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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Windup and The Pitch

It’s that time of year. No, I'm not talking about baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. The RWA National Conference kicks off a week from today. Instead it's agent and editor appointments, pitching, and anxiety attacks. Okay. Maybe that's just me.

My first time to pitch was nerve-wracking. But by my second pitch, I have to say I felt really nervous. You see, I like to know what is expected of me, and I didn't find any books called "Pitching For Dummies". Not that I necessarily needed a book for dummies. I had the dummy part down pretty good. I had no idea how to pitch a story idea. Was I supposed to read my blurb? Would the agent ask me questions? Was I just supposed to jump in the moment I sat down? Forget about preparing an elevator pitch. The thought gave me hives. (Really? The elevator? You're supposed to look at the numbers and avoid eye contact, people. Who doesn't know that?) The part that made me unnecessarily nervous was the belief that this was my one shot. I couldn't blow it.

I’m happy to say I was wrong about pitching being my only chance to gain an agent's or editor's notice. (By the way, my shirt gained more notice than my story. Apparently it had a sense of humor. I'm still not convinced that was a compliment.) In the end, I found a great agent for me, and it wasn't through pitching. Nephele Tempest (The Knight Agency) is smart, hardworking, and laughs at my jokes. What more could I ask for in an agent? And Nephele was kind enough to answer a few questions I posed to her about pitching. We are also fortunate to have a second agent viewpoint courtesy of Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary Agency. Scott represents regency historical romance author Julie Johnstone, Lady Mayhem.

The Lady Scribes thank Nephele and Scott for their time and candid answers. We hope this interview will help our followers to feel better prepared for the big day. Good luck to everyone. You’re going to be great. And if it doesn't go exactly as you plan, shrug it off. The most important thing you can do at Nationals is make connections with other writers. You will appreciate those friendships for years to come.

In some agent interviews, the advice given when pitching has been to relax and remember the agent is just a person. An agent is more than just a person to an aspiring writer. He or she represents a bridge to reaching a dream. Considering this angle, what advice would you give to writers going in to pitch a story?

Scott: Personally, I do not agree with this approach. A pitch is a job interview. This is not a casual conversation but a chance to demonstrate that you are the right person for the job. If you are pitching to an editor or an agent, treat it like any other job interview. Think of it this way. Do you go into a job interview telling the future employer that you are new to this and not good? Do you read your resume to the person? Do you demonstrate poor communication skills? Probably not. The same goes for pitches.

Nephele: When we say agents are people, we mean that we have opinions as readers just like anyone. We're looking for a story we love, something that makes us forget we're reading a submission, where we just get lost in the story. And there are stories that are our thing, and stories that just don't push our buttons. Yes, we want a marketable idea from your pitch, and we want you to deliver it in a way that makes us excited about it, but there are going to be times when personal taste comes into play and your story just isn't for us. We also want to work with clients who we feel like we can click with personally, to help them build their careers, and not all personalities mesh. You want the right agent for you, just as we want the right client and not just the right product. It's important that writers try to go into a pitch relaxed, and without considering it their one and only chance--because it definitely is not. It's just a chat about your book, and a chance to meet and for you to ask some questions. You can always submit to an agent the standard route according to their guidelines--and most of us get far more of our clients that way, since ultimately we need to see an example of your writing.

How can an author make the most of a pitch session?

Nephele: Again, relax. Prepare for your pitch, but also maybe have a couple of questions you'd like to ask the agent if there's time leftover. Don't expect to pitch additional projects if you have time; one pitch per person unless the agent asks you if you have something else.

Scott: Do your research. You should know going in exactly what the person is looking for and how your story really does fit that need. You then need to make sure you demonstrate that during the pitch session.

What are some reasons you wouldn't want to see a writer's work at the end of a pitch?

Scott: I have very clear guidelines on my website as to what I want and what I do not want. If I say no, it means either the story is not something marketable, or something that really doesn’t fit my need. If I do reject, however, I do tell the writer what it was that didn’t work.

Nephele: The prime reasons are that they've pitched something in a genre I don't represent, if I'm not interested in the story, or if I don't think it sounds marketable.

How often do you find clients through pitch sessions?

Nephele: Honestly, I rarely get clients from a pitch session. I think one or two of my clients at most.

Scott: I have found writers at conferences. I can’t necessarily pin down a number, but I have found them. I think most of the reason why we don’t often find clients at conferences is that writers pitch to any editor or agent that shows up or one they can get an appointment with. They haven’t done their research, and they would have probably never been a good match.

Readers, do you have a favorite pitch story? How about some tricks to calm your nerves?


  1. Fantastic interviews - I wish I would have read this before I started pitching last year!

  2. Erin,

    I know, right? (This is my daughter's newest catch phrase. She sounds so cute.) Worrying about blowing my one chance hung over my head the whole time in DC. I had fun, but I would have had an even better time if I had realized the pitch held less importance than I thought it did.

  3. Here's a little trick we use in training hospice volunteers, because everyone is apprehensive about saying the wrong thing. We have them write down the most difficult question they can imagine a patient asking them. Then we pose the question to the group, but instead of "saying the right thing", we have them blurt out the most inappropriate response they can think of. I know it sounds bizarre, but it breaks through that fear and sometimes it leads to laughter because the response is so ridiculous no one would ever say it. This exercise puts things into perspective. I wonder how it would work when preparing for a pitch.

  4. Wow, great Q&A's. I'm not pitching or going to nationals this year, but I can understand exactly why people get so nervous. But I've stored this information away for when I may need it. This truly is eye opening. Thanks to Scott and Nephele, as well as to our very own and delightful Samatha, for doing this for us all.

  5. Aw, thanks, Suzie. I'm blushing. :)

  6. Great interviews! Thank you, Michelle, for putting it together, and to Scott and Nephele for being here!

    My first pitch was a DISASTER! It was at the NJ Romance Writers conference, and I was late to the game, so I didn't get my first picks to pitch to. The person I *did* pitch to mainly takes paranormal, so being a Regency writer, I knew I was already swimming upstream. But being my first pitch, there was a lot of pressure to do it right. I didn't. Do it right, that is. I was so nervous, I can't even tell you what I blabbed on and on about. She asked questions about my books that I wasn't prepared for, and I'm pretty sure my answers were nonsensical. I was much better my second time around, but I was so relaxed that it turned into a gab session more than a pitch. LOL.

    Maybe one of these days I'll get it just right ;)

  7. Jerrica,

    Isn't it funny how you can have an entire conversation with someone and can't remember a word of what you said?

    In my first pitch, I opened with "I've been looking at you." LOL. No, I'm not a creepy stalker. I swear it! What I meant to say is I had been reading up on what the agent was actively seeking and thought I might have a story she would be interested in reading. So NOT what came out of my mouth! :)

  8. Samantha,

    THAT is hilarious. "I've been looking at you." What did the agent/editor say? "Umm. Security!!"

    Best laugh I've had all day.

  9. Ava,

    Her eyes got real big and she looked like she might call for security, but I barreled on in my clumsy fashion until I think she was convinced I wasn't a dangerous weirdo. Just a doofus. :)