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. πŸ™‚

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?

26 Responses

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  1. Alex Garfield says:

    This actually gives me some peace. I am going to my first conference tomorrow and will be in a workshop with an agent to go over the first chapters of our novel. I thought maybe I was doing something wrong by not going to a pitching appointment. The idea of sitting a small group, talking about our work, helping one another in critique and making new friendships is something I’m more comfortable with πŸ™‚

    • That is a great way to experience your first conference, and to make friends. Praying you have a great time, learn lots, and have divine appointments.

      • Alex Garfield says:

        Thank you, Crystal! I met some great people and walked away from the experience feeling so filled and refreshed. Without having any appointments, I was still able to introduce myself to professionals at the conference just by sitting at the lunch/dinner tables, and had the opportunity to chat about my book. It was exactly how I would have wanted it. Ready to finish my manuscript now!

  2. Thank you, Wendy. Wonderful information as I prep for the ACFW conference in the midst of some chaotic life happenings. It helps to take the pressure off thinking of it as a conversation rather than a presentation. I realize it is a bit of both, but conversations are a bit less intimidating (at least in concept). Thank you for sharing your wisdom. God bless.

  3. Some great points to consider. Thanks for sharing!

  4. He stood upon that mounded earth
    as the crowd metaphoric’ly roared.
    The strength of his arm his only worth
    in launching his heart-words toward
    a future of sweetly received birth
    or the fall of a matador gored.
    The agent appeared across the turf
    having seen dozens before, and bored
    with the same words, but now, windup, pitch!
    wildly into the stands; “Aw, son of a…!”

    There will be other conferences, other days,
    but now to the bar, for a Chardonnay haze.

  5. I never say what I planned to say, and even if I try it comes out uninspiring. So, I love you for this.

  6. Wendy, I love this post because I thought the pitch for a one-on-one with agent is supposed to be more in memory and very professional. I am such a people person, and can tend to just want to talk to the agent, and I have to remind myself to keep on topic or I’ll run out of time. I love this post, it makes me feel like my pitch was in the ballpark. πŸ™‚ My challenge is to transfer from the introduction, and the beginning comments and how-do-you-dos into the pitch. It feels a bit awkward for me. Plus, I enjoy getting to know people. I think my best pitches would occur in 20 minutes: 5 minute warm up and getting-to-know-you chat, 10 min actually pitching a this is my book presentation, ending with a 5 minute wrap up. But, I can do it in less, and I have this current book down to elevator pitch time because I’ve practiced on real people I don’t know. Man on the street type things. It’s been fun.

  7. Tisha Martin says:

    A lot of wonderful tips here, Wendy, thank you! My favorite was “don’t count on the elevator pitch; just be friendly.” Amen! At the last writer’s conference I attended a few weeks ago, I did just that. I made several appointments with professionals—both authors and editors—just to chat. Funny, though; the ladies were relieved and then men were like, “What?” Any rate, each conversation was such fun!

  8. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    Thank you, Wendy, for offering ways to diminish those nerves. I’d rather start out with a few moments of pleasant conversation, and then let the agent/editor take the lead. In most cases, they’ve been at this much longer than I have.

  9. Crystal, I’m going to ACFW too. I hope I run into you! πŸ™‚

    • Jeanne, I’m so glad you’ll be there. πŸ™‚ I’m going, too.

    • Yay!! I can’t remember, have we already planned a time? There is a group of us going out for dinner and then I will also be hanging out at the worship/write time one night. I hope we can catch up there or in one of the classes. So excited to finally meet everyone I’ve met online. Praying for you are you prepare.

  10. Wendy, this is such a great post. I’ve pitched at a number of conferences, and I’ve found that beginning an appointment with sincere interest in the person I’m pitching to/talking with seems to relax us both. And, as (I believe it was) Pat shared, letting the professional take the lead seems to work well for me too.
    Last year, I signed up for a conference in April, I was sure I’d have a novel to pitch. But, when conference came around, my book had fallen apart. I decided to keep my appointments. I enjoyed talking with the professionals I had appointments with and I talked through a couple of other story ideas with them.
    It really does come down to relationship. Building relationship, remembering the person on the other side of the table is a person too, and relating with them in that way.

    • Carolyn Miller says:

      I’m going to ACFW for the first time this year (coming from Australia!) and I’m encouraged by your advice, Wendy and Jeanne. Prepare, relax and relate.

    • Sherma Clarke says:

      Jeanne, I’m having a similar experience this year in advance of a conference I’m going to attend. Instead of focusing on the pitch, your comment about talking through story ideas and building relationships makes sense.

  11. I love this, Wendy. Speaking from the heart is the only way for me. Everything else feels so fake.

  12. Thank you, Wendy, for your honesty about the elevator pitch. I wouldn’t feel comfortable filling a moment of respite with a “Hey, listen to this” conversation. It feels rude.
    * “Thank you for your wisdom, you gave me something to think about” — that I can do.

  13. Thank you, dear Wendy, for taking the fear factor out of pitching. By directing our attention to the personal touch, you’ve touched on what matters most: Relationships. It’s wise for writers to remember and practice this because that’s what sets a platform apart from just being a social media site.
    Blessings ~ Wendy Mac

  14. Thank you! This approach is so much more sensible and natural.

  15. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Yea! Your perspective here is like a refreshing breeze, Wendy. I’ve been that person like an over-wound clock who can’t think. Or speak clearly. (Right. Clocks don’t think or speak. Near midnight, I don’t do either very well.) But I’m glad to hear that being people is important, making connection. Perhaps next time I pitch, I’ll even be able to breathe during my time with an editor! Bless you.

  16. Sherma Clarke says:

    This post is packed with practical advice, so thank you. I’m heading to the ACFW conference next month. I’ve been flip-flopping about pitching because I’m concerned about how prepared I’d be. There’s usually so much pressure surrounding the idea of pitching. This post helps me feel a bit more relaxed about the conference in general.

  17. Wendy, I’ve been to a number of conferences now, both as an attendee and a faculty member, and I think your advice is sound. Get to know the individual. If they ask about “what you’re writing,” that’s the time for a brief pitch. If they want more, they’ll ask for the manuscript. But either way, they’ll recognize your name if your manuscript comes across their desk…or recognize your face if you see them again at a meal or in the hall.

  18. Emily Conrad says:

    I’ve gone the memorized pitch route, and had some success with it in that some editors did request my manuscript, but as you suggest, I’m sure my delivery came across stilted and nervous. The last time I “pitched” I went the more natural route, as you suggest. Introduced what kind of story it was, why I’d written it, and that naturally flowed into a description of the story–all while keeping it more conversational, allowing the editor to ask questions and make comments. It felt so much better for me, I think I connected on a better level with the editor. Perhaps she agreed, because she requested the manuscript! πŸ™‚