Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The In-Person Pitch

The Surrey International Writers' Conference is fast approaching. Last year, the conference was spectacular--with the workshops, presenters, and rubbing elbows with famous writers—but the in-person pitch session was by far the most powerful and nerve-racking experience of the entire event.

This year, my in-person pitch is to agent Nephele Tempest with The Knight Agency. According to their website, Nephele: works with a number of talented writers, assisting them to hone their skills and build their careers. (She) continues to actively build her client list, and is currently seeking works in paranormal, romantic suspense, and young adult fiction.

Doesn’t she sound like the perfect agent to pitch my YA paranormal romance novel to?

Of course, last year I thought the same thing, and after I had my full manuscript requested, I was walking on air. One year later, I have not heard a peep. Not even a “thanks but no thanks” form rejection. I now know that no response is a "no thanks".

I’m walking in this time with lower expectations and more realistic goals. I don’t expect to get a book deal from this ten minute meeting, but I do hope she will be able to tell me what she liked about my pitch, and what she didn’t like. I might even get some advice about writing or the publishing industry.

In that sense, my heart-pounding, hand-sweating anxiety from last year shouldn’t be as much of a problem. Why? Because all of the high expectations I had at last year’s conference have disappeared:

A bad meeting will ruin my chances forever. Not likely. It may be possible that a successful meeting could make your publishing dreams come true, but more realistically, it will likely end in a potential request for a partial, some good advice, and a great learning experience.

If I don’t nail it, I’ll blow it. Agents are always looking for the next big thing, and maybe, just maybe, it’ll be me. So yes, I’ll practice my pitch until I can deliver it as coherently and as smoothly as possible. I’ll do my best to impress the agent to hopefully convince her to give my manuscript a look. But the reality is, I’m human. If I mumble or bumble, I’ll survive. If I tie myself up in knots about being perfect, I’ll need an Ativan before I even walk in.

Instead of unrealistic expectations, I'll focus on realism and doing my best:

Preparation is Key
The best way to handle a stressful situation is to be prepared. I’ll practice describing my book in a brief and clear manner, demonstrating I know exactly what my writing is about.
I’ll do my homework. Agents are human, and who wouldn’t be impressed by a writer who knows something about his/her agency and the writers it represents?

Conquer Anxiety
“Fake it ‘til you make it” has been my motto since my first job interview. I can act calm and cool even if inside, I’m a basket case. And hey—they won’t know the different, will they?
Even if my pitch session doesn't go as smoothly as I’d like, I’ll still benefit from the experience. I’ll learn from it. I’ll understand what to do better next time. I’ll become more comfortable talking to agents and more accustomed to having to “sell” my book.

Be Ready for Criticism
The more I can demonstrate I can handle criticism or feedback appropriately, the better information and concrete help I'll receive. If an agent finds me defensive or argumentative, what assumptions will she make about her ability to work with me collaboratively?

They're Just People, Too
Just think of how difficult it is for them—having to meet with so many hopeful (needy) writers in one day. The pressure of that must be immense. Perhaps they’re nervous as well, knowing some people are going to be upset, disappointed and hurt in the process. Or maybe they aren’t nervous, because they’re used to it. But either way, they’re just people, too.

Any advice for me as I prepare my in-person pitch? Any tricks you use to conquer your fears?


Karyn Good said...

You'll be very well prepared when you go to pitch in Surrey. Great tips on approaching the in-person pitch with the right mindset. All the things you mentioned will benefit you.

If I had a tip for conquering fears, it's one you've already mentioned - preparation and practice!

Good luck in Surrey, Joanne!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Thanks, Karyn! I'm crossing my fingers!

Helena said...

You're well on your way, Joanne. Along with your current prep, you also have the advantage of being a sophomore this time around. You may be nervous, but fear of the unknown shouldn't be part of it because you've been through it before.

Have you considered taking in the session they provide to practice your pitch? If you don't want to have your pitch critiqued, you can be an observer. (Frankly, I think that would just make me more nervous!)

Glad to see you are getting a head start. I was in a workshop in July where one of the exercises was to develop an "elevator pitch" for my novel. Must pull that out and do some more work on it.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

I'm going to try to apply all this when I go this year, but honestly I'm not sure how nervous I'll be. Things have shifted in the schedule, my agent can no longer attend, so I don't think I'm feeling as "OMG This is IT!!" as I was before. Besides, I can just query him after :)

I'm planning to attend that pitch workshop in the morning just to get a feel for things, since I'm a newbie this year. To be perfectly honest, I want to go to check out the 'average' of pitching, and reassert for my own confidence that I'm above that level. I never said I was humble... just stressed sometimes ;) If I don't expect I might go into it and think my whole pitch is awful, then it won't happen, hah!

I agree with Karyn, practice is key. We just need to get comfortable enough with the material that we can chat about it, rather than Present it and worry about sounding like a putz. If you can make it to the fall retreat for the Saturday, maybe a few of us can steal off for a bit and pitch one-another. If not then, we could try at the Wednesday meeting at the end of the month.

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Helena,
I think fear of the unknown was a huge factor for me last year. Thank goodness that isn't a concern this year.

I have thought of doing the pitching workshop, perhaps I should!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Great idea, Hayley,
Last year I struggled with sounding to rehearsed, and in the end I just ended up winging it. I'm not sure that's the way to go, so practicing to each other is a great suggestion.

Tom said...

I learned something about pitches from an agent at the Killer Nashville conference last month. I used it on my next pitch and got kudos and an invitation to send her the complete manuscript.

"Lead with the protagonist, then set up the conflict.

Think about it. On the cover of Robert B. Parker's books it may say, "A Spenser Book." It is the protagonist that sells the book--both to an agent or a reader.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Joanne,
I was pretty nervous last year too when I pitched to Donald Maass. I ended up having to read my little card with my pitch; there's no way I could have winged it. But he didn't seem to mind.

I agree, preparation is key. If you've worked on your pitch a lot, got it to where it has to be, that's half the battle. Also be prepared for the agent's questions about your story, such as the motivations of your characters and so on. Donald Maass asked me some questions about the story not covered in the pitch that I didn't expect. I knew my story well, and was able to answer his questions without any trouble. Because your manuscript is finished and revised and you know it six ways from Sunday, this shouldn't be a problem for you either.

Best of luck!


Joanne Brothwell said...

Interesting. I think that's what I did at my last pitch and it did result in a request - so maybe that was the key.

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hey Jana,
I think pitching to Donald Maass would be killer!

I'll have to think about questions like motivation, etc. to make sure I can answer quickly. Not that I don't know the story, but being able to articulate it quickly is not one of my strengths.