Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pitching Pointers

Nikki’s first romantic suspense, SOUNDS TO DIE BY, releases from Samhain Publishing on October 13th. She’s currently working on the second book in the Samhain series and has a project on deck that she will submit to agents as soon as it’s polished. Learn more about Nikki by visiting her website at

Thanks, Prairie Chicks for asking me to be here today to talk about pitching. Since joining RWA with the goal of publication in mind, I’ve pitched at every conference I’ve attended. I’ve had all sorts of experiences, good and bad, over the years, but I’ve learned something from every experience. I couldn’t have learned my lessons if I hadn’t been prepared with the basics from the start.

Embarrassing things will happen. You may fall out of the chair or trip on your way in. Shake it off and do your best to recover your confidence. Clumsiness isn’t going to be held against you.
Frustrating things will happen. You may be in the middle of your pitch when the agent/editor interrupts you to ask about a local art exhibit or attraction. If this happens to you, and I sincerely hope it never does, maintain your cool. Answer their question as best you can, give your thirty-second elevator pitch and be done. Chances are good that you don’t really want someone to represent you who blatantly disrespects you and possibly other writers that way. And it’s tough to take, but if they’re using pitch time to ask about local attractions, they either aren’t interested in new clients or they aren’t interested in the material being pitched. Whatever the case may be, don’t take it personally. Accept that they are not the right match for you.

You can control one thing in these pitch appointments. You.


· Listen to an iPod while you’re waiting (but keep the volume turned down so you can hear when they call your name.)

· Take your notebook and do a writing exercise for a book you are not pitching.

· Talk to the person beside you if they look open to it. Where are you from? Is this your first conference? Etc.

Find something to make you memorable. Show respect.

· Ask them how their conference is going? What’s been their favorite part?

· Research this person and their list. Find an author they work with that you know, respect, or enjoy reading. Tell an editor how much you love a book on their list and their eyes will light up. If they don’t, well I’d be wondering if they’d be the best person to champion my work.

The Pitch

· Fine tune your story summary. Get it short and concise. This should be easy to remember and hit the high points of the story. If it’s really good, it’ll also make the sub-genre evident.

· Next, lengthen that short blurb some. Come up with a short paragraph for the hero, the heroine, and the plot. The character paragraphs should hit the high points of what that person wants, why they want it, and why they can’t have it. The plot paragraph should expand into an explanation of why it’s so crucial that these two solve it. Why are they the only ones who can? What happens if they don’t?

· Practice.

· Dress in comfortable, business casual.

· Paint your nails or at least clean off chipped nail polish.

· Avoid noisy, clangy jewelry. It’s distracting and can get caught on tables and chairs.

The Appointment
· Check in early.

· Have a notebook and pen handy.
· Breathe.

· Shake hands firmly before sitting.

· Smile.

· Breathe.

· Stop talking. Give the agent/editor a chance to ask you questions.

· Breathe. (Can you tell this is important?)

· If they request more, ask questions and write the information down! Their name, partial of ? pages, synopsis (preferred length), full, email, snail mail, estimated turn around time.
· Thank them for their time. Shake hands.


There’s a lot more to pitching, so if you have any questions let me know and I’ll answer them as best I can. If you have an upcoming pitch and would like to post your short pitch for ideas on improvement, shoot. If you aren’t sure how to shorten your blurb into a 30 second one-liner, post it. I’m better at summarizing other people’s stories than my own.


Silver James said...

Good morning, Nikki! Where were you at the first of the month when I had pitches in front of two editors and an agent--and had never pitched in person! I was doing some serious hyperventilating the night before. As it turned out, I did okay. One editor (a surprise presentation as I hadn't asked to pitch to this one and was caught off-guard by her list of acquisition wants) said I could submit both projects pitched, one finished, the other not but in the genre she wants. The agent also offered to look at an unfinished project (not the one I pitched) but the second editor wanted a full of the MS I pitched. I promptly went brain dead and only managed to ask if he wanted a proposal or the full. I ended up emailing his assistant to answer a few questions. *headdesk*

There's a lesson there, ladies! Be prepared to shift focus if you are asked about your other projects, and be sure to nail down the submission process if you are asked to do so.

