The time has come. You have received the question we have all been waiting and preparing for.
‘Tell me about your book.”
Time stands still. Your moment is here. You have prepared. Now, let’s make the most of it!
You might get this question in a number of different scenarios; a casual conversation, a one on one pitch meeting, a pitch slam, etc. We are going to cover all of these scenarios eventually, but for the purposes of this series lets use the pitch slam scenario.
If you haven’t been to a pitch slam, here is the scene. Picture anywhere from a dozen to fifty or more agents and editors sitting at individual tables in a large ball room. There are typically 2-3 times more authors waiting to pitch than agents waiting to hear pitches. You will stand in line for an agent of your choice, have a few minutes to pitch them (typically 3-5) and then once your pitch is complete move to the next agent’s line. It is a frenetic anxiety producing scenario for almost everyone involved, but it is the best way to meet and pitch multiple agents.
So you’ve made it to the front of the line. Your turn has come.
Start with the basics. Smile, and introduce yourself. Offering a hand to shake and a natural smile will make everyone more comfortable and give you a moment to catch your breath. If, like many authors, you are a wall flower this may not be very comfortable. Hopefully when you rehearsed you practiced this moment too. Seriously??
Yes, seriously. You want to make a strong first impression. If this if your first time meeting the person ask them a casual question like “How is your day going?” or make a small compliment like “I love your necklace.” Keep it casual and authentic. You aren’t there to chit chat, but you do want the agent or editor to focus on you and your pitch. Engaging them directly will a casual moment will give them an opportunity to reset from the last pitch they heard and focus on you. If you know a little more about the person you are pitching (remember the research) you might mention the blog they maintain or a recent book they represent that is doing well.
One important note, Don’t bring something up that you haven’t read. You will give the wrong impression and it may show that you haven’t done your homework.
Time is ticking away. Now let’s get past the pleasantries and into the pitch.
Get yourself arranged. Sit comfortably but with a straight back. Pull out your agent notes and a pen or pencil of your choice. Place a business card on the table. You won’t need these until the end of the pitch, but you don’t want to dig for them when you are running out of time. Once you are arranged put your hands in your lap and focus on your audience.
Start into the pitch that you have rehearsed and memorized. Do not stray from your script at least to start. Make eye contact with your audience. As you talk make sure they can hear you. Adjust your voice and position if needed and make sure they connect. Many people will nod as they listen to a pitch, subtly acknowledging their understanding. If they look confused you may need to repeat a line. That is OK as long as they are hearing you. Complete the delivery of your pitch.
You still have a minute or more on the clock. First, take a breath and let the agent or editor absorb what they just heard. Now that you have smoothly delivered your memorized pitch pick up your pen and prepare to take notes.
Even with a perfect pitch an agent or editor will likely ask you a question or two. The questions might range from some of the particulars of the physical book to an author’s platform to character or plot questions. Here are some sample questions I’ve heard at various pitches:
- What is your word count?
- You said your book is Science Fiction. What subgenre do you fit into?
- Are you a member of any professional writing associations?
- Why is your [Protagonist] chasing / running / escaping? (Clarify your character’s motivations)
- Have you published anything before?
- Is your book complete?
Answer the questions quickly and directly. You won’t have time for long explanations. Write the questions down, either in the moment or directly after your pitch. If you weren’t prepared for that question this time, make sure you have a good answer for the next time it is asked, or better yet, improve your pitch to address it directly.
Now if you still have time it is your turn to ask questions. If you are talking with an agent you might ask questions like:
- How do you work with debut authors?
- Do you have any story recommendations based on what you heard in my pitch?
- Which editors and publishers have you done business with?
- What is selling in my genre?
- Who is your favorite author? Why?
You are probably running out of time now. If you know you are close to the end of your pitch meeting it is time to ask the most important question: “Would you like to see more of my manuscript?” If the agent or editor hasn’t already asked for pages or a query letter, ask directly. This is why you came to pitch. Make sure you get an answer.
Let’s assume they say Yes! (insert happy dance here). Immediately follow up with “How would you like to receive my work?”. Now, in this moment, write down every word they say as they say it. If they want ten pages plus a query sent in the body of an email, write that down. If they want a full manuscript sent as a PDF attachment with the a note in the subject line saying “I met you at the Awesome Pitch Conference”. If they like to be addressed as the Right Hand of Darkness (not the left hand mind you), write that down. Do not be shy about taking down these notes. They are the gold you have mined from this pitch. You will need them for future success.
ding ding ding
The bell has rung. Your time is up. Stand up and gather your things. Reach back across the table and offer your hand again. Thank your audience for their time and leave them with a strong handshake and an easy smile.
Walk away. Regardless if the pitch was a success or failure now you need to reset. Look at your notes and quickly fill in any holes from your conversation. Turn the page to the next person you are pitching. Scan their information, get in line and repeat.