The recent Conflux Science Fiction convention in Canberra was the first conference I’ve attended where formal pitching sessions were available to authors. It’s probably not surprising therefore that the art of pitching was the subject of much general conversation.
I attended a panel about pitching on the second day of the con, featuring panellists Tara Wynn, literary agent with Curtis Brown; Alex Adsett, literary agent and publishing industry consultant; and Marc Gascoigne, publisher at Angry Robot. They discussed the following pitching scenarios:
- “elevator pitching” — the art of describing your novel in one or two sentences to any interested party (and, let’s face it, the question “what’s your novel about?” comes up quite often in a room full of authors). It’s also useful for describing your novel to friends, family and work colleagues…
- formal pitching to agents or publishers — the art of convincing said industry professional that your novel is something they really need to read for consideration, usually in five or ten minutes (or thereabouts).
From the title of the panel, I thought it was going to focus more on the former — which is what I desperately need help with — but it actually focused more on the latter. No matter — that proved most interesting and informative too.
I’ll quickly summarise a few of the insights provided by the three panellists:
- The elevator pitch is essential. Even once your book is requested, the one-sentence pitch is used to describe your book quickly to sales and marketing teams and all manner of other people involved in the publishing process.
- In the pitch, you need to be able to describe what your story is about, PLUS what it’s “like” (ie a recent similar genre novel). This can sometimes be considered the second half of the elevator pitch.
- In the pitch, you need to highlight the kernel that makes it original, the hook that’s going to make your book stand out from all the others. Especially if it’s a fantastical world. (AA)
- MG said several times that he considers a formal pitch like a job interview. He wants to see a professional individual who can potentially deliver a manuscript every 8 months (yikes) for a few years. He wants a clear indication that you have more books in you.
- TW said she also wants to gain insight into the person behind the pitch — she wants to see evidence of passion and another well of ideas.
The most interesting insight I gained from this panel, however, is that every one of these agents/publishers want to hear about your story.
Yep. That’s right. Despite all the horror stories about drunken pitches in bars and manuscripts being shoved under toilet doors, these guys will still listen to you and/or take a look at that first page if it’s put before them.
They’re so eager to find something great, they won’t rule anything out without at least a glance. In fact, it’s highly likely they’ll request at least a partial after a pitch, simply because there’s still a chance the writing will be fantastic. (Of course, it could get scrapped very quickly after that!)
The moral of this story is: Make sure you’re ready for that moment when opportunity strikes.
NOTE: I am not advocating acting unprofessionally, ever… But if you do happen to be chatting in the bar, and the question comes up… BE READY and at all times professional.
The importance of this was borne upon me during the convention as I actively avoided one-on-one situations that could get sticky if the “what’s your novel about?” question was asked… And when I found myself getting tangled and defensive when trying to tell one or two others about it.
You see, I haven’t really practised the best way of describing my current novel WIP, and it matters. Because there’s nothing worse than launching into a description and making it sound dreadfully dull, so much less interesting than it really is. (You hope.) I certainly don’t want to come across all glib and rehearsed, but I’d rather like to sound coherent, and as though I have some idea about what it is I’m doing.
I learnt I definitely need to lift my game in this department. I need to practise telling people about my work, discussing it, not being defensive when they ask perfectly natural questions with the best possible intentions. It’s something for me to work on — and is probably my major take-away from this convention.
Does anyone else have any pitching (or not pitching) horror stories they’d care to share? Or success stories? Any tips for developing pitches and becoming comfortable talking about our work? I’d love to hear from you.
ADDENDUM 4 May: As luck would have it, Marcy Kennedy has a guest post on Kristen Lamb’s blog about how to develop the perfect pitch. It breaks it down wonderfully well. Go and check it out!