Monday, May 16, 2011

Liz's Lair: Encore Post - The Ten Deadly Sins of Pitching

With RWA Nationals right around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to repost this blog. A lot of you probably have appointments with editors/agents to pitch your manuscript. I, for one, think that’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. I totally suck at it and pray I never have to sit through one of those ten-minute sessions ever again. I’m agented – she does all my pitching, right?

Wrong, Bucko! She does most of it, I have to admit, but what am I going to say when I find myself in the elevator with Edith Editor from the most perfect house for my next story?

“I’m sorry. Here’s my agent’s card. Call her to find out what I have.”

Ah, no! We all have to be prepared for that golden opportunity in or out of an organized pitch scenario when we’re asked. “What do you write?” As a reminder to myself, I’ve come up with the ten deadly sins of pitching. Here goes:

10. "I have this great story about a lesbian vampire that will be finished sometime in the next year or so.”

NO! NO! NO! If you’re scheduled to pitch at Nationals, don’t waste your time (or their’s.) I guarantee no one will sign you with an unfinished manuscript unless they know you're capable of finishing a book to their satisfaction. Yeah, I know, both Kari and I sold on proposals but not before the editor had already read a completed manuscript that just wouldn’t work for the line.

9. Pull out a two-page, single-spaced synopsis and start reading.

NO! NO! NO! First off, you only have ten minutes, and trust me, you will probably have the editor thinking about Mickey Mouse long before you flip to page two. Keep it short and sweet. A pitch like this should begin with you introducing yourself and a little small talk before she asks what you have. Start with the genre and word count, and be aware, you probably only have the first five sentences to hook her. Make them count.

8. Wear your new skinny jeans and save-the-whales tee shirt.

NO! NO! NO! Business casual is what you need. I'm really jealous you look good in sexy jeans but save them for the night life.

7. “My friends say I write as good as Nora.”

NO! NO! NO! Number one, nobody writes as well as Nora, and number two, you will come across as arrogant. You can, however, say, you’ve read all her books and her style influenced your writing.

6. Pitch an erotica novella to an Avalon Editor.

NO! NO! NO! Do your homework. Know what your targeted person is actually looking for. If it’s an editor, find out some of her published authors and comment on that. For an agent, read one of her client's books. Believe me when I say no one is immune to that kind of extra effort.

5. Go to your appointment a little tipsy.

NO! NO! NO! I always swore I needed a margarita to get me though one of these sessions, but I never followed through. Anybody ever see me after one drink? I am a giggling fool. Don’t chance this.

4. Tell an editor/agent about your advanced degrees and that you are a single mother supporting three kids.

NO! NO! NO! She only cares about this if you’re writing a book about it. Now, if your story is about an undercover CIA agent and that’s in your résumé – go for it!

3. Notice her name tag in the elevator and start rattling off your pitch.

NO! NO! NO! That is right up there with stalking, and she’ll definitely remember you, just not in a good way. Instead, smile and let her start a conversation. Be prepared with your three or four line elevator pitch just in case she asks what you write. If she doesn’t ask, respect her privacy.

2. If she says it doesn’t sound like something she’s interested in, argue the merits of your story to convince her.

NO! NO! NO! Smile and say, “Bummer!” Then ask if she might be interested in something else you’ve written. If she’s not or if you don’t have anything else, ask her questions about her job or how she likes the conference so far. I once pitched to an M & B Medical editor and knew from her pinched brows she wasn’t that into me. “You write too much plot for this line,” she said. “Okay,” I replied. “Now what can we talk about?” By the end of the ten minutes we were both laughing. She might not have remembered my story at the end of the day, but I promise, she remembered me, even smiling when I saw her later.

And the number one Cardinal Sin of Pitching: “You’ll have to read my book to find out the end of the story.”

NO! NO! NO! I can almost guarantee you’ll walk away without a request. A pitch and/or a synopsis is NEVER the place to be mysterious, even if your story is a mystery.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, work on your pitch. Make sure the hook is the first thing out of your mouth after the genre and word count.

“Lonely workaholic CEO hires a prostitute working her way through college to be his escort for a business dinner and ends up with more that just a one night stand.”

Do you recognize this? Is it not the entire plot of the story? Do you want to read it?

Now, go practice your pitch in front of the mirror. Don't be like this guy.If you’re brave enough to post your three or four line pitches, we’ll be glad to rip it a new one –just kidding. My cohorts will have a lively discussion about it and I will chime in from Florida when I can. Hopefully, we can help you make it the best it can be.

