Posted by Amanda Brice Jun 9 2011, 12:01 am in 2011 RWA conference, Networking, pitching
In just a few short weeks, many of us will be in the Big Apple, taking advantage of all that the City has to offer. And one of the biggest advantages of having the RWA National Conference in NYC is the proximity to industry professionals. Unlike most years, when publishing houses have to limit which editors they send due to financial constraints, not having to worry about airfare or hotel costs can make a big difference in deciding who attends. Houses can send many — or all — of their editors to RWA. And this means more editors to pitch!
As I indicated in my previous post on preparing for the conference, don’t despair if you couldn’t snag a pitch appointment with the editor or agent of your choice. Plenty of opportunities exist for pitching outside of the traditional route…and often those on-the-spot pitches can be more effective.
The #1 rule that you must remember when pitching is that nobody has ever sold a book on the basis of their pitch alone. Well, I can’t definitively state that, since obviously there is an exception to every rule. But I’ve never heard of anyone who ever has, unless they were already a Big Name. (And really, in that case, they didn’t actually sell because of the pitch but because of who they were — they’d already built a reputation for great writing.) Ultimately, it’s your writing that must stand on its own, not your pitch.
Does that mean that pitching isn’t important? No, I didn’t say that. Any opportunity that you have to get in front of an agent or editor and tell them about your book is a precious one, and should never be wasted. The pitch can open doors for you and earn you the opportunity to submit. But it’s not going to make or break your career.
Think of the pitch as an in-person query letter…only with much better shoes. 😉 You have a short period of time to get the industry pro to decide whether to request the work or pass. Make the moment memorable by crafting a series of brief, targeted talking points about your book.
A good pitch starts with a single sentence, known as a logline or hook. Prepare one or two additional sentence-long talking points about your project based on the book’s synopsis. That’s it. Yes, the pitch appointments are scheduled for ten-minute slots, and you very well might end up using that entire time to chat (about the market, the imprint’s plans for expansion, the agency’s needs, etc) or maybe the industry pro might be so intrigued by your book that SHE wants to talk about it the entire time, but your job is to make your pitch as brief and concise as possible. Get right to the point, and move on.
The pitch is NOT a retelling of the whole story. It is a brief statement depicting the core idea of your book. When you’re competing against hundreds of other writers, a well-crafted pitch can help your chances of connecting with a potential agent or publisher.
Every pitch should contain the following info:
- Main characters (hero/heroine)
- Core conflict/plot
- Differentiating factor (what sets your book apart from all the other Western-space opera-inspirational-YA-mysteries out there?)
- Setting and subgenre, if relavant
- Word count (you need to be in the right ballpark for the genre)
That’s it. No more, no less.
Now how do we get there? Why don’t we analyze a sample logline, and see how it’s done? This is the summary of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games, as printed on the copyright page at the front of the book:
“In a future North America, where the rulers of Panem maintain control though an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the twelve districts against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss’s skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place.”
Let’s run through those elements:
- The main character is Katniss, who is 16 years old.
- The main conflict is that Katniss must compete for her survival against other teens.
- The story is different because of the idea of children fighting each other as a means of entertainment.
- The setting is a futuristic dystopian North America.
OK, so it didn’t give the word count. But I happen to think word count is important because it ties directly into marketability. There are some houses that will do super-long or super short, but in general, you are trying to make your book look as easy to place as possible. Just use a ballpark figure. You don’t have to say your book is 88,267 words. Call it 90K.
Let’s do another one. In fact, it’s another YA. Yes, I’m shameless. We’re going to look at my own pitch for Codename: Dancer. 😉
“When someone starts sabotaging a dance contest reality show being filmed on the campus of a performing arts boarding school, aspiring ballerina Dani Spevak sets out to solve the case before her 15 minutes of fame are over before she hits age 15. It’s like “Nancy Drew in toe shoes” in this light-hearted 50,000-word tween mystery, a finalist for Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® Award for Best Young Adult Romance.”
Running through the elements, we now know:
- The main character is Dani, who is not yet 15 years old.
- The main conflict is that Dani must figure out who is sabotaging the dance show.
- The story is different because it combines dancing with mystery, and it was nominated for a Golden Heart.
- The setting is a reality TV show being filmed at a performing arts boarding school.
- The book is on the short side, but perfectly appropriate for the younger YA crowd.
Now, I lucked out with that “Nancy Drew in toe shoes” analogy. (Although my original pitch used “Veronica Mars meets Dancing with the Stars” but I was advised to remove that since it’s been a few years since Veronica Mars went off the air.) Not everyone can do a “_________ meets _________” tagline, but if you can, jump on it! Using this kind of analogy can boil your pitch down to just that one line, and agents and editors love it! It immediately gets the point across, which is exactly what you need when pitching.
As you develop your pitch, avoid the following mistakes:
- DON’T talk about the process: The agent or editor doesn’t care how you developed your characters or where you got your ideas. It just isn’t relevant.
- DON’T pounce: Take the time to open up a natural conversation if at all possible. Building rapport before the pitch makes the agent or publisher more receptive to your message. This can be as simple as exchanging business cards and chatting briefly about the conference or the market. Of course, if you’re doing an elevator pitch at a crowded conferenc,e you might not have this luxury.
- DON’T verbally vomit: Nobody likes long-winded pitches, and industry pros will lose interest. Stick to short, one- to two-sentence talking points that make them respond with “Tell me more.”
- DO quit while you’re ahead: Once you hear the magic words “Send it to me,” say thank you, stop talking, and move on — either to the next manuscript, a different topic, or even ending the session.
Take the time to do it right. Practice saying your pitch out loud. Test it on a couple of friends. Keep whittling it down until it contains only the needed elements. But be prepared to explain when the industry professional says “tell me more.”
If you practice ahead of time, you’ll be ready when it comes time to pitch. Don’t be afraid to bring note cards if that helps you, but also don’t plan to use them. If you spend the time looking down at your cards, you come off as nervous and your pitch will be stilted. Rather than reading note cards, just tell her about your book. Remember, YOU’RE the expert on your book. Not her. She won’t know whether you messed something up. She’s just interested in whether it sounds like something she wants to read.
So relax and have fun!