No questions for you, Nikki, sorry. :( And now I need to get back to work polishing that full!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Silver,
Jana here. First, congratulations on being asked to send in so many projects! Who-hoo! I wish you good luck polishing them up and submitting.

I've only pitched to editors a couple of times and I can totally relate to the hyperventing thing. We tend to look at editors and agents as all powerful super-humans, people to be awed and feared, which is kind of ridiculous, but then we all have vivid imaginations or we wouldn't be in this business. The truth is, like Nikki said, they are just people like us, and they are just as interested in finding good talent as we are in selling our books. So try to breathe.

I'm really interested in the fact that you were asked about projects you weren't planning to pitch and weren't finished. Nikki, is this a commom occurrence? Should we only pitch something that is complete? But should we be ready to pitch if we are asked "What else are you working on?"

Don't forget that Nikki has offered to critique pitches to anyone willing to offer one here. So I'm off to work on a couple of pitches right now. See you later.


Karyn Good said...

Good afternoon, Nikki and welcome to the prairies! I've never pitched anything but in honor of your post and the fact that members of my writing group are off on retreat this weekend and the theme is pitching, I've tried to come up with a pitch for my wip, Common Ground. Oh my gosh, here we go:

Lily Wheeler is a small town teacher and likes it that way. That is until one of her students is brutalized by a prominent, high-level gang member whose reasons remain a mystery. Add in the return of her not-if-you-were-the-last-man-on-earth as rescuer and the tranquility capital of the world becomes a minefield of trouble.

Now it’s up to a teacher and a cop, not only to battle the attraction pulling them under, but to work with a town the size of a Who-ville in bringing down one of the country’s most brutal and vicious men.

That's my stab at it. I'm not quite sure what I'm doing so any insight or suggestion is appreciated.

Nikki Duncan said...

Silver, it sounds like you did a great job handling yourself. Congrats on the requests and good luck with the submissions.

Nikki Duncan said...

Editors are just like us. In fact, I'm going to use mine as a perfect example. The first time I met her, after we'd signed the contract for the first book and had swapped several emails, she was nervous to meet me and her other authors in person. It was obvious to me that she was a little nervous because when we first got together she was a fidgety as us. Her voice shook a little at first. Once we settled down, we all relaxed and got along great.

Jana, as for being asked for other projects including incomplete ones...I personally don't think you should make an appointment to pitch at a conference if you are not planning on pitching a complete manuscript because that takes away an appointment that someone more prepared could have had. On the other hand, if that full ms is not what they're looking for and they ask what else you have, absolutely you should be ready to talk about it. Just be honest that it's a WIP and that you only have X chapters done and give them a realistic time frame of when you'll have it finished.

Nikki Duncan said...

Karyn, thanks for being brave. I think that takes a bigger leap online than it does in person sometimes because it never goes away. :)

Lily Wheeler is a small town teacher and likes it that way. That is until one of her students is brutalized by a prominent, high-level gang member whose reasons remain a mystery. Add in the return of her not-if-you-were-the-last-man-on-earth as rescuer and the tranquility capital of the world becomes a minefield of trouble.

Now it’s up to a teacher and a cop, not only to battle the attraction pulling them under, but to work with a town the size of a Who-ville in bringing down one of the country’s most brutal and vicious men.

Okay, a few things. First, you have a lot of great stuff in there.

Question: Is the cop the not-if-you-were-the-last-man-on-earth man? Oh, and I think you're missing a word after that phrase. Something like past lover, ex-husband, crush...

I think this is your high concept.

Lily Wheeler loves her life as a teacher in the tranquility capitol of the world. Until one of her students is randomly brutalized by a prominent gang member and her not-if-you-were-the-last-man-on-earth ex (a cop) returns turning her world into a minefield of trouble.

