4 Preparation Strategies: The Incredible, Terrible Pitch
The incredible, terrible pitch. Oh, how many a cramped stomach and loose stool I’ve suffered in the past, agonizing over that fraction of an hour spent with a gatekeeper to my ambitions. And this summer, I had the opportunity to suffer again, at the Romance Writer’s of America’s national conference (RWA15), in New York. I currently have four completed, unpublished manuscripts, and decided it was time to sign up for two ten-minute pitch sessions; one with an agent, and one with an editor.
If you don’t know, RWA’s national conference is a Hajj for most romance writers. This year, the conference sold out months in advance, hosting 2,400 attendees at the Marriott, in Times Square. And if you’re one of those folks who thinks romance novels are simply that trash sold at the grocery store, consider this: the estimated annual total sales value of romance in 2013 was $1.08 billion (BookStats). Romance also makes up 13% of adult fiction sales (Nielsen Books & Consumer Tracker, BISAC Romance). So, let’s be clear, romance writers aren’t dreamers, they’re capitalists.
And as a true capitalist, I wasn’t about approach the golden gate without the necessary tools to pick the lock: Imodium AD, a good night’s sleep, and all my prep work completed. Here are four preparation strategies that worked for me.
- I did my research. I looked up the profiles of the agent and editor to whom I was slated to pitch, and zoomed in on the following items:
- Their resume and work history
- Their special interests (not book related)
- Their favorite genres AND what they are looking for (not always the same)
- Who they represent and/or who they publish
- Recent contracts and new releases
These items can help you to know how to frame your pitch, and position your own work in the context of the agent and/or editors client list. They also like it when you demonstrate you’ve done your research and have elected to pitch to them for a reason, not by default.
2. I studied pitch strategy. I took an online course with Michael Hauge, author of SELLING YOUR STORY IN SIXTY SECONDS, and attended a workshop on high concept pitching with best-selling author, Sarah McClean. Basically, here’s what high concept does and why it works:
- High concept stimulates your most raw, natural self
- By Tapping into popularly held concepts and ideas
- Then smashes these ideas together with a twist
- Thus, embedding conflict in the story premise
As Sarah McClean, said, “It’s the most obvious solution that no one has ever come up with.”
3. I practiced. After devising my high concept pitch, I wrote out everything I planned to say, and repeated it over and over again, until I had not only memorized it, but also could deliver it in a seemingly un-memorized way. I timed my pitch to be between 3-5 minutes, so that the remaining 5-8 minutes of my 10-minute time slot could be for a discourse. I not only wanted them to ask questions if they had them, but I wanted an opportunity to let my personality shine through.
4. I dressed the part. I made sure my attire was business casual but also reflected the style and aesthetic of the genre in which I am writing (the paranormal and erotic subgenres equal fitted, dark clothing with colorful and unusual accessories, to my mind). I also made sure to bring my business card, which has my photo on the front, and wore the same clothes depicted in the photo, to create a visual cue and help them remember me.
How did it go? For both sessions, the moderators lined us nervous authors up into two lines, one waiting to go immediately, and the other waiting to go immediately after them. The bell rang, the door opened, and we were filed into a lchilly ballroom where editors and agents sat at small, round tables covered in white tablecloths, with their names displayed prominently on top. It took a moment or two, but eventually I would find the correct table, introduce myself, take a seat, and off I went.
Session 1: The Agent. During that pitch, I was feeling good initially, but then the agent shifted her eye contact, which made me think she was distracted and not listening. Was I boring her? Had I already blown it? That made me falter a bit and loose focus. But after I was done, she said she liked the idea and did I have anything else to pitch?
I had just finished writing a query for another unpublished manuscript, and so I was able to quickly pitch the gist of that story as well. Again, her gaze seemed to be just over my shoulder, but this time, she wrote something down. When I was done, she smiled, looked at me directly and said, “I really like them. Please send me both as soon as possible.” Then she complimented my scarf, which I took as an opportunity to give her my card, and point out the visual correlation. She laughed and said, “Creative.”
Session 2: The Editor. The second pitch session began the same way. This time, I was with an editor who often smiled and was fully attentive during my pitch; she seemed concerned with making me feel comfortable. She asked a few questions and said she liked my idea but it wasn’t a good fit for her publishing company. Then she gave me valuable information on where it could be placed and whom I should query.
I thanked her for her time and left before my time was up. Later, I kicked myself for not taking the opportunity to pitch my second novel, as I had with the agent. Why didn’t I?
What did I learn? I learned you can never be too prepared. The four strategies outlined above worked for me, and they can work even better for you.
If I were to do it over again, I would have practiced pitches for all of my unpublished novels. Additionally, I would have adopted the mentality that this pitch was mine to command. In the future, I won’t allow body language or a derailment in the plan to throw off my focus. I will be flexible enough to switch up my players, if the game steers in an unanticipated direction, and confident that what I’m selling is worth acquiring.
Briana pitched A Dragon’s Debt to Apple Pie at RWA15. Read her pitch here.
More on Briana MacPerry:
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, to an Irish Catholic family, Briana MacPerry has always been surrounded by natural-born storytellers. For ten years, she has practiced as a licensed and board certified Creative Arts Therapist in various healthcare settings in New York City, working predominantly with traumatized women and addiction. Currently, she is an adjunct writing professor at Pratt Institute, and clinical coordinator at a brain research and diagnostic facility. She also maintains a community blog for writers focusing on research in love psychology, writer’s tips, and the intersection of visual art and written reflection.