In-Person Pitching: The Thrill of Victory and Agony of Defeat

June 25, 2017 | By | 5 Replies More

#pitching. If you’re a writer and you’re on Twitter, you know what I’m talking about. It’s super fun and super simple. Just hide behind your screen and pitch your book to all the agents on Twitter in 140 characters or less.

No likes? No problem. That tweet – the one that that couldn’t even scratch the surface of the complex manuscript you wrote – may have been buried in a Twitter tweetpocalypse. Or maybe your 140 characters just weren’t the right ones.

But no one looked you in the eye and rejected you.

In person pitching? Now that is the stuff of nightmares. But these are the sort of nightmares that arm you for your waking hours, so I’m a firm believer.

When I started writing my novel, it didn’t occur to me I’d actually have to talk about it. I didn’t even tell anyone I was writing it until I was close to finishing my first draft. I definitely didn’t think I’d end up trying to pitch it to anyone.

But I did.

As a new writer, my first pitches were exactly what I needed: the incentive to get my manuscript into (what I thought was) good enough shape to give to an agent and, then, the opportunity to receive positive feedback. At my first conference, which included a series of 3-minute pitch sessions, agents asked me for pages. Some even asked for the full manuscript. To someone (me) who wondered if the concept of her book was even worth pursuing, this was golden.

But not all pitch outcomes are golden, at least not in the obvious ways. Those “other” pitches are painful, yet valuable. While querying, I attended a conference where I decided at the last minute to do a 15-minute pitch. (That “at the last minute” is your clue that this isn’t going to end well.) I figured I’d just recite my query, then sit back and answer questions. No worries, right?

The agent’s first question: “What’s the hook?” Hmmm. I had thought the first sentence I recited was my hook (clearly it wasn’t), so the question sent me into panic mode. I was unprepared and I fumbled spectacularly. The kind agent tried to rescue me by asking me to tell her the story. The whole story, from start to finish. My rambling, circular description of my book confused even me. (But it made so much sense when I wrote it!)

Ultimately, the impression I left on the agent was that I was nowhere near ready to be pitching this book. Thank goodness she didn’t tell me not to quit my day job (though she probably thought it). I walked out of that pitch duly humbled, with tears in my eyes, and embarrassed that I had taken up her valuable time.

But what did I do during the 2-hour drive home? I worked on my hook. Then when I got home, I wrote a synopsis, which (surprise!) helped me work through how to talk about the story and, as an added bonus, helped me identify areas of the book that could be strengthened.

Fast forward a bit, and that book is now under contract to be published next year. I didn’t get to this point from a pitch, but I wouldn’t have gotten here without pitching.

Have you thought about doing an in-person pitch but held back? Here are 7 reasons writers should consider pitching in person:

  1. Discipline. It forces you to hone your pitch and your manuscript on a deadline.
  2. Marketability. This is a business, and pitches are a great way to get feedback on what agents think they can sell. (This applies even if you plan to self-publish or use a small press without an agent. You and/or your publisher still need to be able to sell books.)
  3. New Perspective. Discussing your book with an expert can help you see plot holes (or missing hooks).
  4. Comfort Zone. Writers, as a tribe, tend to be introverts. If you can push yourself out of your comfort zone in the real world, you’ll find it easier to push out of your comfort zone when you’re writing, and that is where the magic happens in a book.
  5. Learn to Talk About Your Book. When you do publish, you need to be able to give interviews, write blog posts, write blurbs of your book. Talking about your book is important!
  6. Feedback. Whether positive (a stack of business cards with query requests will give a morale boost that all writers need) or negative (rejections will help you learn to hone your agent selection, work on your pitch, or both), all feedback can be valuable.
  7. Empowerment. When you pitch, you are standing up and speaking in support of a huge thing you did. No one else can do that in the way that you can.

Did you notice I didn’t say “Get an agent”? The pitch process alone makes you a better writer, improves your marketing skills, and builds a non-writing skill base that you can use in all facets of life. Stand up for something you believe in and give voice to it. That is an admirable thing.

Back to #pitching. If you’re querying, I encourage it. It’s a great exercise, and it’s a fun day on Twitter. Maybe you’ll get an agent. But the real money (and by money I mean benefits, because we all know writers don’t make real money) are in in-person pitches. Take advantage of them when they’re available and you’ll reap benefits even if you don’t land an agent straight off the pitch.

A Midwest native, Jennifer made stops in Dallas, Charlottesville, and Boston before settling for good in Maryland. Jennifer attended Southern Methodist University and the University of Virginia School of Law, her law degree guiding her through the worlds of corporate law, tech startups, and court advocacy for foster children. She is an ardent consumer of podcasts and books that challenge her with compelling and unfamiliar topics. When she’s not writing, she’s crossing things off a never-ending to do list and hoping to catch that next sunset. Jennifer lives near Annapolis with her husband and two kids. Jennifer’s debut novel will be published in 2018 by Red Adept Publishing.

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Comments (5)

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  1. Laura Lee says:

    It doesn’t stop with selling the book to a publisher either. I’m now at the stage of trying to sum up a 200,000 word history/biography in a snazzy “buy it now” soundbite. It is a very different way of looking at a subject than the process of writing where you’re trying to coax out multiple levels and nuances. Whenever a book of mine first comes out, I find I’m fairly bad at summing it up, and as the promotion goes on, I discover the main selling points and start to hone in on a pithy description.

  2. Great article! Pitching is painful but as necessary as a dental visit. There have been times when grinding out a pitch has shown me (not so small) problems with my stories. . .

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