I’m six days away from an opportunity to pitch my novel to a bunch of agents. One of them could become MY agent, if I can convince them that they are dealing with a serious, committed writer. One of them could become my partner in getting my manuscript off of my desk and onto shelves! This is such a great opportunity. I am a little over excited.
But, I’ve never met these people and they don’t know me from the slush pile. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of other writers trying to get their attention. It is a scrum of writers. They probably all have better ideas, page turning plots and delicious characters. They are also probably better looking, friends with publishers, editors, cover artists and book buyers. They can probably give their pitches cold; in a cab, on an elevator, standing in line for a coffee, or on a subway at rush hour. Did I mention that they are all better looking.
I figure I’ve got a one in a million shot to nail down my pitch, but I have one advantage.
Each of the agents has committed to giving me 3 minutes of their time, their life to letting me pitch them on my completed science fiction novel! I get a whole 180 seconds to work with! I can fit hundreds of words in that time! I can create a little performance, no better yet, an experience! Here is how I envision things going:
Large ballroom filled with long tables. Agents are sitting patiently waiting to be wowed. Writers are nervously milling about. The pitch session begins. Pitch number one.
0:00 – The approach. I come and sit down with across the table from Agent X. Hand outstretched (remember to dry sweaty palm on pants first) for a solid shake.
0:12 – Pleasantries aside, I roll right into my introduction. ‘I nobody writer, am here to pitch you on the best damn novel you have ever heard of. I may not be published, I may not be handsome but I have something you want, a GREAT manuscript!’
0:23 – Agent X nods in agreement. I am sure they are now ready to sign me, set up a bidding war for my current novel and negotiate a seven figure, eight book deal to lock up my whole writing career. Agent X is already formulating the strategy in her head on how to rework their whole agency, to give me the support my writing deserves.
0:24 – I roll into the pitch of my current novel. My voice drops into a Pavarotti Baritone intonation, so luxurious and breath taking that three other Agents, listening to other pathetic pitches, can’t help but lean in to listen to me.
1:08 – Now with Agent X’s undivided attention I stand and add movement to my pitch, acting out the climactic fight scene that opens chapter eleven. I even do a roundhouse kick over the heads of a dozen other writers who have inched closer to hear my technique.
1:34 – I drop back into my seat and lean across the table. Agent X leans close. The Agents around us lean close. The writers in the room lean close. The whole room goes silent listening for the last line of my pitch. I have them all in the palm of my hand. I pause to add dramatic tension.
1:41 – And I whisper “… this is the first in a series.” Agent X’s face drops. She wants to clap. She wants to stand and cheer. She has found her golden goose! If she lands me I will make her agency hundreds, thousands, millions! She has come to this conference for years and has never heard a pitch like this. I am the one.
1:43 – The room erupts. Only Agent X has heard me, but the look on her face tells the story. Every agent in the room knows they want to rep me. Every writer in the room knows they want to be me.
1:48 – Agent X pulls herself together. Still caught up in the pitch, she stammers out ‘What was your name again?’ She pulls out a red sharpie and writes my name down at the top of her moleskin notebook. She draws concentric bubbles around my name again and again soaking the page with red ink.
2:01 – Now fully composed Agent X has put her poker face back on. Questions are fired machine gun style, not because the answers matter, but she needs to set up a smokescreen. She needs to keep her street cred with the publishing industry. She can’t let other Agents know she was bowled over by my pitch.
‘How long is your manuscript?’ “Three hundred and eighteen thousand words.”
“Is it finished?” “I’ve written every word, but I am not sure they are all in the right order yet.”
“What would you compare your book to?” “I don’t read in my genre, so I like to explain that my book is a mash up of Harry Potter meets the Empire Strikes Back with the action of Furious Five and the love scenes of 50 Shades of Grey”.
2:43 – Convinced she needs to sign me on the spot, Agent X reaches into her bag. “I don’t usually do this,” She takes out a full agency contract, crosses out Steven King’s name from and writes in mine. “Just sign here and we can walk down the street to Penguin or Random House to put your book in production. Barnes and Noble should be ready to preorder seven million copies by the end of the week.”
2:57 – I stand, with the contract and offer my hand. “Thank you. I’d like to consider my options.” Comes out of my mouth. Agent X pulls a handshake into a hug. “Thank you. That was the best pitch I ever heard. Seriously, the best, in my whole career.” She blinks away a tear.
3:02 – I move down the aisle to Agent Y. Repeat.
That is how I see things going. Pitch sessions were created just for guys like me. Confident, prepared, good looking… who am I kidding.
In all seriousness, pitching is hard, really hard. It takes hard work to prepare and there are still there are still challenges that you can’t control. I’ve been lucky. I’ve pitched my own work and have worked with dozens of writers on honing their pitches. I’m no expert, but I have done this a few times and I’ve learned a few lessons that have helped me and might help you.
By Ralph Walker