We’re heading into conference season, and that means fun, friends, and general frivolity with other people who get it.
It also means opportunities, potential, and possibilities. One of the main attractions for both established and emerging writers is the close mingling that happens between industry professionals and authors – the chance to chat, maybe catch an ear or two. And one of the great ways to do this is via pitching.
All conferences run their pitching program in a different way, and most should have clear explanations for what is expected of you should you want to pitch, and what you can expect from your session.
In terms of what can make your pitch perfect, well, here’s a few thoughts that might help help you with the polishing.
- Use your time wisely
Generally, your pitch is going to run between 5 and 15 minutes long, with the majority being on the shorter end of the scale. This is good. This gives you the chance to be all ninja-sniper-pitch, get in, get out, get the most out of your time. But if you’re going to only have a short period of time, you’re going to want to make sure that you use it wisely. Pitch sessions run to a stop-watch, and you won’t be given extra time. So be aware of how long you have, how fast you speak, what information you want to impart, and make sure you practise.
- Do your research
Whether you’re going with a scattergun approach or a laser-focused sniper shot, you want to make sure that you know who you’re talking to, and why they’re interested in you. Not all publishers are accepting the same thing, not all want the same thing, not all are open to the same thing. So at the very least you should check the submissions page of every editor/publisher that you’re talking to, and read the bios/checklists they’ve provided to the conference. Editors/Publishers are asked to provide what they are looking for and what they are not interested in, and that information is freely available to attendees. So if you sit in front of someone and pitch something they can’t take, they know that you haven’t bothered to get to know the publisher, and you’ve taken the space from someone who genuinely may have had something that could have sold.
- Be a match-maker
This ties into both 2 and 4, but it’s so important that I’ve given it its own number. If you have more than one manuscript to pitch, then you should definitely be prepared to pitch them all in the same session, but you should make sure that you’re pitching them in the order that is most relevant to the editor/publisher you’re pitching to. If you’ve got a SF, a rural, and a contemporary, and you know that one publisher is actively looking for SF while another is not, then tailor your approach to the publisher. Pitch the SF first to one, while shelving it to the end at the other. This boosts your chances of success, as you’ll be pitching the right manuscript to the right person. If an editor isn’t interested, they can always pass, and that’s when you can wow them with your next pitch.
- Be prepared
This is a great opportunity to impress an editor or publisher, and you don’t want to blow it by sitting in front of them and having nothing to say (or, worse, saying too much and never talking about your story!). You’re a writer – so use those skills to create a tagline, a short, snappy summary that’s going to interest and entice, and one or two comparisons to centre your style or story. Make sure that you know what you are looking for, and that you have any questions you might want answered by the editor/publisher at the ready. Don’t be afraid to write things down if you think you might forget. If you have business cards, bring them along, and don’t forget to grab a card from the editor/publisher. Practise in front of the mirror, your family, your critique group – anyone that can give you honest feedback. The more prepared you are, the calmer you’re going to feel, and the more you’re going to get out of your session.
- Mind your buts
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard for speaking to editors/publishers about your book is to lead with the ‘but’. When describing the general plot of your story, the interest doesn’t lie in the ‘and’s. It lies in the ‘but’s. By focusing on the buts, you’re also focusing on the crises of the story, the high notes and the downfalls. It’s a great way to put your story into focus, make sure you keep it short and timely, and build interest at the same time. For example:
Jenny is a small town girl with big city dreams. She has it all planned out – university in Sydney, a top-notch apprenticeship, and a meteoric rise through the ranks to a top-level position at a top tier architecture firm.
the death of her mother puts a nail in the coffin of her dreams. Her dad is incapable of functioning from grief, and someone has to look after the family hardware store. It looks like Jenny’s dream are just so much road dust.
when the house up the street finally sells, the town is thrown into a tizzy. Some big name architect has bought the property and plans to turn it into a glitzy tree-change resort. As the local hardware store, Jenny sees an opportunity for both some financial stability and making a connection and maybe put her life back on track.
a catastrophic first encounter means that the architect, Clive, is never going to look at Jenny as anything more than a disaster, let alone a potential employee … or girlfriend.
- Don’t be too nervous
Easier said than done, but remember this key fact: editors/publishers are in the business of buying books, and they are actively looking for new titles. That means that you have something they want. So they’re just as interested in meeting you as you are them.
You would be astonished at the number of authors who get full or partial requests and never actually submit. You’ve got to be in it to win it, and that means taking that big next step and actually hitting the ‘send’ button. Do it. The absolute worst that can happen is someone will say ‘no’. But if you never hit ‘send’, then you’re saying ‘no’ to yourself. Give yourself the opportunity to take that risk. You never know – it might be a ‘yes’!