For the sake of the pitch, for the quick blurb, I would stop there and give the agent or editor the chance to ask questions. Different people are going to pick up on different parts of your quick blurb. This is where you leave room for conversation with the agent/editor which will make it easier for you both to know how you connect as people outside of your story.

Silver James said...

Jana, all but the request for the full contained some caveats. To submit to the agent, the MS needs to be at least 90K (her preferred length) and she wanted the second book in the series, not the first. But she left the door open, which is encouraging. The other editor indicated that I was welcome to submit to the publisher, with a reminder that I had pitched at the conference but I suspect she was offering that to just about everyone who submitted. I may, once things calm down enough. I pitched the unfinished MS because of the genre. She was a bit more interested in it, and once I get it finished (IF I get it finished but that's a LONG story), I'll definitely consider the house for submission.

On the other hand, the second editor showed some real enthusiasm for the SciFi/fantasy MS I pitched and requested the full by email, rather than mail. I'm scrambling to polish it. In rereading it, I realized I'd rushed the last few chapters and there's a lot of telling rather than showing so I'm beefing it up before submitting.

I should also explain that after listening to them on various panels, I was doing some scrambling to match the right project with the right person.

Nikki is absolutely correct. Don't pitch unless your project is complete. In my case, I was asked about other projects and was ready to discuss them in a bit of detail.

Okay. Back to work for me. I've also received edits back from my editor at Wild Rose on FAERIE FIRE so I need to stop playing on the net and get busy!

Jana Richards said...

Okay, I'm going to jump into the hot water here Nikki and give you the pitch for "Welcome to Paradise":

You can't go home again. At least that's what Bridget Grant used to think. But when her marriage and business both fail, her teenage daughter rebels, and her confidence hits the skids, she returns to her tiny hometown to lick her wounds. Paradise is the place she couldn't wait leave twenty years ago, and things aren't much better now. Her relationships with her mother and sister have been strained since her mother left her adored father. Her daughter spends more time in the principal's office than the principal. Add into the uncomfortable mix her growing attraction to Jack, the boyfriend she'd left behind, and Paradise is anything but, well, Paradise.


Karyn Good said...

Thanks, Nikki. I really appreciate the input and I can see how the changes make it better and, like you said, leave room for questions and discussion with an agent or editor.

This really helped me out, thanks again!

Nikki Duncan said...

Jana, I think it should be honed down some. You mix together past and present tense some and it's a little confusing. What do you think of this?

Paradise is more like Hell for Bridget Grant. Her marriage and career are gone, her daughter's in trouble, and her confidence has hit the skids. Retreating to her home town of Paradise, she's confronted with her still strained family relationships and a growing attraction fro the man she'd left behind.

Getting rid of some of the back story tightens the blurb some. It's important to your story and your character, but I don't think the relationship with her mom and sister and the bit about the dad leaving them are the biggest points of the story - at least that's not the impression I get.

Another thing to consider is what's at stake? I don't get a real impression of what she wants and why she can't have it or what her main goal is.

If it's a story of rediscovering herself I'd say that. Paradise is more like Hell for Bridget Grant when she sets out to rediscover what's important in her life. Something like that.

Did that make sense?

Nikki Duncan said...

I'm glad it helped, Karyn.

Paula R said...

Nikki, thank you very much for your advice on pitching. I am no where near that stage yet, but the info here is invaluable. I definitely learned about a couple of things that would have stumped me. I know that being a newbie, in this aspect of the writing world, scares the bejesus out of me, so any little help I can get, I am willing to take.

Congrats Silver. Have fun polishing and weeding things out. See you in the shadows.

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Nikki Duncan said...

Paula, keep in mind that a lot of the stuff here can also be used in query letters. When I've tightened my story plots down to the 30 second pitch/tag line that's often what I use in my query letters to agents/editors.

