I’m just back from the 2012 Writer’s League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference. It was a fun-filled time of informative sessions, great, down-to-earth panel discussions from notable agents, and a great chance to meet and connect with fellow authors with the same dream of being published.
Confidence Starts with the Writing, not the Pitch
Instead of going on about how nervous I was about pitching my novel, I’m going to tell you how calm I was. Really. Why? Because I believe in my work. I don’t just believe that it’s a great story, I believe it is a really good piece of writing that I’ve worked on for four long years, re-writing, taking apart and putting back together, and fine-tuning it to be the best representation of my work as an artist.
You Mean You Have to Practice?
Granted, I was nervous about how well the verbal pitch would convey the heart of my story, but again, a lot of hard work and practice paid off. Anytime you try to condense a novel into a ninety-second pitch, it’s hard. Clarity, accuracy, and brevity—the trifecta of a great pitch, are very difficult to achieve. But, thanks to some wonderful advice from Diane Holmes of Pitch University and a spot-on pre-conference workshop by Jennifer Laughfran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, I honed my pitch into one smoking-hot fastball that flew directly over the plate.
I got requests for the full manuscript from both agents I pitched to. To me, that is the best possible outcome. And now, after two solid days of being stunned and ecstatic, I’ve got to buckle down and finish the last line edit so as not to keep those lovely agents waiting!
You are the Expert, Not the Agent
Everyone who’s a writer acts as if pitching to an agent is akin to standing in front of the judges of American Idol and having every ounce of your dignity as an author shredded and handed back to you on a plate. Sure it’s a big deal. Sure, I got a little panicky on Friday when I realized that the pitch I had prepared needed serious revision before Sunday. But one thing continued to stand out in my mind: I am the foremost expert on the subject of my book. The agent knows nothing about my project except what I tell him or her. I had the stuff, I just needed to figure out how to present it so the agent would get a really good, broad picture of what my book is about.
Set Accurate Expectations
One of the biggest things I learned through this experience is that finding catchy marketing phrases or cute plays on words is just garbage in garbage out if it doesn’t accurately describe the genre and tone of your novel. You must set accurate expectations with your presentation so the agent doesn’t feel the pain of the bait-and-switch when they get your manuscript and it’s a dark literary novel instead of a light-hearted comedic time travel romance.
Talk to the Agent, not at Her
I suppose my background in the performing arts gives me an advantage in this area, because I’ve always known that you must engage your audience with your eyes, or the connection just won’t happen. And agents are actually a pretty normal, down-to-earth bunch. They’re not fire-breathing dragons or great white sharks circling for the scent of blood in the water.
Don’t Memorize a Script
It never sounds natural. It just sounds cheesy. Only use a note card with one-word reminders to help you if you forget the next point.
Know When to Stop
Once you’ve introduced your main characters, outlined the central problem, and given then a taste of how the problem becomes more complicated, stop. Don’t summarize the entire novel. The idea is to get them to read the manuscript.
After I did my ninety-second pitch to the second agent, she just smiled and said, “I love it. Send me the full manuscript.” And the conversation was essentially over in a minute forty-five. I sat there, stunned, for a moment and said something like, “Is there anything else you want to ask or talk about?”
She said that I nailed my pitch and she got everything she needed to know. There was nothing further to do except read the manuscript, and if the writing was good and the characters were strong, we’d be in business. (Now didn’t I say that the most important thing is the writing?)
In the End, It’s All About the Writing
You’ve heard this before and you’ll hear it again. But you need to keep hearing it until you believe it. It’s all about the writing. After you’ve accomplished that to the degree that you know, deep inside that your work deserves to be published, you, too, can be pitch perfect at your next conference.