Pitching Contemporary YA at WDC15 – Kristi Chestnutt

My pitch experience:

First of all, thanks so much to Ralph for inviting me to share my story! The idea of writers helping writers was an underlying theme of WDC15, and I can’t think of a better way for us to link arms than to share our individual experiences and lessons learned. Make no mistake: writing is NOT easy. There will be rejection. There will be nerves. But there will also be amazing people along the way who encourage you, lift you up, and make you better.

Those people, in my particular case, were a mixture of my critique partner, a friend from my past, and a brand new friend that I met less than twenty-four hours pre-pitch. All of these people played a large (and vital) part in helping me get ready for the WDC15 Pitch Slam experience. This particular event is an hour long, with each Pitch Slam participant having three minutes to pitch their novel to agents/editors before moving on to someone else. It’s a lightning quick atmosphere and the need to be precise is important.

I pitched The Ex-Effect, my 65,000 word Young Adult Contemporary novel, to six agents and editors during the one hour session, and of those, I received three agent requests and one editor request.

My preparation consisted of writing/rewriting my pitch over and over again until I felt like I had the key points as summarized and succinct as possible. Once I was happy with the summary, I began pitching it out loud to my critique partner who was attending the conference with me. I’ve got to be honest: this was SO MUCH HARDER than I thought it would be. My CP had read my entire novel. She knew what it was about. She helped me make it stronger. So you would think saying the words out loud around her would be easier, right? Wrong.

I’m a fairly social person, love to talk, and I still found it difficult to say things out loud that I was used to writing on a screen or scribbling into a notebook. Speaking is a very, very different animal than writing. You feel more exposed, more at risk, and it can be terrifying, which is why practicing it out loud is so very, very important. Because here’s the best part: it does get easier. And you figure out quickly which words you stumble over, what isn’t flowing well, and what isn’t making sense.

The night before my pitch, we went out to dinner with a new friend we’d made at the conference as well as a friend of mine who lives in NYC, both of whom knew nothing about my project. Over margaritas, they convinced me to live pitch them in a restaurant, and it was the best thing. Granted: this took many, many beverages before my courage was ready. But it was an important step. It isn’t enough to pitch people who know your book inside and out, you also need to pitch writers, non-writers, anyone who may have a different perspective. They were all great about giving me feedback while also being encouraging, and each time I said it out loud, it became more natural, more conversational, and I became a little more confident.

That confidence lasted until about an hour before the event. That’s when the nerves hit.

I’ll be honest—I stumbled my way through my first pitch. While I recited my practiced pitch, just as I planned, it felt rehearsed, not conversational, and when the inevitable question came—“Can you tell me a little more?”—my brain went into panic mode. I’m not sure exactly what came out of my mouth—only that it was desperate and strange and I managed to ramble on about the weirdest tidbits of my novel that you can imagine. BUT I learned something extremely valuable. My rehearsed pitch was really the bones of what I needed to say. It was the guiding factor but not enough to really “paint the picture” in someone else’s head about my story. I needed to over-explain, to add meat to the framework I’d come up with in order to prevent the dreaded ‘tell me more’ question. And that’s exactly what I did.

The great thing about getting your first pitch out of the way is that it does several things: it calms your nerves, it gives you an idea of how the process works, reminds you that these agents and editors are all kind (even when you screw up), and in my case, it motivates you to work harder.

It’s also important during the process to really know yourself and how you respond to things, to focus on what you do well, who you are as a person, and try to portray that as best you can. For me, that’s getting to know someone first. I realized if I sat down with zero expectations, introduced myself, and chatted first about why I was pitching that particular person (always do your research), my nerves would calm and I would deliver my pitch more conversationally. It grounded me in the moment, reminded me of who I was and why I was there. It helped. And I met some really great people and had some truly memorable conversations with agents I’d followed on Twitter for a very long time. Regardless of what comes out of my pitch, it was a great experience.

My advice to any writer about to pitch: Be open to listening, to receiving feedback, to putting yourself out there for the sake of your craft. Practice, practice, practice! It might be terrifying, but being brave has its own rewards and payoffs, whether it comes in the form of increased confidence, requested pages, or an offer of representation/book deal. And secondly, maybe more importantly, be YOU. This process isn’t just about your work, it’s about finding the best possible person to represent you, someone you can work with hopefully for the length of your career, someone who can help you get where you need to be, someone who fits both your personality and your work.

Read Kristi’s pitch here

More about Kristi:

Besides being a short (five feet zero inches) aspiring YA author, Kristi is mom to one totally adorable kidlet, owner of one neurotic Boxer dog, and wife to one VERY patient man. She loves Red Sox baseball, snowboarding, hiking, all sorts of music, and of course, writing/reading anything she can get her hands on. If you ever meet her in person, there’s a good chance you’ll be hugged. Consider yourself warned.




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