Pitching Science Fiction at Writer’s Digest Annual Pitch Slam 2015 – Ralph Walker

I had previously pitched this project before, at the NY Pitch Conference in April of 2015, but that had been my first time pitching. (NY Pitch is an amazing conference. You should check it out!). I decided to attend the WD Annual Conference and signed up pretty late, so I almost missed out on the Pitch Slam all together. Luckily I got in before the deadline.

The WD Annual Conference Pitch Slam was pretty intimidating. Over 500 authors pitched to over 50 agents. Everyone who participated was slotted into an hour and we were given 3 minutes per pitch. (Recommended that you use 90 seconds to pitch and 90 seconds to do Q&A with the Agent). Looking back, if I had know that it was going to be such a huge conference I might not have signed up, but 4 of the Agents I planned to query were all in the Pitch Slam, so I didn’t want to miss it.

Before the conference I prepared for eight weeks. Every day I worked on my pitch in the morning during my writing time. I would read my current draft and make small adjustments. Once I felt good about the draft I sent it to 2 or 3 writer friends who had previously pitched for commentary. They always came back with strong comments about what worked and what didn’t. I tested my written pitch this way 3 different times with 3 different groups of writers over the six weeks.

With about five weeks left before the conference a buddy of mine Matt Warner (good horror writer, check him out) challenged me on facebook to make a video of myself practicing. He is a proponent of memorizing your pitch (as am I) and he pushed me to really improve my delivery. I tried it. Videotaping myself pitching was actually really challenging. I got just as nervous as I do face to face with someone. I forgot my lines. I forced myself to practice again and again, modulating my speed and delivery. I sent Matt and a few other friends and family one of my rehearsal tapes. Everyone told me to get a haircut.

If you want to see what my rehearsal tapes look like, drop a comment in below. If I get enough comments (100+/-) I’ll post the tape in a future post.

The conference fast approached. I had a good pitch and had it memorized but I was still a little wooden in my delivery. I practiced everywhere, in the car, in the shower, on elevators, but always alone. I needed to practice with people, not just any people, other authors. 

The day before the conference I met up with my friend Victor (his pitch and experience is here too). We met at a quiet bar in NYC and spent two hours practicing pitches on each other. His girlfriend joined us and added color commentary to the rehearsal. Getting in front of another writer and pitching was an incredible help. While I didn’t change much, just seeing and hearing the reactions to key beats reinforced things for me.

Finally it was time for the conference!! I sat down in a ballroom with hundreds of writers all here to pitch too and felt the collective nervous energy as Chuck Sambuchino gave us a run down on the next day’s pitch sessions. He was funny and helpful, but my stomach hardened like a stone in the prep session.

Saturday was pitch day. The night before I tweeted out to see if anyone wanted to rehearse that morning. I got to the hotel early, sat in the lobby with my pitch notes and coffee and started rehearsing. Soon there was a group of five of us working together; practicing, reassuring, calming each other’s nerves. I didn’t feel great myself, but my own nerves calmed as I encouraged others.  

After a morning of conference sessions, my turn came for the pitch slam. I was slated for 2pm, the fourth session of the day. I could only imagine how tired the Agents must be after listening to 40-60 pitches already for three hours. I speed read my pitch one last time while standing in line.

Doors open, smile big, strong handshake, make an impression.

The pitches got going, and I quickly got in front of 3 agents. (Important tip, LOOK FOR THE SHORTEST LINE). One request for pages, right off the bat, calmed my nerves. I could do this!

Then I got my first pass. Disappointment filled my face, but I needed to push through. There was only 40 minutes left in the Pitch Slam.

Looking around I saw that the Agent who I really wanted to meet, the one who I thought might be the best fit for me, was alone! No one was in his line!! I ran over an introduced myself. I sputtered out a compliment about his blog and got a residual smile back. I took a deep breath, calmed myself and delivered my pitch as well as I had ever rehearsed. He listened intently, turning an ear to hear better over the crowd noise. He nodded at my beats. I got a ‘cool’ at one point, and a ‘I get it’ at another point. I finished in my time allotment and paused. The Agent pulled out a card and turned it over. “Send me 50 pages and a Query. Send it here, not here. Sounds cool.” He pointed to a second email that he had just written in ball point pen. “Oh and mention the pitch conference in your opening line.”

The bell rang. It was time to move. I smiled, thanked him and shook his hand again.

The rest of the pitch session was a bit of a blur. I pitched four more Agents and got four more cards. I was in the zone and things moved quickly. Looking back after I realized my nervous energy was gone.

For me, preparation was the key. I needed every bit of the eight weeks I used to prepare. Spending the time writing and rewriting, testing and rewriting, memorizing, rehearsing and rehearsing all paid off. I came away from the Pitch Slam with a new set of contacts, and newfound confidence in my work.

You can see Ralph Walker’s final Pitch for Rebirth Interrupted  as delivered at the pitch slam here.

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