I stink at pitching. I’ll just forewarn you up front. I talk way too fast, I stutter over my words when I’m nervous, and I have a VERY real fear of throwing up on said agent/editor in front of me.
Now that I’ve given you every reason not to listen to my advice, I’ll give you a few tips on what not to do. I know those things VERY well.
First, I thought I’d give you an inside peek at my first attempt at pitching. Poor Steve Laube had the unfortunate distinction of being the first agent I ever pitched to at a conference (ACFW 2008). I feel sorry for him to this day.
It went a little something like this:
Krista: Uh, hi.
Steve (smiling): Hi.
Krista: I uh, I’ve never done this before. Um, uh, My book’s about, uh, yeah, a guy, and a uh, girl, and, um, well, can I just give you this?
*Krista thrusts onesheet into Steve’s hands, hoping that the sweat from her own hasn’t caused the ink to bleed.
Steve: Sure. Let me just look over this really quick.
*He scans the sheet.
Steve: So they meet in a chat room?
*Krista nodds, not able to find her tongue quite yet
Steve: Okay, do you have a sample writing?
*Krista digs through her fancy folder, chastising herself for not having this ready
*She again shoves her sample pages in his direction.
*Steve skims the first few pages, laughs a few times, while Krista practices deep breathing exercises she learned in child birth classes, praying that she isn’t really going “HE HE HOOOOO” out loud.
Steve: I don’t see a description of your character.
*Krista starts to shake. Jenny has red hair, Jack has brown. She knows these things, and knows they are in there SOMEWHERE, but for the life of her she can’t remember where.
Krista: Uh, I, uh, I did. Someplace.
Steve: You need to let your reader see your character and describe them soon. I just skimmed your first six pages and didn’t see a description once.
*Krista commands herself not to faint.
Krista: I’m sure I did. I think maybe on the next page?
Steve (smiling patiently): Well, our time is up. It’s been good talking to you.
And that’s the end of that. There were other things that I don’t recall now… I really do think I blocked much of the horrific experience out. (Not because of the Mr. Laube by the way, he was OH so patient and kind. I feel sorry for him having to deal with my fumbling first attempt.)
I tell everyone that I didn’t get rejected on my first pitch. Neither did I get “accepted” or “invited” to send more, but I walked out with one under my belt, with my dignity (sorta) and the will to do better on the next one.
My second pitch was with an editor and went MUCH better, and my third pitch… well, that’s a different story all together.
So, here is my “what not to do”‘s that I’ve learned from my limited experience, and from hearing other stories. I hope they help you avoid similar pitfalls.
- Don’t get defensive. If an agent gives you critical feedback, give your appreciation. Arguing will NOT help your case.
- Don’t wing it. I did this the first time and regretted it. Have a rough idea of what you are going to say in your head, but don’t let it sound TOO rehearsed.
- Don’t idolize an agent/editor. They are human beings just like us. If you go in there with a worshipful, almost fearful (in my case) attitude, it will make you more nervous. As my sister lectured me, they all poop and fart just the like the rest of us. (I seriously can NOT believe I just typed that…)
- Don’t forget to go to the bathroom before your pitch session. (this is NOT from personal experience… but just sounds like good advice!)
- Don’t worry about being perfect. Agents/Editors understand that writers aren’t always speakers. They don’t expect an eloquent, perfectly articulated speech. They just want to hear about your story from your heart.
- Don’t eat right before you pitch. Food on a nervous stomach = potential disaster.
- Don’t talk about the weather, the latest fashions, or how your favorite sports team is doing. You only have a short period of time to use. Make the best of it. Small talk might break the ice, but it also will kill your time.
- Don’t cry. Disappointment WILL come sometimes, but wait until you are in your room or at least out of the pitch room to unleash your tears.
- Don’t rip up and trash your onesheet/proposal/sample chapters, or stomp off mad. These things will potentially ruin the rest of the conference for you and/or jeopardize your future career.
- MOST IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to PRAY! I’m a firm believer that God has a plan for each and every one of us. That doesn’t mean if you pray, an agent will show interest. But it does mean that you will have God going with you into that pitch, and wow… there’s nothing better than having THAT kind of support, folks.
Discussion: For you conference veterans, any do’s or don’t’s you want to share? For those newbies… any burning questions about pitching?
**side note** In case you are wondering, I’ve revised the first chapter of the book Steve skimmed over many times since then. There now includes descriptions of the characters… and it’s MUCH better. So even though you may not get an invitation to submit out of a pitch session… you very well may get some valuable feedback that helps you improve your book.