Monday, March 7, 2011

Life's a Pitch

In just about every aspect of life you have to be your own best self-promoter. In a job interview, a first date, meeting your future in-laws or new boss, you have to be confident and play up your strengths. Over the years I’ve been able to do this well, I think. I’ve gotten great jobs, have a wonderful husband, feel good about how I am as a mother, and have what I consider a pretty strong sense of self-worth or self-esteem.

Yeah, well, all that confidence went out the window when I was faced with my first pitch session. For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a great perk of attending writer’s conferences and one of the reasons I plan to attend two more this year. A writer can sign up to meet with an editor or agent face-to-face and in a minute or two, spew a few words that will so intrigue said person-that-could-make-your-career that they ask you to send them some of your work. It’s a terrible, anxiety ridden, wonderful thing and all aspiring writers should have to do it at least once, in my opinion.

I consider myself to be on the more self-aware side of the spectrum yet I would rather talk about some of the most personal things in life then talk about my writing. Trying to tell a stranger why my story is great and they should read it- wow, it’s harder than I ever imagined. I think it’s the insecurity that never quite goes away when you know you still have a lot to learn.

I don’t think there’s any advice out there that can really prepare you for it. Every writer is different and every editor and agent are different and you all can be affected by the day, the place, the time of year, the last person you talked to or what your plans are later etc. Given all those variables, I have only this advice; relax, breathe, you will say something you wish you didn’t, you won’t remember everything, it’s not the end of your career. You just have to do it and then learn from your mistakes.

This is how my first pitch session went- I’m kind of embarrassed to be telling you this so be kind if you comment.

I pitched for the first time last year at a local conference. In retrospect I was not ready to pitch. My first book, while complete, was not polished. I was given lots of well-meaning advice and got caught up in the activity around the conference. I pitched for practice as much as a feeling of pressure to keep moving forward. This was the next step so I had to go there, even though I felt I wasn’t ready. There’s a line between being scared to take the next step and really not being ready to take that step- I wasn’t ready. But, I practiced a pitch and made appointments.

I did nothing the week before the conference except practice my pitch and worry over it. I didn’t sleep, I was not in good mood and I was nervous as hell. With all that going on, do you think I was able to actually pay attention at the conference and listen to the wonderful speaker that was taking the time to present a full day talk? Um, no. Couldn’t tell you much of anything about that. I got my appointment times the morning of and they were spaced throughout the day so there was never a time to relax and be done with the stress part of the weekend.

Finally I make it to the pitching with too much coffee burning a hole in my esophagus and the need for another bathroom break. Now, I had met the agents and editor the night before at dinner and at the bar. Talked to them about all kinds of things, not writing, my story or anything in the spectrum. OK, that is good advice, the part you have all heard that they are people too and if they want to hear about what you write, they will ask, otherwise, just be nice. This did little to lessen the anxiety except I was sure they wouldn’t just tell me to get out and that I suck. Not a very high bar to exceed.

At this conference the agents were set up in hotel rooms for their appointments. The atmosphere was distracting because it was so intimate. A very small desk in a small room with little light. I suddenly felt huge and uncoordinated and self -conscious, I didn’t know where to put my hands, how to sit, where to put my notebook. I think I was channeling a fourteen year old on their first “just-friends” date. I don’t have any idea what I said. I know I started my practiced pitch, but after the first sentence it was ad-lib. They were all very gracious and asked questions and were very polite. Even the last editor, poor guy was sick and he was kind and polite. He was last and I confess (embarrassingly) that I yawned. Yes, I yawned and I think (memory is a little vague) I propped my elbow on the desk and my head on my hand as if I was talking to my mother over coffee. Probably not the most professional, but I was done. The release when it’s over is almost overwhelming.

I was feeling relieved and thrilled that I had done it and they all asked to see some of my story. Yay! I was feeling pretty good until I got this piece of information from another attendee after asking me how my pitching went and if pages were asked for- “Oh, they ask for that from almost everybody just to be polite.”

