at your mouth.
Finally, when it’s over, say goodbye and go. Don’t hang around, hoping for feedback. Final handshake, final smile, turn and walk off, head high.
To amplify the ‘knowing the name of the person to whom you are pitching’ bit –
Don’t read the name off the name tag, especially if you’re a guy and you’re pitching to a woman. This should be obvious. Eyes up.
Informality is rampant, but it’s better to be a bit formal. Addressing someone for the first time as ‘Ms.’ or ‘Mr.’ will not hurt you, and in the Biblical sense, you will probably be invited ‘up the table’.
One area in which this can be vital is if the person to whom you’re pitching has a PhD. I dealt with a LOT of these creatures, and most do want to be addressed by the title, at least at first.
Finally – if you have a last name like mine…when people approached me, I would quickly say, ‘Call me Andrew’ before they could make a hash of the pronunciation. So, if you’re pitching to Coomsoowary Chandrasekarampillai, slow your pace a bit at the introduction, and give him the chance to intervene and give you something to call him. (This was a real person, from Sri Lanka, and we called him CC.)
That, my brother, is epic advice!!
And yes, seriously!!! Most of us do appreciate the general location of a person’s gaze to be *up here*.
What about Hawaiian shirts? Hmmmm?
Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner)
Wow Andrew, great advice! Thanks for sharing. Everyone should take notice of your wise words.
Andrew—thanks for sharing these suggestions. Common sense stuff, but easily forgotten in light of why we’re there. Thanks for the reminder!
Hawaiian shirts? For an agent or editor, sure!
For a ‘pitcher’…only one looking like Tom Selleck circa 1980, and having his resume.
It’s really a business meeting, and not a creative one. The story has to be good, but that’s entry-level. You’ve got to convince the person you’re meeting that you can handle the business side of publishing. That means ‘business professional’ in dress and demeanor.
Kathy Boyd Fellure
Wow, Rachelle, so helpful to get the pitch from an agents POV.
I too have struggled with, “The Pitch”. Memorization has been my biggest help ~ practice, practice, practice.
It also helps me to picture the editor/publisher I am pitching too as an average person as suggested by Camille. They are just doing their job too.
Hmmm… the chocolate approach has a certain appeal to this chocolate lover.
I love the creative venues all of the Books & Such agents employed!
So grateful to be a part of this family.
donnie and doodle
They say time is money.
My MG Novel is about taking the time to decipher the clues so the reader, along with the protagonist, can work together to locate the buried treasure.
It’s merely a case of “Fun Facing Danger” because when you throw a pitch – less is more – unless you’re playing baseball.
Thanks for this post today. Earlier this week I started thinking about how to pitch my book this fall.
It’s hard to remember agents are people too. Last year I attended my first ACFW conference. My first goal this year is to not be so nervous.
Thanks again for sharing.
Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner)
Jackie, everyone deals with some degree of nervousness, but preparation can help, and being confident that you have a good book worth reading is also helpful. There is nothing like enthusiasm and belief to overcome that nervousness!
I write YA fiction. You probably would never see me in a crowd. I wear an invisible cape. I claw and fight my way to the rescue of the underdogs, the kids who dream big dreams but suffer the greatest incidences of humiliation, that are, unfortunately, hilarious to everyone else but them. THAT is WHAT I write about. THESE KIDS are for WHOM I write. I don’t have a gimmick. I’m just not sure how to pitch a funny book with “so real they could be sitting in my classroom with spaghetti sauce dripping down their shirt on picture day” characters to editors and agents who are looking for the next trend. I teach. I make connections with my students. I understand them and love them with every ounce of my very being. I think I can make this connection via the two novels I have written. But when it comes to talking to agents and editors, I (me, myself, I) become the goofball that ends up doing everything wrong.
Pitching scares me. I know I need to memorize it. But whenever I try to memorize something, I either lose my place halfway though or it sounds canned — or both. (I’m a writer for a reason.)
I am there with you, Peter!
I agree with Mr. DeHaan ~ pitching scares me, but I think the query letter and the reminder query letter are even worse. Mix them all together, and I’m a mess and a half! 🙂
I’m pretty good at taking my story and rapping it up in a short statement. Movie producers want to hear your pitch in the time you’d spend on a short-ride on an elevator. You must be concise and captivating. I think to whom, where, when, and how we pitch may be as important as the actual words we use. I haven’t tried to pitch my stories to any publishers producers, or agents yet. But when I do, it will be unique. In the meantime here’s my pitch to my blog: http://www.danerickson.net a site about writing and writing as a form of therapy.
I loved this post! Thanks, Rachelle, and all who input.
Fell atop this thru a twitter link. Good tips! And, the comments are not bad either, coming from a publisher and now a children’s book author. I will go back and tweet a link to this post! Good job.
I’m loving the tips as I prepare my first pitch – especially the reminder to practice it aloud. I started to experiment with that in the car yesterday (alone!). Even though I have not written my pitch yet, I wanted to experiment with how the words flowed as I formed ideas for it.
I certainly do appreciate your help.