I finally got over my fear of sounding like a madwoman on speed when pitching my writing to an agent or editor at a local writing conference. It was a great, supportive environment, but I decided that apart from attending every cool workshop I possibly could to learn more about honing my craft, I also would pitch my book to industry professionals. Yes, I've done this before: armed with my query letter in a setting that was really much more like a query critique than an actual in-person pitch. This was different. Fears of rambling like a mad person on speed may have been a factor. In the end both of my appointments (I scheduled the second one very last minute the morning of the conference) were really successful and I learned a lot of things. Here are a few of them:
- Be prepared. This may seem obvious, but having a pitch prepared before your appointment is an absolute necessity. Not only does it need to be well-crafted and engaging, but it should be something that can be thrown in in conversation. I had a hard time with this initially thinking I had to throw too much into it, when really one to two lines absolutely did the trick. Less is more and it definitely prevents you from sounding like a robot who meticulously rehearsed their pitch. If you start with a shorter pitch, it opens up a conversation where you can talk about your book in a more natural manner--which does wonders for the nerves, too!
- Practice beforehand. Practicing your pitch with friends, on the phone, by leaving voicemails to all of your critique group members, and even in front of your cats (most agents probably won't look at you as bewildered or unimpressed as a cat will) are a huge help, both to make sure it sounds natural and to determine if it actually works. I also practiced with new people I met at the conference. The more often you do it, the easier it gets and everyone is kind of in the same boat and willing to give encouraging feedback, which is a double win!
- Be personable. This is just good conference ettiquette, but seriously, be kind and supportive to other writers who may be in the same boat as you are as well as to agents and editors who have been dealing all day with frantic writer types, which is tiring. Professionalism is great, showing that you are treating this as a business, did your homework, and are capable of talking about what you do, why you do it, and how you're involved in the community of writers and readers around you, both in person and online are crucial.
- Be able to talk about your Five Big Scenes. This was a super helpful piece of advice given to me in my first appointment. Basically, after your pitch, break your novel down to the five big scenes: Talk about the inciting incident, the door of no return, the mid-point climax, the black moment, and the ending of your book and do so in a concise and focused fashion. No rambling allowed (or if you do: just take a deep breath and stop for a second. It's okay, really.)
- Remember that editors and agents are people, too. Despite all the nerves and shaking hands with sweaty palms, this is just a good thing to remember and to keep the conversation grounded and shut up that inner voice that wants to totally freak out. Be polite and professional, thank them for their time and input. It's going to be okay.
Above all else, remember to breathe. Don't freak out. My color-coding obsessed planner self is especially bad with this one, given my personal levels of Inner Control Freak. Again, it will be okay. Remember why you love what you write and be your own biggest champion (one of my critique partners told me this and I'm trying to live by it a little more, so there.)
That said, this is by no means a comprehensive list and everyone is different and that's a good thing. As for me, I'm basically out of extrovert points today, so I'm indulging my introverted side.
On that note: happy writing!