Well, hell. Way to burst my bubble. Is that true? Can’t imagine anyone wanting that much paperwork if they weren’t the least little bit interested, but hey, who knows.
So, remember way back at the beginning of this tale I said I pitched even though I wasn’t ready? Well, when I got back to my WIP and editing, keeping the detailed questions that I was asked about the story in mind, I realized how much work the story needed and never sent the pages. It is just now getting to the point where it is ready to be sent out. I had a lot of growing and learning to do in the last year. And I will send out those pages that were asked for even though it’s been so long. It’s an implied obligation on my part, I said I would do something and I can’t just never do it.

Why should every aspiring author do this? It’s a chance to get some face time with your dream agent or editor. Their questions can tell you a lot about your story and where the strong points are or aren’t. Once you can pare your story down to a couple sentence pitch, you never have to say ummm, well, it’s complicated. You have a blurb for your website or blog and you have something to tell the next person that asks you what you write and you just never know who that person might be. I’ll be pitching the same story at the next conference I go to, much more prepared and also much more relaxed about it. Doesn’t mean the butterflies aren’t hanging out in their chrysalis’s waiting to hatch first thing that morning, just that I hope I can enjoy the conference at the same time.

Tell me about your first pitch session? How did you do the next one differently, or did you ever sign up again?

7 comments:

  1. I am a coward. I have never pitched.

    Honestly, pitching to an agent represents THE big step for me. It says "I'm ready to be a full-time writer and hammer at this career for at least 8 hours per day no matter what. As a single parent with a pre-schooler still at home, I require much more flexibility than I'm prepared to ask from an agent or major publishing house.

    For the past 2 years, I have had a great gig with a small house that has been unbelievably flexible and forgiving (Sapphire Blue Publishing) so, when I'm ready to go full-time with this novelist gig, I'm hoping to produce more for SBP because 1) they'll be a big house someday and 2) they deserve a financial "thank you" for going above and beyond with me.

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  2. Hi Lisa,
    Not a coward, you know where you are in your writer's journey and that's a great thing. Only concern yourself with where you are today and what you can do today :)
    That's great that SBP is so flexible with you. My youngest just turned three today and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel that's flashing, one day you will have five full days a week to work at this crazy career thing.. enjoy your kiddos now and just do what you can.

    Thanks for commenting.
    Kim

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  3. Thank you for sharing your experience, as mine was very similar. My first pitch session totally bombed, and I was horrified for the poor agent who had to listen to it (actually, that would imply that I actually SAID something, when in fact I really think all I did was make some grunts and visceral noises and then stare at her like a deer in the headlights). She actually asked for pages, too, which I knew was purely out of pity. I never sent them, but maybe now I will. The second went SO MUCH better, and I got a full request out of it. Seems I just needed to get that dress rehearsal out of my system ;)

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  4. Kimberly QuintonMarch 7, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    Hi Beth,
    I would send those pages. You never know what the agent heard or what you might have said that sparked an interest. You could have said the one word that she was looking for. I imagine they are used to weeding through all the blabbering especially if they are looking for something specific. You have nothing to lose. Yes, a dress rehearsal is exactly what I needed and I think all do. You just have to learn from your own mistakes in this area.
    Thanks for commenting :)
    Good Luck!

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  5. Great blog Kim!

    Keep a positive attitude and just have a conversation. Relax or read your pitch...don't angst. And definitely enjoy your conference.

    ~~Angi
    (who never really has had a problem bullshitting with anyone.)

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  6. Haven't done that yet but understand where you are coming from. Talk about adrenalin rush. Practice in front of a mirror or trusted friend. Have it come out like your name and have a smile on your face. Need to make it memorable.

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  7. I am late getting in on this, but it is such a relief to hear someone else say, "I just wasn't ready." I had to fend off a lot of peer pressure at a recent conference because I did not set up an agent pitch and refused to "elevator pitch" during the reception.

    My well-meaning friends kept trying to encourage me to pitch to at least one agent "just to see if I could."

    The problem wasn't that I was scared or shy ( I have never been accused of being shy in my life). I just knew I wasn't ready. My story wasn't ready and what do I do if they ask for pages?????

    Great post, Kim!

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