Monday, February 6, 2012

Liz's Lair: Ten Deadly Sins of Pitching

As you're reading this, I am at the Venetian hotel in Vegas lounging around. Yep. We came yesterday to watch the Super Bowl. I can't even talk about it because I'm writing this the week before, but I'm not crazy about either team. Can we work it out so that neither of them wins?? I hate the Giants (sorry, Barbara.) I wouldn't be a loyal Cowboys fan if i didn't.

Anyway, I am flying to Vegas from Chicago where I will be at the Love Is Murder mystery conference. I am really looking forward to this one since I will be meeting other mystery authors. I might even have to pitch since there will be editors there. I found this blog I wrote last year and thought it was appropriate.

I, for one, think pitching is 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.

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. We will have a lively discussion about it and hopefully, 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...

Thank goodness I don't have to pitch anymore! Eeeek. Great tips.

Anita Clenney said...

I only pitched twice, at one conference. One to an agent, one to an editor. Strangely enough, I met my current (and only) agent at the same conference while standing in line at a booksigning. Never pitched again!

Vicki Batman said...

Yes, yes, yes! Great tips.

I write a letter. No pressure with the eye to eye contact.