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Friday, August 13, 2010

Our Guest: Golden Heart Finalist Abigail Sharpe

The Not So Perfect Pitch

There were a handful of workshops at the National RWA conference that focused on perfecting your pitch. Your friends listened to you go over it and over it. You practiced in front of a mirror. You had your 25-or-fewer words memorized to the letter. You envisioned the agent being completely bowled over by the sharp, quirky details of your amazing story.

But then nothing happens like you planned.

The first time I pitched was three years ago at the Southern Lights conference in Jacksonville, Florida. The agent had previously been on a workshop panel for building a paranormal world. At the appointment, I shook her hand and introduced myself when I got to the table, and started my spiel with, “I’m not pitching a paranormal.”

That’s great, Abigail. So why don’t you tell her what you’re actually pitching?

Before pitching a second time a couple of years later, I had decided to go with a pen name. I planned on starting the pitch telling the agent why I picked her when I had a choice between so many. But when the agent introduced herself to me, I completely blanked on my name.

I’m not the only one. Historical romance writer Valerie Bowman forgot her memorized notes and had to scramble to dig them out of her bag.

And another? Historical romance writer Lis’Anne Harris (lisanneharris.wordpress.com) sat down for her first pitch appointment with five other people. When the agent said, “tell me about your story,” not a word came out. Nothing. Even after the poor agent asked her leading questions to get her to snap out of the oncoming panic attack. The entire ten minute group pitch consisted of the agent trying to get Lis’Anne to relax. Thankfully, the agent requested a partial from everyone, but Lis’Anne has no desire to ever pitch again.

What about you? What kind of memorable things have happened to make your perfect pitch not so perfect?


  1. Great post, Abigail. Thanks for visiting the Lady Scribes.

    My biggest pitch flub happened at Emerald City. I had finished a thriller, and was deeply engrossed in writing a YA. I pitched the thriller-because it was finished. Everything went well until the agent asked me to name a book that was like what I wrote.

    Well, my brain was in full YA mode, and everyone kept telling me my YA was like "Summer of My German Soldier." So I blurted that out without thinking that I was supposed to be pitching the thriller.

    It was only later that I realized I'd answered for the wrong book. Of course, when the agent got the partial, it was rejected with, "This is not what I was expecting."

  2. Thank YOU, Clarissa, for the invitation.

    and OH, NO!!! *laugh* At least you got an explanation as to why it was rejected.


  3. I'm glad to hear all these stories! LOL

    At a conference a few years ago I pitched to an agent, and as soon as I sat down I could sense there just was some kind of chemical reaction between us that wasn't good. LOL Kind of like when you go on a date with someone who "looks good on paper" but in real life doesn't suit.

    When I pitched my story -- one that had gotten LOTS of great reaction from agents/editors at a conference just a couple minutes earlier, as well as a lot of manuscript requests via querying -- she wrinkled her nose and said she "had seen that story a LOT" and wasn't interested. LOL

    It was just bizarre -- like the planets hadn't aligned that day or something. All I could do was laugh afterwards.


  4. Ooops -- I meant to say "months", not "minutes". Great way to wreck a story. LOL


  5. Ooh you're making my stomach churn LOL. I haven't pitched yet or gone to nationals yet. I am hoping to be able to attend next year and I know when I do pitch I will freeze. I'm am not a social butterfly at all. In fact when people think of the reclusive author stuck in her office all day...well that's me. I enjoy my alone time so I rarely get out. So as you can imagine my social skills are going to be a bit rusty at best. Did I say I'm not looking forward to it yet? lol

    Thanks for joining us on Lady Scribes, Abigail! Wonderful post!

  6. Donna, you gotta hate that instant reaction. It doesn't happen often in our lives but when it does... Too bad you couldn't call a do-over and select a different agent.

    Melissa, it's really not that bad. And if the worst thing that happens is you forget your name... well, you'll probably be wearing a name badge so you can just look down and remember. :)


  7. Fun post, Abigail. I don't have any true horror stories--I'd only ever done group pitches until my RWA appointments this year. In general I did a lousy job at the group pitches--not because I minded being with the others, but because if I'm not completely prepared I ramble and say, 'um' a lot. It's not even nerves--it's complete lack of confidence in being able to say just the right thing. I think watching the agent's eyes start to glaze and her head start to nod (quickly, like she's hurrying you) qualifies as not making a stellar impression! I did much better one-on-one!