If not, just let me know what you think of my list.


Kari Lee Townsend said...

Too funny and so true.

Good luck to all of you going to RWA.

Anita Clenney said...

Oh my gosh, I loved this post! So true. I had my good laugh. Funny story, and I think I mentioned it in one of my blogs. Before a writer makes a sale, editors are like celebrity sightings. When I was at Nora Roberts inn a couple of weeks ago, my CP and I were having breakfast and this bouncy woman walks in raving about the royal wedding. We had no idea who she was. There's Dana who's worrying over pitches, and me with a new mystery series I'm writing. We're in the dining room with this woman, have her all to ourselves and don't realize until the next day that she's Shauna Summers of Bantam Dell. Opportunity lost there. So we should probably not only know the genres editors like, but also what they LOOK like in case we run into them and they are chatting with us.

Donna Cummings said...

Ten minutes sounds like a long time to pitch. I was at the Agent Pitch Slam a few years ago and we had THREE minutes. LOL (It was actually plenty of time.)

I usually start out by talking about that agent/editor's recent blog post (or now I'd mention a recent tweet) -- something that showed I knew who they were and what their interests were. It's a nice way to break the ice and takes off some pressure, for both parties, because it becomes more of a conversation.

Cassy Pickard said...

Great post, Liz. How true it is that we have to have our stories in short clean sound bites. I recently was at a cocktail party and was asked a million times about what I was working on. Ugh, I was as prepared as I should have been and hated hearing myself ramble. Note to self, be ready at any time, no matter where my story happens to be.

Jo Crosier said...

Liz, thanks for such a great post. This year will be my first conference and it's always nice to be reminded of these things. So... here's my elevator pitch.

Jaded Hope is an 85,000 word paranormal romance. Driven Professor Jade Walsh is kidnapped and soon discovers that her captor is not human and that the mythologies she teaches are not actually fiction, but reality. Can she take the leap of faith and risk everything she is to save the man who kidnapped her heart as easily as her body?

It looks a little long, but it reads pretty quickly... comments?

Lindsay said...

When I was at Crime Bake last year I had five minutes to give the pitch. The person before me kept talking after the bell rang much to the dismay of the editor he was pitching to. The delay didn't both me since I had my pitch, thanks to the encouragement of several ladies and one persistant agent friend, down to three sentences. I got a request for the full but was later rejected as not international enough.
The only advise I can give is when the bell rings say good bye, even if your in the middle of a sentence, gracefully depart. The agent and those behind you will thank you and if the agent really liked the pitch they might seek you out later.
Good luck to all of you pitching this year at National

E.C. Smith said...

Oh, boy. So true. I once saw someone corner an editor in an elevator. Yikes.

Kathleen said...

Brave or crazy, you can rip my pitch to shreds—I already know it's too long, but not how to condense it further.

"A Different Song is a quirky, good versus evil fantasy of 85,000 words. A pact between Temptation and Creator triggers a series of battles where our heroes defend themselves with weapons of music, magic, conscience and food.

Within the false serenity of a foothills cabin, a small boy struggles but fails to hide his true identity as Merlin, to prevent the villain Temptation from enticing him with the one seductive lure he fears he could not resist. The boy, shares the dangers with several characters including a half fae prince, a harper and her cowboy future mate."
- Kathleen Harrell

Liz Lipperman said...

Thanks to everyone who commented. I was in Florida with my gal pals - keep checking the blog as the pictures will air one day soon - and the internet was shoddy at best. Plus I forgot my Google password.

Anyway, thanks again.

Liz Lipperman said...

Jo, IMO your pitch is actually pretty good. I have tweaked it just a tad.

Jaded Hope is an 85,000 word paranormal romance about Professor Jade Walsh who, after being kidnapped, discovers not only is her captor not human, but also the mythologies she teaches are actually reality. Can she take the leap of faith and risk everything to save the man who kidnapped her heart as well?

Liz Lipperman said...

Kathleen, you're right. Your pitch is too long. I'll take a stab at it. First off, I cut out the good versus evil since this is what most books are about.

A Different Song is an 85K quirky fantasy where a pact between Temptation and Creator triggers battles where our heroes must defend themselves with music, magic, conscience, and food. A small child struggling to hide his true identity as Merlin as well as a cast of characters including a half fae prince, a harper and her cowboy future mate as he fights to keep Temptation from using the one thing he cannot resist.

It's still a little long, but you have so much story you need to get in there. I think this would work. Good luck to both you and Jo.