And if you're petrified at the idea of pitching, don't feel that you have to do it. Some people just feel more comfortable sending query letters and submissions, and there is nothing wrong with that.

If you're at a conference or a meeting, just be professional and have a summary of your story ready in case. It's not uncommon for other authors to ask what you're story is about and since they're readers to you may as well be prepared. :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Nikki,
Wow, I really like your rewrite of my pitch! I knew it was too long. Generally how long should a pitch be? I've heard about three lines. Is that about right?

Yes, I'll keep in the mind the "what's at stake" aspect. Thanks for the great advice.


Nikki Duncan said...

How long should a pitch be? I say don't worry so much about how many lines or sentences. Just get it as short and concise as possible and put together in an intriguing way. I like to be able to say mine at a relaxed pace of speech in 30 seconds or less.

Example of my SOUNDS TO DIE BY pitch: He's a blind listener for the NSA. She's an FBI agent with something to prove. Together they'll face betrayals and stop a kidnapping ring.

Obviously there's a ton more than that in a 50,000 word story, but it hits the biggest high point. Her. Him. Plot. Them as a couple. It's okay to let the agent/editor know up front that they "solve the case". What kind of romance would it be if they didn't?

I think for your what's at stake point, you could add a question or statement along the lines of "Only by learning to trust in Jack can she hope to find peace for herself and her life." Now, I'm guessing that that would work for your story. If there's a bigger element of danger or a more pivotal lesson for her to learn then that would be a better point for you to close with.

Janet C. said...

Great post, Nikki! And thanks for joining us here on The Prairies. I'm going to cut and paste this one into the "Submissions" file so I have it handy as I continue to query agents and editors.

Of course, there's a pitch coming up in Surrey in a month's time (yikes). Here's what I have so far - knowing that it's probably too long and not having the time right now to rework it based on your 'Him/her/plot' rule (which I think is fabulous). Anyway, here we go (FYI - medieval romance):

Willamena Ffenwyck knows listening in on conversations is wrong and she's promised her stepmother and brother she will cease once she reaches her new home. But when her husband refuses to speak of his family or the past, and she finds only his father's grave marker in the chapel yard, her curious nature gets the best of her. The task proves difficult with everyone sworn to secrecy, until a visitor arrives unannounced. Now she must decide - accept Hugh's seduction of a future filled with passion, not love, or listen in one more time and endanger both their lives.

Thanks again, Nikki!

Nikki Duncan said...

LOL, I wouldn't call the 'Him/her/plot' thing a rule. I can't always pull it off with my stories in the quick way I did with SOUNDS TO DIE BY - though it could be something for me to strive for.

Your pitch is good, and I wouldn't really say it's too long, but there are a few things I'm unclear on.

Is her husband Hugh, or is Hugh the unannounced visitor? For now, I'm going to go on the basis that Hugh is the hubby, and I'm guessing a new husband given that she's going to a new home.

With those assumptions, what if you did something like this?

Willamena Ffenwyck's habit of eavesdropping has gotten her in trouble often, but when her new husband and his family start keeping secrets from her she's hard pressed to stop. When an unannounced visitor arrives she must choose between the seduction of a future filled with passion, not love, or the danger of listening in one more time knowing that what she learns could endanger both their lives. (I'd want to be clear their is her and her hubby.)

I didn't really change much other than taking out the bits of her promise to her family and the people in his that are keeping secrets. Personally, I think that by not telling that the secret somehow revolves around his father's grave makes the story more interesting. You aren't telling the agent/editor as much up front which means you're leaving to wonder what secrets and why and how they're going to endanger her.

Janet C. said...

Thanks, Nikki. I'm going to do some more reworking and try to get the pitch ready in a couple of forms - a shorter, snappier one; a paragraph one; then a longer, more detailed one. Again, I'll come back to this post as I work through my drafts.

Glad you could join us today :)

Nikki Duncan said...

I'm glad you ladies enjoyed it. Thanks for having me.