  8. Hi Abigail,

    I must say I don't have a problem talking with agents or editors outside of a pitch session. There's just something about "selling myself/story" in a formal appointment without hypoventilating. I knew my best hope at RWA10 was to hang out in the lobby and pounce on one as he/she walked by--and I did twice! (Well, actually I didn't pounce. They both knew my name because we'd previously corresponded by email. :) And apparently, I have no problem arguing with a well-known editor over whether or not a book cover can lose a sale. Miss Shelby should've yanked the fan out of my hand that I was poking toward the editor everytime I made a point! LOL

  9. Lizee, you give me hope that I won't cause myself embarrassment at every pitch appointment. :)

    And Lis'Anne, *I* think you should give appointments another go. Even if only to give me fodder if I do this blog post again.


  10. Abigail, great post!

    I pitched, which consisted of me talking way too long about my story, and then me saying something along the lines of "and that's it." Seriously. Thankfully, this editor was very nice. She asked me one question about the book--"How long are the hero/heroine apart?"--whatever I told her was evidently fine because then she asked me to send it along to her--and then she just wanted to talk about tornadoes and Kansas (where I'm from). It was a humorous way to end the session.

  11. Hey Abigail - Fun Post

    With the help of my CP, and listening to Michael Hauge's 2 minute pitch - I think I've finally gotten the pitch down. But I also use color coded cards. Pink for Heroine, Blue for Hero, Yellow for log-line and premise - purple for me. That way - I always know what color to look for.

    I've only pitched at 4 conferences and got requests at all except my last appt this year. I blew it when I didn't either pitch another MS or ask smart questions. I think I was too tired by that point of the conference. Darn. Pissed an opportunity with an editor. :-(

  12. Like Donna, I once had a pitch session where there was instant negativity. In fact, I felt it just passing this person (I will not identify them) down the hall before my pitch session. I gave this pitch to two others earlier in the day, and things went well. This was the last pitch of the day, for both of us. Maybe things would have gone better if I weren't the last thing standing between them and a fast exit. I said my three sentences, then waited, and spent the rest of my timebeing blasted for having the worst idea since "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" or something. I couldn't get in a word edgewise, not even to say I was sorry for wasting both out time as the diatribe continued. I just sat there with a smile pasted to my face and my feet glued to the door watching the person pack as they slammed me and praying for things to be over.

    Like I said, it had been a long day, dozens of people pictched, I was the very last person, and probably there had been a lot of disappoinment, but still, it was aweful. Nothing in my pitiful three sentence pitch was worth that.

  13. Great Post...
    My horror story has nothing to do with a pitch gone wrong, but with a pitch gone right.

    Local conference and at national, the ladies running the show were told "not to worry" when my pitch sessions went long. *I* wasn't the one keeping the timers off schedule, it was the actual editors who wanted to know MORE.

    Man, did I get dirty looks coming away from those pitches. LOL


  14. I think most of my pitches have gone fairly well. It helps to remember A&Es are just people too. But I do remember one pitch where I tried to start with an ice breaker joke and got the blank face response. Not good. I knew then that was the wrong agent for me.

  15. Abigail, Thanks again for guest blogging at the Lady Scribes. I loved these stories and really appreciate your popping in to answer all the comments.

  16. Hey, everyone...

    I thought I was going to have Internet access last night but I didn't!! Sorry it took me so long to respond, but I loved reading all the pitch stories! It's nice to know we're not alone in eating our feet or feeling the wrong chemistry or just having bad timing.

    Good luck to everyone the next time you sit down in front of an agent or editor. May you not have another story for this post. :)


  17. Okay. I hate to admit this, but last year at Nationals I meant to say that I'd researched the agent and thought what I wrote would be a fit for what she was looking for at the time. What came out of my mouth was "I've been looking at you." LOL.

    Oh, my gosh! Her eyes got so big and I almost burst out laughing. But I barreled on as if what I'd said was the most natural thing in the world.

    She requested a partial, but then she rejected my mss later. Can't say I blame the poor girl. :)